Owen Wijndal – Player Report

Player profile

Owen Wijndal was born on 28 November 1999 in Zaandam, The Netherlands. After playing in the youth for local club ZVV Zaandijk, he moved to HFC Haarlem before moving to the youth academy of AZ Alkmaar in 2010. The 20-year-old Dutchman made his professional debut for Jong AZ in the Tweede Divisie (third tier) in the 2016/17 season, in which Jong AZ dominated the league with the likes of Teun Koopmeiners, Guus Til, Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu.

In the same season, the prospect made his debut for the first team of AZ as well. He is the youngest debutant for AZ ever, as he started for them in the Eredivisie match against PSV at the age of just 17. He would eventually play only one match for the first team in the 2016/17 season, while playing 24 matches for the second team of AZ. In the next season, Jong AZ would play in the Jupiler League (second tier) as they got promoted after the 2016/17 season.

The second tier of Dutch football has often turned out to be the ideal stepping stone for young Dutch players who play for a big club. Players like Donny van de Beek, Matthijs de Ligt and Donyell Malen all first played for Jong Ajax or PSV which really helped them in becoming more mature as a football player and getting used to senior football. For Wijndal, this was also the case. He played sixteen matches for Jong AZ in the 2017/18 season, while also playing seven matches for the first team of AZ in the Eredivisie.

However, he did not really manage to get a place in the starting line-up for the first team of AZ, as Thomas Ouwejan was the first left-back and made a solid impression for the club from Alkmaar Zaanstreek. In 2018/19, Wijndal again only played eight matches for the first team in AZ. From the last six matches, Wijndal started in three of them which was a breakthrough for the then 19-year-old. He showed progression and that he was ready to be a starter for AZ.

In the 2019/20 season, he got his real breakthrough. In the first few matches, his competitor Thomas Ouwejan played as a central midfielder while Wijndal was playing as a left-back. He impressed in these matches and when Ouwejan did not have to play as a central midfielder anymore because of the Dani de Wit signing, he got benched rather than taking over Wijndal’s position at left-back. In 2019/20, he has played 39 matches in which he made one goal and gave eight assists.

Tactics of AZ

AZ Alkmaar have developed a quite similar playing style as Ajax in the recent year under the reign of Arne Slot. The ex-Zwolle midfielder had been the assistent of John van den Brom at AZ between 2017 and 2019, but the head coach left AZ for FC Utrecht last summer. AZ decided to promote Arne Slot and after a tough start in which they nearly got knocked out of the qualifying round in the Europa League against Antwerp, Slot developed the playing style very well.

The runner-up of the Eredivisie this season play in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They like to dominate possession and build it out from the back and their goal is to find Idrissi and Stengs, who are the most creative players of AZ. From this area, most attacks of AZ become dangerous as they have a lot of variation in the final third. They are either found playing in the halfspaces from where they have three options which will be explained below.

They can cut inside to shoot, in which especially Oussama Idrissi has been successful. The second option is to cut inside to play a through pass to Myron Boadu or Dani de Wit, who like to make a run in behind and are quite effective at making those runs. Calvin Stengs has proved that he is able to find his teammates in space with good through passes. The third option is to wait for an overlapping run of either Jonas Svensson on the right or Owen Wijndal on the left.

When the latter is done, Wijndal gets into a position in which he needs to cut back and pass it backwards to try another approach to get into space, or he gives a cross. In the situations that Wijndal chooses for the latter, there are two possibilities. He either lays it off towards the front post at the height of the penalty spot or he plays it across the goal to the far post. This has proved to be very effective, even in the important matches against PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord.

In defence, AZ play a very high defensive line when they play against weaker sides, while they have had a more passive approach against the likes of Ajax and PSV. Against Ajax, they only had 38% possession and chose for a very direct approach. This approach was proved to be successful, as they managed to beat a struggling Ajax side comfortably with 0-2 away from home. As mentioned, AZ play a very high defensive line against weaker sides.

In this playing style, Wijndal needs to put pressure high up the pitch and chose the right moments to put pressure, to make sure that the defensive structure keeps intact and that AZ won’t get hit on the counter. However, against teams that are strong on the counter like Heerenveen, both Wijndal and the rest of AZ’s defence seemed to struggle. Why Wijndal sometimes struggles in defence, will be explained in the analysis down below.

