Tag Archives: 4-1-4-1

PSV 0 –1 Twente: An excellent team effort by the reigning Eredivisie champions.

This week’s top clash in the Eredivisie was without a doubt the match between the first and second ranked teams. And PSV – Twente did not disappoint at all. Both teams played a very open match and the high amount of midfield pressing in the first half did the game a lot of good. Not for the first time this season Twente converted a 0-0 half-time score into a win.


The starting line-ups

PSV’s attacking 4-2-3-1 variant

PSV set out in their familiar 4-2-3-1 system with Jonathan Reis now seemingly their first choice striker. Marcus Berg’s suspension may be over, his absence paved the way for Reis to stake his claim for first team football in Eindhoven. The young striker performed excellent over the past few matches, especially offering a good off the ball movement displaying his positional qualities and provided PSV’s much needed direct goal threat.

During their home matches, Toivonen plays a very advanced role close behind the lone striker and either Engelaar or Afellay frequently makes late runs into the box to add to the attack too. With this set-up PSV at times commits five players to their attack, offering a threat that most teams can’t sustain for long. They played a very advanced defensive line, limiting space, adding to the pressure they put on Twente early on.

Twente’s well-organized 4-1-4-1

Twente is also known for playing a 4-2-3-1 system, though in this match their defense was set-up in a 4-1-4-1 formation. Missing holding midfielder Brama meant that Janssen took control of Toivonen and Landzaat effectively played beside de Jong in a more advanced position, exerting early pressure on PSV’s key midfield player, Ibrahim Afellay. Twente succeeded in resisting PSV’s early pressure thanks to the excellent passing ability of Theo Janssen and the ball-retaining qualities of Bryan Ruiz who always provided a way out when under pressure.

The first half

About fifteen minutes into the match, things started settling down a bit. The intense amount of pressing of the opening phase consumed too much energy to be exerted over the full ninety minutes. Twente slowly obtained an equal amount of possession as their opponents. The half-way conclusion was that PSV were countered very well by Twente’s disciplined 4-1-4-1 formation. Particularly Douglas put in an impressive effort at the heart of Twente’s defense, winning loads of defensive headers. And very important on a tactical note was Landzaat’s role to consequently frustrate PSV’s playmaker Afellay.

The second half

No tactical changes or substitutions meant that the same pattern of play carried on in the second half. PSV’s play was effectively frustrated by Twente’s team effort and chances were scarce. Striker Reis found himself hardly involved in the game so far and Afellay suffered from consequently applied marking, making it hard for him to pass the ball around.

Twente got the reward for their disciplined performance with a beautiful opening goal. Chadli scored from a beautiful team move, assisted by Bryan Ruiz, who played a neat game overall. Chadli’s first Eredivisie goal for Twente meant that PSV was forced to attack even more and Twente chose to sit back and defend their narrow lead.

Douglas, who excelled in the heart of Twente's defense

PSV on the attack

Already having started out with five attacking players early on, committing more bodies forward was not to be expected immediately. First direct substitutions were made as Amrabat came on for Lens and Toivonen was subbed of for Berg. In fact this meant the introduction of a second central striker, but Toivonen’s entire game had been played from such an advanced position that the introduction of Berg hardly meant a tactical change at that point in the game.

With some twenty minutes to go PSV started playing a 3-3-4 system by advancing right-back Hutchinson into their midfield and playing Berg and Reis next to each other in a double central striker role. However, both strikers did not live up to expectations and Twente’s defensive block deserves full credit for marking them out of the game.

In the end

PSV tried their best, but were always second best in most positions on the field. Losing their discipline nearing the end of the game, with substitute Vukovic getting a direct red card for a vicious tackle on Ruiz, contrasted sharp with Twente’s well-disciplined performance. So the reigning Eredivisie champions lead the table again, now having a one point advantage on both PSV and Ajax.

Groningen – Utrecht 1-0… Patient Groningen overcomes a lacklustre Utrecht side

In the Euroborg, a fine example of a modern stadium that offers an excellent footballing atmosphere, home side FC Groningen took on ‘Celtic-beaters’ FC Utrecht in a match that could be seen as an early six pointer in the battle for the European Football qualification spots. The home side saw their patient and controlled attacks rewarded with a late winner to defeat a rather tame and defensive-looking Utrecht team.


