Tag Archives: 4-3-3

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.

Twente’s dominant midfield triangle undone by cleverly organised Roda… Missing Kenneth Perez?

Yesterday evening saw the much awaited kick-off of the Dutch Eredivisie. And it was the defending champion’s honour to feature in the first match, away against last year’s number nine, Roda JC. A potentially tough fixture as Roda performed particularly well in the second half of last year’s competition and, in contrast to Twente, succeeded in keeping much of their squad together during the summer transfer window. Of their regularly featured players, only midfielder Marcel de Jong and central defender Jean-Paul Saeijs departed. New signing Jimmy Hempte from Belgian outfit KV Kortrijk was attracted as the new central defense partner to the athletic and passionate part-Norwegian, part-Gambian Pah-Modou Kah.

Twente’s squad deflated

Twente saw a much bigger chunk of their preferred 2009 line-up leave their squad. Just look at this list of names…  Striker and captain Blaise N’Kufo, who scored 96 goals in 193 matches for Twente; prolific left winger Miroslav Stoch, loaned from Chelsea, now on loan at Fenerbahce; creative force in midfield Kenneth Perez, who provided 22 assists in 82 Twente matches and finally right-back Ronnie Stam who missed just one Eredivisie match last season. And what’s more, success manager (in Holland that is) Steve McLaren left FC Twente for fallen German Champions Wolfsburg.



New investments

New manager Michel Preud’homme was allowed to invest nearly ten million euro to replace the key players mentioned before. Let’s go over a few of the signings made. Six million was spent to attract 1.96m high striker Mark Janko who scored 23 goals for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg last year. A further three million was invested in lightning quick left winger Emir Bajrami, who recently earned his first cap for Sweden. And Belgian manager Preud’homme did some homeland shopping in attracting Zulte-Waregems Bart Buysse to replace Ronnie Stam at left-back.

Twente’s well-known 4-3-3

In the opening game of the 2010/11 season, only left winger Bajrami featured in the first eleven, while no less than four new signings had to take place on the bench. Twente started with the exact same line-up as they did when winning the Johan Cruijff Schaal in Ajax’ ArenA last Saturday. This meant a 4-3-3 with a narrow midfield triangle pointing backwards, aiming for control of the central midfield, with a running winger on the left and Ruiz in a drifting role coming inside from the right wing.

Roda’s aggressive 4-4-2 diamond

Roda took a very interesting approach by lining up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, thereby electing not to battle it out with Twente’s dominant midfield players, but rather trying to play around it, using athletic wide midfield performances by Laurent Delorge on the right and Willem Janssen on the left. Their formation fielded two out-and-out strikers, something which always bears the risk of being one man short in midfield when facing 4-3-3 and 4-5-1-esque formations. Look at their 4-4-2 diamond in this early match screen.

Excuse the low image resolution, will be fixed as soon as better images are available

Pressure is so 2010…

During the first minutes of the game Roda’s game plan was clearly visible. Intense pressure on Twente’s central midfield and defense, leaving them no options other than side passes to full-backs Tiendalli and Carney who saw a low of the balls that Twente would preferentially run by Wout Brama and Theo Janssen during the build-up of play.

Midfield roles, again…

In 11tegen11’s article on Ajax’ midfield performance during their home draw against PAOK we’ve discussed the concept of the three different midfield roles that are characteristic of a three-man midfield combination, be it 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-1-3 or 4-5-1. Credits again to the excellent article on Zonal Marking defining the concepts of destroyer, passer and creator.

Let’s try and determine the different roles of the three central midfield players that Twente fielded against both Ajax and Roda. As mentioned previously, their midfield is a narrow triangle pointed backwards, therefore containing one pure controlling midfielder and two central midfielders.

Three different Twente midfielders

Wout Brama

Wout Brama is their single holding midfielder who obviously does not play the creator role from that position. Whether he plays a destroyer or a passer role is a more tricky question. His style of play tends to be that of a passer, but he doesn’t have another controlling midfielder by his side, like for example in a 4-2-3-1 or in a defensive flat 4-4-2 formation. Therefore, since he is often faced with at least one nearby opponent, severely limiting his passing options, his play mostly tends to a destroyer role.

