Tag Archives: Feyenoord

Title Contenders By The Numbers – Early Days Edition

Logo_EredivisieWith five matches played, we’ll look at some shot numbers across the Eredivisie Title favorites. Yes, it’s early days, and a lot of this may look different when, after another five matches, team numbers will start to settle at levels closer to their true values. Also, casually, this post will touch on shot quality a lot more than I did in the past. We’ll slowly work to a way of combining shot quality and quantity. An improved TSR, so to say.

 

Struggles

So far, over the first five matches, in terms of points won, each one of Twente, Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord has already had its struggles and none has won more than three matches yet. A look at the numbers will reveal where each team has failed to live up to expectations.

There’s only one team that owns the Eredivisie right now. The Dusan Tadic show that Twente is, dominates in terms of shot creation (123 shots for) and prevention (34 against). By definition, you’ll have the highest Total Shot Rate (TSR) then: 0.783. If you’re still not familiar with football analysis’ most significant stat, let me explain by saying that Twente creates over three times more shots than they concede. A simple plot of each team’s shots for (horizontal axis) and against (vertical axis) will help illustrate just how far ahead of the rest of the pack Twente is: nearly off the chart!

 

So, if Twente owns the Eredivisie, they lead the table, right?

Well, no, or at least, not yet. Oddly enough, Twente had trouble scoring in three of their first five matches, leading to two home draws already, and a 1-0 loss at Vitesse. At least they did win the other two games, to make it a 2-2-1 W-D-L record. Twente’s main problem was clutch scoring: 10 of their 11 goals were scored in the two wins. That will always mess up overall ratings like TSR.

 

Shot Quality

Twente’s struggles to score become apparent when we factor in the quality of the 100+ shots that they created. The inclusion of Eredivisie data in Squakwa.com enables us to collect several shot characteristics that reflect shot quality. Shot location is the most important factor here, but also shots and headers need to be separated, as they have different conversion rates.

Overall, we can stratify Twente’s shots for location and shot type in order to compare against a league wide conversion. The average team would have scored around 9.5% of Twente’s 123 shots. With this shot quality for (SQF) of just 0.105, Twente comes in just 15th. By the way, combining shot quality and frequency, the model expects Twente to score 12.9 goals (0.105 * 123), which is somewhat behind their actual 11 goals scored.

 

Misleading TSR

Behind Twente, it’s the usual suspects that complete the TSR top-3: Ajax (0,591) and PSV (0,578). Ajax, however, is one fine example of a misleading TSR! Their 52 shots conceded comes in 2nd lowest in the Eredivisie, but it’s the quality of conceded shots that is a source for major concern. Of 52 shots conceded by Ajax, a worrying 37 (71.1%) have come from inside the box and of those 37, the majority have come from central inside the box positions!

This all leads to a shot quality against (SQA) that is not even close to any other team in the Eredivisie: 0.155. So, despite coming in second in terms of the raw number of shots conceded, Ajax comes in 10th in terms of Expected Goals conceded (8.1), which ties in nicely with their 8 goals conceded!

 

PSV

PSV also deserve a mention in the shot quality column, but for their poor SQF. With an expected conversion of just 0.077 they rank 17th in terms of offensive Shot Quality. They did, however, hide that by significantly outperforming the model in terms of actual goals scored. Despite an expected 6.5 goals scored in the model, they managed 12 in real life.

This chart shows PSV’s shots and goals. At first glance, it’s not too bad, is it? But beware, the golden balls representing goals will soon start to dry up as too many of their attempts are from outside the box and from wide areas within the box. Yes, they often play compact and tight defenses, but the lack of central zone shooting will cost PSV dearly at some point in the season.

PSV attempted 85 shots, of which 38 (44.7%) were from outside the box. Those shots resulted in two goals, while PSV’s 10 remaining goals were scored with their 47 attempts from inside the box. Another reason for PSV’s poor offensive Shot Quality is the fact that from their shots from inside the box, under a quarter were fired in from nice central zones, and the far majority from lateral shooting positions.

 

Feyenoord

Should we mention Feyenoord here? Well, last season’s number three had certainly hoped to be title contenders this year around, but three losses to open the season have lead to a 2-0-3 record now. Let’s look one layer deeper…

Shots created: 64 (13th), shots conceded 73 (7th), for a TSR of 0.467 (11th). Not good.

Shot quality for: 0.088 (16th, ouch), shot quality against 0.110 (12th, ouch again).

We can factor that into the TSR by looking at Expected Goals scored (5.6) and conceded (8.0), which gives and Expected Goals Ratio of 5.6 / 5.6 + 8.0 = 0.412 (15th).

You still there? Good. For Feyenoord’s 12th place 0.492 TSR would is bad already, but a correction for shot quality drops them down, even to 15th. One small side note: Feyenoord played part of the match against Twente with nine men, which may skew the numbers. A bit.

 

In the end

Of the title contenders Twente, Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord, who had the best start over five matches? This in depth look at the numbers makes a firm case for Twente, as clutch scoring and a disappointing offensive shots quality are better problems to have than what the other teams are dealing with. Also, what Twente lack in terms of offensive shot quality, they make up for in terms of raw numbers with over 20 shots created per match.

Ajax have a horribly high quality of shots against, which explains their high amount of goals conceded (8 in 5 matches, versus 31 in 34 matches over last season). PSV have the reverse problem: a very disappointing shot quality for, but for the moment it is concealed behind an impossible conversion rate of nearly twice the model’s expectations. Feyenoord are mainly mentioned here for last year’s 3rd place finish, as their numbers indicate mid-table quality so far. Sure, they will regress to their true level a bit, but their disappointing opening is down to more than just bad luck.

 

TSR = Total Shots Rate

SQF = Shot Quality For

SQA = Shot Quality Against

 

data: squawka.com

Feyenoord 2 – 2 Ajax: An action packed ‘Klassieker’

A Feyenoord academy graduate scoring the opening goal on his debut, two come-back goals, tactical tweaks, a sending off and a late golazo to equalize the score in the final minutes… Some matches just have it all. This year’s edition of ‘the Classic’ Feyenoord – Ajax was an action-packed affair.

