PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Noussair Mazraoui?
Now beginning to move on from the days of his youth, Ajax defender Noussair Mazraoui is racking up the kind of minutes he hasn’t managed to for the past few seasons, having suffered from injuries and greater competition for spots.
As an increasingly prominent member of the Ajax first team, though, the 24-year-old has been at his most prolific this season. He’s direct goal contributed to nine goals across 24.5 90s in the Eredivisie and Champions League, averaging at 0.37 per 90, which is nothing to be snuffed at.
Since breaking into the Ajax first-team during the 2017/18 season, Mazraoui has racked up over 130 appearances, almost 10,000 minutes, and been a key part of an iconic team that reached the semi-finals of the Champions League – all while battling persistent injuries that have been a problem throughout his career.
With the 24-year-old right-back now entering his final few months in the Netherlands before he leaves for pastures new on a free transfer, Peter Munnelly profiles his style and skillset – one that’s suited to the elite-level teams.
Noussair Mazraoui's style of play
Mazraoui has been ever-present throughout the shift in attacking formula under Erik ten Hag, so it’s little surprise that he understands how to move and position himself pretty fluently. Although there are hiccups here and there, he’s been an excellent pawn used in precise buildup shapes that have often required him to play an inverted role.
Thanks to his persistent scanning and recognition of the situation deep of him, Mazraoui is good at knowing when to peel or hold wide and when to tuck inside and move further into the centre or attacking line.
Standing at a modest six-foot, Mazraoui can come off as a bit of a gentle giant due to his delicate touch and the skinny framework that accompanies his height. This has not been better showcased than in his take-downs of aerial balls, which are effortless and immaculate.
Mazraoui fits the inverted position so well at times because he weights his controls perfectly and always opens his body to maximise his angles of progression. The only times when the ball seems to catch him out are from either incredibly slow passes, which he has to work harder to create angles for, or against very fast-paced ground passes, particularly when on the run.
Whereas his lanky figure is superb for getting his body over the ball to shift directions to break into space with ease, it can also see him lose a bit of his balance and composure.
Mazraoui’s dribbling as a whole is pretty limited, in spite of his ball retention. In many senses, it’s an area of slightly untapped potential because the comfort he displays using his weaker foot and how easily he bursts into space enables him to to exploit inside spaces to an unexpected extent.
If he could spread his body better to defend the ball against direct pressure, he could become a better ball-carrier, and one capable and confident of taking on opponents head-on from wider areas.
The supple technique carries through to his crossing, which can be for better and for worse. It’s best suited to the inside areas at the edge of the box, as it can delicately find players attacking the face of goal. However, in straighter-angled positions towards the byline, a lack of venom, variety, and awareness to his deliveries can lead to many that are very easily dealt with.
His attacking impact does not end there, as more than half of his goal contributions (5/9) have been shots he’s converted. Predominantly through the right halfspace, Mazraoui has mastered the art of timing runs in behind.
The aforementioned lung-busting underlaps, as well as similar-type runs during transitions that eat up ground, and timed movements on the blind-side against high lines have all been key.
His shooting is then sometimes even more impressive due to the way he can take down aerial balls, the way he’s also willing to use his weaker foot, and how precise he can be from any distance.
The defensive side is where the light dims, somewhat. What Mazraoui’s figure at least enables is incredible reach. He can be so hard to escape the clutches of just down to how lengthy his strides are, in addition to his speed in general.
During counter-presses, he best applies himself as he’s more acknowledging of the threat behind, and so is careful to angle his approach and not over-commit. Thanks to his stable positioning within the attacking shape, this has added up to plenty of great sliding tackles and interceptions to help sustain pressure in the final third.
Where his technical approach can be exposed, however, is when challenging one-on-one. Whilst it’s seen when pressing from behind, too, it comes under the harshest spotlight when opponents are able to square up to him. Mazraoui quickly becomes passive in how much space he gives up and shapes his body very narrowly, which makes shifting his body difficult, and thus leaves him exposed to bursts either way.
One other aspect that could come under a bit of criticism is his run coverage. The inconsistencies parallel those of his positional awareness within the defensive line, as he’s sometimes alert to new, oncoming runners but is equally culpable to letting them go or not committing fully.
Forecasting Noussair Mazraoui's future
Positionally, Mazraoui is almost unquestionably best suited to the inverted right-back role, often used in possession-based back-four teams. The quality of his on and off-ball play thrives from these inside, deeper positions, as he is so comfortable occupying a wide variety of spaces. It’s the position that can continue to get the best out of his attacking runs, and can yet get even more out of his crossing.
What’s likely off-putting to any big clubs that might be interested in acquiring him are his defensive frailties. A more intense environment in a higher league, where he won’t as often be positioned inside the opposition’s half, could make him a target for teams to exploit, in and out of possession.
If he, or any club, do take that small leap of faith, it would still have to be for a very ball-dominant side, maybe even as just a back-up. Otherwise, staying put might not do him a lot of harm.
In terms of interest in the Moroccan, he has recently been heavily linked with a move to Spain to join FC Barcelona, though they will face heavy competition from a range of Premier League teams including Arsenal and Leeds United, while Borussia Dortmund and AC Milan have also been credited with interest. His availability as a free agent will see a number of teams look to start negotiations the Moroccan international as we approach the summer transfer window.
Mazraoui’s elegant qualities on the ball and intelligence off it make him incredibly well-suited to possession-based sides, particularly from an inverted full-back role.
Mazraoui is most often exposed in defensive situations, as his technical approach to one-on-ones and positional sense can make him a consistent target that even his long reach and speed can’t make up for.