- Tactical Analysis
- Scout Reports
- Talent Radar
- The Series
Griffin O’Neill writes a detailed scout report about Matthijs De Ligt, Ajax’s accomplished young defender
Because of the current instability of the Dutch national team, a new generation of star players and leaders need to emerge to turn The Netherlands back into one of the elite national teams in the world. A strong candidate to transform the KNVB is Ajax center half Matthijs De Ligt. The-17-year-old has been consistently putting in strong performances for the Ajax first team despite heavy competition in the center back role.
Born in Leiderdorp on August 12th, 1999, Matthijs De Ligt has been at Ajax since age nine. His impressive ability has meant he has played above his age group for almost his entire career. In the 2015/16 season, De Ligt started all but one game for Jong Ajax in the U-19 Eredivisie, and he also started every one of Jong Ajax’s UEFA youth cup games. This consistency was crucial for the Jong Ajax team and extremely impressive coming from a then 16-year-old. These impressive performances led to De Ligt being involved with the first team from the start of the 2016/17 season. He was granted a starting berth in Ajax’s KNVB Beker against Wilhelm II, and rewarded manager Peter Bosz’s faith in him by scoring off of a corner. This goal made him Ajax’s second youngest ever goalscorer, only behind Clarence Seedorf. De Ligt started all of Ajax’s KNVB Beker games until their surprise defeat by SC Cambuur in December.
De Ligt was given his league debut in a 1-0 win over Heerenveen in November and was given another run out three games later against PSV. He scored his first league goal against Heracles Almelo. He played a full half that game and was given his first Eredivisie start the next week against FC Groningen. De Ligt has appeared in all but two of Ajax’s games since and scored for a second time against Heerenveen only a few weeks ago. While his goalscoring ability may make you think that is the only reason he is on the team, it is most definitely not. De Ligt has performed extremely well for a player of his age, and he has displaced seasoned veterans such as Heiko Westermann and Kenny Tete.
While De Ligt’s national team debut may not have gone to plan (a 2-0 loss to Bulgaria which saw De Ligt substituted at half time and manager Danny Blind sacked after the game), the youngster still shows great promise to become a mainstay in the Dutch national side for many years to come.
In the style of an Ajax academy graduate, De Ligt is very accomplished on the ball and he is also an accomplished passer of the ball. So far in the Europa League this season, De Ligt has completed 55.8 passes per game, with an 87% completion percentage. This means that he completes more passes, with a higher completion percentage, than Chelsea defender David Luiz.
De Ligt is also a threat from set pieces. Two of his goals have come off of corners, and his 6’2” inch frame means he is constantly an aerial threat. The 17-year-old is also very accomplished at tackling. While this is an important skill for a defender to have, it is not absolutely necessary. Interceptions are just as important in the skill set of a strong defender. De Ligt averages two tackles and interceptions per game. This puts him about on average for interceptions and slightly higher than average for tackles. De Ligt’s reliance on tackling is not a bad thing although it could stand to be decreased in order to maximize his potential.
As previously mentioned, De Ligt is an extremely accomplished tackler for his age. He only fails on 0.2 of his 2.2 attempted tackles per game, and he is also a very impressive slide tackler. This ability was shown in an Eredivisie match against Excelsior earlier in the year.
His ability to win the ball back inside of the eighteen yard box, while making minimal contact with the opposing striker, showcases De Ligt’s tackling ability and is a textbook example of a clean tackle inside of the area. This tackle also shows just how much potential De Ligt has.
Another area where De Ligt excels is in his aerial ability. He wins about three defensive aerial duels per game while also posing a serious threat on offensive set pieces. This ability is crucial for young players to have, and it also better prepares De Ligt for the step up to a larger European league. Because of his strong frame, De Ligt is also able to compete physically with much larger and more experienced players, another ability extremely important for a young player to have.
One of the most important places where De Ligt impresses is his passing ability. De Ligt completes an average of 55.8 passes per game, which is only one less than England’s “ball playing defender of the future” John Stones. De Ligt’s passing ability is one of the main things that sets him apart from many other young defender prospects around Europe. This passing ability also makes De Ligt a perfect fit for many of Europe’s top sides.
As is the case with many young defenders, De Ligt’s judgment could use some work. He tends to mis-anticipate the timing of tackles and long passes over the top. This deficiency was shown in his international debut against Bulgaria. A ball was played over the top, and instead of just staying with the intended target of the long ball and playing it safe, De Ligt attempted to hold his ground and head the ball away. Sadly, De Ligt misjudged the ball and it dropped directly to Bulgarian striker Spas Delev to tuck away.
Although this a very bad weakness to have, it is easily corrected through consistent game time, which is exactly what De Ligt is getting at Ajax. Because of Ajax’s commitment to youth and the development of the game, De Ligt is sure to develop in a safe and stable environment without the pressure and media scrutiny of a top five league.
Read all our scout reports here