Valerenga may have stuttered a little of late but they are in the process of enjoying their best season in years with new coach Dag-Eilev Akerhaugen Fagermo having taken over from former Celtic manager Ronny Deila. At the forefront of this success is a pair of young wingers in Osame Sahraoui and Aron Donnum, and this scout report shall provide a tactical analysis of the latter, and aim to show why he has attracted strong interest from UEFA Champions League regulars Besiktas.
Role in the team
Vålerenga have largely used a 4-3-3 system under Fagermo, though have occasionally switched to a 4-4-2. In both of these tactics, Dønnum generally acts as a right-sided forward in attack and as the right-sided midfield player in defence. This can be seen in his heatmap from this season.
What is also obvious from the heatmap is how often the young Norwegian plays in the half-space off the right flank. Dønnum is predominantly left-footed and therefore operates as an inverted winger/inside forward, though Fagermo has swapped Dønnum and Sahraoui at times during games, asking the target of this scout report to play as an out-and-out winger on the left instead.
Dønnum is Vålerenga’s main attacking outlet with his teammates generally looking to get the ball to him as quickly as possible. When faced with opposition operating a low-block, the winger will often look to keep his width in order to stretch the play. His team arguably rely on him too much to break down teams through his individual skill against such opposition. When under pressure, Dønnum’s teammates will again look to get the ball to him immediately knowing that he is quickly able to get the team up the pitch.
The rest of this tactical analysis will examine the strengths of Dønnum, and explore why he is Vålerenga’s most reliant attacking threat, as well as showing what part he plays defensively.
Contribution to attack
Perhaps atypically for a young winger, Dønnum possesses a terrific intelligence in the build-up play. His starting position will always be to hug the touchline, allowing Vålerenga the constant opportunity to stretch play. Due to his reputation for being deadly when marked tightly in a 1v1, opposition full-backs will often afford Dønnum space on the flank.
From this starting position, Dønnum has the ability to both attack down the line and cross on his weaker right foot or more commonly cut inside onto his stronger left. A key component of his team’s success this season has been Dønnum’s partnership with his full-back Christian Dahle Borchgrevink. The winger consistently uses the runs of his full-back to create overlaps for crossing opportunities or to lose a marker when cutting inside.
The example below shows the supreme coherence and synergy between winger and full-back. Dønnum squares up his marker, knowing without looking that his full-back will be making a run on the outside.
The opposition full-back is actually positioned well in defence with a body shape that will allow him to quickly cover the overlap. Dønnum, however, makes a small feint to the inside forcing the defender to change his shape.
This subtle but effective change of direction opens up plenty of space for the overlapping to provide a telling cross.
The Norwegian winger also displays superb attacking intelligence off-the-ball, his movement and anticipation key to his team’s attacks through the centre or on the opposite flank. Dønnum is a winger who doesn’t simply drift in and out of games, instead he constantly looks to get involved in the play.
In the following example, Dønnum finds the defence has numerical superiority on his side and thus looks to switch the play to the opposite channel, spotting the opportunity for a potential 2v1 on the right flank.
The winger then continues his run infield in an effort to shake off his marker. As play progresses, we can see that Dønnum has managed to lose the intentions of his marker (spot how the defender’s body language suggests he wants to ‘hand him on’ to another player).
The winger continues his run into the space behind the defensive line, creating a 3v2 in Vålerenga’s favour and a big goal-scoring opportunity.
Dønnum will also look to provide support for the central striker when play is developing on the opposite flank, making central runs which aren’t always picked up the opposition. His goal and assist tally of two and one respectively so far this season is well below expectations but his xG of 3.72 and xA of 1.69 better illustrates how often he takes up good positions.
Defensive positioning and transition
Fagermo’s team switch to a 4-5-1 when defending, meaning Dønnum plays as a conventional right-midfielder when his team are without the ball. Again, perhaps atypically of a ball-carrying winger, he is willing to work hard in defence and often keeps to the team’s defensive structure. The below image shows the general defensive shape of Vålerenga.
What’s also noticeable from an analysis of Dønnum in the defensive phase is how willing he is to get the right side of the ball in transition. In the recent game against unbeaten league-leaders Bodø/Glimt, Dønnum often found himself ahead of the ball as play broke down. One of the main strengths of the champions-elect is their power in transition but Dønnum’s hard work and running power often slowed down counter-attacks. Dønnum played a crucial role in earning his team a draw in that game, neutralising arguably the best attacking full-back in the league in Fredrik André Bjørkan for long periods.
Dønnum also plays a key part in the defending of corners. He is usually asked to mark the near post area, his physicality and jumping ability allowing him to clear any danger from deliveries in that area. The below image shows his typical positioning.
Of course, his defensive positioning is merely a means to an end for a player like Dønnum. Where he really comes alive is in transition, his pace and directness proving a nightmare for opponents. Due to his attitude in defence and his willingness to keep the shape, opportunities to break are frequent.