Cheik Tioté definitely has the build of a destroyer midfielder. He’s physically strong, wins tackles and positions himself well. He therefore plays best when facing a direct opponent, allowing one-on-one midfield battles. However, as he’s lined up as Twente’s right-sided central midfielder, things depend on the opposing formation for him. If the opposing formation has a left-sided central midfielder for him to battle against, like for example in a 4-2-3-1 or in a flat 4-4-2, things are looking good for Tioté.

Theo Janssen is a technically gifted player, making it easy to say he’s the perfect creator midfielder. However, he’s only half-perfect. Providing dangerous passes is only half the job that a creator does. The other half of this role consisting of positional creativity, making dangerous runs, drifting into space. Imagine Mesut Özil’s role during the World Cup and you’ll get the picture. So despite his excellent technical skills, Theo Janssen is not a true creator type of player. Twente will definitely miss Kenneth Perez’s quality in this regard.

Roda’s effective counterplay

Against Roda’s diamond midfield, these problems of Twente’s midfield became exposed. Brama was effectively limited to a destroyer role in the presence of direct opponent Hadouir, who did a good job never to be far from his side during Twente’s possession of the ball. Tioté was not given a direct opponent to excel against, since a diamond midfield has no left and right central midfielder. Compare his game against Roda with his recent performance against Ajax and you’ll know. And the static play of Theo Janssen in a forced creator role was all too easy to defend for Ruud Vormer, playing at the base of Roda’s midfield diamond.

In the end

The smart choice of a high pressing diamond midfield lined-up against Twente’s 4-3-3 ensured that Twente could never do what it did best. During their past successful season they patiently circulated the ball, waiting for a sparkling Bryan Ruiz moment. To Roda’s credits this moment never really looked like arriving yesterday…

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.

Feyenoord… wordt 2011 het jaar van de waarheid?

Mario Been.

Assistent trainer van Feyenoord tussen 1999 en 2004: viermaal de derde plaats en eenmaal de tweede. Vertrokken om zijn eigen carrière als hoofdtrainer te starten: nog slechts één derde plaats in de eerstvolgende vijf seizoenen voor Feyenoord, nog een keer vierde, maar ook zevende, zesde en weer zevende. Europees voetbal aan de Maas was ineens geen zekerheidje meer. En toen kwam hij terug…

De verlosser van Feyenoord! Super Mario helpt Feyenoord op de been! Associaties met Barack Obama en Ché Guevarra waren niet van de lucht. Zie bijvoorbeeld de fraai gemaakte afbeelding hiernaast.

Het eerste seizoen onder Mario Been sloot Feyenoord af met de vierde plaats, verwachtingen ingelost en de lijn omhoog lijkt ingezet. Dat maakt het komende seizoen tot het seizoen van de waarheid. Mario mag nog duizend keer niet stuk kunnen bij de harde kern van de Feyenoord supporters, maar als Feyenoord dit seizoen niet tenminste de derde plaats haalt dan is ook Mario geen verlosser. Dan winnen argumenten als ‘geld’, ‘clubstructuur’ en ‘organisatie’ het van sentimenten als ‘clubgevoel’, ‘traditie’ en ‘historisch besef’. Maar hoe staat de geplaagde club uit Rotterdam Zuid er nu voor? Een blik in de selectie en een half oog op de wedstrijd tegen naburig Dordrecht…

In de Nederlandse competitie is er één ding op tactisch gebied wel erg eenvoudig. Een team kent vier verdedigers. Geen drie, geen vijf. Misschien dat dit seizoen wat maaltijd variatie gaat bieden, maar misschien ook dat Sinterklaas dit jaar echt bestaat. Het middenveld kent al meer variatie. Drie- of viermans middenvelden, die dan resulteren in drie- of tweemans voorhoedes. Uiteindelijk zijn sommige van deze 4-3-3 varianten dan nog wel als modern 4-2-3-1 uit te leggen, maar met die drie variaties (4-4-2, 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1) heb je het dan ook zo’n beetje gehad. Gelukkig zijn binnen deze grofstoffelijke termen diverse variaties aan te brengen, analyses te maken en patronen te illustreren. En dat gaat 11tegen11 nou precies brengen het komende seizoen.

Als we de huidige selectie van Feyenoord tegen het licht van de keuze tussen 4-4-2, 4-3-3 en als variatie 4-2-3-1 houden komen we tot de volgende analyse.

