Who makes the Eredivisie Team of the Season based on Opta Data?
It was another exciting top-flight season in the Netherlands, as Feyenoord won their first Eredivisie title since 2017. The question now is whether they can hold on to manager Arne Slot, with many admirers across Europe looking in his direction following a successful campaign in Rotterdam. It was a poor season for Ajax as they finished third – the first time they’ve ended a season outside the top two places since 2008-09 – meaning they’ll be absent from the UEFA Champions League (including qualifiers) for the first time in 14 years. PSV Eindhoven pipped them to second place, but they will be looking for a new permanent boss to lead them next season following the departure of Ruud van Nistelrooy before the campaign was over.
That’s the lowdown on the major talking points across the Eredivisie season, but which players impressed us the most during this exciting campaign?
Here’s the OptaJohan Eredivisie Team of the Season for 2022-23.
Nick Olij – Sparta Rotterdam
Sparta Rotterdam were the surprise package of the 2022-23 Eredivisie season. They secured their highest league finish since 1995-96 (sixth) and ended the campaign with their biggest points tally since 1984-85 (59 – adjusted for three points per win).
A fair chunk of their success came thanks to goalkeeper Nick Olij, who signed from second-tier side NAC Breda in the summer, having never previously made an appearance in the top flight. He impressed from the off and helped his side to the fourth best defensive record in the league, with 37 goals conceded in 34 matches.
Olij proved to be an excellent shot-stopper across the season. Based on Opta’s xGOT model, he prevented just over nine goals from being scored (9.3 goals prevented), which was the most of any goalkeeper in the competition, while he also recorded 14 clean sheets – a tally only FC Twente’s Lars Unnerstall could beat (16). That is an exceptional accomplishment for a Sparta goalkeeper, as across the previous 55 seasons at the highest level, only two goalkeepers at the club have been able to keep more in an Eredivisie campaign – the last being Pim Doesburg in 1966-67 (17).
Importantly in the modern game, the 27-year-old is very comfortable with the ball at his feet and his passing range is impressive. He played a key role in Sparta’s direct attacking style, with the most successful long passes in the Eredivisie across 2022-23, the majority towards striker Tobias Lauritsen (who won the most aerial duels in the top 10 European leagues with 285).
Gijs Smal – FC Twente
Not only was FC Twente’s Gijs Smal a creative force in 2022-23, he was also an integral part of the side to concede the fewest Eredivisie goals this season, earning himself the fitting nickname of ‘Smaldini’.
Smal played the most minutes of all FC Twente players in league competition this season (2,971) and missed just 89 minutes across the whole campaign. Only Václav Cerny was involved in more open-play shot-ending sequences (214) than Smal for Twente (177). The majority were chances created for his teammates, with only five players in the league creating more shooting opportunities from open play than the left back (53), with Smal the highest defender on this list.
Overall, Smal provided 10 assists this season in the Eredivisie, nine of those from open play – only Dusan Tadic assisted more this season in the division (14). This is quite the accomplishment for a player in Smal’s position. In fact, Jetro Willems is the only defender to provide more assists in an Eredivisie campaign this century (14 in 2014–15 for PSV), while Borussia Dortmund’s Raphaël Guerreiro (12) is the only defender within the top 10 European leagues this term who can better Smal’s tally.
Don’t be fooled into thinking Smal doesn’t do the defensive work too, though. Only 10 players across the entire league won possession from opponents more often than he did in 2022-23 (230), while just six players made more tackles than him (73).
Lutsharel Geertruida – Feyenoord
Yes, Lutsharel Geertruida makes our XI as a central defender. Although he could have been an option as the right-back (he played 35% of league minutes in that position this season), the Feyenoord star played the most minutes in the right-centre back position (47%). Because of injuries at the back, Geertruida alternated between playing as a centre-back and a modern right-back, being able to both play wide and on the inside as an extra midfielder.
Across these positions Geertruida acted as one of Feyenoord’s playmakers, recording the second-best passing accuracy in the competition (90.6%) alongside being the defender with the most secondary chances created (32). He was also involved in 19 unique goal-ending sequences in open play, with only captain Orkun Kökcü involved in more at Feyenoord (20).
Geertuida’s most important touch of the 2022-23 season was undoubtedly his match-winning 88th-minute header away at title rivals Ajax on matchday 26. That goal would see Feyenoord go six points clear at the top of the table… and they never looked back.
