Tag Archives: Dinamo Kiev

Feyenoord 0 –1 Dinamo Kiev: Offensive intentions fall just short

Despite their offensive intentions, Feyenoord fell just short of their target. In a match that proved quite open, both teams had their chances, but Feyenoord could just as well have pulled this one off. Returning to the 4-3-3 formation brought Feyenoord a handful of chances that just didn’t fell their way. Overall, Kiev sealed a bleak performance with an injury time goal.

 

Feyenoord’s return to 4-3-3

In his first competitive match of the new season, last week Ronald Koeman lined Feyenoord up in a different shape compared to last year. In Kiev, Feyenoord operated from a 4-4-2 diamond, incorporating new signings Immers, Vormer and Janmaat in the line-up.

The starting line-ups

Compared to last season, Feyenoord, as it looks now, will have to do without the presence of John Guidetti upfront. The Manchester City loanee was instrumental last season in terms of finishing –he scored a unique series of three home hat tricks – but nonetheless so in tactical terms. Imposing physical strength upfront, Guidetti was a focal point in their attack, always ready to receive balls with his back to goal, looking either to exploit the opportunity himself, or to bring team mates into play.

With Guidetti now gone, and no similar player brought in, Feyenoord are fashionably without a target man striker. In Kiev, this resulted in a 4-4-2 diamond, with pacy wingers Cissé and Schaken looking to exploit their athletic qualities and the rest of the team more or less holding ground against expected superior opposition.

Today, however, Vormer lost his starting spot to striker Guyon Fernandez, who completed the front three, and therefore the return to the wide 4-3-3 formation that served them well last season.

 

Dinamo Kiev’s 4-2-3-1

Two years ago, Kiev played Ajax in around the same stage of competition, only to lose 2-3 on aggregate. This time around, Kiev defended a 2-1 home lead. Just like in their home match, Kiev operated from  a solid 4-2-3-1 formation.

Compared to two years ago, the obvious omission is recently retired striker Shevchenko. New into the squad this year is Portuguese international and defensive midfielder Miguel Veloso, who now plays the deep playmaker role beside ‘destroyer’ Vukojevic in the double pivot. An interesting observation that continued from the first match is that manager Semin preferred striker Ideye Brown over Artem Milevski, with the Nigerian striker rewarding his manager with the winning goal, much like in the first leg.

 

The power of width

The key word to describe the difference between Feyenoord last week and Feyenoord today is width. The 4-3-3 formations set out with a completely different aim than last week’s 4-4-2 diamond did. The three man offense stretches play, widens spaces, and Feyenoord’s main problem of last week, where they lacked creativity and the ability to keep hold of the ball, was well addressed today.

The key player for Feyenoord this year will definitely be Jordy Clasie. From his deep-lying midfield position, the youngster is a ferocious ball-winner, but also exerts great control in terms of distributing play. He is pivotal in Feyenoord’s possession play, and with passing targets either side of him, his game shines much more than it did in the crowded diamond of last week.

Most notably, along Feyenoord’s right side, Clasie’s distribution helped build some nice attacks, with their best move being the Janmaat cross where Schaken saw his close range header stopped by Kiev goal keeper Koval.

 

The price of width

Of course it’s not all sunshine with a change of formation. What Feyenoord won in terms of being able to hold onto possession and exploiting the offensive side of the game, they paid for in defensive terms. Compared to last week, both full-backs were assigned more offensive duties and both Leerdam and Immers made frequent runs from deep to support striker Fernandez.

This resulted in more vulnerability from turnovers, an area which Kiev loved to exploit. Feyenoord was forced to resort to breaking up moves of their opponent early at the cost of a handful of free kicks and an early yellow card for Martins Indi.

 

Kiev’s plan

To qualify for the next round with a 2-1 home victory in the pocket, Kiev manager Semin had to make an important choice. Scoring a single goal would allow his team to nullify two potential Feyenoord goals without being eliminated, but preventing a single Feyenoord goal would see them through regardless.

Like most managers would, Semin set his team out mostly to prevent the opponent from scoring, while hoping to take advantage of the increasing space that Feyenoord would need to give up as time ticked away.

