Intelligence, pressing and passing: How Reijnders quickly became so important for Milan

By Rohit Rajeev -

When Tijjani Reijnders arrived at AC Milan during the summer transfer window there were many fans who didn’t know what to expect, but he has quickly established himself as a favourite under Stefano Pioli.

Their first major decision of the new management led by Giorgio Furlani and Geoffrey Moncada was to sanction the club-record sale of Sandro Tonali to Newcastle United, which created another violent storm just as the dust was settling after Paolo Maldini and Ricky Massara’s exit.

A midfield rebuild was needed and the club decided to invest in three profiles: Reijnders of AZ Alkmaar, Ruben Loftus-Cheek of Chelsea and Yunus Musah of Valencia. While each have been impressive in their own way, the Dutchman stands out the most.

What exactly has made Reijnders one of the candidates for signing of the summer so early in his Milan career? Our writer Rohit Rajeev examines how he has fit in so well.


After a lacklustre end to last season the decision was made to shift tactically from double pivot to a single pivot and a three-man midfield, which meant he needed two box-to-box players.

Reijnders was one of them, and he was one of the catalysts behind AZ Alkmaar’s run to the UEFA Conference League semis. A player who combined hard work with technical quality, he has been one of Milan’s best players already.

The 25-year-old has nestled into the spot of left mezzala nicely and has very much made it his own, but there has been times where he has shown his versatility by playing as an attacking midfielder or even further back as a No.6.

He announced himself in front of his new fans in the best possible way, getting an assist to his name less than 11 minutes into his first Serie A start, setting up Olivier Giroud for the opener against Bologna.

From there he has gone from strength to strength and only a goal is missing from his game it seems, though there has been times when he has been in the right place with just a finish or some luck lacking.


Line-splitting passes: Since coaches have started to lean on the collective rather than individual, coaches focus on structure while teams are off the ball whether be it pressing or whether they are ‘parking the bus’.

As a team focusing on scoring a goal the midfielders/forwards are expected to break this defensive structure down.

Reijnders can do this with his dribbling as demonstrated against Cagliari. His receive-and-spin mode, evading the Cagliari player, created space between the lines and created the opportunity for the goal.

As demonstrated before (and hopefully again on Sunday), he can do it against Juventus with his passing. He exploited the space between the defenders with simple passes.

Spacial awareness: An important part of being a mezzala is to realise where the space is and with players constantly moving they need to be extremely aware and keep scanning their surroundings.

Against Lazio, Reijnders shows brilliant awareness to receive Adli’s pass in space before launching it to Leao for the goal in what was a ‘hockey assist‘ for the Dutchman.


Exploiting space: As much as a player should be aware of the spaces he should be equally know how to make use of it himself and how to make it for others. Reijnders has the ability to release players into space, like he released Theo in the clip below.

Corner routines: We highlighted the importance of set pieces in an analysis yesterday, and Reijnders’ assist in the Cagliari game demonstrated his good crossing ability.

He received the ball and fired it low right into the corridor of uncertainty, which gives the coach the ability to mix up the corner routines.

Through balls: With spacial awareness and the ability to break lines with passing, Reijnders also able to slip quick through balls like hes demonstrated vs. Monza in the Trofeo Berlusconi.


Man-oriented pressing: Pioli uses a man-oriented pressing system where each player is given a man-marking system. The derby last season when Charles De Ketelaere failed to follow Brozovic who ran through on goal and scored, it showed the risk attached to the man-oriented system which requires focus and discipline.

Against Bologna, Pioli’s choice to field Reijnders showed why De Ketelaere was not the kind of player he wanted in his team. Reijnders followed his man all the way to make a last ditch challenge which could have been a shot on target (or even a goal) for Bologna.

Ability in tight spaces: As he demonstrated against Lazio, despite being under pressure Reijnders was able to dribble out of it without losing the ball. His close control and dribbling technique is extremely useful.

Work rate: Reijnders ranks in the top 10 for minutes played and starts in the Serie A with an average of 11.3km covered per game. This shows how he is always available and is the orchestrator of this Milan side.


For a reported fee of €19m, it feels like a bargain to get a player that is omnipresent and can cover a wide range of roles. Milan’s scouting department might just have scored a 10/10 again in the recruitment department.

It is no wonder Barcelona wanted a player of Reijnders’ calibre when their club philosophy has been about having very good technical players, but we hope he continues to succeed in red and black for a long time yet.

Tags AC Milan Tijjani Reijnders


  1. I’d figure the players this year who replaced the midfielders that were there last year would obviously pick up the slack left by the departed players 🤷‍♂️ so the numbers aren’t really a surprise now is it? Unless the incoming players were not of good quality. We’re basically getting what we’ve paid for between him and Loftus Cheek. Tijji’s numbers on offense are basically Tonali’s numbers albeit with far less assists (only has 1 so far) and Tonali’s defensive numbers can be found between Cheeks and Krunic I’d suppose.