The defender made his debut for the Dutch national team within a week of his goal against Ajax, starting against France. A versatile defender and international with such a various skillset – defending, passing and attacking – who is attracting the interest of the biggest clubs in Europe, but Feyenoord hope to keep their academy graduate for at least one more season.
Dávid Hancko – Feyenoord
On 8 August 2022 with the Eredivisie season just kicking off, Marcos Senesi left Feyenoord for Premier League side Bournemouth for €15m. Exactly two weeks later, with the Eredivisie season three games in, Feyenoord announced the signing of Dávid Hancko from Sparta Prague to replace Senesi. Questions were raised about the quality of the replacement, with Senesi having been a big success in Rotterdam, but those people needn’t have worried.
Come the end of 2022-23, Feyenoord have won their first Eredivisie title in six years and Hancko was a key part of that success. No player spent more time on the pitch for the champions than Hancko across all competitions (4,047 mins) and he started in all 45 competitive matches for the club since his arrival from the Czech Republic.
The central defender recorded the highest duel success rate among all 245 Eredivisie players to be involved in at least 100 duels across the season (70.7%), while only one outfielder played more forward passes (800) than he did. Furthermore, Hancko was one of only three players with at least 400 progressive ball carries in the Dutch top-flight in 2022-23 (407).
The general feeling is that Feyenoord have had an upgrade on the left centre-back position by bringing Hancko in, and with the Slovakian being only 25 years old, the best is yet to come. Both he and Feyenoord seem ready to shine in the UEFA Champions League next season.
Milan van Ewijk – sc Heerenveen
Joining a professional side from an amateur team in your late teens and then earning a transfer to sc Heerenveen, eventually impressing enough to become a full Dutch international: it’s the Denzel Dumfries route, and Milan van Ewijk is already halfway to replicating it.
The right-back was a highly dependable, dangerous attacking outlet for Heerenveen in 2022-23, while also proving himself as a solid defender to make our Team of the Season.
He was the only outfield player to not miss a single minute of Eredivisie football this season, playing all 34 games for his club. Despite playing every minute, his energy never faltered – he recorded more than 25 sprints in five separate Eredivisie matches in 2022-23. Every other teammate at the club achieved that five times combined.
His sprinting came in handy when Heerenveen were on the attack, with Van Ewijk able to join as another offensive option from his defensive position. Only three players at the club recorded more shots than he did (37), while only four teammates had more touches in the opposition box (57). It paid off, too. He scored six goals in the league this season, the second-best tally among all defenders in the league, while only four defenders found a teammate with more open-play crosses than Van Ewijk (24).
Defensively sound, he was one of just six players to rank within the top 15 for possession won from opponents (224), interceptions (48) and tackles won (40), while he was only dribbled past every 235 minutes on average – a solid rate for a full-back in an unfancied side.
The chances feel slim that Van Ewijk will remain at sc Heerenveen next season. With rumoured interest from PSV in the 22-year-old, maybe that mirroring of Dumfries’ career route will continue.
Orkun Kökcü – Feyenoord
Winning your first Eredivisie title in your maiden year as captain of the club that you joined as a youth player – it’s safe to say Orkun Kökcü lived the dream this season.
The central midfielder was instrumental in Feyenoord’s second Eredivisie-winning campaign this century and seems ready for the next step. Arguably no player was as important for his side in the Eredivisie this season as Kökcü was for Feyenoord.
Apart from his eight goals – his best ever tally in an Eredivisie season – Kökcü proved to be an all-round playmaker. He was involved in 249 shot-ending open-play sequences, which was considerably more than any other player in the league.
Set pieces included, Kökcü recorded 84 shots and created 89 chances, making him the only player to record a tally of 80+ in both categories in the Eredivisie. Across the top 10 European leagues in 2022-23, he was one of only six players to record these numbers. While on paper his tally of two assists may seem underwhelming, it was no fault of Kökcü’s. Across 2022-23, he tallied an expected assists total of 8.1, which was the eighth highest in the competition.
Week after week, Kökcu provided Feyenoord with power and creativity from midfield, ultimately leading his team to glory. The biggest teams across Europe will have taken note.