 

All about space

In the second half, Feyenoord gradually increased their offensive intentions, thereby granting Kiev exactly that space they were looking for. The first fifteen minutes went according to the first half picture, with Feyenoord’s best chance against coming from a right wing cross, when Immers’ short range volley found goal keeper Koval on its path.

After the hour mark, Koeman introduced Cabral for Fernandez and Vormer for Janmaat, which essentially switched the formation to a 4-2-4. In later stages, with new signing Singh for Nelom, Feyenoord even went the classic 2-3-5 path, in desperate hope of chasing the goal that would open the door to the next round.

Meanwhile, Feyenoord’s powers faded and players clearly couldn’t pose the amount of pressure needed to win early turnovers in open play. Kiev gained longer spells of possession and their individual player quality helped them construct longer offensive moves. Even without creating significant chances, this prolonged possession reduced an important source of danger: losing balls in your own half.

In a nice sense, these two matches between Feyenoord and Kiev illustrate the concept of space in a football match. Initially, Feyenoord’s cropped 4-4-2 diamond of the first match aimed to reduce space wherever possible, and gradually via the wide 4-3-3 that started today and the 4-2-4 and 2-3-5 that followed in later stages, Feyenoord aimed to increase space as much as possible. A nice parallel between space and balance of needing to score versus needing to contain!

 

In the end

Despite losing twice, Feyenoord only just fell short of defeating Dinamo over two matches. Having had a handful of excellent goal scoring chances in the first half, the score could have just tipped over differently. But, although in longer term, chance conversion tends to even out between teams, in short term competitions like these, there is no room for balance. Feyenoord and Kiev created a comparable amount of shots over two matches, but Kiev simply proved the better finishers, or luckier.

Ajax 2-1 Kiev: midfield changes win the game for Ajax

Ajax beat Kiev 2-1 to advance to the group stages of the Champions League. In a match that, in the end, brought both relief and confidence, Ajax’ common 4-2-3-1 had a tough time against Kiev’s defensive  4-4-2. Jol’s essential midfield adjustments turned the game around, and in a climatic closing ten minutes, Ajax managed to get away with a 2-1 victory.

Last week saw Ajax hold out in Kiev for a 1-1 draw. In that match, Ajax opted to transform their familiar 4-2-3-1 in a lop-sided 4-4-2 formation with left winger Emanuelson playing deep from midfield and right winger Suarez roaming free around central striker El Hamdaoui. Kiev then played their familiar 4-4-2 system where, in the absence of striker Milevski, the second striker role was given to Yarmolenko, coming from the right. Once Ajax succeeded in making penetrating runs through central midfielders de Zeeuw and de Jong, they started creating danger, ending up with a 1-1 score in a match where the 56th minute sending off of Gamash didn’t hurt Ajax either.

Starting line-ups

This time around, despite the fact that the Ukrainian side had to score at least once to progress, Ajax clearly expected Kiev to sit rather deep, looking to create breaks through the individual quality of strikers Shevchenko and, back from injury, Milevski. However, just like in the first leg, Kiev played a quite high defensive line, taking advantage from the lack of pace in Ajax’ attack . And in their defensive 4-4-2 formation, central midfielders Eremenko and Vukojevic played close to the central defenders, effectively limiting the space in Ajax’ beloved central attacking zone.

As said, Ajax’ familiar formation is a 4-2-3-1 with Enoh providing a destroyer role, de Zeeuw a deep passer role and de Jong playing an advanced creator role, using his off-the-ball skills in creating space for himself and his team mates. On the right side, Suarez likes to drift inside, sometimes ending up in a free drifting role, allowing wing back van der Wiel to make his runs on the right flank. The left flank, figuring either Emanuelson, Eriksen or Sulejmani, is intended to provide width, increasing the fashionable space between the opponents right full back and centre back for de Jong and de Zeeuw to run into.

However, against the defensive 4-4-2 that Kiev fielded, Ajax’ 4-2-3-1 did not shine. On one hand, de Zeeuw and Enoh missed an attacking midfielder to aim their defensive game at. On the other hand, de Jong in attacking midfield and Suarez, drifting in from the right, ran into a forest of Kiev defenders with defending midfielders Eremenko and Vukojevic playing close to their defense.

