Villarreal CF were the second-biggest spenders in La Liga with a €46.25m net spend this past summer. One of their signings, Arnaut Danjuma from Bournemouth, has shone this season. The Dutch attacker has scored nine goals and assisted three goals in 18 appearances in all competitions, and his bright performances have also attracted the attention of Louis van Gaal, who called him to the national team after UEFA EURO 2020. From the EFL Championship to the top-tier in Spain, how good is Danjuma? This tactical analysis is a scout report of the player, which explains how he’s merged into different game systems at his club and for his country.
The first part of this article uses data from Wyscout to evaluate Danjuma’s performance this season. We compared the Dutchman with 36 other attacking players in La Liga in the below scatter charts.
Danjuma is an aggressive player with the ball, as he always looks for opportunities to take on the opposition in the offensive phase. According to the first scatter plot, he ranked third in dribbles per 90 (7.25), only behind Vinícius Júnior and Gonçalo Guedes. Another important point to consider is the significance of ball-carrying. His 4.52 progressive runs per 90 is impressive as well, since this shows his ball-carrying is able to advance the attack for the team. All these stats suggest Danjuma is good at 1v1s and on the ball; his goal against Real Betis provides good proof of that conclusion.
The second aspect we’ve considered is the offensive duels per 90 and their success rate. Danjuma has made 10.51 offensive duels per 90 this season, with a 50% success rate. His name stays on the top right quadrant, which means he was above mean in both metrics. The stats are matchable to the previous plot too, he is a confident dribbler, the opposition has a chance to dispossess him, but Danjuma has just as much of a chance to retain the ball in those situations too.
The third plot measures Danjuma’s involvement in the final third. The Dutchman once again stood out in the graph by making 1.68 deep completions per 90, ranking fourth in La Liga. It shows he has a good tendency to deliver the ball into the six-yard box, and he does that every game. Meanwhile, he’s had 6.62 touches in the box per 90, more than any other attacker in the same league. It shows he has the awareness and movements to receive in the penalty box, and we’ll delve into in-game examples in the following sections.
The last scatter plot gives a brief idea of the player’s threat to the goal. He’s been very good in terms of xG per 90, as only Karim Benzema’s 0.65 is higher than Danjuma’s 0.55, which means the Villarreal player was a constant threat to the goal. That threat is attributed to his willingness to pull the trigger since his 3.47 shots per 90 is also the second-highest, which means he could accumulate xG from a higher shot quantity, just like Benzema.
When analysing Danjuma, we broke his performance in the offensive phase into two parts. The first one outlines his ability as an individual, what he can do with and without the ball. Then, in the second part, we explain how he fits under Emery and Van Gaal’s respective systems.
Danjuma has good awareness and willingness to search for the attacking depth. He always makes runs behind, which can fix the last line or give a long option to his teammates. The image shows the scene before his assist against Athletic Club. When the Villarreal left-back (Pervis Estupiñán) pushed higher and wider to take the right-back out, Danjuma sensed that as an opportunity to attack spaces behind the right-back and was released by Pau Torres.
When he received, he was behind the last line and forced the central defender to step up and stop him. This run also created a 1v1 isolation opportunity for Danjuma to take on the opponent, which was where his dribbling made an impact.
The previous penetrative run was simpler as the channel was very obvious, and he had the help of the left-back. But we rate Danjuma highly for his good observation of the game, the opposition, and the last line. Sometimes, the channel or space did not exist, but the Dutchman is good at using his little movements with rhythm to create good conditions in the attack.
In this situation, Virgil van Dijk was driving forward, and Danjuma was on the left flank. However, there was no clear passing lane or space to receive yet, so the Villarreal man had to create that himself by moving laterally into the half-space.
Nevertheless, Danjuma soon realized van Dijk was not ready to make a pass. Within half a second, he adapted and changed his mind, stopped the lateral movement and held a wider position. This was very important as he needed to synchronise with his teammates, or even better, fix the attention of the right wing-back. Now, you can see the Montenegro right wing-back oriented himself towards Danjuma a bit, and his eyes were on the ball as van Dijk was carrying the ball forward.
Then, the moment finally came. Just another second passed, as the Montenegro right wing-back, orienting towards Danjuma, needed to turn at a larger angle to cover space behind.
From there, Danjuma cleverly adapted again, he sensed this was the moment for the release pass and made the penetrative movement to space behind the last line. Intriguingly, he did not travel via the half-spaces or between the channels. Instead, just a simple diagonal movement was needed to exploit the bad defensive conditions of the opposition defender. The timing was accurate, and the way in which Danjuma kept making minor adjustments to search for the best offensive conditions was brilliant.
The last example of this section demonstrates Danjuma’s readjustment of position to go behind. This time, he was in an offside position initially as we have drawn in the image. To stay onside, he first retreated to a deeper position to stay on the shoulder of the defenders. Then, he used his pace to outrun the defender into space behind. It’s a good example of how the player observes the positions of his opponents and takes actions according to the circumstances.
