Another delightful Ajax prospect in terms of technique, vision and cognitive abilities, how high is the ceiling of 16-year-old Kian Fitz-Jim, and could he be fitted to play at Barça one day? This tactical analysis will expose why you should keep an eye on him.
Sometimes a player catches your eye from the very first time you watch them play. Personally, there have been a few such instances, namely Carles Aleñá, Maxence Caquaret, Yacine Adli, and numerous players from La Masía.
Around a year ago, the elegance, awareness and technique of AZ Alkmaar immediately caught my eye. Since then, this player named Kian Fitz-Jim has gone on to make his debut for Ajax’s U19 at 16 years of age. In this article, we will take a look at what makes him a player to keep an eye on.
Kian Fitz-Jim is a 16-year-old Dutch central midfielder who can also play in attacking positions. He has represented the Netherlands at the U15, U16 and U17 levels. At AZ Alkmaar, he played predominantly as a central midfielder or as a wide playmaker on the left. Though very attack-minded, Fitz-Jim isn’t a goalscoring type of midfielder, rather more of an orchestrator.
At Ajax, however, some changes were made to his play. He was played on the right side of midfield more frequently and he was also instructed to drop back to receive the ball from the center-backs of the defensive midfielder. This added a new dimension to his style of play. In the preliminary round of the U17 Eredivisie he just had one assist in 11 matches. Nevertheless, in the U17 Eredivisie, he has managed three goals and three assists in six matches.
Though he has made his U19 debut, he still plays majorly for the U17 side. Next season should see him play for the U19 more often and in a year more he could even join Ajax for preseason if he continues at this rate. Kian has a contract for three years signed in 2019, so he has enough time to make sure he gets a renewal.
Good physical attributes, even better mental attributes
Kian Fitz-Jim is, particularly, a very fun player to watch. His attributes in attack bring out the best of his winger-like traits.
One of the most impressive things about Kian is his excellent decision making. When we talk about the attacking aspect of footballers, of course, their technique, ball control and such are important. No doubt that this young Dutchman has a good grasp on those skills. Yet his awareness, vision and understanding of the game shine brighter. Above all, arguably his best quality may be his quick thinking. He always is two steps faster than almost anyone on the field with a clear vision of what he is going to do before he does it.
Many times, Fitz-Jim just drifts into space in between the opposition’s midfielders in the half-spaces. Regardless of how quick he is pressed, he already knows what to do next. It may be a simple pass back to his teammate or he may let it run past and dribble followed by a pass to take out the defence. Whatever he does, Kian does with a lot of confidence. Naturally, this only amplifies his already great passing, dribbling and vision.
Ajax’s Kian Fitz-Jim stands out for his technique, vision and intelligence | Photo by Imago
At AZ Alkmaar, Kian played on the left and this helped him cut inside or receive the ball in front of the defence and thread a ball through. At Ajax, though he still dribbles well, his passes are more often lay-offs and impressive line-breaking passes, and not the killer passes as earlier. At the age of 16, he is nowhere near the finished product that he will eventually be, and such changes in his position are normal. Besides, his quick lobs and chips are an excellent asset to finish off his runs with. His great accuracy and always promising excellent vision makes Kian a delight to the eye.
Furthermore, the Dutchman has great dribbling skills. With very quick feet, he darts past players with the ball often and this, combined with his close control, makes him a huge threat in transitioning from attack to defence. These talents of his allow the manager to instruct him to receive the ball in the middle of the field. From here, his passing and dribbling help the team progress and his awareness helps him to not be dispossessed easily.
Kian’s passing and ball control are close to perfect at times, which helps him in the build-up and offensive aspects both.
The first touch when receiving a pass is very important and even more so for a midfielder. Kian Fitz-Jim excels in this aspect and his first touch, along with his technical ability, is particularly impressive. His ball control, passing range and utilisation of space all complement each other, making him such an outstanding player at a young age. Fitz-Jim’s first touch is such that it sets up his next move, in yet another example of how he uses his quick thinking to stay a step ahead of the opposition all the time.
While still just a boy, Kian’s future looks very promising | Photo by Imago
Kian’s passing has always excelled. His technique is good, sure. But his passing range is excellent. With pinpoint long balls, killer through passes and quick chips over the defence, this is one of his strongest virtues. As he has been instructed to drop back to receive the ball this season, the Dutchman has got a chance to showcase this. This is just another way he contributes to the transitions. The 16-year-old’s superb vision allows him to use his technique to thread through great passes.
Along with this, Fitz-Jim’s increase in comfort with respect to his left foot has been a revelation this season. Predominantly right-footed, Kian has done very well in terms of using his left foot more often this term. Playing on the right has made this somewhat of a necessity. He has been very confident in passing between the lines. His line-breaking deliveries are excellent and are one of the reasons why he has contributed to Ajax‘s U17 this campaign regardless of his lesser goal-contribution involvement.