This was very much the problem that Ajax faced during the first half hour of the game. Directly from the kickoff, Ajax had a very low pass completion rate with virtually no ground passes reaching a forward player. Young Danish winger Eriksen had a tough time even in keeping possession and ended up giving the ball away in dangerous areas, thereby providing Kiev exactly the break-out opportunities that they were looking for. This was certainly, in part, due to his inexperience, but the lack of passing opportunities didn’t help him either.

Another defensive weakness was the absence of left back Vurnon Anita. Who’d have thought that sentence would ever fit a review of Ajax when manager Marco van Basten started to convert the fragile midfielder to the left back position? But Anita’s defensive qualities could not have been illustrated better than by playing Emanuelson at left back. He regularly lost control over the smart positioning of Kiev right winger Gusev and Kiev had at least three excellent goal scoring opportunities in the first half hour. Stekelenburg’s outstanding shot-stopping qualities kept Ajax alive in this phase.

While the left back personal problems could not easily be solved during the match, the midfield imbalance could. Nearing the end of the first half, Ajax clearly started playing in four bands (4-2-3-1) instead of three (4-3-3), by increasing the distance between creator de Jong and destroyer Enoh. Passer de Zeeuw was immediately provided with more space and clear back- and forward passing options.

And it was during this phase, a few minutes before half time that Ajax opened the score through a powerful Vertonghen free kick which reminded of his recent effort in the home match against Vitesse. Although the Vitesse free kick was from further out, the pattern of El Hamdaoui and Suarez aiming for the rebound is very similar. This time Kiev keeper Koval, a highly talented 17-year old pushed the ball away, but it was converted in the rebound by Suarez, who illustrated his two-footedness with a tight angle left foot finish.

After half time, the previously described changes to Ajax’ midfield were even more clear. Destroyer Enoh now played a very conservative role close to central defense, which seems much more adept to Kiev’s 4-4-2. If there’s no attacking midfielder or dropping-deep striker to pick up, then why field two controlling defensive midfielders? Passer de Zeeuw was advanced more and more, occupying positions allowing him to reach creator de Jong with ground passes and in the meantime providing a way out for left winger Eriksen, who consequently had a much better game after half time.

Defending midfielders Eremenko and Vukojevic were now confronted with both de Jong and de Zeeuw, and were consequently less able to provide double cover for Suarez’ technical dribbling skills. On the left wing, Jol tried to exploit this situation by bringing Sulejmani for Eriksen, introducing more pace and a natural wide player. Ajax’ second goal was a direct result of this change. Sulejmani’s pace propelled him past right back Silva and his cross was simply tapped in by El Hamdaoui.

Things got tight in the end as Kiev was awarded a harsh penalty, allowing Shevchenko to score a late 2-1. Ajax even introduced the 36-year old André Ooijer to assist in central defense, and succeeded in securing what was proclaimed as “the most important match of the season”. While this may seem true from a financial point of view, the fact that this same comment was released prior to the clash with PAOK makes it all the more likely that there are more ‘most important matches of the season’ yet to come.

In the end we may praise Jol for his tactical adjustments, shifting de Zeeuw into more advanced positions, adjusting for the shortcomings against a defensive 4-4-2. Or we may criticize him for starting out with two defensive midfielders against a formation with no attacking midfielder. Well, whether the glass is half full or half empty, Ajax joins FC Twente in the draw for the Champions League group stages and that is a good thing for Dutch Football.

Ajax getting close to the Champions League…

Match highlights to be found here.

For the first time in six years, former Champions League winner Ajax might just be competing in the lucrative group stage of the centre of European Football. The winners of 1995 had to deal with Ukrainian Dinamo Kiev, who, in contrast to Ajax, competed in these group stage in all of the past four years.

Only hours before the kick-off in Kiev, Ajax’ financial director Jeroen Slop proclaimed that the club “will sell some players in the event of being knocked out of the competition at this stage”. This remarkable statement, contrasting with previous statements saying that Europa League participation was what Ajax’ budget was based on, was immediately corrected by general director Rik van den Boog, stating that the 13 million euro’s that Champions League participation would generate would be “a welcome addition”.

Well, if not for the finances, it would be about time for the club to obtain the highest level of European Football for the fans, having missed out for five years on a row at this stage.

