Heerenveen is a club well known for finding talented young players. The club philosophy is to build their team as a stepping stone for these players. Back in the day, there were many talented Scandinavian players in their line-up. Despite this, they are always looking for young players from the other Eredivisie clubs and Sven Botman is one very good example of this philosophy. The Ajax loanee has been an important player for the club during this season. This tactical analysis will give you more details about Botman’s role in Heerenveen’s tactics.
Botman is a 20-year-old and Netherlands’ U-21 national team player. He played last season for Jong Ajax at Eerste Divisie, so Heerenveen was the next step in his career and top division football. With this experience, he is more capable to challenge for a place in the Ajax first team. This is not an easy task as there are players like former Premier League and Manchester United player Daley Blind in front of him. This Ajax youth has played all 26 games this season.
Botman’s position is left central defender but despite this, he is a right-footed player. His main role, besides defending, is in the build-up from his own third and in possession higher up the field. As a tall player (193 centimetres), he is key in aerial duels. On average he wins 7.26 duels per game, which is the second-highest in the league in his position. His success rate in aerial duels is however only 69.15%.
One of his strengths is in counterpressing recoveries – he makes 6.18 recoveries per game. In total, he has won the ball 107 times in his own third and 75 times in the central third in these counterpressing situations. This makes him very valuable for the Heerenveen attacking-minded playing style. Because of his ability, more players can play in advanced positions and that gives them the opportunity for a better chance to score or press.
In this part of the analysis, we will have a deeper look at his attacking abilities. Along with defending, one main role for Botman is his participation in the build-up phase. This happens more in his own half and around the central line. He tends to pass the ball to the advanced positions, rather than being the playmaker from his position on the field. He makes on average 11.88 progressive passes per game. That means he is not only passing horizontally and keeping possession, but he is looking to pass the ball to the attacking midfielders in Heerenveen’s 4-3-3 formation with one defensive midfielder.
In the build-up, Botman’s passing direction is strongly focused on the left side. He is looking to play to the attacking midfielder who is normally Joey Veerman. As a right-footed player, he is also very good with his left foot and in many cases, he uses his left foot as he wants to build up quicker. This also gives him better options to play through two lines for the left-winger or into an advanced positioned left full-back. Using both feet is very natural for him.
Especially around the halfway line is where Botman likes to play to the half-spaces and tight areas. With these passing actions, the team is able to attack higher up the field and from a more advanced position as they have played behind two opponents’ lines.
While he often looks for passing options vertically, he positions himself for the pass back. His role is to be a playmaker but not in a traditional way. Because of this role, the midfielders are able to position themselves higher up the field and create numerical superiority there.
In many situations when there is less time and space, he plays with one touch. He doesn’t take many big risks under pressure as he minimises the risks to losing the ball. By playing away from the pressure, he creates more space for himself and his teammates for the build-up into less pressured areas.
In this part of the scout report, we will have a deeper look at his defensive abilities. Botman positions himself more as a traditional central defender and doesn’t venture higher up the field by running or dribbling in the build-up phase. With this action he creates balance behind the attacking-minded players. This is also part of the tactics of Heerenveen where both full-backs are encouraged to move into advanced positions and offer more options to play from the flanks.
One of his strengths is in recoveries as he makes 15.93 of them on average – which is the highest in whole league. This can happen only by good positioning in transition phases. If the opponent plays to the flanks, Botman covers the full-back and provides more security for him to press or defend higher up against the winger.
As he covers space behind the full-back, the same happens in the middle of the field. By this positioning, he can support his teammates more with room to go in one-versus-one situations.
As a tall player, it is clear that Botman is the main man against opponents’ long balls. When he is moving to the aerial duels, the rest of the defensive line narrowed in and closed the gap behind of him. At the same time, the midfielders are moving to the second ball areas as they are creating numerical superiority around Botman. This happens especially in a lower middle third, in some cases around the halfway line.
One of Botman’s biggest strengths is how he can use both feet in the build-up phase. It comes so naturally that it is almost impossible to say which foot is stronger. For Heerenveen’s playing style these types of players are very valuable. Also, his ability to make good decisions with his passing is on a different level when compared to many other central defenders.
Another strength is his ability to anticipate the attacker’s movement -not only in the air but also when he is behind the opponents’ attacking player. He understands when to defend behind and not allow the opponent to turn. When he sees the option to press in front of an attacking player, he will. Of course, there is always a risk in these defensive situations but with correct timing, he can minimise the risks.
In addition to these two strengths, his biggest strength is his ability in the air – Botman is one of the best players in aerial duels. Because of this ability, he is capable to be the player who goes to situations when an opponent plays a long ball, including in set-pieces. He is the main target for Heerenveen’s corners and side free kicks. In set-pieces, he likes to move to the far post and he does these runs from the behind of a teammate who blocks his marker away.
In the defensive phase Botman observes his surroundings, and then, based on his observations, he positions himself well. He always scans and knows where the opponents’ attackers are. With this action he is able to play quickly away from the pressure as he already knows where the players are positioned.
As good as Botman is in the air, his defensive ability is remarkably weaker when he needs to be in a one-versus-one situation, especially if the attacking player is not standing still. He is usually in a good position against his opponent, but he needs to be the player who leads these situations.
During the season he has lost 31 defending situations in Heerenveen’s own third and from these duels, the opponent has scored four times. Especially on a side when the opponent is able to challenge with the ball, they are able to move past him from the left foot side. 10 of these duels have happened in the penalty area and five of them have ended with a shot.
Whilst passing is one of his strengths, it is also an area where he has a lot to improve. One reason for his less accurate passes to forwards is his team’s tactics and how they want to play more vertically than horizontally in possession. It is clear that he makes more misplaced passes as he wants to play into the areas where there is less time and space. When he is building up in his own defensive third, these passes should be more accurate, even under pressure from the opponent.
This young Ajax loanee has been a very important player for his team this season. Playing regularly in a big role is something which gives him huge benefits to his future career. He has a very good opportunity to become a very good Eredivisie player and even more.
For Botman, going on loan was a good move and it also has given him a better chance to secure his place in the Netherlands U-21 national team. It also gives him a better chance to challenge for a first-team position in Ajax when he goes back. By improving his one-versus-one defending, he could take the next step soon, possibly next season. His next move will tell us if this is a possibility and he has the potential to do it. Definitely a player to watch.