Weghorst form allowing AZ to move on from Vincent Janssen


There's something admirable in the way AZ seamlessly replace their leading marksmen.

Since the 2010/11 season began and prior to this campaign the Alkmaar-based club have boasted four different main centre-forwards each successful as the last.

Combined the quartet averaged 35 goals, across 74 matches, and when the latest Vincent Janssen – who succeeded Aron Jóhannsson, who succeeded Jozy Altidore, who succeeded Kolbeinn Sigþórsson – decided to leave for pastures new last summer, it was natural to ask whether the streak would be able to continue.

Replacing him, after becoming such an integral figure, was always going to be a challenge, and with more than half of the season completed it's fair to say they've outdone themselves yet again.

Janssen's departure, on the back of his most productive season (32 goals in 49 games) as a professional, was sudden but expected.

The offer from Tottenham Hotspur, in the region of £19m, was simply too good to turn down by the powers that be, and Janssen – not short on confidence – felt playing in England under Mauricio Pochettino would accelerate his development.

It's done anything but. The 22-year-old, as we've seen, has struggled to find his feet at White Hart Lane, and to make it a double whammy he's being slowly being forgotten in Alkmaar. It isn't a slight on him, rather his successor is performing beyond expectations.

Six days before Janssen said his goodbyes AZ confirmed the signing of Wout Weghorst from Heracles Almelo for around £1.3m. The 24-year-old, previously linked with Cardiff City and Celtic, enjoyed a modest spell at his previous club and expected to play a bit-part role but as we know everything changed.
Truth be told he's not looked back since. Being thrust into the spotlight, leading John van den Brom's attack, hasn't fazed him one iota. In fact he's revelling, so much so after his opening 17 matches he is outscoring his predecessor.

Janssen after that same amount of games managed six goals whilst the new sheriff in town has already reached double figures (10). However, one caveat, the Dutch international finished the 2015/16 campaign strongly, and we're yet to see whether Weghorst can follow suit, though early signs are encouraging.


Weghorst form allowing AZ to move on from Vincent Janssen


A defender's nightmare, his languid style complements his technique and playing style – awareness, vision, movement and link-up play – and his height, standing at 6ft 4, is used to his advantage (winning 54.2% of his aerial duels). It makes him adept as a target man in AZ's 4-2-3-1 system, allowing those around him into the game.

Under the auspices of Van den Brom they've prescribed to aggression before aesthetics, with attack being the best form of defence, the objective being to create scoring opportunities with the least number of passes. Despite adopting this pragmatic approach Van den Brom, who learnt much of his craft under Louis van Gaal whilst representing Ajax in the early 1990s, sees football as art and encourages those under him to express themselves.

It's also unfair to label his approach as 'direct', there's nothing one dimensional about Van den Brom, whose side averages the fifth fewest long balls per game (71). He remains an ardent disciple of the Dutch school of football, particularly encouraging 'combination football', but unlike those in Amsterdam he prefers not to take up to thirty touches of the ball before a shot on goal. AZ's average possession (52%) and shots (13.9) per game, as a consequence, are both fifth highest in their respective category across the division.

Weghorst is one such player that has benefited under Van den Brom's leadership. Though he only makes the 13th most passes per game at the club (24.5), he averages the fifth most key passes per game (1). However, it would be outlandish to suggest he's anything more than an orthodox centre-forward, he is what the Dutch figuratively dub a 'killer', in other words a number nine that does the one job he's built to do with no added complications. It's for that reason that his statistical rating is a modest 6.84.

His bread and butter is putting the ball into the back of the net. And he's not disappointed his employers and legion of supporters. As mentioned Weghorst after 17 matches has registered 10 goals, with a 34.5% conversion rate (responsible for 30.3% of his teams output), placing him joint third in the golden boot race which is co-led by Nicolai Jørgensen and Reza Ghoochannejhad of Feyenoord and Heerenveen respectively (12 goals).

Not exactly blessed with electric pace, though he's completed 50% of his attempted dribbles, the key to his success has been impeccable timing and positioning. A menace inside the penalty area, where all ten of his strikes have occurred, he's fast become a favourite on the terraces.

Weghorst unlike Janssen and his three other predecessors had previous experience in the Dutch top-flight before putting on AZ's red jersey. The native of Borne, who spent a few years in Willem II's youth academy, joined Heracles from second division FC Emmen in 2014, subsequently racking up 22 goals across 68 matches in the Eredivisie.

Unspectacular as it is on paper, one every 254 minutes, it was the potential he continually showed coupled with his all-round game that convinced his new club where he is starting to fulfil his talent. A mainstay this season, only missing two league matches, he's averaging a goal every 119 minutes, the best return of any player who has completed over 1000 minutes.

He couldn't add to his tally over the weekend as AZ were held to a draw at home to Sparta Rotterdam; Derrick Luckassen had given them a 54th minute lead before Mathias Pogba – the older brother of Paul – equalised four minutes from time. Weghorst played the full 90 minutes, registering one shot on goal, and ultimately saw his side remain fifth in the Eredivisie standings.

It's difficult to see Van den Brom's men finishing inside the top three – something they last achieved in 2015 which remains their highest placing since becoming champions in 2009 – given how well (or fortunate) the traditional 'big three' have been doing in recent weeks, but there's an incentive in eclipsing last season's points total.

After nineteen matches played AZ are on 32 points, which puts them 27 less than what they finished on in 2015/16. It's a tall order, especially for a team as prone to inconsistency as the Cheeseheads, but as we've seen on numerous occasions this season they can be a match for any side. Throw in a striker constantly improving and brimming with confidence and anything is possible.

Weghorst form allowing AZ to move on from Vincent Janssen