22 Defender AZ Sweden
2014 has been...
Mattias Johansson, AZ’s Swedish right back, has consolidated well this year but there hasn’t been much more to his 2014 than that, at club level at least. The 22-year-old made his international debut against Denmark in May and has notched a total of three appearances for his country so far, all off the bench. It was the culmination of his development through Under-17, Under-19 and Under-21 international football and it was deserved recognition of his form in the Eredivisie.
Johansson played at youth level for IF Hallby and Kallmar FF, then played in league games for Kallmar’s first team more than 40 times before earning himself a move to AZ and the Eredivisie in 2012.
Johansson took a while to break into the AZ side but did so in some style last season. He’s continued as first choice this year, though 19-year-old Dutch defender Derrick Luckassen has given him something to think about despite being primarily a centre back in the eyes of AZ coach John van den Brom. Dirk Marcellis, the more experienced right back of the two, is reportedly in line for a possible new contract in spite of Johansson’s rise to prominence in his absence.
This season it’s not quite been as smooth a ride for Johansson as the last, but he’s had a recent run of games and scored his first goal of the campaign last weekend. After four goals in 30 starts last season he’ll be keen to add a few more to his game.
That’s well within his reach because when AZ have a lot of possession Johansson is effectively a wing back. He overlaps the midfield for fun and occupies a starting position right up alongside them. When AZ are on their game he rarely looks like a traditional full back, though he is usually available when they need to keep their shape in more trying circumstances. He looks much better defensively when he needs to be in that more standard right back spot. When he’s attacking often he’s more susceptible to positioning errors.
He’ll even pop up in a defensive midfield position on the odd occasion, a display of the fluidity his AZ team applies at times. He’s quick when he gets going and is a very tenacious player, if a little rash and prone to a booking for a nasty tackle borne of inexperience. By and large, his tackling is decent enough.
Johansson can get sucked towards the ball or drawn inside too easily and opponents can easily exploit it. As a result he sometimes looks a little lost at the top level and at times can go missing somewhat, but he generally has a good game both defensively and going forward. He doesn’t push on every time the opportunity is there, but when he goes, he goes.
When attacking, his game’s all about quick, short passes. He plays one-twos and gets forward for a return ball in behind. His touch is deft and his use of the ball is efficient, and there’s a bit of skill and a slither of trickery to him too. His pace is more about afterburners than express speed, so his recovery runs are useful when he’s caught out.
Overall, Johansson is a contradiction. Sometimes he looks out of position, then moments later he’ll be reading the game like an old pro and making a key interception. One minute he’ll look every inch a modern day full back who attacks well and can’t really defend, the next he’ll be a proper right back, in a proper right back position, and be at his defensive best.
But he’s an intriguing prospect and it’ll be fascinating to see how he develops when some consistency arrives with more experience. He’s quite unorthodox as full backs go, underlapping as much as overlapping and comfortable getting into an old inside right position and getting a shot away. The best is yet to come.
With a place in AZ’s starting line-up more or less under control, Johansson will need to focus some of his attention on making a play for more international recognition. He faces stiff competition from Celtic’s Mikael Lustig but the longer term future is on his side. At 22 and with a few minutes under his belt, now’s the time to make a mark with Euro 2016 on the horizon.
Johansson must also keep his place in the AZ side and some improvements are required on that front, though none of them should be outside the abilities of a player who clearly has the quality to succeed at a good level. His contract runs to 2016 so 2015 will also be the year of a big decision about his future.
Should he have his agent’s ears to the ground about a possible move? Maybe. He certainly seems to be a player who could do with things being freshened up some, but that doesn’t necessarily need to be a change of club. Our advice for 2015 is to dig in and focus on the football. A few rough edges notwithstanding, Johansson is capable of carving out a very worthwhile career in the Eredivisie and beyond.
"The Swedish dynamo on the right has had a few dips in form lately, but still, there are few right backs in the league better than Johansson. Maybe time for a new challenge?" - Michiel Jongsma
"Mattias Johansson is one of five defenders to have made over 100 tackles and 100 interceptions in the Eredivisie since the start of last season." - OptaJoe
C- Steady but not as inspired as we’d hoped.
For Asics Trainers go to JD