Guus Til: The attacking midfield anomaly who is making waves at Feyenoord this season – tactical analysis
Against all odds, Feyenoord are in a title race this season in the Eredivisie. The Dutch giants have gone through rather lacklustre spells in recent memory ever since winning the league in 2017.
When the former AZ Alkmaar head coach Arne Slot was appointed in Feyenoord’s dugout, the 43-year-old knew he had a job on his hands to turn a team that finished fifth last season into title contenders. However, within half a season, The Club on the Meuse are already locked in a three-way title tussle with Ajax and PSV Eindhoven.
While Feyenoord have been displaying some utterly scintillating football under their new manager, an underlying factor behind the club’s rise back to the top has been the awe-inspiring form of Guus Til.
Til, on loan from Spartak Moscow in the Russian Premier League, has been one of Europe’s signings of the season. The 24-year-old attacking midfielder has scored 16 goals in merely 31 appearances for Feyenoord with half the campaign still to play.
His breath-taking form even earned him a first call-up debut for the national team in three years, back in November. Til scored on his return in a 6-1 trouncing of Turkey.
However, Til is anything but this. The Zambian-born attacker currently stands at 6 foot 1 or 186cm. At 24 though, he will certainly not grow any taller given that the average male stops growing between the ages of 18 to 20.
Til also weighs in at 79kg, or 174lbs which roughly equates to 12 stone 6 pounds. He is actually a rather domineering presence on the pitch due to his physical stature. Til’s figure is very resemblant of Athletic Club’s young midfielder Oihan Sancet or even that of the ex-Ballon d’Or winning Kaka.
The right-footer’s role for Feyenoord is one overflowing with freedom. The Dutch giants play a very expansive style of football under Slot, one which revolves around lots of positional rotations and interchanges.
No player symbolises this better than Til. Operating mainly as the team’s number ‘10’ in their flexible 4-2-3-1 – although the 24-year-old is capable of playing off the right too – Til’s heat map displays a beautiful picture of Feyenoord’s fluid system like an abstract painting from an elegant artist.
The former AZ Alkmaar man predominantly likes to drift out to the left halfspace channel when Feyenoord are in possession, although the attacking midfielder also has a habit of dropping out wide to the left flank, pushing up into the penalty area, and even positioning himself in the right halfspace to receive the ball.
Til can do it all and is a wonderful asset for Slot and even the legendary manager Louis van Gaal, who is in charge of the Netherlands’ national team.
Nevertheless, disregarding his physical attributes, Til’s game isn’t centred around creativity at all, interestingly. While being Feyenoord’s main man in the ‘10’ role, he is certainly not the side’s creative fulcrum – quite the opposite actually. Til’s is far more oriented around scoring goals as opposed to creating them which is why he is averaging just 0.1 assists per 90 this season.
Goalscoring and penalty area movement
As stated numerous times already, Til’s goalscoring record is scintillating and rather unconventional for a player in his position.
While there are many prolific goalscoring number ‘10’s in the modern game, such as Manchester United’s Bruno Fernandes or Bayern Munich’s Thomas Muller, there are very few who are so potent in front of goal yet so inept and void of creative instincts.
Til has scored 10 goals in the Eredivisie so far in the 2021/22 season whilst managing to bag 17 in all competitions for club and country. This makes him the fourth-best goalscorer in the division right now. Only Sebastian Haller, Til’s teammate Bryan Linssen, and Lois Openda have bettered his record in the current campaign.
What’s more impressive about Til’s statistics in front of goal is his overperformance. The 24-year-old is currently averaging an xG of 0.44 per 90 while his goals per 90 record actually stands at 0.51.
This has accumulated into a rather stupendous number over the past few months. Despite bagging 16 goals for Feyenoord, the player has reached an xG of just 13.7 this season which shows an overperformance from his xG of 2.3.
So, where, exactly, are Til’s shots coming from which allow him to gather such incredible numbers in front of goal, demonstrating his potency in and around the box?
From looking at the player’s shot map, which plots the locations of all of his previous 75 shots in all competitions, one can clearly see that Til has had an immense volume of strikes in the penalty area and an impressive number in the six-yard box.
If someone looked at this data viz with no prior knowledge of the player in question, they would be forgiven for believing that the data is portraying the shot locations of a world-class centre-forward, not a number ’10’ on loan who was struggling to get game-time at Spartak Moscow.
What’s more impressive from the data viz is that, from his last 75 shots, he has had more on target than off-target, which is definitely a massive factor behind his xG overperformance.
Positioning in the box
Now, what about the positions he takes up in the box? We have analysed the data of Til’s unbelievable goalscoring but it’s time to observe the player’s positioning in order to get himself into the best possible position to score, an area that data struggles to quantify.
After all, without an ability to take up qualitative positions in the box, Til wouldn’t have nearly as many goals scored this season.
