Despite joining the club in the summer of 2017, Tijjani Reijnders had only started 17 Eredivisie matches for AZ prior to the start of the recently concluded 22/23 season. Following the consecutive departures of Fredrik Midtsjö and Teun Koopmeiners to Galatasaray and Atalanta in the past couple of seasons, Reijnders was set to begin his first season as a starter in senior football at the age of 24. He would go on to play all but 12 minutes (3x more minutes than his 21/22 season) across AZ’s Eredivisie campaign in the center of midfield alongside the experienced Jordy Clasie. Remarkably, Reijnders only missed 75 minutes over his other 20 appearances in all competitions, starting in 54 of AZ’s 54 total matches over the season.
AZ’s impressive league campaign was boosted by their run to the semi-finals of the Europa Conference League, before narrowly losing to the eventual UECL winners, West Ham United. Tijjani Reijnders’ performances across both competitions as AZ’s driving force in midfield have piqued the interest of multiple parties, the senior Dutch side among them. Reijnders received his first senior international call-up prior to the Netherlands’ UEFA Nations League Finals matches this summer – his last international involvement came for the Dutch U20s five years ago.
As for his club career, despite signing another contract with AZ in January of this year, Reijnders looks to be on the move this summer with many clubs registering their interest. AC Milan, Sporting CP, and Bournemouth are among those linked with Reijnders, but AZ’s control over his contract situation means his transfer would command a considerably substantial fee.
- Position: Center Midfielder (8, 8.5, 10)
- Nationality: Netherlands (Indonesia)
- Date of Birth: July 29, 1998 (24)
- Current Club: AZ Alkmaar
- Former Club(s): PEC Zwolle, RKC Waalwijk (loan)
- Preferred Foot: Right
- Height: 185 cm (6 ft, 1 in)
- Contract Expiration: June 30, 2027 (new contract signed Jan ’23)
IN POSSESSION (on-ball actions)
Effective in small spaces due to technical efficiency and creativity
- Reijnders has an exceptional ability to evade opposing pressure in tight spaces through the use of intelligent and inventive flicks and dribbles, specifically his proclivity to secure possession when the ball is contested/loose, and his ability to deceptively shift his weight to disorient opponents.
- He demonstrates an intuitive ability to combine with teammates in smaller areas – frequently utilizes ‘1, 2s’ to escape pressure when there isn’t room to dribble. Reijnders will rarely encourage unnecessary risk/pressure if an obvious, simple pass is available to him.
- Despite not being the most technically or aesthetically refined, Reijnders’ balance on the ball aids his ability to dribble past opponents often and with relative ease, especially in 1v1 scenarios. His 1.68 successful take-ons per 90 rank in the 92nd percentile among other midfielders per data from FBref.
- On the ball, Reijnders constantly uses the inside and outside of his foot to keep control of possession, rarely employing the sole or laces. His close-control dribbling mechanics ensures the ball is changing direction laterally with every touch, naturally deceiving opponents. It also allows Reijnders to quickly plant his body between the ball and the opponent to protect and retain possession or win fouls for his team.
Influential across all phases of possession, but limited capacity to dictate tempo
- Reijnders’ high volume of individual actions in possession is indicative of his overall involvement in AZ’s play, specifically his authoritative role in progressing the ball, creating chances, and initiating attacking transitions. His tactical instructions allow him to ‘follow’ the ball in possession, consistently receiving possession in a variety of positions and scenarios without positional restriction.
- He is a prolific carrier of the ball through midfield – regularly receiving from the backline and driving through central areas before connecting with forward players. FBref ranks Reijnders in the 96th percentile among other midfielders for progressive carries.
- Reijnders is noticeably risk-averse and reluctant to break lines or aerially switch play with his passing in deeper areas during AZ’s build-up – it seems most of his progressive actions come in the middle or final 3rd (his 71.8 progressive passes p/90 rank in the 87th percentile per FBref). Perhaps due to psychological or tactical factors, Reijnders rarely utilizes the same high-quality penetrative/progressive passes seen in attacking areas compared to his pass selection in deeper positions.
- With time and space in possession, he uses minimal time and touches to progress the ball, rarely allowing the game to slow down or become static. His tendency to play at a constantly high tempo can be sub-optimal in deeper areas when a slower tempo would suit situations when teammates need to rest or structurally reset.
- Reijnders’ passing influence hardly extends beyond a 30-meter radius in areas other than the final 3rd – FBref ranks him in the 44th percentile for long passes attempted. His proclivity to roam and carry the ball in possession suits a more positionally restricted midfield partner: Jordy Clasie. Clasie acts as AZ’s tempo-setter, maintaining positional discipline in the center of the pitch, allowing him to switch play from side to side and cover the spaces Reijnders vacates.