Groningen’s new manager

Groningen, nicknamed ‘The Pride of the North’ by their fans, waved their long-standing coach Ron Jans goodbye last summer, after the latter decided to leave the club for rivals Heerenveen. While Jans’ struggle to impose his 4-2-3-1 philosophy has been detailed before, his successor’s successful start to the season has remained unnamed on 11tegen11 so far. Time to change that!

Pieter Huistra was brought to Groningen to make his debut as manager. The 43-year old made his debut as a player in 1984 for this same club, and has played for Veendam, Twente, Glasgow Rangers, Sanfrecce Hiroshima and Lierse SK since. Upon ending his playing career in 2001 he was contracted as a youth coach, again by Groningen. After spells as an assistant manager at Vitesse and Ajax he was appointed to manage Ajax’ youth team, obtaining a second place during the 2009/10 season.

Groningen manager Pieter Huistra

So after making his debuts as a player and as a coach at Groningen, he has now made his debut as manager. And a successful debut it is so far. With a 3-2-0 start to the season, Groningen currently occupies the fourth place in the Eredivisie, behind PSV, Ajax and Twente.


The line-ups

Groningen’s recognizable 4-2-3-1 and Utrecht’s defensive 4-3-3, nearing a 4-1-4-1 formation

Working with a very recognizable 4-2-3-1 system, Huistra has his team playing with inside, though not inverted wingers, leaving a lot of space for the full-backs to run into. New signing Jonas Ivens forms a stable centre-back duo with top asset Granqvist, providing an aerial dominance meanwhile, with both defenders measuring 1.88 and 192m respectively.

The midfield area provides a little less to the team so far though. With important players like holding midfielder Danny Holla and playmaker Petter Andersson still looking to recover from long-term injuries, Huistra is forced to improvise in this area during this phase of the season.

Their opponents Utrecht have seen a lot of the spotlight already this season. Their 4-0 home victory over Celtic was celebrated like a trophy in itself and striker Van Wolfswinkel provided an excellent return of 11 goals from 11 Utrecht matches, earing his first cap in the meantime. And now that a transfer rumour of the 21-year old going to the Premier League to play for newly promoted Newcastle United has not proved reality, Utrecht can count on him for at least another half season.

Against Groningen, however, Utrecht already felt the endurance of a season that started with their first competitive match on July 15 against KF Tirana. After a extension to the past season, contesting the play-offs for the Europa League qualification spot, with this same Groningen by the way, their summer break has been virtually inexistent. Today Utrecht misses left-flank striker Mulenga and attacking midfielder Asare due to hamstring injuries and playmaking dribbler Dries Mertens due to suspension.

So, with their attacking options severely limited Utrecht fielded a quite defensive formation that on paper might have looked like a 4-3-3, but the very deep position of captain Silberbauer made it look more like a 4-1-4-1  with flank players pushed on a bit.


The first half

This defensive Utrecht set-up paved the way for Groningen to exert their controlled attacking. Dominating possession from the kick-off, holding midfielder Sparv saw quite something of the ball, often playing into striker Pedersen who aimed to control the ball, looking to lay it off to attacking midfielder Bacuna or inside wingers Tadic and Enevoldsen. Tom Hiariej, generally playing as a right-back, proved his positional flexibility by taking up a box-to-box role beside Sparv.

Utrecht meanwhile, did not succeed in keeping the ball in possession, suffering quite some Groningen pressure early in their own half and missing their preferred outlet on the left wing in the absence of Dries Mertens. Although they may not have started very successful possession-wise, the first big chance of the match fell to their side, after an individual error by Jonas Ivens, who failed to control a simple ball, leaving Van Wolfswinkel one-on-one with keeper Luciano, only for the Utrecht striker to see his shot blocked.

Groningen, by all means scared that such an opportunity would ruin the plan of a controlled attack, took their foot off the gas a bit. Utrecht kept to their defensive stances and the match never really got underway before half-time again. The only thing worth mentioning would be Groningen’s continuous aerial threat from set-pieces. Although not successful in this match, regular Eredivise followers will remember their dramatic late equalizer against Ajax, following a headed corner.


