Ron Jans still hasn’t found the right formation for Heerenveen, while NAC looked happy to revert back to their 4-3-3 formation. Heerenveen’s shuffled attacking line-up looked out of sorts, building up more frustration for striker Bas Dost who continuously lacks the support he needs from the wings. Two early second half goals decided the match which it very clear to Jans how not to field his team…
The fourth round of the KNVB Beker, the Dutch FA Cup, saw most Eredivisie clubs paired to a lower league or even amateur opponent, but Heerenveen and NAC were two of the Eredivisie clubs paired together. Both teams are ranked midtable so far, but tend to look upwards , aiming to compete for the play-off places come the end of the season.
Jans still searching
Heerenveen manager Ron Jans is still searching, in his first season at the club, how to put all the pieces together. Despite Jans playing the same 4-2-3-1 formation as he did at his previous club, Groningen, Heerenveen has looked all but settled so far and is ranked at a slightly disappointing 10th position so far. Main concerns have been the lack of adequate supply for striker Bas Dost and the balance on the midfield, with the advanced midfielder position being filled in by different players almost every match.
In this match, Bas Dost was flanked by split wingers Beerens on the left and Narsingh on the right. Especially the choice to play the right-footed Beerens on the left flank will have raised more than one Frisian eyebrow with Dost desperate for high crosses into the box. Ousmane Assaidi, one of the usual players to fill the left flank was positioned on the attacking midfielder spot. Jans is clearly still looking for the best configuration here.
NAC reverted back to 4-3-3
NAC stepped away from their 4-2-3-1 experiment of the Groningen match, in which they were heavily dominated by their opponents. Playmaker-for-a-day Ali Boussabon, who did not convince at all that day might still have not fully recoved from his abdominal muscle injury. Reverting to their more familiar 4-3-3 formation meant that Gorter was moved back from the left flank into his usual midfield position. More importantly, instead of filling the space behind striker Amoah with a fixed man-in-the-hole, like in a 4-2-3-1, the space was now open for Gorter to advance into from midfield and for Leonardo to drift inside from the right flank. In turn, space was create for right-back Milano Koenders to advance frequently on the flank.
The first half
The return to their familiar 4-3-3 system was clear from NAC’s fresh start to the match. Putting pressure early on and looking to involve both full-backs, Koenders more than Janse, in their attacks gave them the upper hand early on. A series of chances was the result, in most of which one of the full-backs played an important role. Heerenveen, meanwhile, seemed unable to pass around the pressing NAC midfield, and supposed-to-be-playmaker Assaidi hardly touched the ball in the first fifteen minutes of the match.
NAC played left-footed dribbler Leonardo on the right wing in a very inside-minded role. He looked to drift inside a lot, thereby providing the extra man on the midfield, which allowed NAC a crucial dominance in that department. On the other hand, Heerenveen’s attacking midfielder Assaidi played thus far advanced that he could hardly be counted among Heerenveen’s midfield. NAC’s controlling midfielder Gillissen looked happy enough to sit deep and man-mark him out of the match in a discrete but excellent performance.
The first half was easily summarized as a series of NAC chances that were not converted, only now and then interrupted by an incidental moment of Heerenveen danger. It was hardly coincidental that is was a Dost header from a rare high cross that formed Heerenveen’s most dangerous first half moment.
The second half
Subbing Haglund on for the invisible Svec in defensive midfield did not mean a tactical change for Heerenveen. Their play was constructed the same as before, as were their problems. The NAC players must surely have been told to be on the right path as it took only a few minutes for them to open the score. Fittingly, it was from a Jens Janse cross that Amoah scored to put the visitors in front. And even before Heerenveen could reply, NAC doubled their lead through Robbert Schilder who underlined his excellent midfield performance with a goal.
From that moment on, NAC looked happy to sit back in more of a 4-5-1 formation, keeping only pace Leonardo upfront for most of the time and tucking Amoah into a wide right-sided midfield role. The introduction of Gudelj, a defensive midfielder, for winger Kolkka confirmed this observation.
Heerenveen, meanwhile, gradually introduced more elements of attack into their formation. A step in the right direction was to switch Assaidi, who disappointed in the central playmaking role, to the left wing, moving Beerens to the right and introducing Djuricic in the central role. From that moment on, Dost was provided an aerial cross now and then, although it was too little too late already. Even the desperate move to remove right-back Koning for attacking midfielder Elm did not change the fate of the game, what’s more, Heerenveen’s formation looked top-heavy and the best chances fell to NAC instead.
In the end
Overall, the familiarity of NAC with the 4-3-3 triumphed over the unfamiliarity of Heerenveen with the 4-2-3-1 as they played it today. Especially Bas Dost must have the feeling that his move to Heerenveen has failed to live up to expectations so far. He wasn’t helped today by his manager playing Assaidi in a central and Beerens in an inverted role. Playing Beerens on the right and Assaidi on the left seems the most logical set-up here.
But Heerenveen’s midfield continues to look out of sorts. The question here would be who to play in-the-hole with the main candidates being Geert-Arend Roorda, Filip Djuricic and Viktor Elm, all of whom have not convinced so far. Time is ticking if Jans still aims to qualify for the play-off places…
NAC reverted back to the 4-3-3, a formation that suits their squad very well. Especially striker Amoah looks better when allowed the space to drop deeper in a false-nine like role, and also Donny Gorter performed much better in his usual midfield role, compared to the recent left wing experiments. Tactically, this will remain their way to go, but the inherent difference in squad quality combined with the current injury plague will hurt their ambitions to leap into the play-off places at the moment.