Tyrell Malacia

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Feyenoord Rotterdam left-back Tyrell Malacia
Kees van Hemmen

MAY 11, 2022

Note: This profile was first written in May 2021. All statistics and facts are correct to that time period.

Who is Tyrell Malacia?

Feyenoord have once again endured a very difficult season in the Eredivisie. Though they were the last side in the division to be beaten this campaign, the football under the soon-retiring Dick Advocaat has largely been stagnant, and the side have struggled to collect points as a result. However, even in a season mired by a failure to meet already low expectations, there have been a few bright spots for the footballing outfit in the south of Rotterdam. One of them has been the emergence of full-back Tyrell Malacia as an all-action force on their left flank.

Malacia made his debut for the Dutch giants in the 2017/18 Eredivisie campaign, when he accumulated eight league starts under coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst, the last man to lead the club to a title. The following season he took on a slightly more prominent role for the side, with 16 starts and approximately twice the minutes played over the course of 2018/19.

Malacia seemed primed to take incumbent left-back Ridgeciano Haps’ spot in the starting XI the ensuing term – however, new boss Jaap Stam saw things differently. From August to November, when Stam was sacked, the Rotterdam-born left back made only three appearances – none of which were in the league.

After Stam’s departure though, Malacia was almost immediately reinstalled into the starting side by Feyenoord’s new (and current) coach Dick Advocaat. Despite the uncertainty at club level, his involvement with international squads remained steadfast, all the way from under-16 to under-21 groups.

Since Advocaat’s return, save two relatively lengthy periods missed due to injury, Malacia has been the everyday left-sided defender for the club on the Maas. During that time, he has distinguished himself as one of the best at his position in the Dutch top flight – and likely cemented his long-term position in the team ahead of far more experienced team-mates.

Tyrell Malacia's style of play

The first thing to know about Tyrell Malacia is that he is a top-end athlete relative to his position. This is vital for a full-back in ways that perhaps are not true for any other role on the pitch – modern, possession-based football demands end-to-end coverage from wide-men in defence. Malacia no doubt sports the engine and straight line speed to meet these needs. Malacia’s athleticism feeds into almost all of his defensive strengths.

Not only does he have excellent recovery pace, but he is a very strong one-on-one defender – both proactive about engaging wingers in wide areas and very difficult to beat due to strong acceleration and anticipation over short spaces. According to Opta data, he has been dribbled past only 0.7 times per 90 minutes played this campaign.

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In terms of defensive positioning, Malacia is a mixed bag. On the one hand, he clearly recognizes and anticipates opportunities for the opposition to progress the ball centrally – he will often cheat into central spaces in front of the centre-backs to prevent opposition forwards from receiving on the half turn.

On the other hand, Malacia is often out of position in transition. His elite athleticism allows him to make last ditch, hero-ball tackles with great frequency, but it is likely that this would be exposed more frequently in a stronger league with a greater level of physicality. In terms of weaknesses, this is where Malacia demands the most improvement – Feyenoord’s right half-space is frequently exploitable due to his positional inclinations.

Going forward is where he is both most exciting and most frustrating. He has the potential to excel at almost every facet of attacking play as a full-back.

Typically taking up classic wide-and-deep positions ahead of the backline near the touchline, Malacia is an above average progressive passer relative to his position. Keen on playing combinations down the line for his winger, or switching play diagonally for Feyenoord’s star number ten Steven Berghuis, Malacia is frequently a progressive outlet for a side that has struggled to move the ball centrally for much of the Dutchman’s career.

Not only is he a relatively talented passer, but he also leverages his elite athleticism into positive progressive outcomes as a ball-carrier. He often drives into space on the wing to move the ball from defence to attack. Malacia likes to sit wide and deep in the opposition final third, allowing Feyenoord’s left winger to drag the opposition narrow, then receive the ball in a position where he can either deliver an early cross or run at his marker at speed and beat him to the byline.

As a crosser, his sound long distance passing technique does not abandon him. Tyrell can both bend the ball for an early cross, or drive it on a line into the six-yard box from the byline. This has made him one of the best creative left-backs in the division. Again comparing him to Owen Wijndal of AZ Alkmaar, the Netherlands’ gold standard at left-back, Malacia’s expected goal contributions per 90 minutes of 0.18 is just short of the AZ man’s 0.21, according to Tussen de linies.

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What makes Malacia frustrating going forward is his positioning – he is not particularly creative with the spots he chooses to receive in. In particular, you will rarely see him invert in build-up, nor will you see him make driving diagonal runs behind the defensive line, preferring to receive in line with or in front of the opposition block. To be fair, the former is likely down partially, if not entirely, to tactics – but one would still like to see him diversify his behaviour in early stages of possession to truly become a force in first and second phase build-up.

Forecasting Tyrell Malacia's future

Transfer buzz surrounding Malacia is not extensive at the moment. There are a few sensible reasons for this – first of all, the Dutch youth international simply had yet to play a complete season of senior football prior to this one.

Furthermore, Feyenoord’s unattractive play style and relatively poor results this term have no doubt caused him to be overlooked abroad to some extent, especially compared to his peers.

The best outcome for Malacia is likely another campaign with Feyenoord, this time under Arne Slot – who was at the helm of AZ Alkmaar last season as many of their young players drew attention across the continent for their performances. No doubt, in the summer of 2022 top sides will come calling for Malacia, whose athleticism and experience at left-back give him an extremely high floor given the scarcity of natural players at the position in top level competition.

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Tyrell Malacia is a top-end athlete that is capable of covering the entire left flank, end-to-end, with speed and intensity. He’s a strong one-v-one defender as well, and he also has the potential to become a very good attacker.

Tyrell Malacia’s primary weakness is his positioning in transition, which has a lot of room to improve. Similarly, his positioning in attacking phases is frustrating as he lacks creativity in the positions he takes up.