Looking at the Eredivisie 2021/2022 season, there is a lot of attention for the top players from sides like Feyenoord, Ajax, and PSV. But if we look at the last two decades, AZ from Alkmaar has definitely deserved to be up there as well. Despite finishing 5th behind FC Twente, the AZ side do have some very interesting players.
In this analysis we will focus on one of their key players: the Swedish Jesper Karlsson. He has had an impressive season with good attacking output, but has also been one of the greatest threats in the Eredivisie.
We will use data and video to illustrate how Karlsson has done in the Eredivisie 2021/2022 and we will focus on the winger position.
- Seasonal stats
- Ball progression
- Expected threat
- Key passing
- Final thoughts
- Name: Jesper Karlsson
- Date of birth: 25–07–1998
- Nationality: Swedish
- Position: Left winger, right winger
- Contract expires: 30–6–2026
- Current club: AZ
- Previous clubs: Elfsborg, Falkenberg
- International: Sweden (7 games)
Karlsson has been a very impressive winger at AZ in the Eredivisie. He is mobile and versatile in his movement, meaning that he will lure defenders to him and open up space elsewhere. Next to that, he is good at losing his marker, making him available for long passes and creating something from those opportunities. He loves to operate in wide areas but doesn’t shy to go into the half-space.
While he is not the best in the 1v1 duels, he is very good in connecting with the full backs and the midfielders, so that the can create an advantage. His passes do contribute to the progression of the game and he does well to spot third man runs and get the ball there.
When we look at his star qualities we can mention his finishing, his deliveries in set pieces and his abilities to utilise counter-attacks. While he is not the best in the 1v1 duels, he does well in his dribbling abilities.
When we look at his season stats, we can see a few interesting things with Karlsson. In the graph above you can see a percentile radar of Karlsson based on a winger/wide midfielder template. It shows us how well Karlsson is doing in certain data metrics compared to his Eredivisie peers in the 2021/2022 season.
We will go into details for the specific stats later for the absolute data, but in this part, we will look at how well he is doing in certain metrics and what that tells us about his playing style.
Karlsson doesn’t impress as much in the dribbling and progressive runs metrics, as he scores in the 66th and 70th percentile — still way above average. But in all the other metrics he scores in the 84th percentile or higher. What’s impressive is that he scores in the 94th percentile in the expected goals and expected assists metrics.
Karlsson is not only very good in the attacking output, but overall he is just a very good winger or wide midfielder in this AZ side. He seems like a very complete wide player.
In the image above you can see the positions in a 4–2–3–1 where Karlsson can play. He is the best suited for the wide midfield/wingers role, where he needs to make runs down the line and in doing so provides passes for the attackers in AZ’s side.
He can feature as the striker on top as well, but due to his movement, it often feels as a false 9, rather than a target striker. His positioning off the ball makes him a good player. He sometimes is situated in the number 10 position and while he plays okay there, it definitely isn’t a strong position for him.
The modern wingers isn’t only concerned with dribbling and crosses— but he/she also needs to be comfortable on the ball and progress play from it.
In the scatterplot above you can see the progressive metrics of progressive passes per 90 and progressive runs per 90. Karlsson does really well here as he scores above average in the progressive passes metric, and just above the progressive runs metric. There are only a few players better in progressing the ball.
Ball progression can have via different aspects of the game, but I wanted to look at his abilities on the long ball. He can use it to connect with the attacking third or to get out the press of the opposition.
Expected threat (xT)
The basic idea behind xT is to divide the pitch into a grid, with each cell assigned a probability of an action initiated there to result in a goal in the next N actions. This approach allows us to value not only parts of the pitch from which scoring directly is more likely, but also those from which an assist is most likely to happen. Actions that move the ball, such as passes and dribbles (also referred to as ball carries), can then be valued based solely on their start and end points, by taking the difference in xT between the start and end cell. Basically, this term tells us which option a player is most likely to choose when in a certain cell, and how valuable those options are. The latter term is the one that allows xT to credit valuable passes that enable further actions such as key passes and shots. (Soccerment)
So how does Karlsson contribute to attacking threat in the Eredivisie?
If we look at all these actions we can see Karlsson is the third on the list of highest xT generated throughout the season. He has an xT of 5,40. Only Tadic (8,18) and Blind (8,59) are better.
Every player makes passes in a game, but which passes actively contribute to the progression and construction of an attack? You can see some of these metrics in the beeswarmplot below.
As you can see in the graph above, Karlsson scores quite high above averagein the most metrics, only in the passes to final third per 90, he scores on average.
What’s interesting is how he makes key passes. He scores in the high average, but the intent of his through passes does tell a lot about how he can help in an attack.
Karlsson does sometimes in the position to shoot, but how does he do in the quality of shooting?
In the shot map above you can see from where Karlsson has conducted his shots in the 2021/2022 Eredivisie season. He had 121 shots of which 17 went in goal. 47,9% of his shots were on target and he generated a total xG of 14,52 — the latter meaning that he is overperforming with +2,48.
Apart from shooting in the box, he loves to shoot from the left side outside the penalty box. Half of his goals come from this area.
Not only did he score a lot in the Eredivisie, he also provided 12 assists during the season. In the video below you can see his assists during the season.
Jesper Karlsson might be the player of the season in the Eredivisie. He has a very good ability on the ball, in which he manages to take on his opponents in dribbles. He also makes sure to progress the ball via passes in which he is one of the best when we look at this xT.
In terms of providing and contributing directly to a goal, he does really well with his goals and assists, and he is ready for a step higher considering his progress over the last 2 years.