VFL Wolfsburg – Match Report Vs. Borussia Dortmund (08/11/22)

Wolfsburg ran out 2-0 winners in a tactically proficient showing from Nico Kovac’s Wolfsburg and a resolute defensive block. This win broke a longstanding poor run of form against BVB as prior to this win they had not beat their compatriots since defeating Jurgen Klopp’s Dortmund in 2014. Going into the game, the Wolves had picked up a rich vein of form winning back to back games prior after an extremely rocky start to their Bundesliga campaign with only one win in their opening seven fixtures of the season. Their resurgence is well on its way; this victory alleviating them into the top half of the Bundesliga with their occupation of the relegation playoff spot in the extremely recent memory. The goalscorers were Micky Van de Den and Lukas Nmecha. Conversely, Dortmund could have gone equal on points with Bayern Munich with a victory (albeit the Barbarians would go onto win their game in hand) yet with a loss, Dortmund sit 6th in the league 6 points off the omnipotent Bayern Munich. According to Fotmob, Wolfsburg were fair winners as they amassed almost 1 more expected goal; the exact ‘xG Scoreline’ was 2.54-1.58. I analysed Micky Van de Den in this game.

Ratings:

  • A1 – Very good, could play higher
  • A2 – Strong potential to play higher
  • B1 – Good, strong player at level
  • B2 – Potential to be a strong player at level
  • C – Average for the level, rewatch
  • D – Below average in this match

Micky Van De Ven

Player Profile:

  • Nationality: Dutch
  • Age: 21
  • Date of birth: 19/04/2001
  • Current club: VFL Wolfsburg
  • Career: FC Volendam, VFL Wolfsburg
  • Position: Centre Back
  • Secondary position: Left Back
  • Preferred foot: Left

Micky Van de Ven has been a name on my radar for a long while now since his early days at Volendam. Anyone familiar with the dutchman will know of his unique playstyle which I will delve into shortly. Micky Van de Ven joined Wolfsburg after an impressive season in the Eerste Divisie in which he was named best talent of the year for the 2020/21 season and captained the club at only 20 years old. The summer acquisition played a minuscule role last season- featuring for only 189 minutes across the possible 3060 Bundesliga minutes yet this season has been an absolute breakthrough this season. This season, he has played every minute of the Bundesliga season; indicative of not only his talent and proficiency but also his fitness and youthfulness. At the age of only 21, ‘locking down’ a starting role in the back line of a prestigious Bundesliga club is no mean feat. Without further ado, I will get onto the analysis of his performance vs Borussia Dortmund.

Whilst there is great focus placed on Micky’s proficiency on the attacking side of the ball ( and rightly so), it is important to evaluate his defensive ability as this is his primary function despite his eagerness to go forward. I will come on to some risqué, avant-garde positioning choices yet when within a larger integral defensive structure he showed strong leadership, understanding and acted synergistically as Wolfsburg’s defensive line effectively delegated marking responsibilities of ever-roaming Youssoufa Moukoko whilst remaining intact and not allowing his movements to dictate and disintegrate the defensive line. Unfortunately, this delegation was not always successful due to Moukoko’s innate deceptive ability which often left himself isolated 1v1 with Van De Ven. Anyone who has the vaguest eye on the Bundesliga will know of Moukoko’s ruthlessness and lethal nature yet Van De Ven was able to dictate how Moukoko acted rather than vice-versa thus perpetuating a sense of socio-affective superiority on his biggest rival. Van De Ven achieved this via a number of technical adaptations.

Firstly and arguably most noticeably is his anticipation and lack of overeagerness in these duels (which absolutely juxtaposes his nature in more open play and on the attacking side of the ball). Van De Ven operates with a slight kink in his knees which allows him to adopt a position which facilitates motion in practically 360º-therefore he jockeys Moukoko and dictates which way Moukoko goes and thus when feasible sends him on to his weaker foot and/or away from goal and coincidingly anticipates points when Moukoko either cuts in or cuts back and at this point dives in as this is the point at which Moukoko’s ball security is most vulnerable which resulted in a number of turnovers- he rarely dived in if there was a risk of a goalscoring opportunity yet further up the pitch and in more crowded areas he was willing to jump from the blindside of the attacker (who often faced away from goal) and attempt to dispossess them of the ball- coming away with it regularly. His excellent anticipation was portrayed by a number of interceptions all over the pitch. Furthermore, Van De Ven used his bodily strength and innate vertical superiority to compete in aerial duels albeit he did not always come out with the ball I felt he was strong and arguably dominant in such duels and from a statistical forefront it is perhaps unfair to suggest he lost both of his aerial duels-albeit Fotmob would suggest so. I felt that Van De Ven’s key to defensive solidity and proficiency was the sheer abundance of scanning which he undertook-aiding the aforementioned delegation of marking assignments but also to perceive threats in and around the box and adjust accordingly which already placed him in advantageous positions prior to the ball being delivered or the dribble being undertook. Moreover, due to his incredible speed and acceleration capabilities he acted as a sweeper when Wolfsburg either sloppily gave the ball away or their southmost line was penetrated by Dortmund- often recovering with exemplary pace and preventing a goal-scoring opportunity.

