Eredivisie giants Ajax face an important time in the near future – with the likes of Hakim Ziyech leaving the 2018/19 Champions League semi-finalists to further his career with Chelsea, and names such as Daly Blind an Klaas-Jan Huntelaar coming towards the end of their careers, a partial squad rebuild may be necessary. Thanks to their world-class academy production, Ajax needn’t be throwing large amounts of money around to lure new players to the club – there is already a handful of youngsters who fit the Ajax blueprint in terms of tactics, and could provide the club with a solution for several positions on the pitch. Even after a brief analysis, one name in particular who fits this mould is attacking midfielder Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, who has been a consistent start for Jong Ajax in the 2019/20 campaign – scoring and creating goals amongst other feats. This scout report on Ekkelenkamp will provide a tactical analysis of the 20-year-old’s key attributes.
Position and Role
The majority of his 2019/20 campaign for Jong Ajax was played in a central attacking midfield role, where he would find dangerous pockets of space between the opposition midfield and defence to receive the ball, as seen in the example below.
This move allows Ekkelenkamp to receive the ball on the half-turn or play a first time through ball either side of him, knowing there will be support close by. This move also spells potential danger for the opposition defence in another area – challenging the youngster in the penalty area in such a tight space is only done with the risk of committing a foul, giving Jong Ajax chance to score.
One of the main responsibilities of an attacking midfielder is to progress attacks and create goal-scoring opportunities more clinically, regularly, and effectively than anyone else in the team. Ekkelenkamp’s composure and clear game understanding allows him to create an idea in his mind and execute it immediately after – whether he’s using tight control to retain possession in a dangerous area, or receiving the ball before picking out a smart pass.
The analysis above highlights Ekkelenkamp’s creativity and vision, as well as passing ability. However, what can’t be seen in this image is Ekkelenkamp receiving the ball under pressure, performing a tight and fast 360-degree spin on the ball to provide a clearer opportunity to play the through pass to the incoming right winger. In the blink of an eye, the midfielder turned attacking possession into dangerous attack. It is quality in critical moments like this that will prove priceless in his step-up to the senior side. His total pass accuracy of 79.7% is a promising figure if he is to fill the gap in such an important position.
The image above is another example of Ekkelenkamp’s vision, which also highlights his intentions to attack as quickly as possible. After picking the ball under and finding himself free in the middle, he recognises the run of his teammate, and times the pass perfectly into his path, between the two opposition defenders. While this pass is easy to identify, the real talent lies in executing the pass effectively – which he did – it is then down to the striker to continue and finish off the move. With four assists in the 2019/20 season across all competitions, he has shown a clear eye for creating important, game-defining chances. His passing in key areas is a strong part of his game, as seen in the charts below.
Going forward, his passing and assisting is actually his second-best achievement, statistically speaking at least. In just a handful of appearances, he has contributed an impressive 17 goals from midfield, a stat which will turn heads amongst the coaching staff of the senior team. The ability to be a goal-scoring midfielder is one of rarity and complexity, but at such a young age, Ekkelenkamp makes it look easy. Being able to have the unique balance of goal hunter and chance creator is vital, and the player, must be able to identify which play type to execute for the right moment.
The analysis above demonstrates Ekkelenkamp’s quality in front of goal, as he surpasses his attacking teammates to make a bursting run through the opposition defence. The run he makes is a smart one – he notices the positioning and body shape of the closest defender, and proceeds to making his move in behind him at a clever angle, making it hard for the defender to recover in time. His impressive first touch enabled him to continue the attack, getting the ball firmly under his control with a clear idea of what he wanted to do next. Where many would either shoot early or drive a few yards closer in this situation, Ekkelenkamp unleased his innovation, performing a pirouette-type turn to beat the defender, before clinically driving the ball hard and low across the goalkeeper to give his side the lead. Creative and daring moments like this can separate the good players from the great, and Ekkelenkamp is building up to being a great player with attacking technique like this.
As seen in the pitch graph above, Ekkelenkamp is very active in and around the penalty area, with most of his goals coming within close proximity to the penalty spot. We previously mentioned his ability to drift into unoccupied spaces to pick up the ball, and he is just as effective at this in the box to eventually score. With a conversion rate of 21.8%, it isn’t difficult to figure out why he has the goal tally he does from midfield.
While his role as an attacking midfielder doesn’t often require much defensive input, Ekkelenkamp’s efforts are required from time to time, mostly in the opposition’s half. Battling in 50-50 challenges to regain possessions is one part of a midfielder’s job, but again, doesn’t occur for the youngster often because of his position. His most important defensive responsibility is centred around pressing, giving the opponent very little time on the ball to win possession back.
In the analysis above, we can see Ekkelenkamp carrying out set tactical instructions relating to the press. While the Jong Ajax forward presses the defender on the ball, Ekkelenkamp is one of two teammates marking nearby options for the opponent. Staying close to his man, the young Dutchman made it very difficult for the opponent to receive the ball with sufficient control, halting any quick progression in their attack. Moments such as this highlight his game understanding and tactical know-how, as well as displaying his knowledge for pressing triggers.
As mentioned, there will be instances where Jurgen Ekkelenkamp will need to put some hard, defensive work in. Above, we can see just that. While he is closely support by two teammates, when in a duel-scenario like this, it is imperative that Ekkelenkamp stops his opponent from beating him and taking the ball into the blue-marked zone. From that zone, the player on the ball has a high chance of creating a goal-scoring opportunity for either himself or a teammate. However, on this occasion, that isn’t allowed to happen, as Ekkelenkamp applies himself efficiently to take the ball the away from the opponent, subsequently winning a free-kick, ended the opposition attack. Again, while it isn’t the primary focus of his game, defensive work like this is highly important.
However, while the image above shows a successful example, one flaw in Ekkelenkamp’s game is his ability in defensive duels – tackling and using his strength needs to be improved in the near future if he is to make it to the top. On multiple occasions, he either loses out in a duel, giving the opposition chance to attack, or he commits a foul – a facet of his game which can be seen a little too often.
At the age of 20, Ekkelenkamp more than likely has his eyes set on moving up to become a regular feature in the Ajax senior side. With the departure of Hakim Ziyech, and speculation surrounding Donny van de Beek’s future, Ajax will be much in need of a creative, dangerous midfielder. With the right coaching and guidance, there is no reason why Jurgen Ekkelenkamp can’t be that player. His combination of goal-scoring ability and composure in building attacks makes him an obvious and immediate choice to make the step up as he would fit the Ajax system perfectly. Naturally, all of this strong areas should only improve more so, along with the needed development of the defensive side of his game – adding positional versatility to his game; Ajax tend to rotate midfield roles so this versatility would be highly beneficial.