Dutch football is famous for its enormous trust that the academy players are granted, which is one of the key reasons for their long-time success, both from professional and business point of view. AZ Alkmaar, Ajax, PSV and Utrecht all have a U21 team in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie (the second tier of Dutch football) which serve as the second or reserve team of the first one, thereby providing the youngsters with a stepping stone to eventually reach the senior squad. In this data analysis, we will aim to find the most interesting youngsters of the league who will be worth watching in the next season, based on their performance of the previous season in either or both of the domestic championships.
To show the most realistic results, we will compare every player to the rest of the two leagues (Eredivisie and Keuken Kampioen Divisie) in that specific position, as, for example, a defensive midfielder has different traits and elements of performance than a striker. We will investigate only those players who played a maximum of 900 minutes in the 2019/20 Eredivisie campaign, but a minimum of 500 in the first and the second tier in total. Players who were on a loan spell in either Eredivisie or Keuken Kampioen Divisie in the last season, and will return to another club of the same tiers, are also included in the analysis.
Just like when we investigated the team of the Eredivisie 2019/20 season previously, we will determine certain attributes and types of statistics as the fundaments of the comparison. This time, we will use the following measures:
Goalkeepers: clean sheets, claims and punches, passing.
Defenders: duels, defensive actions, passing, crossing.
Midfielders: goal contribution, passing, defensive actions, offensive actions.
Attackers: goal contribution, passing, shooting, offensive actions.
a) Clean sheets
Although PSV’s Youri Roulaux received the fewest goals with 14, and these coming in 9 matches means a 1.56 goals/game ratio. In this regard, Ajax’s Kjell Scherpen is rising above the rest with only 1.29 goals/game and 5 clean sheets, the latter indicated by the width of the bars in the below chart.
b) Claims and punches
The next graph shows that all the goalkeepers have a different style of play: while Kjell Scherpen had barely any punches per 90 (0.07) but a second-best 1.55 claims, Mike van de Meulenhof had the most punches (0.47) but the fewest claims (0.61) per 90. However, Jasper Schendelaar is the most balanced goalie with a decent 0.47 punches and 1.79 claims per 90, the best in both aspects among the candidates.
As visible in the next graph, Fabian de Keijzer had by far the most passes to the final third (2.67 per 90), but it came from only 22.44 passes per game which is a good indicator of the tactics of his employer Utrecht II. In parallel, AZ Alkmaar’s Jasper Schendelaar had the most passes per game (28.33) and the fact that only 1.42 of those went to the final third suggests that he was involved in short plays and build-ups much more often than his counterparts.
Shurandy Sambo sticks out like a sore thumb with his 17.28 successful defensive actions per 90, more than three more than the second-best. Also, his 10.51 defensive duels (68.42% won) and 3.73 aerial duels (51.85% won) describe a well-rounded and consistent player in the back. Respectively, Robin Polley was involved in the most defensive duels (14.23 per 90) and Noah Lewis was the most active in the air (5.35 duels per 90).
b) Defensive actions
Feyenoord talent Noah Lewis is also the one with the most blocked shots per 90 (1.23) while Shurandy Sambo can show up the most interceptions: his 9.12 per 90 means that 52.78% of his league-best successful defensive actions was from this kind of action – a great indicator of the young defender’s playing style. All in all, Justin de Haas turns out to be the most balanced player in this comparison, with 0.97 blocked shots and 8.75 interceptions.
If we take a look at the following graph, the importance of a team’s philosophy is crystal clear. The three players with the most per-90 passes to the final third all represent the same team, Ajax Amsterdam: Jurrien Timber (10.12), Perr Schuurs (11.15) and Kik Pierie (11.29) all are very progressive defenders who can play the ball out of the backline with confidence. However, Pierie leaves everyone behind with 15.73 progressive passes per game which is 21% of his total passes. Must be pointed out that Shurandy Sambo is outstanding in progressive passes as well (12.44 per 90).
With 4.73 progressive runs, 4.83 crosses and 5.34 dribbles per 90, Justin Ogenia is comfortably above the rest. Yukinari Sugawara and Robin Polley also performed outstandingly regarding crossing (4.77 and 4.44), while Ajax duo Jurrien Timber and Perr Schuurs are among the leaders in progressive runs (3.97 and 4.08), but Ogenia showed a well-rounded and consistent performance in FC Eindhoven in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie.
a) Goal contribution
NEC Nijmegen’s Zian Flemming and Ajax’s Jürgen Ekkelenkamp both scored 13 goals in the previous season (the latter had 1 of those in the Eredivisie), with 2 and 3 assists respectively. As indicated in the below graph with the colour of the circles, Ekkelenkamp needed the fewest minutes to reach these figures – only 2083 minutes altogether –, meaning that the young Dutchman was outstandingly involved in 0.95 goals per game in average. Thijs Oosting (12 goal contributions), Hicham Acheffay (9) and Odysseus Velanas (9) all deserve recognition for their performances.