At 16 years of age, Kian has impressed anyone who has seen him play. His elegance, awareness and technique are undoubtedly excellent. The fact that he plays for Ajax and his general style of play makes him a player who Barcelona could look at in the future. The excellent relationship between both clubs could definitely help this in case Barça were to be interested in him one day. His utilisation of space, passing skills and attack-minded style should be something that will help him settle in with the Catalans.
For now, Kian has to prove himself at a higher level and impress the Ajax administration. Looking at his progress, he may be playing more centrally and less advanced soon, which should suit his skills as well. Regardless of how this young prospect develops, Kian Fitz-Jim is surely a player to enjoy watching. Definitely keep an eye on this one.
Ronald Koeman and the 4–2–3–1: A new system at Barcelona
During the three preseason games, Ronald Koeman has opted for a change in formation at Barcelona, as a 4–2–3–1 line-up has been implemented by the Dutch coach. This article looks at some of the strengths and weaknesses of the formation so far.
The 4–2–3–1 formation has been used by many top teams around the world. It offers a defensively strong set-up as well as providing good width. In the first three games since his appointment, Ronald Koeman has chosen this set-up. This is a change for Barcelona, who usually play in a 4–3–3 formation.
Thus far, players seem to be adapting to the change, but the first real test for Koeman will be on Sunday 27th September against Villareal. During the pre-season friendlies, there was a lot of rotations, so it is not clear who the favoured starting eleven is yet. However, it looks as though the manager has found his formation for the season, unless something major changes.
The new change in the system could have several benefits for the current team. One of the positives to the new formation is that it allows players to be played in their favoured positions. Frenkie de Jong is one player that could excel in the double pivot role.
After a mediocre season, De Jong will now be moved to his best position. At Ajax, and for the Netherlands, the barça midfielder produced his best performances when given a free-roaming role as a double pivot. He is most comfortable in this position as the Dutchman thrives in the defensive and middle areas of the pitch, but not so much in the final third.
Two other players that could improve under the new formation are Philippe Coutinho and Antione Griezmann. The 4–2–3–1 formation plays with an attacking midfield or second striker. This is Coutinho’s and Griezmann’s best position. Under the 4–3–3 formation, they were forced to play out wide, and it did not suit either of them. Playing them centrally will be key in helping them find their best form again this campaign.
Philippe Coutinho, named Man of the match in the Trofeu Joan Gamper game against Elche, could be one of the most benefitted players by Koeman’s change of formation | Photo by David Ramos via Getty Images
The set-up of the formation also provides more defensive stability than the usual 4–3–3. Having two holding midfielders helps to limit teams counter attacks. It strengthens the centre of the pitch too. The two midfielders in front of the centre-backs make it difficult for the opposition to break through this area.
In an attacking sense, the full-backs can be more confident in pushing forward. There will be an extra midfielder available in defence if they get caught out positionally. Furthermore, a more dynamic attack can be formed with players like Lionel Messi, Griezmann and Coutinho all being interchangeable. Having that extra attacker should allow Ronald Koeman to play with a pacey winger such as Ansu Fati or Ousmane Dembélé. The Catalan side’s lack of pace in attack has been an issue for several seasons now.
Though there are positives, there could also be some downsides to the change in formation. Most notably, a lack of opportunities for Barça’s young and talented midfielders. Riqui Puig, Carles Aleñá and Pedri may have less minutes, according to the manager. This is due to their natural position, as interiors in midfield, no longer being used.
“Him [Riqui Puig], [Carles] Aleñá, Pedri…I have told them that it’s difficult for them and there’s lots of competition. At 20 years of age, the young players have to play”Ronald Koeman, after leaving Riqui Puig out of the squad for Saturday’s Trofeu Joan Gamper against elche
Though they could adapt to the pivot role or the number 10 role, it seems Koeman would prefer others who are natural to these positions. Sergio Busquets, Miralem Pjanić and De Jong will play most of the minutes as the defensive midfielders. Additionally, Griezmann, Coutinho and Messi are likely to occupy most of the minutes in the attacking midfield role. This is a huge blow for the Barcelona youngsters who deserve first-team minutes.
Another issue that has already highlighted itself is the removal of a midfielder for an extra attacker. This can leave large pockets of space in the middle section of the pitch. This can either be exploited by the opposition to attack into or limit the options for the blaugranas in the build-up play. For example, if the two pivots get dragged over to one area of the pitch, this can leave large gaps on the other side.
This could cause problems if Barça want to transition the ball quickly to open the game up. What Koeman has essentially done is to take one of the links in the deeper build-up play and move it into the final third instead. Only time will tell if this pays off as Barcelona start the new campaign soon.
The new formation implemented by Ronald Koeman will shake things up at Barcelona. Though the main principles will likely remain the same, such as high pressing and dominating the ball, some parts will change. The formation helps some players find their best positions in the team while also sacrificing others. Defensively, it should help Barça become less open to counter attacks.
Going forward, the team looks more fluid and comfortable. Although, players will need to be spatially aware. Large areas of space have already emerged in the middle of the pitch during preseason and could cause issues for the team later on.