AZ Alkmaar are a very interesting and exciting team but this was not always the case. AZ had a terrible 2013/14 season, finishing 8th in the Eredivisie, 31 points below leaders Ajax. The Northern Dutch side also could not compete finically operating with a budget three times smaller than Ajax, PSV, and Feyenoord so they could not buy any significant, talented players. AZ had to think differently if they wanted to bridge the gap at the top to compete with these teams. In the summer of 2014, AZ appointed Robert Eenhoorn as their CEO, an ex-baseball player/coach who brought in another baseball legend Billy Beane (Mr. Moneyball) as an advisor as they put in a clear vision to create success rather than buy it. Investing in AZ Alkmaar’s academy, focusing on utilising data analytics in the recruitment and development of its players were the name of the game.
This season AZ is seeing the benefits of this strategy as they are joint top of the Eredivisie vying for a Champions League place next season. In the Eredivisie, they have the second-best attack (scoring 54 goals) and the best defence in the league (conceding only 17 goals). At the forefront of their success have been the players they have produced and promoted from their academy. AZ home-grown academy players have played nearly 47% of AZ’s total tally of minutes, one of the highest rates in Europe.
One of the AZ home-grown academy players at the forefront of his team’s success is 22-year-old AZ captain, Teun Koopmeiners. Koopmeiners joined the AZ academy in 2009 where he excelled and quickly progressed up to make his senior debut in 2017 against Feyenoord. His performances have solidified his place in the first team and have also merited him becoming club captain. This scout report will provide a tactical analysis of the role that Teun Koopmeiners plays at AZ and will show how the young Dutch midfielder has been a key figure in his side’s recent upturn, competing at the top of the domestic league.
Koopmeiners plays in the left defensive midfield role in Arne Slot’s 4-2-3-1 formation. Playing in the double pivot the young Dutch midfielder is heavily involved in AZ’s build-up play as he looks to receive the ball off his centre-backs then play a forward pass into Dani De Wit or Calvin Stengs who comes off his wing and receives the ball centrally.
When AZ have progressed the ball into the oppositions final third, Koopmeiners tends not to advance beyond the ball and make runs into the box, as you can see in his heatmap below. Instead, he drops and positions himself just behind the ball, offering support to circulate the ball across the pitch in an attempt to find space to penetrate the opposition’s defensive structure.
Since Stijn Wuytens got injured against FC Twente, Koopmeiners has moved back and played in left centre-back where he has fitted seamlessly, putting in numerous man of the match performances. Koopmeiners’ versatility is down to his development in the AZ academy as players are not tied down to a position until they are 16 and older.
The young Dutchman has had experience in this position before, playing a couple of games at centre-back last year for AZ. However, he is much more composed and confident in the position this season, showing his improvement and greater understanding of what is needed there.
One of the key aspects that stands out when analysing Koopmeiners is his passing range. The AZ midfielder has an 87% passing accuracy percentage, which is very impressive considering the average in his position in Europe is 82%. Koopmeiners’ first option is to play a progressive pass forward from deep with him registering a staggering 9.2 deep progression p/90. So many deep progressing passes get AZ in an advanced position quickly and thus catch the opposition out of position, giving them less time to fall into their defensive shape.
When AZ at times are not able to break down the opposition’s defensive shape, Koopmeiners has the passing range and vision to unlock a deep low block defence. Koopmeiners is very creative as a result, with him making 1.1 key passes per game. In the image below, the young Dutch midfielder’s passing range and vision unlock the opposition’s defence as he plays an exquisite through ball out wide to Owen Wijndal who crosses it into Myron Boadu, only for his shot to go inches wide.
Koopmeiners’ passing ability is used to full effect as the young Dutch midfielder likes to hit long balls from deep over the top since AZ have pace in Oussama Idrissi and Boadu who tend to play on the last line and like to run in behind. This is a dangerous combination as Koopmeiners is always lookin, to hurt the opposition and with willing runners, he is able to play a pinpoint ball from 60 plus yards over the top and make it land so his teammate doesn’t have to break stride, thus sending them through on goal.
The move to centre-back has actually made him more dangerous as he is afforded more space, is receiving the ball now with his body position facing forward and he can see the whole pitch as he is playing deeper. An example that illustrates how Koopmeiners can deliver dangerous long balls from centre-back is shown in the image below. The Dutchman receives the ball and has acres of space and time to lift his head up. Partizan do not press him as they don’t feel there is any danger at this point.
