Zian Flemming has been a crucial part of Fortuna Sittard’s side in the Dutch Eredivisie the past two years and ended this season on an absolute high. With the winning goal and a fantastic save on the goal line Flemming and Fortuna Sittard just avoided relegation on the last matchday of the season.
Flemming joined the Ajax academy when he was around 10 years old but never made it to the first team. After becoming the champions of the Dutch 2nd tier with Jong Ajax, Flemming made the move to PEC Zwolle. His first season in Zwollew wasn’t very successful, so the year after he got a loan move to N.E.C Nijmegen, who played in the second tier at the time. With thirteen goals in 24 matches Flemming had a great year in the Keuken Kampioen Divisie but at the start of the next season it didn’t look like he was going to get a lot of playing time for PEC. Fortuna Sittard signed him close to the end of the transfer window and didn’t regret it.
Fortuna eventually brought Flemming in to play as a right-winger, since they lacked quality on the wings. The 23-year-old quickly found his spot in midfield though and in his first match as a ’10’ he scored two crucial goals in a 3-3 draw against AZ Alkmaar. With 27 goals and ten assists in two seasons, Flemming has been Fortuna Sittard’s most impactful player and he was a big reason they were able to stay in the league this season. His performances this year even got him a place in the Whoscored.com Eredivisie team of the season.
Zian Flemming differs from the ‘average’ attacking midfielder in his physical presence. He stands at 6’1”/1,85m tall an athletic build. He is quite the powerhouse in midfield and uses his body very well in duels or to shield the ball in smaller spaces. He is easily able to outmuscle smaller opponents and you will not see him lose his balance quickly. The 23-year-old is also very strong in aerial duels. He has a good leap and times his jumps very well. Offensively he also poses quite the threat in the air. He heads the ball down, when going for goal, whilst also accurately aiming it in the corner of the goal. If you look at the data on his offensive- and aerial duels and compare him to other players in the Eredivisie who played as attacking midfielders, you see he mainly stands out in the air.
Flemming is a real hard worker on the pitch as well. He covers a lot of ground and is always quick in transitions, offensively and defensively. In the past season, he hasn’t been subbed off once. Even after coming back from a five-week injury, when he was only going to play the first 60 minutes he still was able to finish the match, showing his great stamina and fitness. Looking at the pace he isn’t the fastest player but still possesses decent acceleration and good top speed. You won’t often see him beat his opponent purely on his pace but if he makes a well-timed run in behind his opponent they will have a hard time catching up.
Coming from the Ajax youth academy you would expect Flemming to have solid technical fundamentals, and he definitely does. His first touch is something that really stands out for me. He does really well controlling long passes or switches and is easily able to turn the way he wants with his touch. He is also not afraid to control the ball with his weaker left foot and does so well. His good scanning and spatial awareness before taking his touch also allow him to easily find his teammates with a header or first touch flick-on, if he has little space or sees that his teammates are in a good position. He is fine receiving the ball with his back to his goal and isn’t afraid of physical- or aerial duels, which I touched upon earlier. His distribution of the ball is also quite solid. Also here he is comfortable playing normal passes with both feet. He has the ability to play good switches but is a little inconsistent with these. Flemming has good vision to spot out his teammates making runs in the final third but should be a bit more accurate with his passes in the final third.
With the ball at his feet Flemming is also very comfortable. His dribbling is good and also uses his left foot when he has the ball when he needs to, making him more unpredictable. He has tight control of the ball but in tighter spaces sometimes takes a touch which is a bit too heavy, which he then instantly tries to recover by shielding the ball with his body. Usually when Flemming has the ball on the edge of the box with a bit of space, he takes a touch and tries to shoot. Mostly with his right foot, but he good shot in his left foot as well. This season though, especially at the start of it, there were a few situations in transition where he did very poorly in a 1v1 with a defender around the edge of the box. In this example below against PEC Zwolle, he gets a deep pass on the right-wing. After taking a bit too long, he then tries to cut inside to his left foot but the touch wasn’t good and he loses the ball. Later on in the season, he seemed to regain some confidence but there were a few similar situations this season in which he should’ve done better.
When Flemming gets or creates the opportunity to shoot though, he gets really dangerous. He strikes the ball with a lot of power and often tries to take shots from outside of the box. He is a great finisher from inside the box with both feet and showed that this season as well. He overperformed his xG of 10.62 with 12 goals in the league even though he had a few 1v1s with the goalkeeper which he didn’t covert.
One of my favourite goals of Flemming this season was his first this campaign he scored away against Heracles. After a long pass on the left, he didn’t hesitate for a moment and played the ball through the legs of the goalkeeper, who didn’t have any business of getting out of his goal here, and somehow scored via the inside of the post.
In his two seasons at Fortuna Sittard Flemming mostly played as the attacking midfielder in Sjors Ultee’s 4-2-3-1 formation. This year Fortuna played in a 5-3-2 formation for quite a while though, in which he would either play as a second striker or as one of the three midfielders. As a striker, he can perform fairly well as a type of target man holding up the ball but he can definitely have the most impact as a ’10’. Without the ball, he often smartly roams to the wings to create space in the middle and be able to receive the ball. He liked to receive the ball at his feet but he makes very well-timed runs in behind the opponent’s defence as well, like in the two examples earlier. He does well to often stay between two defenders and to try and stay in their blindspots.
In fast transitions, when Fortuna has the ball on the wings, he often arrives exactly in time around the edge of the box where he usually has quite some space to take a shot. A perfect example of this is his goal in the final match of the season against N.E.C, where striker Gladon gets the ball in the box and then drops it back to Flemming who slots it home with his left foot.
Flemming never wore the captain’s armband for Fortuna in an official match but he really is one of the most influential players in the squad. He is always working hard and coaching his teammates, in a positive way trying to motivate them. He is always working hard and puts enough aggression in his duels.
Zian Flemming has been one of the most impactful attacking midfielders in the Dutch Eredivisie the past two seasons, which the graph below also shows, and is ready for a new challenge. He is a powerful attacking midfielder with strong technical fundamentals and is a fantastic professional. He is able to play as an attacking midfielder, striker and also as a more box-to-box type of midfielder, making him quite versatile. His passing and 1v1s against defenders in the final third are definitely some areas in his game that he can improve on though.
Flemming should be an interesting option for a lot of clubs next summer, as he will be relatively cheap for a player of his calibre. There will be interest from clubs in the Netherlands, without a doubt, but clubs in the English Championship and Serie A also reportedly have been interested in him last year. If he stays in the Netherlands clubs like FC Twente or AZ could be a very nice step to him, but I can see him succeed in some clubs in the top five leagues as well. In an interview with the Dutch press he said he would be open to a transfer in the Netherlands or to go abroad, as long as everything feels right.