The second half

The second half started where the first had ended with Groningen carefully building their attacks, although never really connecting near the box, and Utrecht looking for individual mistakes in the Groningen defense. It was quite telling that the loudest cheers so far at that point in the match came upon Slovenian international striker Tim Matavz starting his warm-up. He replaced youngster Leandro Bacuna in the 66th minute to play the advanced striker role with Nicklas Pedersen roaming around him.

Andreas Granqvist converting the late penalty

And it was exactly this combination of players that earned Groningen the penalty. Pedersen smartly moved into space to receive that ball at feet, had lots of time to look for the pass, played Matavz in, who was clumsily fouled by Utrecht captain Silberbauer during his dribble in the box. Andreas Granqvist converted the penalty and Groningen comfortably saw out the remainder of the match.


In conclusion

In the end the defensive side did not get what they wanted, and Groningen won one over a direct Eredivisie rival. Most people might feel that justice is done when the attacking side gets one of the defensive side, especially with the winning goal being scored near the end of the match. However, Utrecht’s defensive outlook seems quite justified given that they missed several influential players and a draw away to Groningen would have suited them well. Let’s hope that this is not a prelude to the long and hard campaign, combining national and European football, taking its toll already.

Groningen fans should hope to see more of the Matavz-Pedersen tandem at work. With Pedersen claiming not to have had his full physical strength during the past season and Matavz still recovering from his World Cup efforts with Slovenia, the best of this duo seems yet to come and if it is, Groningen will definitely fight for European Football this season.

AZ 1-1 Excelsior: how to execute a 4-1-4-1…

It’s only slightly over a year ago that Dirk Scheringa’s AZ broke the 27-year span in which either Ajax, PSV or Feyenoord won the Eredivisie title. However, things look rather different for AZ at present. The worldwide financial problems induced the bankruptcy of Scheringa’s DSB Bank, AZ’s main sponsor since 1993 and the driving force behind their success, culminating in the Eredivisie title of 2008/09.

With the DSB Bank and owner Scheringa now gone, AZ tries to rebuild its foundations. The club was forced to cut their budget from 40 to 25 million euro’s, necessitating the sale of influential players like El Hamdaoui (Ajax), Dembélé (Fulham) and Jeremain Lens (PSV) and the projected sale of Argentine World Cup keeper Romero and striker Graziano Pellè.

With so many players gone, new manager Gertjan Verbeek faces a difficult task. AZ supporters wish to relive the dream of the 2008/09 season, yet to see their team ranked 14th after a 0-3-1 series (three draws and a loss, that is). While Verbeek deserves to be pleased for his hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 system, football is still very much a result game and the pressure is on.

In contrast to AZ, their opponents Excelsior, newly promoted after a dramatic promotion play-off match against city rivals Sparta, find themselves in the 8th position after a 2-1-1 series. Much of the credit for this initial success should go to their execution of the 4-1-4-1 system.

This system is definitely the small team’s answer to the big team’s 4-2-3-1. As an example we’ve recently seen Ajax forced to make major in-game adjustments to their 4-2-3-1 to work their way around PAOK’s 4-1-4-1.

Starting line-ups: AZ’s 4-3-3 vs Excelsior’s 4-1-4-1

So, AZ’s hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation was up against Excelsior’s neat 4-1-4-1 in a wet and windy Alkmaar. In the pouring rain of the first fifteen minutes, Excelsior kept their two banks of four close together, defending rather deep and having captain and controlling midfielder Koolwijk cleaning up where necessary.

Excelsior withdrew on their half of the pitch, with striker Fernandez and, during that period of the match, midfielder Bergkamp waiting to pressure AZ as soon as they crossed the halfway line. AZ’s manager Verbeek, never afraid to throw his men forward, had sent his team out in their by now familiair 3-4-3 when in possession.

However, AZ lacked passing accuracy in midfield with captain Schaars still looking to regain his fitness and technically skilled Martens not having his best game. Combined with their line-up where usually four or five men are in front of the ball, this inaccuracy meant that they could not convert their 70% possession into clear goal scoring chances. Furthermore, their lack of attacking width allowed Excelsior to get away with their narrow defensive system.