Ajax did not start out with the 4-2-3-1 formation that we’re so familiar with. We’re used to seeing Eyong Enoh, who returned from injury, in a destroyer role beside a passing de Zeeuw. This time however, Enoh occupied a central controlling role, spraying short passes around, completing 27 of his 29 passes . In front of him, Demi de Zeeuw and Siem de Jong, in a rather deep right sided central midfield role, completed the midfield triangle.This meant no clear player in-the-hole for Ajax, a role usually performed by de Jong.

The front three consisted of Emanuelson, who played a deeper left midfield role as the match progressed, and the two true front men Suarez and El Hamdaoui who showed an excellent level of understanding, despite having never played together before, by frequently alternating on the inside right forward and striker positions.

As the match progressed, Ajax’ formation transformed into a lop-sided 4-4-2 with no designated right midfielder, where de Zeeuw and de Jong alternated in picking up left back Goran Popov’s runs. This lop-sided formation provided a lot of space on the left wing, allowing Suarez to frequently drift out here with El Hamdaoui approaching something of a second striker role. This, in turn, opened up space for Ajax to make good use of Gregory van der Wiel’s attacking qualities, using him as a right flank player, more than just a right ful back. This was even more true after Gamash’ 56th minute exclusion. Note the difference in distance covered between Ajax’ left and right full back: 6,5k by Anita and over 10k by Van der Wiel.

Dinamo Kiev started out in a formation that seems best described as a 4-1-4-1, with Eremenko occupying a central controlling role and Yarmolenko playing a deep left sided attacking role. However, as the match progressed, a 4-4-2 seemed more accurate, with Yarmolenko playing off striker Shevchenko.

Kiev opted for a rather high defensive line, looking to put Ajax’ defense under pressure upon possession and succeeded in disrupting their opponents play at least during the first quarter of the match. Particularly industrious midfielder Vukojevic frequently chased the ball, even as far as to keeper Stekelenburg.

Meanwhile, Dinamo Kiev were looking to profit from small errors in Ajax’ unsure defense, where especially Oleguer, surprisingly preferred over Alderweireld, did not show that he was in fact Ajax’ most experienced European Football player.

About halfway through the first half, Ajax had clearly vacated their right wing as shown in the screen below. Van der Wiel started making runs on his beloved right flank and also Demi de Zeeuw and Siem je Jong started taking turns in making penetrating forward runs from midfield. All in all, this resulted in a better spell by Ajax, who, by then, started to dominate possession, even if only slightly (52% v 48%).

Ajax’ best goal-scoring opportunity came after a penetrating de Zeeuw run, moving from midfield past Kiev’s back line and cleverly preventing offside by clearly withdrawing from play at just the right time. Suarez’ ensuing effort was excellently stopped by Kiev’s 17 year old goalkeeper Koval who did just enough to push the ball beside the far post.

After this tactically rather interesting first half, the second half started out rather tame with both teams clearly doubting whether to pursue a goal or to focus on not conceding a goal. This dilemma is as old as two legged matches with the away-goals rule and will shortly see a more scientific approach on 11tegen11.

The match clearly turned when young midfielder Gamash saw his second yellow card for a harsh 56th minute tackle on central defender Jan Vertonghen. That same Vertonghen managed to equalize through a header from this same free kick, suddenly giving Ajax a bright prospect of the desired Champions League group stage.

Ajax brought Sulejmani and later Eriksen after Kiev’s red card, aiming to stretch their attacking play, anticipating on their opponents more and more sitting back. Van der Wiel now definitely played a right sided midfield role, which left a three men defense of Oleguer, Vertonghen and Emanuelson , who moved back a line after Sulejmani’s introduction, up against strikers Shevchenko and Yarmolenko.

But just like in the matches against Groningen, PAOK and Vitesse, Ajax ended up giving another lead away. And again their aerial incompatibility was part of the problem. Oleguer lost a header from a Kiev goal kick while Vertonghen and Emanuelson lacked all sorts of anticipation, leaving Gusev free to break the line and score.

After this goal, Kiev succeeded in defending the 1-1 score, knowing that after their red card this was the optimal result for now. Ajax, meanwhile, looked comfortable enough with a 1-1 away draw, since, as the pundits say, once you score the away goal, you’re good. We’ll see in a week…