Category Archives: Johan Cruijff Schaal

PSV 4 – 2 Ajax: First blow by Advocaat

PSV beat Ajax on formally neutral ground, but within their home ArenA with a superior performance on the night and a fitting 4-2 score line to go with it. Ajax manager Frank de Boer was delivered some tactical home work for the next time Ajax will meet the bigger teams, and Advocaat showed a stable, compact formation that exploited their athletic offensive qualities well.


A little ‘Johan Cruijff Schaal’ history

The Johan Cruijff Schaal, or Dutch Super Cup, has been played out for 21 years in a row now, and prior to this match, no less than 15 of these 21 Cups have been won by either PSV (8) or Ajax (7).  Obviously, these two teams have also contested the most Super Cup matches, with 6 of the past 21 Super Cups contested in an Ajax – PSV final.

Remarkably, only one of these six clashes between Ajax and PSV have been won by the reigning champion, which goes back to the 2002/03 season when Ajax had prior won the double. Even more remarkable, and perhaps a nice illustration of the lack of predictive power of a single match or the fact that real prizes are won in spring, is the relationship between winning the Dutch Super Cup and the following title challenge. Of the past 21 Super Cup winners, only 5 teams went on the win the title and it’s been twelve years since a team last won both the Dutch Super Cup and the subsequent Eredivisie title (PSV in 2000/01).


Ajax’ 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

In his second full season as manager, the hand of Frank de Boer becomes more and more visible in Ajax’ playing style. Controlling possession is a key component of their game and the subsequent control of where the majority share of possession is being played out seems crucial in controlling the outcome of the game. Today, Ajax succeeded in dominating possession stats, but in the absence of a true offensive playmaker, failed in turning possession into offensive play.

The most obvious departure in Amsterdam is of course captain and defense leader Jan Vertonghen, who left for Tottenham Hotspur. Furthermore, stand-in striker Bulykin and fringe players Aissatti and Lodeiro left the club. Ajax attracted central midfielder Lasse Schöne on a free transfer from N.E.C. and recently added Swedish right winger Tobias Sana to their squad, after failing to meet the financial demands of Heerenveen regarding Luciano Narsingh. Notable promotions from their own youth academy include Viktor Fisher and Mitchell Dijks, who started this match on the left wing and left back respectively.

Ajax were without Van der Wiel and Eriksen who enjoy a slower build-up to this season after participating in Euro 2012, and without the injured Boerrigter and Sulejmani and Boilesen who haven’t returned to match fitness yet.


PSV under Advocaat

In tactical terms, the most interesting change at PSV is of course the return of Dick Advocaat over former manager Fred Rutten. Under Rutten, PSV initially played a controlled 4-2-3-1, but in the past season Rutten mostly opted for a more adventurous 4-3-3, including both Toivonen and Wijnaldum in central midfield. Despite last year’s excellent result in terms of Total Shot Rate (TSR 0.680), which even topped Ajax’ TSR of 0.678, PSV failed to mount a serious title and fell seven points short in the end.

Advocaat returns to the 4-2-3-1 formation, as was already noted when bringing in veteran midfielder Van Bommel, to feature beside rising star Kevin Strootman.

The most notable loss in PSV’s squad should be Zakarya Labyad, who left for Sporting Portugal, but PSV managed to strengthen their squad in more than one area. First of all, veteran midfielder Mark van Bommel returned to be appointed captain immediately. Further additions include the aforementioned winger Luciano Narsingh, who topped last season’s assists charts when providing for Bas Dost at Heerenveen, and Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen, a powerful central defender who came from Copenhagen. Zanka, who earned his nickname from a character in the movie ‘Cool Runnings’, didn’t feature in this game yet.


The first half

PSV’s opening goal, where Ola Toivonen headed in at the unmarked near post, came that early that there was hardly time to observe both teams’ game plans. Leading as early as from the third minute, PSV seemed compact and comfortable. They kept both Van Bommel and Strootman quite close to their defense and packed the most important part of the pitch with numbers. On top of that powerful six men block, all three of Mertens, Lens and Narsingh added pace to exploit any turnovers won in open play.

