Eredivisie Team of the Season: OptaJohan’s XI
Erik ten Hag led Ajax to their third Eredivisie title under his reign, leapfrogging PSV at the start of the calendar year, with UEFA Europa Conference League finalists Feyenoord finishing in third place, just ahead of a revamped FC Twente side.
At the other end of the table, the competition lost long-time Eredivisie sides Willem II (in the league since 2014) and PEC Zwolle (in the league since 2012), while Heracles Almelo (in the league since 2005) completely collapsed in the last few weeks and saw a potential European ticket turn into an unwelcome spot in the relegation play-offs.
Our Dutch data experts at OptaJohan have compiled their Eredivisie team of the season based on the data, with the squad containing some familiar names, but also players that we might see gracing the big five European leagues in the near future.
Remko Pasveer – Ajax
In a league that prides itself on development of young talent, Remko Pasveer is a player that bucks the trend. At the age of 38, and in his 15th season as a player in the Eredivisie, he undoubtedly had his most crucial campaign as a goalkeeper across his career.
After years of being a solid yet unremarkable goalkeeper, Pasveer earned a move to Ajax after impressive performances for Vitesse. From the moment he was handed his first start on November 9 2021, he seized his opportunity.
In the 20 league matches that Pasveer played before a season-ending injury in February, he conceded just once every 450 minutes on average. In comparison, the 14 Eredivisie matches without the veteran saw Ajax concede 15 goals in total – once every 84 minutes.
His average of 0.20 goals conceded per 90 minutes in 2021-22 is a new record for any goalkeeper to have played at least 50% of possible minutes on the pitch, beating Piet Schrijvers’ record of 0.32 from 1971-72 at FC Twente (10 conceded in 2790 mins).
Of course, it goes without saying that Pasveer has benefited from playing behind the solid defence of champions Ajax, but his impact in goal has been undeniable.
Based on expected goals on target, the shots that he saved would have seen the ‘average’ goalkeeper concede between eight and nine goals, but Pasveer’s total of four conceded gave him a goals prevented total of 4.4. In addition, his goals prevented rate this season in the Eredivisie was 2.1, meaning that he would have been expected to concede 2.1 goals for every goal that he actually conceded in the competition– the best of any goalkeeper to have played in the competition in 2021-22.
Daley Blind – Ajax
On one hand, there will always be those that criticize Daley Blind for the things he can’t do. He is not the strongest, not the fastest runner, not the most explosive player. Yet a whole catalogue of managers, whether it is Louis van Gaal, José Mourinho or Erik ten Hag, have trusted the multi-functional left foot to do a job under any circumstance. And the rewards have been there.
Ajax have ended each of the last eight seasons with Blind in their side top of the league, with the club winning a handsome seven championships in that period (there was no title in the abruptly ended 2019-20 season), while a trip to the Premier League in between saw Manchester United win their first ever Europa League trophy.
This season, Blind was again instrumental in Ajax’ success. Together with Dusan Tadic, the pair made up an intelligent left-hand side for Ajax. While his defensive work was good if unspectacular, winning 59% of his duels and a respectable 44 interceptions, it was at the other end where the team really felt his impact.
Blind recorded one short of 600 touches more than any other player in the league (3,470), and these touches were impactful to boot. Blind accumulated a total of 7.6 expected assists, the highest tally for a defender and the eighth highest of all players in the league.
Jurriën Timber – Ajax
At just 20 years old, Jurriën Timber has proven himself to be one of the most exciting players emerging from the Eredivisie. He became a regular starter for Erik ten Hag at the start of 2021 and was handed a surprise call-up for the Netherlands national team ahead of Euro 2020. His stats show why: this season Timber has the third highest duel success rate of all players with more than 100 duels (67%) and the best passing accuracy of all players with more than 100 passes (91.5%).
Timber has that typical Ajax confidence and swagger on the ball, enabling him to act as the starting point of attack as well. No player has started more sequences that ended in a goal this Eredivisie season than him (9 – level with Orkun Kökcü).
Timber also boasts the largest carry distance of all players in the competition (6,876m), while also making the second most progressive carries (351) behind team-mate Daley Blind (393). He clearly has the qualities that Blind also has, those that earned him a move to Manchester United back in 2014.
With rumours about Ten Hag taking Timber along to Manchester, will the young centre-back follow in Blind’s footsteps?
Danilho Doekhi – Vitesse
With Timber being the best defender on the ground and in possession, Danilho Doekhi deserves his place in the team of the year thanks to his aerial success. No player won more aerial duels this Eredivisie season than the Vitesse defender (128), who also had the highest success rate of all players with at least 70 contested aerials (71%).
