Rayan Aït-Nouri scout report: Why Wolves left-back with ‘a lot to learn’ is a bargain at £9.5m
When a deal was struck for Wolves to bring in Rayan Aït-Nouri on a temporary basis, there was a cause for concern within certain scouting circles. Here, we have a player with tremendous talent, till that point, he had only made 23 Ligue 1 appearances and would have perhaps benefitted more from accumulating more minutes at Angers, than play a rotation role (if he were lucky) at Wolves behind Jonny Otto.
He earned himself more minutes than he probably had any right to expect thanks to injuries ahead of him in the pecking order, but he grew into the season as it went on. He impressed towards the latter stages of the season when Wolves were playing for mid-table mediocracy. As a result, Wolves renegotiated their loan to buy offer of £18m, to £9.5m, but with a 50% sell-on clause for Angers included in the deal. In this scout report, we are going to unravel why this is still a bargain for Wolves.
In this tactical analysis, we will cover how he performed in his first season in the Premier League, see why he could suit Bruno Lage’s tactics and his forecast for the future.
The France U21 international started his career at AS Val de Fontenay, a club then in the fourth tier of French football – only ten minutes away from his hometown, Montreuil. He made his way to Paris FC in 2014, via a couple of years spent with ASF Le Perreux beforehand, where he spent another two years playing youth football with a more competitive side in Ligue 2. Another two years passed before Aït-Nouri finally joined Angers SCO’s youth team, where he would spend two years in their youth team.
As of the 2018/19 campaign, Aït-Nouri was promoted to the first team, and it was in that season where he made his debut off of the bench against Paris Saint-Germain of all teams. Two more appearances would follow that season, before his breakthrough campaign a season later. 23 appearances and even more heads turned, Aït-Nouri eventually joined Wolves on loan, despite interest from Man City, Chelsea, and even Barcelona. He would fair as well as anyone could expect of a 19-year-old fresh into the league.
Standing at 5’10” / 179cm, Aït-Nouri is about average for height when it comes to Premier League full-backs, but his style of play can be likened to Serie A full-back, Theo Hernández. They are both excellent ball carriers and either player can underlap and overlap in attacking scenarios, with no particular preference for either method in the final third. Aït-Nouri’s dribbling is his biggest strength, and now as a permanent member of the Wolves squad, it will be about boosting his other attributes to a similar level.
Rayan Aït-Nouri’s player profile, created by the wonderful Sathish Prasad, so are the fantastic radars further down the piece. Check out his Twitter @SathishPrasadVT.
Eager dribbling ability
It is fair to say that Aït-Nouri’s most common tendency is to dribble with the ball, whether inside his half, or approaching the final third to create a goalscoring opportunity via his crossing. It helped him to stand out in the French league, and it was the side of his game that caught the eye of Europe’s elite. He might not have tremendous output at this age, but his strong dribbling creates a strong foundation to build upon in an attacking sense. It makes a team’s left flank more dynamic.
Rayan Aït-Nouri’s attacking and creativity radar from the 2020/21 Premier League season.
Based on 1,512 Premier League minutes, Aït-Nouri has implemented a much needed attacking impetus into this Wolves side down the left flank. To get him into these attacking areas, he has used his nimble and eager dribbling style to get past opponents and into areas of real threat. He can either overlap the winger ahead of him, most frequently Pedro Neto, or produce the underlap and dive inside with the ball at his feet, with the same intention of creating a shooting opportunity.
He sits in the 96th percentile for successful dribbles per 90 at 2.92, which is certainly high for a player who has been playing both as a nominal full-back as well as a wing-back in a back three system. It is worth noting that Nuno Espírito Santo trusted the teenager in a back four and back three, which is a compliment to Aït-Nouri’s tactical adaptability, as he remains an attacking threat in both positions.
Inside from a wide zone, Aït-Nouri drifts into the half-space where he can dive past the United defender.
He instead opts to overlap in this case, sticking high and wide to find Silva in the area.
His dribbling technique can be described as excitable and brimming with energy. His method of getting the ball past opponents relies on his ability to spin his opponents with quick bursts of pace. He rarely takes advantage of any flair-type skill moves in 1v1 scenarios, not even a step-over or roulette to drag it past an opponent. He does occasionally utilise a fake shot to bait his opponent, however.
It can also be described as excitable because he can sometimes run over the ball and stumble into opponents, rather than go past them. This can thrust Aït-Nouri into a metaphorical brick wall, and depending on where he starts the dribble, it can spark dangerous counterattacks for Wolves’ opponents. This is worthwhile knowing because the 20-year-old does occasionally dribble inside his half, as a method of ball progression and breaking lines of pressure.
Inside his own half, the teenager looks to use his dribbling ability to carry the ball up the pitch.
He lays off the ball at the right moment to a nearby teammate.
You know, 3.1 progressive runs per 90 are 93rd percentile for Premier League full-backs/wing-backs last season, so he is putting his dribbling tendencies to good use. He uses his quick feet smartly in dribbling scenarios to take it past opponents and demonstrates good ingenuity when opponents apply heavy pressure to him when he carries the ball.
