With AZ Alkmaar finishing the current season level on points with the famous Ajax, they have been the subject of much attention around the footballing world. This along with their defensive record, one of the best in Europe, has led to Europe’s elite clubs keeping a close eye on their numerous young prospects. Everton and West Ham target Myron Boadu, Calvin Stengs, and the slightly more experienced Teun Koopmeiners have attracted the most attention, and rightly so.
However, another promising youngster who hasn’t received as much attention is Owen Wijndal. The young Dutchman has gone somewhat under the radar, as he isn’t an attacking player. The pacey left-back was having a breakout season before the cancellation, fitting right in with head coach, Arne Slot’s tactics.
This tactical analysis will focus on the main aspects of the young left-back’s game, and how they fit in with AZ’s style of play. This analysis will also analyse his weaknesses, and asses how he could improve these if he is to become a top-level player.
In our Eredivisie 2019/20 team of the season data analysis, Wijndal was picked out as one of the best defenders in the league. He showed up as one of the best in every aspect analysed, which is why a scout report was important to compile.
Although the role of full-backs has changed in modern football, defending is still greatly important. As the graph above shows, the AZ full-back hasn’t forgotten about his defensive duties. Wijndal has the second-best duel percentage in the league, winning 70.27% of them. Though he does only face 5.98 duels per 90 – below the league average.
Though his team is one of the best in the league and therefore partaking in less defensive actions per 90, Wijndal has proved that he is still capable when called upon.
The young Dutchman has made the left-back position his own this season, after playing his first game for AZ as a 16-year-old back in the 2016/17 season.
A risky, but effective technique that Wijndal uses in defence is putting constant pressure on his opposition. He is very physical in his challenges, giving attackers next to no time on the ball. In the above image, we see him sprint towards the Ajax winger, angling his body towards the touchline. He’s aware that because the attacker is facing away from the AZ goal, he doesn’t have to cover the line, therefore he uses this position to force the Ajax man backwards.
His aggressive nature not only helps his team in his own third but further up the pitch too. Here, as soon as the Twente man receives the ball, he darts from his defensive position to press him, forcing him to make a backward pass. Twente is then forced to punt the ball long before AZ win possession. This tactic helps Wijndal deal with players who are direct and fast because he is able to pressure them before they make a move. However, it is much less effective against a trickier opposition.
Here, against Hakim Ziyech, his aggressive approach gets exploited. Sergino Dest plays a one-two with the Ajax winger, Wijndal rushes up and Ziyech plays a clever first-time through-ball into the space that the AZ left-back vacated. Although Dest had a clear run into the AZ third, nothing came of this attack. This scenario proves that if Wijndal is to improve, he must choose wisely when to get tight to his opponent.
As well as his indulgence to get touch-tight, he can often be very rash in defence.
In unnecessary situations, he can become too aggressive and physical, often hurting his opponents. Only six minutes into their match with Ajax, Wijndal puts a hefty challenge on Ziyech as he thinks he can win the ball, but Ziyech’s first time pass backwards invites the mistimed tackle. His robust nature has earned him seven yellow cards this term.
Calmness on the ball
Slot likes to play a possession-based game. Playing out from the back meaning that the defenders are key to his style. AZ averaged 57.8% possession per 90 last term, the second-most in the league, with a pass completion of 85.5%, the highest in the league.
Wijndal is relied heavily upon when it comes to keeping possession in their own third. In terms of the full-back position, he is one of the best passers in the Eredivisie. He averages 56.97 passes per 90, with a completion of 86.75%. Fitting in with his team’s style, he is very conservative within his own third. The left-back has 12.48 back passes per 90, completing 97.41% of these.
In the picture above we can the AZ defender’s usual set up following a goal kick. Wijndal receives the ball under pressure near the left touchline, he has two opposite players closing him down. Instead of knocking the ball down the line and putting his winger under pressure, he decides to trust his teammate, Koopmeiners in this situation. As a result, the latter is able to find a good pass into midfield which enables AZ to progress up the pitch without any major risk.
