After his transfer from Rotherham United back in the summer of 2019, Semi Ajayi has had mixed fortunes with West Bromwich Albion.
During his first season at the club, they were promoted from the Championship into the Premier League, though in his second, they went straight back down again.
This season, they are once again looking to make the same move to the top tier of English football, and hopes are high.
At the mid-way point of the season, West Brom are priced at 1.73 to be promoted, according to football betting odds as of December 22.
That puts The Baggies right in the mix, and if there is one area of the team standing out right now, it is their defensive play, and it is this position where Ajayi plays.
— West Bromwich Albion (@WBA) August 29, 2021
West Brom conceded the fewest goals in the division going into the Christmas period. The other team in the division that rivals West Brom in this department are league leaders Fulham.
The number of goals conceded is, of course, in part down to players like Ajayi having exceptional quality and Premier League experience, but the change in style at West Brom has also played a part.
The Football Style of Valerien Ismael
During the summer, West Brom appointed Valerien Ismael to be their new head coach after the Frenchman had a brilliant year at Barnsley last season, taking them to the playoffs.
Ismael showed his ability to get results and play the kind of football needed to get out of the Championship, and that is exactly what West Brom were looking for.
Valerien Ismael’s West Brom couldn’t draw level with second-placed Bournemouth as they were denied victory by his former club Barnsley.
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 17, 2021
His style of play may be too direct for some, and this was the reason why not every West Brom fan welcomed him with open arms when the deal was announced.
However, his style does feed directly into helping defenders and keeping clean sheets, so Ajayi is really getting the chance to shine at the moment, and he is taking it.
Ismael’s football is all about getting the ball forward as quickly as possible. There is no playing from the back, when his team have the ball defensively, they are tasked with bypassing the midfield and getting it straight up to the strikers for them to create something.
This no-nonsense approach means the ball is rarely in West Brom’s half, there is no room for individual error near their goal, and all of that feeds into clean sheets and few goals against.
While some may not find it good to watch, if the style gets them into the top flight, many wouldn’t mind at all, erasing the memories of Premier League relegation back in May 2021.
Players such as Ajayi will thrive in this type of formation and style, so look for the Nigerian international defender to continue having a good season for the club.
If things keep heading in the right direction, and Ismael can continue to take the club forward under his leadership, we could well see Ajayi back in the Premier League as early as next season.