This article was originally published in August 2019 here.
Malen is a 20 year old Dutch youth international winger who can also play up front. He started at Ajax’s academy before moving to Arsenal despite interested from Manchester United and Chelsea. He was part of Arsenal’s preseason squad in 2017 before moving back to Holland to PSV for a just £540k despite his great record for Arsenal’s youth.
He’s now one of the most promising forwards in the Eredivisie who will likely make headlines this season in my opinion and have a host of clubs chasing him soon. I included him in the second part of my 10 Talents series.
He has primarily played on either wing in the Eredivisie but has played the opening 8 games this season up front in a 4231.
He is fast, decent off the mark and likes to run with the ball in space and get behind the lines. Playing as the striker, he’s clever when in the opposition defensive lines, pinning centre backs and making runs into space. His movement is good and has good vision across the line to identify gaps. Going for curved runs to get in behind as seen below.
He plays well off of other players and links up well with Bergwijn when he plays off him as the attacking midfielder. He can receive with his back to goal well and take on the turn, but lacks the strength to hold on centre halves and hold up play. He relies on his good shifting of the ball with both feet and body feints to resist pressure and create space, which he does well. Malen was also good at making unselfish runs in the final third to draw defenders and create space on the counter.
From the wing, he links well with his over/underlapping full back and likes to cut in with powerful runs at the defence. He’s right footed but has a good left foot and is a great goal scoring threat from the wide areas. As seen last season with 0.55 xG per 90. He did overperform scoring 10 goals from 6.7 xG but his expected output was still great.
On top of this he created 0.33 expected assists per 90 while attempting 3.1 passes into the box and 7.1 dribbles. He progresses the ball well and thrives in quick phases, making 3 progressive runs per 90.
Below you can see his shot map from the eight games this season, all at striker. He’s underperformed expected goals so far but it’s a small sample size playing in a new position. His shots from range tend to be blocked easily with several defenders between him and goal. But, a more in depth xG model might be more favourable to his chances, often taking chances on quick attacks with few or no defenders between him and the goalkeeper. He could have done better in some 1v1 chances, but 2 shots were parried by the goalkeeper into PSV players who finished them off.
Below is his shot map from last season just in the Eredivisie, where played on the wings in all but one game. He had a 25% conversion rate and overperformed his expected goals. Compared to this season, there is a lower rate of shots from range and 45% of shots being in the danger zone, compared to 31% this season as a striker.
Although good with his head he isn’t strong in aerial duels. He has won just 18.9% of aerial duels this season, but is decent at finding space in the box so can be effective if he can be unopposed.
Watching him this season, he looks like a winger playing up front (which he is). But he’s not a natural striker. Yet. He has good movement to get behind the line but doesn’t have great movement in the box you see in an instinctual striker. He does find space in the box though, can travel with the ball in tight spaces and create shots for himself by getting in behind and running at goal.
Also, he likes to drop between the lines, receive on the turn and run at the defence or spread play wide. He does have good vision at times and tries some nice through balls to wide players.
Overall, Donyell Malen is a talented goalscoring player and versatile. He needs another season or two in the Eredivisie but will be a great pickup for a big team. I personally prefer him on the wing, but that’s with his current ability. He’s still developing and learning the position, and there’s no reason he can’t make the transition. He links play well, can finish, dribble and drive at defences. His first touch and decision making in the final third could be better. As well as developing holdup play and physicality, and his movement in the box.
For me, he is a big candidate for a breakout season. I’d like to see him at Spurs to be an understudy to Kane and Son while offering depth across the forward line and is high up on my wishlist.