Winning at ADO means an important result for Verbeek’s AZ. After an unconvincing start to the season, his team are on a six match unbeaten run, including victories over Ajax and Twente. AZ have by now firmly established themselves among the top six of the Eredivisie, the top six that would be five points clear should Roda win their postponed match at relegation-threatened VVV. ADO drop to the eighth spot and will see themselves battling for play-off places five to eight from now on.
ADO missed two essential players due to suspension and this was a very important factor today. Captain and central defender Timothy Derijck was replaced by Pascal Bosschaart and high-flying right winger Wesley Verhoek was replaced by fans’ favourite Ricky Van den Bergh. That last change in particular had quite some impact on ADO’s playing style.
Their formation would look like the usual 4-3-3 and they would still draw on a direct play, looking to find target man Dmitry Bulykin early on, but the usual amount of crosses flying in from Verhoek’s right foot were sorely missed. Van den Bergh is not only a very different type of player, but also possesses a very different character. Verhoek would tend to stretch play wide, aiming to get his crosses in and thereby be an important player to link ADO’s midfield with their striker.
Van den Bergh, on the other hand, tends to involve himself in central midfield positions, sees a lot of the ball and has trouble restraining himself to a right wing role. ADO’s game was sincerely disturbed by his, well intended, tendency to help the central midfielders out, thereby leaving his wide position and limiting ADO’s attacking options.
In their early season games, AZ tended to get ahead of themselves. They consequently played a hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 system where one of the full-backs would advance into a wide midfield role in every single attacking move. While theoretically sound, the system had its practical limitations. Their defensive frailty is illustrated by their failing to keep a clean sheet in the first five matches, winning only three points in the process. By that time, Verbeek adjusted his principle and AZ’s hybrid formation took a more realistic stance.
The full-backs did not advance that much anymore, so the wingers had to provide the needed width. The central midfield trio played a more narrow triangle and the 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation was in effect turned into a 4-2-3-1. Four clean sheets in five consecutive wins meant that Verbeek fixed what was wrong with his formation and AZ stormed the Eredivisie table.
Against ADO they featured their full first choice line-up, which now means that Pelle earned his spot as the starting striker after a series of excellent performances as a substitute.
The first half
ADO gradually dominated the opening phase of the game, at least possession wise. This was in no small part a result of Van den Bergh’s effort in the midfield battle. He played something of a free playmaker role, whilst also involving himself in a midfield tackle or two. This meant that ADO created a 4 v 3 situation in central midfield, where they won most of their possession.
On the other hand this also meant that their right wing was often vacated, and although right-back Leeuwin tried to fill in here, that fact he had to defend the skilled Maarten Martens limited his options. This vacated right wing invited striker Bulykin to come deep here to try and receive ADO’s direct balls, but he lacked support to lay the ball off to.
So ADO dominated possession, won most midfield tackles, saw AZ forced into quite some midfield fouls, but found itself unable to turn their possession into chances.
AZ’s first half adjustments
AZ did adjust a bit for this game. Their defense played on the high side, keeping Bulykin far from their goal and thereby limiting his dangerous flick-ons. Furthermore, as the first half carried on, Martens, probably in response to Van den Bergh’s tendendy to help out in midfield, started to do the same. This alleviated the pressure on AZ’s midfield and made the second part of the first half look like a stalemate.
But a sudden AZ penalty turned a stalemate into a 0-1 just before half time. Bosschaart made a clumsy sliding tackle, taking more of his man than of the ball and Elm converted the penalty for AZ.
The second half
Tracing the game 0-1 one would have expected ADO to fix their obvious right wing issue, but still Van den Bergh kept on drifting inside. AZ, on the other hand, did stretch their attacking line, forcing Martens back into a classic winger role, placing right winger Holman wider too. This change provided AZ with more passing variety than before and they were able to do what they could not in the first half, keep possession.
ADO manager Van den Brom illustrated the fact that we was certainly aware of ADO’s problem area in this game by taking Van den Bergh off the pitch after an hour of play, but that game was in fact already over by then. A few minutes earlier Martens had doubled AZ’s lead by finishing a Holman cross with a placed diagonal shot in a move where Pelle managed to drag his marker out of position by dropping off to the right wing.
The remaining half hour of the match saw AZ comfortably defend their lead, by the most effective defensive means possible, holding onto the ball. ADO was unable to change the face of the game and AZ was happy enough with the 0-2 score line.
In the end
In this match ADO paid the price for Verhoek’s suspension and Van den Bergh’s tendency to drift inside at all times. The positive side for ADO was their dominance in terms of possession in the first half, but the fact that they had severe problems linking their midfield to their striker meant that they were unable to build upon their share of possession.
AZ was assisted by a rightfully awarded but ‘out-of-the-blue’ penalty kick. After that, Verbeek spread his attackers out wide for the start of the second half and saw his team able to keep possession much better. An early second half goal effectively put the game beyond doubt for them.