The ever smiling Dutch protege has completed his first season in the famous red and blue. With the next campaign arriving within a month, here is a quick look at the overall 19/20 season from Frenkie de Jong and whether he lived up to the expectations pinned on him.
This is the fourth episode of a series in which we review the performances of the different Barça first team players, as well as discuss their futures for the next campaign. You can check the series here.
Emotionally overwhelmed, Pep Segura’s cheeks were moistened by tears of joy. The Barcelona representatives were struggling to convince themselves that it was done. It was surely going to be Paris Saint-Germain. A tedious saga drawn over months had parties from around the globe playing a game of tug of war. Manchester City, Juventus, PSG, Barcelona, four clubs in four different nations, all connected by one name: Frenkie de Jong.
In the end, the Parisian club looked poised to take the gem home. But as they say, “It isn’t over till it’s over”. A dramatic last-minute swoop from the Catalan giants saw the Dutch protege come home to the Camp Nou. After all, those tears meant so much more for the now former sporting director.
The former Ajax star was touted to be a natural fit. Despite arriving at a club where newcomer struggle to fit, there seemed to be not a speck of doubt in De Jong’s integration. After all, he had come from Johan Cruyff’s backyard, Ajax Amsterdam. The club that is Barcelona’s cousin, the brother from another mother. At the tender age of 22, he was already the engine of a revived Dutch national team. His feet danced with the ball, and his eyes saw nothing else. Every time he looked up, it was to study the pitch and find the right pass. His mind was fixed to the philosophy that Barça fans crave: take the ball, pass the ball. The heart and the soul of an Ajax team that destroyed Real Madrid and saw off Juventus was a Barcelona player as early as in January.
More than a year later, the curtains of his first season as a blaugrana player have closed. Frenkie never looked like a fish out of water. His understanding of the field, his positioning sense, fluid one-twos and gracious flowing football always seemed a notch above his compatriots. After all, he had just come in from an Ajax team that could play football blindfolded. It was a team that played tiki-taka at its pinnacle. Every player knew where the ball will be 10 seconds in advance. With mind map of the field at the tip of his fingers, Frenkie had orchestrated the Giant Killers from the centre of the field.
Frenkie de Jong hasn’t done badly, but he can still do much better after the extremely high expectations placed in him | Photo by Aitor Alcalde via Getty Images
At the same time, he wasn’t the same. Not under Ernesto Valverde, nor the later appointed Quique Setién. Adapting to a club like Barcelona is seldom easy, particularly when played out of your natural position. Frenkie’s niche at Ajax was in the deep midfield, where he used to build out of the back. Having been a defensive midfielder even in the Dutch national team, he was more comfortable in that role.
However, his new team was in a severe creativity crisis. Barring Lionel Messi, there seemed to be nobody to create chances. With the team struggling to create openings, he was tasked with a novel position. Furthermore, with the experienced Sergio Busquets at the heart of the midfield, he was never going to get a starting role in that position. Circumstances saw him continually played as a left interior, throwing him into a new setting.
Over the first few games, it became a common sight to watch the De Jong make a pass and sprint forward hoping to get the return. Unfortunately, this understanding seldom paid off. The ball rarely, if ever came back to him in one-twos. After all, the new team was not as technically gifted as his former club. Whilst the La Masía graduates like Messi, Busquets, Gerard Piqué, Jordi Alba and Sergi Roberto could offer some comfort in terms of playing style, the others in the team failed to see what Frenkie saw. The vision never matched, and one could see him start to get a little frustrated.
Nevertheless, it would be harsh to say that he did not impress in his first course at Barcelona. Possessing mastery in the craft of passing is said to almost guarantee success at Catalonia. Frenkie had it in spades, and it showed on the pitch. He finished the league campaign with 92% passes completed, and almost 91% accurate passes in the opposition half. Something even the legends of Barcelona would be proud of. Additionally, he averaged 1.7 dribbles completed per game, which is close to 81% of the attempted dribbles. Defensively, he was massive for the team, often covering up for the full-backs.
