Scouting time: 4 U21 players to follow in English football
Ryan Sessegnon, 18 May 2000, Fulham
by Daniele V. Morrone
Not yet of legal age, Ryan Sessegnon already has a cult player following and with Fulham he has amazed even those who did not know his name because they do not follow international youth tournaments. To the tune of substantial goals, Sessegnon helped Fulham achieve the historic record of 17 consecutive games without a loss (13 wins and 4 draws), from December to the present. In this streak, 10 of those goals belonged to Sessegnon, who began playing as a left-back and then continued as a left winger. It was precisely this change of position, that coach Slavisa Jokanovic implemented from Sessegnon’s debut at the age of 16 and which he now seems to have established in order to have him consistently in the midfield, immediately led to the comparison with a young Gareth Bale.
Sessegnon is still really young and does not seem to have completed the physical development phase yet, but we can already say that he is a different player from Gareth Bale, to give an example of a player who went from leftback to winger (before becoming a central and then even right attacking midfielder). If Bale had stamina and a lightning quick sprint, as well as a powerful long stride, Sessegnon has the agility and ability to move quickly in tight spaces. If the young Bale had the build and running style of a pure sprinter, Sessegnon seems more like a long-distance sprinter.
We are talking about a player who can play anywhere along the side and who scores easily. This season, he has already scored 14 times, which makes him the fifth highest scorer in the league. The trait that has led him to scoring so many goals is his ability to move between the lines and never standing around waiting for the ball before playing it.
This is joined by an uncommon speed to which the defenders in the Championship are not accustomed. His movements cannot be followed by opponents who are too static on the outside and slow to read plays, so he can choose where and how to act. By now, it has become normal to see him move suddenly to the centre of the penalty area after following the play, positioning himself where he is all alone and ready to finish in front of the keeper.
In this case, starting from the outside and getting past the first rival with ball control, Sessegnon passes the ball to the more advanced teammate, also on the outside, and then underlaps to receive the ball in the free space, thereby able to cut across the pitch freely without any opponents ahead of him
Rather than dwell on his goals, however, we need to understand how his technical characteristics could lead to him playing in Premier League. Because if, from an athletic point of view, he is already ready for the category, from a technical point of view, he is not quite there yet: he passes the ball well, but his crosses and shots are still rather unclean. It seems normal for a player his age to have to measure himself up with more expert rivals.
His initial control is outstanding, but in dribbling he might need to make his biggest improvements, because right now it is enough for him to break into a sprint – something that will most likely not be able to do in Premier League. This makes one think that if he were to move up in category, it would probably be best to move him farther back, in order to leave more pitch ahead of him to exploit.
So, rather than Bale, perhaps the player to whom he should aspire is Ashley Cole, with whom he shares the offensive vocation, despite starting from behind, and to whom he can get close from a technical point of view. Ashley Cole also monopolised the left wing of the English national team for years and, if he keeps going the way he is, that seems to be Sessegnon’s destiny as well.
Lewis Cook, 03 Feb 1997, Bournemouth
by Daniele Manusia
Last summer, Lewis Cook became the first captain of the English national team since Bobby Moore to win a World Cup. It was the Under 20 World Cup and with his number 4 jersey, Lewis Cook was the beating heart of a team full of talent (Dominic Solanke, Calvert-Lewin), one of the six players who, just three years earlier, had won the European Under 17 Championship. In his first “real” season in Premier League, he grew quite a bit, gradually becoming more and more important at the centre of the Bournemouth midfield and also earning a spot on the senior National team, making his debut in a friendly match against Italy. Jermaine Defoe, now his teammate, compared Cook to Luka Modric (his teammate in his Tottenham days).
Lewis Cook has something traditionally English about him, the tendency to cover all areas of the pitch from box to box, athleticism that gives him intensity and quickness, as well as something new that the average English midfielder of a few years ago did not have (I am obviously not talking about the very best like Gerrard, Lampard or Scholes, who are truly lacking nothing): technique in tight areas, a sensitivity in long plays as well as in short ones, a clean geometric game.
His dynamic style and technique also allow him to play as a number 8, but his movements are typical of a midfielder who is accustomed to playing paired with another midfielder. Cook moves around the pitch, following the ball, is constantly in motion and follows up every pass with movement. He shows himself to the defence, but if he is marked he moves to create space. He provides balance when the ball is in the opposing team’s midfield, but he is never too far from the line of attack so that, if necessary, they can always find him.
He is quick in his lateral movements to block the opposing team’s transitions and in vertical dribbling to escape pressing. He doesn’t cover a lot of pitch, but with brief bursts of acceleration he manages to create pockets of space where he can keep his head up, searching for the right pass to continue the play. If possible, vertically and on the ground, but Cook has an outstanding long pass that is useful both to serve up his teammates in front of the goal (as with the 2-2 assist for Defoe at the last second at home against Crystal Palace) and to change sides.
Cook is perhaps a bit small for top level English football and he doesn’t have the explosiveness to move the ball forward for too many metres. His sphere of influence seems to stop at the edge of the opposition’s box and, although he is very much present in defensive duels (he is the Bournemouth player who tackles the most), his opponents often get around him in dribbling.
When there is a lot of pitch to defend, he compensates for his physical limitations by reading the play well when not in possession of the ball. When he has the ball, however, even with his left foot, he has excellent balance that allows him to get out of difficult situations creatively. In this season (where he has played almost 2000 minutes) he has attempted an average of 2.5 dribbles every 90’, 1.8 of which are successful. He is a reliable point of reference for his teammates (with 48.8 passes p90 he ranks fourth on the team with a 77.9% accuracy rate) and one of the best surprises of Bournemouth this season.
