Holland have a history of producing technically proficient players – after all, total football emanated from the Netherlands. It’s no surprise, then, that three of the most exciting midfielders in Europe – Jordy Clasie, Kevin Strootman and Adam Maher – all play in the Eredivisie and represent the Oranje.
Today saw the latter take on the former, with Maher’s AZ Alkmaar up against Feyenoord, for whom Clasie has been so impressive. My focus was on Maher, AZ’s number 8, and the 19-year-old put in a decent performance as his side went down 3-1, with Clasie grabbing one of the home team’s three goals.
In an entertaining game, AZ started the better side, with Maher at the centre of a lot of impressive moves. He constantly showed a good first touch, including when under pressure, showing also that he can supply a good pass when being pressed, which was his first involvement in the game. His style is elegant, happy to receive the ball and either play it instantly or go on a mazy run – adept with either foot.
This ambidextrosity was demonstrated most obviously just before half-time, with Maher’s biggest involvement. The youngster picked the ball up roughly 35 yards, and drove at the opposition. The player confronting him backed off, clearly frightened by Maher’s close control, meaning he was able to fire in a left-footed shot low to the corner, with the goalkeeper pushing it around the post for a corner.
Other than that, Maher was quiet but impressive when he got on the ball. Positionally he was the most advanced of three midfielders, getting forward to support Jozy Altidore, who had a bit of a battle with Joris Mathijsen throughout. In fact, Maher was the one acting as peacemaker between the two when a scuffle broke out.
Some of the key facets of Maher’s performance were that he was often pressing the defensive midfielders/defenders of Feyenoord when they were on the ball, roaming around looking for space and the ball, and showing good awareness, often looking around him to see how best to position himself when Feyenoord had the ball.
This served him well around the 15 minute mark when he showed good defensive awareness and a short burst of pace to nip in ahead of a Feyenoord midfielder to win possession back for his side just inside the opposition’s half. However, it didn’t go so well when he tried intercepting a short pass in a crowd on the edge of his own box – the ball found its way to a Feyenoord forward who almost scored.
In a way, Maher’s performance was reminiscent of Arsenal’s own Jack Wilshere. At one point, when he burst between two defenders’ challenges into the Feyenoord half before being pushed over as the opposition realised the danger, you could have been forgiven for thinking AZ had signed Wilshere on loan.
On top of that, he continuously lurked at the edge of the Feyenoord area instead of rushing into the box with the rest of the AZ midfielders. The fact that he recognised his own shortcoming of not being particularly good in the air, as well as realising that his side needed someone there in case the ball broke, is promising.
Overall, the young star was composed and assured on the ball, showing an elegant touch and dribbling style – he made two promising runs in the first half when drifting out wide; first getting down the right wing to get in a decent cross, before taking down a cross-field pass assuredly and wriggling past his man, although he then lost his balance.
He appears to have a slight tendency to over-elaborate, but works hard off the ball to chase opponents down when he has the freedom to roam across the pitch – something he seems to like to do. Penetrative passes are also a part of his game on today’s evidence – rather than delaying a counter-attack, he often gets the ball and fires it into a more advanced forward in a good position.
Other than some good passes and touches in the second half, he wasn’t involved much – Nick Viergever was dismissed for a poor tackle in the second period, which seriously disadvantaged AZ. His main involvement of the second 45 was a mazy run which was forced into the corner by the impressive Bruno Martins-Indi. He attempted to lose his man with some extraordinarily quick footwork, but was unable to do so (more due to the competence of his marker than anything).
He wasn’t able to have much of an impact on the game, with Feyenoord winning 3-1 thanks to impressive performances from Graziano Pelle, Jean-Paul Boëtius and the afore-mentioned Jordy Clasie. However, there were certainly signs of quality and potential. Stay tuned for further match reports on Maher, and also perhaps Clasie, whose drilled volley from 20 yards put Feyenoord 2-1 up.