In this data analysis, we will assess the contributions of the top midfielders in the Eredivisie for the 2019/20 season, using statistics to identify the deserved candidates for a place in the Eredivisie 2019/20 Team of the Season. To be considered for selection, every player must have played in a minimum of 10 league matches. Following this analysis, there will be a tactical analysis of the top midfielders identified in this report.
In recent years, there has been a great depth of talent in the midfield department in the Netherlands’ top league – names like Wesley Sneijder, Rafael van der Vaart, Frenkie de Jong, Mason Mount, Mark van Bommel, and Phillip Cocu are just a selection of the talent that the Dutch nation has been treated to. This season, with the Eredivisie ending with no crowned champions, and an extremely competitive campaign in all areas of the table, the list of possible entries for a team of the season is a long one. With our Eredivisie 2019/20 Team of the Season being lined up in a 4-3-3 formation, there are three spots open from this analysis: one will be a defensive midfielder, while the other two will be of a more attacking nature.
The Defensive Midfielder
A vital cog in the engine room of a team in any formation that deploys such a role, there are several key attributes required to do an effective job in that position. For this analysis, we looked at three main areas – defensive duels, defensive awareness & intelligence, and passing ability.
To be eligible for selection, players in this segment of analysis have registered a minimum of 60% successful defensive duels across 10 or more Eredivisie games this season. The definition of a ‘defensive duel’ is when a player challenges an opposition player to win the ball on the ground.
One player immediately emerges as a strong contender in this department – Edson Alvarez of Ajax. Averaging 9.54 defensive duels per game for the Dutch giants, the Mexican international has recorded an unbeaten success rate (in this position) of 73.4%. However, it must be taken into consideration that Alvarez has been known to play as a central defender from time to time, so he will have to deliver in other statistical areas to maintain consideration. In any case, these kinds of numbers demonstrate his ability to not only read the game, but to also pick the right time to make a tackle and be strong enough to come out on top with the ball at his feet.
Other players show strengths in this area too, with some players standing out such as Navarone Foor (69.15% of 8.29 duels per 90 in 17 games for Vitesse), Tesfaldet Tekie (68.22% of 6.53 duels per 90 in 20 games for Fortuna Sittard), and Rodney Kongolo (67% of 8.36 duels per 90 in 26 games for Heerenveen). On the other end of the scale, while Pol Lonch registered 13.41 defensive duels per 90 mins for Willem II (the most in the league), he only claims a success rate of just 60.54%, one of the lower scores of the analysis.
Defensive Awareness & Intelligence
As a defensive midfielder, there is a duty to sense danger which may have bypassed the positions ahead of them, and it is this player’s job to stop the danger reaching the defensive unit. Bearing this in mind, we have assessed the average number of interceptions made and shots blocked per 90 minutes. This means that there are two different attributes to consider, and success in both of will raise the player’s chances of standing out in this area. To be up for consideration in this section of data, players have completed a minimum of 4.5 interceptions over 10 league games.
Registering the fifth-highest number of shots blocked over the season with 0.55 shots blocked per 90, along with his impressive stat of the most interceptions (in this position) per 90 with 8.63, Orestis Kiomourtzoglou of Heracles Almelo is an instant stand-out player for defensive awareness and intelligence, showing his skill in this area across 24 Eredivisie appearances in the season.
There are some other impressive players in this area as well, with Adil Aussar (6.38 interceptions & 0.38 shots blocked per 90), Matus Bero (6.96 interceptions & 0.32 shots blocked per 90), and Pol Lonch (6.34 interceptions & 0.61 shots blocked per 90) all staking a claim for consideration for selection – all showing they possess important qualities for an effective defensive midfielder. Edson Alvarez again stands out, with the 0.75 shots blocked per 90, the highest in the league in this position. However, he has one of the lowest interception stats too, with just 4.77 recorded on average per 90.