 

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups.

Playing without the injured Schaken, Cissé and Goossens, Ronald Koeman opted to start academy graduate Jean-Paul Boëtius in the left wing. In earlier matches this season, Koeman had opted for a 4-4-2 in the absence of several offensive players, but against Ajax he would have wanted a broad screen of pressure that the rather flat nature of a 4-4-2 could never have offered.

 

Ajax’ new found 4-3-3

Unchanged in comparison to the win over Manchester City, just a few days earlier, Ajax fielded Christian Eriksen in a deep-lying striker role and kept captain Siem de Jong in midfield. Tobias Sana was again preferred over Derk Boerrigter.

 

Pressure and a false nine

The story of the first part of the game definitely evolved around the principle of applying the right amount of pressure. We’ve seen in the Ajax vs Manchester City match that when allowed the space to build from the back, Ajax can be difficult to play against. City’s narrow 4-2-3-1 allowed Ajax easy ways out from under the central pressure and both full-backs showed their on-the-ball skills.

Just like Ajax’ earlier Eredivisie opponent’s have generally tried to do this season, Koeman made it clear that he demanded early pressure from his team. With their three men up front they pressured Ajax’ back line, and work horse Lex Immers was ever close to prevent Ajax from circulating the ball through Poulsen in central midfield.

The problems for Feyenoord early in the game arose from those instances where Ajax somehow found a way around the first line of pressure and succeeded in finding midfield players De Jong and Schöne. With Eriksen playing the false nine role, Ajax could overload the area just in front of the central defenders that is normally covered by the holding midfielder in a 4-3-3, Jordy Clasie in this case. However, Clasie was overloaded by the presence of Eriksen and the nominal two offensive Ajax midfielders De Jong and Schöne. Meanwhile, Babel and Sana took turns to fill in the central offensive zone, which in turn offered space on the wings for Ajax’ full-backs to advance into.

Theoretically, Feyenoord had two options to dealing with this situation. They could withdraw one of the central midfielders to about the level of Clasie and protect the back four with a double pivot. This would deny Eriksen the playing space that he would need to exert any danger, but it would also limit Feyenoord’s power to press Ajax early on.

The other solution would be to have one of the central defenders step out of the back line and track Eriksen in deeper positions. However, this would allow Ajax the chance to try and exploit holes in what would then temporarily become a back three. Think of overlapping runs from midfield, like the opening goal that Schöne scored against Heracles last week, or inside forward runs by Babel from the left wing.

Initially, Feyenoord failed to apply any of these solutions and they paid the price on Eriksen’s opening goal. The Danish youngster used his ambidexterity very well in controlling the ball while running at high speed and finished off a move where his deep position allowed him the space to run at De Vrij. Later on in the game, De Vrij would follow Eriksen deeper into the midfield and this false nine phenomenon was much less of an advantage to Ajax.

 

Feyenoord’s direct game

With Ajax’ false nine granting them an extra man in central midfield, Feyenoord’s reply was a very direct passing game that involved Graziano Pellè in an important role as target man striker. The physically strong Italian proved difficult to play for Alderweireld and Moisander, with the latter even on the receiving end of a (softly given) second yellow card late in the second half. After the early opening goal, Feyenoord involved their full-backs much better, and found ways to play either lateral from Ajax’ packed central midfield, or just plain over it, directly seeking target man Pellè.

The first half equalizing goal was scored by 18-year old Dutch Under-19 international Jean-Paul Boëtius, who finished off a Wesley Verhoek that Lex Immers should have placed in the back of the net already. Another slight tweak that gave Feyenoord more options was that they played slightly deeper in possession, opening up more space for Clasie to work in.

 

The second half

The line-ups just before Feyenoord’s second equalizer.

Only minutes into the second half, Ajax scored from an indirect free-kick, as Siem de Jong connected on Eriksen’s cross. This started a period of patient possession play by Ajax, who looked to waste time in a perfectly allowed way, while Feyenoord increased their urgency with an even more direct approach.

The turning point of the second half was definitely the sending off of Moisander. Although this particular card was given quite easily, the Finish international already has a track record of receiving one yellow card per four to five Eredivisie games, totaling between 6 and 7 over the past seasons. Moisander already seemed firmly on track with four cards in Ajax’ first six Eredivisie matches of the present season.

Feyenoord switched to a 3-4-3 formation, with Achahbar for Mathijsen and De Boer replied by going 4-4-1, hoping to soak up the pressure. Mitchell Dijks completed the back four, with Schöne out, Babel up front and Eriksen pulled back to midfield.

Encircling Ajax under intense pressure, Feyenoord got the equalizer that their 11v10 dominance deserved. Graziano Pellè, who had been playing to set his team mates up all ninety minutes so far, took control of a cross from an indirect free-kick and scored a true golazo by firing in the volley on the turn, leaving Vermeer without a chance.

 

In the end

An action packed affair, that’s what this year’s first edition of the ‘Klassieker’ was. Initially, Ajax looked to take full advantage of their false-nine striker, but later on Feyenoord dealt much better with this challenge. The two sides looked very different in terms of style, with Ajax playing their typical controlled passing game, firmly taking hold of the centre of the pitch, and Feyenoord playing very direct, making use of the wide areas and fully exploiting the qualities that striker Pellè offers them. A draw should be counted a fair result as Ajax conceding two equalizers in two consecutive Eredivisie matches.

Last season, Ajax took 34 single goal leads, of which only 7 (21%) were defended unsuccessfully. This season, to date, Ajax has taken 12 single goal leads, of which 6 (50%) were defended unsuccessfully. Small numbers, but still, there may be something in it…

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.

Why taking up the PSV or Groningen vacancy is a good idea, and the Heerenveen job is not…

With the regular matches of the 2011-12 Eredivisie season over, and only the promotion/relegation play-offs and the Europa League qualifier play-offs still in contention, several teams are either appointing or releasing managers right now. Groningen fired Pieter Huistra, whose contract they renewed as recently as during the past winter break. Veteran manager Dick Advocaat took up the PSV job, after Philip Cocu indeed proved to be just an interim solution for the job vacancy after Rutten quit. Ron Jans announced his departure from Heerenveen earlier this season, with Marco van Basten returning to a managing job here.

