- Ajax have recently been unusually busy in the transfer market under the guidance of Marc Overmars. Nicolás Tagliafico (25) joined from Independiente, Nicolas Kühn (18) joined the Godenzonen from RB Leipzig while Perr Schuurs (18, Fortuna Sittard) and Hassana Bandé (19, KV Mechelen) will be joining the Dutch giants in the summer. Their most recent acquisition is Rasmus Nissen Kristensen, a 20-year-old Danish fullback who used to play for Fc Midtjylland in his native Denmark.
Joël Veltman currently occupies the right-back position in Ajax’s 4-3-3 system. The 25-year-old originally started as a centre-back but has established himself as a key figure for the Dutch side. He’s defensively sound and comfortable on the ball but doesn’t bring the attacking flair that is expected from an Ajax fullback. Veltman has played over 120 games for Ajax and a move away from his native Holland may be on the cards this upcoming summer. Youth graduate Deyovaisio Zeefuik and Colombian signing Luis Orejuela have both failed to impress so far. As a result, Ajax have decided to pay over 5 million to acquire the services of Rasmus Nissen Kristensen, or NK, as he is often called.
Born in Brande, a small town in the centre of Denmark, Nissen Kristensen started his footballing career at the age of 6 at his local side Brande IF. He made the move to Herning Fremad six years later before being picked up by their parent club Fc Midtjylland, who are also located in Herning. And in Herning, just a shy 30 kilometres above his place of birth, Nissen Kristensen grew out to be one of the brightest prospects in European football. Here’s a look at Nissen Kristensen and what he can contribute to the current Ajax set-up. I’ve divided the analysis into three parts:
First of all, Nissen Kristensen is a much more attacking minded player than Joël Veltman. He’s eager to get forward and contribute to the attacking phase whereas Veltman often offers a backwards passing lane, as shown below.
Here we see David Neres on the ball for Ajax. He’s left-footed and often cuts inside. However, as you can see above, he’s marked by two Excelsior defenders. An overlapping run from Veltman here would force the nearest Excelsior defender to make a choice: He either has to track the run of Veltman which then creates more space for Neres or he has to stay in position which gives Veltman the space to cross the ball in. Veltman, however, has more of a defensive mindset and stays back. Neres eventually got dispossessed due to miscommunication with Hakim Ziyech which could have been prevented with one simple overlapping run from Ajax’s right back.
So what has all of this to do with Nissen Kristensen? Well, he certainly would have made that run. He’s much more present in the opponent’s final third as we can see below. The importance of these overlapping runs was confirmed this weekend again when Joel Veltman, on a rare occasion, assisted Ajax’s second goal in de Klassieker from the byline.
The image below sees Kristensen create an overlapping run towards the half space. Midtjylland’s right winger Hassan has positioned himself centrally which created a huge gap on the flank. His nearest opponent and their left centre back have got their eyes on the ball and have no idea about Kristensen’s run. He’s also got his head up which allows him to predict the run of play and time his run perfectly.
His opponents were way out of position and too late to close him down. He then delivers a perfect first-time cross for Wikheim who was easily able to tap it in from close range.
NK has an imposing figure being 6’2’’/187 cm tall. His combination of strength, speed and determination make him unstoppable at times. He’s a constant threat down the right, running up and down the flank. He will always exploit the gaps left by his opponents and has the ability to track back if needed. Nissen Kristensen doesn’t have the agility and balance to weave in and out of his opponents but his physicality helps him beat his marker more often than not.
Another situation: NK receives the ball around the halfway mark. There’s no space out wide so he runs into Vaduz’s half-space which is unmarked as of now.
His physical stature is key in his game but Nissen Kristensen is much more than just a physical runner. He’s got a good end product and sometimes pops up with a goal himself. He also plays on the left for Denmark U21’s which shows his versatility.
Nissen Kristensen’s eagerness to get forward and contribute to the attacking phase sometimes result in dangerous counter opportunities. He’s often caught completely out of position when his teammates lose the ball in midfield. It’s exactly what happened in the situation below. Midtjylland lost the ball in the centre of the pitch while Kristensen was making an overlapping run. This resulted in a huge gap which was easily exploited by Aalborg. He will have to learn to precisely time his runs so his opponents will have a harder time exploiting these gaps.
Nissen Kristensen would suit Ajax’s pressing system. He always thinks forward and therefore likes to defend forward. See the example below. He pressures his opponent which results in a gap behind him. It’s risky, but he’s fully committed to regaining possession. Besides that, the gap that he left would have been closed down in the Ajax system. His opponent on the ball has two choices: he can pass it out wide or drag the ball to the centre of the pitch.
His aggressive forward-thinking approach to win the ball back can however occasionally lead to some dangerous tackling too. He still needs to improve on his defensive decisionmaking but there will be no better man to help him with this than Erik ten Hag.
His game does have some flaws as shown above but it’s clear that Kristensen already possesses some great quality. He’s only 20 and has plenty of room to grow. The 5.3 Million may seem a lot on first hand but NK has the potential to be a key figure for this Ajax side. He will help in breaking down the defensive line with his overlapping runs and win the ball back with his aggressive pressing. He actually has the most potential of all right backs who play outside any of the top-5 leagues, according to @SciSportsNL.
Ajax has a rich history of Danish players including the likes of Christian Eriksen and Michael Laudrup. The Danish U21 international may be the next talented Danish player to leave Ajax for a huge sum of money. He will also team up with fellow Danish National Team members Kasper Dolberg and Lasse Schöne which will help him accommodate in the Dutch Capital. It should only be a matter of time until he replaces Veltman and earns a starting spot for both club and nation.