These turnovers mostly arose from Ajax’ problems in possession when building from the back. It seems that a crucial role in their 4-3-3 formation is what Christian Eriksen generally adds to the team. A midfielder that is happy to actually receive the ball in midfield and looks to build from there. Today, with Theo Janssen Ajax had a player who prefers to receive balls deeper in midfield and spray long passes, like he started doing after the passing had generally gone astray during the first fifteen minutes. Besides Janssen, Siem de Jong is more a receiver of offensive passes than a creative force in midfield. With the playmaking efforts of Eriksen beside him, Siem de Jong would be much more of a threat.

This point regarding Ajax’ lack of an offensive playmaker was well illustrated with the introduction of Lasse Schöne during the second half. Although fielded formally on the left wing, Schöne, is by trade a central midfielder and this went to show in his inside playmaker role during the second half. This phase, shortly after his introduction, also marked the best period Ajax had in terms of providing counter play against their generally superior opponents.

Ajax struggled to create from open play, and PSV comfortably sat on their early two goal lead after Lens exploited his pace in excellent fashion to dummy Blind for the second goal. On the brink of half time, Toby Alderweireld headed home from a corner, to give Ajax some hope of restoring matters in the second half.


The second half

No substitutions were made at half time yet, but Ajax made a few slight tactical alterations. Most notably, Sigthorsson used more positional freedom and aimed to dislodge the comfortable Van Bommel-Strootman block by dropping deeper from his striker spot. In turn, this opened up space for Siem de Jong to make his overlapping runs.

PSV obviously had no need for major changes, and this was shown in the fact that only ten minutes into the second half they increased their lead again. Jetro Willems overlapped on a turnover on the left PSV wing and his shot, annex cross, found Toivonen for a simple tap-in to make it 3-1.

At this point, Ajax manager Frank de Boer played his best move of the game. It didn’t exactly pay off on the score board, but introducing Lasse Schöne, as explained before, provided Ajax’ baseline offensive intentions with finally a player who’s comfortably as an offensive playmaker.

The Amsterdam hopes came back with Marcelo’s own goal when the defender mishit his clearance of an early Özbiliz cross, but in a closing phase with vast and wide spaces all over the place, PSV managed to put the game beyond doubt in the final minute, when Wijnaldum crowned his substitute appearance with the final goal of the game.


In the end

PSV seems off to a nice start of their campaign. The installment of Van Bommel besides Strootman will do the latter a lot of good, lifting a lot of work off his shoulders and freeing up space and cover for Strootman’s offensive qualities to shine. The versatility offered by Strootman will also enable PSV to fluidly shift between 4-2-3-1’s and 4-3-3’s when circumstances so demand. A second mention goes out to PSV’s impressive offensive line, where all three of Mertens, Lens and Narsingh throw in that much athletic qualities that they will no doubt overwhelm the average Eredivisie opponent.

Ajax manager De Boer claimed beforehand that this was the final match of the pre-season campaign, to contrast well with his rival Advocaat, who firmly casted his eye on winning the Johan Cruijff Schaal. De Boer may hide behind a series of absentees, but the omission of an offensive playmaker is something that could have been avoided by including Schöne in the starting line-up.

A second worry might be the freedom for PSV’s offensive midfielder. Toivonen and his replacement Wijnaldum both scored from open play, which highlighted the general problems for a single holding midfielder to cover both horizontal and vertical runs. In national competition, Ajax will probably overpower most of their opponents even without tackling this issue, but lessons provided by these kind of matches should not be ignored in the face of another Champions League campaign.

Twente 2 – 1 Ajax: Ten men Twente win Johan Cruijff Schaal 2011

In a replay of last year’s Dutch Super Cup, Twente managed to beat Ajax in the Amsterdam ArenA, despite starting the game without playmakers Chadli and Ruiz, and playing the entire second half with ten men. Admittedly, Ajax did create more and better goal scoring chances, which was hardly surprising given their home advantage and the fact that they played against ten men for the entire second half, but in football mainly creating more chances hardly guarantees success.