Tijjani Reijnders – AZ Alkmaar
AZ have expressed their ambition to challenge the traditional Eredivisie top three for a few years now. They came close this season, but fell just short at the end of the campaign with two points between themselves and third-placed Ajax. However, this, coupled with a semi-final appearance in the UEFA Europa Conference League, made it a relatively successful season overall.
One notable consistent factor in their success was Tijjani Reijnders. In 2021-22, the 24-year-old midfielder was limited to mostly substitute appearances, but 2022-23 saw him start in all 54 matches for AZ across all competitions, playing the full 90 minutes in 48 of those.
It comes as little surprise that Reijnders featured so frequently when you look at his stats.
In the Eredivisie, only four players delivered more passes in the final third than the AZ star (690), while he ranked seventh in terms of chances created (51) and second for secondary chances (50). As seen above with Orkun Kökcü, only two players had more attacking sequence involvements than Reijnders (223).
Not only in passing metrics did he impress – just two players (both central defenders) carried more distance with the ball than Reijnders (7,323 meters) in the Eredivisie this season.
An exemplary moment for Reijnders was his goal against West Ham United in the semi-final of the UECL: initiating the attack from his own half and then hitting the back of the net with a long-range shot.
Reijnders’ impressive performances have also caught the attention of Dutch national team manager Ronald Koeman. He has included him in the full squad for the first time, with the chance of making his debut with the Oranje during the UEFA Nations League Finals this summer.
Xavi Simons – PSV Eindhoven
Having played at the youth academies of both Barcelona and Paris Saint-Germain, Xavi Simons became well known even before he made his senior professional debut. When he joined PSV from PSG after 11 competitive matches for the French club, expectations were high.
It’s fair to say Simons has arguably exceeded the expectations of most so far, with the 20-year-old scoring 19 goals and assisting eight more in the Eredivisie in 2022-23, making him the joint top scorer in the competition alongside FC Utrecht’s Anastasios Douvikas.
His achievements are all the most impressive considering he started the campaign with Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke in attack alongside him but saw both leave for Liverpool and Chelsea respectively in the January transfer window. Following those departures, more pressure was piled on Simons to perform, but with 15 goal involvements in 15 appearances since, he handled it well.
Across 2022-23, he played the most league minutes for his club (2,819) and started all 34 games in PSV’s Eredivisie campaign, becoming the fifth youngest player to do this for any club in the competition.
With two goals in his final game of the season at AZ, Simons became the youngest player (20 years, 37 days) to finish as the Eredivisie’s top scorer since Ronaldo – also at PSV – in 1994-95 (18 years, 252 days). The Brazilian went on to do okay after this, didn’t he?
Simons was often an elusive player for the opponents. Only Ajax’s Mohammed Kudus completed more dribbles (91) than the PSV star in the Eredivisie across 2022-23 (74 – 139 attempted) and only three players won more fouls than Simons (78). Nineteen of those fouls resulted in a card for the opponent, which is at least eight more than any other player this season and the highest tally in an Eredivisie campaign since Hirving Lozano in 2018-19 (23).
Simons also scored eight league goals following a ball carry, which is the highest number in a single Eredivisie season since Luc Castaignos in 2012-13 (also eight), playing for FC Twente at the time.
Václav Cerny – FC Twente
After an injury-ridden first few years of his career, 25-year-old Václav Cerny finally had his breakthrough campaign.
Before this season, the Czech was involved in 18 goals in 63 Eredivisie games (eight goals, 10 assists), but in 2022-23 he added 24 goal involvements to his total (13 goals, 11 assists). In doing so, he became the first FC Twente player to reach double digits in both goals and assists in a single Eredivisie campaign since Hakim Ziyech in 2015-16 (17 goals, 10 assists).
Only Tadić (29) and Xavi Simons (27) were involved in more Eredivisie goals than Twente’s star (24), who tallied the most goals and assists in the Eredivisie after the World Cup break (18 – nine goals & nine assists). With one each against Ajax on the final matchday, the left-footed right winger was decisive again. He became only the second Twente player this century to score and assist a goal in three consecutive home games in the Dutch top tier after club legend Blaise Nkufo back in 2006.
Cerny’s playing style has been characterized by a lot of opportunism and creativity. The Czech was the league’s leader in both total shots (97) and shot-ending carries (40), while he was also the player with the second highest number of chances created from open play (63) after Tadic (103), the master provider.
