It is well known that EPL club Chelsea sends a lot of players out on loan. Some of these players head to other clubs for game time away from the first team. Others leave for their first taste of senior professional football in competitions such as the EFL. One such example of this is Richard Nartey. The 21-year-old defender has spent the 2019/20 season at EFL League One club Burton Albion. Though he hasn’t always been fit to play, he has looked a gem when on the pitch.
This scout report provides a tactical analysis of Richard Nartey. It will look into how the young defender has fit so well into Burton Albion’s tactics. The analysis will also further examine his best qualities both in and out of possession, which will further show why at just 21, he has the potential to play much higher up the football pyramid.
Nartey’s Role in the Team
Richard Nartey is a right-sided defender. 18 of his 20 league starts have come as a centre-back in a 4-3-3 formation, the other two starts have come as a right-back in a 4-3-3. When playing central, Nartey operated as the right-sided centre-back. He was usually partnered alongside the more experienced John-Joe O’Toole or club captain Jake Buxton.
The heatmap shows how often Nartey positioned himself on the right side of defence. From there, the 21-year-old could lead with his stronger right foot, looking to either play progessive passes or carry the ball into any open space ahead of him.
The heatmap also shows that Nartey spent a good amount of time inside the penalty box. This is in part due to the occasions when Burton defended deep, but also because of how manager Nigel Clough wanted his team to play. Burton’s goalkeeper was Manchester United loanee Kieran O’Hara, a competent footballer with the ball at his feet. Richard Nartey would often be the centre-back dropping deep on goal kicks to collect a short pass. From there, the defender would carry the ball forwards or make sensible passes to nearby options. Only when forced by an opposition press would the 21-year-old play long from here.
Breaking Out of the Backline
Across the 2019/20 season, Richard Nartey made 73 interceptions, the vast majority of these in his own third. Most of these own thirds interceptions came from central areas inside the penalty box, but a good number of them also came from further upfield.
In the above example, Nartey has stepped out from his usual position in the backline. His aim is to quickly close down his opponent and prevent them from turning towards goal. As the opponent receives the ball, Nartey quickly approaches on his blindside and wins possession off him.
Another example of the 21-year-old stepping out of the backline is below.
On this occasion, Nartey has stepped out of the backline to intercept a direct, aerial pass. He challenges with his opponent. Even if he doesn’t win the ball, his tight marking means that the opponent will not be able to turn towards goal. His pressure eventually forces a mistake and Burton Albion win possession of the ball from a throw-in.
Of course, there are notable disadvantages to Nartey stepping out of the backline. When he does push forward, it opens up space directly behind him. His defensive teammates need good communication and anticipation. if not, then there is always the chance that the opposition could get through this gap in defence if Nartey doesn’t win the first ball. This notably happened in a home game against Rochdale in December 2019. Nartey had stepped out of the backline to challenge for an aerial pass but failed to win the header. Rochdale players went straight through the open gap behind him and scored.
When Richard Nartey steps out of the backline to intercept a pass, he knows the risk he is taking. The defender, however, has a 74.34% success rate with defensive duels and a 59.26% success rate with his aerial duels. A big reason why this risk proves successful is because of his physical attributes.
Nartey’s Important Athleticism
Richard Nartey stands at a little over six feet tall. When compared to other centre-backs, he does not look as physically imposing. What he lacks in respective height however, he makes up for in his athleticism.
Nartey has an impressive level of speed and agility. This allows him to get across the entire backline and cover any open spaces behind his teammates. A good example of that came against Oxford United.
Operating as the deeper defender, Nartey quickly realises that teammate Conor Shaughnessy has been beaten to the ball. The Chelsea loanee is able to quickly move across the pitch and intercept the ball with a sliding challenge. Had Nartey not been able to get across in time, Oxford United would have had a very good opportunity to score.
Here, Nartey has initially been caught out by the Oxford player’s heavy first touch. The 21-year-old, however, has the acceleration and speed needed to recover and catch up with his opponent. He wins the ball with a sliding challenge and play restarts with an Oxford United corner.
