Youssouf Fofana celebrating a goal
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Youssouf Fofana: The Answer to Manchester United Midfield Woes?

Is Youssouf Fofana the player to solve Manchester United’s midfield issues?

With Casemiro almost certain to leave this summer and Sofyan Amrabat likely returning to Fiorentina after his loan, Manchester United will be left without a natural central defensive midfielder. This is why there was a sigh of relief amongst the Red Devils’ supporters, as the club is finally linked with strengthening a position that undoubtedly needs addressing, whether Erik ten Hag remains or a new manager comes in.

Now, Youssouf Fofana, the 25-year-old midfielder from AS Monaco, is being linked with a move to Old Trafford this summer.

So, who is Youssouf Fofana, and why might he be the solution to the Red Devils’ midfield problems?

Who Is Youssouf Fofana?

Born on January 10, 1999, Fofana began his football career in the youth academies of Paris, his hometown. On February 21, 2017, he joined Strasbourg’s youth setup, quickly advancing to the senior squad and making his debut for the first team a year after joining the B team.

Fofana stayed at Strasbourg for two seasons, making 41 appearances, scoring one goal, and providing one assist.

Youssouf Fofana Career Path
Credit: Transfermarkt

In January 2020, just four days after his final game with Strasbourg, Fofana moved to AS Monaco for a reported fee of €15 million during the winter transfer window. He played only seven times for the rest of that season but has since become a regular starter for “Les Rouges et Blanc” since the beginning of the 2020–21 campaign.

Youssouf Fofana stats
Credit: Transfermarkt

Although he lacks Champions League experience, having been knocked out in the qualifiers twice, Fofana still had the privilege of joining the French national squad for the 2022 Qatar World Cup. He featured in six games, starting the final group stage match against Tunisia and the semifinal against Morocco, and played 24 minutes in the historic 3-3 final against Argentina.

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What Type of Player Is Fofana?

First, it’s worth highlighting Youssouf Fofana’s impressive injury record. During his four years with AS Monaco, he missed only 11 games—eight due to card suspensions and three due to illness (two from COVID). Remarkably, he has not missed any games due to injury.

Over the last three seasons, Fofana has consistently delivered strong performances while improving certain aspects of his game. In the 2020–21 campaign, he was primarily a “ball stealer,” winning 174 duels and recovering 236 balls. However, his Expected Threat from Passes (xT) was relatively low at just 1.21.

In the subsequent three seasons, this aspect of his game saw significant improvement. Transitioning to a roaming playmaker role, his Expected Threat from Passes soared to 3.07 xT in the current campaign.

To truly understand the type of player Youssouf Fofana is, we need to examine his performances this season, both in and out of possession.

In Possession (With the Ball):

Carrying

Fofana is a flexible and versatile right-footed player who has operated as a No. 8 or a No. 6 for Monaco. Playing in these positions requires technical proficiency with the ball, a quality Fofana possesses.

When carrying the ball, Fofana is adept at bursting through lines, using his physicality and close ball control. He ranks in the 84th and 89th percentiles for take-on attempts and succeeded among players in his position in the top five European leagues.

Youssouf Fofana playing football

Moreover, Youssouf Fofana doesn’t carry the ball without purpose; he aims to advance play, ranking in the 95th percentile for progressive carrying distance and carries into the final third.

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Youssouf Fofana stats
Credit: Fbref
Youssouf Fofana passing

Passing

What was said about Fofana’s intent to progress the ball higher up the pitch with his carrying also applies to his passing style, which has significantly improved since his first season with AS Monaco. Fofana ranks in the 94th percentile for progressive passes, averaging 8.17 per 90 minutes. Additionally, his average progressive passing distance of 296.08 yards per 90 minutes places him in the 88th percentile among players in the top five European leagues, reinforcing his tendency to break the lines and advance the ball.

Youssouf Fofana passing

One might wonder: Does Youssouf Fofana have creativity in his game? It’s safe to say he does! Compared to other Ligue 1 midfielders, Fofana ranks first for through passes, fifth for key passes, and seventh for deep completions, highlighting his creative spark.

Youssouf Fofana
Credit: DataMB
Fofana through ball

Not a Prolific Goal Scorer

Fofana is currently having his best goal-scoring season, with just four goals. Yes, it sounds underwhelming, but he isn’t the type of player you’d expect to frequently find the back of the net.

This is mainly because he’s not tasked with scoring or making late box arrivals to finish cutbacks or crosses, which contributes to his low offensive output.

Out of Possession (Without the Ball)

One of the reasons behind Manchester United’s struggles this season is the lack of physicality among their midfielders. Casemiro has been on a glaring decline, Amrabat has only recently started featuring more regularly, Kobbie Mainoo isn’t a physical powerhouse, and while both Scott McTominay and Bruno Fernandes work tirelessly, they have failed to provide the necessary physical presence in midfield.

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This is where Youssouf Fofana can significantly elevate the Red Devils’ midfield. His strength lies in his defensive contributions, as he ranks higher than all of United’s midfielders (bar Casemiro) in possession-adjusted interceptions and interceptions per 90 minutes.

Fofana interceptions
Fofana tackling

In addition to this, Fofana ranks in the 80th percentile for interceptions among midfielders in the top five European leagues. But what’s even more impressive is his 1.25 tackles in the middle third per 90, showcasing his ability to win high turnovers in the middle of the park.

Fofana interceptions and tackles
tackle ezgif.com video to gif converter

Youssouf Fofana’s ball recovery ability is also among the elite in Europe, averaging 7.77 recoveries per 90 minutes. This highlights the type of presence he provides on the pitch when his team does not have the ball.

However, one glaring weakness the stats put to light is Fofana’s struggles with aerial duels. Despite his physical presence and 6′1″ height, he has only won 51.5% of his aerial duels.

Youssouf Fofana will definitely be an upgrade from what Manchester United currently have in his position. With his contract set to expire in June 2025 and no renewal in sight, AS Monaco will likely be open to transfer talks to avoid losing the player on a free transfer next season.

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