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Max Aarons

Norwich City, 2018-

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Norwich manager Daniel Farke likes to take risks. In his team’s first season back in the Premier League, when avoiding relegation was presumably the priority, he has dared his players to play bold football, building out from the back under pressure and keeping hold of the ball regardless of the risks involved with playing that way. The approach hasn’t always brought reward, of course – Norwich are bottom of the table and appear to have little hope of survival. They are, however, one of only two teams outside the traditional big six with an average possession share of more than 50 per cent (along with Brighton), so at least Farke will always know his team stuck to their passing game.

If that wasn’t brave enough, Farke approached Norwich’s return to the top flight with an inexperienced defence. Centre-back Ben Godfrey and left-back Jamal Lewis, both just 22, have proven capable of playing at this level, while in 20-year-old right-back Max Aarons, Norwich have provided one of the Premier League’s most exciting talents. If nothing else comes from this season, they at least stand to make serious money in the transfer market once the season comes to an end, with Aarons linked to a host of the biggest clubs in the country.

Tactical analysis
The step up to a bigger team makes perfect sense for Aarons given how comfortable he is on the ball. He plays a crucial role in how Norwich play out from the back, having started more Premier League matches than any other Norwich defender in 2019/20, and the joint-most in the squad alongside talisman Teemu Pukki and goalkeeper Tim Krul.

Despite turning 20 only in January, he always keeps a cool head when on the ball, receiving passes on the half-turn so he is ready to progress play up the flank. He is constantly aware of what is around him and will rarely be rushed into an aimless clearance or, even more infrequently, a mistake.

He wants to move Norwich forward, and is regularly the catalyst for turning defence into attack. He does this either through carrying the ball at pace from deep, or making his run earlier and looking to receive the ball higher up the pitch. Aarons is first and foremost a good defender – capable when isolated in a one-on-one situation against a winger – but he does his best work when his side has the ball and he provides genuine attacking threat, as the best full-backs need to in the modern game.

He typically receives diagonal passes from the centre-backs, allowing him to open up on to his right foot and play forwards. He prefers to play vertical passes on the outside rather than moving play back inside, and he often follows his pass to support the attack – although he needs to do so more frequently to take his game up a level. He also needs to vary his movement with these runs, as he sometimes follows his path too closely and closes the space his teammates have to operate in (below).

Defensively, he is always switched on to danger and adept at sweeping up around his centre-backs. This has proved particularly crucial on more than one occasion this season, when he has denied either a clear run on goal for an opposing forward in a central area or a certain goal – see his goalline clearance after Southampton’s James Ward-Prowse had wriggled his way through the heart of the Norwich defence (below) in their first game back after the recent lockdown.

Aarons enjoys the physical contact of a one-on-one battle and tries to use his upper-body strength to manipulate his opponent’s position and shake them off the ball. He engages his opponent at pace and looks to force them off balance to draw an error. This has often been a positive, but he might have to show a little more caution in his defending – his seven Premier League yellow cards this season is at least three more than any other Norwich player.

Role for Norwich
Aarons pushes forwards whenever he has the chance. He provides an outlet on the right flank, either for a centre-back to find with a direct pass, for a switch of play from the left (below) or an overlapping run around the outside of the impressive Emiliano Buendía on the right side of the Norwich midfield. Buendía is a creator who drifts in off the flank rather than hugging the touchline, so Aarons is regularly asked to provide the width on that wing.

He joins attacks whenever possible, largely thanks to the central midfielders – usually Alexander Tettey and Kenny McLean – being willing to sit deep, and often does well to get into a position to cross. However, all too frequently he is let down by his final ball. In a team that isn’t bottom of the table, Aarons may well find he can improve on his assist return, having managed only one for Norwich so far in 2019/20.

Norwich concede far too many chances themselves and, clearly – given their league position and the intimidating number in the ‘goals conceded’ column – too many goals, and many of these come from the fact that Farke asks his full-backs to get forward so often. Following a turnover of possession, Aarons and Lewis are often too far out of position to recover in time, though Aarons does show good intentions and professionalism by attempting to get back to help his team out. Unfortunately for Norwich, that has all too often not been enough.

Aarons still has plenty of time ahead of him to fine-tune his game, and it looks increasingly likely he will get the chance to do so at a bigger club once this season has been completed. He has impressed for Norwich in an underwhelming season, and will have even more to offer when he isn’t required to spend quite so much time defending.

Max Aarons

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