FC Groningen are known for their stellar youth academy, with many quality football players having come through the youth system and subsequently made their senior debuts for the club. A couple of examples include current Liverpool star Virgil van Dijk, as well as Chelsea, Real Madrid and Bayern Munich legend, Arjen Robben. Today, FC Groningen field many players who’ve worked their way up to the first team from the youth academy; with players like Tomáš Suslov and Daniël van Kaam becoming regular first-team starters. Another is Bjorn Meijer, who has been having his breakout season for FC Groningen this term.
At only 19 years of age, Meijer has become a regular starter in Groningen’s backline; with the left-back making 21 appearances for the senior side across both the Eredivisie and the KNVB Beker. The 6’2” left-back has also reportedly been attracting glances from clubs abroad, with current Belgian champions Club Brugge rumoured to be interested in signing the Dutch U19 international. This tactical analysis and scout report will take a deeper dive into Meijer’s style of play and take a closer look at some of the strengths that are starting to develop in the Dutchman’s game.
The heatmap above shows the average positioning of Bjorn Meijer for FC Groningen this season. Along with being relatively reliable in defensive situations for Groningen, Meijer is also a threat going forward. As the heat map shows, Meijer spends almost an equal amount of time in the attacking third than he does in the defensive third of the pitch. He has also been productive in the final third, with the Dutch left-back scoring 1 goal and providing 3 assists so far this season. Additionally, the Groningen man has been heavily involved in his own penalty box during defensive sequences, and even though his aerial presence is lacklustre at times, his 6’2” frame makes him a valuable asset for Groningen inside the 18-yard box.
Defensive duels and tackling ability
When it comes to Meijer’s defensive capabilities, his ability in defensive duels and tackling are by far his strongest attributes. Across all competitions for Groningen so far this season, Meijer averages 7.61 defensive duels per 90, with a success rate of 67.7%. Meijer is also precise when it comes to his tackling, with only one yellow card this season in almost 1500 minutes of action. This demonstrates his logical decision-making, with Meijer an example of a defender who rarely makes rash decisions when trying to win back possession from the opposition.
The image above shows an example of Meijer’s ability in defensive duels. Utrecht have a throw-in, and the player is attempting to play it to whom Meijer is marking. As the ball comes in, Meijer can get his leg around the Utrecht player and flick the ball in the air behind him. He then proceeds to use his strength to shield the opponent from the ball, allowing the teammate behind him to gather possession and play the ball forward to an attacker.
The image above once again is able to illustrate Bjorn Meijer’s ability in defensive duels. In this phase of play against NEC, Meijer is isolated 1v1 against the opposition winger. He does not allow the winger to get past him — instead engaging him and using his strength to get the player off balance. This then allows Meijer to use his leg to poke the ball away from the opposition player, with the ball finding a Groningen teammate to start a counterattack.
The image above shows a perfect example of the 19-year-old’s tackling ability, as well as his overall lack of rash decision-making. The Utrecht player in possession is driving towards the 18-yard box, while Meijer can use his recovery speed to get back and help out defensively. After getting back, Meijer is able to use his long leg to tackle the poke the ball away from the opposition player, winning possession precisely before knocking it back to his goalkeeper, who collects. With Meijer only getting one yellow card for Groningen this season in about 1500 minutes of first-team action, this example shows his smart decision-making, with the teenager usually only attempting a tackle if he is sure he will win the ball cleanly.
This final example for this section once again illustrates Meijer’s strength when it comes to defensive duels. Against Ajax above, Meijer can use his superior strength in a shoulder-to-shoulder challenge to knock the Ajax player down and win back possession cleanly. These are without a doubt the strongest attributes of his game; Bjorn Meijer is nearly close to a complete player when it comes to his ability in defensive duels and tackling. Of course, he is not perfect — no football player is — but it will be interesting to see how these skills translate once he gets his inevitable move to a bigger club in (most likely) a different league.
Ability with the ball at his feet
While Meijer is strong when it comes to defensive duels and tackling, he also is decent with the ball at his feet. When taking a deep dive and looking at Meijer’s passing stats, it is hard not to be impressed considering he is 19 and in his first full season of first-team football. Across all competitions for Groningen so far this season, Meijer is averaging 38.96 passes per 90 with a success rate of 74.2%. Breaking this number down even more shows that the majority of these passes are going forward as well. This season, Meijer is averaging 15.64 forward passes per 90 with a success rate of 64.3%. Meijer has also been one of Groningen’s most used outlets going forward this season, with the majority of their attacking play going down his flank. This section will take a look at Meijer’s passing ability as well as crossing when he gets into the final third.
The image above from Groningen’s KNVB Beker match against NEC shows a great example of Meijer’s ability to create goalscoring chances in the final third. He can find the space and receive a switch of play pass from the midfielder on the far touchline. He takes a perfect first touch and is able to work the space before sending in a perfect cross onto the head of the striker who makes a run to the edge of the six-yard box. Unfortunately, the striker heads the ball high and wide, but that doesn’t take away from the quality of Meijer’s cross.
Another example of Meijer’s crossing quality is shown in the image above. In this phase of play above against Go Ahead Eagles, Meijer has just made a great run in behind the opposition backline, with his teammate playing a perfectly weighted ball into his path. Meijer can run onto the ball and play a quality first-time ground cross into the path of the striker, who can tap the ball in at the back post. Meijer’s ability to send accurate crosses into the box on a seemingly regular basis would be a great fit for a side like Club Brugge, to whom he is currently linked. Under Alfred Schreuder, Club Brugge have opted for a 3-5-2 system, with the wingbacks heavily involved in the attacking third sending crosses into the box; this makes the links to Meijer unsurprising.
