The Netherlands has been producing some excellent players in recent years, with the recent focus on youth development paying off as a talented generation looks to be a strong contender at the upcoming Euros. It is notable that many of these players are still plying their trade in the Eredivisie – of the 31-man squad called up for the upcoming World Cup qualifiers, 11 are at clubs in the Netherlands, showing that clubs like Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and AZ do have some talented players at their disposal who are making a mark this season. One such player, who has just turned 23, and was ironically not called up for these games, is the AZ Alkmaar midfielder Teun Koopmeiners.
Koopmeiners is primarily a defensive midfielder, having come through the AZ academy, and he has made his senior debut for the Oranje, with his solitary cap so far coming in a friendly against Mexico last year. The Dutchman is an extremely composed and cultured player at the base of midfield, and since he is left-footed and can drop back to play at centre-back as well, there have been some comparisons to his compatriot Daley Blind, as well as to Nemanja Matić. What is certain is that he is rapidly reaching a point where Europe’s leading clubs will be looking to sign him – many observers believe that he would be a great signing for Manchester United, for example, as a replacement for Matić, while the likes of Everton, Leeds United and Inter Milan also being credited with interest in the recent past. Here, we will look at the 23-year-old’s attributes, traits and style of play, to determine if he is ready to make the step up to one of the big European leagues.
Before we get into examining Koopmeiners style of play, it would be informative to compare him with other Eredivisie midfielders to get an idea of his strengths and weaknesses, which will also help us understand his playing profile. All stats used here have been taken from Wyscout, unless mentioned otherwise, while we have only considered players who have played at least 1000 minutes in the league this season to have a decent sample size to base our comparisons on.
Our first scatter plot is a look at these players’ ability to make passes into dangerous areas –
Looking at passes to the final third and penalty area per 90, Koopmeiners is one of the few Eredivisie midfielders who have performed well above the league average for both metrics, as we can see from the chart. He is averaging 10.45 progressive passes and 3.01 passes to the penalty area per 90 this season in the league, which is excellent and shows just how important he has been for AZ in terms of ball progression into dangerous areas. It is also an indicator of his style of passing, given that he is usually the deepest midfielder in the AZ lineup – he will quite often try to affect the game higher up the pitch through his passing from deep.
We can see this from the next chart as well, which looks at the proportion of passes that each player plays forward. Koopmeiners, with around 32%, is 15th on our list – again, this is a good indicator of his tendency to try and affect the game and create opportunities. His overall pass completion rate in all competitions this season is at 86% – one would expect that to be higher for a defensive midfielder, and this shows his willingness to try the difficult pass more often than not.
Koopmeiners is also extremely involved in his side’s overall play, as can be seen from this scatter plot, which looks at passes per 90 and passes received per 90. He is second only to Ryan Gravenberch of Ajax in these metrics, which is a good way to understand which players are central to build-up play.
Koopmeiners’ role in the side can be seen as that of a facilitator, rather than the player making the actual final pass, and this is borne out when we consider key passes and xA per 90. The 23-year-old is around the league average for both metrics, and while he does have six assists this season in all competitions, his primary role for AZ is to move the ball through the thirds and therefore help set up promising situations.
Given that Koopmeiners is a defensive midfielder, we also need to look at some defensive metrics to try and understand his role out of possession. This chart considers defensive duels and possession-adjusted (PAdj) interceptions per 90, while the colour of the plot indicates the success rate for defensive duels.
As we can see, Koopmeiners is a fairly active player while defending, although his role does seem to based more around cutting out opposition passes and being good positionally, rather than engaging in direct duels too often – although, with a success rate of 66.3%, he does win the majority of the duels he does get into.
These charts paint the picture of a player who is heavily involved in his side’s passing, looks to move the ball upfield whenever possible, and is good at blocking passing lanes and winning the ball back when out of possession. These characteristics, taken together, make the Dutchman a very good defensive midfielder who is probably already good enough to make a mark in one of the major European leagues. We will look at specific examples of his style of play next to further illustrate his skills, traits and strengths.
Koopmeiners is a 23-year-old defensive midfielder who can also play in central midfield and at centre-back. He is just over 6 ft tall, weighs 77 kg, and is primarily left-footed. The Dutchman’s heatmap for this season, shown next, illustrates the areas of the pitch where he is usually stationed during matches –
As we can see, Koopmeiners covers the majority of the pitch on the left side, primarily in his own defensive third. He can also move up to support attacks on the left, while he rarely ventures into the final third. He has usually played as part of a double pivot in midfield, which gives him the responsibility of covering the left half of the pitch, especially when out of possession.
As mentioned earlier in the piece, the Dutchman is a player who is always trying to get AZ on the front foot through his passing – he will look to pass forward whenever there is an opportunity to do so. He has the ability to pick out players on either flank from deeper positions in his own half, while he can also play deft chipped balls into the box from higher up the pitch, or whip crosses in when he drifts out to the left flank in support.
This is an example of that sort of movement – Koopmeiners has moved out to the left to support the left-back, Owen Wijndal, from whom he receives the pass and then swings in a first-time cross into the box.
