Groningen went into this away match at Roda knowing that a victory would take them to the second place in the Eredivisie. Roda, on the other hand, defended their unbeaten-at-home status. A match between two clubs with fairly different formations was certain to be among the more tactically interesting of the weekend. Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond is unique in the Eredivisie and even playing two strikers is unique in itself. Once completely neutralized by NEC’s three man defense, Roda may be happy that most Eredivisie managers do not show the flexibility to install this system for their Roda games.
Groningen’s playmaker problem
Groningen went with their familiar 4-2-3-1 system, despite missing their playmaker Gonzalo Garcia and his first choice replacement Petter Andersson, who is still returning from injury. Leandro Bacuna showed himself unable to glue the team together in the playmaker role that is so vital for a 4-2-3-1 to succeed. Still only 19 years old, the attacking midfielder certainly has the talent, but did not show enough pass completion, nor enough pass attempts to connect Groningen’s attacking play. So, lacking creativity, Groningen seemed unable to turn the possession that they had into chances.
Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond
It cannot be stressed enough how, at least from a tactical point of view, interesting and refreshing Roda’s approach to the game is. Roda is the only team to play two upfront and follows what is a much more common formation in for example the Bundesliga.
Against Groningen they were able to field their first choice line-up in ten of eleven spots. Only ‘carrillero‘ (wide midfielder in a diamond) Laurent Delorge missed out due to injury and he was replaced by advancing Wielaert into a defensive midfield role, frequently alternating with Ruud Vormer here.
The first half
Roda’s midfield diamond players frequently alternated positions which made it hard for Groningen’s holding midfielders to get a firm grip on them. Especially on Roda’s left flank they made a quick series of dangerous crosses early in the game. Groningen tried to apply a zonal marking system to stay true to their 4-2-3-1 concept and prevent their formation from being entirely disrupted should they’ve chosen to man mark their opponents who played a very different formation.
As said in the introduction, Groningen missed an outlet in midfield who was able to hold onto the ball. In this role Gonzalo Garcia has been instrumental in their successful season so far, but Leandro Bacuna was simply not up to the task. Unfortunately the Eredivisie passing chalkboards are not available (yet?) to illustrate this better, but his low pass completion was a nuisance to Groningen’s game.
Roda, on the other hand, dominated possession and created a steady flow of chances, one of which Junker should have converted ten minutes before the half time whistle. Fortunately for him, Roda managed to grab the lead only a few minutes later when Djoum crowned an excellent run with a deflected shot into the back of the net.
Second half chances
Groningen was forced into some second half chances if they were to get anything out of this game. Hardly having created a chance in the first half, they started playing more aggressively, the defensive line was advanced much further, regularly taking stance at the halfway line. Furthermore, both full-backs, who had played an uncharacteristically conservative role up to that moment, started to get involved down the flanks. A third chance was introduced some ten minutes later, when holding midfield Sparv was clearly given more of a box-to-box role, regularly appearing around Roda’s box.
Unfortunately all that is brought was a few Roda counters and the 2-0 was always more likely than the equalizer, although Groningen did create a shooting chance through a spark of Matavz’ attacking quality in the box. With everyone expecting the introduction of Andersson over Bacuna, Groningen manager Huistra initially decided otherwise. He brought Enevoldsen for Van der Laak, which meant no relevant chance to their system or performance.
An early all of nothing game was what followed. With fifteen minutes to go Bacuna was finally removed for Andersson and already Granqvist was moved alongside Matavz, going one-on-one at the back. The qualities of Andersson in linking up the game were imminent in the best Groningen chance of the game, where Sparv saw his shot stopped after one of the first successful passing combinations around Roda’s box.
In the end
Roda was able to sit out the game quite comfortably and saw their unique system rewarded with another win, after going five games without one. Groningen was, once again, disappointing away from home. With only two away matches won, against VVV and Willem II, Groningen would have been ranked eighth overall, which goes to show where they can and should improve their game. Missing a creative player to link their attacking band together proved too much for them today.
Roda’s diamond is still well on course for at least a play-off place and, with the top of the Eredivisie cropping together, both Roda and Groningen keep sight on more.