In the past couple of years, many young English prospects have started to break through and establish themselves in the senior ranks. One of such talents is Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon. In the 2017/18 season, the youngster lit up the Championship by scoring 16 goals and assisting his team-mates eight times. He was named the Championship Player of the Season and was looking ahead for his first-ever campaign in the top flight.

Despite big hopes and expectations, the youngster struggled to make a similar impact in the Premier League like he did in the Championship. With only two goals to his name, Sessegnon could not save his side from relegation. Wherever his future lies ahead, at Fulham or any other club, the English talent will hope to repeat the performances showed a season before.

This scout report will provide an insightful player profile as well as delve deeper into the possible causes of Sessegnon’s poor performances in the 2018/19 season using tactical analysis and statistics.

Player overview

Ryan Sessegnon is a 19-year-old Fulham’s academy graduate who also plays for the England under-21 national team. He made his breakthrough in the Fulham senior side in 2016, aged 16. Sessegnon can play anywhere across the left-side, usually being deployed at left-back, wide left-midfield and left-forward positions. Possessing lightning pace, work-rate and trickery, the English youngster is an exciting talent who is yet to be nurtured.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s most prominent positions on the pitch. LB: left-back; LW: left-winger; LF: left-forward.

Sessegnon’s versatility: strength or weakness?

The Cottagers’ attacking talent is an incredibly versatile player. As mentioned above, he can play anywhere on the left flank with rare occurrences on the right side or even up top as well. Last season, Sessegnon’s most prominent position was as a left-winger where he played 47.1% of all matches. It came at the expense of a more defensive role though. In the 2018/19 season, Sessegnon played 17.3% of games fewer at left-back than in the season before.

However, an increase in playing time in other positions meant that Sessegnon’s favoured left-forward position experienced a significant decline in terms of appearances. The Englishman played only three matches in the 2018/19 season as a left-forward. A significant decrease by almost 20 per cent compared to the 2017/18 campaign where he played 28.6% of all matches.

Finally, Sessegnon was used as a right-forward in 20.6% of the matches he played in the last season. It was another reason why his playing time as a wide left-forward was reduced.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
The comparison of Sessegnon’s most used positions in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season in percentage.

By looking purely at the statistics, it might be argued that Sessegnon’s versatility could have played a role in his poor performances in the 2018/19 season. As stated above, a wide left-forward is the Fulham attacker’s preferred position. It seems this is where Sessegnon is the most capable of showcasing his attacking talent. The youngster scored 10 out of his 16 goals and assisted five times in the Championship playing as a left-forward. In contrast, Sessegnon had no goals and no assists to his name from the same position the following season.

There were not many improvements in Sessegnon’s attacking game when he was asked to alter the positions either. Only two goals were scored when playing as either a left-winger or right-forward. Furthermore, no goals and no assists were recorded from the left-back position.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s goals and assists tally when playing in different positions in the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season. LB: left-back; LW: left-winger; LF: left-forward; RF: right-forward.

Fulham’s most used formation in the 2017/18 Championship season was 4-3-3. It was used in 59% of their games indicating Slaviša Jokanović’s preference for this formation at the time when he was in charge. It can be argued that a settled tactical formation might have a positive effect on a player’s performance even though his versatility is used in different positions.

In contrast, in the 2018/19 Premier League season, Fulham were a lot less consistent with their formations. At the start of the season, Jokanović persisted with 4-3-3 in a majority of the games. However, after the Serbian was sacked, Claudio Ranieri took charge and his playing philosophy saw 5-4-1 or 5-3-2 being deployed a lot more often. With the Italian not lasting long at Craven Cottage, Scott Parker took over Fulham. He usually fielded a 4-2-3-1 formation with Sessegnon often playing as a right-winger or forward.

The Fulham youngster’s versatility was undoubtedly taken into consideration by all three managers in the 2018/19 season as well as in the season before. The two images below further confirm the statements outlined previously. In the first one, we can see Sessegnon’s complete domination on the entire left-side. The 2017/18 season saw the English youngster occupying the left-side as a left-back, wide left-midfielder and a left-forward.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s heat map of the 2017/18 season.

Conversely, the second image shows the use of Sessegnon’s versatility on the right-side as well. This and the fact that the Fulham attacker played on average 22 minutes fewer last season contributed to the left-side looking less ‘hot’.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s heat map of the 2018/19 season.

As can be seen, being a versatile player has some considerable advantages but at the same time, it can work against you. Nonetheless, statistical analysis should not be used as the only tool in order to assess the player.

