Tag Archives: Excelsior

Excelsior 0 – 2 Twente: Decent victory for the champions

Off the back of a demanding away trip to Zenit, Twente managed an important away win to keep the pace set by league leaders PSV, who Twente are trailing by just one point. While away at Excelsior, ten men Ajax drew 2-2 and PSV had the utmost difficulty in winning 3-2 in the final seconds, Twente put in a decent team effort to beat the relegation candidates.


The starting formations

The starting line-ups. Excelsior's dynamic 4-4-2 was hard to capture in formational notations: 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-2-2-2 all covered their line-up at times.

Twente lined up in a 4-3-3 formation where Luuk de Jong played in his preferred striker position in the absence of the injured Mark Janko. Pacy winger Emir Bajrami replaced the long-term injured Ruiz on the right wing this time, keeping Chadli ion his preferred left side. Manager Preud’homme preferred Swedish Rasmus Bengtsson over Onyewu in central defense and 40 year old goalkeeper Boschker, who has even been called up for the national squad again, replaced the slightly injured Mihaylov.

Excelsior missed prolific right-back Daan Bovenberg due to suspension and played Eekman instead. German goalkeeper Pellatz started his third game in a row, keeping former first choice Paauwe on the bench again. Pastoor lined his team up in a very dynamic 4-4-2 formation.


The first half

It may have been a bit more dynamism in Excelsior’s midfield than what was good for them as Twente never really got into trouble early on. Clasie and Koolwijk were the most central of Excelsior’s midfielders, with Roorda on the right and De Graaf on the left often squeezing inside too. This should have brought a 4v3 advantage for Excelsior in the important department that is central midfield.

But Twente simply worked their way around this. All three of Brama, Janssen and Landzaat played very decent games, keeping possession very well and rarely being dragged out of position by Excelsior’s frequent personal switches. Twente started the game in their familiar cautious manner, playing a slow paced game from the back, looking to eventually cross the ball in from either side in the hope of a moment of De Jong brilliance.

Most times, however, Excelsior had been given all sorts of time to organize their defense, so while the actual number  of Twente crosses was quite high, goal scoring chances were quite scarce. The tempo of Twente’s ball circulation was that slow that they always allowed their opponents to organize themselves in defense and crosses swinging into body packed boxes were a frequent sight.

Right-back Rosales frequently appeared in midfield, significantly reducing the potential 4v3 disadvantage in that area. His offensive role was particularly helped by the fact that Excelsior played one advanced central striker, Bergkamp, with Guyon Fernandez in a more dynamic role around him. Fernandez prefers to do so from the right wing, and in turn, Twente’s right-back could venture into midfield at ease.

Near the end of the first half Theo Janssen crowned Twente’s unspectacular, but comfortable control of the game by finishing of a move where for once they moved quickly on a possession turnover in the Excelsior half. Luuk de Jong’s lay-off was the true beauty of this goal, another example of the technical qualities of Twente’s young striker.


The second half

Credits where they belong, manager Pastoor did try to alter the face of the game, but the firm grip that Twente’s excellent midfield three had on the game did never really slip. Excelsior started the second half with a more advanced defensive line and played De Graaf in a more advanced role on the left wing. Despite this offensive intentions, Twente’s ball retention was very good and when out of possession, the title contenders asserted quite effective pressure on their opponents and they did so in a very disciplined team effort fashion.

So despite the playground in midfield shifting some 20 yard back towards Twente’s goal, control of the game was still at the hands of Theo Janssen, Denny Landzaat and Wout Brama in Twente’s midfield.

It was no surprise that Twente increased their lead. Excelsior needed more and more fouls in midfield in order to keep Twente from breaking quickly when they turned over possession. On one of these occasions, centre-back Kaj Ramstein fouled Luuk de Jong in the box and with a penalty and a direct red card given, the game was in fact over. Theo Janssen completed his brace from the penalty spot to crown his, and his fellow midfielder’s, excellent display.

Despite Excelsior making desperate attempt to find and fight their way back into the match, Twente never lost control of their lead. The fact that they could lower their tempo and find some rest quite early in the second half might be welcome in their tired-looking squad.