Wijndal’s role in AZ their attacking style of play

Moving on to the role of Owen Wijndal in AZ’s attack and we will separate the different phases of their attack first. First, we will look at the first phase of the build-up by AZ. When the club from Alkmaar Zaanstreek builds it out from the back, Wijndal positions himself quite low on the pitch to provide an extra passing option for Teun Koopmeiners, who played as a left central defender in this match. Normally, Ron Vlaar and Stijn Wuytens form a central duo, especially after Hatzidiakos got injured in November 2019.

Also, it can be seen in the left screenshot that Koopmeiners (LCB), Wijndal (LB) and Stengs (LW in this image) form a triangle. Oussama Idrissi often operates on the left in the halfspaces, but he occasionally swaps positions with Calvin Stengs. This variety in positioning is what often happens in the final third with Owen Wijndal and Oussama Idrissi as well, but we will get into that later in this player report.

During the times that AZ get put under pressure, Owen Wijndal is actively trying to ask for the ball and he is eager to receive the ball. He offers width in these situations and often is in a lot of space to receive the ball whenever AZ get put under pressure. If he would have received the pass from Calvin Stengs in the right image, Owen Wijndal and Oussama Idrissi would have been in a 2v1 situation on the left wing.

When he receives the ball in a situation as described on the right, he likes to aggressively carry the ball forward to eventually pass it into Oussama Idrissi. He always helps out in the first phase of the build-up and does this slightly more than Jonas Svensson. In the first phase of the build-up, Owen Wijndal often passes it backwards as he does not like to take any risk on his own half. This is a good habit to an extent, but in situations as seen down below, he could have definitely played the pass towards Jordy Clasie, who then could have turned and passed it into Dani de Wit.

Owen Wijndal averages 1,99 progressive runs per 90 minutes and these runs definitely come from these situations, where he aggressively carries the ball forward.

In the first phase of the build-up, Owen Wijndal does not always provide width. As mentioned later in this article, Owen Wijndal and Oussama Idrissi form a great duo on the left and their positional game and variation in the middle, but also in the final third is very strong. In the situation down below, Owen Wijndal has moved into the halfspaces in an inverted role, while also moving higher up the pitch to create space for Oussama Idrissi to drop deeper while sticking close to the sideline.

In these kinds of situations, it is usual that Oussama Idrissi cuts inside on the ball while Owen Wijndal makes an inverted run to create space for the Moroccan to drive into. This variation of AZ in the middle third is hard to defend as it leaves the oppositions right winger and right-back with hard choices to make whether they should stay close to their opponent and leave their position, or if they should stay in position and apply zonal defending.

The same cooperation between the two comes back in a more advanced position on the field. When the right-back chooses to stay narrow like Dumfries did in the image down below, it leaves open a lot of space on the left for Wijndal to exploit. He likes to carry the ball forward whenever he receives the ball in this kind of position, but this does not mean that he blindly puts in crosses. Especially in the earlier stages of a game, Wijndal is passive in giving crosses and only does it when he spots a player in space.

The patterns in attack of AZ

Let’s move on to the most interesting part of this player report, which are the patterns of AZ in the final third. Owen Wijndal and Oussama Idrissi form an excellent duo for AZ Alkmaar on the left and there comes a lot of danger from the left-side. While Owen Wijndal has contributed to eight goals and assists in the Eredivisie, Oussama Idrissi has contributed to even more goals and assists with his 18 goals and assists in the 2019/20 season of the Eredivisie. In the following paragraphs, I will, with the help of some small clips, explain the patterns of AZ in the final third and why Idrissi and Wijndal form a great duo.

First, let’s talk about the overlapping runs of Owen Wijndal without mentioning the crosses, as we will go into his crossing patterns later. The first situation is where Oussama Idrissi starts out wide. What you need to know, is that the Moroccan winger is very dangerous when he gets the space to cut inside and shoot. Owen Wijndal arrives late and makes an overlapping run, while Idrissi threatens to go on the outside but times his through pass towards Wijndal to perfection.

This situation happens the most often and has proved to be very successful for AZ. He either arrives late like against Feyenoord and PSV and makes an overlapping run or he already is in the final third and makes an overlapping run from that area. Key to success is the timing of the through pass by Oussama Idrissi and the timing of the overlapping run by Owen Wijndal.

