Over the last two days there was considerable speculation over Antonio Conte’s future at Chelsea. Some reports, most likely falsely, suggested that the Italian manager was unhappy at the Champions because he felt he was not getting the support he needed to make the transfers he needs to solidify his team’s place at the top and target the Champions League. Whether true or not, if Conte was benchmarking his side against the Blues from Liverpool, he has reason to feel that his club is moving sluggishly on transfers.
In fact, Everton are signing and getting linked with players with such rapidity that the entire league can feel a bit sluggish in comparison. When their arch-rivals are signing out-of-contract youngsters (one who won the World Cup though) and Arsenal are welcoming free transfers, Everton have signed the third-most expensive goal-keeper of all time and promptly followed it up by signing the captain of Europa League runners-up Ajax Amsterdam.
Late in the day on 15th June, Everton announced the signing of Davy Klaassen from Ajax with this tweet. The club’s official statement also informed the readers that the deal was for €27 million and that Klaassen had signed a five-year deal running through to 2022. In his first interview for the club, Klaassen introduced himself as, “I’m an attacking midfielder player who likes to get in the box,” he said. “I also like to be aggressive on the field and press all the time. I like to score and create goals and I like to win.”
This is music to the ears of Everton fans as well as to those of the manager Ronald Koeman, who thought that his side lacked goals from the midfield in the last season. This perhaps is more of an excuse than an actual reason, as Everton’s midfield (all DM to AM positions) scored 17 goals and created 21 goals in Premier League in 2016-17. So, Everton’s midfield scored at least one goal per game in the league. But Koeman does not seem to think very highly of Ross Barkley, who by the way scored 5 and assisted 8 of those 38 goals. His other midfield options, who played anywhere close to the number of minutes Barkley put in, include Idrissa Gueye and Gareth Barry. Both the players are not known for their goal scoring prowess and Barry is 36-years old with only one year remaining on his contract.
Thus, Koeman’s move is completely justifiable, especially if Klaassen is a replacement for Barkley. Koeman is replacing someone with whom he has an uncomfortable relationship with his countryman, who is at a similar age but provides at least a slight upgrade in terms of goal scoring at least. Klaassen has done it in a different league but his goal contributions (goals and assists) have increased every single season over the last four seasons from 13 in 2013-14 to 24 in 2016-17.
Davy Klaassen came up in the famous Ajax academy getting his senior Eredivisie debut in 2011-12. But he became a regular with Ajax’s senior team only in 2013-14 when he notched up 26 appearances in the league. In those 26 games, he provided 10 goals and 3 assists to cement his position and to help his side win the title.
In the next season, he created more and scored fewer (9 assists, 6 goals) but increased his overall goal contribution. In 2015-16, he became the club captain and rewarded his club with 13 goals and 8 assists. The last season, he led his team in a tight title clash with PSV Eindhoven and also led them to the Europa League final. Though Ajax lost both the titles eventually, Klaassen’s contributions stood out. In the Eredivisie, he scored 14 and assisted 10, while in Europa League he scored 2 and assisted 2. The two that he scored against Schalke in the quarter-final were crucial in his side reaching the final.
Stats and Comparison with Barkley
The 24-year old can play in multiple midfield positions, but for most of the last season he played as a right-sided central midfielder. He put in 4,385 actions during the 2016-17 season (75.5 per appearance), 67% of which were successful. But compared to Barkley, Klaassen was less busy as the Englishman put in 100.7 actions per appearance with a 72% success rate. This business could indicate the overall more hectic nature of the English league.
According to Wyscout data, Klaassen’s passing trailed Barkley a bit. He attempted 34.3 passes per 90 minutes, compared to 38 for Barkley. Klaassen’s pass accuracy was 84%, compared to 90% for Barkley. Klaassen also lags behind Barkley in through passes – by 50% – 0.6 through passes per 90 minutes, compared with 1.2 for Barkley. Similarly, in key passes as well Klaassen is behind Barkley at 0.3 key passes per 90 minutes, compared to 0.8 for Barkley. But interestingly, Klaassen’s numbers are similar to Barkley’s when it comes to assists – 0.2 assists per 90 minutes, which is a bit interesting as it means that Barkley makes more shooting chances but when it comes to creating really quality chances, both Klaassen and Barkley are similar.
On the other hand, in terms of tracking back and recovering the ball back, Klaassen seems to be better. Their heatmaps show a clear area in the Ajax half where Klaassen has been active, presumably in defensive actions. As expected, Klaassen is involved in more defensive duels with more success, as compared to Barkley (3 at 60% vs 2.7 at 44%). He also has more interceptions (2.8 vs 2.5) per 90 minutes and recoveries (1.0 vs 0.7) per 90 minutes.
Finally, in the attack, Klaassen seems to be a patient shooter, who shoots less but shoots well. He has 1.3 shots per 90 minutes to Barkley’s 2.3 but has a success rate of 42%, compared to 32% for Barkley, resulting in a goal per 90-minute number of 0.4 for himself, compared to 0.2 for the Englishman. Another interesting characteristic of Klaassen’s shooting is his distribution across the goal mouth. His distribution of goals is well spread out, while Barkley heavily favours the lower half of the left side of the goal, perhaps making Klaassen less predictable.
In terms of injuries, Barkley has got fewer injuries over the last few years but they have been a few weeks long. Klaassen, on the other hand, has more injuries but short-term ones. The only time he missed a lot of games was in 2012-13, when a groin injury made him miss almost the entire season.
Klaassen joins a long list of players who have joined Premier League teams from Eredivisie for varied outcomes. Will he be a hit like Suarez or Eriksen? Or will he be a miss like Depay and Janssen? Only time will tell. For now, it seems that Ronald Koeman is replacing Ross Barkley with a more accurate and involved midfielder who has considerable European experience as well. It is also a considerable statement of intent from the Dutchman, as he sets up his side for a challenge to the European spots in the table.