Mikkel Damsgaard: Prospect Report

Mikkel Damsgaard is the latest on the ever-growing list of prodigious players to emerge from Scandinavian football academies. This in-depth video-assisted analysis explores why Damsgaard has the tools to be regarded along with the very best of them.

Mikkel Damsgaard is a 20-year old (July 2000) right footed attacker currently playing for U.C. Sampdoria. Damsgaard initially came through the academy at FC Nordsjælland and he has represented Denmark at u18, u19, and u21 level; he made his debut for the Danish National Team in November 2020.

Position and style of play

Mikkel Damsgaard is typically a left-winger or left-sided attacking midfielder. He likes to start wide and play inside onto his favoured right foot, a style fashionable and common among elite wingers and inside forwards of the current age. Damsgaard has shown versatility in his short career as a first-team professional, appearing as a left and right-sided winger and forward, a central attacking midfielder, a deeper left-sided central midfielder as well as a centre forward.

Damsgaard’s heatmaps from his career as well as his appearances in senior or first-team competitions, show most activity through the left half-space. He is a player that operates between the lines of opposition midfield and defence and also between opposition centre and side defenders.

Credit: Wyscout

As well as the natural tendency to operate from wide positions, Damsgaard frequently receives passes in deeper wide or central areas, he shows for the passes in positions where the spaces are available. Rather than running through the wide channels, Damsgaard displays constant desire to get on the ball, a desire to provide an option in order to link play during the early attacking phases. He is a playmaker more than a winger or a forward.

Across his different positions, playing for Nordsjælland, Sampdoria, and Denmark, Damsgaard averages 47 passes (80% accurate), 4.7 long passes (57%), 3 through passes (36%), 8.2 passes into the final third (69%), 1.9 shot assists, 4.7 passes into the opposition penalty area (58%) and 35,3 passes received per 90-minute appearance. Stylistically, Damsgaard is closer to a traditional number 10 than a more modern inside forward or traditional winger.

On top of the creative numbers, Damsgaard also averages 4.7 take-on attempts (53% successful), 2.4 touches inside the opposition penalty area, 1.9 progressive runs, 1.8 shots, and 0.2 goals per 90-minute appearance; the more direct offensive side of Damsgaard game is also impressive, and I will cover that, but the general focus on his game is through a lens of creation and playmaking.

 

Passing, creation, playmaking

Mikkel Damsgaard is a direct attacking player; whether he is dribbling at an opponent looking to move into space behind the backline, attempting a shot from 20-25 metres, breaking the line with an early through ball or a raking long pass, he usually acts early and he rarely hesitates.

His long passing highlights well this directness. When recovering the ball or receiving a pass in a deeper midfield area – which is, as we’ve seen, quite common for Damsgaard – you will notice runs being made and teammates calling for a pass in less than optimum positions. This represents a degree of trust in Damsgaard as an accurate passer of the ball; you often see this in elite teams where an accomplished playmaker is given the freedom of the middle zones to pick out runners. Like a quarterback trying to find his wide receiver, there is the willingness to make those runs with the trust that Damsgaard will successfully find his target.

 

 

The long, laser-guided passes give a good example of the direct nature of Damsgaard’s play from deeper areas, but he is fond too of splitting and bypassing a defensive line from more typically opportune attacking areas.

His smart passes – a pass designed to force a goalscoring chance from an otherwise low-quality area – are instinctive, high risk, and usually accurate. Damsgaard drops in the hole and his movement triggers a run beyond him, often literally behind his back, with the understanding that a first-time pass, usually over the top, will follow. Again, this shows a level of trust from his teammates that Damsgaard will first pick out the pass accurately and also time the pass well enough to avoid the likely offside.

 

 

Damsgaard plays with a healthy balance of instinct and intelligence. The movement often finds him in spaces with enough time to execute the next action, and he has his the ability to see the pass, decide the pass, and play the pass effectively without taking extra touches which would render an effective last-man run offside or would close the spaces he works so hard to find.

A popular, though not necessarily superior way to assess telling creative input is to assess actual assists. A selection of Mikkel Damsgaard’s goal assists highlights his creative strengths at their most effective; direct running into prime areas, no hesitant or superfluous extra touches of the ball, and the timing, direction and weight on the right pass at the right time.

 

 

Mikkel Damsgaard is not by nature a careless or particularly risky passer of the ball, his general passing averages show that a good majority reach their intended target, but within that number are a number of high-risk, line breaking, chance creating passes. He is not afraid to risk possession in order to advance his team quickly into high-quality offensive areas or to directly create a goal-scoring chance. He is both safe in possession and also willing to quickly turn space found through a transition into a potential goal.

 

Dribbling; how he beats his man

I’ve gone into detail about Mikkel Damsgaard the creator, and he can be best typified as a creative player operating from the half-spaces and moving into central areas to receive the ball in space and pick an effective pass, but he is by no means limited to this style. Damsgaard is able to run fast over long distances, and while he is not particularly tall, he does possess long legs that help cover those distances once up to speed, and he can compete in pure foot races. He is not a pacy winger using quick acceleration to motor past a marker, but he does have a fondness for approaching and attempting to beat his man head-on.

 

 

Damgaard’s style of taking-on defenders is more akin to a central midfielder: measured touches, balance, and good levering of his body are used to manoeuvre around tackles; he attempts that quite often. We’ve looked at length into how he uses the spaces he finds, and often those spaces are there due to smart movement and positioning, but there are also times when a player must create the space for himself. Damsgaard shows great aptitude at this skill.