You can also interpret his sense to exploit spaces, as well. Although he was good on the ball and has the ability to take on the defender 1v1, he knew when to receive to feet and when to receive in space. In this case, obviously, the space behind the last line was larger than that in front of the line, so his decision to go behind was optimal and thus created a passing option for Torres.
This section explains Danjuma’s tactical role under different game systems. In the national team and at Villarreal, the head coaches give him different tasks and he has a good level of execution.
At Villarreal, the former Arsenal head coach Emery places Danjuma in more central positions. Sometimes, Wyscout even identifies the attacker as a striker in the 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 formation. In that structure, Danjuma mainly provides the offensive height in the centre to fix the last line, and he can shift across different horizontal zones to bring the left-back into play.
For example, as Estupiñán went up high on the left flank, Danjuma stayed rather central to occupy the centre-back and vacate the wide spaces. He must also be dynamic to move into the correct space according to the flow of the game. In this scenario, he should be ready to drop into the half-space to offer a vertical passing option to Torres or be ready to go behind.
In this alternative scenario against Manchester United, you can see Danjuma’s clever movement. The Netherlands international has a good understanding of the game, thus, he interacted with his left-back very well.
Again, Villarreal’s Torres was carrying the ball forward. Danjuma, who was initially in the centre and closer to Victor Lindelöf, moved laterally towards the right-back. This move was significant as it brought two of his teammates into play. If Danjuma stayed in the centre, Aaron Wan-Bissaka would be free to press as Lindelöf would take care of the former Bournemouth player. However, Danjuma appeared in front of him now, so he had to mark him, leaving Moi Gómez free in the half-space. Meanwhile, occupying Wan-Bissaka freed the left-wing channel for Estupiñán to move into. That little movement was pivotal, as it created more passing options for Torres in an instant.
Comparatively, with the Netherlands national team, Danjuma took up a wider position as Van Gaal is a coach who wants his team to have constant width occupation, and this is usually provided by the wingers. Since the national team also has Memphis Depay to play as the striker, Danjuma mainly starts on the left flank and his role is different. We will explain this via the scenario against Montenegro.
Although Danjuma was occupying a wide position initially, he also needed to bring the left-back into play. When he spotted van Dijk’s pass going to Daley Blind, Danjuma made an important move to occupy the half-space. The moment was important as it must be done when the ball is travelling, so the wing-back will react to Danjuma’s movement and Blind would not be under pressure from the vertical angle. Then, from the half-space, Danjuma can freely make various types of runs to attack the channels according to the situations.
Of course, Villarreal are also a team that allows players to roam from their positions. This fluidity allows Danjuma to exercise his 1v1 and dribbling ability in wide areas. Usually, when Emery wants to keep the full-backs deeper in the attack, he places Danjuma on the left wing to provide the width, including the above situation. In this area, he has the freedom to take on the defender and go all the way. You can see the good body orientation of the player as well — he rarely drops back to receive with a closed body shape. Instead, Danjuma has a good habit of facing the larger part of the pitch, as he has done above. This allows the player to receive on his further foot, and angle his dribble to confront the defender.
Defending & transitions
Defensively, Danjuma isn’t the most active player as the game systems in which he plays don’t require very physical outputs from him without possession. However, there were still roles to fulfil and that was related to the player’s threat in transitions.
Under Villarreal’s tactics, the team mainly defends in a 4-4-2 or 4-1-3-2 mid-block. Danjuma forms the first line with another teammate, but they rarely initiate the press. Instead, all the coach requires is to lock the opposition 6s in the centre, communicate and coordinate with the Villarreal central midfielders to take up a position in the centre. We have shown in the above image how Danjuma stayed between the centre-back and the midfielder to maintain accessible distances on two targets. Again, pressing and making contact are not his strengths, but maybe he will develop in that aspect in the future.
Emery prefers to keep Danjuma in a higher position as this allows him to be the first man to join the counter-attacks. The Dutch international also has good awareness to make runs behind the last line to attack space left open behind the opposition.
For example, in this situation against Manchester United, we see an offensive transition from Villarreal. You can see the timing of Danjuma’s forward run to get into space behind the right-back was early. In the meantime, Wan-Bissaka was not even turning. That split second of advantage allowed Danjuma to arrive in space behind the defence earlier than the opposition and create a passing option for teammates to play forward.
Another scenario against United demonstrates the same strength of the player. Here, Villarreal captured the ball on the flank, with Danjuma already positioned between Lindelöf and Wan-Bissaka to attack the penalty zone. Here, if his teammate can release him with one or two touches, it’s a great chance to score as the defensive line is broken.
As we’ve shown in this analysis, Danjuma is a really complete player who can take different positional roles. If the manager wants him to stay wider, he can exercise his 1v1 ability, dribbling, and pace to create a threat from the flank. On the other hand, his good observation of the game and quick decisions also allow him to play in the central areas of the pitch, such as the “false 9” under Emery. Anyhow, he has been one of the best players in La Liga for 2021/22 and we expect more to come from the Dutchman!