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.
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.
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.