For an extended period of time, central midfielder Donny van de Beek has been surrounded by talk of a move elsewhere, with Manchester United and Real Madrid reportedly interested in the Dutchman. In recent seasons, he has deservedly established a reputation as a classy performer both on and off the ball – oozing confidence, composure, and game understanding. He has consistently contributed to Ajax’s campaign in the 2019/20 Eredivisie season, adding goals and assists to his name as well offering defensive assistance too. Previously, we had assessed the midfielders in the Eredivisie to determine who deserves a place in the team of the season, and Donny van de Beek emerged victorious, gaining a place alongside Teun Koopmeiners and Jens Toornstra. In this scout report, we will provide a tactical analysis of his role and contribution in the Ajax set up, as well as an analysis of some of his key attributes and tactics.
Position and Role
Due to his ability to perform effectively in areas of both defence and attack, it may come as no surprise that he has comfortably undertaken a variety of roles within the Ajax midfield. Though he has been deployed as an attacking midfielder behind the central striker where he would have more direct involvement with the end product of an attack, more often than not this season, the Dutch international has played a little deeper, either as a defensive anchor in the engine room, or simply somewhere in between the two before-mentioned roles, providing balance to the side.
The analysis above is a good example of his role in games where Ajax can dominate possession high up the pitch while dictating the tempo of the game. Van de Beek can often be see dropping a little deeper than the majority of his teammates in attack, but always in close proximity to the player in possession, offering himself as a close option to pass to. Not only does this demonstrate the confidence in his own ability, but also his awareness – in the above example he is positioned on the edge of a large unoccupied space, knowing either he would be able to exploit it himself once receiving the ball, or passing to a teammate who drifts into the space.
Ajax’s midfielder often rotate in roles, meaning Van de Beek must be adaptable and able to undertake the required tasks of each role. Averaging 5.64 total successful defensive actions per 90, his defensive grit cannot be faulted. However, perhaps this is due to Ajax dominating most of their games – hence less defensive action required by Donny, but winning 63.54% of his defensive duels throughout the season may be an indicator that he isn’t the strongest and most efficient tackler in that role.
This analysis shows Van de Beek successfully undertaking a defensive duel after dashing back to catch the opposition in control of the ball. While some may see this simply as a slide tackle by a midfielder, what’s important to notice is both the technique and position of the challenge. Firstly, he is arriving from a rear position so he must execute the tackle at an angle to avoid diving in dangerously directly from behind. Secondly, he very cleverly uses the tackle to force the ball away from any opposition player, but also into a safe area where a teammate can collect it and regain possession.
Although we have mentioned Van de Beek’s relatively low numbers in the defensive department, he does apply himself in such a fashion in higher parts of the field too. Often noticing pressing triggers such as a poor pass or poor first touch by the opposition, he is quickly on hand to apply pressure to the opponent.
In this image, Van de Beek is doing exactly that. As the ball falls to the opposition defender around his own six-yard box, Donny reacts quickly and uses his body to knock the opponent’s balance and win the ball in a dangerous area. He also acts quickly, almost instinctively, following the resulting challenge, laying the ball off to his team mate before making a run around the outside of him, allowing the duo to execute an impressive one-two pass, with Van de Beek almost setting up an Ajax goal. His energy and tenacity in these areas combined with his reactions and innovation is something in his game that makes him stand out in important moments.
While Van de Beek possesses tools in his arsenal that have the potential to make him an all-round great midfielder, it’s the skills he utilises in attacking areas that are his strongest assets. From intricate passing to subtle but effective movement, he possesses the tools to be one of the great central midfielders of his generation. As mentioned, his passing is a strong point of his game – boasting an 85.21% overall passing accuracy, making 0.71 key passes per 90.
In this analysis, Van de Beek can be seen positioned in between three opposition players after drifting in from the centre to make himself available to receive the ball from Hakim Ziyech. From there, Van de Beek has three options in terms of where to pass next, and with his back to goal and two defenders behind him, playing a pass is best option. He opts for a move which is seen constantly between himself and Ziyech, a short one-touch one-two pass to create a better angle for Ziyech upon return. Van de Beek makes it look effortless and simple to locate these pockets of space, but it is an integral part of Ajax’s patient build-up play, and requires pin-point timing to execute effectively. Furthermore, Donny tends to spin off his shoulder and make a darting run following the one-two pass, as a decoy if nothing else.
The following analysis image show Van de Beek again utilising that link-up with Ziyech, who eagerly awaits the pass on the right-hand-side. After quickly identifying and executing the pass, Van de Beek bursts through the midfield into marked zone in the box (in line with the opposition’s last defender after they dropped back). Ziyech attempts the return lofted pass but gets narrowly intercepted. This is a demonstration of Van de Beek’s innovation and creativity, as well as having a strong understanding when to time a run and where to be. As mentioned previously, there is sometimes a rotation at play with the roles of the Ajax midfielder, and it is clear in this example that he was to deployed as the more advance of the unit, grasping the chance with both hands to produce impressive moves like this one and many more across the season.
Another fine example of Van de Beek’s anticipation and timing of a run is in the analysis shown above. As the ball is being delivered from the left-hand-side, the Dutchman is lurking around the edge of the area, but he quickly recognises the potential danger he can cause for the opposition. He changes the course of his run and picks up the pace, finding himself free around the back of the penalty area. However, from here, the ball is arriving at some pace and either decision of finishing first time or controlling the ball presents a difficult task in such an important area. Van de Beek positions himself perfectly and volleys it home to the goalkeeper’s right – a finish that any striker would be proud of. His goal contribution here is of no surprise though; the midfielder has eight goals and five assists to his name this season and is only growing in talent and confidence.
When you assess the talent possessed by Donny van de Beek next to the need for a new midfielder at clubs like Real Madrid and Manchester United, it isn’t difficult to see why the Dutch international has been tipped to join a club of such stature. For a couple of seasons now he has shown a consistency in his progression, improving from week to week, and it won’t be long before he ultimately blossoms into a complete midfielder. With some tweaking and support around his defensive contribution, and perhaps allowing him to consistently take up his natural creative role, he can achieve these heights and follow in the footsteps of Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs De Ligt in joining one of the major European leagues. With all points considered, Donny van de Beek truly deserves his place in our Eredivisie team of the season.