Välerenga FC are undergoing somewhat of a revival in recent years after overcoming financial adversity in 2014 and subsequently consolidating their position in Norway’s Eliteserien.
At the forefront of this revival is Aron Dønnum, a 21-year-old wide midfielder who is enjoying the best season of his career to date. This scout report and tactical analysis will seek to highlight the key aspects of Dønnum’s overall game which have enabled him to perform so highly this season
A tactical analysis of Aron Dønnum instantly reveals his preference to cut inside from the right onto his stronger left foot. This attacking role-play has proven an effective tool for Dønnum and indeed Valerenga this season. However, the tactics and style of play introduced by current manager Ronny Deila has been integral to Dønnum’s success.
Deila, upon his appointment as Celtic manager in 2014, promised to deliver ‘attacking, exciting and entertaining’ football. Such a philosophy suits an attack-minded player like Aron Dønnum. Valerenga have alternated between a 4-2-3-1 and a 4-4-2 for much of this season. In both systems, Deila permits his fullbacks license to get forward and support the wingers: much to Dønnum’s benefit.
The space generated in the final-third by an overlapping fullback has been key to affording Dønnum the ability to cut inside from the right wing. This is apparent in the graphic below which shows Valerenga’s right-back, Juárez Váldez, dragging the opposition fullback out of position.
Dønnum effectively exploits such pockets of space by cutting onto his left foot before picking out a team-mate or, more often, getting a shot on goal. The majority of Dønnum’s goal this season have come as a result of such scenarios.
Indeed, his first goal for Valerenga in the 2019 season: a 93rd minute winner on his left foot and from the right side of the box was a sign of things to come. Below, we can see the increasing comfortability of Dønnum in the attacking-third. He holds his run and chooses against receiving the ball in behind the defensive line. This optimises the space in which Dønnum can cut inside and maintains a superior angle from which he can shoot.
That Aron Dønnum may be labelled a ‘one-trick pony’ is understandable: cutting inside from the right wing is undoubtedly his forte. Conversely, Arjen Robben is a useful archetype of a player who was reliant upon cutting inside yet sustained the devastating effects of doing so throughout his career.
Robben’s goal-scoring record alone provides testimony enough to the value of a player who can effectively cut inside. However, despite Dønnum’s effectiveness so far this season, comparisons between himself and Arjen Robben are a long way off.
In fact, such comparisons may yet be futile as Dønnum has shown increasing signs that there are other aspects to his overall game. The images below evidence that Dønnum has a number of options when in the attacking third. As depicted, his opponents block off the inside channel and force play down the touchline.
Consequently, Dønnum makes an overlapping run on the outside of his team-mate and receives the ball in enough space to cross. Here, Dønnum’s relatively strong ‘weak foot’ makes crossing on his right a viable option.
He successfully picks out a team-mate in the box with a deep cross. Thus, while Dønnum’s preference is naturally to cut inside on his favoured left foot, it is not his only attacking outlet.
Intelligence in the final-third
Decisiveness and understanding in attacking phases are becoming increasingly influential in modern-day football. Dønnum has demonstrated that he possesses both. Making intelligent runs and frequently drifting from his designated position, Dønnum creates a fluidity to the Valerenga attack.
He also occupies goal-scoring positions whenever he gets the opportunity, arriving late and often unmarked into the opposition box. Incidentally, Dønnum rarely drifts in and out of games.
As shown in the graphic below, if the majority of Valerenga’s possession is concentrated on the opposite flank, Dønnum plays more centrally. He frequently makes penetrating runs and provides an attacking outlet for his opposite winger in the penalty area.
Dønnum’s desire to influence games, to get on the ball and consistently commit opposition defenders is what establishes him as a significant offensive threat.
Dønnum also possesses both anticipation and composure beyond his age. While this has proven to be useful in engineering half-chances, Dønnum also makes intelligent runs expertly timed in behind the defensive line.