This post will outline why the first two jobs, at Groningen and PSV, are excellent opportunities, while the Heerenveen job is a pitfall. The same parameter that was introduced recently to differentiate between sustainable and unsustainable performance at club level, PDO, is used again here. For a full description of PDO, read the introductory post, written a few weeks ago.

 

PDO from season to season

The key concept for this post is the fact that PDO has an enormous influence on a team’s performance throughout a single match and also over the course of a single season. This becomes clear when we look at two teams with very different PDO’s in the 2010-11 and the 2011-12 season. However, PDO fluctuates a lot from match to match and from season to season, as has been demonstrated before by James Grayson on his excellent blog in a much larger data set than the two Eredivisie season that I have available here.

By now it’s very much clear that last year’s over-performers, Groningen had a terrible run this year, leading to the sacking of their manager, Pieter Huistra. Groningen’s PDO dropped dramatically, coming from 1045 and 2nd best in the league and finishing the 2011-12 season at a dramatic PDO of 936, the worst in the league at some distance. The best example of the reverse trend is Feyenoord. Their PDO last year was 988, not dramatic, but still indicating that the team had more quality than their 10th place in the 2010-11 league table represented. Feyenoord’s 2011-12 PDO is 49 points higher at 1037 and they finished the season in a much improved 2nd spot in the table.

PDO data from all clubs over the past two seasons are presented in the next table. Note that this table only contains 17 clubs, as there was one promotion/relegation in between these seasons.

PDO

2010-11 2011-12
Ajax

1031

1026

AZ Alkmaar

995

1026

Den Haag

1050

976

Excelsior

977

968

Feyenoord

988

1037

Graafschap

974

963

Groningen

1045

936

Heerenveen

1019

1057

Heracles

997

977

NAC Breda

1018

996

Nijmegen

1027

980

PSV Eindhoven

1019

978

Roda

1042

1019

Twente

1014

1038

Utrecht

1013

1010

Vitesse

970

1005

VVV Venlo

935

982

 

A quick mind will have noted that there is no correlation between both seasons. In other words, a high (or low) PDO in one year indicated nothing about the level of PDO in the next year. This is well illustrated in the next graph, depicting both seasons in a scatter plot. Note the flat trend line with a near-zero correlation coefficient.

 

 Now, what does this mean? Coming off a low-PDO season, things can only get better at clubs like PSV and Groningen, while teams like Feyenoord, Twente and particularly Heerenveen, who come off extremely positive PDO’s are in for a disappointing year.

Good luck, Marco!

 

Data: Infostrada Sports

Twente 0 – 2 Feyenoord: Title hopes dented by Feyenoord midfield

Only two weeks after their magnificent 6-2 away win over PSV, Twente went into this match a hurt team. Coming off an Eredivisie loss against N.E.C. and a painful 4-1 Europa League loss at Schalke, Steve McClaren’s team stumbled to a third consecutive loss at the hands of a well organized Feyenoord side.

 

Twente’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups. Note that Feyenoord's wingers frequently switched flanks in order to improve their ball retention and offensive efficiency.

Twente missed both of their experienced centre-backs Douglas and Wisgerhof in this match, and young Nils Röseler paired stand-in centre-back Rasmus Bengtsson to make his first Eredivisie start. Furthermore, goal keeper Nikolay Mihaylov wasn’t fit enough to start, giving veteran Sander Boschker his first competitive match in over six months time. Veteran full-back Tim Cornelisse replaced Roberto Rosales at right-back.

In formational terms, their 4-3-3 is undisputed. Today McClaren opted for inverted wingers, with Nacer Chadli on the left wing, and Ola John playing right. With offensive full-backs and overlapping central midfielders, Twente’s lone striker Luuk de Jong should theoretically be provided enough support.

 

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3

Playing the same formation as Twente, Feyenoord gave it more defensive outlook. Particularly their central midfield was primarily aimed at frustrating their opponents and winning possession, rather than providing overlapping runs themselves. In personal terms, 17-year old Tonny Vilhena made his debut, playing alongside Karim El Ahmadi with holding midfielder Jordy Clasie behind them. In defense, Nelom missed out, so Bruno Martins Indi featured at left-back.

 

The first half

The game started with Twente dominating possession as high as 70% over the first fifteen minutes, but this hardly meant any danger for Feyenoord’s compact lines. Most of Twente’s possession was in their own half and Feyenoord seemed more than happy to allow that to happen. Gradually, though, Feyenoord’s midfield started to raise the pressure on Twente and it was this tactical battle that formed one of the highlights of this attractive match.

What followed was a practical battle where Feyenoord tried to apply pressure on their opponents and Twente aiming to apply their superior technical skills in playing around it. This phase of the game was certainly not about creating goal scoring chances, but merely about gaining the upper hand going into the later stages of the game.

Should Twente succeed in maintaining possession dominance as high as their 70% of the initial fifteen minutes, then Feyenoord would sooner or later run out of gas, having to press for two-thirds of the playing time. However, should Feyenoord obtain some success with their demanding out-of-possession playing style, they would have all sorts of space to create danger with early turnovers. Compare this to their performance against Ajax, whom they defeated with an excellent out-of-possession tactic.

While initially it looked like Twente would win this battle and play around Feyenoord’s midfield, near the end of the first half this proved quite different. Twente’s midfield passing became unusually sloppy, a least partly as a result of Feyenoord’s excellent work in midfield. Feyenoord’s main problem in this first half was the substandard ball retention by their wingers.

Most of their turnovers were circulated to one of Schaken and Cabral, but both wingers lost possession a lot and this didn’t help the possession versus pressure battle that was going on. Koeman could be seen to instruct his wingers to switch flanks more than once, but this didn’t solve the problem. However, going into the break, Feyenoord dominated the amount of shots created 6-3 over Twente.

