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A product of the Wolverhampton Wanderers academy, Nathaniel Mendez-Laing made only one appearance during his time at Molineux, in a goalless draw against Swindon Town in the then Carling Cup.
His first experience of first-team football came during a loan spell at Peterborough United in the 2010/11 season, with the young winger scoring five times in 33 appearances to help his team to promotion out of League One via the play-offs.
A further loan spell followed, this time at Sheffield United in the 2011/12 season, before Mendez-Laing returned to the club where he had enjoyed success previously, and put pen-to-paper on a three-year contract at Peterborough prior to the 2012/13 campaign.
He would stay at London Road for three years this time, whilst also sampling loan spells at Portsmouth, Shrewsbury Town and Cambridge United respectively. Disciplinary and fitness problems blighted his second spell at the Posh (The main reasons for his temporary departures away from the club), before being released at the culmination of his contract in the summer of 2015.
Rochdale snapped up the attacker late that Summer, and since then he has not looked back. Consistent game time has resulted in 13 goals from 62 appearances (At the time of writing), with ten of those goals coming this season.
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The most eye-catching features of the forward’s game are his pace and power. Alone, both can be real assets to a winger’s game, and present problems to opposition defenders; combined, they add up to an almost unstoppable force when on top form. As well as these, as you would expect from a winger, he holds great skill and trickery with the ball at his feet. He uses these characteristics to unsurprisingly look to drive at defenders, and the first thing on his mind when receiving the ball is to run at the opposition. Within League One there are few, if any, who can boast to hold the speed, the strength, and the drive of Mendez-Laing.
Additionally, the Birmingham-born man also puts to good use his ability with both feet. Crucial if a winger is to remain unpredictable, he is adept at cutting in off both wings and either shooting or crossing for a team-mate equally comfortably off either foot.
Possessing a venomous shot with both feet, he is more than able of troubling the goalkeeper from anywhere within 30 yards of the goal and producing that moment of magic out of nothing – as various teams have found out in recent weeks. His long-range expertise makes him one of the most feared strikers of a ball throughout the league.
It is not just shooting from distance where the Dale man is dangerous however. Extremely calm in the box, his one-on-one and close range finishing is also usually excellent. Due to his positioning in-and-around the penalty area, this composure benefits him no end when presented with an opportunity at goal – and that is an opportunity he usually takes.
Versatility has also become a big part of his game during his time at Spotland. Due to Rochdale boss Keith Hill’s preference of playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, Mendez-Laing has become accustomed to rotating around within the ‘3’ behind the striker, or even as the ‘1’ up front. Whereas before he may have been pigeon-holed somewhat as an out-and-out winger, whilst he is still extremely capable of doing so, he is now more comfortable in areas of the pitch further central. The moving of him to this position benefits him, as it prevents him becoming stuck out wide, and gives him the freedom to produce penetrative runs at the heart of defences.
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The most striking part of the frontman’s game which lets him down is his consistency. Often the case with most so-called ‘flair’ players, he can drift out of games when his team are not on top. Despite his average performance level raising since his time in the North-West, there is still room for him to better that even more. If he able to do this, then he would surely secure a move to higher up the footballing pyramid.
An area for improvement could also be his defensive work-rate. Should he be faced with a full-back that is keen to get forward then the 24-year-old can become unstuck, due to his unwillingness to track back. This is a weakness in which teams could exploit, as they would likely experience joy on the side where Mendez-Laing is as a result of his preference of staying high up the pitch.
If Nathaniel Mendez-Laing can keep his performance levels consistently high then there is no doubt that he should be able to hold his own above League One. He contains all of the correct attributes to be a potent winger throughout the Football League – however it is down to him and his mentality as to what he achieves from his career.
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