West Bromwich Albion have so far enjoyed a solid start to their Championship campaign with Slaven Bilic’s men having picked up three wins and three draws in their first six games.
One of the players brought in by the Croatian manager is centre back Semi Ajayi, who has enjoyed a good start to his Baggies career since making his £1.49 million move from Rotherham to the Hawthorns, following the Millers’ relegation back to League One last term.
Ajayi has had to be patient in his pursuit of playing in English football’s second tier, with the 25-year-old having spent time on loan at fellow Football League clubs AFC Wimbledon, Crewe Alexandra and Rotherham whilst he was at his then parent club, Cardiff City.
Predominantly a ball-playing centre half, Ajayi has really impressed so far this season, with his statistics saying a lot about his style of play. For example, the Nigerian averages a passing success of 82.9%, making up to 47.8 passes per game, with only 3.2 of which being long balls, putting him in the top 10 amongst the West Brom squad so far this season in terms of passing gradients.
It is this style that makes Ajayi a perfect fit for the way Bilic wants his side to play football this season, with the centre back’s dribbling and short passing abilities making him a perfect sweeper to partner the experienced Kyle Bartley in the heart of the Baggies’ backline.
With West Brom liking to control the game in the opposition’s half, Ajayi is given the opportunity to build attacks from the back by either spraying long passes out wide to the wingers or by playing incisive short passes into the Baggies’ midfielders.
Whilst in addition to this, the centre back can step into midfield to create a three, causing an overload in midfield against sides that play with two central midfielders.
This would be a comfortable transition for the player, as he has been known to operate as a holding midfield player previously during his career.
Lastly, it will be interesting to see if Ajayi will attract potential Premier League suitors come January.
With his imperious form this season combined with his appearances for the Nigeria national team making him a very appealing addition for the likes of ball playing, possession-based top-flight sides, the Baggies may have a fight on their hands to keep the defender beyond this season.