Excelsior had started out with pacey striker Guyon Fernandez in the lone striker role, having him chase long balls from their withdrawn midfield. However, halfway during the first half Fernandez switched roles with Roland Bergkamp, who offers more of a physical presence and played the role of an aerial target man. This provided Excelsior with a clear aiming point of their quick outbreaks, resulting in long spells of AZ domination, but with Excelsior having their fair share of chances.

These outbreaks were also the reason that Excelsior’s two bands of four got a bit stretched and AZ was looking to profit from this space, with Martens cleverly taking up his position between the lines. Another thing to note here is that Erik Falkenburg, playing the striker role since the beginning of the season, is in fact an attacking midfielder. In the absence the transferred El Hamdaoui and Dembéle, and with young Brazilian Jonathas still looking for full fitness, Falkenburg temporarily fills this space.

The match was of course clearly influenced by AZ-keeper Didulica’s first half error, passing the ball straight into right midfielder Tim Vincken’s feet, for him to find striker Fernandez who skillfully placed the ball in the back of the net. Backed by this 0-1 lead, Excelsior withdrew in their 4-1-4-1 fortress and AZ, lacking confidence, was unable to increase their pass completion and, apart from a Falkenburg header hitting the post after a glaring marking error in Excelsior’s defense, was unable to find their way through.

Guyon Fernandez scores the opening goal

Verbeek threw on two new players during half time. Striker Jonathas and holding midfielder Elm took the place of invisible winger Gudmondson and the disappointing Wernbloom. The meant that AZ had effectively converted their line-up to the fashionable 4-2-3-1, albeit with passing midfielder Schaars in a quite advanced position.

With so many men thrown forward and the difference in individual player skills between the teams, it was inevitable that Excelsior suffered more pressure than before half time. Manager Pastoor cleverly switched controlling midfielder Clasie and Koolwijk, in order for the latter to exert his excellent passing skills from a slightly more advanced position, looking to play striker Fernandez, who was switched back with Bergkamp, into space. And it was a gem of a Koolwijk pass that gave Fernandez a one-on-one chance in front of Didulica. Had he converted that one, the match would have been done, but he missed the chance this time.

The final twenty minutes saw AZ playing in a formal three men defense, throwing their men forward in a 3-2-3-2-ish shape, with both Jonathas and Falkenburg a central striker role. With so many bodies present, chances started coming and it was another sub, Kolbein Sigthorsson, who scored from a deflected shot after Jonathas won an important attacking header for the team.

The closing minutes consisted of AZ overloading Excelsior’s defense, with Excelsior mainly looking to frustrate their opponents, successfully aiming to hold on to the 1-1 score line.

In the end, Excelsior manager Pastoor can be proud of a neatly executed 4-1-4-1, in turns making use of pacy striker Fernandez and physically strong target man Bergkamp. AZ, meanwhile, will be a different team once captain Schaars and striker Jonathas find their full fitness back. However, it remains to be seen if their lack of squad depth in attack will jeopardize their combined European and national ambitions.

A tactical analysis of Ajax’ second half spell that puts them past PAOK Saloniki, securing a CL play-off place…

The cream of European football clubs play their make-it-or-break-it matches during the beautiful month of may, competing in the final stages of the Champions League. On the contrary, for Ajax, despite having won that competition a mere 15 years ago, the most important matches nowadays take place in the month of August. Check out this excellent in-depth analysis of Ajax’ financial problems and it’s easy to realize that missing out on European Football would mean a catastrophe for the club. Well, in order to avoid this financial downfall Ajax needed at least a high scoring draw in their return match against Panthessalonikeios Athlitikos Omilos Konstantinoupoliton, or POAK Saloniki.

And this was exactly what they produced, with an excellent display upon returning after half time, converting a 1-0 PAOK lead into a comfortable 1-3, practically securing the desired Champions League play-off qualification. At that point in time PAOK needed three more goals and despite Ajax’ messy performance leading to a 3-3 draw, it was just enough to qualify.

