Tijjani Reijnders: Milan’s Dutch Recruit in Midfield

Club: Milan

Nationality: Netherlands

Position(s): CM

Preferred Foot: Right

Height: 6’1”/185cm

Age: 24

Strengths: vision, stamina, ball-carrying, ball-progression, passing ability, distance shooting

Development Areas: bit lightweight, not defensively strong enough


As the 2019/20 Eredivisie season drew to a premature end in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, AZ Alkmaar finished level on 56 points with Ajax, albeit behind the Amsterdam club on goal differential. Whilst Ajax advanced to the UEFA Champions League group stage, AZ would lose in the third qualifying round, suffer elimination in the UEFA Europa League group stage, and finish third following a summer that would see them lose Oussama Idrissi to Sevilla for €12 million — manager Arne Slot would also be sacked in December after it was revealed that he would be taking over at Feyenoord at the end of the season.


The summer of 2021 saw yet another exodus of key players with Myron Boadu heading to Monaco, Calvin Stengs going to Nice and Teun Koopmeiners moving to Atalanta for a combined fee of €46 million. AZ regressed to a fifth-place finish, lost in the Europa League play-off round and exited the UEFA Europa Conference League at the Round of 16, whilst also losing to Ajax in the KNVB Cup semifinals. Despite losing captain and starting left back Owen Wijndal to Ajax, the 2022/23 season would be far kinder to the Cheeseheads.


Milos Kerkez: Bournemouth’s New Hungarian Left Back


AZ finished fourth, two points behind Ajax, and booked their ticket to the third qualifying round of the UEFA Europa Conference League. Over in Europe, they thrashed Tuzla City, Dundee United and Gil Vicente by a combined scoreline of 18-2 over six games, before winning five of their six of their group stage matches and topping the table. Pascal Jensen’s side brushed past Lazio and Anderlecht before falling to eventual champions West Ham in the semifinals, and once again, it seems that Europe’s biggest clubs have taken notice of their continental exploits.


Hungary international Milos Kerkez, who replaced Wijndal and thrived at the left back position with five goals and seven assists, has joined Bournemouth for £15.5 million, whilst Dutch center back Sam Beukema has joined Bologna for €10 million. After a stellar campaign in the Netherlands, Tijjani Reijnders has joined Milan for €19 million — only bettered by Vincent Janssen’s departure to Tottenham amongst AZ’s record transfers. But just what makes Reijnders such a special talent in midfield?


Reijnders is a silky player on the ball, comfortable receiving the ball deep and turning past defenders, and above all, he is a great ball-carrier and progressor. When he receives the ball, his first thought is progressing it forward, and his verticality is key for AZ Alkmaar’s attacking transition – 7.18 progressive passes (87th), 2.90 progressive carries (96th), 2.73 carries into the final third (97th) & 0.72 carries into the penalty area (97th). No central midfielder in the Eredivisie made completed more dribbles than him (51).


In addition, with 1.96 passes into the penalty area (96th) and 1.90 key passes (88th), it’s clear to see that Reijnders has great vision and an eye for a line-cutting pass. He’s a progression machine. Reijnders has great running power and is a high-energy midfielder. His torso-to-leg ratio favours the latter as his long legs allow him to open up his stride and burst away from defenders. He’s able to reduce his stride length quickly to allow him to turn quickly and glide away from challenges.

Reijnders is a great shooter from distance. With long legs that allow him to generate more force on shots, Tijjani takes 2.01 shots per 90 (top 9%). He hasn’t scored a lot of goals but when he does, it’s often a shot from distance where his composure allows him to execute an accurate shot on goal. His goal vs West Ham in the Europa Conference League semi-final is a great example of this.

One area for improvement would be that despite his height of 6’1”, he has a very lanky frame and lacks real strength and aggression, and he needs to put on some muscle as he looks to make the transition from the Eredivisie and the Europa Conference League to Serie A and the Champions League and win more duels and become an even more lethal ball carrier. 

He isn’t the best defensively. He has a great understanding of the game, and his scanning allows him to make interceptions (1.51 per 90), but he has a low amount of tackles per 90 (1.22) and due to the lack of physicality, he often fails to win duels – losing 52.27% of ground duels and 66.04% of aerial duels. At AZ Alkmaar, they’ve played a 4-3-3/4-2-3-1 variation which has deployed him as the LCM in a double pivot next to Jordy Clasie. Clasie would be situated further back as a deep-lying playmaker and Reijnders would be in a slightly more advanced position to also create & carry the ball forwards.


Due to Reijnders not being the strongest defensively and Clasie too, it meant that AZ Alkmaar’s midfield lacked physicality and solidity. If paired with a DM who is a better ball winner, it’ll give him more licence to carry the ball with greater protection behind him, allowing his creativity to be unleashed. His best role would be in a double pivot like the aforementioned, so when looking at potential new destinations it’s essential that his partner compliments his qualities well.


Whilst Ruben Loftus-Cheek has joined from Chelsea to provide Milan more dynamism and creativity on the ball following Ismaël Bennacer’s long-term injury, Reijnders has what it takes to fill Sandro Tonali’s void in midfield. Milan’s formation has been similar to AZ Alkmaar’s with either a 4-3-3 (with a double pivot) or a 4-2-3-1 often played. In the strongest team, they played with Tonali in a double pivot next to Bennacer, a high-volume tackler DM (2.95 tackles p/90) with great defensive anticipation and technical ability.


Reijnders has what it takes to form a solid double pivot with the Algerian once he returns to full fitness, but for now, he’ll be competing with Rade Krunić, Tomasso Pobega, Loftus-Cheek and potentially another signing with Valencia’s Yunus Musah linked with a move. The 24-year-old will be tasked with being the main midfielder to progress the ball in the attacking transition either via through-balls, line-cutting passes, switches or carrying the ball.  Whilst they may struggle to replace Tonali’s physicality and aggression, he should make up for this with his great stamina, creativity and playmaking ability.


After a season that would see him play a vital role in AZ’s European heroics, make the Eredivisie Team of the Month in April and earn his maiden call-up to the national team in June but failing to play a single minute, Tijjani Reijnders leaves the Netherlands for the first time in his life and heads to one of the most storied clubs on the continent, a team that are headed for a midfield rebuild under Stefano Pioli and another season in Europe’s top competition, and a team that has had plenty of success with Dutch players such as Clarence Seedorf, Frank Rijkaard and Marco van Basten. He could be the key for a Milan side that are looking to wrestle the Scudetto back from the hands of Napoli.


By: Ben Mattinson / @Ben_Mattinson_

Featured Image: @GabFoligno / Boris Streubel – UEFA