High volume + high-quality chance creator in attacking situations
- He has exceptional quality in the ‘final pass,’ or the pass that immediately precedes a goal-scoring chance. He’s capable of a wide range of creative passes in and around the opponent’s box: half-space crosses, reverse passes, set pieces, finding feet in a crowded box, chipped passes behind the last line, and through balls to on-running forwards. His weight of pass is consistently apt, frequently allowing teammates to shoot with their first touch.
- Due to his frequent recoveries of loose balls, Reijnders initiates a high volume of attacking transitions and counter-attacks. After securing the ball, Reijnders consistently and quickly finds the feet of his forwards, usually AZ’s center-forward (Vangelis Pavlidis). His immediate recognition of transitional opportunities increases the quality and speed of AZ’s counter-attacks.
- Individually, Reijnders is not shy of shooting from distance – his slightly unconventional ball-striking technique gives his shots a level of unpredictability for opposing goalkeepers to deal with.
- Per FBref’s attacking and passing data, Reijnders excels in multiple relevant creative KPIs in comparison to his peers: xG (90th percentile), xA (90th percentile), Shot-creating Actions (95th percentile), Goal-creating Actions (95th percentile), Key Passes (88th percentile), Passes into Penalty Area (96th percentile).
- Per data from Opta, Reijnders had the most chance creating carries (43) amongst center-midfielders in the Eredivisie this season. He also had the 4th most key pass ending carries (22), only behind Dušan Tadić, Xavi Simons, and Václav Černý, all of whom are considered to operate in more advanced attacking roles for their respective clubs.
One-footedness results in noticeable angle bias when dribbling/passing
- There is a noticeable reluctance to execute any actions other than his first touch on his weaker left foot or left side. This one-footedness impacts his access to certain passing angles in different zones across the pitch (angle bias).
- When dribbling, Reijnders’ inside/outside of the foot technique means he changes directions frequently, but whenever he does cut onto his left side, it is always done with the intention of eventually cutting back onto his right foot – he rarely carries into spaces that require him to execute passes/shots on his left foot.
- Reijnders’ right-footed angle bias would suit a position on the left side of a midfield trio, encouraging him to receive from the left half-space and dribble inside onto his right foot and naturally access a larger area of influence. A central or right-sided position would decrease said access to passing angles and spaces because Reijnders will inevitably force the ball into tighter areas out wide (less dangerous than central areas).
IN POSSESSION (off-ball actions)
Natural understanding of the ‘3rd man’ in his off-ball movement
- Reijnders demonstrates a clear appreciation of the effectiveness of the ‘3rd man’ in passing sequences. He recognizes opportunities to receive the ball before his teammate’s pass reaches another teammate, which shows how attentive he is to the ‘next pass’ – always playing two or three steps ahead of his opponents.
- Receiving as the 3rd man is highly conducive to Reijnders’ ability to carry the ball in open space. In these scenarios, Reijnders is already facing forward and in stride before receiving the ball, and can immediately incorporate the ball into his vertical running.
- His energy and proactivity allow him to think and act quicker than the opponents marking him – frequently moving across their blindside over the course of the 90 minutes.
Intuitively occupies spaces with complete positional freedom
- Tactically, Reijnders is given the freedom to roam into different spaces across the pitch, which is seemingly dictated by his own positional intuition. Jordy Clasie acts as the ‘insurer,’ balancing his position to compensate for Reijnders’ fluid, unpredictable movement.
- His ability to be in constant motion is supported by his impressive aerobic capacity (cardiovascular fitness level). He’s able to sustain his intensive energy over 90 minutes consistently and within different game contexts. Against West Ham, Reijnders looked to be the only AZ player to be able to compete with the physicality of a Premier League team over both legs of the tie.
- With the possibility of a transfer looming, it will be interesting to see how Reijnders adapts to a more positionally restrictive role. Will he be able to channel the same physical capacity in a role that doesn’t allow complete freedom to roam around the pitch?
Intensive physical output + spatial awareness to constantly provide passing options and angles
- Reijnders is constantly scanning over his shoulders to increase his awareness of teammates and opponents, but additionally, he scans to identify the most dangerous spaces he can occupy between the lines. He is always adjusting his position to provide an option for his teammates between the lines of the opponent’s midfield and defense.
- He utilizes his aerobic capacity to ensure he is a constant option for his teammates. Reijnders will drift both horizontally and vertically throughout the 90 minutes, causing constant chaos for opponents to deal with.