Moving on to his crosses from these areas, and it can be seen that there are two different approaches of Owen Wijndal when he plays a cross. In the following paragraphs, we’re going to take a look at them with the help of some clips.

In the clip down below, you can see that Oussama Idrissi holds up play very well while Owen Wijndal arrives late to make an overlapping run. Oussama Idrissi makes a move inside at the right time and immediately plays a through pass towards Wijndal. What is the most remarkable is that he keeps very composed and takes a few extra touches, which a lot of left-backs wouldn’t do in this situation. He waits and spots Boadu in space across goal and finds him. AZ scored a similar goal against Feyenoord and these types of crosses are being played by Wijndal often.

Wijndal is capable of playing low crosses to the far post, but has also proved to be able to chip the ball towards the far post, using his good kicking technique.

In the second clip, you can see a clip from the match of The Netherlands U21, which normally includes AZ-players like Dani de Wit, Myron Boadu and Calvin Stengs, next to Owen Wijndal. Owen Wijndal makes an overlapping run and lays it off to Dani de Wit, who was waiting near the penalty spot to receive the cross. These lay-off crosses towards Dani de Wit are something that also happens when they play together at AZ and form a good option, even though the first option happens more often in games than this one.

As we have now seen that Oussama Idrissi likes to start out wide while threatening to go on the inside, we can take a look at the same situation, but then with a different outcome. In these situations, Oussama Idrissi starts out close to the sideline, threatening to go on the inside and play a through pass or shoot. In these situations, there are three options.

  1. Oussama Idrissi cuts inside while Owen Wijndal makes an underlapping run to attract defenders and create space for the Moroccan.
  2. Oussama Idrissi threatens to cut inside, but plays a through pass towards Owen Wijndal who has made an underlapping run.
  3. Owen Wijndal has already positoined himself in an inverted role in the oppositions box and Oussama Idrissi looks to play a pass towards Wijndal to either receive the ball back or for Wijndal to shoot or create a chance.

To further explain what happens, I have attached one clip for each situation.

Owen Wijndal often creates space for Oussama Idrissi by making underlapping runs that attract the right winger of the opponent. In these situations, he often starts in an inverted role in which he can help in the build-up as well. He passes it towards Oussama Idrissi who sticks close to the sideline and he can attempt a dribble with pace, while Owen Wijndal attracts the right winger of Willem II by making an underlapping run and timing it well which allows Oussama Idrissi to cut inside and score.

A relatively similar situation can be seen in the clip down below. Owen Wijndal once again starts in an inverted role on the left to support the build-up, plays the pass towards Oussama Idrissi who is defended well as the inside is being covered by the ADO defender. However, the space to play a through pass is not covered and the other ADO player who covers Wijndal does not do well to stay in front of Wijndal. It can be seen in this clip that Wijndal possesses a great burst of speed. This situation happens less often than the first one, especially because Idrissi likes to cut inside to shoot himself and he is normally being defended by two players.

The third situation is a situation in which Owen Wijndal has an even higher starting position. In these situations, the young left-back is open to receive the pass from Oussama Idrissi and he does not make an underlapping run to eventually give the cross. He receives the pass and before he needs to make a touch, he checks his shoulder and assesses that Myron Boadu is in space. The striker mishits the shot and it goes far wide.

Wijndal is very active in the final third and offers great variation in combination with Oussama Idrissi. His presence in the final third can be seen as well because of his 3,87 crosses per 90 minutes and 5,34 final third passes per 90 minutes. He has great technical ability, is able to control the ball well under pressure and can play in the tight spaces well. He sometimes passes it towards the weak foot of his teammate under pressure which hinders AZ’s build up as in this case Clasie chose to move backwards while there was space forward.

His good kicking technique can be seen in his crosses and long passes. Wijndal can dribble very well, but does not try to get past a few opponents. He averages 1,96 dribbles per 90 minutes with a completion rate of 65%, but most of these will come from getting past a single player. He is agile and can keep his balance well, despite not being that tall and medium-build. He has good pace over medium-long distances and is able to drive forward well using this pace.

Wijndal’s role in AZ their defensive style of play

During the times that AZ lose the possession in the final third, the club from Alkmaar Zaanstreek are often very eager to regain possession. The front three have good acceleration to close down gaps quickly and the full-backs are very aggressive in putting pressure as well.

