Position(s): DM, CM
Preferred Foot: Right
Strengths: technical security, aerial duels, ball-progression, anticipation, recoveries
Areas for Development: aggression, physical strength
This summer, we saw various European powerhouses pursue defensive midfielders in the transfer market, with Barcelona completing a low-cost deal for Oriol Romeu (31) to replace Sergio Busquets and Liverpool adding Wataru Endo (30) to their midfield ranks after failing to complete a deal for Moises Caicedo. Manchester United signed Sofyan Amrabat (27) on loan from Fiorentina on deadline day, whilst Bayern Munich were left with egg on their face after seeing a deal for Joao Palhinha fall through in the final hours of the summer window.
One young midfielder who may find himself on the radar of the continent’s top clubs sooner rather than later is Mats Wieffer. Born in Borne, Netherlands, Wieffer developed at Twente’s academy and would spend two years at Excelsior before making the move to Feyenoord in the summer of 2022. He would quickly become a regular in the center of the pitch under Arne Slot, scoring 3 goals and 7 assists in 37 appearances as the Rotterdam club won their first league title in six years and reached the Europa League quarterfinals.
Wieffer would make his debut for the Netherlands in March, starting in their 3-0 win against Gibraltar, before starting in their next two matches as the Dutch fell to Croatia in the Nations League semifinals before losing to Italy in the third-place match. He engages in a lot of aerial duels winning 3.39 (top 1% outside top 5 leagues), losing 2.42, giving him an aerial success rate of 58.1 (81st percentile). His physique, athleticism, timing of jumps & positioning enable him to be dominant in the air & win so many duels.
One of his greatest strengths is his anticipation. Wieffer scans frequently which gives him great spatial awareness that helps him in many aspects of his game. Interceptions, pass selection and timing & positioning of tackles. He reads the game very well and has a quality where he gives attackers perceived space by revealing his intentions late, then anticipates the ball coming to them and uses his speed and physicality to build momentum to contest & win the duel.
The Dutch midfielder emanates confidence and composure on the ball. People always criticise a player from a different league saying they get too much time on the ball, but the most intelligent midfielders MAKE that time. Wieffer’s spatial awareness & football IQ enable him to create space for himself. He scans then steps into space away from danger to ask for the ball. Or even stops his run to lose his marker so when he gets the ball, he has time. Subtle, but intentional.
When on the ball, Wieffer is always looking to progress play – 7.42 progressive passes (top 11%). Due to his top awareness, he knows exactly when he doesn’t have much time on the ball and often will take minimal touches & play quick first-time passes to avoid being dispossessed. His technical security and ball retention make him a great controller in midfield which is a very valuable skill especially for high-tempo teams where they need someone who just sees the game quicker than the rest to dictate the game. Wieffer has great passing ability.
He has a variety of pass types he regularly uses – chipped, outside of foot, diagonals, line-breaking & consistently executes these with the perfect weight of pass. 70.04 passes attempted (top 6%) & 57.83 completed (top 9%) gives Mats a pass completion of 82.6% pass completion. Wieffer invades the opponents’ space through ball progression including many passes into the final third with 7.26 per 90 (top 7%).
The Feyenoord midfielder possesses elite athleticism which he utilises to get back into good positions, support in all phases of play throughout the game, & press opponents. He savours his energy at times by staying in position to always have the capacity to sprint when needed.
Wieffer has 9.47 ball recoveries (top 2%). His peripheral vision enables him to regain possession from loose balls to recycle the ball, he does this well in the attacking third which is a trait that’s valuable for a team that look to regain possession quickly & dominate it. At 23 years of age, he has shown glimpses of top ball-striking ability. He has a limited goal collection but within it has displayed great shooting technique, and if he can add more shots per 90 (currently 1.24) and from distance, then he’ll be able to show more of this ability.
Mats has shown glimpses of top ball-striking ability. He has a limited goal collection but within it has displayed great shooting technique, if he can add more shots per 90 (currently 1.24) and from distance, then he’ll be able to show more of this ability. pic.twitter.com/JbAwGw5KH9
— Ben Mattinson (@Ben_Mattinson_) August 15, 2023
Wieffer’s excellent shooting technique combined with his explosive power in his long legs gives him a greater potential ball-striking development capacity. Long legs allow for more force to be generated so if he shoots more frequently, he’ll be able to improve on this even more. It remains to be seen what his best position is — he has what it takes to learn the trade of a defensive midfielder, but in order to become a lone six, Wieffer needs to take a few years to hone his skills and develop at this position. On the contrary, he’s ready to be a top-class 8 now.
The problem with him being a lone 6 is that he’s a front-footed aggressive player. As a lone 6, doing this can leave the midfield exposed if not timed correctly & the opponent can easily bypass the mid-block. A lone 6 has to have positional discipline & stay at the base.
Another area for development is his physical strength. Don’t get me wrong, he’s already strong. But the Eredivisie isn’t very physical so if he played in a more physical league (e.g.. Premier League) he’d need to be even stronger. Nevertheless, he knows how to use his body well and was skilled at winning the ball back and progressing it to the more creative players like Sebastian Szymański, who moved to Fenerbahçe after an impressive loan spell in Rotterdam, and Orkun Kökçü, who joined Benfica, with these players creating chances in the final third.
Slot’s midfielders would often interchange positions in possession, whilst aggressively pushing to win the ball back with Szymański playing as a more advanced midfielder and Kökçü and Wieffer in the double pivot. Kökçü was the primary creator, so Wieffer didn’t have the creative freedom because he was the defensive shield of the Turkey international. So if given more licence to drive forward, he’ll be able to box-crash & make the most of his top shooting ability and particularly his aerial prowess.
When occupying more advanced positions, he’s shown a willingness to run in behind, he’s very mobile & quick so in these areas, his speed helps to create separation. He only has 1.67 progressive carries but he’s a strong ball carrier – just needs to more frequently. Nonetheless, Wieffer is early on in his development journey so he’s still mouldable, and he could go on to have plenty of success either as an 8 or a 6 with the right manager.
He has started in every single match for Feyenoord this season, with the defending champions drawing to Fortuna Sittard and Sparta Rotterdam before thrashing Almere City 6-1, as Wieffer quadrupled their lead against the newly promoted side. Feyenoord would proceed to win 5-1 in Utrecht with Santiago Giménéz grabbing a brace in a second consecutive match, and they’ll be looking to pick up another win at home against Heerenveen before hosting Celtic in their first Champions League group stage match and traveling to Ajax for the first De Klassieker of the season.
By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_
Featured Image: ProShots / Icon Sport