This enables Dønnum to utilise his pace and stretch the opposition defence, creating space for his team-mates. Moreover, the fluid nature of Valerenga’s attack enables Dønnum to drift into central channels and thus make runs directly through the heart of the opposition.
The effectiveness of this when coupled with a good through-ball from a midfield play-maker is clear to see. The images below outline that Dønnum’s attacking threat is not one-dimensional.
He can drift inside to play as a make-shift support striker, contributing to build-up while also posing a threat in behind. This desire to occupy goal-scoring positions at every opportunity is further evidenced by his impressive 4.16 touches in the opposition box per game. It is this attacking versatility which makes Dønnum such an exciting prospect.
This season has seen Dønnum not only handle but welcome the greater responsibilities which regular first-team football poses. At just 21 years old, Dønnum is Valerenga’s joint top goal-scorer (6 in all competitions) for the 2019 season. Not only has he been prolific in front of goal, the goals he has scored have often been decisive.
Both his winning goal against Odd and his overall performance against Strømsgodset demonstrated a maturity and headship typically absent from younger players. Dønnum almost singlehandedly inspired an emphatic comeback against Strømsgodset. He scored Valerenga’s first goal before assisting the latter in a game which they narrowly lost 3-2.
The question as to whether Dønnum could raise his performance to the levels required in the Eliteserien after spending last season on loan with Hamarkameratene FC in the Obos Ligaen has been answered. Incidentally, this has not gone unnoticed: Dønnum made his debut for the Norway U21 team on the 25th of March 2019.
Dønnum has also been gifted with natural pace and strength. This has contributed to the significant threat posed by Valerenga on the counter. A combination of intelligent runs and enough pace to get in behind the defensive line has made Dønnum a consistent threat to Eliterseiren defences.
While fast paced build-up play benefits Dønnum’s runs in behind, he also possesses enough strength to facilitate more direct play. Valerenga can, and have, played a more direct brand of football when an urgent need for a goal restricts a more intricate and patient build-up.
In such instances, Dønnum operates as more of a second striker than a winger: moving more central and looking to win long balls and goal-kicks. Here, his 5 foot 10 inch coupled with his desire and ability to win 50-50 challenges are of great assistance. The graphic below illustrates Dønnum’s ability to hold off his man when receiving long balls before utilising his natural pace to penetrate the defence.
Furthermore, Dønnum’s natural fitness and tenacity enables Valerenga to enact an effective press in the opposition half. Dønnum is central to the success of this press as he rushes defenders along with Valerenga’s forwards in order to elicit defensive errors.
The image below provides an example of how valuable this press can be. Moments after this press, Dønnum wins back possession in the final third. Here, Dønnum is key to Valerenga’s ability to both defend from the front and counter with pace and precision.
Dønnum’s exceptional stamina also enables to him to track back and limit the space for opposing wingers. Just as Valerenga’s right back, Váldez, assists Dønnum’s offensive game, so too does Dønnum aid Váldez defensively. This is reinforced by Dønnum’s impressive defensive numbers: averaging 3.65 interceptions and 5.4 recoveries per game.
The heatmap below outlines the significant ground Dønnum covers. Unsurprisingly, the majority of Dønnum’s action comes down the right hand side and the inside left areas. However, it is clear from the heatmap that Dønnum covers a significant amount of ground tracking back. As well as offering this defensive support, Dønnum also possesses positional versatility within the attacking third.
Aron Dønnum is enjoying a break-out season and his reputation both domestically and internationally is growing as a result. So far in 2019 he has demonstrated sufficient ability and determination to become a star player for his club. Dønnum has also shown potential at a national level, albeit at Under-21 level.
He is best utilised as an inside forward played on the right wing but has shown considerable positional flexibility offensively and is capable of playing as a support striker or even a number 10. His future is certain to be an interesting one and don’t be surprised to see him called up to the Norway national side ahead of their Euro 2020 campaign.