Dušan Tadić – Ajax
In what was arguably Ajax’s worst season in recent history, captain Tadić kept on doing what he does best: creating chances for his teammates. That the rest of the Ajax squad didn’t take full advantage of the Serbian’s output doesn’t take anything away from Tadić’s exquisite form, at times resembling a Michelin Star chef at a fast food restaurant. Because boy did Tadić cook something up.
The 34-year-old skipper finished the 2022-23 Eredivisie as MVP with 29 goal involvements. His 163 chances created in one season is unmatched in recorded history in the top 10 European leagues, with both his 103 chances created from open play and 60 from set plays being highs for the league. He also led the Eredivisie in assists (18).
In terms of expected assists this season, he was lightyears ahead of the competition across the bigger European leagues, partly due to Ajax’s dominant style, but obviously also down to a magnificent feel for time and space. Both his overall xA total (23.8) and his open-play xA total (18.7) were more than any other player within the top 10 European leagues in 2022-23.
Earlier this calendar year, Tadić reached 250 goal involvements in the Eredivisie, with just eight other players able to record 250+ goals or assists in a single top-seven European competition over that same period.
What might be even more impressive is Tadić’s incredible consistency. Over his entire Eredivisie career, the Serbian played in 295 of the possible 297 league games, recording 10+ assists in eight of his nine Dutch top-flight campaigns, as well as amassing 15+ goal involvements in every single season in the Eredivisie.
Ajax will be hoping the chef gets a bit more support from his colleagues in the kitchen next season.
Anastasios Douvikas – FC Utrecht
Had you placed a bet in August 2022 on Anastasios Douvikas to become top scorer of the Eredivisie, you would certainly be a whole lot richer today. After scoring nine goals in his first Eredivisie season, he started this campaign as a back-up striker having seen FC Utrecht sign experienced goalscorer Bas Dost. The odds were certainly not in Douvikas’ favour.
The Greek striker let his feet do the talking, scoring a hat-trick in the space of just 16 minutes after coming off the bench on 2 September against Fortuna Sittard. A few months later against AZ, he scored another hat-trick, while providing two assists in that game as well.
Admittedly, 19 goals are not a lot for a top scorer. In fact, it’s the lowest tally for the Eredivisie’s most prolific marksman since 1988-89, when Romário won the Golden Boot with a tally of 19 goals as well. On the other hand, Douvikas started only 24 games this season, while also being the first FC Utrecht player to ever be crowned (joint) top scorer of the Eredivisie.
Still only 23 years old, Douvikas will have drawn the attention of bigger clubs. His underlying stats contribute to that as well. He got 49% of his shots on target (incl. blocks), the best rate of all players with 70+ attempts this season, plus an impressive 24% of all his attempts became a goal, the best shot conversion rate of all players with 50+ shots.
Still not convinced? Well, he also outperformed his expected goals total (15.7) by 3.3. Douvikas might be heading to one of Europe’s big five leagues sooner rather than later.
Arne Slot – Feyenoord
After the departure of Erik ten Hag last year, the Eredivisie didn’t have to wait long before its next landscape-shifting manager. Arne Slot had already reached the final of the UEFA Europa Conference League with Feyenoord last season, and this season he delivered the Rotterdam side the 16th national title in the club’s history. This has led to significant interest from Premier League sides for the coach, but so far, at least, it seems like he is wanting to remain in Rotterdam.
Slot had to rebuild his team this season almost from scratch. Of the eleven players that started for Feyenoord in the UECL final in May 2022, seven left the club in the summer, with Tyrell Malacia, Luis Sinisterra and Marcos Senesi all moving to the Premier League.
Despite an influx of new players, Slot stuck with his own philosophy: dominant football with a lot of pressure going forward. His team quickly adopted that approach because Feyenoord had an average of 59% possession and attempted by far the most shots in the Eredivisie (680).
Feyenoord didn’t give opponents a moment of rest: among the top 10 European leagues in 2022-23, only Portuguese champions Benfica (12.8) averaged more high turnovers per game than Feyenoord (12.4).
With an unstable opposition in PSV and Ajax, Feyenoord became more confident as the season progressed. Between February and May, they won an impressive 13 matches in a row. It was only in the very last match of the season, when the championship had already been secured, that this winning streak was interrupted by their first home loss of 2022-23.
As a result, Feyenoord achieved the longest winning streak among all teams in the top 10 European leagues, while it was also the second-longest winning streak ever seen in the Eredivisie.