When Feyenoord are in the final third, the Dutchman has a tendency to purposefully drift out of games and take up positions at the back-post on the blindside of the opposition’s fullback.
Referring back to the ‘Player Profile’ section of this scout report, Til is a very physically imposing player. Taking up positions on the blindside of fullbacks allows him to outleap the defenders at the back-post using his 6’1” frame.
Most of the time though, the attacker will position himself on defenders’ blindsides while Feyenoord are attacking down the flanks and then make a sudden jolt inside to latch onto the end of crosses.
His movement from crosses in the penalty area is phenomenal and has contributed massively to his impressive goalscoring record. Til has scored 3 headers so far this season in the Eredivisie, the fourth-highest in the entire division.
Til does not only position himself towards the left whilst Feyenoord are in the final third so that he can latch onto balls in the box. He also likes to receive the ball to feet in this area of the pitch, generally the left halfspace, before cutting inside and trying his luck at goal.
Til is right-footed and likes to bend the ball into the far corner in these positions. He is very adept at doing this as well.
In this instance, Til has positioned himself in the left halfspace whilst Feyenoord are in the final third. The ball has been slipped into his pathway. The Dutchman takes a touch with his right foot, nudging the ball forward, setting himself up to shape his body and bend one into the far corner. The attacking midfielder tucks the shot away expertly.
It is not enough to be a good goalscorer. For a player to be prolific in the box, they need to possess good movement and the ability to get themselves into the correct body orientation to put the ball where they envision prior to pulling the trigger. Til certainly has these traits which allow him to be a dynamo in the penalty area.
Intelligent body positioning but passes negatively
Til is such a peculiar player. He is a number ‘10’ that averages merely 21.39 passes per 90 and receives just 16.13 passes per 90. The midfielder completes 5.07 forward passes per 90 as well as 1.25 passes to the penalty area per 90.
Observing these statistics again, one would think that Til is a centre-forward with the primary role of scoring goals as opposed to assisting. However, the reality is that the Dutch international is a midfielder with little responsibility in the team’s overall play.
Like in chess, some players must be bishops, knights and queens, while some are merely pawns. The best way to describe Til would be to categorise him as a pawn in the first two-thirds of the pitch and a queen in the attacking third.
Nevertheless, Til still likes to drop deep when Feyenoord are in positional attacks in order to help the team circulate the ball. The player generally does this when his side are struggling to play out from the opposition’s high press.
Here, Feyenoord were struggling to progress the ball up the pitch due to Ajax’s man-oriented high block. Til dropped very deep and received the ball with his back to goal to help his side to get out of the pressure which was pulled off successfully by the players involved.
A really positive trait that Til has is that he is very adept at understanding how to angle his body position to give himself the best opportunity to either turn and dribble past a defender or else play a simple pass.
Til is comfortable with both feet and so has no issue receiving with his back turned to the goal, often feinting the onrushing defender to get by with a dribble.
Here, he’s looking to receive in a deep position. The Dutchman has scanned several times before the ball reaches him. Til can see the midfielder jumping him from his blindside and so waits for the defending player to overcommit before quickly flicking the ball with the outside of his foot and gliding past him with ease.
This involves positional awareness, awareness of the opponent’s positioning, and quality to execute – three things that Til displays very well.
A big area of his game that Til needs to improve on though is his safeness in possession of the ball. A player being secure in possession is not necessarily a bad trait to have but number ‘10’s also have a duty to be slightly more adventurous on the ball in order to create opportunities for the teammates around them.
Til has a tendency to make a lot of negative passes even in situations where a more positive ball is on the cards to advance the side.
In this scenario, Til has four potential passing options after he receives the ball at the halfway line with his back turned to goal. Option 1 would allow the runner to drive with the ball in space, forward-facing the goal. Options 2 and 3 are slightly riskier but would certainly advance the team forward.
However, after extensive scanning, the midfielder receives the ball with his backfoot and squares it to the player on his left – a rather underwhelming option. The team sustained their attack, but the negative pass was quite low risk, low reward merely to maintain possession of the ball.
These safe passes are one of the main reasons behind the player’s poor goal contributions besides goals. 0.1 assists per 90 with an expected assists of 0.1 also is not great reading for an attacking midfielder.
Of course, given his play-style is very reliant on goalscoring, his lack of creativity is not so much a problem for Feyenoord as the team’s creativity comes from all over the pitch, but this could deter a lot of clubs from signing him due to many coaches wanting their number ‘10’s to create – something Til doesn’t really do.
Til is an anomaly as he possesses the goalscoring record of a centre-forward but the creativity of a centre-back in a conservative side.
His profile is very specific and so any team reliant on him for creativity would ultimately struggle quite quickly. However, for a manager looking for a more prolific attacking midfielder who also likes to drop deep in the build-up play, with little creative duties, Til is the perfect player.