Tag Archives: AZ

ADO 0 – 2 AZ: Fixing the wingers wins the game for AZ

Winning at ADO means an important result for Verbeek’s AZ. After an unconvincing start to the season, his team are on a six match unbeaten run, including victories over Ajax and Twente. AZ have by now firmly established themselves among the top six of the Eredivisie, the top six that would be five points clear should Roda win their postponed match at relegation-threatened VVV. ADO drop to the eighth spot and will see themselves battling for play-off places five to eight from now on.


ADO’s problems

The starting line-ups

ADO missed two essential players due to suspension and this was a very important factor today. Captain and central defender Timothy Derijck was replaced by Pascal Bosschaart and high-flying right winger Wesley Verhoek was replaced by fans’ favourite Ricky Van den Bergh. That last change in particular had quite some impact on ADO’s playing style.

Their formation would look like the usual 4-3-3 and they would still draw on a direct play, looking to find target man Dmitry Bulykin early on, but the usual amount of crosses flying in from Verhoek’s right foot were sorely missed. Van den Bergh is not only a very different type of player, but also possesses a very different character. Verhoek would tend to stretch play wide, aiming to get his crosses in and thereby be an important player to link ADO’s midfield with their striker.

Van den Bergh, on the other hand, tends to involve himself in central midfield positions, sees a lot of the ball and has trouble restraining himself to a right wing role. ADO’s game was sincerely disturbed by his, well intended, tendency to help the central midfielders out, thereby leaving his wide position and limiting ADO’s attacking options.


AZ’s 4-2-3-1

In their early season games, AZ tended to get ahead of themselves. They consequently played a hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 system where one of the full-backs would advance into a wide midfield role in every single attacking move. While theoretically sound, the system had its practical limitations. Their defensive frailty is illustrated by their failing to keep a clean sheet in the first five matches, winning only three points in the process. By that time, Verbeek adjusted his principle and AZ’s hybrid formation took a more realistic stance.

The full-backs did not advance that much anymore, so the wingers had to provide the needed width. The central midfield trio played a more narrow triangle and the 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation was in effect turned into a 4-2-3-1. Four clean sheets in five consecutive wins meant that Verbeek fixed what was wrong with his formation and AZ stormed the Eredivisie table.

Against ADO they featured their full first choice line-up, which now means that Pelle earned his spot as the starting striker after a series of excellent performances as a substitute.


The first half

ADO gradually dominated the opening phase of the game, at least possession wise. This was in no small part a result of Van den Bergh’s effort in the midfield battle. He played something of a free playmaker role, whilst also involving himself in a midfield tackle or two. This meant that ADO created a 4 v 3 situation in central midfield, where they won most of their possession.

On the other hand this also meant that their right wing was often vacated, and although right-back Leeuwin tried to fill in here, that fact he had to defend the skilled Maarten Martens limited his options. This vacated right wing invited striker Bulykin to come deep here to try and receive ADO’s direct balls, but he lacked support to lay the ball off to.

So ADO dominated possession, won most midfield tackles, saw AZ forced into quite some midfield fouls, but found itself unable to turn their possession into chances.

ADO manager Van den Brom

AZ’s first half adjustments

AZ did adjust a bit for this game. Their defense played on the high side, keeping Bulykin far from their goal and thereby limiting his dangerous flick-ons. Furthermore, as the first half carried on, Martens, probably in response to Van den Bergh’s tendendy to help out in midfield, started to do the same. This alleviated the pressure on AZ’s midfield and made the second part of the first half look like a stalemate.

But a sudden AZ penalty turned a stalemate into a 0-1 just before half time. Bosschaart made a clumsy sliding tackle, taking more of his man than of the ball and Elm converted the penalty for AZ.


The second half

Tracing the game 0-1 one would have expected ADO to fix their obvious right wing issue, but still Van den Bergh kept on drifting inside. AZ, on the other hand, did stretch their attacking line, forcing Martens back into a classic winger role, placing right winger Holman wider too. This change provided AZ with more passing variety than before and they were able to do what they could not in the first half, keep possession.

ADO manager Van den Brom illustrated the fact that we was certainly aware of ADO’s problem area in this game by taking Van den Bergh off the pitch after an hour of play, but that game was in fact already over by then. A few minutes earlier Martens had doubled AZ’s lead by finishing a Holman cross with a placed diagonal shot in a move where Pelle managed to drag his marker out of position by dropping off to the right wing.

The remaining half hour of the match saw AZ comfortably defend their lead, by the most effective defensive means possible, holding onto the ball. ADO was unable to change the face of the game and AZ was happy enough with the 0-2 score line.

Dearly missed: ADO's Wesley Verhoek

In the end

In this match ADO paid the price for Verhoek’s suspension and Van den Bergh’s tendency to drift inside at all times. The positive side for ADO was their dominance in terms of possession in the first half, but the fact that they had severe problems linking their midfield to their striker meant that they were unable to build upon their share of possession.