Taking a look at Wijndal’s starting position when the opponents are in possession on their own half and it can be seen that Owen Wijndal stays narrow whenever the opponent is in possession on their own half. However, it always seems like he is getting himself ready to put pressure on the opponent when his direct opponent receives the ball. This is part of Arne Slot’s tactics, but when opponents like LASK play with inverted wingers, this can leave his teammates isolated. It would be better for AZ if Owen Wijndal did not close the gap towards the right wing back and when they make sure that Oussama Idrissi covers the runs.

In other words, the decision-making of Owen Wijndal in these situations is questionable and it is easily exploitable for the opponent. This comes back in other situations as well and it is the biggest weakness of the promising left-back. Such a situation can be seen in an example against LASK Linz, where Idrissi loses the ball near the byline, but Wijndal still puts pressure on the opponent while the right winger is making a run. The right winger receives the ball, which drags Koopmeiners out of position, but luckily for AZ, they did not create a chance from this.

Owen Wijndal likes to cut the passing lanes whenever he gets the chance in situations like on the left, but even though he sometimes succeeds at doing so, the gap is so big that he is never able to close it down on time, but he still has the tendency to go for it and close down the gap in the passing lane so that he can still block the pass whenever he is too late. This definitely makes it harder for the opponent to play the right pass, but as mentioned above it leaves Koopmeiners isolated as well as the other two defenders and he should sometimes stay in position more.

This is something that he definitely needs to improve on, and I think that this is something that will improve over time. When he gets caught out of position, he often does not try his hardest to get back and this somewhat lazy attitude at times can hold him back in the future in a more intense league. With his acceleration, he should be capable of closing down gaps with the winger and should definitely try harder to do so.

Against stronger sides, such as Ajax, AZ defended in a 6-3-1 formation in which both wingers of AZ could be found standing next to the wing-backs, who needed to stay narrow and passive in defence. Owen Wijndal often is not disciplined enough to stay in position when playing against these sides, which could be seen against Ajax. He is very aggressive to step out of the defensive line and even though this is not necessarily a problem when you’re the better team and there is someone covering your back, it is a problem when you’re tasked to be disciplined and stay in position.

For example, Owen Wijndal left his position in the image down below after Ziyech dropped deeper. Donny van de Beek immediately dove into that gap. The passing lane towards Ziyech was cut by Dani de Wit so Wijndal should have stayed in position (the rectangle in the image). Now, Van de Beek was in possession in a dangerous area on the pitch. This does not happen that often in a game, but bad decision-making in his positioning is a habit that comes back more often in his playing style, as mentioned above.

In other words, he is a very positive defender who likes to step out the defensive line and put pressure on the opponent. He has a tougher time when he needs to stay in position and defend more, which means that he would only suit in attacking-minded teams such as AZ and Ajax.

When Wijndal needs to defend in an 1v1 duel, he is very aggressive and he always tries to recover possession as quickly as possible. This is often a very successful approach as he wins 66,8% of his 6,28 defensive duels per 90 minutes. Especially players with bad mobility and non press-resistant payers will have a tough time when playing against Owen Wijndal. However, against either quick opponents like Mitchell van Bergen or agile players with very quick feet like Ché Nunnely, Owen Wijndal struggles.

His aggressive approach in the duels and sometimes bad decision-making have led to nine yellow cards this season as well. However, his aggressive approach in the duels and his in general positive approach can lead to good things as well, which are worth mentioning as well as his weaknesses. His impressive acceleration allows Owen Wijndal to close down gaps quickly as you can see in the image down below, where Pablo Rosario of PSV shields off the ball while Owen Wijndal closes the gap towards Ihattaren to make sure that he can’t receive the ball.

Where should he move next?

To conclude, Owen Wijndal is an attacking left-back, who has impressed for AZ this season. He has shown incredible composure in the final third, is able to spot his teammates in space in the oppositions box and the left-back has very good acceleration and technical ability. There is no question that with his attacking ability, he would be a great fit for attacking-minded teams. However, in defence he has shown some weaknesses such as average positioning and decision-making.

In other words, I would like to see him either stay with AZ for another year to hopefully play Champions League football and gain more experience in the defensive aspect of football, or I would like to see him make a step up in The Netherlands which essentially means that Ajax are the second option for him. He has the potential to be the first-choice left-back of The Netherlands and can definitely play for at least a top 16 club in Europe in the top 5 competitions in Europe.

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