Why is Ryan Sessegnon Struggling?

Ryan Sessegnon
LONDON, ENGLAND - JANUARY 20: Ryan Sessegnon of Fulham reacts during the Premier League match between Fulham FC and Tottenham Hotspur at Craven Cottage on January 20, 2019 in London, United Kingdom. (Photo by Catherine Ivill/Getty Images)

As Gareth Southgate mulled over his England World Cup squad in May of last year, one name stood out as an exciting possible selection. That man was not Jadon Sancho, but instead Fulham’s Ryan Sessegnon.

Whilst Sancho was just kick-starting his career at Borussia Dortmund, Sessegnon was coming towards the end of a remarkable Championship season. The 18-year-old would eventually finish the season with 16 goals and eight assists.

Ryan Sessegnon‘s Fall From Grace

In the end, Sessegnon narrowly missed out on Russia 2018. Nonetheless, the future appeared bright for the versatile winger. With Fulham winning promotion back to the Premier League, things looked to have set up nicely for Sessegnon to further enhance his already glittering reputation as one of English football’s most talented prospects.

Fast-forward eight months and there is a stark contrast in the fortunes for the youngster. Sessegnon’s role as a key cog in the Fulham machine has somewhat disintegrated, and the England Under-21 international now finds himself something of a bit-part player under Claudio Ranieri. Compare that to the meteoric rise of Sancho at Dortmund and the picture painted is dark and bleak.

What has Happened to Ryan Sessegnon?

Sessegnon’s struggles are attributable to a number of different factors this season. Perhaps most significantly for Sessegnon and Fulham, the biggest factor in their paralleling failure has been the vastly different landscape in which they find themselves.

Whilst Slaviša Jokanović’s expansive and attacking style deservedly earned plaudits and points in English football’s second tier, the same philosophy ultimately earned him the sack in the Premier League. On too many occasions was his side comprehensively beaten by an opposition who were more robust defensively and more clinical in attack.

Much like his former manager, Sessegnon’s game revolves around an inclination to attack, but the quality of opposition in the Premier League has limited his attacking threat and exposed him defensively.

Interestingly from a defensive perspective, Sessegnon featured for the full 90 minutes in heavy defeats against Arsenal (5-1 and 4-1), Manchester United (4-1), Bournemouth (3-0), Cardiff City (4-2), Everton (3-0) and Manchester City (3-0), but has only featured prominently in one of Fulham’s four Premier League wins this season – a 3-2 win at Southampton.

There is a sense growing that Ranieri, being a defence-minded coach, doesn’t trust Sessegnon to fulfil the duties he expects of his fullbacks, wingbacks and wingers. The proof is in Sessegnon’s relegation to the Fulham bench.

The selection of Joe Bryan in the left wingback slot does also offer some food for thought for Sessegnon. Bryan, like Sessegnon, spent most of last season operating as an advanced role for Bristol City, yet still gets the defensive nod from Ranieri.

Expensive Recruitment Costing Sessegnon

Sessegnon’s defensive frailties are not the only issue. The goals have also dried up. Prolific in the Championship, Sessegnon has only found the back of the net on two occasions this season – both of which came against the two other sides promoted from the Championship last term; Cardiff City and Wolverhampton Wanderers.

A large part of that can be put down to Fulham’s expensive recruitment over the last two windows. The acquisition of household names such as André Schürrle, Luciano Vietto and ex-Liverpool man Ryan Babel have thrust Sessegnon out of an advanced role and into a competition for a wingback slot in which his manager clearly doesn’t trust him.

As Ranieri prepares his Fulham side for the impending relegation battle, displacing the experienced aforementioned trio is going to be difficult. Schürrle, Vietto and Babel all possess extensive European top-flight pedigree, whereas Sessegnon remains indebted to the Championship for his best form.

Since the arrival of Babel in January, Sessegnon has only played a total of 48 minutes of football spread over two games. If his 13-minute cameo against Brighton & Hove Albion on Tuesday night is anything to go by, the remainder of the season does appear ominous for Ryan Sessegnon.

However, whilst transfer links with the likes of Liverpool and Chelsea have vanished and with that the talk of an England senior call-up too, it is very easy to forget that Ryan Sessegnon is still only 18 years of age.

Even in the Championship, Sessegnon was far from the finished article and his debut Premier League season will act as a harsh learning curve for a young talent looking to reimpose himself.

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