 

The second half

Only a few minutes into the second half, Feyenoord was rewarded for slowly gaining the upper hand in the aforementioned tactical battle. One of many misplaced passes in Twente’s midfield, by Chadli this time, opened up the opportunity of Feyenoord to counter quickly over the left wing, where Jerson Cabral clearly outpaced Tim Cornelisse. His cross was unintentionally met by the heads of both Twente centre-back, leading to a rather (un )lucky opening goal.

Now sitting on a 1-0 lead, Feyenoord’s attitude towards the pressure-possession game altered somewhat. Their game seemed more aimed at controlling possession and their defensive four started seeing more of the ball.

Of course, Twente tried to launch an offensive with over thirty minutes to play, but generally, their midfield passing was not up to standard. Both inverted wingers were directed closer to striker Luuk de Jong, whose target man qualities were more and more searched with hopeful direct high balls. Twente’s best chance to level the score came through one of these early high balls, flicked on by de Jong, but Chadli saw Feyenoord goal keeper Mulder save excellently with his left foot.

Feyenoord’s control of the game was illustrated by their share of possession increasing after their opening goal. They finished the game with a 49% share of possession and 322 passes, 120 of which were made in the final thirty minutes. This shows Twente’s failings at pressuring Feyenoord, as a well executed home team offense would have lead to less Feyenoord possession and certainly less passes executed.

Substitute striker Cissé put the win beyond doubt by scoring Feyenoord’s second goal. By that time McClaren had depleted his defense in an ultimate attempt to level the score.

To no surprise, all three of Feyenoord’s midfielders formed the top-3 in their public Man of the Match vote, carried out on Sidekick, the recently launched app by Eredivisie Live. Rising star Jordy Clasie pulled the strings in midfield and was named MotM in the end.

 

In the end

Feyenoord won the crucial battle that took place around the 15th to 30th minute. Initially, Twente dominated possession this much that Feyenoord could never have maintained their level of pressure for the full ninety minutes. By the looks of Twente’s patient approach to the opening phase of the game it seems that they aimed to overcome a tired opponent in the second half.

But since Feyenoord forced Twente’s midfield into sloppy passing by their standards, the opportunities for the away side to open the score started to arise near the end of the first half. And come the second half Feyenoord needed only a few minutes, and admittedly, a lucky deflected own goal, to take the lead.

In the final half hour, Twente seemed unable to adequately pressure Feyenoord, as was illustrated by the broad possession and passing stats. All in all, the result seems a fair reward for Feyenoord’s performance, with the midfield three of El Ahmadi, young Vilhena and MotM Clasie particularly on song.

Feyenoord 4 – 2 Ajax: Playing to win beats playing for possession

Fans enjoying the Eredivisie for action packed high-scoring games were well served, as Feyenoord came back after conceding the opening goal, to win the match 4-2. A hat-trick by Manchester City loanee John Guidetti and a superb midfield performance by Jordy Clasie guided the Rotterdam side past their fierce rivals, who once again paired ineffective possession with weak defending.

 

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

Up until the final day it remained doubtful whether John Guidetti had recovered from his illness over the past week and was fit enough to start. Well, fit enough he was, as his superb conversion in this match showed. Feyenoord lacked Stefan de Vrij in central defense, though he made a return from injury in the final minutes of the game. Bruno Martins Indi partnered captain Ron Vlaar here.
In midfield, Kelvin Leerdam completed the midfield three of Clasie and Bakkal to replace Karim El Ahmadi, who plays in the African Cup of Nations. Kamohelo Mokotjo played a makeshift right-back role.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3

The fact that Ajax was without long-term injured players like Sigthorsson, Boerrigter, and Boilesen is hardly news anymore, and today also centre-back Toby Alderweireld and right-back Gregory van der Wiel missed out. Ricardo van Rhijn played beside Jan Vertonghen, while Ajax’ left side was composed of Daley Blind at left-back and Lorenzo Ebecilio at the wing.

 

Up to the opening goal

Ajax simply was the dominant team during the first third of the match. Feyenoord allowed them to circulate the ball quite easily and surprisingly refrained from pressing Ajax high up the pitch. Ajax deployed their full-backs quite high up the pitch, even by their standards, with Enoh dropping in between the wide-spread centre backs.

With Feyenoord refraining from aggressive pressure far up the pitch, they had a numerical advantage in midfield, as their wingers tucked in well here. Ajax did indeed control most of the possession, but as this was mainly in their own half, not much came from it. Somehow Frank de Boer rates possession this highly that his team seems more content to cherish the ball near their own goal than to take the game to their opponents, at the expense of some quicker turnovers.

A simply equation in football could be that possession near your own goal plus pressure by the opponent equals turnovers in a dangerous area. And these own half turnovers kept on appearing, either as a result of some moments of Feyenoord pressure, or of simple passes going astray in Ajax defense and defensive midfield zone. While Ajax created some long distance shots with their long possession spells, Feyenoord’s breaks posed more of a goal scoring danger. Simple passes into the feet of Feyenoord players (van Rhijn), or conceding in your own half under pressure of a man-marker (Ebecilio) are just not things that should occur more than once a match. However, at Ajax, own half turnovers almost seem part of their routine, and they would go on to pay for it during the remainder of the game.

The difference between the value of possession in longer spells and the value of possession on quick breaks and turnovers was well illustrated in the opening goal. While Ajax’ long spells hardly created any danger, their opening goal results from a lightning quick counter that was initiated from a cleared Feyenoord corner.

 

Role reversal

As so often is the case, the score line dictates possession of the ball. And this match was an exaggerated example of the team leading the score conceding possession to the team chasing the equalizer. Ajax retreated relatively deep, while Feyenoord dominated possession. Knowing that to allow Ajax possession of the ball would grant them an easy time defending the lead, Feyenoord advanced their stance and started dominating, particularly down their right wing. Ruben Schaken had the better of Daley Blind on more than one occasion, and the far majority of Feyenoord’s crosses flew in from that side.

 

Feyenoord goals

Admittedly, the John Guidetti penalty that led to the equalizer was a cheap one, and a game changing event at the same time, but Ajax should never have allowed that one event to have such an impact on their game, while Feyenoord deserves credit for grabbing the initiative upon going a goal down and firmly holding onto it while the score was level again. One of the moments Ajax should look back on, just as much as they should on the penalty incident, is the one-on-one opportunity where Ebecilio wasted the chance to exploit Nelom’s error. A second Ajax goal at that point in the game would have made their victory quite likely.

