When you’ve got a 6ft 1ins forward at your disposal, one extremely efficient in the air, the British temptation is to plant him up front in the most traditional targetman role and pump in balls from each and every angle.
Yet, the fact that Luuk De Jong failed to find the net in 12 Premier League appearances during a forgettable loan spell at Newcastle in the second half of the 2013/14 season has been largely attributed to then manager Alan Pardew’s decision to deploy him in attacking midfield.
In fact, the man himself claimed that playing in a deeper-than-usual role hardly helped his transition to the English game, as reported by The Chronicle.
However, in the previous two campaigns, De Jong has rediscovered the goal trail, and how. Netting 46 times in 65 Eredivisie games, the 26-year-old helped PSV to successive top flight titles. Though it’s another statistic that catches the eye even more.
Although the execution proved disastrous and the tactics perhaps ill-fitting, Pardew’s decision to deploy the strapping striker in a more creative role had its reasons.
25 - @LuukdeJong9 now has 25 Eredivisie assists since joining PSV, only Hakim Ziyech (33) has had more since July 2014. Generous.— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) February 12, 2017
After all, De Jong’s stature belies his style; the majority of those assists have not originated from knock-downs but intelligent reverse passes, perfectly weighted lay-offs or neat combination play around the edge of the box.
The Dutchman is an extremely technical forward, blessed with a subtle touch and weight of pass many orthodox number tens can only dream of. The difference, however, is he plies his trade in a PSV team custom built to suit his strengths with midfielders running off him to get on the end of his clever combinations.
At Newcastle, he was expected to adapt in a struggling team bereft of confidence or midfield goalscorers. No wonder, then, that his finest form deserted him.