Tag Archives: Heracles

Groningen 2 – 1 Heracles: Hard-fought battle decides EL play-off final ticket

Groningen managed to claim a place in the final of this season’s Eredivisie play-offs by beating Heracles with the tiniest of margins: away goal difference. After a hard-fought battle, ending in a 3-2 home victory for Heracles, Groningen’s 2-1 win was just enough to secure a place in the final and to maintain hopes of playing in next season’s Europa League preliminaries.

 

The squads

The starting line-ups

Groningen manager Pieter Huistra had some absentees to worry about in the run up to this important match. Top scorer Tim Matavz has been struggling with his fitness for much of the second half of the season and was absent in this match too. His preferred replacement, Danish Niklas Pedersen missed out too, making Petter Andersson, a nominal attacking midfielder the starting striker today. Behind him Olafemi Ajilore was the preferred advanced midfielder in the consequently applied 4-2-3-1 formation. Young Leandro Bacuna started in an inside right wing forward role.

Peter Bosz had to miss just one of his preferred starting eleven players, but the absence of Willy Overtoom through injury was a hard-felt one. The midfield playmaker tends to pull a lot, if not all, of the midfield strings in the Heracles squad this season and his 17 goals and 7 assists in 37 matches provided a significant part of Heracles’ attacking successes this season. He is replaced by Marko Vejinovic, a different type of offensive central midfielder in the sense that he’s more of the classic enganche type of player, who likes to dictate the game with the ball at feet, rather than Overtoom, who aims to provide an energetic and dynamic input and isn’t shy of finishing moves too.

 

The first half

Both teams started in comparable formations, although Groningen tends to be described as a 4-2-3-1 and Heracles as a 4-3-3. But both midfields having two holding players in Holla and Sparv (Groningen) and Quansah and Fledderus (Heracles) made for a generally comparable line-up. In a messy opening phase neither team succeeded to dominate and a high foul count led to an interrupted pattern of play, which didn’t help both teams.

The main difference in the early phase of the game was the knock-on effect of the previous tie. Heracles seemed happy enough to see out an expected frantic Groningen opening phase. But this seemed not quite Huistra’s plan. Groningen did commit to the midfield battle, but was patient enough not to waste their energy early on. The resulting game was some sort of stand-off which lasted until Huistra’s first tactical move.

 

Breaking the stand-off

The stand-off with both units of four defenders and two holding midfielders was broken when Holla committed himself more and more in an offensive role. Until that point Quansah had marked Ajilore quite easily and Sparv did likewise on Vejinovic. As a result, Fledderus and Holla were the midfielders with most freedom to make their choices. As said, the moment that Holla committed himself further forward, which also frustrated Fledderus’ game much more.

The first goal was another product of Groningen’s left flank, which had been mentioned as the best Dutch left flank of the season. Just look at the impressive assist tally of 7 goals and 21 (!) assists in 39 matches for Tadic, powered by the overlapping runs of Stenman. Both players proved crucial in a fluid left flank combination, leading to a well-executed ground combination with striker Andersson who finished the move in style with a curling shot into the far end of the goal.

 

Second half developments

Just like the opening phase of the first half, where Heracles clearly sat back and absorbed the game, the influence of the aggregate score was all too visible in the opening phase of the second half. Heracles started out with an absurdly high defensive line, perhaps over-executing the half-time instructions, or indeed instructed to play that way. Anyway, they quickly paid the price as Groningen seized on the second opportunity presented by conceding 40 yards of space behind a defensive line while not having full control of the midfield. Ajilore crowned his rare start as an offensive midfielder with a well executed finish from, again, a Tadic assist.

With Groningen now sitting on a two goal aggregate lead and Heracles hardly having been able to provide enough counter play so far, the game felt finished at that point. But the reverse proved true as the game went on. Bosz converted his formation from a 4-3-3 to a 3-3-1-3 by introducing Plet and Rienstra for outside winger Douglas and central defender Van der Linden.

In the final twenty minutes Groningen almost lost their calm, and with that their lead. First they did lose a man as Tim Sparv committed to a challenge that a player carrying a yellow card shouldn’t do. The resulting red card forced Huistra to remove striker Andersson for midfielder Veldmate to restore the balance on the midfield, but this allowed Heracles to play an all-or-nothing offensive game which led to Plet’s 87th minute close range 2-1 header. The remaining minutes passed with both sides filled with adrenaline and suspense, but Groningen successfully defended their one goal lead.

