Joining on-loan from Middlesbrough, Djed Spence impressed on the right for Nottingham Forest last season. Now, with Spence seemingly destined for a move to Tottenham Hotspur, Forest have turned their attention to Liverpool youngster, Neco Williams.
Valued at around £20m by Middlesbrough, Spence had a fantastic season in the second division, being named in the Championship team of the season and also being linked with German champions Bayern Munich. Any rumours on a return to the City Ground were soon diminished as Antonio Conte’s Spurs quickly became the front-runners for the England U21 international.
Like Spence, Williams enjoyed a breakout season in the Championship last campaign. The 21-year-old joined Fulham on-loan from Liverpool last January, appearing 15 times for Marco Silva’s side as the Cottages stormed to the Championship title. Valued at around £15m, Williams poses a cheaper alternative to Spence, but would the Welshman be able to fill the wing-back void in Steve Cooper’s squad?
There is a lot to like about Neco Williams. With a similar profile to Spence, Williams has a desire to move his team downfield with his off-the-ball movement – which he executes perfectly on a consistent basis. One key area of difference between the two is how they move down the pitch when in possession. Spence was phenomenal at beating his man and progressing down the wing with the ball at his feet. Williams isn’t quite as impressive, completing just 1.4 dribbles per 90 compared to Spence’s 1.9 (Figures from WhoScored).
However, Williams’ real ability begins to shine with his passing ability as the Welshman beats Spence on most metrics – he averaged more key passes per game, a higher pass success rate, and was more comfortable attempting long-range passes. Although it’s worth remembering this all came in a Fulham team who loved having the ball – over the course of the season they dominated possession and averaged the second-most passes per 90 in the league.
It’s likely that Forest will be on the backfoot in most of their games this season and Neco Williams will have to adapt to a system where he won’t be on the ball as much. Although, with his ability to play the ball downfield and desire to run with the ball, Williams would be a good fit in Forest’s counter-attacking style of play.
Playing for a team as dominant as Fulham, Williams wasn’t needed as much defensively, but he still delivered when called upon – often breaking-up attacks and dropping back to stop the opposition from advancing. Djed Spence was underrated when it comes to his defensive performances, but the reality is Spence often helped out the three central defenders, something that would be expected of Williams should he be signed this summer, as the defensive workload will increase against Premier League opposition.
You could sit here all day and argue who is better out of Williams or Spence. I personally believe they’re around the same level, but due to Spence having impressed over the course of a full season, rather than just 15 games, he just edges it. Though that’s not to say Williams wouldn’t be a worthy replacement.
A year older than Spence, Williams will command a fee of around £5m less than the Middlesbrough man, with similar levels of output. Offensively, Williams would excel in garibaldi, using his long range passing to get the ball quickly forward to the likes of Brennan Johnson and Taiwo Awoniyi. When the need arose at Fulham, Williams was more than capable of putting a shift in defensively but it’s yet to be seen how he will cope with more defensive responsibility,
Accepting the fact Spence won’t be returning to the City Ground, this signing is a no-brainer for Nottingham Forest. In comparison to Forest’s other wing-back targets, Issa Kabore and Ainsley Maitland-Niles, Williams is the better prospect and there is a reason why he’s one of Cooper’s top priorities, with so many similarities with Djed Spence. A Williams is the third choice right-back at Liverpool, a move away from Anfield this summer is certain. Fulham and Forest will go head-to-head for the Welshman’s signature, but the Reds need to do all they can to sign Neco Williams – this isn’t a player they want to miss out on.