In the modern era of elite football, there is stressed importance on having a high level of technical ability – including being able to pass the ball effectively. This stands present with defensive midfielders, as it is often their responsibility to either progress the attack or retain possession after winning the ball back. With this in mind, to pick out some of the best passing defensive midfielders in the Eredivisie, this analysis assessed stats in the region of overall passing accuracy and forward passing accuracy.
These attributes were selected as they respectively highlight a player’s ability to retain possession and pick the most suitable pass, as well as contributing to and progressing an attacking move. Eligibility for this area was granted for players who have achieved an overall pass accuracy of 85% or above.
While several players boast impressive stats in this area, the two stand-out individuals are Edson Alvarez and Razvan Marin, both from Ajax. Marin holds the title for the highest overall pass accuracy for midfielders in the league, with a staggering 92.08% rate, combined with his 84.55% forward pass accuracy rates – also one of the strongest. While these stats have been achieved in just 10 league games this season, they are nonetheless impressive. The main factor working against Marin being named as the defensive midfielder of the season is that he hasn’t appeared in the previous sets of presented data, both of which were centred on defensive attributes – but this could also be a reflection of his lack of game time, not his ability.
Turning our focus yet again to Edson Alvarez, his appearance on this graph solidifies a claim to be nominated at least for the spot of the best defensive midfielder for Eredivisie 19/20. The Mexican has completed 91.93 of his total passes, with a forward pass success rate of 90.08, another stat for him where he claims the top spot for this position.
Other players who impressed in this zone are Thomas Ouwejan (87.57% overall pass success & 86.27% forward pass success rate), Lisandro Martinez (90.38% overall pass success & 80.39% forward pass success rate), and Oriol Busquets (90.12% overall pass success rate & 82.98% forward pass success rate).
The Central or Attacking Midfielder
In front of the defensive midfielder sits two more positionally advanced players who tend to offer more contribution to goals and attacking moves alike. To identify players who fit this role, the three main areas highlighted were passing in advanced areas, dribbling, and contributing to goals.
Passing in Advanced Areas
Like any player on the field, a footballer should possess great attributes in the passing department. However, as it is the role of a central or attacking midfielder to create goal-scoring opportunities or find a creative pass that progresses their team’s attack, there is a higher responsibility and expectation that they consistently contribute in attacking areas of the pitch.
To highlight the players who are capable of this, here is a statistical representation of the number of key passes made per 90 and passing accuracy in the final third. It is noteworthy that to be eligible for this section, players have maintained an average rate of 0.3 or higher.
Straight away, two Ajax players stand out for different reasons. Firstly, Donny van de Beek leads the way in this position for pass accuracy in the final third. His stats of 85.37% in this area, combined with his average of 0.71 key passes per 90 are a great example of what a solid and reliable midfielder the Dutchman is.
While Hakim Ziyech’s accuracy in the final third sits amongst the middle of the pile (73.08%), he is miles ahead in this position for the number of key passes per game with an impressive 1.61 to his name. This shows that he is more than capable of executing an all-important pass to unlock the opposition’s defence. It was worth noting that a number of Ziyech’s appearances have come on the right wing as well as a central attacking midfielder for Ajax.
Some other names worth mentioning in this category are Jens Toornstra (0.69 Key passes per 90 & 78.97% pass accuracy in the final third), Steven Bergwijn (1.09 key passes per 90 & 79.07% pass accuracy in the final third), and Dean Huiberts (0.85 key passes per 90 & 75.86% pass accuracy in the final third.
Thy Art is Dribbling
While passing is key for a more advanced midfielder, possessing talent in running with the ball at one’s feet is an impressive and effective tool. Being able to carry the ball at pace in dangerous areas often results in a goal, a corner, or a penalty/free-kick. To discover the most efficient dribblers for this position, players must have a minimum of 50% of successful dribbles, with consideration to the number of touches in the penalty area.