Feyenoord’s second goal was scored from a direct free kick, conceded in a highly dangerous area of the pitch by Enoh. Jordy Clasie’s delivery was excellent and Guidetti scored a rebound from close range. However, some light can be shed on the highly undesirable trend of offensive players deliberately blocking defenders to allow their team mate a free chance. Just replay the second goal and note Mokotjo’s intentional block on Vertonghen. Hard to spot, yet important to erase from the game…

Feyenoord effectively won the game with their third goal, when Vurnon Anita lost an unnecessary high tackle on Guyon Fernandez and the Feyenoord winger found Otman Bakkal who slotted home in the far corner. Don’t miss Blind’s role on this goal, as the Ajax left-back is found marking some air in behind his own defensive line, thereby playing Bakkal onside and ruining his team’s offside trap.

 

The closing stages

At the hour mark, De Boer threw on the attackers in hope of chasing Feyenoord’s goal. As a result, the game became very much end-to-end and chances were found at either goal. First, Ajax capitalized on an error by Feyenoord goal keeper Erwin Mulder, who allowed Bulykin to block his clearance, only for the ball to find the net of the empty goal. But Ajax newly installed hope was very short-lived, as another right wing attack by Feyenoord allowed Guidetti to complete his hat-trick to settle the final score at 4-2.

 

In the end

Football is a complicated game in the fact that it involves a continuous flow of the game, with twenty-two players and a ball in motion. But let’s not overcomplicate in analyzing it. If you own a lot of the ball in your own half, you’re probably going to lose some of those balls on your own half too. The balance between aiming for possession and avoiding dangerous turnovers is something where Ajax need to improve. Playing as they prefer right now, will allow opponents the better chances, arising from quick breaks, while their own long spells of possession will find well organized defenses, resulting in very ineffective play. The fact that both Ajax goals today were scored seconds after turnovers may help Frank De Boer to awake from his possession obsession.

Feyenoord, as the winners of this game, deserve a lot of credit for the way they came back after the opening goal. They dominated Ajax weaker left wing, an area that seemed deliberately targeted by Koeman. John Guidetti’s performance in a match that was broadcast worldwide will do the City loanee a lot of good. Meanwhile, the true man-of-the-match would still be Jordy Clasie, who rapidly develops into one of the Eredivisie’s most all-round central midfielders.

ADO 2 – 2 Feyenoord: Another lead given away by Feyenoord

High-flying ADO went into this match with high expectations. A home win over troubled Feyenoord would  strengthen their fifth place in the Eredivisie, which would probably be enough to guarantee Europa League football next year. That is, if either Ajax or Twente will go on to win the Dutch Cup over fellow semi-finalists RKC and Utrecht. Unexpectedly, ADO went 2-0 down before half-time, only to snatch a draw with two goals within the final ten minutes. Feyenoord let a win slip for the third time in the past four matches.

 

Two similar 4-3-3’s

The starting line-ups

Most times when two teams with similar formation play each other, a fierce tactical battle is hardly to be expected. And indeed, both teams played a fairly similar 4-3-3 system, deploying wide wingers, looking to cross balls into the box. As can be seen from the starting line-ups diagram, most players face a direct opponent, rather than a zone with different opponents appearing now and then. Both teams full-backs clearly face a wide winger and the two midfields look like inversed mirror images. Feyenoord’s midfield is slightly more on the conservative side with both Meeuwis and Leerdam being naturally more inclined to defend than to attack, while ADO fields two more attacking minded players in Immers, who is capable of playing a decent striker role at times, and Toornstra, who provided two goals and two assists in ADO past five matches.

And these similarities are exactly where both managers tried to unsettle their opponents too. A potential weakness in most 4-3-3’s is the single holding midfielder who can be overloaded in several different ways. The Anderlecht – Ajax game showed two different ways of trying to unsettle the opponents single holding midfielder. Anderlecht had their attacking midfielder deploying an unlimited amount of positional freedom, hoping to drag Ajax’ holding midfielder out of position. Ajax tried a different option by regularly dropping striker El Hamdaoui beside attacking midfielder Eriksen into the midfield in a false nine role, overloading Anderlecht’s holding midfielder. In this match no clear attempt to dislodge either Radosavljevic or Meeuwis could be seen, until Van den Brom altered his formation when chasing a two goal lead.

 

The first half

The opening phase was clearly dominated by ADO as the similar formations meant that a lot of play developed on both wings with the two midfields more or less cancelling each other out conceding a huge number of fouls in the process. And as Verhoek and Kubik clearly had the better of De Cler and Swerts, who both played a weak game, ADO dominated the game. After the first fifteen minutes, Feyenoord managed to involve Miyaichi more in their game and they started developing some chances themselves too, most of them created by the Japanese dibbler himself.

 

Curiously, there was a clear difference regarding ADO’s defensive strategy versus Feyenoord’s wingers. On ADO’s left side of defense the full-back was consistently helped out by the left centre-back, Leeuwin, moving over to provide cover, with Derijck covering lone striker Castaignos. This worked very well, as Biseswar hardly posed any attacking threat during the first half at all. On ADO’s right side of defense, Derijck hardly moved over to cover his full-back, Ammi, and left this task to midfielder Toornstra, who had a lot of ground to cover because of this. Feyenoord could have taken more advantage by having either Wijnaldum or Castaignos preferentially drift out to the left side, looking to outnumber ADO on this tactically weaker flank.

Despite ADO having the better of their opponents during most of the first half, an out-of-the-blue goal by Castaignos put Feyenoord ahead. The talented youngster who will move to Inter during the next summer transfer window in a 6.5m deal, was played in behind ADO’s defensive line and finished the move with a beautiful lob. A close range finish from a corner shortly hereafter even meant a brace for the 18-year old as he put Feyenoord 2-0 up before half time.