This is another trait that we see from the AZ captain – he will usually not take more than a couple of touches before passing. This means that he can be relied upon to play at a quick tempo, which also helps AZ play out through the opposition press all over the pitch.
This is another example of the influence the 23-year-old can have higher up the pitch. Koopmeiners receives the ball outside the Vitesse penalty area, and he is able to put in a first-time ball into the box for his teammate to try and get onto.
Another example of this trait – here, he is a little deeper than in the previous example, but the overall play is the same: looking to find his teammate in the box with a chipped pass from central areas of the pitch.
Of course, the majority of Koopmeiners work comes from deeper areas, often in his own half. The 23-year-old plays a big role in the team’s build-up, allowing AZ to play out effectively from the back.
This is a good example of Koopmeiners’ willingness to receive the ball under pressure helping to open passing options up for the rest of the team. He drops deep to receive the ball from his keeper, and while under pressure, plays a first-time pass back to him. This movement has drawn the Emmen player towards him, and therefore opens up the pass to the left-back, with AZ then able to progress up the pitch.
Another example from the same game shows his ability to manipulate space and his opponents with his movement and passing, even though he is deep in his own half, to retain possession.
Here, Koopmeiners has played the ball out to the winger, who is immediately put under pressure by the Emmen player.
He elects to play the ball back to his captain, who is now set upon by two players. Koopmeiners is unfazed, however, and deftly opens his body up to play a square ball to his centre-back, who is in space.
Koopmeiners then immediately offers himself as a passing option again by making a run to the left, with his centre-back coming under pressure.
He is able to shrug off his marker and play a driven pass down the line to the winger, who has been able to get away from his opponent and so has the space to drive down the flank now.
This series of images shows Koopmeiners’ awareness, ability in tight spaces and passing – he is also not afraid to offer himself as a passing option even with players bearing down on him, confident that he will be able to keep the ball.
One of his traits when deep in his own half is to try and find his attacking players quickly with direct passes down the flanks.
We can see him playing a long pass over the top here, which allows the winger to run through on goal and get a shot away.
Being left-footed, he will often try to switch the ball to the right from his midfield position, as seen in the image.
It is also interesting to note his positioning when AZ have the ball –
Koopmeiners (circled) maintains a position in the left half-space, just inside the opposition half, as part of AZ’s 1-3-1-5 set up in the build-up. This allows him to be in position to recycle possession quickly and attack the wide space to support attacks when needed, while also providing defensive balance, as he will be able to press the opposition if needed, or fall back to defend the half and wide spaces on the left if the press is bypassed.
Given that he has scored 15 goals in all competitions at the time of writing this season, we need to mention this impressive trait which sees him at second place in the Eredivisie goalscoring charts. It is important to note that he is AZ’s designated penalty-taker, and so eight of these 15 goals have been from the spot. Further, he has also scored from direct free-kicks, as well as from corners, so, in fact, he has just one goal from open play this season. Therefore, while his goalscoring numbers are certainly impressive, this is a result of his set-piece duties rather than an ability to arrive unmarked in the box from deep.
Out of possession
Koopmeiners plays a big role in AZ’s defensive system, both when pressing high up the pitch as well as when in his own half. It is important to note that the majority of his defensive work, like his passing, takes place in AZ’s half, with just 39% of his recoveries (8.70 per 90) in the opponent’s half of the pitch.
We have already mentioned the 23-year-old’s good anticipation when AZ have the ball, and this is something that helps him when defending as well. Here, the Utrecht keeper is attempting to find his teammate in midfield with a low driven pass. Koopmeiners predicts this, and begins to move to cut out the pass just as the keeper winds up to play it…
…intercepting the pass, and immediately able to play a dangerous pass to his teammate, who is attacking the box from the opposite flank.
This is a big reason why Koopmeiners is so good at intercepting the ball, as we saw earlier in the scatter plot as well.
Here, Heerenveen have been able to break upfield and counter-attack, with AZ potentially facing a dangerous situation. Koopmeiners has dropped into the defensive line, and while retreating, he looks over to note the movement of the Heerenveen striker, with the ball on their left flank.
He is able to adjust his positioning as a result, and therefore, when the pass does come in, he is in the right position to cut it out and regain possession.
Koopmeiners also has to defend the wide spaces, particularly on the left, due to his positioning, and he does a good job on most occasions of being able to hold up opposition attackers and delay attacks, through his anticipation, body shape and positioning.
This is one such example, where the AZ captain is able to prevent the Utrecht attacker from attacking down the left, and with a teammate coming in from behind, he forces his opponent to turn and pass backwards, giving his team time to reset and get back in shape.
Teun Koopmeiners is having an excellent season at AZ, and as we have seen, already possesses a number of attributes which would help him do well in one of the top European leagues. He is already captaining the side despite having just turned 23, and this is a testament to his mentality, which is another favourable attribute for clubs to consider. Comments from his agent suggest that he will be looking for a move in the summer, and with links to the likes of Leeds United persisting, it will be extremely interesting to see where he ends up, as he has the ability and potential to be a top defensive midfielder for many years to come.