The Netherlands are potentially one game away from a first European Championship semi-final since 2004; midfielder Tijjani Reijnders has been one of their standout performers.

Losing Frenkie de Jong, the Netherlands’ undisputed best player, on the eve of Euro 2024 was a bitter blow to the Oranje and Ronald Koeman. While never really seen as one of the main contenders to lift the Henri Delaunay Trophy, being robbed of a player of such ability would be bitter a pill for any team at the tournament to swallow, and it’s fair to say they’ve not exactly been flawless.

But a quarter-final date with Turkey, whom they’ll be quietly confident of beating, awaits on Saturday, and in Tijjani Reijnders the Netherlands have a midfielder who has certainly caught the eye in Germany.

Coming off the back of a generally impressive debut season in Serie A with AC Milan, Reijnders was always likely to feature prominently at Euro 2024 with or without De Jong, as Koeman is evidently a big fan of the former AZ schemer.

The 25-year-old hasn’t disappointed, playing the full 90 minutes in all but one of the Netherlands’ four matches en route to the quarter-finals, earning rave reviews from some in the process.

Former Milan defender Federico Balzaretti, speaking on the EuroCronache YouTube show, reckons Reijnders has been “after Rodri, definitely one of the best in the whole tournament”; several pundits on British TV have singled him out for praise; while in Spain, Marca suggested his displays have made us “forget about Frenkie de Jong”.

You don’t need to watch him for long to see why people are sitting up and taking note.

Technically, Reijnders is a tremendous footballer. Blessed with “light feet”, as Koeman described him a few months ago, he possesses the kind of technical ability that makes simple runs and movements on the ball so aesthetically pleasing.

He combines this with fox-like agility that allows him to turn and change direction in a flash, which is of course always handy when operating in such a congested area of the pitch.

It also helps him stay in control with the ball at his feet, and he certainly loves to have the ball under his spell, being one of the most prolific carriers from central midfield in Euro 2024 prior to the quarter-finals.

Tijjani Reijnders carries

Only 10 central midfielders tallied more carries – that is a movement of at least five metres with the ball – ahead of the last-eight games at Euro 2024, which at the very least demonstrates his comfort in possession. But we can look a little deeper, and that’s when we get an even greater measure of Reijnders’ mentality.

No central midfielder recorded more progressive carries of 10m or more (19) prior to Friday, carrying the ball 393m upfield in total – for that metric, he ranked fourth behind only Piotr Zielinski (440m), Rodri (420.8m) and Toni Kroos (396.7m).

He also ranked as high as sixth among midfielders for average carry distance (12.3m), reflecting Reijnders’ confidence on the ball and his desire to get the Netherlands on the front foot. Furthermore, his five shot-ending carries was two more than any other midfielder.

Tijjani Reijnders long progressive carries

Reijnders’ grace and elegance when holding onto possession are unmistakable and undoubtedly play a major role in helping him catch the eye, and cause trouble for opponents. But it’s only a part of what he offers and arguably isn’t what he’s stood out for the most at Euro 2024.

That would probably be his passing. And no, we aren’t about to say it’s because he’s got a high completion percentage from lots of short passes back to one of the central defenders.

The positivity in Reijnders’ distribution is what’s really shone. For the most part, as the graphic below shows, in possession he operates with greater freedom to get forward than Jerdy Schouten, with whom his on-pitch relationship showed real signs of progress in the 3-0 last-16 defeat of Romania.

Tijjani Reijnders roles played Euro 2024
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

With Schouten having more defensive responsibilities, Reijnders has license to push forward into spaces and seek gaps in the opposition’s defence to exploit, and there’s no doubt he’s had joy.

Only five players in the tournament recorded more line-breaking passes that split two lines of the opposition’s setup before the quarter-finals, with Reijnders on seven. Of his 38 total line-breaking passes, 29 have sliced through a line in midfield – that’s the fourth most of everyone at Euro 2024.

But why do line-breaking passes matter? Well, the metric helps to demonstrate a player’s positivity, purpose and invention in possession; just because X player hasn’t made many obviously doesn’t mean they’re not a good player, but it stands to reason that line-breaking passes can be tricky pull off because they’re quite often riskier in terms of where they take place and the areas they’re played into.

Tijjani Reijnders line-breaking passes

Being effective with such passes not only requires the technical ability to reliably play them, but a player also needs the vision to see that they’re on in the first place. Reijnders has demonstrated such a marriage of skills and he’s keeping illustrious company.

Only Joshua Kimmich (14) and Kevin De Bruyne (11) made more passes that broke the defensive line than Reijnders (10) ahead of the quarter-finals, while the Netherlands talent (15) was second only to the Belgium and Manchester City star (17) for line-breaking passes leading to danger.

Seven of Reijnders’ line-breaking passes have led directly to shots, putting him behind just De Bruyne (10) and Kylian Mbappé (eight), though no one could better the Milan midfielder’s eight line-breaking passes into the penalty area prior to Friday.

Tijjani Reijnders line-breaking passes into area

One of those probably owns the title (created just now) of Euro 2024’s Most Satisfying Pass, as Reijnders sliced open the Romania defence with an exquisite slide-rule pass between the left-back and left centre-back; Denzel Dumfries latched on to it and would have teed up an easy finish for Memphis Depay were it not for a last-ditch intervention by Radu Dragusin.

It’s also worth noting Reijnders has been one of the most-pressured midfielders in the tournament, with 80.5% of his touches coming under pressure, which was the eighth highest proportion (minimum 150 touches) going into Friday’s games.

Ninety-six of his passes have been made under “high pressure” of which 90.6% have found a teammate, a completion rate only seven midfielders (minimum 75 passes) could improve on.

Reijnders certainly hasn’t been perfect, though. He was part of a Netherlands midfield that struggled badly – particularly in the first half – in the 3-2 defeat to Austria on Matchday 3. He had only 33 touches before being withdrawn in the 65th minute, as he, Schouten and Joey Veerman (prior to his early substitution) were suffocated by the intensity of the Austrian midfield, which set the tone for the Oranje’s loss. The faded colour of him in the pass network below highlights how little influence he had.

Netherlands pass network vs Austria
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

“We’ve had some tough conversations but we’re on the right track and everyone is on the same page,” Reijnders said after that defeat. “I’ve watched the match again and saw what could be improved. We have to make sure it doesn’t happen again. Romania is the ideal opponent to show how things should be done. They also play with a lot of intensity; we have to be much more careful with the ball and didn’t have that at all against Austria.”

It’s fair to say he put that considered appraisal into action in the last-16 victory. He responded especially well individually as he ran the show, tallying more touches (72) and accurate passes (69) than anyone else on the pitch, while his 95.8% was the best of those who attempted at least 10.

Netherlands pass network vs Romania
Jonathan Manuel / Data Analyst

While undoubtedly favourites to beat Turkey, it’ll be hoped the talents of Reijnders can guide the Netherlands sleigh through a potentially foggy route to the semi-finals of Euro 2024.

Few would’ve backed them to go so far pre-tournament after the news around De Jong broke; if they make it, Reijnders’ game will likely gain even greater acclaim.

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