This is a guest piece by Conner McCoy.
Mohammed Salisu’s rapid rise through the football ranks is nothing short of a movie, and it’s only getting started. From playing friendlies in the African Talent Football Academy in Ghana, to Real Valladolid’s youth team, to starting in the La Liga opener last year against Real Betis. All of this in less than 2 years, and now the 21-year-old is off to the Premier League where he’ll be playing for Southampton. Let’s dive in and see what Saints fans can expect from the young talent.
Right off the back, his physical attributes jump off the page. The left footed centre-back stands at 6’3’’ (190.5 cm), weighing in at 185 lbs (83.9 kg). He uses his big frame to outmuscle attackers and is aggressive when engaging in defensive duels.
One thing that stands out is his ability to size up attackers with his upper body, before using his long legs to poke the ball away. For instance, he is very comfortable dealing with attackers whose backs are faced to the goal. He will get up close and tight to the attacker but will not over commit, instead he will size the attacker up with his size and strength, allow the attacker to receive the ball, and then use his length to poke the ball away and disposes the forward.
However, he needs to do this on a consistent basis. At times he can be too aggressive and overcommit. He can look clumsy and chaotic when coming in for a challenge. Occasionally, instead of sizing up the attacker, he tries to immediately go for the ball, fouling the attacker or allowing the attacker to make one move and slip by. Ralph Hasenhuttl will love his aggressiveness though.
The defender is not afraid to step off his line to intercept/contest an oncoming pass and is usually successful. But, Salisu can be caught out of position and leave lots of space in behind for runners to exploit. Salisu will need to learn how to control his aggression and know when to step out and when to hold his position if he wants to take the next step.
Another reason Hasenhuttl will like Salisu is his athleticism and his ability to track defenders down when teams are on the counter attack. Southampton have played a high line under Hasenhuttl and with that leaves lots of space in behind for the opponents to expose on the counter. Because of that you need an athletically gifted CB and one that can track back like Salisu. His 6’3’’ frame will deceive you as the defender can chase down most attacking players when defending the counter. He has the pace to get back and make a last-ditch tackle.
However, it must be pointed out that should improve his angles when chasing defenders down. At times he will take a bad angle and run straight at the player, allowing the attacker to run right by him. This is only a minor and very fixable issue that he will learn over time.
Salisu is also impressive in 1v1 situations. He is not afraid to get stuck in on a challenge and let the opposition know he is there. Again, his length and size allow him to poke the ball away from attackers without having to be up tight to the player. He is at his best when he is patient and under control. When he trusts his body and physical attributes, he is able to use that to his advantage and outmuscle the opponent and disposes the opponent.
However, this is not always the case. Again, he can overcommit to a challenge and dive in and lack control, allowing the attacker to make a move and go by. At times he won’t have his feet set and look unbalanced or clumsy in his tackling. He’ll need to improve his footwork and balance in order to make more well-timed tackles. Nevertheless, this a product of only playing 30 senior level games and something that Hasenhuttl can help him improve upon.
Not only do his defensive qualities standout, but his offensive qualities are something worth noting. Salisu has an impressive blend of dynamic athletic and technical ability. He is very comfortable and confident on the ball. The defender has no issue playing out the back and doesn’t panic when the opposition press. He is also just as comfortable high up in the channel as he is defending his own box.
From time to time he will dribble into the midfield and draw defenders out of place, before making a perfectly weighted pass to the feet of his teammates in the space left in behind. He isn’t afraid to make risky passes, whether it’s a well driven, line breaking, pass into the midfield, or a long ball over the top to the striker. That being said, he needs to work on the accuracy of his passes shown by his 84.3% (38th percentile) pass completion and 72.5% (28th percentile) long pass completion.
While current Southampton centre backs Jack Stephens and Jan Bednarek are what you might call ‘no nonsense’ defenders, Salisu can offer something different and complimentary to the Southampton backline.
In conclusion Southampton are getting one of the better defensive prospects in Spain. Salisu has all the physical and technical qualities to become a top CB but still has plenty of things he can improve on. He has the physicality, speed, and athleticism to adapt to the Premier League. He can size up most forwards and muscle them off the ball, while also having the pace to run with most attacking players.
I think his style of play fits perfectly with what Hasenhuttl wants. An aggressive player who isn’t afraid to step up and knock away incoming passes, while also having the pace to track back.
The young Ghanaian centre back is still raw and very inexperienced with only 30 senior top-flight games under his belt, but is very mouldable and quick learner given his rapid rise through the ranks. Under the right coaching, specifically Hasenhuttl, he can be shaped into a top CB in the Premier League. With a respectable price tag of £10.9 million, he won’t need to be tossed into the starting XI right away, and can be given time to turn into the CB he has the qualities of becoming. Mohammed Salisu is one to keep an eye on down the line.