“If I speak about my performances, I could have done much better this year. I don’t think I have played many bad games, but I haven’t been able to have a run of really good games, either. I think I have been OK, but not good enough.”Frenkie de Jong
Overall, it was a mixed season. There were games where he turned up in grand style: the 5–2 win over Valencia, the 2–3 away victory over Real Betis and the second leg against Napoli, to name a few. At the same time, he had his set of downs too. The stalemate against Espanyol or the 2–1 triumph over Getafe were some instances where he just struggled to influence the game.
His injury immediately after the resumption of football put Barcelona on the back foot in the title race. Moreover, With Carles Aleñá loaned out and Arthur Melo out for other reasons, it would be safe to say that the midfield looked slower in his absence. It was that same team without him that went on to squander the advantage and pave the path for Real Madrid to lift the silverware.
What next for Frenkie De Jong?
The appointment of Ronald Koeman is music to the Dutch midfielder’s ears. Koeman has made it clear that De Jong will be playing a deeper role under his regime. Frenkie has shown his prowess under him time and time again and one hopes that the next season brings the best out of him.
“I watched Frenkie in a position that I thought ‘I would never put him there’. You invest in a player that costs you so much money, then you have to play him in his position.”Ronald Koeman after being appointed as Barça manager
Additionally, the 23-year-old is said to have had a massive role in the appointment of Alfred Schreuder as the assistant manager. Their connection goes back to that dominant Ajax side where Alfred was a subordinate to manager Eric ten Hag. With two coaches he has worked so extensively with, the path to stardom looks clear for De Jong. Can he take another massive stride in his Barcelona career next season?
Only time will tell.
A 19/20 season review of the new faces: Pedri
In September 2019, Barcelona paid 5 million euros to secure the services of Pedri, who would have a standout debut 19/20 season with Las Palmas at 17. In this article, we analyse the attributes and main statistics of the young and extremely promising attacking midfielder.
This is the first episode of a series of articles that dive deep into a season review of the incoming new faces at Barcelona. You can check the 19/20 season reviews here.
As Ronald Koeman‘s new Barcelona is already taking shape, the youngest member to be joining the first team is Pedro González López, affectionately known as Pedri.
The 17-year-old from the Canary Islands has been a member of UD Las Palmas through and through, right from the youth team set-up to his professional debut in 2019 with the first team. Playing primarily as an attacking mid or left winger, Pedri showcased his attacking repertoire early enough to become an important member of the Las Palmas senior team and went on to play 2982 minutes for them.
His skillset didn’t go unnoticed at the bigger clubs, and soon enough, he was snatched up by Barcelona. So, what does the young midfielder bring to the table?
Pedri was, admittedly, not the biggest goal threat in his first senior season, but given his age, that’s not an issue at all. He scored 4 goals and gave 5 assists.
Watching his shot videos and looking at his shot-map, one can conclude that he does need to work a bit on the judicious choice of positions from where to take shots. For example, there were a bunch of shots from the right with his right foot – shooting from such acute angles is quite unnatural for someone who is not a natural goalscorer. There are also far too many shots from outside the box, most of which, as the videos suggest, are hopeful punts than accurate attempts.
Given below are a variety of his attacking stats – both the raw value and the percentile (mentioned inside parentheses) when compared to other wingers or attacking midfielders who played at least 1000 minutes in the Segunda División of Spain last season.
Data by Wyscout
While most numbers appear to be modest, do keep in mind that this was a 16-year-old playing his first professional season. And his assists, expected assists (xA) and dribbling percentiles are particularly encouraging. It shows he is not afraid to take risks, and we are going to get more glimpses of that further into the article.
But before we proceed, let’s take a look at an animation of the only goal he scored from outside the box:
It was a well-struck fist-time half-volley into the left bottom corner, giving Las Palmas a 1–0 home win against Sporting de Gijón in September 2019. It also marked Pedri’s fist goal as a professional.
