West Bromwich Albion’s 19-year-old defender, Nathan Ferguson, has been making his rounds through the Championship rumour mill of late. A host of Premier League clubs including Tottenham Hotspur, coupled with the Spanish and Italian giants of Atletico Madrid and Juventus, are all reportedly keeping tabs on the young Englishman.
The 19-year-old is strong and quick; with fantastic vision to boot. For a right-footed defender, he is versatile, having featured for Slaven Bilic’s tactics in both full-back positions. Ferguson broke through to the Baggies’ first-team set-up at the beginning of this season, making his debut and grabbing an assist in their opening day, 2-1 victory over Nottingham Forest.
This scout report on Ferguson will break down the key areas and strengths of the Baggies’ youngster using analysis; whilst also highlighting an area of his game which the 19-year-old could improve upon.
Commanding aerial presence
Standing at five feet and 11 inches tall, Ferguson lends himself perfectly to multiple attributes which are key to being an effective full-back – where he has played the majority of this season. One of these key attributes is the 19-year-old’s commanding aerial presence. Despite being a sub-six-foot height, Ferguson uses his strength and leaping ability to be competitive in any aerial duel.
When defending set-pieces, Slaven Bilic sets the Baggies backline up with zonal marking. In Bilic’s zonal-marking vision, four players act as clearers – whose job it is to head the ball clear if towards the six-yard box – while the remaining defenders act as blockers to block the runs of attackers. This is opposed to man marking where each defender would be allocated an attacker to follow and clear the ball if it arrives near to them. As can be seen in the above annotation, Ferguson is one of Bilic’s four clearers – as marked by the red circle.
Here, the annotation again shows West Brom defending a set-piece in a recent game against Middlesbrough deploying Bilic’s zonal marking vision. With the delivery coming from the opposite side of the penalty area, Ferguson has switched sides as he always occupies the back post when zonally marking. Such is the Croatian’s trust in the 19-year-old’s aerial abilities, Ferguson is often deployed in this position from set-pieces – an area where he will be heavily relied upon to clear the ball.
When in comparison to a full-back that Ferguson would be in regular competition with for a spot in the England set-up, should he achieve the highest reaches of the game at a senior international level, West Brom’s man comfortably beats Trent Alexander-Arnold in aerial duals won per 90 minutes. The Champions League winner with Liverpool last term, Alexander-Arnold, averages 1.43 duels won per outing where Ferguson totals more than double that, with a 3.53 average.
Another vital attribute for the full-back of the modern era is to be decisive in attack, with shooting and passing vision key areas for wide defenders to excel in. This is another area of Ferguson’s game which is strong and rapidly improving. When in comparison to another of the 19-year-old’s future competition, Ben Chilwell – as the Baggies’ man can occupy either full-back spot – the pair rank very similarly in progressive passes per 90 minutes. The Leicester City full-back just edges it with a 12.21 average, where Ferguson tallies 10.73 progressive passes on average.
The above annotation is taken from the build-up to West Brom’s opening goal in their 2-0 victory over Queens Park Rangers at Loftus Road. This being Ferguson’s first and only goal for the Baggies to date, it is a fine example of the youngster’s vision. Just seconds following on from the annotation in the second half of that game, the much-lauded man releases an effort which follows the trajectory of the yellow arrow. With the shot finding the narrow gap between two QPR defenders and then inside the post beyond Joe Lumley – it is a great testament to the defender’s ability to spot a gap.
Here, the above annotation highlights how Ferguson’s vision is also used in his passing ability. With the ball at his feet, the English full-back is able to find the gap between three Middlesbrough players for the forward run of Grady Diangana to latch onto the pass. The 30-yard pass presents West Brom with a dangerous attacking situation, as can be seen in the below annotation, where Diangana can slide a drilled pass across the box, however, Dael Fry is able to make a recovery run and put the ball out for a corner.
Quick turn of pace
While Ferguson is strong in the air and trusted to perform his role well when zonally marking, the 19-year-old is also deceptively quick when considering his stature. Again, in the modern era that expects full-backs to be all-rounders in attacking, defending and transitional abilities; the West Brom youngster is able to comfortably hold his own. Ferguson’s quick turn of pace allows him to be dangerous in attack and successful in transition, due to being able to drop back into defensive structure quickly.
Here, again in West Brom’s 1-0 victory over Middlesbrough at the Riverside Stadium, Ferguson shows his strength and pace attributes to good attacking effect. Using his strength, the Englishman is able to dispossess Jonny Howson from the ball before playing a simple pass, while under pressure, to Diangana – who is playing ahead of Ferguson in the left-winger role.
This annotation is taken a couple of seconds ahead of the previous and shows how the defender has been able to use his turn of pace to create a dangerous situation for West Brom. Having out-muscled Howson and delivered the ball to Diangana, Ferguson is able to quickly advance up the field into Boro’s third of the pitch and create a forward pass for the winger having come from behind the ball. Ultimately Diangana is dispossessed and possession is turned back over to the home side.
Increased positional awareness required
Should Ferguson reach the highest level of his game and one day represent his country at senior level, as he has done at Under-20 level this season, then the 19-year-old will have to improve upon his positional awareness. Although quick and strong and therefore able to easily transition back into defensive shape, Ferguson has been caught lacking in awareness of his position on the field in several occasions.
As can be seen above, the West Brom man has been caught out of position in the build up to Charlton’s first equalising goal in a 2-2 draw at the Hawthorns Stadium. Perhaps, through his desire to attack and aid Bilic’s side on the goal-scoring front, Ferguson has strayed too far upfield – leaving a large open gap in the Baggies defence. The open area is marked by the yellow circle and the yellow arrow shows the actual ball played to Chris Solly. Where the 19-year-old should have been positioned is marked by the red arrow, from where he would have been goal side of the attacker and able to clear the through pass to prevent the equaliser.
Here, the above annotation shows an error in Ferguson’s positional awareness, this time against Middlesbrough. The ball has been played wide to Howson and the full-back has been dragged too far out of position with his forward run, as marked by the yellow arrow. The second yellow arrow marks the run made by Paddy McNair into the free space left by Ferguson, which is marked by the yellow circle. Again, where Ferguson should be positioned is marked by the red arrow, if he dropped to cover the open area of space Diangana would press the ball and McNair would not have had an open area of pitch to move into.
While Ferguson still has a lot of development ahead of him, he is on his way to being an impressive, young, English talent. With the stature of clubs reportedly looking at the 19-year-old with interest, he could be set to receive the coaching which will help him progress to the higher reaches of the game.
Having said that, when in comparison to, arguably, England’s best in his same position – Ferguson already matches Chilwell and Alexander-Arnold in a defender’s staple stat. For defensive duels won per 90 minutes the Leicester man totals 7.63, the Liverpool defender 6.97 and West Brom’s starlet averages in the middle of both with 7.12.
Either way, the career of the youngster will be an interesting one to watch unfold; and in particular, next summer should he make the switch from West Bromwich to either Madrid or Turin.
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