The below example shows Vålerenga attempting to break after defending a corner. Dønnum has taken up his usual position defending the near post, though the delivery was much deeper and headed out by one of his teammates on this occasion. In such an occurrence, it’s easy to see another reason as to why Dønnum is asked to take up that position. He is able to break quickly from this area and set up a counter-attack.
Another example of counter-attacking after defending a corner can be seen below. Dønnum again gets forward quickly from his position at the near post. This time he is able to beat the covering defender and create a 3v2 for his team.
Dønnum ultimately draws the keeper and plays a square ball for his teammate to score a tap-in, his intelligence and selfless play once again in evidence.
The young winger is equally as effective at transitions in open play, his dribbling ability (which will be examined in the next part of this scout report) a huge threat in such situations.
Dribbling and offensive duels
A scout report of Dønnum would simply not be complete without looking at his dribbling prowess. A simple look at his statistics shows how he tops the charts for the number of dribbles attempted and offensive duels involved in amongst midfield players in the Eliteserien, as well as boasting reasonable success rates for both.
See also how he ranks fourth for progressive runs. This shows that the young winger isn’t simply a ‘show-pony’ and that his dribbling is a key part of his team’s attacking output. What’s also noticeable from these statistics is how his opposite winger is also ranked in the top four for each of the three metrics, Vålerenga’s wingers clearly key to their tactics.
Focusing on Dønnum playing off the right-hand side, I shall attempt to display his terrific dribbling ability in a sequence of images. In this situation, the winger is in his customary position hugging the touchline but is quickly closed down by two opposition defenders.
The opportunity is there for Dønnum to play a simple pass to his full-back but the opposition are set up in a good structure and Dønnum’s preference is to disrupt this shape with individual skill, thus enabling the attack to progress. The winger’s pace, strength and close control all come into play as he is able to shift the ball between his feet and burst through the small gap presented to him.
In beating this pair of players, it necessitates that the central midfield player shifts across to pressure Dønnum. The forced shift of this player has already disrupted the defensive shape of the opponent and opened up the space that the central midfielder has departed.
The defender utilises a body shape that tries to show Dønnum into a cul-de-sac rather than attacking the space left by him.
The young winger is wise to this and, using a quick change of direction, gets on the outside of his man and dribbles into the space. By working out of these tight spaces, we can see how four opposition players have been temporarily taken out of the game. With their defensive shape disrupted, the other players must shift across to compensate. This allows an abundance of space on the opposite flank for Vålerenga to attack. Dønnum gets his head up and plays a lovely pass to Sahraoui, who in turn creates a chance.
Although he favours coming inside onto his stronger left foot, Dønnum is not averse to attacking his defender 1-on-1 on the outside. With his reputation for coming inside, full-back’s will often try to show him up the line and deny the opportunity for Borchgrevink to link-up on the overlap. Whilst clearly favouring his left, it would be unfair to say Dønnum is weak on his opposite side, and he is more than happy to accept the invite to attack down the line.
The below image shows a situation in which Dønnum is invited down the line. The full-back is at 90 degrees to him, and with two players covering the space inside, Dønnum essentially has no option but to attack down the line. This type of defence, brought about by the way Dønnum opened up the game earlier by cutting in inside, proves to be inefficient as it allows plenty of space for the winger to run into and get a cross away.
Dønnum’s ability to dribble with both feet, and attack both outside and inside makes him a nightmare to defend against one-on-one. On the other hand, when the opposition double-up (or even triple-up) on him, he is able to temporarily take them out of the game, giving his team numerical superiority in attack.
The main gripe amongst Vålerenga fans, as well as general observers, is Dønnum’s lack of consistency. Though at only 21, this is to be expected from a player of his type. Dønnum has been known to go missing at times in big games, though his recent performance against Bodø/Glimt shows how he is maturing, particularly in the defensive side of his game.
What is probably more of an issue is that, despite his attacking intelligence, he can be rather predictable at times when things aren’t going his way. Similarly to Ryan Kent at Rangers, he seems to place too much pressure on himself to be the match-winner when things aren’t quite going his team’s way. This is often borne out by Dønnum continuously aiming to cut inside and shoot on his left-foot into a crowded area. Again, this is an issue that we would expect to be resolved with experience, and perhaps even a transfer to a higher-quality team.
Aron Dønnum continues to catch the eye and is unlikely to be an Eliteserien player beyond the end of this season. Already capped six times for Norway Under-21’s, he’ll be keen to showcase his talents at a higher level and push for a spot in the senior Norway squad. Besiktas have been credited with a strong interest in him over the last few months but reports suggest they don’t have the financial resources to complete the move. Dønnum strikes as a player who would be best served playing for a side who excel in offensive transitions.