Aside from his crossing ability, Meijer’s long passing is a key trait when it comes to his quality in chance creation. When opponents sit off him in possession, Meijer can play the ball over the top with accuracy, bypassing the opposition lines and going route one to goal. An example of this is shown in Groningen’s match against Fortuna Sittard, above. Meijer is in possession and allowed the time and space on the ball. With no options for a forward ground pass available, Meijer instead plays a perfectly weighted ball over the top, instantly bypassing the Fortuna Sittard lines. The ball drops perfectly into the path of the striker running in behind, but unfortunately, he takes a poor touch, allowing the goalkeeper to collect.
The image above once again shows Meijer’s quality when it comes to going route one with his passing. In this phase of play against AZ Alkmaar, Meijer finds himself in a more central position, but with no forward passing options. He is also getting pressured from behind by the AZ player. Even while under pressure, Meijer is able to play a perfectly weighted pass over the top of both the AZ midfield and defensive lines. The pass finds the Groningen forward making a run into the box. Unfortunately, the ensuing cross by the forward does not find his intended target, with the goalscoring chance going begging.
This section has taken an in-depth look at the quality that Bjorn Meijer possesses on the ball. The quality of his crossing, as well as his overall range of passing in general, illustrates these forward-thinking and attacking tendencies.
Along with his quality on the ball and defensive strengths, Meijer also excels in his off-the-ball movements going forward, which allows him to create the space for himself and his teammates to receive the ball. This section will take a look at some examples of these off-the-ball movements that Meijer often makes.
The image above from Groningen’s match against Feyenoord shows an example of Meijer’s off-the-ball movements. Meijer has just played the pass to the winger on the near touchline and proceeds to make an unmarked underlapping run into Feyenoord’s penalty box. The winger plays the ball into Meijer’s path, who runs onto it and plays a cut back ball towards the penalty spot. The striker is able to get onto the end of the ball and fire home from close range. As a result of this intelligent movement from Meijer, he can create a goalscoring chance and, subsequently, get himself an assist.
A similar situation is shown above from Groningen’s match against NEC. Meijer has just taken the throw-in and played it to his teammate in a deeper position. Meijer’s marker proceeds to attempt to close the ball down and press the receiver, which leaves Meijer unmarked. He recognises this and makes a run behind the opposition defence. The ball is subsequently played to Meijer over the top, who proceeds to run into the space. Unfortunately, the pass has too much weight on it, which allows the opposition centre-back to get over and cover for the fullback. This results in the ball getting cleared out of play by the defender. Though Meijer is not able to get onto the end of the ball, this example still demonstrates the intelligence he possesses when looking to make runs in-behind opposition defences.
The final example for this section once again highlights Meijer’s willingness to make off the ball runs to create options for his teammates. In the phase of play above, against Heerenveen, Meijer notices that the fullback is ball watching and not in the greatest position to track back. As a result, he proceeds to use a burst of acceleration to make an underlapping run behind the fullback and into the space. The Groningen winger attempts to play the pass into his path, but unfortunately, he overhits it, with the ball going out of play for a goal kick.
When it comes to his off-the-ball movements, Meijer can make intelligent runs in behind the opposition defence and create scoring chances for both himself and his teammates.
Given Bjorn Meijer’s height, it is only natural that he excels in aerial duels, whether that is in the defensive or attacking phase. For Groningen, across all competitions this season, Meijer is averaging 4.36 aerial duels per 90 with a success rate of 43.7%. While the success rate number could be higher for someone who is over six feet tall; Meijer is still a valuable player for Groningen to have in both boxes, as well as in open play.
The image above shows an example of Meijer’s ability in aerial duels. In this phase of play against Feyenoord, the ball is played long by Feyenoord from the second-half kickoff. Because of Meijer’s superior height, he does not have to jump nearly as high to reach the ball, which allows him to win the aerial duel easily as the Feyenoord attacker jumps too early and misses the ball as a result. Meijer can head the ball back towards the halfway line, where Feyenoord regain possession. The ball is subsequently headed back in, but Meijer wins the ball again and is able to set Groningen off on a counterattack.
As mentioned at the beginning of this section, Meijer’s height means that he is a key asset for Groningen on both attacking and defensive set-pieces. In the image above, Feyenoord have a dangerous free-kick near the edge of Groningen’s 18-yard box. The ball is whipped in well, but Meijer is the quickest one to react and jumps the highest to head the ball away from danger — getting up higher than two Feyenoord players challenging for the ball in the air with him. Meijer’s clearance falls to the edge of the box, but the Groningen defenders can get out quickly enough to charge down the ensuing shot and block it away.
This final example, once again, shows Meijer’s ability in winning aerial duels. The ball is played long from the opposition goalkeeper, with Meijer winning the aerial duel easily. This time, the opposition player jumps too late, which allows Meijer to easily jump up from behind the attacker and head the ball back to where it came from. Though Meijer is not able to find a teammate with the subsequent header, he sends it far enough away to prevent the opposition from winning the second ball in a more advanced position.
Bjorn Meijer has shown the footballing talent that he possesses this season with FC Groningen. Even though he is only in his first full season of senior first-team football, he looks like he has been in the first team for years. This analysis piece has gone over some of the strengths that are present in the 19-year-old’s game — and these strengths are only going to get better as he gains more top-level experience. The rumours linking him to Club Brugge make sense, as the tactics deployed by Alfred Schreuder make Meijer a near-perfect fit for his system. One thing is for sure, the future is bright for Bjorn Meijer, and he is one to watch out for.