Frank de Boer’s first permanent signing as the new Crystal Palace manager has seen the Dutchman raid his former club Ajax to bring in versatile defender Jairo Riedewald for a reported fee of £8 million.
The 20-year-old put pen to paper on a five-year contract with the Eagles, and according to De Boer, will prove to be a fantastic acquisition:
“Jairo Riedewald is a player I know well through my time at Ajax and I’m glad that he’s now coming to join us at Crystal Palace. He will be an excellent addition to our squad, Jairo is a young player but already has a lot of experience. I know he is looking forward to playing in the Premier League.”
Riedewald joined Ajax’s youth academy at the age of 11, and progressed to make his professional debut in a KNVB Cup match against IJsselmeervogels in December 2013.
His league debut came three days later against Roda JC, when he incredibly scored twice as a substitute to help Ajax record a 2-1 victory.
Riedewald only made four other league appearances during the rest of the 2013/14 campaign, though, with the following season proving to be his real breakthrough.
The youngster totalled 19 league matches in 2014/15, while he also appeared four times in European competition. He played much of his football as a defensive midfielder, while also earning minutes at left-back and centre-back.
It was only when De Boer took over as Ajax manager ahead of the 2015/16 season that Riedewald was used almost exclusively as a centre-back, and he played nearly all of his 33 matches in all competitions in that position, with just three outings at left-back.
But after Peter Bosz took over from De Boer last summer, he used Riedewald as both a centre-back and holding midfielder, making 28 appearances in all competitions, registering one goal and two assists.
Riedewald represented Holland at all age levels from U15s to U21s, before making his senior debut against Turkey in September 2015.
That is one of only three appearances he has made for the national team, though he hasn’t featured since 2015.
While Riedewald may still only be 20, the fact that he has already gained plenty of first-team experience means he should be ready for the rigours of the Premier League.
Extremely comfortable on the ball as you’d expect from an Ajax youth product, Riedewald is equally adept playing at left-back, centre-back or as a defensive midfielder.
Indeed, as Riedewald himself revealed upon his arrival to south London, it’s his quality in possession, in the ilk of fellow Ajax graduates Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld, that is his major strength:
“I like to play forward and to play with the ball at my feet. I like to play short and long passes, and sometimes dribble and go forward into the midfield. That’s my power, to have the ball on my feet.
Standing at 6ft tall, he’s arguably a little on the small side for a typical centre-half, although he did win 52% of his aerial duels last season. That was more than the 50% Mamadou Sakho managed during his loan spell at Selhurst Park, although slightly down on Scott Dann’s 57% success rate.
Tactically, De Boer has been quick to employ a 3-4-3 formation as he
De Boer trialled the system in both matches at the Premier League Asia Trophy, although he has admitted the 4-3-3, which he is a firm advocate of, remains a viable formation:
“It takes time to implement this system while everyone knows how to play 4-3-3, so we have to train hard, and every player has to know his role. We can always switch to 4-3-3, but over the coming weeks we have to train really well.”
While Palace may yet try and rekindle a move for Sakho, who was such a key performer during a temporary stint during the second half of last season, their central defensive options are currently limited to Riedewald, Scott Dann, James Tomkins, Damien Delaney, Martin Kelly, and perhaps Joel Ward.
Riedewald’s arrival seems set to reduce opportunities for Kelly, Tomkins and Delaney, therefore minimising our chances of being able to find a 4.5 option in the Eagles backline.
Palace have also been strongly linked with a move for Porto defender Bruno Martins Indi, though, who impressed during his season-long loan at Stoke City last season – the club that are rivalling Palace for the Dutchman’s signature.
But at this point in time, Riedewald looks set to compete for either the spot on the left or the the central position in the back three, with Luka Milivojevic looking in pole position to operate in the defensive midfield role.
Despite scoring twice on his league debut, Riedewald doesn’t offer much of a goal threat – he only produced four shots in 1,092 minutes of league action last term.
So should Dann, who has registered 10 goals and seven assists over the last three seasons, claim a regular starting role, he would look a strong option if Riedewald comes in at the same price point of 5.0 in Fantasy Premier League (FPL).
If De Boer does opt for the 3-4-3, whoever starts at left wing-back should also be an enticing prospect, with the 5.0-rated Jeffrey Schlupp currently looking the preferred option ahead of the more expensive Patrick van Aanholt (5.5) after starting both matches in the Asia Trophy.
Riedewald’s bonus point potential is also a concern – he only managed a clearance, block or interception (CBI) every 14.96 minutes last season.
That was inferior to Delaney (9.65), Tomkins (11.29), Dann (11.40), Kelly (12.16), and virtually identical to Schlupp (14.95), who offers far greater attacking potential.
While Riedewald’s passing game will be invaluable as De Boer tries to shape the Eagles into a possession-based team, his appeal as a Fantasy asset appears limited unless he is handed a favourable 4.5 price tag in FPL.
Schlupp may be the favoured option if assured of a start, then, and with kind home matches against Huddersfield Town, Swansea City and Southampton in the opening five Gameweeks, along with a trip to Burnley, he could prove to be an intriguing early-season differential.