The attacking intent and struggles

Despite being shifted from one position to another rather frequently, Sessegnon’s attacking talent is still evident. Pace, dribbling and trickery are the attributes that many natural wingers or wide forwards possess and Sessegnon is no exception. However, there is a lot more to his game than just the aforementioned qualities.

Game intelligence is a quality highly valued by all managers. From the attacking point of view, Sessegnon has the intelligence to occupy the right spaces in order to maintain the flow of the build-up phase. Usually, Fulham’s youngster bursts wide into space or cuts inside on a direct line. If the pass is off or space is occupied, he adjusts his positioning accordingly.

Below is a good example supporting an argument of Sessegnon’s positional intelligence. At first, Odoi and Sessegnon (both white tubes) are positioned in the same vertical line on the left flank. Then, Odoi sees the possibility to receive a potential pass from his teammate and moves slightly higher up the pitch (orange tube). Sessegnon recognises the positional adjustment of his team-mate and moves into space between the two Sheffield United midfielders (orange tube). As a result, the defender on the ball know has two passing options.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s clever positioning creates an additional passing lane for the ball holder.

Another highly desirable feature for any wide player is movement off the ball. Sessegnon is really astute at it, as he knows when to anticipate a potential pass and sees the space to run into. The first two images below give the justification for the statement above. In both instances, Sessegnon accelerated at the right time and ran into space for a potential pass.

It is worth to note that, as we can see below, the Championship games look more open with teams being less organised. Consequently, it gives the attackers a better chance to use their qualities as there is more freedom around them. It might be one of the reasons why Sessegnon flourished in the 2017/18 season.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon running into space in behind.
Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Again, the Fulham winger sees the space to run into and anticipates a potential pass.

Another example of Sessegnon’s clever off the ball movement can be seen below. The Fulham youngster spots the gap in between Ashley Young and Marcos Rojo and makes a good run in behind from a wide position.Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics

Sessegnon can also be effective when playing on the shoulder of the defender. In the same game against Manchester United on occasions he acted as the main striker using his pace to get in behind of the centre-back.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon playing as a number ‘9’ and getting in behind Phil Jones and Chris Smalling.

The youngster is also an astute dribbler who can carry the ball for long distances. In the 2017/18 Championship season, Sessegnon performed on average 2.4 dribbles per game with half of them being successful. The image below illustrates one of his solo runs ending up in a shot from outside the box with his weaker right foot and eventually – the goal.

In the 2017/18 season, Sessegnon performed 62 shots in all competitions having an impressive shots per goal ratio of 3.9. In comparison, the 2018/19 season saw a heavy decline with Sessegnon performing only 28 shots in total with shots per goal ratio of 14.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s solo run against Sheffield United resulting in a goal. Note: four Sheffield United players around but not tight enough. An indication of lower quality defending in the Championship.

Another episode when Sessegnon showed his ability to carry the ball from his own half is illustrated below. In a game against Ipswich Town, after receiving a pass from his teammate, Sessegnon carried the ball for one-third of the pitch. It followed by a good link-up play with Kamara that resulted in Sessegnon heading it home from a six-yard box.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Another solo run from Sessegnon ending in a goal. Note: huge space in front of him to run into signalling poor defensive organisation of Championship teams.

Finally, with dribbling, ball carrying and shot from distance already in the skill-set, the Fulham winger is also a capable finisher. Possessing incredible pace and off the ball movement, Sessegnon shows striker’s instinct to arrive in the box on time and then coolly pick the spot. The image below shows such a goal against Sheffield United.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon arriving at the far post and placing it coolly with his weaker right-foot.

There is no doubt that Sessegnon is more than capable of being a real attacking threat. Sadly, as mentioned already, the youngster could not replicate his outstanding performances of 2017/18 season in the following campaign in the Premier League.

The following few images show Sessegnon’s struggles against a better opposition last season. There is no secret that the Premier League teams are better organised and defensively more solid. As a result, the players who come from a lower division find it a lot harder to transfer their form to the top flight. In this instance, the Fulham youngster was no exception last season.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon surrounded by seven Manchester United players.
Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
The Fulham winger quickly closed down by Diogo Dalot and Jesse Lingard.

In contrast to the images above, this is another example from the Championship where Sessegnon had more freedom and space to use his attacking qualities to full potential.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon has time and space to pick out one of the team-mates due to passive defending from Sheffield United players.

Probably the main area of Sessegnon’s game that suffered the most after Fulham’s promotion to the Premier League was his involvement in the game. In the 2018/19 season, the youngster averaged 35.3 touches per game compared to 59.2 in the season before in the Championship. A decrement of 23.9 touches per game clearly denotes the Fulham winger’s struggles to make a considerable impact.