 

Second half changes

Instead of being able to make some offensive changes, ADO manager Van den Brom was forced into two injury-substitutions first. His entire left flank, that was quite dominant in the first half, had to be replaced within a few minutes. First left-back Mitchell Piqué was unable to start the second half and he was replaced by Kum. Then a few minutes later pacy left winger Frantisek Kubik twisted his ankle and young Charlton Vicento was brought on.

The only notable tactical change at this time was ADO’s choice to play split wingers in the second half, moving Verhoek to the left wing and playing Vicento on the right wing. On top of that, Wesley Verhoek was given more freedom to drift inside, roaming behind striker Bulykin at times.

Up until the 70th minute Feyenoord was able to hold on quite comfortably, even being close to a third Castaignos goal as the striker hit the post on a quick counter break. Van den Brom’s decision to bring midfielder Visser for defender Leeuwin proved a game-altering move. Playing a 3-4-3 formation from that moment on, ADO dominated the game in midfield, albeit at the cost of a handful of Feyenoord breaks because of the one-on-one defense. Central midfielders Immers and Toornstra took turns in joining Bulykin up front and Feyenoord’s central defense had their hands full with the two of them appearing there.

Just like Roda manager Van Veldhoven in the game against Ajax a week before, Van den Brom saw his courageous move rewarded with a come-back. With ADO now dominating the midfield, they started overloading Feyenoord’s box and were regularly able to place three attackers within the box for the arriving crosses. ADO’s midfield dominance was well illustrated in the build-up to their first goal as Immers drew De Vrij from his defensive line with Feyenoord’s midfielders already occupied with ADO’s other midfielders. Immers found Vicento on the edge of the area and a powerful shot ensured the first ADO goal.

Despite the clear midfield problems, Feyenoord manager Been did not reply well. He brought Fer for Wijnaldum, a clear one-on-one substitution that did not alter their system, so did not alter their problems. Instead of removing one of the three strikers, who all made a rather tired impression anyway, he chose to replace Meeuwis, by that time Feyenoord’s anchor man in midfield, with a more technical attack minded player, Luigi Bruins.

Feyenoord ultimately paid the price as a move involving quick passes of all three starting ADO midfielders Radosavljevic, Immers and Toornstra ended with a cross for Bulykin who fired in the 2-2. The Den Haag cult hero celebrated by making a ‘stork’ pose, a celebration requested by ADO fans earlier that week.

Bulykin's stork celebration

In the end

Feyenoord managed to give another lead away by conceding in later stages of a game. While an element of luck may be needed to win games like these, the tactical problems during the final fifteen minutes of the game, after ADO went 3-4-3, cannot be ignored. Been’s substitutions did not illustrate any attempt to tackle this issue as he left three strikers on the pitch and ultimately paid the price for it.

Vitesse 1 –1 Feyenoord: By all means no winners here

The teams ranked 14 and 15 in the Eredivisie before the kick-off went into this game knowing that, after wins by both Excelsior and VVV, a loss today would bring them close to the relegation play-offs. Unfortunately this insecurity shone through the start of the match with both teams clearly lacking confidence.

 

Vitesse: under construction

Georgian owned Vitesse is very much a team under construction. No less than fourteen players already made their debuts for the club this season, understandably leading to a lack of regular patterns of play. In his first managing job Albert Ferrer deserves some time to build his team, but at present results are needed even to stay clear of the relegation play-off places.

The starting line-ups. Note both 4-3-3's effectively cancelling each other other out, particularly in their midfield line-ups.

Today Vitesse went with a clear 4-3-3 formation, initially playing with a rather flat and closely grouped midfield, protecting a rather conservative flat back four. Defensive stability dominated over attacking power and lone striker Marco van Ginkel, a natural midfielder of just 18 years old, lacked support upfront. Vitesse missed their 4m euro striker Wilfried Bony who is not fit enough to play yet, but the prospect of having a striker who scored a goal every 128 minutes during the first half of the season at Sparta Prague should install some hope in those supporting Vitesse.

On the right wing Haruna Babangida, one of Vitesse’s recent acquisitions, played an outside pacy winger role while on the left wing Ismael Aissati played the trendy wide playmaker role that was recently depicted by Zonal Marking.

 

Troubled Feyenoord

Mario Been’s Feyenoord consequently plays a, outside wingers 4-3-3 system. Castaignos features in the lone striker role, today supported by wingers Biseswar and Ryo Miyaichi, the latter making his Feyenoord debut after being loaned from Arsenal. The talented 18 year old Japanese winger is a pacy dribbler with great acceleration who will hope to gain first team experience from this loan move. He is one of no less than four teenagers in today’s Feyenoord starting eleven with De Vrij, Martins Indi and Castaignos being the other three.

Feyenoord’s midfield sees another player making his debut as Marcel Meeuwis, loaned from German side Borussia Mönchengladbach is brought in the physically strengthen the midfield and hopefully install some stability there.

 

The first half

The pressure on both teams was very much clear right from the start of the game. Both teams looked happy enough to hold onto possession even in their own halves and both three men midfields effectively cancelling each other out meant that both sets of centre-backs resorted to quite some desperate balls over the top.

Feyenoord’s strikers Castaignos hardly got a touch of the ball in the first twenty minutes and he lacked all sorts of support with the midfielders more occupied with their defensive duties than making runs from deep. In addition to that, the distance from the wide wingers to the striker added to the isolated role up front. Unfortunately youngster Castaignos does not possess the physical strength at present to battle it out on his own against the likes of Kashia and particularly the physical presence of Rajkovic.

 

Vitesse played a teenager up front too as Marko van Ginkel featured in the striker role, preferred over topscorer (albeit with only four goals) Pedersen, who scored all his goals coming from the bench. Van Ginkel suffered from comparable problems as his counterpart Castaignos and he was by and large anonymous in the first part of the game too.

Twenty minutes into the match both managers started making their first tweaks to the teams. Mario Been instructed wingers Biseswar and Miyachi to switch flanks and immediately a handful of right-sided crosses came in from Biseswar. On the left flank Miyachi made some impressive pacy dribbles, but his crosses did not quite connect. Vitesse’s manager Albert Ferrer improved his striker’s support by having Aissati drifting inside in something approaching a free playmaking role from the left wing. In turn, this created space for Vitesse’s Japanse full-back Yasuda to exploit his attacking skills.

