Ajax Amsterdam made a fairytale run deep into the Champions League knockout round in the just-ended season, and most of the credit went to the club’s storied academy that produced much of the talent that took Ajax there.
Knocked out by a last second goal from eventual runners-up Tottenham Hotspur in the semiffinals, Ajax shook up Europe’s premier club tournament in a way not seen for years. However, with Ajax’s situation as it is, the end result of that star turn is that a number of their players are now being linked with transfers away from Amsterdam with the club looking to cash in.
The beating heart of the Ajax side is Frenkie de Jong, and is already on his way to Barcelona, central defender Matthijs de Ligt will likely leave too while there has been plenty of interest in fullback Nicolas Tagliafico, forward Hakim Ziyech (Everton have been linked with him in the past), and finally midfielder Donny van de Beek.
2. Donny van de Beek— StatsBomb (@StatsBomb) April 17, 2019
EREDIVISIE vs CHAMPIONS LEAGUE pic.twitter.com/5yrnFpBPB6
Van de Beek’s late runs from the midfield were responsible for a number of goals for Ajax this season, with the player scoring 17 times with 13 assists in 57 appearances in all competitions, including 4 goals and 2 assists in the Champions League.
Interestingly enough, van de Beek stepped into the void created by the club selling Davy Klaassen (to Everton!), and has shined since then, moving up from a more defensive-minded role.
“This is probably the biggest chance of a move happening this summer. If I had to put my money on a player leaving, it would be Donny van de Beek.
“He is a perfect backup for many clubs. He is not the No 1 for most clubs – I have seen scouts from Tottenham Hotspur, Manchester United, Everton, Liverpool and Newcastle watching him a number of times.
“He is an ideal player for the Premier League, he has the skills, like most Ajax players, and a big tank so he can run all day. But all these clubs have a priority list and Van de Beek seems the perfect backup for the big clubs.
“I think he is keen on the Premier League, more than the Bundesliga or Serie A.”
Of course, Toffees will be having nightmare flashbacks of how ill-suited to the Premier League Klaassen looked in his short stint in England. However, having watched van de Beek play, his energy and ability while playing the #10 role are very different from Klaassen’s more languid, laidback style, and should be better prepared to succeed.
This scouting report from Total Football Analysis shows how incredibly talented the 22-year-old already is -
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.
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.
One of Everton’s biggest changes since Marco Silva has come in has been increasing the tempo of the game by stretching the pitch vertically, as seen often with the Blues looking to set Richarlison and Dominic Calvert-Lewin free. Where Everton have struggled though is breaking down sides that defend compactly in a low block.
The Blues still need a successor for Gylfi Sigurdsson, with Nicola Vlasic on his way out of the club and Kieran Dowell still not looking ready for the part. Van de Beek might not look to sit in the Icelander’s shadow after hitting the limelight, but the Blues adding van de Beek and signing Andre Gomes permanently would go a long way to adding some class and skill in the midfield department.