Tag Archives: 4-4-2 diamond

NAC 1 – 2 Roda: A 4-4-2 diamond and a deserved second half turnaround

High-flying Roda JC beat NAC Breda away last weekend to go top of the Eredivisie, albeit only for a day. Their 4-4-2 diamond proved too much for NAC, whose wingers failed to track back their markers, allowing Roda full control of the game in the second half.



Both teams have a certain aspect that makes them unique in the Eredivisie. NAC is the only team to be managed by a duo rather than by one manager and Roda is the only team to consequently play two upfront, rather than a lone striker or three forwards. While NAC’s mid-table position may be quite in line with the squad’s quality, it’s Roda’s performance that has drawn much attention, and rightfully so. Up there with the best, their 4-4-2 diamond has proven hard to beat in the Eredivisie this year. It was Jonathan Wilson who described the diamond as a system that has “never hung around for long, which suggests it may have limited applicability.” Which suggests that a turn to the books of football tactics history might not be a waste of time for those managers facing Roda any time soon.



The starting line-ups. Roda's away kit is blue indeed.

NAC’s 4-3-3

NAC generally lines up in a 4-3-3 formation, playing a dynamic narrow triangle in midfield where Gudelj tends to play the holding role, with Luyckx and Gorter playing in close proximity. Furthermore, all three tend to rotate as well, providing an element of unpredictability to NAC’s game. The front line is composed around central striker Matthew Amoah, who provides a ground supply. He is aided by inverted wingers Kolkka, Boussabon and, when not falling out of favour again, Leonardo.


Roda’s diamond

Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond draws on the goal-scoring qualities of Mads Junker upfront, who misses his fellow Danish striker Skoubo through injury at the moment. Although historically most 4-4-2 diamonds relied heavily on a creative man-in-the-hole behind the two striker, Roda play Willem Janssen in that position, who offers a respectable athletic input rather than being a technical wizzkid. Ruud Vormer provides the base of their midfield, generally in a playmaking role, as was the case against NAC.


The opening phase

The game was characterized by a high paced opening phase during which both teams saw their full-backs involved in a lot of the play. However, with Roda’s full-back missing a wide target to pass onto and NAC’s wide players not showing their best in possession, not many chances where created.

In an attempt to confuse their opponents, NAC started switching wingers Kolkka and Boussabon around regularly. Add to that their rotating midfield triangle and the game got a bit messy in this phase. Roda was not able to find a way around NAC’s crowded midfield either, so both teams looked energetic without any real chances being created.


Breathe in, breathe out…

The main concern for team playing the 4-4-2 diamond has traditionally been their lack of width. In defense, the wide midfielders, beautifully termed ‘Carrilleros’ in Argentine football history, have to help out in central midfield to prevent the holding midfielder from being overrun. Therefore, space is conceded on the wings for the opposing full-backs to run into.

On the other hand, when in possession, the diamond tends to stretch play, looking to provide width and the ‘carrilleros’ move out to the side. Using some beautiful tactics expression, one could state that the team is breathing. Breathing in during possession of the ball, breathing out in defense.

Roda applies this aspect of playing a 4-4-2 diamond very well. Sutchuin on the left and Delorge on the right are always looking to help out in the centre during defense, while they’re stretching play wide in possession.


A small mistake

NAC capitalized on a small Roda mistake to score the opening goal, close to half-time. The screen below shows Roda’s broad 4-4-2 diamond shape, after left midfielder Sutchuin started pressing NAC’s right full-back Feher. NAC’s striker Amoah (in possession) has smartly dropped into the midfield and Sutchuin’s team mates do not follow-up his pressing. A well-timed run by midfielder Luyckx (arrow) is enough to create a big gap in Roda’s defense, which is effectively exploited for the opening goal.

NAC plays from left to right. Note Roda's diamond midfield shape, although Sutchuin advanced a bit to press his opponent.


Half-time changes

Although the same players started the second half, two important tactical changes were made by Roda manager Harm van Veldhoven during half-time. The first changes implied that Roda upped their defensive line almost to the halfway line, successfully playing NAC’s attacking three offside on more than one occasion. The second change was to force both full-backs forward. These two changes completely changes the face of the game.

Roda’s midfield was now provided width with both full-backs regularly looking for overlap and this relieved their ‘carrilleros’ from constantly running sideways as soon as Roda regained possession. Now Roda effectively had a numerical advantage in central midfield, giving them plenty of passing options as well as a lot more pressing on NAC’s possession.