Similarly, here against Sparta Rotterdam he finds himself under pressure, with his options seemingly cut off. He can’t pass it back like he normally would, so instead, he intelligently chips it between the defenders to Jordy Clasie.
Because of Slot’s tactics, Wijndal prefers to advance by passing. In the graph above we can see how he compares with others in the league. This means that he will often not exploit space ahead of him with his explosive speed, such as in the scenario below.
The man at the centre of this scout report has recently been likened to Liverpool left-back Andrew Robertson, this is great praise for such a young prospect. As mentioned in the previous section, his passing is efficient in his own third, but his attacking prowess is what gives him value to this AZ team, much like Robertson.
His combination down the left flank with Oussama Idrissi has been vital for AZ’s success this season. The winger and Wijndal work intelligently together to manipulate the space they both get in the attacking third. They do this in two ways, the first being late overlaps.
In the above situation against PEC Zwolle, we see the left-back arriving late into the attacking third, meaning he is harder to pick up, as the defender highlighted has to choose which AZ player to track. These overlapping runs give Wijndal plenty of space and time, which is the main reason his crossing and passes to penalty area are so frequent.
Although the overlapping technique is effective against some teams, especially on the counter-attack, where Wijndal may have lost his marker. The preferred tactic utilized by the left-back and Idrissi is the inverted full-back.
Wijndal often makes underlapping runs to either free himself or help Idrissi create a one-on-one opportunity. As we can see in the screenshot above, Wijndal makes a bursting run forward, pointing to where he wants the ball. The highlighted player has to make the decision to track the run or to defend Idrissi one-on-one, he chooses the former. However, Wijndal is still able to use his pace to get away, whilst Idrissi delivers a through ball, which results in a blocked cross.
Slot sometimes likes to use Wijndal as an inverted full-back to create more numbers in midfield. In the above scenario, we see him high up the pitch considering play is taking place in the middle-third. Because his opposite winger is unlikely to track him that far in-field it is a clever tactic to find space.
Here, we see Wijndal in heaps of space in the middle of the field. Clasie is able to find him with a great pass which leads to Ajax centre-back Joel Veltman stepping out of position to pick up Wijndal. This frees up Boadu, however, a pass to him cannot be found.
Contributing in attack
Wijndal’s crossing and final third passes have been second-to-none this season. He averages 4.12 crosses per 90 with a completion of 33.33%. Ranking near the top in terms of attacking output, as the below graph shows.
His final third passes are frequent but not necessarily always accurate. Only completing just over a third of his crosses and only 50.79% of his passes to the penalty box means that he needs to be more clinical. He often delays his crosses, allowing defenders to close him down.
His ability to get forward and find space near the edge of the penalty box has allowed him to contribute six assists and a goal this season. Excellent statistics for a left-back. His attacking chemistry with Idrissi helps him find this space to execute accurate passes into the penalty box.
Here, after a successful overlap has freed the left-back, we see him pick out a perfectly waited pass into Boadu’s path. We can see by the goalkeeper’s body language that he is anticipating the cross, therefore he has to make sure to put the ball into the right area.
Above, we can see the opportunities the 20-year-old is able to create with Slot’s inverted full-back tactic. Against Twente, Idrissi takes the attention of two defenders, meaning Wijndal has a decent amount of space to work in. When the highlighted defender makes a move towards him, the young Dutchman exploits the space he left. He makes a clever pass to the side of Boadu, allowing him to take a first-time touch around the defender, clinically finishing past the goalkeeper.
This tactical analysis has shown that Owen Wijndal is one of the most promising young left-backs in world football. He hasn’t been tested in the better leagues, but only time will tell if he can progress, but all the signs certainly show that he can. His calmness at the back and willingness to get forward means that he would be a perfect transfer for a possession-based team.
The 20-year-old has incredible attacking capabilities, and with capable bodies around him, he has been able to produce six assists this season. His combinations with Idrissi, Stengs, and Boadu have been integral to AZ’s success. His abilities along with his head coach’s tactics have helped him have a breakthrough season. So this begs the question, as with every young player nurtured in the Eredivisie, where will he end up next season?