Promising creative fundamentals
While dribbling is his strong point – it has only helped Aït-Nouri to an extent in the final third. Almost all of his crossing efforts are a result of his dribbles, but his 58.33% success rate means that he only gets into dangerous positions to cross or shoot around half the time. His interplay with his teammates, especially Neto, is quite limited, and he seldom plays one-twos with the Portuguese playmaker.
Rayan Aït-Nouri’s passing and progression radar from the 2020/21 Premier League season.
Above we can see just how much Aït-Nouri impacts Wolves’ build-up play, and it is not much from a passing perspective. He only ranks highly for passing accuracy, which suggests that he tends to play it safe in the build-up phase of play – understandable given not only his age but his inexperience playing at the top level, especially in a league with such intense pressing as the Premier League.
Further forward, Aït-Nouri is developing his G+A output, but he still lets himself down in a few aspects. He is actually the most active defender in terms of chance creation in the Wolves squad, ahead of £27.5m signing Nélson Semedo on the opposite flank. Despite 42% of Wolves’ attacks coming down the right-hand side, Aït-Nouri has been producing 1.92 shot-creating actions per 90 minutes compared with Semedo’s 1.75 – that, alongside similar ball progression numbers as well.
The 20-year-old collects the ball and wisely uses his momentum to burst past the defender.
Entering the penalty area, he finds his teammate across the box to grab an assist against Everton.
He has some very good attacking ideas which come to fruition as a result of his strong dribbling abilities. He can drift inside into the left half-space which defenders often do not anticipate or prepare for, meaning the Frenchman can exploit gaps in the defence and create good goalscoring opportunities. However, sometimes as he stumbles while carrying the ball, it can create time for defenders
His debut against Crystal Palace was a shining example of how his positioning in the final third can ask questions of an opposition’s defensive structure. Staying wide when the ball is on the opposite side of the pitch, the 20-year-old can ghost into the penalty area with acres of space around him to strike the ball first time if it were to come towards him, just as it did versus Palace.
Aït-Nouri waits until the last moment to make his late run into the area.
His patience is vindicated with a goal into the bottom right on his debut versus Crystal Palace.
Overall, Aït-Nouri has displayed promising creative fundamentals, but he frequently rushes his decision-making in the final third, and this makes it quite easy for a defender to block his crossing efforts. If he can take more control in these scenarios, i.e., beginning to understand when and when not to cross from deep, or hit the byline, he could become a dangerous attacking threat down the left flank for Lage’s team.
How will he fit in Lage’s tactics?
Lage, based on his previous Benfica team, is likely to set up Wolves in a 4-4-2 out of possession, and Aït-Nouri has some experience playing in a similar formation at Angers when he was utilised in a 4-1-4-1. Lage, however, will expect his full-backs to be effective and useful in every phase of play, but especially roaming forward. His full-backs at Benfica were utilised incredibly wide – with the target being to stretch the play and create overloads in wide areas.
This wide positioning made it easier to progress in the early stages of play, while stretching opponents in the final third too, asking questions of opposition full-backs as to whether they should remain their defensive shape, or navigate towards the ball-carrier out wide. This also allows for easier interplay between the full-back and the wide midfielder. What was apparent at Benfica under Lage is that the central-midfielder would often play curved balls in behind for the overlapping full-backs.
Gabriel Menino under Lage would often look for Grimaldo out on the left flank.
Gabriel would play the defence-splitting through pass into Grimaldo, with Seferovic the target.
We can easily see the likes of Rúben Neves or João Moutinho playing these defence-splitting passes into the wide areas at Wolves – they have the passing range and ability to do so. Wolves have not yet taken advantage of these tactics, but it could honestly be quite effective for them, with a good mixture of excellent long-range passers and full-backs who are willing runners.
Aït-Nouri as a gifted left-back on the ball – could benefit massively off of this new regime. If he can time his runs consistently, he could pose a serious threat against any time who opt to play a high line, or even against a compact defensive unit as well. When he gets on the ball, he should be allowed more time, in theory, to pick out a pass or wait for attackers to flood into the area as we expect them to under Lage’s more attacking tactics.
Here, we see Neves find Silva with the long-range pass, smartly picking up Silva’s movement with his keen vision.
Briefly, his defensive game will need work too. He does have good defensive awareness and tends to not get dragged away from the defensive shape at Wolves, but occasionally when the direct ball gets played over to him, his positioning can be weak, and this can be exposed by wingers with a strong first-touch – not allowing that fast recovery pace to play a factor.
Forecast for the future
Wolves, on the face of it, appear to have picked up a bargain. £9.5m is good going for a young and promising left-back with Champions League potential, especially in a market stripped of top quality to that degree. However, a 50% sell-on clause is also a nice addition to the Angers coffers in the future as well.
We will see how the teenager adapts to life under Bruno Lage – there is a potential that his positioning lets him down in a system so intent on making the most of their full-backs offensively. If he can produce more upside with his attacking contribution than his defensive mishaps, I’m sure he will be forgiven for it in the overall picture.