A big issue that plagued Barcelona all season was an uncoordinated and lackadaisical defensive effort put in by the team in general. Very little defensive activity by Luis Suárez and Lionel Messi led to Barcelona effectively defending with nine men. A lot of old men in the midfield in the form of Sergio Busquets, Ivan Rakitić and Arturo Vidal also meant that the necessary speed to catch up with fast breaks was lacking as well.
All these afore-mentioned midfielders are very fine players – some of the top midfielders in their prime – but have grown old and lost a bit of their zip, which is much needed in the midfield right now. Meanwhile, Frenkie de Jong is very athletic, and Riqui Puig is deceptively fast, and both of them put in decent defensive numbers. And Pedri should complement them well were these three to take the field in a game together.
Pedri put in a good amount of defensive work for Las Palmas. Browsing through his videos, one can immediately conclude that Pedri is deceptively fast as well and good at reading runs, and he times and angles his own runs to cut the opponents off in their tracks and win back the ball.
Shown below are a variety of his defensive stats. Except for aerial duels – understandable as he is only 177 cms tall –, he ranks very high at every other metric:
Next, let’s take a look at Pedri’s passing characteristics, as shown below.
Pedri was highly involved in the attacking build-ups while maintaining a pretty decent passing accuracy for an attacking midfielder/winger hybrid. He played a lot of forward passes at decent accuracy – something that should bring smiles to the faces of the fans. The teenager is definitely someone who is not shy at taking risks and will mix it up with a decent range of long balls as well. Pedri played around 9 forward passes per 90 minutes, around 8 back passes per 90 minutes and the rest were lateral.
Once again, his video clips make it clear that he attempts to progress the ball and be vertical whenever possible, and the data corroborates that. But here comes the highlight of the article: his keypassing numbers.
What should be clarified right away here is that “dangerous passes” is a nickname I am using for all sorts of progressive and productive passes. This includes passes that lead to shots, assists and pre-assists, progressive passes etc. Let’s have a look at his numbers:
Here we see his greatest asset: his passing abilities to do something productive. And Pedri is outstanding at almost every single category. He ranks very highly in productive passes (which are passes leading to shots + 2nd assists + 3rd assists), passes to the final third and the penalty area, through balls, deep progressions and progressive passes, while also maintaining a reasonably good accuracy at each kind of pass.
This is arguably what attracted Barcelona, and the club will be well served by a passer who is already at this stage of calibre at such an early age. Let’s take a deeper look at his passes that led to shots and goals:
14 of his 19 key passes were into the penalty area – arguably the most dangerous area to take shots from. Only one of the key passes is a corner kick – everything else comes from open play, which is encouraging.
Watching the videos, three of the key passes that end outside the box came from fast breaks – counter-attacks – where Pedri carried the ball upfield from deep and laid it onto the path of his teammate, or found his teammate with accurate long balls from deep. So, even though they were far from the box, they led to extremely dangerous plays by Las Palmas.
Focusing on just the assists, it is easy to see how Pedri combines his speed at ball-carrying with his silky dribbling skills to get past opposition and create crucial amounts of space before finding a teammate with a laser-accurate pass:
And as a special gift to the readers, here is an animation of the assist that happens at the top right corner of the pitch in the viz above. Pedri makes a well-timed run to latch on to his teammate’s pass outside the box, before pulling off an outrageous piece of skill to dribble past his marker with a ‘Berbatov-flick-and-turn’, runs into the box and lays the ball off through two opposition players for his teammate to smash a goal in.
Pedri is an absolute gem, and along with Ansu Fati, Riqui Puig, Francisco Trincão and Frenkie de Jong, may well end up forming the core of a youth-based team. As such, Barcelona will do well to hold on to him and nurture him well. After an already promising – unofficial – debut against Nàstic de Tarragona on Saturday, culés can only hope for him to have a great season and future ahead.
Acknowledgements: I would like to acknowledge the contribution of Samuel Gustafson, writer at Barça Universal, in collating the data and the videos used in the above article