At the start of March, somewhat prematurely, the Football League decided to announce their players of the season. The best young player in the Championship, according to this panel, was Derby County’s Will Hughes. Past winners of the award have included Gareth Bale and Wilfried Zaha.
Derby currently sit in 4th place and will be hoping to ensure a playoff position in the coming weeks, with that comes the possibility of promotion and a chance for Steve McClaren to prove himself at the highest level once more. Understandably there’s been a lot of buzz around Will Hughes, especially when the transfer market rolls around, although at the minute Derby and the Championship seem to be the right place for Hughes to reach his utmost potential. At just 18 years of age he is certainly one of the brightest young English midfielders, having already made 7 appearances for the Under 21 side.
He looks to be mature beyond his age, with an aptitude for reading the game and being able to pick the perfect pass when the moment is right. This is shown by the fact that Hughes averages 42.3 passes per game, the highest of midfielders in the Derby squad and does with an accuracy of 86.8%, the highest of all of the Rams players. In fact his pass accuracy is the third highest of all players in the Championship and is marginally the highest amongst players to have played more than 20 games.
Hughes has been so important for Derby this season, starting 33 games and appearing as a substitute twice, although an injury has kept him out of late. For such trust to be placed in such a young player is something of a rarity and it speaks volumes of the way that Hughes conducts himself on the pitch, he plays with a level of responsibility shown by the fact he misplaces so few of his passes and is dispossessed just 1.7 times per game. Add to that the fact that he is making 2.9 tackles per game, the joint 7th highest in the division, and you begin to get a sense of the fact that Hughes is a complete midfielder and doesn’t shirk his defensive responsibilities. With that come the fact that he commits more fouls, an average of 1.5 per game, which is something he can look to improve on, although it does show his determination and passion, qualities that are often overlooked in footballers.
Hughes’ influence on the game is shown by the fact that he has provided 5 assists so far this season and scored 3 goals himself. His goal return is impressive given that he averages just 1.1 shots per game, whilst he is creating 1.6 chances for his teammates per game. There’s so much potential in his game, you can imagine how those figures might grow exponentially if he was playing at a top club.
The fact that he plays a lot of passes and that many of them are short, indicates that even when he is not directly influencing the game he is helping Derby keep the ball and contributing to the fact that Derby have the third highest average possession in the Championship, similarly they have the third best passing accuracy. There’s no doubt that those figures have been heavily impacted on by Hughes’ performances but also they show why he’s been judged to be the best young player in the Championship: Derby play in a manner which suits the way that Hughes play.
Whilst Hughes’ statistics are impressive, and there’s no doubt in the fact that they are, what they represent is far more the potential that he has as a player. It’s also worth noting that he’s playing with, and more importantly against, players who have much more experience than him. To be doing so well, especially in such a competitive and important part of the pitch shows just how good he can become. That said, a big money move would place a lot of pressure and expectation on him, for Hughes the best scenario is probably promotion with Derby and a chance to acclimatise to the Premier League. If not, he needs to ensure he will be given ample chance to progress and impress in the top division, here’s hoping that he does so.
Statistics courtesy of whoscored.com