Andrew Howe said that when he wanted Cook, he knew that there would be a lot of work to do, but that he had a “very talented starting point”. Cook is mature and after almost an entire season as a starter, he has become acclimated in Premier League. From next season, he will need to begin exploring his limits and trying to push them farther.
Tammy Abraham, 02 Oct 1997, Swansea (on loan from Chelsea)
by Emanuele Atturo
Tammy Abraham‘s youth career has been dazzling. Entering the Chelsea academy at 8 years of age, he was one of the protagonists in the Youth League and Youth Cup wins in 2015 and 2016. In particular, in Youth League Abraham had demonstrated an embarrassing technical and physical superiority, scoring 8 goals in 9 matches. His professional debut last year with Bristol City was not exactly low key. In the Championship, Abraham scored 23 goals in 41 matches, earning the honour of runner-up top goal scorer for the tournament. Bristol fans voted him Player of the Year, Young Player of the Year and Top Goal-scorer: the first player in history to earn all three awards in the same season.
With these incredible credentials, at just 20 years of age, Abraham entered Premier League with Swansea, where Chelsea sent him to complete his apprenticeship. On a team in difficulty that is battling to avoid relegation even now, Abraham still managed to play in more than 20 matches. His scoring rate dropped – until now he has scored 5 goals – as was inevitable, both because of the step up in category and because of the work that Abraham must do for the team. Swansea plays with a rather conservative 3-5-2 formation that moves up the pitch relying heavily on its strikers.
In this context, Abraham attacks the depth less, but he has demonstrated some of his other talents. Despite making a name for himself mainly with his goals, Abraham is one of those centre forwards who likes to play the ball. In this sense, the number 10 he wears on his jersey is a declaration of intent. Abraham is a metre ninety tall, but his high centre of gravity makes him look even taller. He is certainly not reactive in his first steps, but he uses his build very well to get around his opppnents. This is perhaps Tammy Abraham’s best quality. Both in the centre of the pitch and when he moves out to the wing, Abraham loves to lean his weight on his defender, working the ball with his sole. When he manages to get turned around in front of the goal, he has an excellent vision of the play and his refinements have come in handy more than once, like in this play where from the last third he comes towards the ball and uses his instep to serve Routhledge deep.
This desire to play the ball and to help the team sometimes makes him a bit lazy in running into depth. Abraham moves around in the penalty area with good instinct, but sometimes he prefers moving back in order to receive the ball at his feet instead of making a direct attack on the goal. However, by doing this, he ends up sabotaging his best qualities which especially involve his presence in the penalty area. Abraham does not have an excellent technical quality, neither when he needs to control the ball, nor when he needs to line up a shot. When attempting a shot from a distance, he almost never has the right power or accuracy, but in the penalty area, he always manages to coordinate well in a tight window of space and time, both with his left and right foot. This is why he should develop a set of movements intended even more to lead to a finish in the box. His many years dominating in the youth categories have perhaps led him to think of himself as a complete centre forward, but on the Premier League level, he is unable to make that type of impact.
However, Abraham has excellent physical features and a natural instinct for scoring, something that could lead him to becoming one of the most important poacher of English football in recent years.
Joe Gomez, 23 May 1997, Liverpool
by Dario Saltari
Earning a spot as a starter this year, Joe Gomez picked up where he left off abruptly a couple of seasons ago when, after a brilliant year at Charlton in the Championship, he seriously injured his knee a few weeks after going to Liverpool. Klopp began placing trust in him as early as the beginning of the year, putting him on the pitch consistently as a right back after a season spent almost entirely on the bench.
However, despite the more than 2200 minutes played in the season in all competitions, Gomez has not entirely clarified the true value of his talent, a question that is inevitably also bound to the best tactical placement where his strenght can emerge. With Charlton, Gomez played both as a fullback (sometimes even on the left, despite being right-footed) and as a centreback, a position that he has basically not played at all with Liverpool.
Gomez has an imposing build and good explosive bursts of speed, but his biggest shortcomings have to do precisely with his qualities as a defender. Despite being almost a metre ninety tall, he is sorely lacking in aerial duels (he only wins 52%, the lowest percentage of Liverpool defenders not counting only Moreno and Arnold) and he is rather passive in one-on-one challenges, where he does not yet seem entirely aware of how to use his build to direct his rivals toward the less dangerous areas of the pitch.
Gomez seems to be much more at ease when he can detach from the defensive line and get ahead of his rival or the passing line. It is not by chance that he is also the Liverpool player who makes the most interceptions with the sole exception of Lovren (1.77 every 90 minutes in Premier League).
At the moment, Gomez’s talent seems to be strictly creative. The Liverpool defender has outstanding technical sensitivity with his right foot that is often combined with good vision of the game. In this sense, as a fullback, Gomez can play with his back covered by the sideline and with a complete vision of the pitch, which he has no problem crossing with both outside and inside diagonal passing lines. On the other hand, Gomez’s qualities in build-up were immediately clear when, in his debut with Liverpool in the summer of 2015, he made a decisive assist as a left back.
Also given the potential that he seems to possess in progression (96% of his attempted dribbling moves are successful), Gomez could perhaps refine himself further as an half-back on a three-man defence, where he could advance early without worrying too much about the space he leaves behind and where he would have even more pitch to exercise his influence on the ball. After all, already with Liverpool, when the back on the opposite side moves off the line to toward the midfield, Gomez often stays beside the other two centres in order to form a line which, with preventive marking, actually works like a three-man defence.
In any case, his growth process must inevitably include a more developed awareness of his body’s potential, a weapon that he will need to learn to exploit beyond mere intensity if he wants to improve his level as a defender.
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READ HERE: 4 U21 players to follow in Bundesliga