Donyell Malen has been one of the standout players in the Eredivisie this season. Barcelona has identified the young Dutchman, amongst others, as a possible replacement for the ageing Luis Suarez. While Arsenal is prepared to offer major money if Pierre-Emerick Aubameyang decides to leave. This tactical analysis will aim to provide the reasoning behind his popularity amongst Europe’s elite.
There will be a sense of regret from Arsenal, with the gunners selling Malen to PSV for just £500,000 in August 2017. But Malen’s current value of £50m is certainly justified by his stats from this season. Malen has scored 18 goals and provided seven assists in 33 games this season, truly remarkable. During this scout report, I will outline his key strengths and compare them to Arsenal’s current attackers.
Malen’s direct play and ability to effortlessly dribble past the opposition has been paramount to his success this season. He uses his explosive pace and strength to manufacture his way into space, giving him more time on the ball.
In the image above versus Emmen, we see him gain possession with two defenders closing in on him from opposite directions. Malen notices this and knocks the ball on, into space in front of him, taking both defenders out of the game. He identifies where space is and uses his skill and pace to find a way into it. This creates a situation where he is running at the backline at some pace, immediately putting them on the backfoot. The more space Malen has to operate in, the more likely he is to find a killer pass or finish.
Not only does the Dutchman do this in the midfield, but he uses his ability to identify space to create goal-scoring chances. For example, against Fortuna Sittard, he is surrounded by three defenders. Malen realises that the man outside him, Michal Sadilek will attract the opposition’s right-back, so he concentrates on beating the two inside players. He uses his strength to get in front of the one defender and uses the other’s momentum against him, resulting in a foul on Malen.
His footballing skill is evident by his on-the-ball and off-the-ball work. In the image above we see how easily he manipulates the defender into making a challenge. Instead of playing the safe option and holding the ball up, Malen decides to exploit the space in behind. He moves towards the ball, forcing the defender to get close, before spinning off and losing his man.
The Ajax youth product’s flair and speed usually catch defenders by surprise because of his stocky build. His ability to pick up the ball and explode into attacking situations makes him one of the most prolific youngsters in Europe.
However, this analysis has not yet shown that Malen can get caught up in the moment and take the ball too far. Sometimes ignoring passes and dribbling the ball too far. For example, against Twente, during a crucial stage of the game, Malen picks up the ball from near halfway and uses his pace and strength to get to the edge of the box. However, given the last defender’s movement away from his teammate, the pass coloured in red would be the best option, creating a one-on-one opportunity. Instead, he dribbles into the opposition.
Malen isn’t your typical goalscoring striker. Comfortable playing on either wing or in the number 10 role, he also has an eye for a pass, evident by his seven assists this season. The striker will naturally drop deep or drift wide to make himself an option or create space for others to run into.
Against Sporting Lisbon in the Europa League, we see Malen dropping deep and finding space. He’s giving himself as an option, but also creating a two-on-one situation on the right side of the field. He uses his direct play to drive at the opposition full-back, forcing him to dive into a tackle. Malen anticipates this and makes a well-weighted through ball to his winger.
As well as supporting his midfield to retain possession, he is also good at finding space in and around the box to create chances. Against Zwolle, he realizes that Bruma needs support and that there is space outside the box to help. He vacates his normal striking position and gets the ball in space outside the box. What follows is a well-placed finish from outside the box. Showing his range of finishing.
Bar the odd occasion where he takes the ball too far, Malen’s explosive running from midfield is a great asset. Not only does he carry his team forward, but he usually has the end product to cap off the move, something that many young players miss.
His tactics of being direct and putting defenders on the back foot. In PSV’s big win against Fortuna Sittard, their defence clearly struggled. This was mainly down to the likes of Malen and Bergwijn, with the image above showing the former in a 1-on-1 situation.
The striker is able to trick the defender to cover the inside. Malen faints his body inside which puts all the defender’s weight onto one side, this means it is significantly easier for Malen to beat him. What follows is a result of his vision, a smart cross to Cody Gakpo at the back post who taps in.
This scout report would not be complete without compiling an analysis of the striker’s finishing and attacking play. Most of Malen’s goal-scoring opportunities come from his ability to get into good positions and making his teammates aware of the space he’s created.
His goal against Ajax proves the previous analysis. He identifies the space in behind and uses his pace to exploit it. Malen notices that the Ajax centre-backs have been forced out of position, meaning he only has to out-pace his nearest defender. Which of course he can. He opens up his body and shoots the ball into the left corner, sending the keeper the wrong way.
Against Vitesse, PSV find themselves on a dangerous counter-attack. Instead of making a darting run in behind the defence, Malen decides to stay wide and wait, meaning that the ball carrier will attract more defenders. As soon as he finds himself in space, he receives the ball and quickly scores to the keeper’s right, catching him by surprise.
His ability to find space and make correct movements are further justified by his crucial 92nd-minute winner against Basel in the Champions League. Following a short corner, he sprints out of the pack and finds himself enough space to flick the ball home.
Comparison to Arsenal attackers
In the above graph, we can see how Donyell Malen compares to current Arsenal attackers in front of goal. Bar Alex Lacazette, Arsenal’s current attackers prove to be more lethal in front of goal, but Malen manages more shots per 90. This may be because the quality of Arsenal’s chances is better. Whereas Malen doesn’t have the quality around him, meaning he often has to create his own chances.
Malen’s shooting is arguably inferior to Arsenal’s current options, but this will improve with age. Where Malen does prove to be better, is in the passing department.
His seven assists and 25.97 passes per 90 prove that he could fit in well at Arsenal, with the head coach, Mikel Arteta, favouring a passing style of play. As the graph shows, he’s superior in both stats.
Nketiah and Martinelli are both still young and could improve, however, Lacazette’s game time has been limited under Arteta, meaning it could be a good time to splash some cash on a future star in Malen.
This has certainly been a breakthrough season for the young Dutchman, which was prematurely ended by injury. Any striker would be happy with a return of 18 goals and seven assists in a season, let alone half a season. Remarkable. His knee injury and injury proneness could scare some clubs off in the summer. But PSV will certainly find it hard to keep hold of such a promising young player.