AZ Alkmaar have been the talk of Eredivisie and European football this season. One reason being Arne Slot’s team is giving a tough competition to the title favourites, Ajax and is now second in the Eredivisie table behind Ajax by only three points. The other reason is their young, hot prospects coming through the ranks and producing stellar performances to attract interests from the big guns of Europe. Myron Boadu and Calvin Stengs have been the most eye-catching youngsters and are in the bucket list of most of the scouts and analysts across Europe. Even the Cheeseheads captain Teun Koopmeiners has been attracting interests and rightly so.
However, one player that has somehow gone under the radar is Owen Wijndal. The medium-built pacey left-back who is sometimes compared to Andrew Robertson in the twitter world due to their similar playing style doesn’t garner much attention. His youth career at AZ began at the age of 10. He was promoted to the first team during the 2017-18 season. Though he made his first-team debut at the age of 17, his appearances were limited. It was not until 2019-20 he made the left-back spot his own.
This tactical analysis and scout report will focus on the strong aspects of the AZ left-back as well as his negative traits. This analysis will also give a brief idea on how exactly Wijndal fits into Arne Slot’s tactics.
Wijndal during build-up
In modern-day football, managers often believe in high press and man to man marking. It is very important to have players who are calm on the ball and can play passes around in the defensive third and beat the high press.
Arne Slot believes in playing out from the back and hardly indulging in playing long-balls from the goalkeeper or the defenders. Arne Slot heavily utilises the left side during the build-up due to Wijndal’s calm and composed nature.
Wijndal remains in a slightly withdrawn position than the other full-back to help in the build-up as can be seen in this screenshot below.
Wijndal passes around the ball in the defensive third with ease. He hardly miss passes the ball or looks for a trickier pass in his defensive third. In this season he lost the ball 8.26 times per 90mins compared to 9.96 times the previous season. He has really developed this aspect of his game over a few years. Andrew Robertson loses the ball 11.07 times and Nicolás Tagliafico 9.32 times per 90mins. When compared to one of the best left-backs of Europe and the league, this stat speaks volumes about his composure on the ball.
Even when the opposition blocks his passing lanes or pressurises him, he looks for alternatives and most of the times is successful in finding his teammates.
In this situation, he receives the ball from his captain, Teun Koopmeiners. Sensing, Manchester United have successfully blocked the passing lanes to the midfield, he makes a forward run attracting three Man Utd players. Even Ashley Young, the right-back of Man Utd moves forward leaving the AZ left-winger, Oussama Idrissi free. In this case, most of the players would look to gain a foul or a throw-in or would lose the ball. Wijndal calmly passed the ball to Idrissi and AZ was successful in keeping possession.
The passing ability of Wijndal deserves a closer look at how he fares with other left-backs of the league as well as one of the best left-backs in the world currently (Andrew Robertson).
Wijndal is the best passer of Eredivisie when it comes to left-back. He indulges in the most number of passes as well as has the highest accuracy in the league. For reference, to show how good he is with the ball, I have also added Andrew Robertson in the mix. Andrew Robertson indulges in more passes but his accuracy is 3% lower than Wijndal.
As previously mentioned, Slot utilises Wijndal enormously during the build-up. Wijndal looks to play short passes with his teammates or makes a forward run rather than going for long balls. This is one aspect of his game that needs polishing. Wijndal plays 2.72 long balls per90 mins but with an accuracy of only 43.68%, one of the lowest in the league.
Combination with Idrissi
Owen Wijndal fits into the category of modern-day full-backs where a full-back is expected to burst forward, making overlapping runs and assist in the attacking plays along with the defensive plays. Idrissi and Wijndal are the perfect duo AZ could have asked for in the left-flank. The two AZ players complement each other well.
The duo attacks the opposition in two ways. One, where Wijndal overlaps Idrissi and gives him a passing option in the flank which is common in today’s scenario. The other, where Wijndal occupies the half-space or positions himself in the box, which is not so natural for a left-back.
Idrissi is a great dribbler and Wijndal positions himself with respect to Idrissi’s dribbling as to whether he would make an overlapping run or position himself in the box.
In one such situation, PEC Zwolle lost the ball in the middle third and AZ took advantage of it and instigated a counter. Wijndal was busy with his defensive duties but once Idrissi received the ball he made a bursting run forward to give Idrissi a passing option.
Idrissi drifted inside taking two players along with him and passed the ball to Wijndal. Wijndal seeing Dani de Wit making a run towards the box delivered a perfect cross to him. Unfortunately for AZ, de Wit hit it wide.
Another aspect of Wijndal’s overlapping runs is his late runs from his own half or form the middle third to accompany Idrissi.
In this situation against Emmen, Calvin Stengs spreads the ball wide to Idrissi. Idrissi dribbles inwards attracting the Emmen right-back as well as the right-winger. He waits for Wijndal to make an overlapping run outside of him.
