Recent rumours have linked Liverpool to two of the Eredivisie’s brightest young wingers in PSV’s Steven Bergwijn and Ajax’s David Neres. If Liverpool were to look to the Dutch league for attacking depth, who would be the better fit?
With Liverpool short of depth on the wings, it’s looking increasingly likely the club will bring in new personnel next season to help challenge on multiple fronts.
There are potential opportunities to promote from within with the likes of Ryan Kent, Harry Wilson, and Divock Origi. But there is always the possibility Jürgen Klopp, Michael Edwards & Co. opt to enter the market instead.
Both Bergwijn and Neres seem primed for moves to bigger clubs this summer. Liverpool’s attacking needs are apparent and the two youngsters could prove to be worthy understudies of the Red’s current arsenal.
Dynamic, direct wingers
Bergwijn and Neres share plenty of common ground in their skillsets but each has his own unique strengths, style, and aesthetic – making for two distinctly different player profiles.
Both are prodigious dribblers, though they differ in their methodology.
Bergwijn is as explosive a mover as any winger in Europe and often looks to run straight at opposition defenders. He utilizes his pace and technical ability to beat his man.
He averages 3.2 successful dribbles per 90, with his 86 take-ons second best in the division. Of the top 10 dribblers in the league by volume, Bergwijn also boasts the best success rate at 64.7%.
Neres, on the other hand, is more of a tricky, evasive dribbler. He often looks to draw his man onto him before using his instinctive Brazilian footwork and lateral agility to shift past.
He doesn’t try to dribble as often as Bergwijn, who manages almost double that of Neres.
But the Brazilian’s patience and poise on the ball often draw multiple players to him, creating openings for teammates to exploit.
Bergwijn currently leads the Eredivisie with 12 assists, while Neres sits joint-fifth with eight.
On the surface, the PSV setup appears a stark contrast to the creative needs of Liverpool’s system, with target striker Luuk de Jong providing a central, physical presence in the opposition box.
However, of Bergwijn’s 12 league assists, just two have been to de Jong, so he’s not necessarily slinging balls into the box.
Neres is part of an Ajax system that more resembles Klopp’s Liverpool, with one of Neres, Dusan Tadic and Hakim Ziyech typically flanking Kasper Dolberg or Klaas Jan Huntelaar.
But it’s Tadic’s reinvention as a ‘false 9’ that sparked the Amsterdam outfit’s Round of 16 upset of Real Madrid.
The Serbian dropped deep to get on the ball and interchanged with Ziyech and Neres to devastating effect.
Similar to the way Klopp’s famed front three have done with Roberto Firmino.
Both players are scoring at nearly an identical clip, with Bergwijn notching 13 goals in all competitions to Neres’ 12 in just 40 more minutes played.
The Dutchman tends to shoot a bit more, with 3.1 shots per 90 to Neres’ 2.5, while their respective conversion rates are within a few percentage points of one another.
It’s worth noting at all 12 of Bergwijn’s goals this season have come with his preferred right foot.
Neres has a strong preference for his left, but he showed himself to be more than capable on his weaker side with a brilliant finish against Juventus in the Champions League Quarterfinal.
Bergwijn’s perceived one-footedness could be as much down to opportunity and context as anything else, as he’s shown an ability to produce from wherever he’s deployed — he has 6 goals, 7 assists from the left wing in the league, with 6 goals, 5 assists playing from the right.
How they fit in the bigger picture
While Bergwijn and Neres could bring potentially influential skillsets to Liverpool, it’s worth looking at how exactly they’ve been implemented in their respective systems.
PSV – Holland’s Liverpool?
Despite the aforementioned deployment of a target forward in de Jong, PSV arguably share the more similar style of play with Liverpool.
They boast the league’s best defence (22 goals conceded from 29 games) while Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano provide a devastating combination of pace and industry on the wings, making the Eindhoven outfit one of the Eredivisie’s most dangerous on the counter. They lead the league in shots in transition, with their four goals on the counter-attack good for third in the league.
This bodes well for Bergwijn should a move to Liverpool transpire, as the Reds have quickly become one of Europe’s most feared sides on the counter-attack. His recent goal against PEC Zwolle showcased his blistering speed and composure.
Ajax – “total football” Klopp’s ace in the hole?
Look no further than Ajax’s 100 league goals from 29 games as evidence of the side’s offensive prowess.
The quintessential Dutch hallmarks of fluid, flexible play are prevalent throughout Erik ten Hag’s preferred 4-3-3 system, but his side also boasts the league’s top average possession figure at just over 60%.
Historically, dominating possession hasn’t always been a successful strategy for Klopp’s sides, which could make someone like Neres a bit of a wildcard, but possibly a risk worth taking.
Neres has been well-schooled in the kind of patient, pattern-driven play required to unlock deep-lying defences. Whereas Bergwijn’s PSV are set up to exploit the open spaces, Neres and his teammates are accustomed to working in tight quarters and playing technical, incisive football.
Given Liverpool’s struggles against deep-lying sides — and the increasing number of opponents who employ this tactic and them — Neres could provide just the kind of option the Reds have missed when deprived of space.
It’s hard to say there’s a “wrong” choice when discussing two of Europe’s most promising young wingers. Both Steven Bergwijn and David Neres can tick many of the boxes for what works in Liverpool’s current winger system while also bringing a bit of their own flair to the table.
Purely in terms of fit, Bergwijn’s combination of pace, productivity, and experience in a similar system tips the scales slightly in his favour.
While he might not solve certain tactical issues in the way Neres potentially could, he would allow Klopp to rotate personnel on either wing without sacrificing playing style.
It’s a huge stretch to say Bergwijn could step in and replicate the quality of a Sadio Mané or a Mohamed Salah, but it’s vital to have rotation options who don’t bring an inherent need to tailor the system when called upon.
The young Dutchman, with his searing pace, sophisticated footballing brain, and ruthlessly direct style, represents a brilliant option for Klopp’s Liverpool going forward.