James Ward-Prowse is one of a long, long list of players who have come through the Southampton academy. Southampton had a fantastic 2013-14 season under Mauricio Pochettino, with plenty of young, English talent providing the spine of their team. Following a tough summer for the Saints, many of those players left, leaving James Ward-Prowse as the main academy product left in the current squad.
Who is James Ward-Prowse?
James Ward-Prowse joined the Southampton academy at the age of 8, despite being a big Portsmouth fan growing up. James has been involved in all the England age groups, from England U-17’s up to U-21’s, and his performances at the beginning of this season have had him knocking on the door for the full squad. Now 20 years old, James made his Southampton debut aged just 16 in the League Cup, and following the Saints promotion to the Premier League for the 2012-13 season, Ward-Prowse was offered a professional contract alongside Luke Shaw and Calum Chambers. Under Nigel Adkins, Ward-Prowse was thrown straight into the deep end and started on the opening day of the season against Manchester City. He went on to make just 15 appearances in this season, with many off the bench but still won the Scholar of the Season, a prestigious award at a club with such a strong academy. It was the 2013-14 season however where Ward-Prowse would leave his real mark on the Premier League, becoming more of a regular midfielder for the side which finished eighth.
This season, Ward-Prowse featured in all of Southampton’s games up until late September, when he suffered a fractured foot and a resulting absence of up to 3 months. Alongside Morgan Schneiderlin, the pair formed a solid central midfield partnership, with Ward-Prowse picking up 2 assists in six games, along with an 89.8% pass completion rate, higher than Schneiderlin who is considered by many as one of the best passers in the league.
Ward-Prowse featured in our 100 Best Young Players to watch in 2014, featuring 13th on the midfielders list, which you can see here. The Englishman followed that up with an appearance in the 2015 version of the list, rising eight places to 5th. The Southampton midfielder also made the Talent Radar U-22 Premier League Team of the Season.
Strengths, Styles and Weaknesses
In order to really progress and to nail down a spot in the starting XI, Ward-Prowse needs to find one position to pursue in the Southampton team. In the six games he’s played this season, he’s played twice in central midfield, one on the right wing and the other in the attacking midfield. All of these positions require different skill sets, but I believe Ward-Prowse will see his future at central midfield, with goals being the only thing he’s lacked in his young career so far, despite scoring a memorable 30-yard strike against Coventry a few years ago.
In a central midfield role, Ward-Prowse already possesses a lot of the strengths that an experienced campaigner has. His passing would be the highlight of his play, and using last season’s stats, Ward-Prowse completed 87% of his passes in 37 games, placing him 30th in the Premier League. After playing the majority of his games last season in a deeper role, which didn’t allow the youngster much attacking freedom, the lack of assists and goals are clear to see, but, this is why I see him as a central midfielder, who sits and connects the defence to attack with one pass. He managed to create 39 chances in the season from that position, placing himself inside the top 20, and 37 key passes, resulting in these chances, or assists for other forwards. His playing style reminds me of that of Michael Carrick, when he was at the height of his career for both club and country, getting few accolades, but playing one of the most vital roles in a team. This highlights his composure, and for such a young man, the ability to step up to the Premier League setting and just keep the play ticking is a huge skill in itself. This has landed him the role of ‘playmaker’ in the sides he has played for, from a deeper position when compared to that of a David Silva, or a Cesc Fabregas.
Another strength of Ward-Prowse’s is his set piece delivery. Whether it be a corner or a free kick, Ward-Prowse gets the majority of his key passes and his chance creations from these types of deliveries, and last season with the like of Jose Fonte and Dejan Lovren in and around the box, and now Graziano Pelle, players so dominant in the air, one good ball from Ward-Prowse can very easily result in a goal. From last season, 84% of his set pieces connected with a Southampton player.
On the other hand, his weaknesses are few, but apparent in the central midfield. His aerial ability is poor, winning just 27% of his aerial duels in the whole of the last campaign. In all fairness, Ward-Prowse is only 5’8″, so heading and aerial prowess are qualities that you don’t expect from a small man, but in the modern day Premier League, especially in the midfield, you’re expected to a well-rounded player, with the ability to perform in all aspects of the game.
There is also his tackling ability. It leaves something to be desired, winning less than 50% of his tackles last season. He managed to make 30, whilst losing 35. Despite this, with someone like Victor Wanyama in the team behind him, he’s not there to win the tackles, he’s there to keep the play ticking over. Different players have different roles within a team, and to breaking up play isn’t Ward-Prowse’s.
The final weakness in my eyes would have to be something I’d noticed just from watching him, and the stats are there to back it up. Whenever he tries to take someone on, he just lacks that acceleration to get round many players. His successful take-on’s last season sat at 36%, one of the lowest in the Southampton squad.
In order for Ward-Prowse to really improve, I believe he needs to work on his defensive ability, because his passing play is already very, very strong. Of course that aspect is the area he should focus on and use to his advantage, but to make himself a more well-rounded player, better defensive work and strength would really help in a central midfield role.
Here’s what Southampton expert Chris Rann, writer for ESPN, BetFair, The Metro, and his own site www.georgeweahscousin.com told Outside of the Boot about James Ward-Prowse. Follow him on Twitter @crstig
Written by George Stokes
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