Who is Jurriën Timber?
Jurriën Timber had already managed to make a name for himself on multiple levels by the age of 20. Now an established member of the Eredivisie’s dominant champions, AFC Ajax, the young defender has burst onto the scene over the past couple of seasons.
After making his debut in the least league game before lockdown, he returned from the enforced break with an even more important role in the first-team squad. The following summer, he was part of the Dutch team at the delayed EURO 2020.
He has carried last season’s momentum into the current 2021/22 campaign. Timber is an important starter in the Eredivisie, playing in all but three games – and he only missed those through injuries. He has also featured in every fixture of Ajax’s impressive Champions League season as well.
Still just 20 years old, the central defender’s understanding of the his role within the current system is what has garnered immense trust from head coach Erik ten Hag.
Jurriën Timber's style of play
Movement at the back is vital to Ajax’s evolved attacking approach, especially as Timber is a huge facilitator for others around him in a system so focused on more grounded and guarded mechanisms to sustain pressure.
What can often appear negative can actually show the excellent understanding Timber has for the methods being coached. He is a very selfless mover off the ball, who’s willing to push into midfield when necessary, and has the awareness to know when and how to adjust the depth of his positioning in deep buildup.
Sometimes he can appear a little reluctant to push on and capitalise on space that is there to be exploited, but his exploits in cameo roles higher up the pitch suggest his precautions are very much grounded within the centre-back role.
Areas to improve
Timber is incredibly patient and will use every second he’s given to manipulate the opposition in order to create alleyways elsewhere. He’ll slowly adjust his position with the ball so that he can create space for teammates to rotate into untracked and unseen. This all facilitates the freeing up of Ajax’s Argentine ball-sprayer, Lisandro Martínez, who can look to maximise the directness and tempo of play.
Despite how smartly he shortens and slows his passes as part of the team’s overall ploy, the 20-year-old has only shown glimpses of potential in this respect. He can weight a long ball perfectly well and is very quick to play through the lines when appropriate, but his adjustments when undecided can kill his ability to play vertically.
It’s why he’s best positioned further towards the right, as the angles remain open for him even when doing this. That, and his constant assessments for options when in more advanced positions, can hinder his ability to up the tempo or respond to changes in it.
Due to that scanning frequency, though, the defender is always aware of the pressure-level in whatever phase of play. In tandem with his comfort using either foot to open his body up to play, he will always know exactly how to receive the ball in a way that enables him to push against the grain of his nearest opponent.
This can open up opportunities to carry the ball through space, which he’s executed increasingly well during transitions, but has looked sometimes appeared quite stunted when doing so during regular phases of play due to a lack of consistency to his control.
In contrast, Timber’s defensive work is often much more forthright and aggressive. His positioning during final third attacks often puts him in good stead to press onto forwards immediately. When he has free reign attack opposition ball-holders, he’s capable of timing his challenges from behind and finding the right space to reach through to nick the ball well. However, it’s all a different matter when Timber is tasked with marking someone.
When pressing from behind against a direct opponent, Timber is at fault for not establishing the sort of technique that can back up his constant aggression. He pushes into his opponent square-on, and will continue to jab towards the ball but without much care or effectiveness, so sharp turns and layoffs past him can easily catch him flat-footed.
On the opposite end, he can afford his opponent too much room when covering runs in behind. The centre-back drops too deep of the line even when he can confidently match his opposite number for pace. That lack of tightness means they can receive to feet and exploit the space left in various ways. Timber’s awareness often seems restricted when weighed down by one opponent, which is especially the case in and around his own box, as he’s often susceptible to runs that drift away from his blind-side as he becomes too fixated with the ball.
It’s an area of the pitch, generally, where his intensity tends to fluctuate more so than anywhere else, with or without an opponent to keep track of. This is something that can then have a negative impact on how well he guards crosses generally and how aggressive he’s willing to be away from the regular positions he takes up.
The one-on-one weaknesses extend to – though are rarely too exposed to – take-ons. This is where some of Timber’s inaccuracies when lunging across have the potential to leave him flat-footed or give away careless fouls.
What favours him in many of these situations, still, is his ground coverage and physicality. At below 6ft and not being particularly stocky, Timber doesn’t appear to be much of a force, but it’s something he uses well to suffocate duels he’s engaged in. His height is a reason why he isn’t first to contest every aerial ball, yet he’s proved himself to be capable of winning duels in plenty of mismatches thanks to his body-to-body strength on the ground.
His speed is not only something he should trust more, but it’s also what plays a part in his strong defensive game away from taking up markers. In those situations, he’s far more vigilant through more frequent scanning, as well as angling his body the right way, balancing his position against dangerous overloads, and at planting himself side-on when stepping out against deep receivers so that he can quickly change directions.
It’s helped him recover play against through balls on plenty of occasions, regardless of the cause, especially as his sturdy challenges can be very clinical when he’s had a steady glance at the ball.
Forecasting Jurriën Timber's future
The somewhat caged talents of Timber have shed a light on a player with great promise in possession. Combined with how seamlessly he applies himself to different roles within such concentrated setups, Timber should, right now, be a very desirable offensive prospect for many of those slightly lesser teams in the top leagues that are looking to be assertive, progressive and dominant with the ball.
Even a catapult up the leagues to a place as high as Gian Piero Gasperini’s Atalanta, for example, seems feasible when matching up the specifics stylistically. Defensively, however, clashes do begin to appear, and not just in the case of a side like Atalanta who are heavily man-for-man-oriented.
His level of awareness, ability to break up play, and ground coverage can be huge highlights, but they also have the potential to be too easily stifled by the faults that encompass them. It’s hard not to expect those current flaws to be more harshly exposed in tougher environments, which is the main point of concern, especially as so few teams play in exactly the way Ajax do.
Jurriën Timber is a wonderfully-composed centre-back, whose tactical adaptability, awareness and ball-playing make him an exciting purchase for many ball-dominant teams.
The dichotomy of Jurriën Timber’s defensive traits, when it comes to dealing with opponents directly and when not having to, offers up an area of brutal exposure at higher levels, as things stand in this stage of his development.