    1. You could’ve been right if you wanted to be honest. Tonali’s number are for 3 seasons while Tijjani only with Milan for 3 months and already beat the adaptation process to the climate and environment while it took Tonali, who was already playing in Series A, 2 seasons to finally take off.

      1. Bro first of all you’re not going to win a stats argument with me. What I’m saying above is not absent of analysis if you know my posts on this site. I’ve already done the comparison of Tonali, Tijji, Loftus Cheek and Musah (as well as Adli and Krunic for good measure). For all that Tijjii has done he should be compared to his peers (RLC, and Musah, then maybe others) or around Europe and this is lacking in the article. I compared Tonali and him on a per game basis on my own so the time factor is taken out and I’m well aware of how they stack up. My point really was that from an output or stats basis Tijji will obviously take the output of others who played last season in his place (that’s just common sense) unless he’s a bust which he isn’t.

        Anyways, I’m talking about last year to now. Second of all, Tijji isn’t a young player. He’s 25. Adaptation process is much easier. Tonali was 20 when he came to Milan and that’s a 5 year difference. Tijji should be close to the final product and that’s what we spent 20m on. That isn’t a critique that’s just what it is.
        Last year as a 22 year old Tonali vs Tijji as a 25 year old on a PER GAME basis (so it’s comparable), Tonali is ahead in all defensive stats by miles (this is why I said RLC is taking some of that away) and better in most or equal to Tijji on offense (things like key passes per game, progressive yardage etc). I know it’s a hard pill to swallow but it is what it is. Let’s not make it out like Tijji is some god. He’s basically replaced half of what Tonali did and some of Brahim although he’s yet to really see it in the assists and goals stats. But good chance it would come

        1. The problem with modern football analysists, coaches, scouts ect is that they rely too much on the stats. This is a tradition carried from American sports, and applies less to football. We can see how teams that rely solely on data make terrible scouting decisions, and how players get overhyped due to the problematic measures such as “key passes” or “expected goal”. It is very easy to dispute all such metrics if you know exactly how they are measured.

          That is not to say stats aren’t useful, but they give only a glimpse of the big picture (which is good, since they make the who’s better argument much more interesting). By the way, this over reliance on data and machine learning techniques is not excluded to football obviously, and experts in certain areas are starting to realize this.

          Regarding Tonali vs Reijnders, I’d say both are relatively equal. Tonali has an advantage in the defensive phase while Reijnders in offense. Both cover a lot of area, are really really solid in their position, but are still far from being top top class (i.e. starters for Europe’s elite)

          1. Certainly certainly. I take your point.
            Stats can only bring you so far. But it does offer a great starting point. It can’t for instance tell if a player positions himself correctly in certain situations or has great tactical abilities. That comes with an eye test. There was a time when people relied too often on eye tests and missed out on stats. They both complement each other imo.

            The real value from stats come from interpreting what the stats show and this is where it can be lacking. This just happens to be my fieldhouse. There are metrics that can or should weigh more than others for instance and there are many ways to interpret the same thing. For instance, the graph above which shows the progressive passes vs passes into the final third (I’m going to assume these are completed passes as well as a per game basis), why would keepers and centre backs be included? They shouldn’t. It’s not their role to play balls into the final third. To me the graph boils down to only looking at Reinjders and RLC which shows deers doing better than him as they both occupy similar places on the field and similar roles. Reinjders’ role requires him to be one of the best final 1/3 passers. Now if he wasn’t up there as one of the best, then that’s a problem. This graph is just telling me he’s doing what’s he’s supposed to be doing. The REAL standouts were Thiaw – a defender, and Adli – a deeplying playmaker are up there. Theo for instance does not surprise me, he operates far up the field. And some players like Leao and Puli already operate in the final third so their stats are bound to be lower. Does that make sense?

            The other aspect is seeing how well he is doing vs other players across Europe in his position. So while we might think he’s doing well in the league when he plays for us, he might be far away from other mids across Europe. And then we get surprised that he’s not performing as he should in those game for instance. This is where percentile comparisons come into play.

            I’m not sure a valid comparison can be made now between Deers and Tonali. Deers need more games for me to make that sort of conclusion. What I’ve said is basically a “so far”. I think they offer different things and they played in different positions too. I’ll have to wait a few more games to give a proper verdict though

  2. I have the feeling that once he gets that first goal, his confidence will go through the roof, and he’ll start banging them in for fun. He’s getting into good positions, but he just hasn’t had the final product yet. It’ll come. Be nice for it to happen against Juve.

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