- In attacking transition, Reijnders visibly increases the intensity and speed of counter-attacks through his vertical running power. This has a sort of ripple effect on his teammates – Reijnders’ transitional movement is so noticeable that his teammates resultantly recognize the attacking opportunity simultaneously.
OUT OF POSSESSION (on-ball actions)
Consistently intercepts passes to set attacking transitions
- Reijnders is a magnet to second balls – indicative of his energy and proactivity. He has an attentive sense of where loose balls will end up, and his energy and mindset usually mean he arrives there before his opponents.
- He’s eager to jump passing lanes if he senses an opportunity to intercept the ball. He is also capable of securing possession when intercepting passes, rather than just disrupting play. His 1.51 interceptions p/90 rank in the 81st percentile per FBref.
- His propensity to win the ball back through ball recoveries and interceptions is an attacking weapon for AZ. Many of AZ’s players thrive in attacking transition, and Reijnders’ ability to regain possession *and* execute a progressive, forward pass allows these players to operate in favorable attacking scenarios multiple times per game.
Generally avoidant of individual defensive duels
- Prefers to defensively ‘direct’ opponents through his body shape/orientation, rather than provoke mistakes through tackles or physical contact. This can be sub-optimal when defending in high-risk scenarios that require defensive initiative (blocking shots, winning duels, defending crosses).
- Extremely low tackle volume (1.22 p/90, 9th percentile) is indicative of his relative avoidance of defensive duels that require physical impetus, this is also evident in aerial duels. Approaches defensive duels with the intention of retaining possession, rather than disrupting play – he tends to measure his approach to tackles in a way that allows him to get his body between the opponent and the ball.
- Despite a reluctance to tackle, Reijnders senses opposing technical uncertainty attentively – he is quick to pounce onto loose touches whenever possible. Very reminiscent of his proactivity in claiming second balls in midfield.
- Worth noting that AZ rank in the bottom half of the table for their low volume of defensive actions across different categories (tackles, interceptions, passes blocked, clearances). They are a team that dominates the ball and employs a relatively passive press when compared to other teams near the top end of the Eredivisie (they rank 8th for PPDA and 6th for high turnovers).
OUT OF POSSESSION (off-ball actions)
Constant defensive scanner
- His spatial awareness in possession is also replicated out of possession, specifically his frequency of defensive scanning.
- His increased awareness allows him to constantly readjust his body shape to cover dangerous passing angles. It also increases his attentiveness to runners from midfield, which Reijnders tracks diligently and consistently.
- When he regains possession, he already has a picture of potential attacking options in his head from prior scanning, which enables a quicker release of pass and subsequently, more effective counter-attacks.
Aerobic capacity allows for quick transition from attacking to defensive shape
- Reijnders proclivity to roam across the pitch when AZ are in possession requires him to quickly transition back into his defensive position when possession is lost. He takes responsibility for his defensive role despite finding himself in various positions around the pitch when AZ transition defensively.
- Reijnders is rarely ever ‘resting’ in defensive shape – he’s able to recover his position consistently and quickly despite having a free role in possession.
- His ability to maintain technical quality over 90 minutes with such a physically demanding role when defending is highly impressive.
Scalable Individual Traits & Tendencies:
- High-quality creative passer from deeper positions near the edge of the box.
- Progressive carrier and passer of the ball through midfield and into the attack.
- Top aerobic capacity to constantly affect play on both sides of the ball.
- Tactical intelligence accentuates his spatial intuition and proactivity.
Scalable Team & Individual Tactical Context:
- Operate on the left side of a midfield 3 or in a double pivot.
- High tempo/transition-heavy football to maximize Reijnders’ physicality.
- Playing in a role that allows for more attacking than defensive involvement.
- A game model that allows for fluidity in possession.
Of the clubs linked with Tijjani Reijnders…
- AC Milan: Reijnders would be a good fit for Ismaël Bennacer’s current role in Milan’s midfield as a shuttler between boxes. A player like Rafael Leão would benefit from Reijnders’ qualities in attacking transition.
- Bournemouth: Andoni Iraola’s arrival promises high-intensity football on both sides of the ball. Reijnders would be a suitable fit for one of the two players positioned at the base of Iraola’s midfield.
Tijjani Reijnders will be turning 25 in July of this year – his next club should be one that envisions him as an immediate, regular starter for next season. Another season at AZ could prove to be stagnating when considering the sales of other key AZ players (Milos Kerkez + Jesper Karlsson). Given his current developmental trajectory, a move to a team competing in continental competitions and/or in the first tier of England/Germany/Italy would be conducive to Reijnders’ career progression.