Roda’s fifth Eredivisie home match brought them a third draw, but despite maintaining their unbeaten home record, discontent will prevail. Wiljan Vloet lined N.E.C. up in an unconventional 3-3-3-1 formation which posed insurmountable problems to Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond. Therefore N.E.C. came away with an unexpected, but deserved point from this match.
Roda’s diamond beating NAC
Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond has been discussed quite extensively in yesterday’s review of their 2-1 away victory over NAC Breda. A 4-4-2 diamond inevitably weakens the flanks in favor of a strengthened centre of the pitch. Roda solved this weak flanks with their full-backs in the second half, having both de Fauw and Hempte making probing runs from deep. The complete lack of NAC’s wingers tracking back meant a dominance in midfield and this brought Roda last weekend’s victory.
N.E.C. goes three at the back
N.E.C. seemed to have learned from NAC’s shortcomings and made some interesting and quite unexpected changes to their formation. Most notably, they fielded a three man defense to avoid the problem of ‘overdefending’. Should their back four be guarding Roda’s two strikers, as in their usual 4-3-3 or 4-5-1 formation, they would come one player short and lose the midfield battle.
So instead, by fielding three at the back, they could inject an extra midfield player. On top of that, Vloet had his wingers playing a fairly defensive role, so the overall formation would be noted as a 3-3-3-1. The two midfield band of three were never far apart, especially in the first half, so at times their formation came close to a rare 3-6-1.
The first half
The opening phase of the match was characterized by an extremely crowded midfield. Roda effectively played four midfielders against N.E.C.’s six. At the same time, N.E.C. patiently sat back and only pressed their opponent from around the halfway line. Even in possession, the 3-3-3-1 formation was maintained and the lack of attacking passing options was seemingly accepted. For fans of goalmouth action it might have been a boring opening phase, but from a tactical point of view it was interesting to see Roda struggle with N.E.C.’s unconventional formation.
It took the entire first half for Roda to figure out a way to play around this densely packed N.E.C. midfield. Strikers Meulens and Junker started making some wide runs in an attempt to drag the three man defense apart, but this was more exception than rule at that time.
Half time changes
As often before this season, Van Veldhoven made some successful tactical adaptations during half-time. He realized that in fact it was his side that ‘overdefended’ this time, playing a back four against an isolated striker. Instead of advancing the full-backs to strengthen the midfield, this time both centre-backs started taking turns in making runs from deep, both with and without the ball at their feet.
Shortly after the half-time break it was exactly such a run by Pah-Modou Kah that wasn’t adequately picked up by N.E.C.’s midfield. Kah provided the much needed unpredictability that allowed for a dangerous move and Arnaud Sutchuin finished the team move to score his third goal in the past three matches.
Three upfront too
While N.E.C. might have been expected to advance their midfield and switch to a 3-3-1-3 immediately, it took quite some time for that to happen. First, injured holding midfielder Zimling was replaced with winger Chatelle, signaling Vloet’s attacking intentions with over half an hour to play. And later on N.E.C. did indeed switch to the much needed three man upfront.
It must have been the first N.E.C. cross with more than one of their players in the opposing box that created the equalizer. Vleminckx converted a Sibum shot that would otherwise have missed the target and N.E.C. got the reward for the courage that their formation represented.
In the end
To say that the key to unlock Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond has been found is perhaps a tad early, but playing three at the back solved the problem of ‘overdefending’ that previous Roda opponents had. Furthermore, the double banks of three midfielders effectively frustrated Roda’s play an neutralized the game. Not too exciting in terms of goalmouth action, but all the more innovating from a tactical point of view. Hats off to Vloet tonight for making this three at the back happen. Let’s see whether Roda’s next opponents, dead-last Willem II and troubled Feyenoord, have the courage to follow N.E.C.’s example.