But Doekhi not only used his head in defence but also in the opposition box, with only four players having more headed shots than Doekhi (21) – three of which resulted in goals.
At Vitesse, Doekhi also attempted the most passes (1,499 with 79% accuracy) and made the most clearances (103). Only one team-mate had more successful tackles (37) and in 29 games Doekhi was dribbled past by an opponent only nine times.
Doekhi arrived at Vitesse as 20-year-old from the Ajax academy and since the summer of 2018 he’s played 107 of their 128 Eredivisie games, and Vitesse have a win percentage of 48% with him compared to 38% without him.
A no-nonsense defender – and also the nephew of former Barcelona and Chelsea player Winston Bogarde – he’s caught the eye of bigger clubs including Bundesliga’s Union Berlin, who have already signed him on a free transfer following their fifth-place finish in the German top-flight in 2021-22.
Mauro Júnior – PSV Eindhoven
Few would have expected Mauro Júnior to make our team of the season before a ball was kicked in 2021-22. The Brazilian had been struggling for playing time at PSV and manager Roger Schmidt didn’t seem to have him in his plans for an Eredivisie title charge. This all changed with an injury crisis at the club.
With a whole host of injuries among PSV defenders, Schmidt was forced to call upon Mauro Júnior to undertake defensive duties. The slight, left-footed 23-year-old was previously known for his attacking qualities as a midfielder, but received a crash course in defending and turned out to be one of the biggest surprises of the season. Deployed at first as a right-back, and then a left-back, he’s reinvented himself as a dependable defensive option.
He impressed in the second half of the season, with two goals and three assists, while no defender created more chances in 2022 than the PSV full-back – 23 overall, level with Owen Wijndal.
Not only were his attacking outputs impressive, but only two players recorded more successful tackles in the second half of the season than Mauro (37), while he had the best tackle success percentage of all players to have contested more than 25 tackles in 2022 (72%).
Ibrahim Sangaré – PSV Eindhoven
PSV’s Ivorian Star Ibrahim Sangaré is the best defensive midfielder in the Eredivisie 2021-22.
Although Roger Schmidt had plenty of options in midfield, Sangaré has always been one of the first names on the match sheet for the Eindhoven side. Measuring 1.91m tall, his physical appearance is impressive, and so are his defensive stats.
When looking at recoveries, successful tackles, duels won and interceptions, Sangaré ranks extremely well in each category.
Sangaré has been involved in shot-ending sequences with a total expected goals total of 23.6 this Eredivisie season. He ranks fifth in the league in this metric (xG chain), behind only four Ajax players, while the next PSV player in the xG chain ranking is World Cup winner Mario Götze, recording 3.4 xG below Sangaré’s score (20.2).
His growth in offensive contribution – Sangaré scored just 17.4 on xG chain in the Eredivisie 2020-21 – has also brought PSV their first KNVB Cup title in 10 years, assisting a goal in both the semi-final and the final against Ajax.
Orkun Kökcü – Feyenoord
Orkun Kökcü, Feyenoord’s 21-year-old playmaker, has flourished under manager Arne Slot.
The Turkish midfielder scored seven goals and assisted nine more in 32 league games in 2021-22, almost doubling his tally of goals and assists of his previous three Eredivisie campaigns combined (eight goals and 10 assists).
Kökcü created 101 chances this Eredivisie season and was the fifth different player to reach at least 100 created chances in a single campaign in the Dutch top-flight since 2013-14, after Dusan Tadic, Hakim Ziyech, Steven Berghuis and Martin Ødegaard. To call that good company is an understatement.
This season, Kökcü has made the transition from being an offensive midfielder in the final third to a more defensive midfielder, dictating the pace of the game from the middle third. In that role, Kökcü started the most open-play sequences ending in a shot among all players this Eredivisie season (50), showing his ability in regaining possession and recovering the ball for Feyenoord.
With the game more in front of him, Kökcü was able to show off his passing and ball carrying skills. Feyenoord’s number 10 made 312 progressive carries this Eredivisie campaign, more than any other midfielder or forward in the league. Four of Kökcü’s seven league goals this season came after a ball carry, only three players have done better in the 2021-22 Eredivisie.
Ramiz Zerrouki – FC Twente
FC Twente have a good mix of experienced players and young talent. In attack they have experienced Ricky van Wolfswinkel – a former player of both Sporting CP and Norwich City, while one of the most exciting young talents within the club is Ramiz Zerrouki.
The 23-year-old Algerian international plays in midfield and has become known for his energy and all-action displays.
Zerrouki plays an important role at Twente both defensively and offensively. He started the most open-play sequences for FC Twente his season (428), with just three players initiating more sequences in the entire Eredivisie. Zerrouki also attempted 79 tackles this year, winning 51 of those, with only six players recording more successful tackles overall.
