Does Nick Viergever warrant a place above Jairo Riedewald?

Nick Viergever has grown into his role at centre-back with each passing game and has started to show the confidence and poise that made Peter Bosz pick him above Jairo Riedewald in the first place. Viergever’s game is still marred by mistakes as one can only wonder if a Davinson Sanchez and Riedewald pairing would be more effective. At 27-years-old, Viergever got regular game time during 2016 and with his performances gradually improving should he continue to get regular game time with Ajax battling in the Eredivisie and Europa League?

Viergever came through the talent factory that is Sparta Rotterdam before a four-year spell at AZ Alkmaar where he reached two Europa League Quarter-finals in three years and won a KNVB Bekker. He has assumed a position as an elder statesman of this Ajax squad as he has risen from third or fourth choice centre-back last season to being in Peter Bosz’ regular back four. He can be a liability as he lost his marker in the UEFA Champions League Qualifier Second-Leg against Rostov for the second goal while for the first, he was gesticulating for an offside instead of closing down his man. Against Celta Vigo, Veltman and him lost their man to give Roncaglia a free header while his blunder against FC Twente cost Ajax a twenty game winning streak.

Viergever’s perfectly timed last man challenges against PEC Zwolle and Utrecht proved that he has been working on that aspect of his game during the winter break. His sloppy pass for Nicolai Brock-Madsen’s consolation goal proves that there are still errors in his game. However, his confidence in driving the ball out of the back and his twists and turns to beat pressure have become so integral to unlocking deep-lying defenses. He may not have Riedewald’s passing range but he is still an accomplished ball-player at the back. In a defense where the oldest player apart from him is Joel Veltman who just turned 25 this month, Bosz obviously feels that Viergever’s experience is imperative to the structure of the team.

Riedewald has been willing to fight for his place this season and Bosz has made it clear to him that he is not a left-back and with the development of Donny Van De Beek and Matthijs De Ligt, it seems that he has fallen down the pecking order in defensive midfield and centre-back. It was irksome that Bosz chose Nemanja Gudelj above Riedewald at defensive midfield in the away match against Celta Vigo in the Europa League group phase but it proved that the former Vitesse manager began to see him as a centre-back. His incredible long pass for Kasper Dolberg’s goal against Roda JC at the beginning of this season was just proof of his immense ability.

He had an opportunity to prove himself in the home match against Celta Vigo as a solid performance was ruined by a weak header out of the back which Iago Aspas capitalized on to score.De Ligt and him were calm and composed against Standard Liege in the final game of the Europa League group stage but were unlucky to concede a goal and draw the game 1-1. PSV faced Ajax before the winter break and Riedewald started the game because Viergever was suspended as moments before Siem De Jong’s equalizer, Riedewald kept the former Ajax captain onside for a chance on goal but made a brilliant recovering challenge.

However, for the equalizing goal, Riedewald treks so far out of position to close down Gaston Pereiro, who chips in behind for De Jong to get past Klaassen and score. Riedewald’s decision to push forward and chase the ball destroys any semblance of order that the defense has and Klaassen is forced to play an unfamiliar role as a defender in a crucial situation. Viergever would have held his position and let Klaassen or Sanchez close down the ball while he would wait for any loose balls into his zone. That could be the reason that Riedewald doesn’t fit into the structure of Bosz’ current defense as playing with Sanchez and playing with Veltman are two different roles.

One has to ponder where Riedewald fits in at Bosz’ Ajax as Van De Beek is Schone’s backup and De Ligt is the third choice defender. He has played the early stages of his Dutch National Team career at left back but with Mitchell Dijks staying to backup Daley Sinkgraven as a natural left back, he also wouldn’t fit in there in theory. At 20-years-old, it would be incredibly naive to say he should be guaranteed a first team spot but a player with his technique, speed of thought, versatility and potential should at least be granted a higher spot on the fringes as an able 12th man.

At the beginning of Bosz’ tenure, it seemed that the newly appointed manager would build his team around the youngster but his inability to adjust to defending a few yards higher at a quicker rate and Schone’s ability to move the ball and react quicker than him in midfield have forced him onto the bench. Riedewald also plays in specialist roles where one needs game time and rhythm to properly settle and he hasn’t had that this season. Him, Bazoer, El Ghazi and Tete were regular starters and received their fair share of national team callups at the beginning of last season but now one has left, the other is on his way out and the other two are on the outside looking in.

It is perplexing that with all the game time that Viergever has had, he has only won six tackles according to Squawka. Riedewald has won four tackles with much less game time. Viergever has made 55 interceptions, 64 clearances and six blocks while Riedewald has made 30 interceptions, 12 clearances and one block. According to WhoScored, Viergever makes 1 tackle, 3 interceptions and 4 clearances while winning 3 aerial duels per game. Riedewald makes 1 tackle, 3 interceptions and 2 clearances while winning 1 aerial duel per game. Riedewald also makes 57 passes at a succession rate of 91% with 5 accurate long balls per game while Viergever makes 66 passes at a succession rate of 87% with 5 accurate long balls.

Viergever was looking to leave Amsterdam last summer but has now made the centre-back role his own. Riedewald has been a solid backup but has not put in the type of performance where Bosz would think about him displacing Viergever. At the moment, the 27-year-old creates a much more cohesive relationship with Sanchez and a much more coherent defensive structure. Ajax has had two hard-fought wins after the winter break as they try to find their groove again and the home performance against ADO Den Haag is important to identifying if Bosz needs to tinker with his lineup or not tinker with his winning formula. It will be interesting to see if Riedewald can work his way up the pecking order and if both players can iron out the errors in their game.