Dutch champions FC Twente faced Werder Bremen at home for their third Champions League Group stage match tonight. This offered them a chance at revenge for both team’s match-up last season when the Germans knocked Twente out of the Europa League competition in the first knock-out stage. After winning 1-0 at home, Twente went on to lose the second tie 1-4.
Twente’s Champions League campaign
This year’s Champions League campaign brought both teams one point so far. Twente managed to hold Cup holders Inter to a 2-2 home draw in a match that must have generated the team quite some respect throughout the footballing world. Playing an open and attacking game at home, supported by a great crowd, Theo Janssen was definitely the man of the moment, scoring from a beautiful direct free-kick.
Their second CL game also saw a Dutchman walk away with the ‘man of the moment’ credits, albeit a bit of a debatable honour that time. Rafael van der Vaart shone in many aspects that night. After scoring the opening goal and missing a penalty, he got his second yellow card about one hour into the match. In the end the match ended in a 4-1 defeat for Twente.
Werder Bremen’s season so far
Their opponents Werder Bremen have got two similar results after two games. Their first game was drawn at home 2-2 with Tottenham and they went on to lose 4-0 at Inter’s San Siro. Their national campaign doesn’t see them flying high too. After a 3-2-3 opening to the season, Werder is now ranked 11th in the Bundesliga and only Borussia Mönchengladbach’s defense has let in more goals than Werder’s 17.
Regular 11tegen11 followers will know by now that Twente manager Michel Preud’homme abandoned his predecessor’s successful 4-3-3 interpretation to play a clear 4-2-3-1 formation. This allows to incorporate both talented striker Luuk de Jong in a man-in-the-hole role and target man Mark Janko upfront. They play split wingers with right winger Ruiz having much of a free role, drifting in to the centre of the pitch. Midfield balance comes from Wout Brama who tends to occupy a defensive position quite close to his defensive line and Theo Janssen whose left foot provides the creative spark for them.
However, tonight Preud’homme chose to field the more defensive minded veteran midfielder Denny Landzaat instead of Luuk de Jong. This meant a strengthening of the midfield and a turn back to the 4-3-3 formation that brought them a few disappointing 0-0 draws at the beginning of the season.
Bremen’s manager Thomas Schaaf has been their manager for 11 consecutive seasons now. His success at the club is easily illustrated by pointing at their successful Champions League qualification for five seasons in a row now.
Schaaf is known as an offensive thinking mind. His preferred formation is the 4-4-2 diamond, but he’s known to use a 4-2-3-1 line-up regularly this season too. Both formation are characterized by a playmaker in-the-hole and this position brought fame to both Diego and his successor Özil over the past years. At present it seems ‘German Englishman’ Aaron Hunt who takes up the role behind the Werder striker(s). Hunt’s excellent off-the-ball skills were recently described very well by Tim Hill.
Tonight Schaaf went with a 4-2-3-1, probably in order to fit in two defensive midfielders given the fact that it’s an away match for Werder and their defense has been quite leaky this season so far.
The cautious first half
After an opening ten minutes where Twente dominates possession, but did so mainly on their own half, the first incident of note was their star player Bryan Ruiz receiving the ball after smartly taking up a position between the lines of Werder’s back four and the double defensive midfielder shield. His shot went wide, but perhaps more concerning for Twente’s supporters he seems to have injured himself slightly. Although he was able to carry on, Twente held their horses for at least ten minutes and this allowed Werder te enter the match.
Werder did so by smart ground combination, especially over their right wing where winger Wesley and full-back Fritz combined well. Add the fact that Hunt started drifting in from the left flank, putting his excellent off-the-ball skills into effect and the dynamics of Werder’s attack become quite clear. They did however not succeed in reaching lone striker Almeida enough, and his isolated position was reflected in his half time pass completion rate of 6/16 (38%).
Both teams lost an important player due to an injury occurring without any opposing player around. Twente captain Wisgerhof had to be replaced with new acquisition Bengtsson at centre-back and Werder’s influential goalkeeper Tim Wiese had to be replaced with young Mielitz, who made an uncertain impression in his first save and invited Twente to test him from distance at that time.
The second half
Many would have hoped for Luuk de Jong to come on, but Preud’homme cautiously decided not to do so. Switching Bryan Ruiz and the utterly disappointing Chadli was his only half-time move. His counterpart Thomas Schaaf didn’t make any half-time changes, so it was no surprise that the disappointing level of play carried on in the second half.
Former Twente striker Arnautovic replaced Hugo Almeida upfront with half an hour to play and this did influence Werder’s game positively. He played with more positional freedom compared to the static role that Almeida played, allowing him to see more of the ball and allowing Wesley and Hunt more space upfront to move into. Werder did dominate the game at this phase, but it surprisingly the goalmouth action was to be seen on the other side of the pitch.
Twente’s golden boy this season has certainly been Theo Janssen and it was him appearing in front of young Werder goalkeeper Mielitz to fire in a close range rebound. Twente got the fairly late opening goal and all that was needed was fifteen minutes of control.
But it took Werder only a few minutes to equalize. Twente’s off-day was illustrated at best when six defending players failed to put any pressure on Hunt who found Arnautovic with a through ball in the heart of Twente’s defense. Brama, later on to be named man of the match by the stadium speaker (sic!), lost out to Arnautovic on physique and the Austrian international finished the move cleanly.
In the end both teams came quite close to scoring the winner, but Mielitz came to Werder’s aid by stopping Janssen’s lifted ball and at the other end of the pitch referee Bo Larsen came to Twente’s aid by disallowing a late Pizarro header for a slight push.
In the end
In all fairness this was a disappointing match. Twente’s fear was expressed as Preud’homme dropped his offensive 4-2-3-1, preferring Landzaat in a 4-3-3 over a more offensive-minded Luuk de Jong. This create quite a gap between Twente’s midfield and attack and consequently their performance was generally disappointing.
With the away match against Bremen coming up next the second place in the group is still within reach, but Twente will have to come up with a better game plan as the defensive installment of Denny Landzaat over Luuk de Jong turned into a self-fulfilling prophecy tonight.