AZ was assisted by a rightfully awarded but ‘out-of-the-blue’ penalty kick. After that, Verbeek spread his attackers out wide for the start of the second half and saw his team able to keep possession much better. An early second half goal effectively put the game beyond doubt for them.

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.

AZ – Aktobe 2-0, the second half struggle explained

We’ve seen a lot of European Football action this week. No less than six Dutch teams may reach the group stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League this year. Things, however, don’t look too good for Utrecht, having lost 2-0 away at Celtic and also PSV have some repair work to do after a clumsy 1-0 defeat at far far Siberia.

Better results were obtained by Feyenoord, in their 1-0 home win against KAA Gent and Ajax, drawing 1-1 in Kiev, as reviewed earlier on 11tegen11. Former national champions AZ seemed rather fortunate in the draw for the Europa League play-off round, having to battle it out with Kazakh champions Aktobe. And easy it was, at least in the first half, AZ eased to a comfortable 2-0 half time scoreline. Things, however, turned out to be rather different in the second half. And after a scoreless second half, AZ will have to do with 2-0 at home, still a result that sees 89% of teams qualify for the next round of European Football.

AZ’s hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3

AZ started out in their familiar formation, as previously described in their match-up with NAC. Their backline of four only really exists when under pressure, as they play a form of hybrid three-at-the-back with always one of their full backs venturing forward down the flank, depending on which side of the pitch their attacking play is concentrated. The remaining three then spread out to a three-at-the-back, with the central defender playing a little deeper than both wide defenders. So in formational terms it is a 4-3-3 in defense, shifting to a 3-4-3 in offense.

During an attacking move on the left side of the pitch this means that Klavan occupies a left sided midfielder role, with a back three consisting of Moreno – Moisander – Marcellis. The midfield diamond of the 3-4-3 would then consist of Schaars at the base, Klavan and Wernbloom on the left and right and Martens moving to the central attacking midfielder role.

During a move on the right side Marcellis occupies a right sided midfield role, with a back three consisting of Klavan – Moreno – Moisander. The midfield diamond then consists of Schaars at the base, Martens and Marcellis left and right and Wernbloom moving to the central attacking midfielder role. So, both defense and midfield shift according to which side of the pitch is most involved in the attack.

Of further note was the return of Stijn Schaars, who was rested after his World Cup trip to South Africa. The AZ captain is an important asset to his team, connecting their defense and midfield in a central deep midfield role, generally seeing a lot of the ball and offering a physical presence too.

Kazakh defending

Aktobe, meanwhile, was forced into major changes compared to their usual line-up. No less than seven first team regular were unavailable due to either injuries of suspensions. In the third qualifying round of the Champions League Aktobe was eliminated by Hapoel Tel Aviv, losing 3-1 away and ending up just one goal short in a 1-0 home win. Quite a narrow escape for en established team such as Hapoel is.

Aktobe lined up in what was essentially a 5-4-1 formation with both wide midfielders aiming to support lone striker Essomba. Although Aktobe was clearly aiming for defensive control by installing an extra central defender, the result was exactly the opposite. AZ’s wide attackers often drifted central, creating acres of space on the wings for full backs Klavan and Marcellis to run into. And this resulted in three central Aktobe defenders versus three rather central AZ attackers, with AZ’s full backs having a go at their Aktobe counterparts.

Aktobe’s first half 5-4-1 formation

Meanwhile, Aktobe’s defensive line was rather deep, making it difficult, if not impossible, for their central midfielders to put any form of pressure on AZ’s influential defensive midfielder Schaars, who excelled in the first half, seeing himself involved in virtually every play that AZ created. The 3v2 effect in the central midfield gave AZ total control over the game and it was by no means surprising to see them taking a comfortable 2-0 half time lead.

Half time changes

Things, however, were quite different upon the second half. Aktobe put up much more of a resistance due to a simple, but very effective formation change. The Kazakhs must have realized that this 3v2 situation on the central part of the pitch was not the way to go forward and switched to a 4-2-3-1 formation that has become so common these days. This 4-2-3-1 offered Aktobe the clear advantage of matching up AZ’s midfield. Another advantage for them was the defensive role that the attacking midfielder played, frustrating Schaars’ play that was so uncomplicated during the first half.

Aktobe’s second half 4-2-3-1 formation

The midfield space that AZ used so efficiently in the first half was gone and Aktobe succeeded in limiting AZ to just a few chances created by individual efforts. Especially left winger Gudmondson, only 19 years old, succeeded in skinning his man more than one, thereby creating a few chances.