Nartey’s athleticism greatly benefits himself and his teammates. He is able to provide cover should another Burton defender be beaten, and also quickly get back to recover from initial mistakes. His athleticism is easily one of Nartey’s strongest qualities and it is very difficult to pick faults in this part of the game. As his career progresses and he gains more senior experience, his combination of anticipation, acceleration and speed could become even more effective.
Competence on the Ball
Not only is Richard Nartey an athletic defender, but he is also a player who is sensible when his team are in possession. The 21-year-old averages 39.34 passes a game with 77.37% accuracy. This ranks him 25th amongst League One central defenders from last season. On average, 9.27 of these passes are progressive, which ranks him 35th amongst all the centre-backs in the division.
The above graph shows Nartey’s ball progression, with his progressive passes marked white.
What becomes clear quickly is that Nartey has more success with longer range passes, and the majority of these progressive passes are out to either channel. The reason for this is mostly because of Burton Albion’s tactics. Nigel Clough wants his wingers to receive the ball in wide positions and create one-vs-one opportunities against their opponent. Nartey and his defensive teammates, therefore, send progressive passes down either channel. Only on occasion will they play passes centrally or up towards the lone striker.
When it comes to progressive runs, Richard Nartey is not as successful. He averages just 0.6 progressive runs a game with only an 11.1% success rate. Much more often than not, his progressive runs result in him losing possession of the ball.
Whilst it is good that he will on occasion drive into any space ahead of him, it is still an area of his game that he needs to become much more efficient with.
A Centre-Back or a Right-Back?
Of Nartey’s 20 league starts in 2019/20, two came as a right-back rather than a centre-back. Burton manager Nigel Clough felt that the Chelsea loanee’s athleticism and composure made him a suitable player for this position.
Given his defensive statistics, Nartey certainly can operate on the right side of the defence. His anticipation, acceleration and agility give him the ability to intercept progressive passes. He can also provide effective recovery runs should the opposition manage to get past him. From an offensive standpoint, however, Nartey does not offer as much out wide.
Whilst the 21-year-old does have a 100% success rate from his dribbles, he has only attempted five in total. This averages out to just 0.14 successful dribbles a game, ranking him very low down amongst other League One defenders. Nartey has also attempted just two crosses, with only one being accurate.
It’s clear that Nartey could certainly operate as a defensive-minded full-back. Given Burton Albion’s tactics involved left-backs Colin Daniel and Reece Hutchinson being encouraged to push forward regularly, it makes sense for him to be utilised in this role. If a team wanted to use the 21-year-old as a more offensive-minded right-back however, the attacking parts of his game would need to improve.
For now, Richard Nartey is certainly a more accomplished centre-back than a full-back. Given he is at such a young age however, there is plenty of time for him to develop his versatility.
Richard Nartey is one of the latest names to catch the eye in the EFL having come out of the excellent Chelsea academy. The young defender spent 2019/20 at Burton Albion and had a successful loan spell in east Staffordshire.
A composed and athletic centre-back, Nartey excels at stepping out of the backline to intercept progressive passes. Despite not the biggest in size, his excellent acceleration and agility enable him to quickly catch opponents, even if they have initially got past him.
With less than 2000 minutes of senior league football under his belt, there are of course areas of his game that need improvement. His accuracy with progressive, short-range passes is low in comparison to other defenders at the same level. He also has a very low success rate with his progressive runs into midfield and doesn’t tend to attempt them very often either. If Nartey is playing at right-back rather than centre-backs, the absence of these important attributes become even more noticeable.
It is, however, important to emphasise his relative inexperience. The signs are certainly there that Richard Nartey could become a very influential and talented defender in the future. Having impressed and shown competence at a League One level, the question marks fall over what is next for the 21-year-old. Another year in the third tier looks likely, but perhaps with a side targeting instant promotion out of the division.
It will be very interesting to see which club gets the services of this potential EFL star defender next.