Once Wijndal makes an overlapping run past him, he passes the ball cleverly to the AZ left-back. Since Idrissi attracts both Emmen players, Wijndal has a vast time and space to cross the ball. He looks up and sees the right-back, Jonas Svensson making a run in the free space to the far-post. He crosses the ball to Svensson’s path. Unfortunately, the right-back could not score from the situation.
In order to make this play successful, Arne Slot requires a winger who can dribble past players at ease or at least ingrain fear in the opposition minds and a full-back who can make overlapping runs and deliver accurate crosses.
Idrissi is a great dribbler who dribbles 9.46 times per 90 mins with an accuracy of 60.8%. All Arne Slot needed was an attacking minded-left back who could whip in accurate crosses and he got that in the form of Wijndal.
Wijndal produces 4.116 crosses per90 mins with an accuracy of 28.34%. As you can see, the accuracy is not much but he provides an alternative option to Arne Slot. He is always there for his team during the attacking plays and is always eager to deliver crosses into the box.
The alternative way of Idrissi and Wijndal attacking the opposition is when Wijndal positions himself in an inverted position or in the box or makes underlapping runs. AZ create chances through three different approaches in this system.
One, when Wijndal positions himself in the box and drags the right-winger of the opposition along with him, thus preventing overload in the left-flank. It allows Idrissi to dribble past the opposition with ease. Another is when Wijndal positions himself in the box, providing a passing option to Idrissi who plays a one-two with him before shooting or Wijndal himself taking the opportunity to provide crosses to the far post. The third one is very rare, when Idrissi positions himself infield attracting the opposition players to him and leaving an enormous space for Wijndal to attack.
The first aspect of the duo’s combination in the left-flank can be seen in the screenshot below.
Idrissi received the ball in the far-wide from Stengs. Wijndal sensing the space for Idrissi makes an underlapping to the box. He drags the PEC Zwolle right-winger along with him. Leaving Idrissi with only the opposition right-back to beat. He does that with ease and provides a cross into the box after dribbling past the right-back.
This is quite a common scenario for AZ Alkmaar. The duo leaves the opposition in a state of a conundrum, whether to double up on Idrissi ignoring Wijndal’s run or to leave the right-back one on one with Idrissi and praying the right-back is not beaten by the skilful Moroccan.
Another aspect of the same system is Wijndal’s off the ball movement to the box without attracting any attention.
Here, Wijndal passes the ball to Idrissi and makes a run to the opposition box. Both the right-winger and the right-back are busy dealing with the skilful Moroccan. Sensing the opportunity, Wijndal sneaked past both the players. If Idrissi could have passed the ball to Wijndal in this situation, there would have been a chance for AZ, instead the Moroccan drifted inside into the flurry of Sparta Rotterdam players and lost the ball.
As mentioned earlier, Wijndal positions himself in the edge of the box in such a manner that he could receive a pass from Idrissi and play it back to him or cross it to the far post.
Wijndal indulges in more underlapping runs than overlapping. Idrissi often positions himself in the far wide and the left-back takes that opportunity to position himself inwards or inverted.
Here, Idrissi received a pass from the centre-back, drifted inside and passed the ball to Wijndal who made a forward run inside and positioned himself at the edge of the box. The left-back tried to backheel the ball to Idrissi’s path but did not succeed.
The third aspect of the duo’s combination play can be vividly observed in a situation against Ajax.
Idrissi moves infield which leaves an enormous space for Wijndal to attack. Dušan Tadić fails to track the run of the left-back. The Moroccan too could not see the run made by the left-back and preferred to pass it to Stengs whose vision helped him to play a first time ball to Wijndal. Though the scoreline did not change because of the play, it was quite a swift move.
Wijndal along with Idrissi contributes a majority of the AZ attack from the left flank. The duo is too hot to handle at times and bamboozles the opposition through their combination play.
Pep Guardiola brought into limelight the use of an inverted full-back. The Manchester City manager uses inverted full-backs to cover the midfield region when the midfielders move forward to help in attack.
Arne Slot too uses Wijndal occasionally in an inverted position. When the ball is on the other side of the play Wijndal is asked to position himself infield rather than his usual position. It is to attract the opposition midfielder or right-winger to him which leaves Idrissi in one on one situation with the right-back
Here, AZ were moving the ball in the right flank. Stengs changed the flank and passed it to one of the centre-backs. Mason Greenwood, the right-winger for the match, is made to keep tabs on the AZ left-back due to his positioning which gives Idrissi a chance to go one on one with Ashley Young in case a ball is played to him quickly enough. This kind of positional sense is crucial for AZ as it allows them to distort their oppositions’ shape.
Against PEC Zwolle, Wijndal positioned himself in the inverted position more often than not. PEC Zwolle’s right-back had trouble dealing with Idrissi throughout the match. As the match went on, Wijndal was seen more in an inverted position to attract the opposition right-wing and thus giving the Moroccan opportunity to go one on one with PEC Zwolle right-back.
