Ajax have had a fairly successful season. The league title is still a possibility, they’re already in the final of the KNVB cup and are looking to reach the Champions League last four for the first time since 1996/97. Their excellent youth academy continues to produce exceptional talent; the likes of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt have been crucial to their success.
After the sale of De Jong to Barcelona, the Amsterdam-based club desperately need a player who can fill the void of the highly influential player. And it seems they’ve identified Standard Liège player Răzvan Marin as the one to bear this responsibility. In this tactical analysis, we’ll find out to what extent Marin can help Ajax build upon their success next season using statistics.
Marin is a 22-year-old central defender who can help in both attack and defence. Standard Liège play mostly in a 4-3-3 where Marin slots into the right side of midfield. However, his average positions show he plays as a right centre-midfielder but has also drifted up as an attacking midfielder.
The Romanian is capable in attack with his runs similar to that of a secondary striker, but these won’t be of as much importance to Ajax as his defensive talent which is well-rounded and versatile. A great passer of the ball with a great delivery, thanks to his excellent awareness and good vision, Marin looks like a midfielder who can certainly get used to Ajax’s possession and passing-based game.
Marin’s awareness is one of his main strengths. Tactically and positionally his awareness is an all-round asset. From intercepting threatening passes and making excellent runs to being available as a passing option, he has an excellent ability to manipulate space to his advantage.
In the example shown below, we see Marin’s ability to find space and use it correctly to advance. In the top image, Marin is in one of his advanced positions. He makes runs into and around the box frequently to get into positions like the ones shown below.
He sees that there is space between the opposition lines where he can catch the defenders unaware. He points to where he wants the ball and makes a run to receive it. This run is an excellent decision as it ensures Standard Liège don’t lose possession but they get into an advanced position.
Usually a player would receive this kind of ball and look to pass it to the wings, but thanks to the awareness shown by Marin he can take a deft first touch to get past one defender and shield from the other. From here he plays a low cross into the path of his teammate leading to a goal.
It is one of his average 1.12 touches in the opposition box followed by an example of how he uses his eight final-third passes per match. This scenario showcases his talent to get into the right positions, his great touch and willingness to play a very attacking role.
Marin is a great asset to Standard Liège as he will tend to drift forward when there is no real attacking progression. He knows when to move forward and he doesn’t lose possession when in an advanced position either.
Here we have another example showing his positional awareness. Marin makes one of his usual attacking runs into space. Now, due to the Romanian’s great movement, the passer has the option of two additional passing channels suddenly available. But these are contained by opposition players so passing to them wouldn’t have guaranteed progression.
Hence Marin’s excellent run is very useful, and as we can see this gives the previous two players an opportunity to make runs into the box. The Romanian then plays a great ball into the path of his teammate resulting in a goal similar to that of the previous example. This considerable talent is backed up by his 94% success rate for deep completed crosses.
Passing and vision
When playing for Ajax, De Jong shows his proficiency in passing and his superb vision. Marin himself is a great passer of the ball. He has great vision and plays excellent passes which unlock the opposition defence intelligently.
Usually, he will look to play passes into space, explaining his 1.2 average through-balls per 90 minutes. But when it’s not possible, he has an excellent ability to link up play which leads to quick one-touch football similar to that which Ajax employ frequently.
Here, we have an example of Marin’s link-up play. He has the ball on the edge of the box and looks to make a pass that will retain possession but also progress, a recurring strength of his. He spots the Ajax player moving towards the open player, but he also recognises that this opens the option of passing the ball and making a run to link up the pass.
His pass hence catches one Ajax player off-balance as we can see, and Marin moves forward as the other Ajax player closes in on his teammate. Upon receiving the ball, which is not well-weighted and thus causes Marin to move towards the ball, he makes a pass into open space on the left which his teammates should run into but doesn’t.
This sequence demonstrates his quick thinking and passing. Had he played a through-ball, it would’ve resulted in the Ajax defensive block moving towards that player which would have made the shot most likely bounce off an Ajax player. Instead, the Romanian’s quick passing gets him between the Ajax lines of defence and in a position to play a good pass into space.
Usually, the 22-year-old plays very good through-balls and passes into space. This combined with his vision has caused some local newspapers to nickname him ‘the Romanian Xavi’. Of course, he is nowhere near Xavi’s level yet, but Marin does have a knack of executing well-weighted passes through opposition lines of defence.
In the example shown below, we have an image showcasing his passing and vision. Standard Liège are on the front foot and play has just been shifted from the left towards the centre. Now, the young midfielder has at least three options.
However, he recognises that a teammate is unmarked on the right as the play had just shifted and the defence is yet to reorganise itself. Marin plays a well-weighted pass leading to a shot on goal.
This Standard Liège midfielder is always present in defensive duties and often tracks back. He is very good at sliding tackles and using his body to shield the ball.
In the example shown below, we see Marin tracking back after possession has been lost and the opposition is on the break. The Romanian does very well to plot the run of the opposition player and make a run so as to intercept it.
Seeing as his teammate was on the right side of the opposition player, covering the pass wasn’t essential so Marin tries to adjust his run to intercept the opponent as early as possible. On the edge of the box, Marin executes an excellent sliding tackle to regain possession. It’s no mystery why he is involved in eight defensive duels per match on average and makes 0.4 tackles per 90 minutes.
In the next example, the opposition goalkeeper has thrown the ball to his midfielder. Now, Marin is closing him down but the midfielder is aware of that. So he looks to make a quick turn which is anticipated by Marin. This helps him regain possession in a very fruitful area with plenty of options.
This isn’t a one-off action for Marin. He makes an average of 3.27 interceptions per match. Had this been a defensive duel, his excellent shielding of the ball would have meant he’d have had a good chance of retaining possession.
Marin does very well from long range, not only in terms of passing but also in terms of shooting. He attempts 3.5 long passes per 90 and these are an important part of his play as he is well-versed in when and how to switch play.
In the example shown below, Marin shows his ability to play great long balls. Here, the Standard Liège midfielder is on the left of midfield. From here, he spots the run of his teammate and executes a brilliant long pass straight into his path.
One of Marin’s specialities, these long balls are particularly useful when the opposition are implementing a deep block or are playing in a rigid defensive formation. Recalling the previous examples we get an idea of how versatile his passing is, which will no doubt be crucial if he is to play akin to De Jong.
Marin also has a very good long shot, which has contributed in his 0.2 goals per game. This ability of his is something De Jong lacked, and it will provide an additional element to Ajax’s midfield. Ajax often rely on the pace of Hakim Ziyech, David Neres and Dušan Tadić to create opportunities to get shots on target. This new dimension will not only allow them some freedom but will also give Donnie van de Beek a chance to get into the box as Marin could stay on the edge of the box to look for loose balls.
Marin is a very versatile midfielder who can attack and defend very well. He has a technique that suits the Ajax style of play while he can also adds a new dimension to their play. Is he well-suited to cover for De Jong? To an extent, he is. He is better in some attacking aspects but not as good in some defensive aspects, yet he will fill in the void that De Jong left to an extent and bring a few new elements which will help Ajax.
Being named Romanian Player of the Year at such a young age, nicknamed the Romanian Xavi by local outlets and brought in by a historic European club to replace a key player, Răzvan Marin is a player to keep an eye on.
If you love tactical analysis, then you’ll love the digital magazines from totalfootballanalysis.com – a guaranteed 100+ pages of pure tactical analysis covering topics from the Premier League, Serie A, La Liga, Bundesliga and many, many more. Pre-order your copy of the April issue for just ₤4.99 here, or even better sign up for a ₤50 annual membership (12 monthly issues plus the annual review) right here.