PROFILING HIS BEST ATTRIBUTES ASSESSING HIS FUTURE ANALYSING HIS STATS LEARNING ABOUT HIS STORY SO FAR
Who is Joshua Zirkzee?
Joshua Zirkzee left Feyenoord and the Netherlands as a 16-year-old, moving to Germany to join Bayern Munich for a €150,000 fee.
Fast forward five years, and after a failed loan move in Italy with Parma, and an inability to impress Julian Nagelsmann enough in pre-season to earn a place in his Bayern squad for the upcoming Bundesliga season, Joshua Zirkzee was once again packing his bags from Bavaria, moving to Belgium to join RSC Anderlecht on loan.
The attacking nature of Vincent Kompany’s 3-3-4-like system at RSC Anderlecht shouldn’t be too unfamiliar for a player joining on loan from Bayern Munich. However, the environment has so far highlighted – and has since begun to furnish – the extent of the striker’s technical make-up.
Having directly contributed to 17 league goals in just shy of as many 90s played, the Dutch youngster is blossoming under the guidance of the Belgian coach.
Joshua Zirkzee's style of play
The 20-year-old has always looked most comfortable offering short to the ball. Akin to Kompany’s former coach Pep Guardiola, a lot of the attacking emphasis is placed on positional rotations off the ball, so the two have gone hand-in-hand.
The striker had already showcased his ability to create important separations between him and his marker, as well as being able to use that direct pressure to become a backboard for progression through the lines.
His receiving of the ball, and the execution of it, has been one of the biggest improvements. Earlier in the season, Zirkzee was offering short to a fault – particularly during transitions, which is still somewhat the case, his priority was always angled towards how he could play the short exchange to lay it off for other goal-facing teammates. Consequently, his control of the ball was negative and his blind-sided awareness was non-existent, meaning that he rarely capitalised on the space around or ahead of him, with or without the ball.
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Now, though, instead of resorting strictly to one-touch layoffs that can play his team into trouble and elongate progression, Zirkzee has shown an almost new-found level of awareness.
He scans for the forwards around him and has the confidence to play first-time passes into different, more difficult angles that he was otherwise completely reluctant to play to before. This has also been pivotal in the development of his contributions to transitions, as he was initially very guilty of remaining too parallel to play – looking for the easy lay-off. Whilst this can still be a positive, being more open to feeding more dangerous runners himself helps account for what he lacks in athleticism and intensity in getting up the pitch.
Zirkzee is by no means the fastest off the block, so he’s reluctance to test defences and attack space in behind. However, the sharpness to his movement is sometimes all it takes to create the necessary yard to get in behind, and the growth in awareness is something that can make his threat all the more potent.
Whereas before he was too static off the ball, he’s now not only making well-timed runs across the line for deep ball-holders, but he’s also using the extent of his awareness to better pick and choose the moments when he runs into space or drops off. Having that improved awareness also maximises his operation speed, which can be very strong, especially when it comes to passing. Zirkzee already does extremely well to take on awkward-angled passes without needing perfectly set conditions, but with greater awareness, he’s far less inclined to delay play and play backwards.
His ball-carrying remains a mixed bag, though. Without much acceleration or confidence to attack space, he can be guilty of giving up the ball too quickly. So his best work has come under pressure, when he’s forced to problem solve.
The fact Zirkzee can create space for himself and work the ball out of tight areas in such a way is hugely important for his shot generation, which is something that his improved awareness should further facilitate. The way he’s forcefully and gracefully able to shift the ball past pressure is something that should also see his shooting average increase, and see him rightfully be more selfish on occasion.
That being said, his finishing still needs improving. As of now, the impressive thing about his shooting is that he’s willing to take on shots with either foot from whatever situation. What he must do better, though, is pick his spots.
Zirkzee’s shots often feel sort of reactionary; he doesn’t pre-meditate where the best place is to aim for is. His side-footed efforts low towards the corners have showed the greatest promise but it feels like another area, on the whole, where his shot technique could quickly become strong across the board.
Heading will be harder to improve, however, as the Dutchman has yet to meet the ball – in general play or the box – with any conviction. The ball usually just hits him. The subtle irony of this being that Zirkzee’s box movement has always been one of his strongest qualities.
Although it had fizzled out a bit during his biggest dip in form, he’s shown excellent poaching instincts through the dynamism of his movement to create or exploit space, either across the face of goal or on the cutback. So it’s little surprise that just 1 of his 12 goals so far has come from outside the box.
As a defender, the Dutch youngster isn’t a live wire, per se, but he is a persistent worker out of possession. He’s not easily passed during transitions but he’s also not a prolific ball-recoverer himself. As is the case for his general actions too, his tackles are few and far between, yet he’s far from reckless. He’s a very capable challenger.
When pressing out from within the usual 4-4-2 block, he had showed vulnerabilities against simple touches against the grain due to his body shaped can remain a little too narrow. However, he’s always been mindful to curve his presses, and has since shown gradual signs of improvement by slowing himself down before reaching his opponent. As a result, he can force a particular action and avoid leaving himself vulnerable to sharp turns.
His positioning as part of a deeper block still needs improving, though. Zirkzee is very ball-drawn out of possession, so he often neglects simple-but-important positions at the head of the block in order to chase down opponents. The added problem being that he usually disregards his angle of approach, leaving his vacated space open for opponents to fill centrally. All without doing a lot to limit the ball-carrier.
Forecasting Joshua Zirkzee's future
Such large developments to so many areas of Zirkzee’s game at such an early stage of the season offer huge hope for the Dutchman, which give him an even greater chance of establishing himself in one of the top leagues.
Yet, it’s still important for him to move up the ladder gradually as the roundedness matched with the rawness to his game is something that could fall flat at a much higher level.
At least in the very top leagues, the physical edge is something that might easily catch him out at this stage, so the best kind of set-up for him remains a steady, possession-oriented team. Ones that are lower down the higher leagues, that he can add value to, seem like the next best places to target.
Zirkzee is fast becoming an excellent all-round threat, with an ability to link play, operate in tight spaces, and move diligently inside the box.
Zirkzee still has plenty of rough edges to smooth out – like his finishing, aerial ability, and athleticism – that are potentially big stumbling blocks if he is to fast-track his way to the top.