De centrale verdedigers hebben in alle drie de systemen een vrij vergelijkbare rol. Daarbij komt dat nieuwe aanvoerder Vlaar en vaste waarde Bahia misschien wel de meest zekere basisspelers van Feyenoord zijn.

Voor de positie van linksback heeft Feyenoord op huurbasis de jonge Deen Michael Lumb voor een jaar vastgelegd. Hij is ‘om niet’, zoals Don Leo Beenhakker het fraai verwoordde, van Zenit gehuurd en dat zal niet zijn om de bank warm te houden. Als rechtsback zal Dani Fernandez de jonkies de Vrij (18) en Schenkeveld (18) graag achter zich houden om zijn aantal van slechts vijf optredens in het hele vorige seizoen te overtreffen. Nu Schenkeveld voor minstens een half jaar aan het herstel van zijn kruisband mag werken lijkt de concurrentie vooral tussen Fernandez en de Vrij te gaan.

Op het middenveld geeft Mario graag de voorkeur aan drie vrij centraal spelende mensen die dan meestal in een driehoek met de punt naar voren opereren. Wanneer dan de beide achterste middenvelders meer controlerend opereren en de ‘punt’ dichter op de spits gaat spelen komt de formatie in de buurt van een 4-2-3-1 en wanneer de drie middenvelders juist dicht op elkaar blijven spelen is een 4-3-3 een passender omschrijving. Dit heeft ook implicaties voor de vleugelaanvallers. Zij zullen namelijk de balans moeten bewaren afhankelijk van de rol van de meest aanvallende middenvelder. In een 4-2-3-1 moeten de vleugelspitsen meer verdedigende taken uitvoeren. Denk bijvoorbeeld aan Kuijt op het WK. Omgekeerd moet in een 4-3-3 de centrale middenvelder meer verdedigend werk opknappen, zodat de andere twee middenvelders zich meer naar de flanken kunnen richten. Dit vrij technische verhaal is de kern van de analyse van Feyenoord in het komende jaar. 4-2-3-1 versus 4-3-3, aanvallen via het centrum versus over de vleugels. Deze tweestrijd zal nog vaak hier terugkomen.

Zowel in de 4-2-3-1 als in de 4-3-3 variant zal Been uitgaan van twee meer behoudende, controlerende centrale middenvelders. Gezien het afgelopen jaar zal zijn voorkeur waarschijnlijk uitgaan naar Karim el Ahmadi en Leroy Fer. Voor de centrale rol op het middenveld wordt het iets lastiger te voorspellen. Het voorbije jaar speelde Jonathan de Guzman vaak in deze belangrijke rol, maar hij is tranfervrij en ziet zijn toekomst buiten Rotterdam. Dit seizoen lijkt de rol als centrale spelmaker te gaan tussen de Rotterdamse talenten Georginio Wijnaldum en Luigi Bruins. Hoewel het bruggetje tussen Mario en Luigi bijna te makkelijk is om te leggen, lijkt Wijnaldum toch de meer constante speler op het moment.

Dan de cruciale vleugels. In een 4-2-3-1 systeem wordt een hybride rol van deze spelers verwacht. Verdedigers bij balverlies, aanvallers bij balbezit. Feyenoord heeft in de huidige selectie niet veel spelers die de rol op het lijf geschreven is. Spelers als Cissé, Biseswar en ook aanwinst Ruben Schaken hebben toch meer talent bij balbezit dan werklust bij balverlies. Een keuze voor 4-3-3 ligt daarom op dit moment meer voor de hand. Dan zou Wijnaldum centraal een iets behoudender rol moeten krijgen om de vleugelspelers de gelegenheid te geven om ook bij balverlies al met de volgende Feyenoord aanval bezig te zijn.

Als centrale spits tenslotte mogen de ervaring en de jeugd het uitvechten in de persoon van Tomasson tegen Smolov en Castaignos. Het Deense clubicoon van Feyenoord is met 33 jaar inmiddels wel bijna net zo oud als beide talenten samen, maar zijn ervaring en zijn talent om zonder bal precies op de juiste manier te bewegen kunnen dit jaar wel eens heel belangrijk gaan zijn.

Ook Feyenoord wacht een warm seizoen. En laten we één ding afspreken. Als Mario niet minstens derde wordt dan is hij geen verlosser…