Ajax’ deep-lying playmaker 4-3-3 system

The starting line-ups

In our recent preview we’ve covered Frank de Boer’s tactical approach to this season. Featuring playmaker Theo Janssen in a deep-lying midfield role, virtually all of the central build-up play runs through the former Twente captain, who curiously captained his new team against his old one in his very first competitive match for Ajax.

Ajax were without two influential players as goal keeper Stekelenburg was in the process of getting his transfer to Roma done and central defender Vertonghen still suffers from a groin injury pickup in pre-season training. Daley Blind was shifted from full-back to centre back, a position he regularly played during his time in Ajax’ youth academy and one he will aim to play in the future, following the footsteps of his father’s development, who also started as a full-back before moving to a central defensive role.


Twente’s 4-3-3

Twente is still without both or their playmakers, who, if fit, might feature in a tasty double playmaker system, based around early pressing. Chadli wasn’t fit enough to feature in the game, while Ruiz is a bit behind on fitness after a minor pre-season injury also caused him to miss the CL qualifier against Vaslui last week. The Costa Rican star player feature in the second half though.

This meant that Adriaanse was once again relieved from making a choice between strikers Janko and Luuk de Jong. With Chadli fit again and starting in his presumed central playmaking role and Ruiz covering the right flank, starting both Janko and De Jong together seems unlikely. Adriaanse has a clear link with the tall Austrian striker Janko, both of them having worked together at Red Bull Salzburg during the 2008/09 season that saw the striker produce an incredible 39 goals from 34 matches, equaling one goal every 67 minutes. Meanwhile, Luuk de Jong is one of Twente’s quick rising stars, even making it to the national team for their trip to South America last June. Both of them starting in the same line-up means De Jong is used in a central offensive midfield role, which he is also capable of playing.


The first half

As expected, both teams started the game with intensive pressing. Particularly Twente’s presence of five of six players on Ajax’ half during their opponent’s possession left no doubt about their pressing intentions. Ajax managed to keep their calm and the passing skill within their midfield, particularly by Janssen and Eriksen, meant they often find a way through.

An important effect of Twente’s pressing, despite Ajax finding ways through, was that they succeeded very well in keeping Ajax away from their own goal. As a result, Ajax put in quite some effort combining halfway on the pitch and had less players available to commit to offensive action around Twente’s box. Aside from an early chance where Sulejmani saw a close range effort saved by Mihaylov for Eriksen to hit the bar with a rebound header, Ajax created little value in terms of goal scoring chances.

On the other end of the pitch, particularly left winger Ola John kept Van der Wiel pinned back quite nicely. In most matches, Van der Wiel aims to storm forward, following the example set by his idol Dani Alves, but against Twente he had to be wary of John’s pace and prevent giving away space behind his back. Partly as a result of this, but also because Ajax missed Vertonghen’s passing from the back, Ajax focused too much of their offense through the center of the pitch. Unfortunately neat passing diagrams to illustrate such an observation haven’t yet made their way to the Eredivisie, so we’ll have to do with just an impression here.


Opening goal

An excellent forward run by veteran right-back Tim Cornellise, a Dutch Super Cup winner with Utrecht in 2004, opened up space on Ajax left wing. Cornelisse was well played through by youngster Steven Berghuis, who made his second consecutive start on the right wing, and a dangerous goal scoring opportunity arose. Even more so as Janssen failed to track De Jong’s run adequately and saw his tug on the Twente youngster’s shirt rewarded with a penalty kick. Janko had no trouble converting the penalty kick to put his team 1-0 up, just like he did four days earlier against Vaslui.

On one hand this goal was against the run of play, but Ajax’ majority share of possession biased that view. Seeing them combine a long distance from Twente’s goal might give the impression that they dominated the game, but in terms of the danger they created though quality goal scoring chances the match wasn’t that unbalanced.


Second half

Adriaanse made one half time substitution, which made the impression to be (partly) pre-planned. Left winger Ola John was removed to allow Ruiz 45 minutes of game time. Despite the contralateral winger, Berghuis, being on a yellow card already and playing a less important role in pinning Ajax’ threats back, Adriaanse removed his pacy left wing outlet, who, admittedly, didn’t have the best of games in possession of the ball. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty, but Berguis got involved in an incident judged by referee Van Boekel as a dive, leading to his second yellow card in the 47th minute of the game.

