Noussair Mazraoui to Bayern Munich is allegedly a done deal. Leaving Ajax on a free transfer, the Moroccan right-back joins us with a wage package of €8m/season. This is huge and a statement purchase.
It means that the board is backing their manager. Julian Nagelsmann wants to move to a 3-man defense, and that requires certain personnel that the squad just does not have at this moment in time. The concept of moving to this shape has been of great controversy but it is good to see that even if the board does not completely agree with Nagelsmann, they are putting faith and money into his project.
It means that Nagelsmann and sporting director Hasan Salihamidzic are not at odds with one and other. Nagelsmann has reportedly been a fan of Mazraoui and Salihamidzic has gotten their man with a minimum of fuss.
It means that Bayern will not hold back on committing finances to new additions to the squad during this phase where the leadership group is shifting. While there was no transfer fee, €8m per season is not a light wage package, certainly boosted by the lack of a transfer fee.
Mazraoui however, is totally worth it. He will not only be our starting right-back, but he will finally become recognised as what he already is, in my opinion: one of the finest all-round right wingbacks in the world.
Noussair, a stalwart in the defensive half
Mazraoui is a true marauder down his flank. At Ajax, manager Erik ten Hag prefers a four-man defensive line which gives more responsibility to Mazraoui defensively than he would have at Bayern Munich. This has not been a negative as Mazraoui has been excellent. Coming up against the Eredivisie’s best, Mazraoui is excellent at one-on-ones but also adept at intercepting balls from half-spaces out wide, often launching attacks from an interception that precedes a long ball. He doesn’t take too many risks unlike some of our backline and clears the ball when required instead of forcing moves every time.
Mazraoui is truly a solid and consistent defender, with no errors that have led to chances or shots conceded this season, nor any penalties. However, sometimes when the ball is already in the team’s possession, he tends to prefer dribbling to passing, and this can result in him losing the ball. He must learn to pass more, especially in Germany where the pressing it at its highest and most ruthless across a 90.
Mazraoui, an eagle in the attacking half
Mazraoui is a consistent defender, but where he truly shines is coming forward.
Forming a wing-back/winger partnership with Antony on the right flank of Ajax, Mazraoui has been more than excellent. Two assists, five big chances and 1.4 key passes per game may not be an outstanding number, but it is misleading. Mazraoui is not the primary assist-provider, as his role is more to drag defenders away from safe positions and open up spaces. This is a consequence of Ten Hag’s system consisting of Ryan Gravenberch and Steven Berghuis exploring dangerous spaces in the half-spaces, Antony and Tadic staying wide usually, and multiple layers of interaction between these two sets of players that would require an article of their own to explain. The long and short of it is, Mazraoui takes a role at Ajax similar to Serge Gnabry’s role at Bayern earlier in the season. He makes late runs diagonally in but tends to stay further back, mostly dragging defenders here and there to let the attackers exploit spaces.
This role has allowed him to wreak havoc in the final third. While he very rarely stays wide and crosses, his diagonal balls have allowed him to score five times and possibly more if his finishing was better. He has scored from outside the box twice and while these were moments of sheer brilliance, it would remain to be seen if he can do the same in Germany, but I have confidence that he will make himself useful in the final third, especially with his defensive responsibilities being slightly relaxed compared to before.
Calling him an ‘eagle’ is not unintentional. His position allows him to see the whole field as it is from a bird’s eye view, undisturbed by any marker as defenders are usually kept busy by the attackers. This is eerily similar to Gnabry’s role at Bayern, which should be a sign of things to come. Mazraoui is the perfect fit going forward.
What do you guys think? Is Mazraoui going to be the missing piece in the starting XI puzzle that Bayern Munich finally need to push for European success once again? Let us know in the forum below.