In the 2015-16 season, there was a time when Stoke City fans started calling their team Stokecelona. In that season Stoke had more La Masia graduates in their squad than Arsenal and for a part of that season, Stoke City did play an uncharacteristically passing brand of football. If initial signs are anything to go by, we might see Crystal Palace, another team that is traditionally known for deep defending and direct football, play a more passing game.
The first sign of that was that when Sam Allardyce left Selhurst Park at the end of the last season, the club decided to bring in Frank de Boer. The Dutchman, in his first press conference said, “I want a team where the fans are excited to come to our games, to see a team that wants to win and wants to fight for every minute…it’s also in our DNA to try and play technical football and dominate. When you do that and do that well it’s a plus, it’s attractive and it looks nice.”
Crystal Palace’s incoming transfers this summer reflect this change that de Boer wants to bring in. First the Eagles brought in Ruben Loftus-Cheek on a season long loan from Chelsea, adding technical quality to their midfield. Then, on July 24 Crystal Palace signed center back Jairo Riedewald from Ajax on a five-year contract. Riedewald is a talented young defender, who can play left-back as well as a defensive midfielder. Between 2012-13 and the last season, the 20-year old made 93 appearances for Ajax across Eredivisie, Europe (UCL/UEL), and KNVB Cup.
Although earlier in his fledgling career he was played across multiple positions, over the last couple of seasons, he had made the centre-back position in Ajax his own. He will have to use his unique skills, at least in the current Eagles’ setup, and make a place for himself in Crystal Palace’s established central defence. This post is my attempt at trying to identify unique attributes that might make Riedewald a more preferred option than some of his more senior teammates. But first, a few more details on the player himself.
Riedewald joined Ajax’s youth academy as an eleven-year old and made his senior debut in a KNVB Cup match at the age of 17 in December 2013. His league debut followed shortly against Roda JC, against whom he appeared as a sub but won the game for Ajax by scoring a brace.
Since the 2013-14 season, he has been a regular for Ajax in Eredivisie, domestic cup and Europe. He has also represented Netherlands at all age levels from under-15s to under-21s and eventually made his senior debut in September 2015 against Turkey.
Even by Ajax’s standards, I think that making 93 appearances for the senior team between the ages 17 and 20 is commendable.
Playing Style & Comparison
True to the Ajax style and in line with De Boer’s ambition for Crystal Palace, Riedewald is a ball-playing defender – adept at passing and dribbling, who likes to play short passes, but is considered a bit weaker in aerial duels.
He is an extremely busy player getting involved in 114.2 events per 90 minutes on an average, with a very respectable success rate of 84%. He wins 66% of the defending duels he gets involved in and is successful in 40%of 1 vs 1 defence scenarios.
As this video shows, he is good at interceptions, putting in 2.2 interceptions per game, which is quite higher than the existing central defenders at Crystal Palace. His tackling rate is also just marginally lesser than James Tomkins’ 1.2 tackles per game. These two stats tell us that Riedewald is more proactive in his defending.
This is further highlighted by the fewer number of clearances and blocks that he puts in compared to his new teammates. His 2 clearances per game are lesser than 50% of what Eagles’ current central defenders put in, as are his 0.4 blocks per game.
Riedewald’s passing success rate of 92.4% and his 60.2 passes per game are way higher than his team members. He also attempts more long balls (one more per game), compared to the second most proficient long passer (Delaney) and he at least attempts one through-ball in ten games, while his Crystal Palace fellow defenders did not attempt any in the last season.
Although he scored a brace on his league debut in Netherlands, he is not known as a goal threat. Instead, due to his outstanding passing capabilities, he is able to make more shots than scoring a goal himself. He made 0.6 key passes per game for Ajax and also dribbled past an opponent 0.8 times per game.
The picture we get from these stats is one of a ball-playing defender, who is proactive in defence, great at passing, a bit adventurous as well in passing and capable of creating shooting opportunities for team members.
None of the existing central defenders at Selhurst Park is similar to Riedewald. In fact, none of the three – Damien Delaney, Scott Dann, and James Tomkins can be described as a ball-playing defender. So, Riedewald can create his own niche at Crystal Palace, allowing them to play from the back.
Further, if De Boer tries out a 3-4-3 formation, Riedewald is better suited to be the left-sided defender or the central defender than any of the other three. This is because, when last season a 3-4-3 was used, Delaney was used in the left-sided defender’s role but he is 36 years old and may not mind giving way to a much younger and more technical defender in that position. Although Jeffrey Schlupp is also an option available to De Boer perhaps the Dutch manager might feel confident enough in Riedewald’s capabilities to give him significant amount of game time even this season.
No matter how much time on the pitch De Boer gives to his new central defender, one thing is certain – the new manager has started to mould the team in his preferred style, which both he and the chairman Steve Parish feel, will make Palace a stable team in the Premier League and not permanent relegation fighters.
De Boer is getting the Eagles to change their colours and Riedewald is an important feather in the new plumage.