Failing to track back

The effect of the full-back’s overlapping run was enhanced by the fact that both NAC’s wingers completely refrained from tracking back. First Roda right-back de Fauw was allowed to join a right flank attack, winning Roda a penalty, which Junker missed, in the opening minutes of the second half.  Then left-back Hempte was left completely free (as depicted in the screen below) to cross for Junker, whose header only just missed the goal. Finally, on another de Fauw cross, Sutchuin finished one of a series of Roda attacks, equalizing the score.

Acres of free space for Roda's full-backs, left-back Jimmy Hempte in this case.

After that, the only logical move from a NAC point of view would be to remove one of the wingers, whose persistent failure to track back handed the game to Roda in the second half. But both were allowed to stay on the pitch and Roda’s dominance in wide areas was allowed to continue.

As if to highlight the fact that Roda’s full-backs won the game for them, it was left-back Jimmy Hempte who converted a direct free-kick on the edge of the area to score the winning goal.


In the end

Setting your team out on the pitch may be an important element to managing a football team, making in-game adjustment is quite another thing. And these in-game adjustments in exactly where Van Veldhoven won one over NAC’s John Karelse and Gert Aandewiel. Pushing the full-back’s on in order to win the game in the wide area’s won the game for Roda, as NAC didn’t correct the failings of their wingers not tracking back.

So, from a tactical point of view, we’ve seen a deserved victory and come the end of the season, we can safely say that Roda’s diamond went top of the table, if only for a day…

PSV 1 – 1 Sampdoria: A misfitting 4-2-3-1 does not beat a defensive diamond

For the first time  in 18 years, PSV has to settle for Europa League (former UEFA Cup) football for two consecutive seasons. And despite 12 Champions League participations in these 18 years, they’ve only passed the group stage three times, with a Hiddink-managed side reaching the semi-finals of 2004/05 as their best result.

Today PSV kicks off their Europa League campaign against Sampdoria, that was only just knocked out of the Champions League qualifications by Werder Bremen. With Hungarian side Debreceni and Ukrainian Metalist Charkov completing their group, PSV and Sampdoria are expected to battle for the group victory, providing an extra edge to this opening match.

PSV’s 4-2-3-1

PSV, like their title rivals Ajax, consequently line-up in a 4-2-3-1 formation. Their back line is fairly consistent with new signing Marcelo and Mexican international ‘Maza’ Rodriguez forming the centre-back couple. Howver, the latter is suspended for the Sampdoria game after receiving a red card in the EL qualification match at Novosibirsk and is replaced by veteran defender Wilfred Bouma who was contracted on a free after being released by Aston Villa.

PSV’s wing attackers play a fairly wide role compared to a lot of 4-2-3-1 teams featuring inside wingers. Balasz Dszudszak on the left and Jeremain Lens on the right are true wing players, both being capable of passing their defender for an out-swinging cross or turning inside for a shot on goal. Especially two-footed Dszudszak is renowned for his goal-scoring ability from the wing.

The starting line-ups

In turn, PSV’s full-backs are not provided with an empty wing to run into, looking for overlap, like we so often see in inverted wingers based 4-2-3-1  formations. In this match, first choice right-back Manolev is suffering from a groin injury and is replaced by Atiba Hutchinson who is capable of performing full-back as well as defensive midfield duties.

Last season saw Ola Toivonen being deployed in the striker position where he could pose an aerial threat to connect with the wing crosses. This year he’s deployed as the in-the-hole man behind striker Marcus Berg, contracted on a season-long from HSV. Toivonen seems to flourish in this new role, using his off-the-ball skills to maximum effect, scoring seven goals in six matches in the process.

A final mention goes to the defensive midfield players, where Orlando Engelaar teams up with the ambitious Ibrahim Afellay. The latter strongly expressed his desire to leave PSV (“… but only for a top team!”) and refrained from playing in the EL qualifiers for that reason. However, no suitable offers came in and Afellay joins PSV for another season. After initially being deployed behind striker Toivonen he is now regularly used as a box-to-box holding midfielder besides natural passer Engelaar.