As you can see, there are a number of players who excel in one of the two attributes, with a small number of this selection of players being effective in both areas. Hakim Ziyech is usually involved in play in the penalty area as shown (4.68 touches in the box per 90), with 57.58 successful dribbles throughout the season. This number may sound quite unimpressive, but if you observe his style of play, you’ll notice that he rarely looks to beat players by himself, placing more trust in his passing skills.
Johnatan Opoku is a player who catches the eye in this area – the VVV-Venlo player holds a personal record of 62.96 successful dribbles and 2.9 touches in the box per 90, signifying his attacking attentions as well as his talent in such positions to be an architect of goal-scoring chances.
A third and vital component of an effective midfielder is the ability to have a direct contribution to the goals via assists and scoring themselves. To identify players who offer this kind of threat, we’ve taken a look at the players who have scored a minimum of four goals with a minimum of two assists over the season.
Leading the way in the goal-scoring charts is the highly-rated 22-year-old Teun Koopmeiners of AZ Alkmaar. The Dutchman boasts 11 goals and two assists, with the majority of those numbers coming from midfield, and it’s his form this season that has him linked with several clubs around Europe, including clubs from the Premier League. Donny van de Beek is also on sound numbers – eight goals and five assists is very positive, especially considering his role for Ajax swings between central midfielder and anchorman.
Selecting three Midfielders for the Team of the Season
Having discussed several key areas which should be considered when identifying a talented midfielder, the time has come to select the midfield unit for the Team of the Season for the Eredivisie 2019/20. While the second half of this report has been based on the attacking side of a midfielder, it can be extremely effective to have a well-balanced style of play that allows the player to be more effective at both ends of the field.
At the young age of 22, Teun Koopmeiners has been arguably the star of AZ Alkmaar’s outstanding seasons. 11 goals and two assists in 25 games becomes an even more impressive statistic when you find out he has played these three positions all season – central midfielder, central defensive midfielder, and even centre-back. He has been inspirational across the board for Alkmaar, demonstrating defensive capabilities as well as attacking talent – he is deservedly the defensive midfielder in this team of the season.
The two advanced midfield positions are to be awarded to Donny van de Beek and Jens Toornstra. Van de Beek has been an integral part of Ajax’s strengths this season, chipping in with goals and assists, as well as providing consistent reliable stability in the middle of the park. He has shown a constant capability in all areas of his game and adds a much needed balanced style of play to a midfield trio.
At the age of 31, Jens Toornstra is showing no signs of slowing down any time soon. Another demonstration of consistent hard work and contribution to his club, Feyenoord, his goal contributions show only a small segment of his importance to that side. He is often involved in build-up play, producing key actions in tight and dangerous areas, acting as an experienced leader for those around him. He would be the attacking link between the midfield three and the front three in this team of the season line up
Honourable mentions go to the likes of Johnatan Opoku and Steven Bergwijn, who both have the data to back up a claim for a place in this midfield after a good season from all of the above. Other players who were closely considered based on the statistical data provided in this report were Orestis Kiomourtzoglou of Heracles Almelo after proving to be a consistent start player for them, and Godfried Roemeratoe of FC Twente as the 20-year-old has shown he is capable in the passing department as well as showing his defensive intelligence.
But, after all the analysis and consideration, the Eredivisie Team of the Season 2019/20 midfield consists of Teun Koopmeiners, Donny van de Beek, and Jens Toornstra. In-depth scout reports on the three individuals will follow in the coming weeks. At this point, there are probably questions as to why players like Edson Alvarez and Hakim Ziyech have missed out despite having an impressive campaign.
The answer to this is simple: while some players have played a number of games as a defensive or central midfielder, it isn’t their natural/primary position, and will be left for consideration for that position i.e. Ziyech is primarily a right-winger, so will be up for discussion in the data report that discusses the front three. In the coming weeks, individual scout reports will be posted for Koopmeiners, van de Beek, and Toornstra.