In possession, Zerrouki is good at finding the right solutions, with only two team-mates attempting more passes in the opposition half (850), while he also has the second-highest passing accuracy in enemy territory (76%). And these definitely aren’t all risk-free passes either, given the fact that only one Twente player has played more passes into the box than Zerrouki (68, excluding crosses).
His versatility for a deep-lying midfielder makes him a welcome addition to our team of the season.
Antony – Ajax
Antony Matheus dos Santos, stage name Antony, is Ajax’s entertainer.
The 22-year-old Brazilian winger arrived in Amsterdam in the summer of 2020 accompanied by a catchy homemade promo that also featured Ajax’ other two Brazilians at the time, David Neres and Danilo.
While Antony’s first season in the capital was a huge success with nine goals and eight assists, his second was unfortunately cut short after just 23 matches, eight goals and four assists due to an injury picked up while at the Brazilian national team. Before that, Antony had enough time to show his skills at Champions League level by assisting four goals in his first two home games in Europe this season (two against Sporting, two against Dortmund).
Of all Eredivisie players to have played 900 minutes or more, Antony is involved in the highest attacking sequences per 90 minutes in open play (8.4), while among all Ajax players with 20+ Eredivisie games this season, Antony averaged the most attempted dribbles (4.5), opposition half take-ons (3.9) and recorded the highest expected assists value after a take-on per 90 minutes (0.09).
Add to that his 4.1 shots and 1.9 created chances per 90 minutes, and you can understand why European giants such as Manchester United, Barcelona, Bayern München and Juventus have already shown interest in the São Paulo youth product.
Loïs Openda – Vitesse
Loïs Openda has been called up to the Belgian national team for the first time in his career, just days after finishing as second top scorers list behind Sébastien Haller (21) in the Eredivisie.
Since Openda – who is still under contract with Club Brugge – made his Vitesse debut in September 2020, the quicksilver forward scored 36 goals for the club in all competitions, at least 25 more than any other player.
18 of those goals have come in this season’s Eredivisie campaign, making him the first Vitesse player to reach that tally in a single season since Ricky van Wolfswinkel in 2016-17 (20).
Openda can rightly be described as a big-game player, scoring twice against Ajax and three times against Feyenoord this Dutch top-flight campaign. In fact, no player has scored as many goals against the traditional top three as Openda over the last two seasons (7).
After joining up with his national side and possibly making his debut against his current home country of the Netherlands, Openda will return to Club Brugge. It’s however safe to say that many international clubs will have written his name down at the top of their wish list.
Dušan Tadić – Ajax
Ajax captain Dušan Tadić making our team of the season was inevitable. Since rejoining in 2018, the Serb has been the Eredivisie’s Most Valuable Player in every single season. In this year’s edition, Tadić registered 13 goals and a phenomenal 19 assists.
Although 13 goals are a decent tally for a winger, it’s Tadić’s chance-creating abilities that stand out.
He created 140 chances this Eredivisie season, at least 39 more than any other player in the league, with 103 of those coming from open play. Looking at the expected assists, Tadic recorded nearly double the tally of any other Eredivisie player (23.6) ahead of teammate Steven Berghuis (12.1).
His passes resulted in 19 assists for Ajax in 2021-22. This was a personal best in an Eredivisie season and the second-highest number for a player this century. Across Europe’s 15 biggest leagues, no player was able to match his tally of assists this season.
At 33 years old, Tadić seems more ambitious and fitter than ever. Maintaining Ajax’ dominance after the departure of director Marc Overmars and manager Erik ten Hag is one hell of a task, but with Tadić staying on, the transition might not be so tough.
Ron Jans – FC Twente
The biggest Eredivisie surprise this season might be FC Twente. Of course, the Tukkers were champions in 2009-10, but since then they almost went bankrupt, resulting in a shock relegation in 2017-18. But in only their third season since making their way back to the Dutch top-flight, they already finished in the top-four, just three points shy of Conference League finalists Feyenoord.
Comparing last season’s final standings with their 2021-22 counterparts, FC Twente have collected a massive 27 points more in the current campaign, ending seven places higher on the Eredivisie table in 2021-22. In fact, since the turn of the century, just two sides have ever recorded a bigger positive point difference between two consecutive Eredivisie seasons than FC Twente between 2020-21 and 2021-22.
Ron Jans played a big part in that development of the club. The jolly 63-year-old caused a big upset a few years back when his PEC Zwolle side beat Ajax in the Dutch KNVB Cup Final and again in the following Johan Cruijff Schaal (Dutch Supercup) and has now led a revamped FC Twente side to European football.
Who knows, if Jans can keep up this gigantic progress, he might even lead the Tukkers back to glory.
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