Everyone knows Ajax has one of the best academies in the world. In the 2016/17 season, Ajax promoted several players to the first team. Still, they felt the need to seek in Brazil one of the most promising young players, David Neres. The Dutch club paid €12M in the last days of January for the winger, who can play on the right and left side.
This summer, the winger’s potential departure for the Premier League seemed imminent. Manchester United offered €50M for the Brazilian when he has a market value of €45M. Ajax were unwilling to sell for less than €70M, and with that amount, the English club would have problems with financial fair play. Having already sold Mathijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong, the Amsterdam club was unwilling to lose another star.
This tactical analysis gives a scout report which will dissect the importance of Neres to the Ajax team. Neres is a player of pure Brazilian winger characteristics, creative and technically endowed with quality.
2017/18 was Neres’ best season so far, contribuitng14 goals and 13 assists. Last season, also in the Eredivisie, from 29 games, he scored 8 goals and contributed 11 assists.
When this season began and Ajax had to decide whether to give up another critical player from the starting 11, Neres had 77 games in his favour, scoring 28 goals and making 27 assists. Figures that naturally convinced Manchester United to make the above proposal. Of course, Ajax chose to offer a new contract and make the Brazilian the star of the team, along with Ziyech.
Sometimes we see good players not adapting to some clubs. The personality and characteristics of each player are important for them to be able to do a good job for their teams. That said, and applying to the tactical analysis we are doing of Neres, it fits perfectly with Ajax’s game philosophy. Ajax are one of those teams that don’t know how to be on the pitch without the ball, and most games throughout the season play as favourites for victory. Even in European competitions, it is important to remember that two years ago they reached the final of the Europa League and last year only fell in the semi-finals of the Champions League.
Ajax’s game type is fluid, fast, aggressive and wide-sided. This is precisely where Neres plays best, in the wings to cut in, when he knows that the full-back has gone up and is available for the pass when dribbling is not possible. Thus, the area of the field where we see Neres most often is in the left half, with the left side close and ready to receive the ball to cross. In this way we perhaps fail to notice one of Neres’ biggest flaws, as we have seen he has a crossing success rate below 20%.
On the other hand, this positioning allows Neres to assist with short passes or to tear apart opposition defences. It is important to note that Neres has almost as many forward passes (10.05 average per game) as backward (10.77 average per game) and his forward passes have an 80% success rate.
Another important fact is that Neres receives only 31.87 passes per game and makes 41.91, meaning that he loses the ball a few times (11.2 times per game).
Neres is essential in Ajax’s attacking tactics. The number of assists is significant. Typically the assists are short pass, already done within the area, as we can see in the image below.
Technically gifted, Neres is very adept at appearing in the area, usually from the left side. And here two things can happen, if the striker is isolated in the penalty zone, Neres doesn’t usually fail to supply the assist for the goal. If the defender is marking tightly, he tries to dribble and find room for the shot or assist (in such cases, outside the area).
The space for Neres to act is created by overlap. Easily Ajax, as well as the Brazilian team, pit 3 players against 2 defenders. The full-back goes up and the winger comes in. Thus, the opposing defender’s left-back is unsure whether the defender can receive the ball and cross or the winger who came in and can assist or score. In this tactical aspect, it is essential that the striker knows how to pull the central defenders with him thus opening opportunities, even without having the ball.
However, a critical aspect of the Brazilian is the cross. An extreme that only has 17.6% of successful crosses is a bad indicator. As we can see in the image below, Neres’ cross does not reach his teammate essentially for two aspects: 1) the cross is overhit and 2) Ajax put too few spearheads into play (usually only one).
Nowadays, a winger also has to know how to defend. It is essential for teams to play balanced football. To do so, just as the wingers must support the attack, the extremes must support the defence.
The main indicators that can be pointed to the Brazilian is that it counts on 4.59 defensive duels per game, of which he wins 66%, and recovers 3.16 times, on average, the ball in the opponent midfield. 2.15 interceptions per game is impressive for a winger. However, aerial duels are the main weak point of this player’s defensive aspects (1.44 per game and only 20% of them successfully).
On this tactical analysis, he isn’t an expert on these defensive tasks and it is one of his few areas that could be improved. The main contribution Neres’ makes is retaining the ball and providing some pressure over the opponent high up the field.
The margin of progression of the Brazilian, in a championship like the Eredivisie, is huge. Following the departure of the Amsterdam team’s top stars, Ziyech and Neres stepped into the limelight.
For the evolution of the player, it has been important to be in a team that relies on training and its impressive academy. From the data presented in this tactical analysis report, it can be seen that Neres feels comfortable playing in a tactical scheme like the one he has acted on, because with the weak cross as he has, he would have difficulty playing along the sideline. The assists he makes are in the area and in passing, not at crossroads, which comes out too wide.
With the number of goals he has been scoring, he naturally becomes a strong threat to the opposing defence and a nightmare for goalkeepers. Neres is constantly improving and could play a major role in the coming summers.