IN THE midst of all the drama and disappointment going on at Casa Milano, few players have stood out in what is one of the poorest seasons Milan ever experienced. Kaka of course, is one. Balotelli, to an extent, is another. But the best player Milan have currently playing for them is 29 year old defensive midfielder Nigel de Jong.
Signed from giants Man City during the summer of 2012, de Jong’s debut season was ended midway after an Achilles’ tendon rupture. After fully recovering, de Jong started this campaign with a fantastic goal against Valencia in the ICC.
Since then, he has risen head, shoulders, knees, and toes above every other member of Milan’s squad.
In Serie A, de Jong ranks first amongst midfielders for number of interceptions made per game: 4. In fact, he is ranked 8 above the next midfielder, and 19 above the next defensive mid in WhoScored’s rankings for interceptions. Although his tackling per game average is not the best, it is not his tackles, but his positioning and awareness that contribute to his fantastic defensive work. Why go into a challenge when you can press an opposing player off the ball? In the Champions League, his stats stay relatively similar to Serie A. His 4.7 interceptions per game put him second behind Oleksandr Kucher. His tackles per game, 2.5, stay the same. Balancing physical power, intimidating presence, situational awareness, and not being afraid to go into a hard challenge if needed, de Jong ranks among the best defensive midfielders of the current campaign.
De Jong may be known better for his hard tackles, but the passing and distribution aspect of his game is underrated. He is curerently ranked first in Serie A for passes per game. That’s right, more than Pirlo, more than Strootman, more than anyone. His pass succession rate is also sky high – his 92.2% success rate places him a close second behind Matias Fernandez. De Jong also plays more through balls per match than any other player- 12.8. Compare than to him nearest competitor Philippe Mexes who plays 10 per game. De Jong has also contributed 3 assists, second in Milan behind Robinho (5). Overall, de Jong is the best passer / distributor in Serie A at the moment. From his defensive midfield position, de Jong commands and dictates play for Milan.
De Jong’s offensive game is nothing special. No goals, three assists. But he isn’t required to score, or assist for that matter. That is the job of Balotelli, Kaka, Honda, and the rest of the offensive line. De Jong’s job is to intercept through balls, press players running at the defense,and generally make himself as much of a problem for the opposition as possible. And he accomplishes this task above and beyond what is asked of him.
De Jong has made the middle third of the pitch his own during matches. Far and away Milan’s best player of the campaign, he is what holds together the pathetic excuse for a defense Milan have. Balancing fantastic defensive quality and distributive ability, de Jong has more than justified the £3,5 million price tag that brought him to the San Siro a year and a half ago.
What do you think about de Jong’s season so far? Comment or tweet me @daniel_gutman
all stats courtesy of WhoScored and Squawka