In the end

A comfortable victory for Twente due to their excellent midfield display, and Rosales who was given the freedom to assist in the potential 4v3 outnumbering. A disciplined team effort in terms of pressure on Excelsior did the job for Twente and Theo Janssen was able to crown his team’s midfield performance with his brace.

Excelsior 0 – 2 Vitesse: Half-time words of wisdom win the game for Vitesse

Seven games into the new season and not a word spent on Vitesse yet in 11tegen11. And yet, in some regards Vitesse has been one of the most dynamic teams so far. Disappointingly, however, this only held true for the off-pitch events so far. A change of ownership last August meant that Vitesse is the first, and so far only, foreign owned club in Holland. Georgian Merab Jordania took over the club, speaking of title challenges within three years and building the club into a stable force in European club football. Not the smallest of ambitions for last year’s number 14 of the Eredivisie, is it?

The Arnhem-based club saw an influx of (mainly loaned) players with the likes of Aissati (Ajax), Rajkovic and Delac (Chelsea) and Barazite (Arsenal) coming in. However, building a team is quite a different story so far and despite all this talent that Vitesse brings to the pitch now, results have so far failed to pick up. New owner Jordania, who is rumoured to be financially supported by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovitsj, only picked up his first points today.

Excelsior, a satellite club to Feyenoord and also from Rotterdam, have had a kick-start to their season. Building upon a solid 4-1-4-1 formation Excelsior already obtained an excellent return of 10 points after six matches, winning all of their three home matches of which the beating of big brother Feyenoord certainly helped building their confidence. Key factor in their ‘plan A’ system is pacy lone striker Guyon Fernandez. Plan B is formed by strong target man Roland Bergkamp who sometimes alternates his midfield position with Fernandez in an attempt to confuse the opponent’s defense.


The starting line-ups

Today, Excelsior had to do without their top scorer Fernandez, who suffers from a two match suspension after violent behaviour in the match against AZ. So, it’s plan B today, playing big man Bergkamp upfront. Another player who deserves to be highlighted on Excelsior’s part is captain Ryan Koolwijk. After only making his debut as a professional football players at the age of 22, the tall and skilled mifielder has grown within three years to Excelsior’s captain and deep-lying playmaker. His influential role on their game is not to be underestimated.

Vitesse tends to line up in a rather regular 4-3-3 formation, although off-pitch developments have not allowed manager Theo Bos to build a team and frequent adaptations to the preferred eleven have been seen. Against Excelsior no less than five players featured in the first eleven who were not part of the pre-season squad, before the Georgian takeover.

Intense Excelsior pressure for fifteen minutes

The match surprisingly started out with intense pressure from the home team. Excelsior pressed Vitesse all over the pitch, not allowing them any space to pass the ball. Aided by having a pitch of the minimum required dimensions, they succeeded in limiting space to the extreme. A telling example of this phase was the fact that their biggest scoring chance arose from their right-back missing a left-back cross close to Vitesse’s goal. However, most teams cannot play this type of pressure game for longer period of time and after 15 minutes Excelsior took a deeper stance, taking up their more familiar 4-1-4-1 shape.

In consequence, possession fell to Vitesse, dominating in this area with 66% during the first half. This was not to say that Excelsior lost their grip on the game, since their game of limiting space to the extreme was played very well by the low-budget home team. Vitesse did not force a single chance, but on the other hand, missing the raw pace of striker Fernandez, Excelsior didn’t create their usual chances from quick breaks. The only exception was formed by a beautiful chip into the penalty area from captain Koolwijk, leading to a situation where left winger Vincken was pulled to the ground. Excelsior should have had a penalty there, but as so often happens, it was a lot easier to spot from a close-up camera shot than from the referee’s point of view.

Half-time changes for Vitesse

Some matches are made to illustrate the importance of a half-time managerial talk and this one can definitely be viewed in that regard. Vitesse manager Bos changed things around, subbing off the disappointing Nilsson and Pluim and introducing the experience of Dejan Stefanovic and the technical skills and pace of Julian Jenner.

Both players set out for an energetic return from the dressing room, as can be said for the entire Vitesse team in the second half. Playing higher up the pitch, inducing more pressure on Excelsior’s midfield, they forced more passing mistakes and looked to capitalize on the subsequent interceptions.

