A product of the Ajax academy system, Anwar El Ghazi was signed to a permanent deal at Aston Villa from Lille after being on loan and helping the English club secure promotion into the Premier League for the 2019/2020 season. The 24-year-old attacker appears to be adapting well to the Premier League and is Aston Villa’s 3rd top scorer with six goals and 2nd in assists with six as well, across all competitions. This scout report will dive into El Ghazi’s playing style and system tactics at Aston Villa through an in-depth tactical analysis, and explain why the winger could be a strong value transfer target this summer.
Versatile winger with intelligent decision making
One of El Ghazi’s strongest qualities as a winger lies within his versatility on the pitch. Not only is El Ghazi able to play from either extreme (has been deployed on both the right and left sides by Aston Villa this season), but he has the quality to make deliveries into the box with both feet. Depending on the phase of play and area where the play is occurring, El Ghazi demonstrates strong decision making as well, adapting to play one to two touches quickly to retain possession or identify 1 v 1 situations where he can take his man on and deliver crosses.
A clever benchmark that he utilises in his offensive movement is the positioning of his full-back by mirroring his positioning. If the full-back moves wide, he drifts inward into the half-spaces and vice-versa. If the full-back makes a run deep to stretch the play, El Ghazi shows short and vice-versa. By doing this, he is able to create passing angles to establish possession triangles and create crossing opportunities for his full-back.
During Aston Villa’s build-up phase the full-back is typically positioned out wide to provide the play widt hand this is El Ghazi’s signal to drift into the half-space. If the channel is open to receive, El Ghazi can drop in and help support the build-up. Since his back is to goal, he uses his big frame to cover the ball and rarely plays beyond one to two touches to keep the ball moving. In instances where the defender is not tight to him or where the full-back is able to get in around him, he is aware to try to play quick combinations and find the return pass in space.
El Ghazi moves into the half-space and shows short to help support the build-up. The defender is tight and the opposing winger has tracked back and eliminated the full-back as an option. El Ghazi reads the situation, receives and returns the pass to retain possession.
El Ghazi drifts centrally as his full-back occupies the wide space but this time the full-back is able to get around the opponent’s winger. El Ghazi quickly combines with the full-back and spins off to get into the box for the cross.
Once the ball is progressed into the opponent’s half the same principals are applied to El Ghazi’s movement but there are also more opportunities to be direct. If the ball is transitioned quickly to his side of the pitch and the full-back is tucked-in more centrally, he’ll move out to a wider position to try to create 1 v 1 situations. If the defender then tries to defend tight, El Ghazi is confident and technical enough to take the man on, with the goal of getting a cross in after beating him.
What makes El Ghazi especially dangerous here as mentioned before, is his ability to whip-in quality deliveries into the box with both feet from either side. However, if the defender is cautious and simply tries to contain El Ghazi in the wide area, the winger also has the vision to make long deliveries into the box and takes advantage of the space the defender is giving him.
The quick shift from the left to the right creates a 1 v 1 situation for El Ghazi out wide. Hedrives at the defender, fakes a right-footed cross, cuts the ball inside and delivers the cross with his left foot.
The defender gives El Ghazi space. Once he realises the 1 v 1 in the box, he decides to whip in an early pass with his right foot and records an assist against Tottenham.
A demonstration of versatility: El Ghazi finds the 1 v 1 situation on the left side, pushes the ball towards the touchline and whips in a cross with his left and records another assist, this time against Leicester City.
Central movement and space creation for full-backs
If the attack is focused in central areas, El Ghazi’s versatility comes into play in the form of clever diagonal runs into the box or into gaps left behind the defensive line. As matches progress, defenders typically attempt to anticipate the Aston Villa side-to-side shifts by marking El Ghazi tight. In these situations, he will make quick darts into gaps left in behind to give Aston Villa depth and to disoccupy spaces for his full-backs. El Ghazi is superb at creating these spaces for his ful-lback to run into to deliver crosses.
Out of all the Premier League right backs this season with at least 1,000 minutes played, Aston Villa starter Frédéric Guilbert is currently ranked 4th for the most crosses this season per 90 minutes with ~4 vs the Premier League average of ~3. Although El Ghazi is not the sole driver of this stat, his principal of mirroring the full-back certainly has a positive impact.