With so much space and time, Koopmeiners identifies that Partizan are playing a high defensive line and Idrissi anticipates the long ball so makes a run in behind. Koopmeiners plays a perfectly weighted long ball to Idrissi who, without breaking his stride, is in on goal and scores past the keeper. Given space, Koopmeiners has the ability to carve open any defence in an instant through his precise passing ability.
Teun Koopmeiners’ precision and accuracy skills through his passing ability have translated well into set-piece situations where Arne Slot has him as his designated penalty taker. The young Dutch midfielder has an extraordinary conversion rate, converting 9/10 penalties in the Eredivisie. It is a huge advantage for a team that wins a penalty but if they miss it, it can swing the momentum back to the side that gave it away so it is vital to have a successful penalty taker which AZ have found in Koopmeiners.
The AZ captain strikes his penalties with great power, precision and accuracy making it difficult for opposition keepers facing him to save. In the image below, Koopmeiners sets up and strikes a penalty kick, even though the keeper dives the right way, the Dutchman’s shot is hit low with power and accuracy right in the bottom corner of the goal, therefore the keeper is unable to get a hand to the shot and save it.
Along with being AZ’s penalty taker, Koopmeiners is also responsible for taking the free-kicks for the northern Dutch side. Koopmeiners excels in this area as well with his striking of the ball coupled with pinpoint accuracy that make his free-kicks really hard for keepers to stop.
In the image below, AZ have a free-kick at the edge of the box, Koopmeiners steps up to take it – he sees that the keeper has positioned himself in the middle of the goal and sees that there is also an opposition player detached from the wall. Koopmeiners uses this player as a target as he strikes the ball over his head, the keeper is unsighted as a result and the ball flies into the bottom far corner past the outstretched keeper.
Pressing and tackling
Playing in the heart of midfield a player must attend to their defensive responsibilities. From this analysis, Koopmieners is not one to shake any of his responsibilities and defends and protects his backline well. The young Dutchman reads the game very well, blocking off any passing lanes into the opposition forward players as he makes 1.1 interceptions per game. Koopmeiners uses his great anticipation in winning the ball higher up the pitch for his team as he is very good at understanding when to press the opposition aggressively and when to drop off and protect his backline.
The AZ captain wins 0.7 of the ball in the opposition’s final third per game thus setting his team up for an attack as the opposition is disorganised from the transition. In the image below, Koopmeiners recognises that the opposition midfielder is dwelling on the ball, shoots out of his position, sensing the opportunity to steal the ball. He then presses the opposition midfielder effectively and robs the ball off him, setting up Boadu who plays the ball out to Stengs but he squanders the opportunity.
With Koopmieners playing more minutes at centre-back, he has been exposed to situations where he is more isolated and has to defend 1v1 with an opposition attacker. The young Dutchman has adapted to it well and has improved since last season when he was first exposed playing as a centre-back.
One of the biggest areas Koopmeiners has worked on is his body position where he positions his body forcing the attacker away from the goal, making it easier for him to tackle and win the ball. This makes the dribble more predictable now as the attacker’s other options are shut, which you can see in the image below.
Overall Koopmieners has adapted well to the centre-back position and as a result, has formed into a very good defender making, 2.1 tackles per game, 2.2 clearances per game and winning 52% of his ground duels which is quite impressive. Arne Slot has a valuable player in Koopmeiners as he can play in midfield and defence and his high-performance levels do not drop. That’s a sign of versatility which is very hard to find in the current market.
The AZ Alkmaar academy has produced a real gem in Teun Koopmeiners, the left-footed midfielder plays like an experienced veteran as he shows great composure and calmness in midfield which rubs off on the rest of his team. Arne Slot’s ball-playing style tactics suit and nurture the young Dutch midfielder’s style as he has incredible distribution of the ball that creates opportunities for the AZ attackers to score from.
Koopmeiners has developed lots of strings to his bow by being a set-piece prowess and being very versatile and adaptable. His performances are consistently on a high level despite playing in a new position in defence and that’s a testament to his character and temperament as a player. Teun Koopmeiners has gone under the radar and his impressive performances are only starting to get recognised as Ronald Koeman called the AZ Alkmaar midfielder up to the national team for the first time. This could be the start of a formidable partnership in the Dutch midfield with Barcelona’s Frenkie De Jong, a scary thought for international opposition teams.