In the end

The playground of the first half was gone and AZ did not succeed in scoring a third goal and must still be on their guard during the return match, next week. Aktobe will regret starting out with their 5-4-1 but will be back with a 4-2-3-1 next week, seeing the return of over half of their regular first team players. After all, remember that Aktobe succeeded in beating Hapoel 1-0…

Verbeek’s AZ showing off with a dynamic three man defense…

AZ manager Gertjan Verbeek is a Heerenveen-man. Despite being born in Deventer, he spent all but one season of his 10 year long career as a professional football player at the Frisian club. And at this very same club he started his career as a manager. He spent seven years developing his skills under the experienced wings of club icon Foppe de Haan before accepting a job as manager of Heracles Almelo, as club he helped bring from the 15th to the 4th place in the Dutch Eerste Divisie (which, ironically, is the second division of professional football in the Netherlands). When Foppe de Haan retired in 2004, there was only man to be considered for the job of manager of Heerenveen.

Verbeek continued the stability that de Haan’s Heerenveen was known for and led his club to European Football qualification in three out of the four next seasons. However, halfway through the 2007/08 season, Heerenveen director Yme Kuiper decided to replace Verbeek, mysteriously saying: “It was never an easy decision and were very satisfied with the performance of [Verbeek], but it’s the best thing in the long-term interest of our club.”

Verbeek, being his stable self, replyed with this Cruyffian sentence: “I can see the club’s decision, but I don’t understand it. ” And okay, one more: “I don’t have a family or a wife. If I have to go, I’ll only leave my two cats behind.”

Well, his cats didn’t have to miss him for that long, because the high expectations he brought to Feyenoord’s injury-plagued squad of 2008 did not match with the team’s twelfth position during the winter break and a clash with a group of influential first-team players meant the end of Verbeek’s six months reign at the club.

Verbeek’s reputation might have suffered a scratch or two, but that did not stop his old club Heracles, an ambitional Eredivisie team by then, to contract their former success-manager. His appointment proved an instant succes, leading to a record-high sixth place in the 2009/10 season, only just missing out on European Football qualification. A unique achievement for a relatively small team like Heracles.

This earned him a contract at his present club AZ Alkmaar. Despite AZ’s financial troubles forcing the club to reduce their budget from 40 to 25 million, for Verbeek this still meant a huge leap forward from Heracles’ 9 million euro’s.  Having learnt from his previous and comparable experience at Feyenoord, expectations have been more realistic this time. Verbeek is asked to rebuild the squad now that several of their top player are leaving due to the financial trouble induced by the fall of AZ’s owner and chairman Dirk Scheringa and his DSB Bank.

And what would you do in a situation like that? Prefer tactical stability, deploying a mainstream 4-2-3-1 or 4-4-2 formation?

So not Verbeek! The opening fixture of his AZ season saw them facing last year’s number ten, NAC Breda, in a potentially tricky away match. And Verbeek just sent his men out in a revolutionary 3-4-3 formation, pushing men forward and overloading NAC midfield.

It’s shape is depicted in this opening minute screen. Moisander forms the base of a three man defensive line, keeping in constant communication with his fellow defenders. In this case Moreno is in possession of the ball at a left defensive position.

It’s particularly interesting to focus on the role of Poulsen on the left and Marcellis on the right. Both of them play a hybrid role, consequently occupying a defensive role when the attack is built up on the other side of the pitch and rushing forward in a wide midfielder role when the attack is built up on their side of the pitch. In the opening minute screen, depicted above, the attack is started down the left. Poulsen (out of image) rushes forward down the left flank and Marcellis stays put on the right side of defense.

The reverse is true in this 6th minute screen. NAC had just cleared the ball after an unsuccessful right flank AZ attack, involving Marcellis. The defensive line consequently consists of three men with Poulsen holding back to occupy the left defensive spot, Moreno moving to the central position and Moisander defending the right side.

These hybrid defender-midfielder roles of both Marcellis and Poulsen were responsible for an AZ dominated first half. Unfortunately, in part due to the financial downfall outlined before, AZ lacks attacking power at the moment, even being forced to play midfielder Erik Falkenburg in the central striker position. They were unable to capitalize on the chances that their extra man in midfield gave them.

The point of this article is not that AZ finally managed to open the score in the 58th minute, even though it was left flank man Poulsen, intercepting the ball in an offensive position, who started this attack.

The point is also not that AZ saw their opponents equalize in the 79th minute through a combination of aerial weakness and sloppy man-marking on a long cross into the box.

The point is that we’re in for quite a season here. The opening weekend has seen much more than the previewed 4-2-3-1’s battling it out in boring midfield matches. We’ve discussed Twente’s problems getting their midfield triangle into play against Roda’s smart 4-4-2 diamond and now we’ve experience a highly dynamic three man defense by Verbeek’s AZ.

We’re in for quite a season, stay tuned!