Twente switched to a 4-3-2 formation, keeping De Jong and Ruiz up front and removed Janko to introduce defensive midfielder Thilo Leugers. As a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy this invited much more pressure through Ajax’ right wing, where Van der Wiel was seen in his preferred wing back role from that moment on.

Ajax’ chances may have been rather low quality one, their one man advantage meant that these chances kept on coming. This accumulation of low quality chances was rewarded when Toby Alderweireld found the net from 25 yards out to level the score. With Ajax dominating the majority of possession, De Boer removed Sigthorsson, Boilesen and later on Van der Wiel for reasons of fitness, claiming in post-match interviews that these players, who all entered later during Ajax’ pre-season training for various reasons, were mainly working towards the start of the competition.



Ruiz winner

As if rewarding his team’s stubborn ten men defense, Bryan Ruiz took full advantage of the space provided to him by Blind and Ooijer, who kept a yard distance with Twente’s star player approach the edge of Ajax’ box. Ruiz brilliantly found the right side of the far post with a curling effort to give the highly anticipated game the quality goal it was waiting for.

Ajax never quite recovered and despite Sulejmani’s hard work in the striker role, where he filled in for Sigthorsson, Ajax lacked quality in the final stages of their offensive moves. A series of long rage efforts and hopeful crosses didn’t turn the fate of the game and Twente ran out winners despite playing half of the match with ten men.


In the end

A highly anticipated match to kick off the 2011/12 season with arguably the two best teams of the past season meeting each other in a replay of last season’s Super Cup, Cup final and league decider. Ajax failed to create quality goal scoring chances due to a lack of width an attacking variety and in the end, after removing their striker with the scores still level, saw ten men Twente run out winners through a marvelous long range effort.

What does Twente have that Ajax doesn’t? Besides the title and now the Johan Cruijff Schaal that is…

Saturday evening marked the kick-off of the domestic football season in the Netherlands with the, by now, traditional match for the Johan Cruijff Schaal (JCS). What started out as a low profile pre-season affair has by now grown into the nation’s third ranked trophy. This is in no small part due to the variety of teams contesting this affair in recent years. While the first ten editions of the JCS were almost uniformly contested between PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord, recent years have seen the appearance of Utrecht, Heerenveen, former-champions AZ and of course reigning champions Twente. Despite these positive notes on the JCS, winning it seemed of inferior importance to Ajax this year, with saturday’s match scheduled tightly in between the double meeting with PAOK Saloniki, contesting the financially lucrative Champions League qualification.

The line-ups


Line ups after the 3rd minute sub of Enoh for Lindgren

We’ve recently discussed Ajax’ 4-2-3-1 line-up a few times, reviewing their friendly against Chelsea’s reserves and of course recently in commenting on their midfield line-up in the disappointing 1-1 home draw against PAOK. Ajax’ line-up for the JCS saw two changes compared to the match against PAOK. Martin Jol was forced to replace central defender Jan Vertonghen, since the Belgian suffers a two match suspension after calling Feyenoord fans cockroaches during the celebration of Ajax’ Cup win last season. And up front Martin Jol preferred Korean youngster Hyun-Jun Suk over out-of-favor attacker Miralem Sulejmani, who is rumoured to join Premier League outfit West Ham United in a few days. Suk generally offers more of a physical presence compared to the Serbian, meaning a slight switch towards more of a target man attack, compared to the role Sulejmani offered against PAOK. In that match Ajax’ front quartet was characterized by frequent positional switches, especially between Sulejmani and attacking midfielder Siem de Jong.

FC Twente has not been mentioned on 11tegen11 so far, and since they’re the reigning champions of the Dutch Eredivisie, this might well be an omission on my side. They’ve smartly avoided the spotlights during their pre-season campaign but showed to be well prepared during this match. Last summer, after they were crowned champions of the Eredivisie for the first time, manager Steve McLaren departed for VfL Wolfsburg in Germany and the coming season will see Twente face the challenge to stay at the top. Steve McLaren consequently played a 4-3-3 with Twente, taking control of the midfield with a narrow backward facing triangle of midfielders. New manager Michel Preud’homme chose a comparable strategy, at least on the kick-off of this particular match.