The deserved turn-around


The difference between Vitesse’s first and second half couldn’t have been illustrated better than by Dejan Stefanovic scoring the opening goal from an energetic display of work rate, winning the ball at the edge of Excelsior’s box and taking maximum profit.

After this opening goal, Vitesse started to play like a team with self-confidence and the making of something potentially beautiful could be seen. In part aided by the fact that Excelsior had to give up more space given the 0-1 score, Vitesse’s passes connected much better now. Unlike for the English Premier League, no passing statistics are available in the Eredivisie to quantify this type of statements, so we’ll have to do with this sideline observation here.

Excelsior’s ‘plan B’ falling apart


As mentioned before, big target man Bergkamp forms Excelsior’s ‘plan B’ in the absence of pacy striker Fernandez to use in quick breaks. Unfortunately for manager Pastoor, his ‘plan B’ fell apart too, when Bergkamp had to leave the field injured with over half an hour to play. Lacking squad depth for a serious ‘plan C’, Excelsior only was to be applauded for trying anyway.

With the best developments from a tactical viewpoint now having passed, the best moment of football in this game was yet to come. If you’d just check out one moment of this match, make sure it’s this one. A magnificent strike from Ismail Aissati drove the ball over goalkeeper Paauwe into the Excelsior goal from 35 yards out. After this, Excelsior even forced central defender Van Steensel forward, but it was to no effect. Missing their structure from that point, the match was over by then.

In conclusion


Excelsior shouldn’t take too much from this game. Missing the prime focal point in attack, they were forced to a ‘plan B’ from the beginning, and with Bergkamp leaving the field injured, things started looking quite bleak. Not a surprising fact considering the small stature of the newly promoted club. Their return of ten points from seven matches still forms a solid base to achieve their goal of avoiding relegation.

Regarding Vitesse, we might just have seen the first signs of things to come. In for a turbulent season this year, expectations should best be kept inside until next year. Manager Bos seems more than capable of building a squad from all the loose pieces coming to his disposal recently. And given these mutations, it’s just too early to draw conclusions on their playing style and tactics as yet.

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.

Feyenoord in all sorts of trouble after losing 2-3 at Excelsior…

First off, for those who missed the match, or just want to refresh their memory, here are the match highlights.

There’s not much envy surrounding Mario Been at the moment. The Feyenoord manager, generally known for his humor and his direct approach, sees himself confronted with severe problems on more than one front.

Finances and expectations

First, there’s the well-known abysses that have once been Feyenoord’s bank accounts. The Rotterdam club is by no means the only Dutch Football club with severe financial problems, but is one of four Eredivisie teams to be put under surveillance by the KNVB, the Dutch FA.  The KNVB has imposed a three year deadline for Feyenoord to balance their books, or the club will lose its license.

Then there’s expectations. As pointed out earlier on 11tegen11, Feyenoord’s reasonable fourth place of last season has led to quite some expectations. And upon Mario Been’s return to the club, last summer, he was given an ‘El Salvador’ status, the man that would liberate Feyenoord from the previous dreadful seasons and bring the club back to the traditional top three with Ajax and PSV. Not an easy task, if at all possible, given the severe financial limitations.

Feyenoord’s 4-2-3-1 vs Excelsior’s 4-5-1


And even though the present season is only two games old, Feyenoord managed to lose the one match they wouldn’t want to lose. With the supporters demanding fireworks against city rivals Excelsior, the only firecrackers presented came from the half time dressing room during a clash between former Dutch international left back Tim de Cler and manager Mario Been. This clash must have been so severe that Been proclaimed after the match that he had no other option than to sub the player off, stating that “he would never want to even see him again”.

Excelsior’s game plan

Excelsior started the match in a well-organised 4-5-1 formation, switching to more of a narrow  4-3-3 when in possession. As expected, Feyenoord dominated possession from the beginning of the match, with Excelsior sitting back in their own half, only putting pressure on the Feyenoord players in their own half.

Telltales of the good Excelsior organization were Feyenoord striker Smolov not seeing anything of the ball during the first ten minutes and the first chance of the game being for Excelsior, when striker Guyon Fernandez was played into space. Excelsior displayed smart use of the attacking space given away by Feyenoord’s high defensive line, while at the same time limiting the space given away on their own half.

This defensive plan definitely fits into their plan in a broader sense, as they’ve opted to shrink the pitch to the minimum allowed dimensions upon promotion to the Eredivisie.