Nonetheless, Sessegnon’s involvement in the game is not entirely dependent just on him. Fulham on average had 8% less ball possession in the 2017/18 season compared to the 2018/19 season. This could have made a negative impact on Sessegnon’s influence on the game although still not as drastic as it was.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s key offensive statistics of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season. No. 1
Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s key offensive statistics of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season. No. 2.

Defensive contribution and frailties

In addition to the offensive attributes, Sessegnon possesses certain defensive traits that are necessary for a player who is often deployed at left-back. Incredible pace and energy combined with exceptional work-rate make Sessegnon a valid asset in the pressing system. When the ball is shifted to the right flank, the Fulham left-winger immediately presses opposition’s right-back to aggravate the build-up.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon anticipates a pass for Dalot and immediately applies pressure on him forcing the Portuguese right-back to play it back to the goalkeeper.

Due to his exceptional work-rate and electric pace, Sessegnon can bomb up and down the left-wing even when he starts the game as a wide left-forward. In the 4-1 loss against Manchester United, Sessegnon tracked back on many occasions to form a back-line of five.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
With a slightly adjusted position, Sessegnon can form a back five after tracking back, thus allowing a natural left-back on the day (Bryan) to tuck inside.

Playing as a full-back also requires to be good in individual battles. With his strong body and solid frame, Sessegnon can protect the ball well and shake off the opponents. Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon keeps hold off the ball by using his solid frame against Hector Bellerin.

However, some of the youngster’s defensive features also suffered a noticeable decline last season. On average, he performed 1.0 tackles fewer in the 2018/19 Premier League season than a season before. Moreover, Sessegnon was less reliable in individual battles having won on average 2.7 total duels per game. It is 1.6 duels fewer than in the 2017/18 Championship season.

At first sight, there is some argumentative explanation to the poorer defensive statistics. In the 2018/19 Premier League season, Sessegnon started at a left-back position in 23.5% of all matches. This was a 17.3% decrease compared to the previous season where he played at left-back for 40.8% of all games. However, last season in the Premier League, there were a lot of games where Fulham had to defend very deep. It means that Sessegnon had to stay deep in his own half forming a back five on numerous occasions. It suggests that the Fulham winger’s defensive game has some frailties.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s key defensive statistics of the 2017/18 and 2018/19 season.

Sometimes his spatial awareness in the defensive phase can be questionable. He is not always able to follow the opposition players’ movement off the ball when the spaces open up. Additionally, Sessegnon’s eagerness to be always on a front foot for a potential counter-attack at times creates concentration issues.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon looking in a completely wrong direction and losing Juan Mata out of his sight. The Fulham left-back tucked inside to clear a potential cross from Marcus Rashford which meant Sessegnon had to track back Mata.

The two examples below show how Sessegnon’s attacking prowess can be a problem in defensive transitioning. After winning the ball back, top teams can be deadly quick in attacking transitions. Thus, pacey wingers have to be very quick in their decision making to avoid certain zones on the pitch to be left exploited.

Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
A 2 v 2 situation with the ball on the left side from the Fulham defensive point of view. The area where Sessegnon (started the game as a left-back) should have been.
Ryan Sessegnon 2018/19 – scout report - tactics
Sessegnon’s slow decision making to move into position sees Dalot occupying an entire right flank.

How would Sessegnon look like in a top team?

In the past few weeks, the rumours have started to go around about Sessegnon’s potential transfer to Tottenham Hotspur. Danny Rose has been left out of Tottenham’s pre-season tour of Asia that makes Sessegnon’s arrival even more likely. Mauricio Pochettino’s most used formations are 4-2-3-1 and 3-4-2-1 where Sessegnon could play either as a left-back, left-winger or left wing-back. These tactics seem to make the Fulham youngster an ideal candidate to replace Rose.

However, with a 4-3-3 formation not being the main weapon at Pochettino’s disposal, it can be questioned whether the Argentine would be able to unlock Sessegnon’s full attacking potential. One thing for sure is that in a top team Sessegnon would spend a lot more time on the ball than without it.

Conclusion

Ryan Sessegnon is undoubtedly one of the brightest English talents at present. His versatility makes him a solid starting eleven player in a variety of tactical formations. Adding to that, his skills on the ball, sound technique and an eye for goal make the English youngster an exciting prospect to watch. After a disappointing last campaign with Fulham, a move to the Premier League team might be exactly what Sessegnon needs.


Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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Paulius Kundzelevicius

My name is Paulius and I'm a huge football fanatic from Lithuania. Currently pursuing a Master's degree in Performance Analysis of Sport.

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