In the next graph, the midfielders are measured by the number of their progressive passes (blue lines), passes to the penalty area (white lines), and key passes (indicated by the size of the lines). 16-year-old Naci Ünüvar comes out as the absolute winner, having 8.34 progressive passes per 90 and 7.3 of those taken into the penalty box, an 87.5% efficiency in this regard. On top of that, the Dutch international can show up 1.19 key passes on average, leaving everyone behind by much. Kenneth Taylor also needs to be mentioned as the midfielder with the most progressive passes per 90 (10.76).
c) Defensive actions
Mitchell van Rooijen comes out on top when we compare the youngsters based on their number of interceptions on average. The Utrecht central midfielder had 7.08 interceptions per game, 1.2 more than the next player behind him. However, Rida El Barjiji’s 11.85 defensive duels and 13.99 successful defensive actions per 90 are the best figures among the candidates, and his additional 5.45 interceptions make him the most stable and massive defensive midfielder in the comparison.
d) Offensive actions
With 8.19 dribbles per 90 (indicated by the size of the shapes in the below graph), no wonder that Eros Maddy was the most active midfielder regarding offensive duels (16.37). On the other hand, the Utrecht youngster tried only 0.24 shots per game. From this perspective, Naci Ünüvar leads once again with an average of 2.83, also combined with 7.45 dribbles and 14.6 offensive duels per 90.
a) Goal contribution
Starting with the most important element of the game for an attacker, Ajax’s Lassina Traoré stands out with 15 goals (2 of which in the Eredivisie) and 7 assists in only 1861 minutes played in the 2019/20 season. Noa Lang – who had an interesting campaign, playing 5 matches with Ajax in the Eredivisie, 7 with Twente in the same league, and 9 with Jong Ajax in the second tier – was also effective in goal contributions, scoring 9 and assisting another 4 in a total of 1614 minutes.
Nobody had a better passing performance among the young strikers than Noa Lang: his 6.71 progressive passes, 4.72 passes to the penalty area, and 0.92 key passes per 90 speak for themselves. Mohamed Mallahi (0.86 key passes), Noni Madueke (3.09 passes to penalty area) and Richard Sedlacek (6.13 progressive passes) worth being mentioned for their consistency and creativity.
Brian Brobbey can show up the most touches in the penalty area (7.7) and the third-most shots per 90 (3.42). Also, the striker finished the season with an excellent figure of 1 goal per 90 minutes. AZ’s Zakaria Aboukhlal and Utrecht’s Jeredy Hilterman were the most active in front of the goal, with 3.47 and 3.46 shots on average.
d) Offensive actions
Comparing the young forwards based on their offensive performances apart from goal contributions, Mohamed Mallahi and Noni Madueke stand out once again. The former, representing Utrecht U21, had 3.6 progressive runs, 3.43 crosses and 7.54 dribbles per 90, while PSV’s English winger can show up 4.81 runs (best in the comparison), 1.72 crosses and 10.35 dribbles – this latter figure is 2.44 more than the second-best, and with this, he is the absolute leader in the comparison.
A lot of key performances come across those who keep a close eye on the reserve players and the academy graduates of Dutch football. After investigating the statistics of the players, let’s summarize the eleven most interesting prospects, who – based only on their performances – are all expected to get more playing time in the upcoming season.
Kjell Scherpen (20, Ajax Amsterdam, GK): With 2,04m of height, a dominating power between the sticks, but one who also can be involved in short build-ups which is a must in Ajax. With current starter Andre Onana possibly (or probably) leaving this summer, it will be interesting to see whether Scherpen can earn himself an opportunity in the first team.
Shurandy Sambo (18, PSV Eindhoven, DEF): A powerful and agile full-back who seems to be able to support the attacks without giving up his defensive responsibilities. With the arrival of new head coach Roger Schmidt (who already proved his trust in youngsters in the Austrian and the German Bundesliga), Sambo can possibly get his first minutes in the first team during the next season.
Kik Pierie (19, Ajax, DEF): Following the footsteps of his current teammates Jurrien Timber and Perr Schuurs, Pierie is expected to become a first-squad member in the next season. A stable member of the defence who is equally great with his feet and is not afraid to find his teammates in the attacking areas.
Jurrien Timber (18, Ajax, DEF): The powerful centre-back, similarly to his compatriot Kik Pierie, has all the chance to become a regular starter in the senior Ajax squad. A very progressive defender with great physical attributes and confidence on the ball.
Justin Ogenia (21, Willem II, DEF): Although not getting many chances in the first team yet, the young Dutchman could add a lot to Willem II’s defence, should he remain with the squad in the next season. A talented full-back who seems to be very useful in supporting the offensive actions with his runs, dribbles and crosses.
Jürgen Ekkelenkamp (20, Ajax, MID): 16 goal contributions would be a decent performance from anyone in any league of the world, no surprise that the tall playmaker was already granted four games in the first team this season. His has great skills both with or without the ball, making him a very useful member of a team in the heart of the pitch,
Zian Flemming (21, PEC Zwolle, MID): 13 goals and 2 assists from the Ajax academy graduate suggests that he should be granted trust in the first team of PEC Zwolle in the next season. A tall and strong attacking midfielder who can also finish the actions effectively when required.
Naci Ünüvar (16, Ajax, MID): Probably the biggest sensation of the Ajax academy at the moment, Ünüvar seems to be on the best track to fulfill his potential. The hype around the youngster is not surprising, as his mature, creative and dynamic style of play is already a joy to watch.
Noni Madueke (18, PSV Eindhoven, ATT): The Englishman left his country and Tottenham Hotspur at the age of 16 to join the U17 team of PSV, and it seems he made a perfect decision back in the time. He is already well-known for his dribbling skills and agility which he was able to show in the first tier of Dutch football already, as he had four appearances in the Eredivisie last year.
Lassina Traoré (19, Ajax, ATT): It is safe to say that Traoré is in the most advanced situation from this list, as his ’implementation’ to the first team is already on the way. With the lack of a traditional striker, Ajax is keen on Traoré’s type: a strong and prolific finisher who would score the majority of his chances, just as he did in the 2019/20 season already.
Noa Lang (20, Ajax, ATT): Another Ajax player who showed a great performance in the season behind us, in not less than three different teams. Considering how many young prospects Ajax can choose from, Lang has to step up to another level if he wants to earn his place in the team, but he can build his confidence on his 9 goals and 4 assists from the previous campaign.