In spite of this, the first half panned out with just one Vitesse chance created as Matic played a delightful ball in behind Feyenoord’s backline only for Babangida to waste the one-on-one chance.

 

Second half changes

Despite again setting out in 4-3-3, Feyenoord’s playing style was definitely different in the second half. Biseswar played more of an inside winger role, lending support to Castaignos and creating space for right-back Swerts to make some runs. Furthermore, Wijnaldum started making some well-timed runs from deep, at one time to be on the end of an excellent one touch Castaignos cross where his tap-in was blocked by Vitesse keeper Room.

With both teams realizing that a draw would help them no further, chances started arising and the game got more of an end-to-end character. And shortly after Vitesse missed another excellent chance, Castaignos got free of his marker to finish a Biseswar cross to give Feyenoord the lead. Their advantage was short-lived though as a clumsy foul by Swerts on Van Ginkel meant an opportunity for Aissati to score from the penalty spot.

With the score now 1-1, both teams certainly played for the win. Both Vitesse’s full-backs lent a lot of support to the wingers and midfielders Matic and Riverola moved higher up the pitch too. Feyenoord switched to a 4-2-3-1 for the final fifteen minutes of the game, introducing tall striker Larsen for winger Biseswar and moving Wijnaldum to the right wing. Castaignos played in the hole behind target man Larsen.

 

In the end

Despite the attacking intent from both sides, the match finished with a 1-1 score line, but in truth both teams could easily have snatched victory in a closely matched end-to-end final ten minutes of the game. Tactically this was never the most entertaining of matches as both 4-3-3’s effectively cancelled each other out, but the tight battle and both teams desperation to win three points in the face of relegation play-offs made up for it. This draw does certainly not help Vitesse nor Feyenoord as both teams have just a three and two point margin to the relegation play-off places now, making Feyenoord’s next match, at home against Heracles another must-win game.

Feyenoord 3 – 0 VVV: Midfield problems frustrating Feyenoord…

Feyenoord managed to recover from their historical 10-0 defeat at the hands of PSV last weekend. At least in the sense that they managed to get the three points playing VVV at home. Despite this positive result, their performance did not provide the sparks of light that may have been hoped for.

Feyenoord

Feyenoord’s formation has been described merely as a 4-3-3 before and despite all that’s been happening at the club recently, Mario Been is not one to change his tactical plan. His Feyenoord play a rather flat back four with only left-back De Cler getting involved on the flank at times. The midfield triangle against was composed of Mokotjo, El Ahmadi and Bruins, in decreasing order of defensive responsibilities. All three midfield players tend to change positions quite frequently, which could have worked well in a settled team, but to the current Feyenoord team it seems to add to the instability that characterizes the team.

The starting line-ups

VVV

VVV’s season has not been covered in glory either. Managing just two wins and losing all other eight matches going into this match, Jan van Dijk’s side are ranked 17th and the fear of relegation starts to appear. They operate a 4-3-3 / 4-5-1 system in their home matches, but tend to go for a more stable 4-2-3-1 in away matches, as they did today too.

Hesitating

The opening phase was definitely proof of the fear that had settled in both teams. VVV refrained from pressing Feyenoord, except from deep in their own half and Feyenoord did not succeed in stringing a few passes together in their opponent’s half. Despite a very low speed of ball circulation, Feyenoord’s midfield passing accuracy was dreadful, making it fairly impossible for the team to feed the ball from defense to attack. One of the things that contributed to their midfield problems is that all three central midfield players rotated too frequently, making it difficult to play repeat patterns both for themselves are for their teammates.

The first half effectively blew over without much incidents or tactical issues worth mentioning. VVV seemed happy enough to settle for a draw and Feyenoord, as could be expected, still suffered a lot from their recent 10-0 blow.

Goal-line technology?

Yes, indeed… More fuel for the goal-line technology discussion arose when Josué cleared the ball from behind the goal-line after a Wijnaldum header. Although Feyenoord did not express the advantage on the scoreboard at that moment, it served to inspire the team.

VVV manager Jan van Dijk must have picked the hour mark to try and put his stamp on the game. He brought strong Nigerian striker Uchebo instead of attacking midfielder Josué, which implied that VVV played a regular 4-4-2 from that moment on. With both Boymans and Uchebo proving an aerial force, VVV turned to a rather direct play. A further sign of their attacking intentions was the increasingly advanced defensive line, playing an offside trap.

 

Backfire

Although an attacking change to their tactics might have won VVV some support, on the pitch it definitely backfired on them. The combination of VVV’s midfield being reduced from five to four players and the space they gave away behind their defensive line was exactly what was needed to unleash the powers of Feyenoord’s offensive thinking midfield trio. After having had a lot of trouble connecting their passes in the first hour or the game, El Ahmadi and Bruins succeeded in increasing their pass completion rate and Feyenoord started dominating the game in midfield.

It was only a few minutes after VVV switched to a 4-4-2 that Feyenoord scored the opening goal. Wijnaldum made a very well timed run from deep and was played onside with a through-ball by El Ahmadi. The youngster finished with a technically well executed lob to put Feyenoord in the lead. The sighs of relief coming from ‘De Kuip’ must have been heard around the entire city!

Georginio Wijnaldum celebrating the opening goal

Extending the lead

VVV pushed for an equalizer by playing a direct 4-4-2 game, aimed at getting the ball to one of their strong strikers and hoping for the best. Although a few small chances arose from these long balls, it was mainly Feyenoord finally stringing some combinations together in the opposing half.

In the closing minutes Feyenoord managed to score two more goal, one from a corner through a Bahia header and the other was scored by Wijnaldum again. Although it helped putting some smiles on Rotterdam faces for a changes, a 1-0 victory would have represented the balance on the pitch a lot better.

In the end

Relegation football it was and that about sums it up. Feyenoord at home against VVV should not be that type of game, but given the fact that it was only a few days after their historical defeat against PSV, this was perhaps the best that could be expected from a wounded Feyenoord side. Besides their severe midfield passing issues, perhaps not too much weight should be given to the tactical considerations in this match.

