Every summer Lyon will normally have at least one youth academy player ready in the wings to make his breakthrough in the first team the following campaign.
Having been given a brief taster of first team action in the 2016/17 season- 35 minutes in an eventually abandoned Ligue 1 fixture in Bastia and two Europa League ties against AZ Alkmaar- Houssem Aouar has certainly flourished in his debut season, frequently subjecting experienced players such as Jordan Ferri and Memphis Depay, to a place on the bench.
When the Lyon academy graduate trio of Corentin Tolisso, Maxime Gonalons and Rachid Ghezzal left the club in the summer of 2017, a midfield rebuilding task was the requisite for Genesio.
Aouar was given his first start at home to Dijon in September, lining up in the No. 8 shirt famously worn by Brazilian club legend Juninho, alongside Lucas Tousart and Tanguy Ndombele- a loan signing from Amiens- in a new-look younger Lyon midfield.
Played on the left side of the attacking trio behind Mariano Diaz in a 4-2-3-1 formation, Aouar’s impressive debut at the Groupama Stadium was consummated with an important goal to restore parity in the game at 2-2. The young midfielder displayed exemplary offensive awareness to break from his left-wing position to the centre of the penalty area to convert from Kenny Tete’s low cross.
The 19-year-old has since started 25 of his 30 appearances this campaign, playing a crucial role in his side’s quest to finish in a Champions League spot, a pursuit achieved by Lyon’s final-day 3-2 victory over Nice.
Aouar ends his first full professional season with 7 goals and 6 assists- notably; also, he recorded an 85% passing accuracy and remarkably, has made more tackles than any other teenager in Europe’s top five leagues this season.
One his key attributes that can expose opposition defences is his predatory movement off the ball, making himself a difficulty entity to man-mark by frequently gliding past his opposition in an instant and offering himself as an available outlet in attack around the penalty area.
Despite having been played in numerous positions in his breakthrough season- indeed- he has played off the left wing, as a No. 10 and as a box-to-box midfielder, his attributes are not restricted in any of these positions and Aouar does not mind where he is positioned.
He told L’Equippe in November: “I’ve always played in the middle, so the role of the hard-working midfielder is the one that I like most- but I like the left wing, too. It allows me to work and to develop other skills. I’ll adapt to anything. It doesn’t matter where I play, I know it’s my chance and I’ll play anywhere to take it!”
His markedly innate ability to pick a defence-splitting pass has often been an ideal component for the pacey options further up the park including Bertrand Traore, Memphis Depay and Mariano Diaz. Indeed, his ease in either attacking on the counter with imposing bursts into the box or in playing within tight-knit spaces in oppositions’ box- frequently with Nabil Fekir- gives Lyon variation in their attack that served them well for the majority of the season.
Aouar’s excellent decision making on the point of receiving the ball on the counter attack is one of the 19-year old’s most mature formidable qualities, consistently the correct incisive forward pass, frequently precipitating a Lyon chance.
His wide array of imposing playing qualities at such a young age will not only make Aouar a crucial part of Lyon’s plans in 2018/19, but will prompt the club’s hierarchy to do what is necessary to ensure the young prodigy is with them for the foreseeable future. We are undeniably talking about a player who is the epitome of the modern day midfielder.
He remains grounded and strongly retains an emotional bond with his hometown city. “I give a lot of importance to my family and the city of Lyon, and I’m happy I decided to stay”. Aouar also stresses the importance of his family around him in this breakout period of his career, “I still live with my mum- She’s done everything for me and I feel great at her place. She brings me equilibrium. Playing in big matches and having cameras trained on, afterwards to go back to her place, it allows me to keep on my feet on the ground- that’s important”.