The modern-day full-back may have an additional duty of making forward runs but as a defender, he is primarily tasked with keeping the opposition attack at bay. Wijndal is great when it comes to defending one on one against the opposition attacker or defending duels.
AZ is a quality team in the Eredivisie who sits at the second position as of the winter break. They indulge in less defensive duels compared to other teams in the league. This is the reason Wijndal too indulges in less amount of defensive duels. However, he wins 65.53 % of the defensive duels, which is massive.
Let’s analyse how he is able to win most of his defensive duels.
The Dutch left-back is aggressive in his defending. He remains close to the man he is marking and latches onto any mistake made by the opposition. Even in case of a slight error in the opposition player’s first touch, he pounces onto the mistake and wins the ball.
He does not wait for the opposition player to make a move, rather he is aggressive in marking him and breathes down his neck until and unless he wins the ball. Here, you can see he is tussling with the Utrecht player and not giving him time and space to think of a move, which is key to Wijndal’s defending and finally wins the ball for his team.
This aggressive approach might cause him trouble against a trickier opponent. However, until now he has been successful in dealing with most of the duels through this approach. Sometimes, he misjudges the situation and reacts aggressively as he always does, but his teammates always bail him out in case he is beaten by the trickery of the opposition player.
The major aspect of his defence is that he tries to intercept the ball to the opposition attacker by blocking the passing lane rather than following the attacker.
In one such situation, AZ loses the ball in the middle third. Hakim Ziyech makes a run and Wijndal was just behind the Ajax winger. He stops following the player, as he could see he had one centre-back covering for him in case he fails to intercept the ball, and blocks the passing lane to Ziyech. He could not intercept the ball but he did enough to create a situation where the Ajax player who was passing the ball to Ziyech, passed it directly to the centre-back.
The screenshot below gives a vivid idea of Wijndal’s defensive approach.
As soon as the PEC Zwolle midfielder (#19) received the ball, he moved up, leaving space behind, trusting his teammates to bail him out in case of a mishap. He blocks the passing lane to the winger, who is asking for the ball. PEC midfielder (#19) tries to pass the ball upfront but is intercepted by the sensational Wijndal.
No player is perfect. Everyone has some negative traits that he/she most definitely wants to improve as their career progresses. Wijndal is young and has few aspects of his game that needs polishing.
As discussed in the ‘defensive technique’ section, he is aggressive in his defending and commits himself fully in tackles most of the times.
In one such situation, Wijndal goes in full throttle to snatch the ball from the PEC Zwolle winger inside the box. The PEC winger instead deceives him using the outside of the boot to keep the ball in possession. It left the left-back gasping to come back to his position and help in defence. Fortunately for AZ, it did not result in a goal.
However, the major flaw to his game is not committing himself fully but his casual attitude once he is dribbled past or deceived or he himself misreads the game.
In one such situation against Ajax, he misreads the game and failed to keep a tab on Donny van de Beek. Anyone can misread the game at some point, but once the player misreads the game, it’s his duty to give his all and stop the opposition from scoring.
Donny van de Beek found himself with an enormous space in the AZ box. Klaas Jan-Huntelaar recognising the scoring option passed the ball to van de Beek. Even when van de Beek was not marked in such a situation, Wijndal jogged back sensing the damage had already been done. Ajax failed to score from the situation and AZ breathed a sigh of relief.
You don’t expect this sort of casual attitude from a star player. You won’t see Andrew Robertson jogging back when his team is in danger, rather he will give his all to track back and prevent the opposition from scoring.
The Dutch left-back has at least one-two instances of casual attitude in every game. Another example which defines his casual attitude is in this situation against PEC Zwolle.
PEC Zwolle starts the attack from the back and is able to penetrate AZ’s first and second line of defence.
Wijndal is slightly higher than the other defenders in the defensive line and is in line with the opposition attacking midfielder (#30).
The attacking midfielder makes a run forward hoping to open up a passing lane for the ball carrier. Wijndal, on the other hand, casually jogs back unable to realise the threat. PEC attacking midfielder finally receives the ball owing to the left-back’s casual attitude and his inability to block the passing lane. But, fortunately for AZ, he could not score from the situation.
Owen Wijndal is an excellent left-back when it comes to the attacking aspects of the game. His overlapping runs wreaks havoc in the opposition defence, he is also a decent crosser of the ball. The most polished aspect of his game is his passing ability and calmness and composure on the ball during a build-up. He is one of the reasons AZ is so potent in playing out from the back and often beating the high press.
However, it’s his defence that needs polishing. The Dutch left-back is massive in winning ground duels but his excessive aggression might trouble him against a trickier opposition. His aggression needs to be channelled in a proper manner.
The left-back needs a lot of managing than coaching. He needs to be grilled and talked to. If the casual attitude from his game is eradicated, he can become one of the best left-backs in the world.
Amidst the negative traits, Wijndal is a massive talent and a modern-day full-back.