Damsgaard isn’t employing stepovers or feints to bamboozle his marker, rather he decides his route, gets his body between man and ball, and he commits to it. Like his passing, it’s efficient, functional and entirely effective. You wouldn’t highlight dribbling as a key attribute for this attacking midfielder in the way you would for a more mercurial ball carrier, but Damsgaard shows an aptitude for the creation of space through any means necessary.

 

Shooting

Mikkel Damsgaard has scored 25 times throughout his short career, averaging around a goal every five games. As I have pointed out through his positional play, movement and stylistic tendencies, he isn’t an inside forward or even an attacking winger who is likely to make a penetrative late run into the box or to run off the shoulder of an attacker to offer the free option between defenders. Damsgaard is far more likely to be the first receiver playing the penetrative ball or the assister, but he is capable of finding the net.

Many of his goals are both spectacular and speculative; he isn’t afraid to shoot. In those 11,000 career minutes, Damsgaard has taken 231 shots at goal (1.8 per 90-minute appearance) and close to 40% of those have hit the target. The sheer number of shots has dropped considerably since leaving the Danish Superliga and joining Serie A, and this can likely be expected and explained by a simple increase in general defensive quality as well as a difference in role and what is expected of him (more on this later).

He is often running in support of more offensively defined players, and many of his shots at goal resulted from a second ball or from the edge of the penalty area. He has a certain preference for the left-hand corner of the penalty area, cutting inside onto his right foot where he can attempt an inswinging curling shot with his instep to the far post.

 

 

Since joining Sampdoria Damsgaard has enjoyed a slightly different role from what we saw at Nordsjælland. He isn’t afforded the kind of time and space he saw in the Danish top-flight; in Serie A he is more action, more high octane running, more active pressing and hassling of defenders. He is able to run off the shoulders of midfielder markers, creating and exploiting space through a high energy, tireless approach. This paid dividends in his solitary goal since joining the club against Lazio. Damsgaard banked on his teammate winning the ball in the opposition area, accelerated between defenders, took a composed first touch before guiding the ball in off the crossbar.

 

He isn’t a natural finisher, and although the technique is often there for a long-range piledriver or sumptuous curler, he doesn’t yet possess the attacking instincts to occupy goalscoring areas with regularity. The position and role have often prevented it so far, but there is potential in his movement and the way he tends to strike the ball cleanly which suggests his goal tally can and likely will improve in the future.

Energy and the press

As mentioned, Damsgaard at Sampdoria has been a different player from the playmaking sensation in Denmark. We know the technical ability is there, and he has displayed it a number of times in Italy, but now we are seeing this budding pitbull emerge. Under veteran championship-winning manager Claudio Ranieri, Mikkel Damsgaard is pressing and hassling, trying to imprint himself physically on games now as well as technically. There is a development in attitude, application and mentality emerging.

In Denmark, Damsgaard showed that was able to compete physically with forwards or midfielders older, physically more developed and more experience than he is in defensive duels. As with his style in dribbling players, Damsgaard uses his body to lever the ball away from attackers. Naturally, in many of the examples of him dispossessing an opponent, he immediately attempts to progress the ball into offensive areas with a long pass.

 

 

 

I have arranged clips of the pressing from two different games in Serie A,  one from his debut cameo against perennial Champions Juventus, and the other from his first start a week later against Fiorentina. Between both games in just over 90 combined minutes, Damsgaard competed in 14 defensive duels.

 

 

The pressing wasn’t always effective, there were times he was running into wide avenues where playing past him or over him was a trivial task for such accomplished international level defenders, but the intensity and desire are there. Pressing fruitlessly isn’t always the best option, especially if you do so alone, but it does show a certain willingness to prove yourself and to push yourself further than what is comfortable.

I believe Mikkel Damsgaard doesn’t want to be typecast as a number 10: good on the ball and able to pick a creative pass, but unable to put himself on the line for his team. I think he wants to be seen as an all-around asset. As good off the ball as he is on the ball. The best midfielders, wingers and forwards in the modern game usually are.

Mikkel Damsgaard

From a personal perspective, I appreciate more a young attacking player who shows intelligence and innovative design in their movement and actions than one who displays raw pace, strength or an eye for scoring goals. Mikkel Damsgaard possesses that intelligence in abundance.

There is a long way to go for his game; he can and should improve his overall sharpness of movement and strength, as well as his speed over short distances, and that will come with elite training capabilities. The big attribute Damsgaard possesses, the one which sets him apart from his age group, is the instinct and confidence supported by a natural ability in technique to pull off the right move at the right time. Decision making can be one of the very last aspects of play a young player gets right, it can be almost entirely dictated by experience; what Mikkel Damsgaaard displays is a natural, almost talent given ability to make the right choices on the ball.

He is currently in great hands with Claudio Ranieri, a manager with the accomplished and proven reputation of developing a good tactical understanding as well as a defensive discipline within attacking players. The standard of opposition in Serie A will be a continued test for Damsgaard, and he can continue honing himself in a division which is more appropriate of his ability long term.

Eventually, it would be beneficial for him to compete in European competition again. His first and only foray in the Europa League occurred when Damsgaard was just 18 years old and his performances over six games were a leading part of the reason why bigger European teams first took notice of his quality.

Mikkel Damsgaard certainly has the tools in his arsenal to cement himself among the elite competition, and at just 20 years old he has the next 3-4 years to really sharpen his ability and work on the weaknesses. Far from the end product, Damsgaard is one who I fully expect to be a leading figure in his position in Italy and beyond.

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