Football purists are falling in love, head over heels, and it is easy to understand why. Last week Frenkie de Jong put in an amazing performance against France, confirming that at the age of 21 he is already able to adapt at any level. He has also already been approached by most of the biggest European teams, who look to secure his signature. His exquisite talents are reminiscent of Andres Iniesta and Sergio Busquets, as Barcelona have already approached him.
Watching De Jong is always exciting. He is blessed with stunning dribbling and passing skills, as well as an amazing rare vision. You can always expect the unexpected when the ball is at his feet. He is confident with the ball and many times throughout the game. He makes moves in open spaces, which creates huge problems for the opponent team.
It was an extremely, impossibly confident display. He defended diligently and maturely, as he was at the heart of the Dutch domination. Almost every passing attack went through him. He played a part in the goal and produced some stunning passes in the second half, including two first-time, chipped passes into the French penalty area. Most importantly he won a penalty in the last minute which secured his team’s win.
Although one of the less experienced players in the team, Frenkie de Jong looked of a similar ilk to players like Antoine Griezmann, Kylian Mbappe and Blaise Matuidi.
De Jong in charge of the build up
Manager Ronald Koeman achieved such dominance over the ball by selecting de Jong to be the base for the Netherlands’ possession play. With some help from Marten de Roon, he was extremely patient in possession and dictated the tempo of the game against France’s 4-1-4-1 medium block.
￼In this image, you can see how de Jong would always drop back in order to start the Dutch attack. He would do this in order to win space. This was vital for the Dutch team, as giving de Jong so much space is a huge mistake. While in possession, de Jong had the opportunity to pass horizontally to his closest centre-back.
Many times throughout the game, de Jong would attract even two French midfielders, resulting in another Dutch player making a move in between France’s lines. This all happens because of de Jong’s class.
￼Here, you can see exactly this. This resulted in many chances for the Dutch team as de Jong’s passing skills are great. Moreover, this is really clever and efficient as the Dutch can reach their opponents defence with only two passes. This is due to the fact that de Jong can carry the ball with him from deep without losing it and then create free space for one of his teammates.
This is also something that Erik Ten Hag has been trying to do with him lately at Ajax. The young midfielder has effortlessly adapted to his new role this season, and has been wonderful in controlling the flow of the game for his team.
De Jong creating space for his teammates
Usually when we talk about a player creating space for his teammates we suggest that he does this when he doesn’t have the ball. However, in this case de Jong, throughout the game against France, managed to create free areas of spaces on the pitch for his teammates to exploit. Meanwhile, by doing this de Jong has also managed to ‘break’ France’s defensive line, destroying a big part of their game plan.
In this first image you can see how de Jong has dropped back in order to create a numerical advantage for his team when building up. As you can see no French player has followed him, meaning that he has a lot of free space to exploit, or another French attacker pressing high will have to mark him which means that another player will then be left free.
￼In this second image you can see the space created by the fact that he dropped back to take the ball. We can see that he quickly plays the pass forward to the two free Dutch midfielders in order to create a quick transition. All this would never have happened if de Jong had not dropped back. We can take this as evidence, for the fact that when de Jong is not high up the pitch the French players would think differently and not cramp the middle of the pitch.
All of this portrays de Jong’s amazing influence on his team’s build up play and how with one single movement (without the ball) he can ‘open’ the opponents defence.
De Jong pressing high up the pitch
When the ball gets in the middle or the final third of his team’s half, de Jong acts as a persistent presser which forces the opponent, who is on the ball, to cancel his plan and play the ball back into his own half. This was vital against France as it blocked their quick game and made Griezmann and Mbappe less dangerous.
In this image you can see evidence of this high press and how although he is a midfielder, he is the highest player up the pitch for his team. This also shows how much he has to run throughout the game.
In this image, you can see how de Jong fights right away to win the ball back when his team loses possession. He prevents the French from passing the middle but also creates a 4 v 3 counter attack for his team.
To conclude, it is easy to see why de Jong is catching the attention of top clubs like Barcelona and Tottenham Hotspur. It is clear that he is adapting to playing next to big stars. We can now stop calling him a talent, but a mature world class footballer. His development throughout the past six years is amazing, as he has fully developed his passing skills and he now has the confidence to play the ball horizontally.
In the game vs France, de Jong was his nation’s leader and showed that he can easily dictate the game’s tempo in favour of his team. He has the potential to change the game and at this point of his career he is ready for the next big step.