The immediate change to the midfield

First thing to notice was the injury to Ajax’ destroyer midfielder Eyong Enoh in the 3rd minute, forcing him to come off. Rasmus Lindgren, who plays more of a passing role replaced him, thereby changing Ajax’ desired destroyer-creator-passer trio into a passer-creator-passer combination. This early change proved fundamental in the remainder of the match, which was a battle predominantly fought out on the midfield. The essence of the match was in fact the battle of the midfield trio’s de Zeeuw-de Jong-Lindgren versus Jansen-Brama-Tioté, where Twente’s midfield, with their backward triangle, was like a mirror image of the two holding midfielders and one creative attacker that Ajax tends to prefer.

An early goal changing the game


This game saw an early goal which put Twente in front. Maarten Stekelenburg and Gregory van der Wiel, despite having played together in ‘Oranje’ during the recent World Cup, didn’t communicate well and Luuk de Jong, brother of Ajax player Siem, pinched the ball from the defender for a free run on the Ajax goalie. After this opening goal Twente’s shape was even more recognizable as a 4-5-1 out of possession and a clear 4-3-3 in possession.

Positions during Ajax’ possession

Let’s take a look at the midfield positions and how they’re slightly different depending on which teams controls the ball. First, this is how they were set out when Ajax controlled the ball at the back. Twente employed a man marking system, consequently choosing to tight-mark Ajax’ midfield out of the game.

Note how close each Twente player is to his respective opponent. This resulted in long spells of Ajax’ central defenders dwelling on the ball, slowing down the build-up of play. Here, central defender Alderweireld is forced into a risky pass towards the well marked Suarez because both Lindgren (orange) and de Zeeuw (orange) as well as de Jong (yellow) are well marked.

Furthermore, as one of the few provided stats showed during the match, at one point in the match Twente succeeded in making 40 interceptions, versus only 18 by Ajax. And, since intercepting is the new tackling, as pointed out in this article by Zonal Marking, this was symptomatic for the problems that Ajax had in constructing their attacks.

Lack of dynamics upfront

This was further aggravated by their static front four. Suk replacing Sulejmani meant that Ajax’ stepped away from their dynamic attack of the PAOK match, characterized by frequent positional switches, not only between striker-for-a-day Sulejmani and attacking midfielder de Jong, but also involving both wide attacking players. Instead, with Suk as their central attacking player, Ajax’ attack became static, predictable and easy to defend for Twente’s central duo Wisgerhof and Douglas.

Positions during Twente’s possession


Now, let’s turn our attention to the screen showing the midfield positions during Twente’s possession of the ball. This screen shows their attacking intentions. As usual, defenders are red, controlling midfielders orange, attacking midfielders yellow and attackers blue.

Tioté (orange, in possession) is a bit under pressure, Brama (orange) offers a way out, while Jansen (orange, advanced) made a run forward, pressing de Zeeuw all the way back to his defensive line. Meanwhile, also right back Tiendalli has advanced, even past Lindgren, thereby effectively creating a 5v5 at Ajax’ half of the pitch. Should Brama be able to find a quick way out, danger is to be expected.

Ajax’ loose zonal marking system failed to deal with the smart positional play, particularly by central midfielders Jansen (left) and Tioté (right). By alternating between playing very tight together most of the time and wll-timed making deep runs on occasion, they posed a huge challenge to de Zeeuw and Lindgren. Each of them must have wished an Enoh in a destroyer role by their side at that time.

The end of the match after 37 minutes


Some matches don’t last the full ninety minutes. This was particularly true in this edition of the JCS. Suarez’ red card after a reckless tackle on Cheik Tioté showed glimpses of frustration, not only attributable to this match, the miscommunication between Stekelenburg and Van der Wiel, but there was a bit of Ivic’ late equalizer reducing Ajax’ Champions League aspirations too. After the elimination of Ajax’ most dangerous man the JCS was unfortunately never seriously contested anymore.

Let’s hope that Ajax will be able to turn things around for the return match at PAOK tomorrow. Another new midfield is to be expected with Enoh and possibly also Lindgren (late match injury) out for this game.