As is such a desired profile in modern-day football, Micky Van De Ven perfectly encapsulates a strong, proficient, confident and expansive ball player and ball-carrying, left-footed centre back. He operated all but exclusively on the left hand side, in the left half-space. He evidently has a cognitive, subconscious bias towards playing off his left-foot as it was clear to see that if feasible he would let the ball come across him so he could play with his favoured foot. Nonetheless, he showed an impressive degree of bipedality when required making a vital clearance and a number of short balls with his right foot with a strong sense of adroitness. His ball-carrying is direct, forceful and full of intent. Van De Ven effectively combines long, powerful strides aided by his large frame with immense closeness to the ball and an impressive composure. He often pre-meditatively dribbles towards his closest opposition player aiming to draw the press which vacates space at which point he often laterally releases the ball and progression is achieved via this space in behind with a synergistic combination. Nevertheless, Van De Ven is not insistent on progression and had the tactical nouse and knowhow to often opt for a ‘recycling’ option if a feasible ball was not on indicative of his maturity despite his youthfulness. Thus, Van De Ven is often used in the first stage of Wolfsburg’s build up from deep. I felt that he had a strong passing range when required but is most effective in shorter intricate phases of play rather than long, switching diagonals. Nevertheless, he has only built on his offensive ability displayed at Volendam and remains ever as confident and assertive with the ball at his feet.

Since his early days at Volendam, Van De Ven has been considered an enigma- with his extreme proclivity to act proactively- on both sides of the ball- the offensive side of such actions is aforementioned above. Yet, in a defensive manner it is extremely surprising to continuously see his willingness to jump out of the defensive line and ventures into area afar. Pertinently, in the early second half (as the screenshot below exemplifies) Van De Ven voluntarily operated as a de facto left-winger as if they were reacting to a pre-assigned tactical pressing trigger when in fact he had just rushed out of his normal position in Wolfsburg’s deepest bank of 4. There was a myriad of similar occasions where Van De Ven was extremely keen to disband tactical structure and integrity and opt for a odd-man rush (if you will)- of which only some were successful . In his time in the Eerste Divisie, this subversive and counter-normative positional behaviour was easily excusable due to the decreased qualitative superiority that team’s would impose to his team if they were to break the emerging ‘press’ by Micky. Yet, irrefutably in the Bundesliga, there is a greater level of quality and therefore the risk is exponentially greater if a team is able to break these lines which will likely lead to a numerical attacking superiority which could easily be explored. Therefore, albeit a refreshing sight-I believe that to progress further and assure that he can continue to thrive at the highest level and not become overly-exposed by such action-he should begin to refrain or limit the extremity to which he jumps out. Notwithstanding this risk, Micky Van De Ven exhibited terrific recovery pace-according to ‘Bundesliga’s speed trap’ he achieved a club season-high speed of 34.89 kilometres/hour- which often allowed him to rejoin the defensive structure (to some extent) with minimal damage or progression occurring. It is important that Van De Ven finds an efficient median point between his innate ability to recover and bail himself out and outright bullishness and naiveté.

It would be a disservice to the dutchman to not mention his goal which gave Wolfsburg the lead in the 6th minute of play. The ball was flicked on from an attacking corner- Van De Ven with an almost instantaneous reaction body feinted and used some abrasive power to bypass his opposite man- Niklas Süle which vacated him unmarked space at the backpost to move into and he was in the right place in the right time to nod his team ahead and net his first goal for Die Weißgrünen.

 Rating – A2

I think Micky Van De Ven has the skillset to play at the highest level as it would be an offence to suggest he was only a ‘jack of all trades’ as he is at a much greater level of proficiency to the point of mastery in many facets of the game. The only caveat which prevented me awarding him the A1 rating was his over-eagerness and naiveté in jumping out of the defensive line which at a higher level could be fatal yet I expect this tactical knowhow and adoption of positional convention to improve with age and experience. Nevertheless, I feel excited about Micky Van De Ven as a prospect and vindicated of my belief of him during his Volendam days.

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