VVV did not get what they hoped for with their offensive choice to go 4-4-2 with half an hour to go, but it had itself to blame. Their poor execution of a high pressing defensive line and the subsequent offside trap were at fault for the opening goal.

Feyenoord 1 – 2 Ajax: A disappointing Classic and signs of an unwanted trend in the Eredivisie

Feyenoord and Ajax contested each other in the 164th edition of ‘The Classic’ today. Regardless of actual rankings and present from, this Classic encounter remains one of the high-points of the year for both teams. The fierce rivalry between these clubs tends to bring out the best of games on the pitch ,but unfortunately also the worst of ‘supporters’ behaviour outside of it. In an effort to control this violence, until 2014 the Eredivisie matches between Ajax and Feyenoord are to be played without any attending away fans, taking away much of the stadium atmosphere.

Feyenoord enters this years’ Classic on the back of a 2-1-2 start to the season, leading to a ninth place at present. The debt-ridden club should prepare for a few years of the gray mid-table football, according to their outspoken director Leo Beenhakker. He continued this recent interview by stating that he considers himself to be a realist in predicting a mid-table role for his clubs in the next years. In spite of these concerning statements, manager Mario Been tried to raise confidence in his squad by stressing their home advantage and pointing at Ajax’ recent tough game at the Bernabeu stadium in Madrid.

And indeed, Ajax enters this season’s first Classic after a degrading 0-2 defeat by Madrid, where they played a tactically naive variant, vacating their right wing, thereby allowing Madrid to dominate the game completely. On the other hand, the performances of goalkeeper Stekelenburg, winning a place in UEFA CL Team of the Week in the meantime, and the return of Suarez and Vertonghen might install some confidence again.

The starting line-ups

Feyenoord manager Mario Been decided to punish right winger Ruben Schaken for allowing NAC right-back  the freedom to score a late opening goal in their lost match against NAC Breda last week. Schaken was replaced by Fedor Smolov. Futhermore, young defender Leerdam was preferred in defensive midfield over the more experienced El Ahmadi. Feyenoord’s formation was still best characterised as a 4-3-3 with Leerdam playing very close to his defense, giving Feyenoord a 5-2-3 look at times.

Ajax manager Jol also dropped one of his regular starting players. Defendive midfielder and stand-in captain Demi de Zeeuw was punished for both his positional indiscipline during the CL match against Real Madrid and for his verbal indiscipline right after that match, stating his opinion on his substitution in that match. Again, Sulejmani featured on the wing for Ajax, his preferred left one this time, meaning that Emanuelson started on the bench.

The opening phase of the match was characterised by a lack of structure. Both teams started preferred constant positional switching of their front line, but these switches were so frequent that their build-up had a difficult time finding the right players. Feyenoord’s 5-2-3 lookout forced them into quite a few long balls in this initial phase of the game, where young striker Castaignos consequently lost in the air against either Vertonghen or Alderweireld.

Ajax, meanwhile, did not succeed in connecting with their forward three, lacking width and making their build-up all too transparent for Feyenoord’s defense. It was no surprise that it took until the 16th minute to see a shot on target, neither was it a surprise that this chance came from an inside dribble from Suarez.

With both teams having a hard time controlling even their own build-up, the only danger was found in quick breaks after opposition errors, but given the rather high defensive line of both teams and the lack of true pace upfront, no real goal-scoring chances were created. Perhaps the best chance was seen when Smolov seemingly put Feyenoord 1-0 up, but he was correctly ruled offside.

Ajax brought some more width to the game around the 30-minute mark, when Sulejmani started to stick to the left side more, and their positional rotation was limited to Suarez and El Hamdaoui only. In addition to this change, also their defensive line took a deeper stance, offering a longer pitch and allowing more space for the four-band philosophy of the 4-2-3-1. Defensive midfielders Enoh and Lindgren, who as expected operated deeper than de Zeeuw usually does, started seeing more of the ball and found an easy outlet in left winger Sulejmani.

In line with the lack of beauty in this game, the opening goal was a result of a mishit clearance by de Vrij after an Ajax free kick. The ball fell to de Jong, who had escaped Fer’s marking with a clever move, and his header put Ajax up 1-0.

Shortly hereafter, Feyenoord suffered a second blow by losing captain Vlaar due to injury. Right-back Stefan de Vrij was transferred to the centre and Leerdam to right-back. El Ahmadi entered in a defensive midfield role, and with Feyenoord forced to search for a goal, gradually developed into a box-to-box role as the match developed.

At half-time a second Feyenoord substitution was added. Pacy wing dribbler Schaken replaced Smolov, who expectedly disappointed in his out-of-position right wing role. As a result, also Feyenoord abolished their positional switches, lending more structure to their game.

In spite of these changes, it was Ajax who took the immediate initiative after half-time, and they did so by introducing the old principle of pressure. Feyenoord, thinking forward, seemed surprised and could not cope with this. The result was a series of chances both with El Hamdaoui and Suarez hitting the post, but also with El Hamdaoui scoring the 56th minute 0-2 from a beautiful Suarez through-ball.

The match seemed practically over now until Bahia scored the connecting 1-2 from a corner ). This goal, however, fits into the rather unwelcome modern trend to have another player deliberately obstruct the goalkeeper during a set piece. Diouf’s obstruction against Fulham’s Mark Schwarzer, allowing Blackburn’s Dempsey to equalize in this Premier League match yesterday was discussed quite boldly by Alan Shearer on BBC’s Match of the Day yesterday and one can only hope that these public voices contribute to the quick end of this unwanted trend.

The final ten minutes saw Ajax switching to survival tactics, aiming for possession only to play down time and aiming to obstruct Feyenoord’s play whatever way possible. However, this did not result in more than a few yellow cards for Ajax and the match ended with a 1-2 score.

Should you not have known that Ajax and Feyenoord are two high-profiled teams, in Holland at least, you would not have guessed on the basis of today’s performance. The lack of width and the abundance of positional switches from both sides made for a disappointing match. In the end, Ajax ran out deserved winners, mainly based on the final fifteen minutes before and the first fifteen minutes after half-time.