Donny van de Beek: Ajax’s midfield sensation
With Ajax making it to the UEFA Champions League second round for the first time in over a decade, the club is living one of its best moments in recent times. This group of young players has been attracting some attention, with a lot of the big clubs’ scouts keeping a keen eye.
The Ajax system is producing again and this latest batch of players is exciting the world of football. One of the biggest prospects is Dutch international Donny van de Beek. In this player analysis, we will be looking at what his major assets are as well as areas for improvement using statistics.
One of their own, central midfielder Donny van de Beek, is the Dutch sensation that has been part of the new wave of kids in the de Godenzonen. As a member of the Ajax midfield, he follows in the footsteps of talents such as Ronald De Boer, Clarence Seedorf and Christian Eriksen.
The 21-year-old prospect has got clubs such as Barcelona, Manchester City, and Chelsea alerted; a big asset for the Ajax system. He has already made 32 appearances for club and country this season. He is a youth product and so is embedded in their way of playing, fitting into both the number six and eight positions. He has great potential and is sure to be helped on his way by coach Erik ten Hag.
Forward passing analysis
One of Van de Beek’s biggest strengths is his ability to spot vertical lanes to play into. These are the spaces created when a team plays with both wingers hugging the touchline, spreading the opposition horizontally. He looks to be direct in his play, causing the most amount of danger he can with his passes, as opposed to keeping it ticking over and retaining possession. Van de Beek likes to play straight into the attacking players, or in behind opposition defences.
Passing forward is a strength of his, playing with speed and direction. In order to do this, Van de Beek possesses the spatial awareness and the vision to locate the space quickly. He can quickly risk-assess his passes and interpret the area around him, which allows him to be efficient while being forward thinking.
Van de Beek’s understanding of the way he should receive the ball allows the speed of his execution. His body positioning, receiving on the half turn, enables him to face the opponent with one touch, with the next being a pass forward. As well as that, the ability to play using different parts of his foot gives him more options in his range of passing, playing in different angles and directions.
Whether he’s playing in the number six or eight position, Van de Beek understands the structure in which he operates. With Ajax’s wingers playing high and wide, pulling the opposition fullbacks near the touchline, he appreciates that the opponents will be spread out horizontally, creating vertical channels in which he can play his passes. Van de Beek ranks as Ajax’s third highest player in the forward passing department with 115.
The two images below show Van de Beek receiving on the half turn, facing the opposition with one touch. Not only does he understand his role, but his ability to comprehend the roles of others around him in the Ajax system enables a quick pass in the vertical lane that his teammate has created by playing high and wide. The execution of his pass allows it to be played in a dangerous area, where his teammate can take advantage.
In this example, Van de Beek illustrates his spatial awareness. He has his back to the goal with a pass played into him. He plays a wall pass as he understands he cannot have more than one touch while maintaining the danger of the attack. His decision-making and his technical execution are impeccable. He decides to play the pass quickly to avoid the tackle as well as playing the ball off the ground, which helps it evade the defenders. This creates a situation in which his teammate is in a 1v1 with the goalkeeper.
Running with & without the ball
Van de Beek possesses powerful running capabilities on the ball. They allow him to make driving runs, many of them into the box to create goalscoring opportunities. A physical presence at 1.83m tall, the Dutch international enjoys a great running capacity to arrive into dangerous positions. Similarly, his physicality enables him to deal with attacking duels, which help him pass defenders with relative ease through the sheer power in his driving runs.
His consciousness of what is around him helps with identifying with where the spaces are. This ability allows him to decide when best to pass to a teammate or to take players on. The explosiveness in his running means he can beat players quickly over a short distance, taking his opponent out of the game and creating a 2v1 elsewhere on the pitch. His understanding of how to use his physique well in these situations helps him get his body between his opponent and the ball, always keeping it away from defenders.
Without the ball, Van de Beek understands moments in the game. He knows when to hold his position and when to vacate the space, depending on the result and the stage of the game they are in. The Ajax youth product mainly makes these runs playing as a number eight, having fewer defensive duties and therefore being given the license to attack.
As mentioned before, the Ajax system stretches the opposition horizontally, creating space vertically for late runners to the edge of the box. Van de Beek takes full advantage of that. He has covered 10.1km per 90 minutes this season, an Ajax high. This illustrates his relentless running and willingness to keep getting in the box to affect the game.
Van de Beek’s comprehension of the positions he should take up to be dangerous shows maturity beyond his years. He has scored four goals in 15 Eredivisie fixtures this season, a very good return for the 21-year-old midfielder.
In the picture above, Van de Beek takes on two players, taking them out of the game. He uses his strength to keep them away from the ball and uses his explosive running to get away from the defenders in a short space. He still has the awareness afterwards to pass the ball to a teammate in a better position to finish the attack.
In the two pictures above, Van de Beek makes an overlapping run off the ball and into the box. His high running capacity helps him arrive into a goal-scoring situation. He demonstrates an understanding of where space is and an appreciation of when his team is looking to go ahead in the game. His positioning illustrates an awareness of his surroundings, and puts himself into a location where he can finish with one touch, scoring the first in the game.
Although the Dutch youngster has scored four goals in the league this season, a good return, it is mainly down to his positioning which provides him with the opportunities. He may seem like a proficient player in all facets of the game. However, the quality of his finishing is particularly inconsistent.
He possesses a powerful shot that would scare most of the league’s goalkeepers. It’s the choice of shot is what stops him from adding to his tally. Something that we find in a lot of young players, Van de Beek needs to improve his decision making. Especially after putting himself in many positive attacking situations with his runs, he needs to improve on his decision-making. He sometimes chooses to side-foot the ball when the better technique would’ve been to shoot with his laces.
Also, his body position while taking shots undoes a lot of his good play. He is sometimes not in the best position to put his shots on target. In addition, the way Ajax play the two numbers eights usually get in good scoring positions in and around the box. The stats show that Van de Beek has taken 30 shots this season, with a 13% goals-to-shots success rate.
This image illustrates the lack of good shooting technique van de Beek has taken in terms of body position. After occupying a good position, his body position lets him down. His open stance denies him the possibility to keep the ball down. As a result, he misses the target, shooting it high above the goal. As well as that, his decision to shoot is in question. He could’ve decided to pass the ball to the teammate in a better position.
With a lot of raw ability and tremendous assets, Donny van de Beek is ready to become one of the world’s top talents. With his amazing eye for a pass, vision and spatial awareness, it’s no surprise that he is likened to Andres Iniesta. His strong running ability with and especially without the ball makes him unique amongst today’s number eights. Usually, they like the ball to feet and make most of their running with the ball.
With Ajax’s ability to foster talent, he will have the right coaching to help him develop his finishing as well as his decisions inside the box, which will help him fulfill his potential. The big boys are sniffing around and it’s only a matter of time until Donny van de Beek is a name on everyone’s lips.
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