Jetro Willems is another one of those cheeky Newcastle United signings that have good chances of working out as the new season knocks on the door for the Magpies. After having taken a dip into the Bundesliga to sign Joelinton from Hoffenheim, Willems became the Magpies’ third signing of the summer and followed up the capture of Allan Saint-Maximin from Nice.
It will be unfair to judge Willems on the basis of what sort of season he had last season at Eintracht Frankfurt. He made only seven starts for the club under Adi Hütter but played in midfield too, a position he had never played before.
Having arrived at the club from PSV Eindhoven in the summer of 2017 for a fee of around €9 million, Willems had the task of replacing the impressive Bastian Oczipka. The German had left Schalke after a 2016/17 campaign that had seen his stock rise in the Bundesliga.
It would have been a task for anyone. Oczipka had become an Eagles’ fan-favorite for his ability to cover every blade of grass on the left and for how long he had been at the club, five years.
Willems managed to do that to a large extent. He was considered one of the best left-backs in the Netherlands and the move fit the bill. Under Niko Kovac, Frankfurt played a 3-4-3 shape and often a 4-2-3-1, playing three defenders at the back saw Willems play at wing-back.
Before the stint at SGE had begun, Willems had enjoyed his best season at PSV in the 2014/15 term. He racked up 13 assists that season, playing in a 4-3-3 shape with players like Luuk de Jong, Luciano Narsingh and Florian Josefzoon in the front three. Playing in that position, he made a name for himself and had been one of PSV’s most important players in defense and in attack.
The attacking demands of the Kovac system helped Willems thrive and with two strikers up front in Ante Rebic and Sebastien Haller, the former PSV man made perfect use of his crossing ability. It allowed him to make 1.2 accurate long-balls per game and that saw him play to his strengths. He also played as many 1.2 key passes per game.
Not to say that crossing is Willems’ only strength. He is a unit in himself and has a very good work-rate too.
This season under new boss Hütter, it has been different Willems. For the first time in his career, he played in midfield as Hutter played a 3-4-3 shape more often and Filip Kostic played at wing-back. Kostic’s presence in that position and the fact that he worked out there saw Willems’ game time reduce than how much it should have been.
Willems played only six times at left-back and three times at wing-back, settling for a spot in the midfield more often than not. Playing alongside Gelson Fernandes didn’t exactly thrive but showed that he can do a job in that position if called upon to play in midfield.
His work-rate and ability to carry the ball from the back to the forward areas proved handy in the heart of the park but it didn’t prove to be the best if seasons for Willems. It sometimes seemed as though he was replaceable and would do better elsewhere playing at his prefered position like how he played at PSV in the days gone by.
That is why the move to Newcastle makes sense. A lot of sense.
It does seem as though Steve Bruce will likely play a 3-5-2 shape with probably Saint-Maximin and Joelinton up front, with Willems playing at left wing-back. Paul Dummett was often used as a third centre-back. As things stand, Newcastle don’t have a proper left-back who can help them survive relegation.
And like how things were for Willems at PSV many times, he will have two men to target. While he’d have loved to have Salomon Rondon to aim at, but having two strikers of a 6 foot plus stature isn’t a bad option at all. He will use his crossing to very good effect and his nature of being a balanced full-back will really help Newcastle whenever the forwards are isolated up front and want support. He can always make in roads and sometimes grab very good goals from some distance out.
By Kaustubh Pandey.