Sampdoria’s 4-4-2

Opponents Sampdoria are renowned for being a 4-4-2 team, the more and more ‘endangered species’ of modern football formations. Last year, however, manager Luigi Delneri managed to finish fourth in the serie A with this 4-4-2 line-up, often showing bombarbing wing players who connected with strong striker Giampaolo Pazzini for him to score 19 serie A goals last season. This even led national manager Cesare Prandelli to select both Sampdoria forwards Cassano and Pazzini for Italy’s Euro 2012 qualifier against Estonia. Another 4-4-2 diamond success story has been Roda JC breaking down champions Twente for a 0-0 home draw early this season.

Delneri left for Juventus to continue his 4-4-2 philosophy there and Domenico di Carlo, who had enjoyed a successful two-year spell at Chievo Verona was brought to Sampdoria the continue the 4-4-2 success story. He made some adaptations to Delneri’s line-up though. The midfield was slightly altered and features a four-man diamond now, as illustrated in the screen below, providing better cover against four-band formations (like 4-2-3-1).

Sampdoria’s narrow 4-4-2 diamond. Don’t mistake the ref for a yellow dot though…

Pazzini did not play against PSV due to a back injury and was replaced by 21-year old Marilunga. This substitution had immediate consequences for Sampdoria’s style of play. Instead of deploying wide running midfielder, looking to swing crosses in for Pazzini, their midfield now consisted of a very narrow diamond, cropping space in front of their four-man defense.

A costly defending error

That being said, let’s turn our attention to how the match developed. Sampdoria’s line-up could virtually be broken down in two parts. There’s the defending line of the back four with the narrow midfield in front of them. And there’s Cassano roaming around and slightly to the left of fellow striker Marilunga. Sampdoria’s midfield successfully dedicated the majority of their efforts to frustrating PSV’s midfield play. Upon possession, the Italians quickly passed the ball to Cassano, hoping for some brilliance that he has already frequently brought this season. Given their deep defense Sampdoria was not ashamed to use the long ball forward.

PSV had a lot of trouble breaking Sampdoria’s deep defense down. Dszudszak consequently faced two or even three defenders in his beloved left wing dribbles and apart from a few long range shots did not succeed in creating danger. With Marcus Berg not offering the aerial presence of Toivonen in that same position last year, Dszudszak’s crosses seem less efficient. Even more dramatically, a communication error between striker Berg and defender Marcelo left Cacciatore unmarked after an half-cleared corner and the Sampdoria right-back scored rather easily.

This error proved costly to PSV as it allowed Sampdoria to withdraw even further, letting their formation break into a defending unit of eight with a separate pair of roaming strikers. PSV did not succeed to play around this defending unit. One of the man factors why PSV did not succeed may be the role of Marcus Berg.

Marcus Berg and PSV’s 4-2-3-1: not a happy couple

The Swedish striker was brought into the club based on his successes at FC Groningen, where he scored 41 goals in 64 matches. His move to HSV was not quite a success and PSV snapped him up for a year-long loan. Important to note is that Berg obtained these impressive figures by excelling in a 4-4-2 system at the time. His goals are predominantly  scored with ground strikes. His role in PSV’s 4-2-3-1 system is quite a different one. He’s mainly to receive aerial crosses from wingers Lens and Dszudszak and the match against Sampdoria was no exception. Last week’s match against NEC illustrated the same problem, where manager Rutten subbed Berg of during half-time for PSV to overcome a 0-1 half=time score by scoring three second half goals with the aerial presence of Koevermans in their side.

The second half

At half time PSV manager Rutten refrained from major changes. If anything, Afellay was positioned slightly higher up the pitch, where Sampdoria’s narrow diamond provided enough bodies to limit space here. PSV did fire quite a few long-range shots, but consequently found goalkeeper Curci on their path.

It took until the 75th minute for Rutten to make the desired change, subbing Koevermans on for Berg.  But by then Sampdoria had completely parked the bus to see out the remainder of the match, hoping to hold on to their 0-1 lead.

The final minutes

In the end Dszudszak scored a well-deserved equalizer from the standpoint of those appreciating PSV’s continuous hard labour in this difficult game. Or a sore late goal conceded by Sampdoria for those appreciating the art of defending and appreciating the well-organised eight-men Italian defense. A matter of taste…

PSV’s impressive pass completion rate of 87.7% illustrated both the deep defensive stance of Sampdoria, refraining from any sorts of early pressure, and it illustrated that PSV’s shortcomings are mainly to be sought in the final attacking pass, connecting well with the presumed misfit of Marcus Berg and PSV’s style of 4-2-3-1 wing play.

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…