Note the potential 3v3 situation on the left side of the pitch

Wasted Feyenoord possession

This screen depicts that even though Feyenoord dominated possession, they never witty enough to create real danger during the beginning of the game. The screen divides the pitch in a left and a right half, showing ‘man-in-the-hole’ Luigi Bruins in possession, surrounded by four Excelsior players. Instead of quickly playing out of trouble and creating a 3 vs 3 attack on the left side of the pitch, Bruins dwells on the ball, ends up losing it and singlehandedly kills of a potentialFeyenoord attack.

Practically no danger was created through the center, with Smolov displaying a lack of movement , never coming deep to get the ball. Excelsior’s fortified centre meant some more space on Feyenoord’s wings, but the delivery of crosses was often too weak to create any danger.

Feyenoord conceded the opening goal in the 29th minute after Guyon Fernandez finished off one of a series of quick breaks from Excelsior, curling the ball into the goal with supreme skill. After this opening goal the same pattern of play was more and more visible: a powerless Feyenoord 4-2-3-1 in possession against a well positioned Excelsior 4-5-1 formation, looking for quick break through the pace of striker Fernandez.

Lack of interchance

What Feyenoord clearly lacked was movement between the lines of defense, midfield and attack. The concept of players switching their lines, moving either forward or backward, temporarily switching position is as old as the sixties and seventies teams of first Valeri Lobanovsky and later Rinus Michels. This interchanging of positions is one of the fundamental aspect of ‘Totaal Voetbal’ that formed the basis of the golden era of Dutch national football in the seventies.

Without this interchanging, Feyenoord’s attacking play looked highly predictable and was always met with a double defensive line by Excelsior, who were not ashamed to dedicate nine players to their defense during Feyenoord’s possession. And understandably even more so, when defending a 1-0 lead.

It was exemplary for Feyenoord’s lack of attacking power that the equalizer had to come from a set play. The first of four corners that was not delivered way too long allowed strong centre back Vlaar to score a good header.

Second half improvements

The second half started out with Smolov in a much more dynamic role, frequently demanding the ball on the left and right flank and immediately becoming the central figure in Feyenoord’s attack. This screen illustrates Smolov coming deep to demand the ball, thereby leaving his striker position for midfielder Fer and attacking midfielder Bruins to run onto. This meant a higher degree of variation in Feyenoord’s attack.

If passing stats like the Guardian Chalkboards were available for the Eredivisie, it would be easy to illustrate this by comparing Smolov’s first and second half passing.

Note Smolov’s deep position and Excelsior’s neat defensive structure

Feyenoord also attempted to put more pressure by positioning controlling midfielders Fer and El Ahmadi higher up the pitch, something which often left Bahia and Vlaar exposed to quick breaks by Excelsior, speculating on striker Fernandez’ pace. The fact that shortly after the half time break both Feyenoord central defenders were already booked further illustrated the limited amount of control they could exert over Excelsior’s style of play.

A thrilling end to the match

Feyenoord took the lead, tellingly, from another corner, this time deflecting of Excelsior defender Bovenberg.  Luckily for the lad, he managed to equalize with a header from yet another free kick, leveling the score at 2-2, inducing scoreline-led pundits to speak of a highly entertaining match.

Literally during the final seconds of the match it was stiker Guyon Fernandez increasing the level of drama even further by outpacing experienced Feyenoord defender Bahia and scoring the 3-2 winner. Guyon Fernandez once again showed himself as the ‘dying- seconds-hero’ of Excelsior. Regular Eredivisie followers most certainly remember his ultimate strike in the promotion-relegation play-off against Sparta, ironically, like Feyenoord and Excelsior, also from Rotterdam.

In the end this match was just about what Feyenoord did not need on the evening of their Europa League play-off match against Belgium outfit Gent next Thursday. Their level of play was below par, mainly due to a lack of positional variance. On a positive note they might stick to the first phase after half time, when Smolov’s role showed some more ‘false-nine’ characteristics, a role that has been explained extremely well in this Jonathan Wilson article.

Unfortunately Smolov was subbed off halfway through the second half for the more static 17-year old Luc Castaignos, and the match returned to its first half pattern with Excelsior claiming the win in the end.