The line-ups

Ajax started out with their familiar 4-2-3-1 line-up, with yet another lay-out upfront compared to the previous matches against PAOK at home and against Twente for the Johan Cruijff Schaal. Top scorer Luis Suarez was the leading striker this time, with Miralem Sulejmani on the right wing. The latter is by now at West Ham United, just a medical test away from a year long loan to the Premier League club. Urby Emanuelson again, was preferred on the left wing and Lindgren regained his fitness just in time to start beside Demi de Zeeuw in a controlling midfield role.

PAOK’s 4-1-4-1

PAOK was essentially unchanged from their line-up in Amsterdam last week, keeping star player Zlatan Muslimovic out of the first eleven. Whether he deemed not fit enough to start or deemed a too attacking choice in combination with striker Salpingidis and playmaker Ivic remains of doubt. PAOK certainly set-out for some hard-core defending, transforming into a 4-1-4-1 line-up under Ajax’ pressure in the first few minutes.

Their shape is illustrated here. The two bands of four are easy to spot, with Vitolo in a destroyer midfield role, successfully marking Siem de Jong out of the game. This 4-1-4-1 line-up is reminiscent of Japans tactical plan during the last world cup, ensuring a defensive formation that proved very difficult to break down for Van Marwijks Netherlands team obtaining only a narrow 1-0 victory.

Sulejmani’s positioning

Ajax exerted heavy pressure on the Greeks, pushing both wing backs high up the pitch, resulting in long ball played into space to lone striker Salpingidis who often found himself isolated against two central defenders.  Sulejmani practically featured in a free role, starting from the right wing, but all too often drifting inside. While, on the positive side, this opened up a lot of space for right back Gregory van der Wiel to express his attacking qualities on the right wing, it also impeded Ajax’ central attack where Sulejmani often played too close to striker Suarez and creator de Jong, limiting their positional options.

Van der Wiel’s unusual weak display

Perhaps the physical stress that this system put on Gregory van der Wiel contributed to his unusual blunders who were painfully obvious in the first half. His strange half-high back-pass in the 14th minute will probably never be explained and his shortcomings in defending PAOK’s set pieces were particularly obvious during their free kicks in the 13th and 16th minute, leading to Vieirinha’s opening goal from a header. PAOK, understandably, withdrew even further, squeezing their bands of four close together, effectively limiting Ajax’ options for the remainder of the first half. With their Greek opponents defending a 1-0 home lead, Ajax’ were forced to make some changes in order to disrupt the effective defense machine that a tight 4-1-4-1 in effect is. And so they did!

Half time changes

Take a look at this screen, displaying Ajax’ positional set-up  in the first minute after half time. Note the wide stretch of play offered by wingers Emanuelson and Sulejmani (yellow), in contrast especially to Sulejmani’s drifting in during the first half of the game.

This immediately opened up spaces for Siem de Jong (yellow) to deploy his off-the-ball skills. Furthermore, as you can also see in this screen, passing midfielders de Zeeuw and Lindgren (orange) started taking turns in penetrating PAOK’s defensive line. Their forward runs turned them more or less into box-to-box midfielders, with one covering for the other when needed.

The equalizer

This is another example of how wide Ajax’ attack is set-up immediately after half time. The wide position of wingers Emanuelson and Sulejmani force the Greek defenders to choose between marking their winger or closing in on their central defense to aid them in defending striker Suarez and creator de Jong. This screen below is taken during the cross pass of Alderweireld, providing the assist for Suarez’ 48th minute equalizer.

Ajax’ spell of glory

It took Ajax ten minutes to convert PAOK’s 1-0 lead into a comfortable 1-3 after this obvious tactical change. The remainder of the game saw the Greek come back to 2-3 after another display of weak Ajax defending of a set piece cross. This is definitely something that Martin Jol and his side will have to work on in the near future. Nearing the end of the match Ivic equalized the score, but it was too late to change the result of the two match confrontation.

The second half display of Ajax might ensure that they have an attacking line-up capable of producing in Europe and should their defensive weakness from set pieces improve on a short-term then we might see a good Ajax season. Remember, the season has only just started!