With the 2020-21 season coming to a close, the international transfer window will once again open, and many clubs will be looking to invest in young talent from other leagues. In our transfer target series, we identify players who could well be on the radar of top European clubs this summer. Joris van den Ban selects five players who’ve impressed in the Eredivisie this season.
An Ajax club record was broken in September 2018, when Ryan Gravenberch stepped on to the pitch aged just 16 years and 130 days old, taking Clarence Seedorf’s title as the youngest player to play for the club in the competition when he did so in 1992. This doesn’t look like the last record that Gravenberch will break.
Still only 18 years old, he has appeared over 100 times at professional level, including three caps for the Dutch national team. There seems little doubt that his stock will further rise at the European Championship Finals this summer.
The performances of Gravenberch have been fundamental in Ajax’s double-winning season, netting the opening goal in the KNVB Cup final win against Vitesse and being their most frequently used player in the Eredivisie in 2020-21.
Despite still being a teenager, his talents were also clear to see on the highest stage, impressing with his ability to progress the ball up field for Ajax in the Champions League. Usually starting left midfielder in Ajax’s 4-3-3 system, Gravenberch recorded 55 progressive ball carries in the 2020-21 group stage. Only five midfielders or forwards tallied more in the opening round of the competition and was outperformed by only one midfielder – his predecessor in the Ajax midfield, Barcelona’s Frenkie de Jong.
Gravenberch extended his contract with Ajax until 2023 last year, but the exponential growth in his reputation has already begun rumours about the activation of his €40m release clause.
Another Dutch playmaker finding his name increasingly linked to other clubs is Teun Koopmeiners. Captain of AZ Alkmaar for the last two seasons, he can dictate the pace of the game both from central defence and from higher up the pitch from central midfield, where he’s been playing for the majority of the 2020-21 Eredivisie campaign. His creative qualities and multifunctionality make the 23-year-old one of the Eredivisie players likely to move abroad this summer to test themselves in one of the big European leagues.
Koopmeiners is one of seven players to be involved in 20 Eredivisie goals this season, scoring 15 and assisting five more. His goal tally is slightly inflated due to seven successful penalties, but his threat from set-pieces have become renowned in the Netherlands since making his debut in October 2017.
Since debuting he’s converted 20% of his 25 direct-free kick attempts in league competition, including two strikes from dead ball situations so far in 2020-21. Compare this to other Eredivisie players as well as those in the top five European leagues since October 2017 and only Sergej Milinkovic-Savic has a better conversion rate (20.7%) than Koopmeiners (20%).
It’s not just from set-pieces that Koopmeiners offers a threat from long range, he’s scored five further goals from outside the box and only 28% of his shots during his Eredivisie career have come from inside the area. Since his debut in the competition, only Steven Berghuis (17) and Hakim Ziyech (15) have scored more goals from long range than he has (10).
Alongside his ability to score from range, Koopmeiners has started the most open play sequences among all midfielders this Eredivisie season (396) whilst only one recorded more ball recoveries (237), showing his ability in regaining possession for AZ. His tally of 1673 successful passes second-most for midfielders and there’s a good chance that we could see the 23-year-old spraying passes for a club in one of the big five European leagues this autumn.
With 25 goals and eight assists, Donyell Malen has undoubtedly been the standout player for PSV during 2020-21, with only VVV-Venlo’s Georgios Giakoumakis (27) scoring more than Malen across all competitions for an Eredivisie club.
With 24 of Malen’s goal involvements coming in league competition, there is little doubt that PSV’s most valuable asset will have earned the admiration of scouts across the continent this season.
One of the fastest players in the league and considered a well-rounded striker for such a young age, Malen has scored 17 non-penalty goals in Eredivisie 2020-21, roughly performing at his expected goals total considering his shots (16.7 xG).
With two penalties attempted and both missed, Malen’s xG total increases to 18.2, but looking at league-high tally of 55 shots on target alone and his 21.1 xG on target total it becomes clear that some decent goalkeeping has kept his goal tally down, with opposing shot-stoppers preventing roughly four goals above the expected from his on-target shots in 2020-21.
It looks likely that Malen will break through the 20-goal barrier before the end of the Eredivisie season and then it might become impossible for PSV to keep him out of the hands of the European elite.
Feyenoord paid a reported record €7 million fee for central defender Marcos Senesi from Argentinia’s San Lorenzo in September 2019. Two seasons and 46 Eredivisie appearances later and he is already on the radar of some of Europe’s biggest clubs.
It was only last month that Barcelona and Napoli had reported interest in the centre-back following excellent progress with the Rotterdam side.
Senesi is a progressive passer with the courage and skill to break through the opponent’s lines with passes of high difficulty, as well as having an excellent ability to read the game well.
Since his Eredivisie debut, Senesi is one of three players to make at least 100 interceptions in the league and his tally of 100 is at least 16 higher than any other centre back across the Dutch top-four teams Ajax, PSV, AZ and Feyenoord.
Despite measuring only 1.85m tall, his physicality is noticeable and illustrated by the fact he’s won 61.5% of his duels in the Eredivisie (276/449), a higher ratio than any of the other four defenders with 400+ duels since the start of 2019-20.
Senesi has initiated a league-high 453 open play sequences this season – a sequence being a passage of play that belongs to a single team, ended by defensive actions, stoppages in play or a shot. This total displays his ability to regain possession and recover the ball for Feyenoord in Eredivisie 2020-21.
The bigger European clubs that have already been linked to Senesi multiple times in their search for a relatively cheap and young central defender, but the huge potential he has shown in the Eredivisie could make him one of the biggest bargains of the next window.
Gabriel Gudmundsson arrived in the Netherlands from Sweden in 2019 as an attacking player, scoring twice in his opening 11 appearances of 2019-20 before injury curtailed his season.
After 10 months without a competitive appearance, Gudmundsson has started 20 of Groningen’s last 24 league matches after a transition to left wing-back.
Over these last 20 games, his dribbling and crossing attributes have given Groningen an offensive boost, resulting in five assists. Across the Eredivisie in 2020-21, only one player with at least 1500 minutes have averaged more successful take ons per 90 than he has (3.4), while the left wing-back has attempted 12 crosses from open play following a take on – a league-high.
The only non-central defender with more progressive ball carries per 90 minutes than the Swede this Eredivisie season (11.7) is Ajax star Ryan Gravenberch (13.6).
Gudmundsson will hope that one day he can follow his father’s footsteps in playing in the Premier League. Niklas played for Blackburn Rovers across two seasons in 1995-96 and 1996-97 and should Gabriel continue his current Groningen form, it might not be too long until he makes a move to a top five European side.