The Eredivisie. Both underrated and overrated. In my opinion talents from Ajax get easily overhyped because of the fame of their academy, but among those overhyped talents, a few are very much elite. Jurriën Timber is one of them
With Manchester United being heavily linked with the young defender because of Erik ten Hag’s appointment, this is a good moment to look at this player. What kind of player is he? How well does he perform in the data? In this article, I will attempt to find an answer to that.
- Seasonal stats
- Defensive qualities
- Ball progression
- Key passing
- Comparison with Eredivisie peers
- Final thoughts
- Name: Jurriën Timber
- Date of birth: 17–06–2001
- Nationality: Dutch
- Position: Central defender,
- Contract expires: 30–6–2024
- Current club: Ajax
- Previous clubs: Feyenoord (Y), Ajax (Y)
- Current international: Netherlands
Timber is a very talented and modern central defender within Ajax’s ranks. He’s comfortable on the ball and facilitates his team mates in the attacking approach. Timber is patient, knows how to progress the ball, and is intelligent in his decision-making. Combining this with his defensive awareness, at such a young age — the defender really is an elite talent.
You can roughly divide defensive players in players who are reactive and players who are proactive, Timber is definitely the latter. He reads the game very well and uses his tactical abilities to spot possible danger and cut it very early on. In intercepting balls and then following up with a progressive pass or run, he really makes for a terrific ball-playing central defender.
The young defender is confident on and off the ball, and his patience can be seen in his composure in passing and finishing. On the other side, he does need some finesse in terms of how he defends. He’s very rigid and wants to complete the task at hand, sometimes resulting in an unnecessary yellow card or fouls given in dangerous areas. He’s very eager and ambitious on the pitch, and sometimes he needs a bit more perspective on how important a foul is or not.
When he commits to tackles he often wins them, just like his defensive duels -as we will see later on. He is strong on the ball and quite a secure player in his own half. In terms of set pieces he isn’t that remarkable, but what can be said is that he isn’t the strongest in a man-marking system, which can both be a problem in set pieces, but also in open play.
It’s important to know that these strengths and weaknesses are based on his performances in the Eredivisie and in the light of his progression as 20-year-old talent.
When we look at his season stats, we can see a few interesting things with Timber. In the graph above you can see a percentile radar of Timber based on a central defender template. It shows us how well Timber is doing in a 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.
He is an exceptional physical presence in the central defensive, what we can see in the data for defensive dues and aerial duels — scoring in the 87th percentile for defensive duels won, but low for aerial duels won. While we look at the possession-adjusted metrics we can see that he scores very high on the tackles (88th percentile) but also very high on the interceptions (83rd percentile). Now, this means that Timber can be characterised as a reactive player but also as a proactive player.
In terms of passing, we see that he scores quite good on the expected assists metric and on the passes into the final third with 83rd and 93rd percentile— but he he does okay in the passes to the penalty area metric with 64th percentile. This is also backed up by the fact that his progression stats are very good, as he scores above the 85th percentile for these metrics.
Jurriën Timber is first and foremost a central defender, who likes to operate from the right side. He has been used in two different position by Ten Hag in the 2021/2022 Eredivisie season.
In the image above you can see the 4–2–3–1 formation. This is the formation most used by Ajax in the Eredivisie together the 4–3–3 formation. In terms of where Timber plays, he does play on the right back position or in the right central defensive position.
In the RB position, the role of the defender is to be proactive in their defensive actions, connect with passing with the central midfielders and the right winger — but also provide runs down the line and have a physical presence. This game is heavily focuses on transition, so the player should be able to cover great distance.
In the central defenders position, he plays on the right side. The emphasis is on defending in a proactive manner, and in possession of the ball — progress as much up the field and pass the ball into the final third.
Timber is famous for his defensive actions as we have seen in the radars. The high percentage of successful duels on the ground, make him one of the best — if not the best of the Eredivisie in his respective position.
So where does he conduct these defensive actions?
You can see that he recovers most of the balls on the right side between the middle third and the defensive third. The same area is roughly the area where he does intercept the ball, but these interception happen a lot more central. His tackling does happen all over the pitch and is mainly targeting at the last attempt to get the ball. The high volume of tackles in the opposition’s half indicates that these are attempts to break counter-attacks.
So how high does he score when looking at the defensive midfielders in the league? You can see that in the scatterplot below.
In the scatterplot above you can see how well he performs in terms of the PAdj metrics of sliding tackles and interceptions.
He does commit a lot to sliding tackles per 90 minutes, as you can see he scores below average with his 1,04 sliding tackles per 90 minutes. In terms of interceptions, he does score very high and above average. His 8,31 sliding tackles per 90 minutes are in the top quadrant.
In the video above you see a compilation of his defensive actions with Ajax in several games. They light his ball recovering ability, his strength in defensive duels and in the defensive awareness of Timber.
The modern central defnder isn’t only concerned with defending and producing defensive actions — 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. Timber does really well here as he scores above average in both metrics. He is a complete player and finds himself surrounded by fellow Ajax player like Martinez.
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.
In doing so, Timber not only proves his defensive worth — but also manages to show the worth he has in terms of the progression of the attack and connecting the defensive lines to the attacking third.
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, Timber scores quite average in the most metrics, he does do well in the passes to the final third and passes to penalty area per 90.
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.
When Timber comes higher up the pitch, he can be the player with the through pass, but most of his passes make sure the midfield can be higher up the pitch and in a more attacking mode.
Timber 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 Timber has conducted his shots in the 2021/2022 Eredivisie season. He had 26 shots of which 4 went in goal. 34,6% of his shots were on target and he generated a total xG of 2,7— the latter meaning that he is slightly overperforming with +1,3.
Apart from shooting in the box, he loves to shoot from zone 14 — as that is the zone where comes frequently and tries to shoot from distance. This happens a lot from cleared balls from set pieces. But all his goals come from inside the penalty area.
Comparison with peers
Now we have looked at the individual qualities of Timber, I would like to compare him to three central defenders from rivals.
Compared to Teze from PSV, you can see that in the defensive side of the game, Timber is superior. Only the aerial duels won and passes to penalty area is where Teze is better — but it’s impressive what the data says about this comparison.
The comparison with Trauner shows us that Timber is superior in all metrics, bar one. It shows the difference of a player who is starting to get used to the level and a player that’s so talented that he is ready for the next step.
Again, in this comparison with Hilgers from FC Twente — the young Ajax defender is superior. The thing is with that Timber is not good in aerial duels, but in all others, he does better than his peers.
Timber is one of the players that is already good enough for a step up and will only improve. He has been constantly on a good to a great level in the Eredivisie, sometimes being remarkably fantastic against the top sides in the Netherlands as well in the Champions League.
If he goes to the Premier League, he will need time to adjust — but he will fit very well in Ten Hag’s idea of how football should be played at Manchester United.