Steven Berghuis – key pass analysis 2021/2022

Steven Berghuis is so much more than the controversial move he made from Feyenoord Rotterdam to Ajax Amsterdam. He has been one of the best players the Netherlands have domestically and certainly one of the ones to keep a tab on when looking for bigger clubs. There hasn’t been an awful lot written about him so I’m going to do that.

In this analysis I will focus on key passes. I will look at his key passing in the Eredivisie 2021/2022 so far and look at how he is performing in relation to his peers. Before going into the video analysis, I will look more closely at the event data of the last six games and see how he performed in those game. The video and data comes from Wyscout. The event data has been provided by Opta.

In my data, only players are concluded who have played on the winger and/or striker position and have played over 600 minutes. This leaves me with 44 players. I’ve made the decision to include all attackers as they are prone to different roles in the attack – in general – and therefore this will give me a better idea of how well Berghuis is doing.

In the scatterplot below you can see how well he performs in the progressive passes per 90 vs passes to final third per 90 metrics.

If we look at the progressive passes per 90, we see that Berghuis has 7,48 progressive passes per 90, in the 2021-2022 season in Eredivisie. Berghuis has 5,39 passes to the final third per 90. He performs way above average when we look at progressive passes per 90, and also performs way above average when we look at passes to the final third per 90.

If we look at the Passes to penalty area per 90, we see that Berghuis has 6,3 passes to penalty area per 90, in the 2021-2022 season in Eredivisie. Berghuis has 1,73 through passes per 90. He performs way above average when we look at through passes per 90, and way above average when looking at passes to penalty area per 90.

In the image above you see Steven Berghuis from Ajax, compared to attackers in the 2021-2022 Eredivisie. This shows us the rank of his key passing data compared to his peers. As you can see he is one of the top performers in all metrics. He is in the 95th percentile and up for every metric looked at in the key passing metrics.

This can also be seen in the beeswarmplot below. This visual shows us the same information, but the visual is slightly different as it visually shows us where the players are in terms of the metric and shows us how far ahead Berghuis actually is. Or isn’t.

Now I will look at the passes from the last 4 games Berghuis has played in Eredivisie: RKC Waalwijk (A), Sparta Rotterdam (A), Willem II (H) and AZ Alkmaar (H). I will look at his heatmaps and pass maps to establish where he was and where passed the ball.

In the images above you can see where Wilson operates in these games. In all games he operates on the right side of the pitch with the game against Willem II the most visible. In the game against AZ he was more present in the central areas and was all over the pitch. Against Sparta more or less the same, but with a clear presence for the right flank. In the image below I will demonstrate how he made his passes from the opposition’s half.

In the images above you can see where Berghuis passed the ball on the opponent’s half to see how Berghuis contributes in attack when he progresses on the field. He is very present in every game with short passes and crosses, but what’s interesting is that the corners and long balls have been more unsuccessful.

In the image above you see all progressive passes by Berghuis in the last 4 games played. He had 47 progressive passes in the games against RKC Waalwijk, Sparta, Willem II and AZ. The expected threat corresponding with those passes was 1,19. David Sumpter did a good job of explaining what it really is:

“In order to evaluate actions we look at how an action changes the probability of scoring. It is this change in probability of scoring which is the expected threat (xT). If a player makes a pass which moves the ball from a place where it is unlikely for their team to score, to a place where they are more likely to score, then they have increased the xT in favour of their team. In general, the nearer you get the ball to the goal the more likely your team is to score (although if you look carefully passes back to the goalkeeper are also valuable).”

In this case we can see that Berghuis’ actions lead to a probability of scoring of 1,19 – we have measured this by looking at the progressive passes of the last 4 games.

Video analysis

In the three fragments below you can see three key passes that Steven Berghuis made in the last four games. It illustrates the way he contributes to the Ajax side and where his key passes come from.

In the videoa bove you see Ajax in their game against AZ. Berghuis gets the ball just outside the penalty area and sees space in the penalty area. He sees Blind making the run towards the six-yard box, but his pass is too hard to do anything with it. However, he does spot the runner before any other AZ defender sees it and it could be potentially an assist or second assists.

In the video above we see Ajax in their game against Willem II. Ajax recover the ball on the left flank and Berghuis tries to set his team mate up who is running down the line in order to give a cross. Timber is moving forward, but Berghuis’ pass is blocked – although the intention was there, again.

In the video above we see Ajax in their game against RKC Waalwijk. Berghuis receives the ball from Gravenberch, after which he contemplates what to do with the ball. He spots the run of Anthony and chips the ball toward the right flank in order to continue the attack. It’s not successful as in Anthony can’t control the ball – but again a situation which could be dangerous.

In the video above you see another fragment of Ajax in their game against Willem II. Berghuis sets up this attack on the right flank when he passes the ball to the central zones. As soon as he passes the ball, he moves into the penalty area and gets the ball back from a chip. He has time and space to produce a cross for Haller and Klaassen, but in the end the attempt is not successful.

You have no seen for situations where Berghuis’ attempts weren’t successful, but he tries. The attempts show us he sees the runners he sees the opportunities, and when they are successful – Ajax has a higher chance of scoring a goal.


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