Once near the edge of the box, El Ghazi is constantly looking to drift onto the back shoulders of defenders to give the impression that he is angling himself to receive the ball wide but will then quickly slip into spaces in between and through to goal. This dynamic interchange in-and-out of wide and central zones, coupled with the ability to strike the ball with both feet makes El Ghazi particularly difficult to defend throughout different sectors of the pitch.
He reads the tight coverage and makes the run into the space in behind. Although he doesn’t receive the deep ball, he moves out of the space that his full-back is able to run into and attempts a cross.
El Ghazi angles himself to lure the defender into thinking that he is opening himself up to receive the ball wide but then quickly runs into the space behind him and is able to score against Wolverhampton.
At times lacks aggressiveness to drive into shooting positions
Although El Ghazi demonstrates the ability to win the wide areas via the dribble or quick combinations and can use little feints to cut the ball to either foot for a cross, his game at times seems to lack central penetration with the ball. By varying his dribbles to occasionally cut inside to look for shooting opportunities, El Ghazi could ultimately create more scoring opportunities for himself and inevitably force defenders to prefer to show him to the outside where he can further take advantage of his crossing abilities.
Having this llethality to increase shot volume without sacrificing quality would be especially dangerous in and near the edge of the box, as El Ghazi has established himself as capable of scoring powerful long-distance goals during his time at Ajax and could add an extra layer of versatility into his offensive tactics.
The Aston Villa full-back makes a run down the half-space and El Ghazi slips a nice pass into the space which leads to a deflected cross. Although the pass is a good option, El Ghazi could have taken advantage that his full-back’s run was dragging a defender away from the central zone and cut inside to look for a shooting opportunity.
Again, an Aston Villa teammate makes a run into the half-space and El Ghazi plays him into the space. If El Ghazi could have been a bit more aggressive here, he could have attempted to cut inside and try to create just enough separation to get a shot on goal.
A look at the stats
Taking a simple quantitative approach to the evaluation of Anwar El Ghazi compared to other top wingers like Liverpool’s Mohamed Salah, we can begin to see signs that he could actually be an undervalued winger compared to other Premier League wingers both in terms of value and productivity. If total contributions from goals and assists could be seen as the key drivers of market value, we can observe that with El Ghazi’s current performance, he is one of the least expensive wingers from the sample set relative to his productivity at a 1.4x multiple, vs the averages of 4.0-5.0x.
The analysis also shows that in key attacking metrics like crossing, we can further confirm El Ghazi’s effectiveness as a winger that can make quality deliveries into the box, as his crossing accuracy rating of ~30% is one of the highest of the sample set. El Ghazi’s shots per 90 minutes and accuracy rate, which is highly in-line with some of the top wingers in league, also demonstrate the positive impact he brings to the Aston Villa attack.
However, although El Ghazi’s touch efficiency (calculated as goals plus assists generated per touch in the box) also ranks highly in the sample set at ~14% vs the average of ~11%, this could mainly be due to the low amount of touches in the box he generates per 90 minutes, which is significantly below the five times average amount that the sample set of wingers generate.
As mentioned earlier, this aggressiveness to cut inside and get into scoring positions with the ball is certainly an area El Ghazi can continue to improve on. If he can continue to increase his presence in the box and not lose the efficiency he is already achieving, he can undoubtedly develop into a tricky well-rounded winger in the Premier League. Nevertheless, it’s impressive to see that the performances of two players from Aston Villa (El Ghazi and Jack Grealish) are topping the winger lists despite their club currently sitting in the relegation zone.
Although El Ghazi continues to improve and can work on increasing his presence in dangerous areas, at the age of 24 he has performed well during his first season in the Premier League and has been arguably performing near the level of other top wingers in the Premier League.
Currently commanding a €10 million asking price or 1.4x multiple relative to goals and assists, the young winger could be an excellent pickup for any of the non-relegated clubs looking to add a versatile winger, that can ultimately come into a squad and fight for a starting role.