Tactical Analysis of Ajax wonderkid Frenkie de Jong
Ajax are back in the UEFA Champions League after failing to qualify on the past three occasions. Therefore, the UCL comeback is one of the biggest accomplishments, in recent years, for the decorated Dutch club.
Being a part of Europe's most prestigious club competition inevitably brings a lot of attention towards the team's talented youngsters. Because of it, the likes of Frenkie de Jong, Matthijs de Ligt, and David Neres are all now under the radar of European giants.
Although quite a bunch of players at Ajax are turning heads, it is Frenkie de Jong who has garnered the biggest chunk of attention from a host of clubs across the continent including FC Barcelona.
Ajax have mostly lined up in a 4-3-3 or a 4-2-3-1 formation this season. And with Daley Blind returning to the club from Manchester United, de Jong has transformed from being an aggressive ball-commanding centre-back to more of a deep-lying midfielder.
The young midfielder has effortlessly adapted to his new role this season and has been wonderful in controlling the flow of the game for his team.
The Dutch team prefer to play most of their game through the middle-third from the left side. A growing habit observed in their gameplan is the advanced role of their left-back, usually Nicolás Tagliafico, who is positioned higher up the pitch in order to provide width in attack. This move helps de Jong manoeuvre into the space vacated on the left side, which creates somewhat of a back-three during play.
While in possession, de Jong can either pass it horizontally to his closest centre-back--either Blind or de Ligt--or move the ball forwards to one of his teammates in the opposition's half.
De Jong is a dual threat when in possession of the ball because, in addition to being an accomplished passer in tight areas, he is also adept at carrying the ball forward from deep and attracting opposition markers before laying off a pass to a teammate who is in open space.
The Dutch wonderkid's dribbling stats last season, in Eredivisie, were extraordinary as he mainly played as a centre-back. He completed 93% of his dribbles in the 2017-18 season with an average of 3.1 successful dribbles per 90 mins. His dribbling record has been pretty impressive yet again in this campaign, now that he has returned to his natural midfield role.
When the ball gets in the middle or the final third of his team's half, de Jong acts as a persistent presser which forces the opponent, who is on the ball, to cancel his plan and play the ball back into his own half.
The way the Lancers build their game mandates that the man on the ball envisions multiple passing routes to use at every given moment. De Jong does just that and distributes incisive passes with no hesitation. Most of the times, he is also able to make those subtle passes which greatly influence the result of a match.
Another likeable thing about the youngster is that he is very alert on the pitch and often positions himself to receive a pass with minimal pressure from the opposition. Naturally, he would quickly look over his shoulder to see if there is an opponent and then scan the areas where he can pass the ball forward to keep the attack going.
It's the brilliant footballing vision of the Dutchman and certain other strong traits that make him a well-rounded midfielder.
Ajax employ a counterpass immediately after a turnover, which has a compact style that allows an easier access to the ball. Thus, they usually have more possession than their opposition. Despite the limited time off the ball, de Jong boasts good stats when out of possession.
It is easy to see why de Jong is catching the attention of top clubs like Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur.
Spurs already have Moussa Dembele as their midfield engine, who has been dominating opponents from deeper areas but, with his increasing age and worsening injury problems, they need to find a good alternative for the future and de Jong is the perfect candidate.
As for Barca, de Jong's style of play is what attracts them and their need for some fresh legs in deep midfield is understood to be another reason for their interest.
Whichever club successfully secures the services of the young Ajax sensation will bag themselves a potential star midfielder who shows great promise for the future.