Home team Roda will be keen to maintain their unbeaten home record (4-6-0) and add three more points in their chase on Groningen and Ajax for a direct Europa League qualification spot. Meanwhile, Ajax face the difficult task of keeping the pace of both PSV and Twente who managed to win last night.
Another 4-4-2 diamond versus 4-3-3
After last week’s home match against De Graafschap, Ajax faces another known 4-4-2 diamond team today. And given the troubles that De Graafschap’s diamond posed last week, Ajax may be prone to suffer the same problems again. The excellent lateral movement of the two strikers kept Ajax’ complete back four occupied, leading to a 4v3 advantage for the compact diamond in midfield. Ajax did not find a workaround for this problem and failed to convert their superior player quality into esthetically pleasing football.
Demi de Zeeuw’s return to the midfield spot beside Enoh instead Siem de Jong implies a subtle, yet important chance for Ajax. It means they field more of a double screen in front of the back four which allows the full-backs to make forward runs. The box formed by Enoh-De Zeeuw-Vertonghen-Alderweireld should be able to cover Roda’s attacking trident of Janssen-Hadouir-Junker, leaving both full-backs freedom to exploit the weakness a 4-4-2 diamond has on the flanks. Of note is Van der Wiel’s suspension. He is replaced by Anita, who plays the full-back role on his unfamiliar right side.
Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond differs slightly from De Graafschap’s interpretation as Roda may be expected to play a more offensive game. Particularly the roles of Hersi and Janssen in the advanced playmaking position deserve some attention here. While Hersi looks to receive the ball at feet looking to dictate play by through-balls to the strikers, Janssen is more of an athletic player, making runs from deep and arriving late in the box to assist strikers Hadouir and Junker. On top of that Janssen receives his fair share of balls played into space for him to run onto too.
Behind them the roles of De Graafschap’s Meijer and Roda’s Vormer are different too. The first act like an anchor man securing his defense, while the latter plays the role of a deep-lying playmaker. The combination of Ajax’ playmaker Eriksen and Roda’s Vormer playing in the same area of the pitch should make for an interesting match-up here.
Smart move by Frank de Boer
Ajax dominated the first half hour of the game. In spite of the first minute attack that involved both full-backs at the same time, they did not actively seek to involve their full-backs into the attack too much. Instead, the potential 4v3 disadvantage in midfield was solved by withdrawing striker De Jong into midfield when out of possession. He successfully blocked the passing options to playmaker Vormer. This left both Roda centre-backs Kah and Wielaert quite some freedom, but they proved their weak off the ball skills and rarely succeeded to pick out a pass into Roda’s midfield.
This smart moved relieved Ajax’ playmaker Eriksen from performing this defensive task en left him the chance to position himself already for a smart and quick Ajax break even when Roda still had possession of the ball. In effect this meant an old-fashioned trequartista role for the youngster and it was his excellent outside foot assist that provided Sulejmani with a free run in behind Roda’s defense for the early opening goal.
The second Ajax goal was a bit lucky as De Jong took advantage of a deflected Sulejmani cross to head in, but the lead was by all means deserved as the smart defensive positioning detailed above still posed a lot of questions to Roda’s defense when in possession.
Roda did manage to find a way back into the match even before half time. An error by Maarten Stekelenburg, who passed the ball straight into Vormer’s feet set up the play for Roda. In a typical Roda attack Vormer played Janssen into space in one of his excellent runs from deep and Janssen provided the cross of a simple Junker tap-in.
Second half changes
Despite having found a way back into the match with their goal close to the half time whistle, Roda had to change the face of the game in order to keep sight on the equalizing goal. Manager Van Veldhoven brought striker Skoubo for midfielder Bodor, initially maintaining the 4-4-2 diamond plan, but switching to 3-4-1-2 quickly thereafter.
Centre-back Wielaert was advanced into the midfield while Janssen played a more advanced role from that moment on. Roda re-established their desired dominance in the midfield area by creating a 5v4 or even 5v3 situation there, depending on whether De Jong kept on dropping into the midfield. Of course they paid for it in terms of a one-on-one defense against Ajax’ wide three man attack, but the gain in terms of overrunning Ajax’ midfield outweighed this easily.
These changes resulted in a bombardment of the Ajax penalty box as Roda recovered the vast majority of Ajax’ clearances. A tell tale of Ajax’ problems was Siem de Jong repeatedly clearing balls off his own goal line rather than getting involved in play on the opponent’s half.
Another advantage of playing Skoubo upfront was the option of direct high ball where Roda smartly took advantage of Ajax’ small full-backs by having strikers Skoubo and Junker drifting wide, leaving a gap to be filled by Janssen.
The deserved equalizer
Turning the game around like that with courageous and smart tactical moves deserves to be rewarded and Roda got their reward through a beautiful Anouar Hadouir direct free kick. Roda did not switch back to their four man defense, but kept on pushing for the win. In spite of this, the best chance to win the game was of course Ajax’ 85th minute penalty. Mounir El Hamdaoui did his struggling image of recently no good by failing to score from the spot as Tyton stopped his shot.
In the end
Two smart moves cancelled each other out as initially Ajax grabbed a two goal lead during a dominant first half hour thanks to the choice to move De Jong back on to Vormer, leaving Eriksen a free trequartista-like role. During the remainder of the match Roda managed to come back from being two goals down, first by a typical Roda build-up in their first goal and then by overloading Ajax’ midfield by switching to a courageous 3-4-1-2 system.