 

In the end

But Heracles did not find a second goal, which would perhaps be too much given the fact that it took them about 70 minutes to get the right balance between defending a narrow one goal lead (first half) and chasing one goal (opening minutes second half).

Groningen played another hard-fought battle in which they did not help themselves by committing too many early fouls. The resulting 76th minute second yellow card almost cost them in the end, but the fighting spirit that also led to this 10-men situation carried them to the final whistle.

Heracles 2 – 2 VVV: Bad pitch, bad weather, bad footb….

It may not have been the best of matches to watch, but VVV will definitely be happy coming away with a point after being 2-0 down at half time. Heracles easily dealt with VVV’s split 4-4-2 team in the first half, as they simply regained possession every time the ball was played up to VVV’s strikers who missed any connecting midfielders. In the second half VVV did connect to their forwards and imposed a physical direct game that proved too much for Heracles to deal with in the end.

 

Heracles’ 4-3-3

It may not be entirely due to coincidence that Heracles has not featured on 11tegen11 before in this season. In spite of the black-and-white contrasting on their striped shirts, their performances have been quite grey so far. Manager Peter Bosz has had a hard time facing the difficult task of succeeding Gertjan Verbeek after last year’s most successful season in the club’s history led them to a sixth place.

On top of that, Bosz has to do that without last year’s top scorer Bas Dost who was sold to Heerenveen in the past summer transfer window. Samuel Armenteros regularly features in the striker role now. He possesses the rare combination of a Swedish and a Cuban passport and was picked up, ironically,  from Heerenveen on a free transfer in the summer of 2009.

The starting line-ups

Bosz plays a 4-3-3 system with Heracles with split wingers upfront. On the right, Darl Douglas plays a classic outside winger role, aiming to run at his marker and provide crosses into the box. On the left side Brazilian striker Everton plays more of an inside forward role, aiming to connect with and provide support to the lone striker where possible. This regularly opens up space for Heracles’ left-back Mark Looms to run from deep and double up on the wing.

 

VVV’s direct 4-4-2

VVV manager Jan van Dijk traded the 4-2-3-1 of the beginning of the season for a two striker formation. Where the 4-2-3-1 seemed more fit to suit the trio  of Portuguese talents loaned from Porto (Josué, Chula and Viana), the 4-4-2 and the direct playing style that VVV lent to it, seems to suit the another trio better. Nigerian youngsters Nkume, Uchebo and Musa all featured nearing the end of the Heracles game, offering a physical advantage rather than a technical which would have been the case with the Portugese players.

 

The first half

The match was clearly influenced by the dire state of the artificial pitch in Almelo. Players experienced all sorts of trouble to stay upright during any turns and running at speed was an awkward situation indeed. Heracles, the home team, dealt best with these circumstances at first. VVV took a rather deep stance, keeping their midfield four very close to the back line. This led to the problem of a ‘broken team’ as there was an immense distance to the two strikers, which hampered their plan of launching high balls forward in search of the aerial presence of Ruud Boymans of the speed of Nigerian youngster Ahmed Musa.

Heracles simple regained possession almost as soon as they’d lost it and the sheer quantity of possession in their opponents half was going to create chances anyway. To enhance this process Bosz regularly had his full-backs involved as VVV’s wide midfielders were tucked in anyway. Shortly after VVV’s Musa missed a one-on-one opportunity in a rare successful break, Heracles took the lead. Left-back Looms illustrated his offensive presence with a cross that found the head of Everton who expressed his striker qualities with a good header to put his team in front.

Fleuren (left) and Douglas battling it out in rainy circumstances

Heracles were quick to add to their tally as striker Armenteros scored a blasting volley after controlling the ball on his chest himself. VVV were definitely in need of some tactical refreshment as their unsupported striker pair was never able to hold onto the ball and Heracles’ dominance of possession in VVV’s half of the pitch rightfully saw the home team 2-0 up at half time.

 

Second half chances for VVV

And chances there were. Not only did VVV push up quite a bit higher in search of a connecting goal and a chance to get anything out of this match, they also advanced the stance of the wide midfielders and gave central midfielder Van Kouwen more of a license to go forward with Balasz Toth keeping an extra eye on defense. As a result, Boymans was all of a sudden able to connect his headed lay-offs to his teammates rather than ending up giving the ball away time and again.

It was no surprise that if VVV would score that it would be through one of those headed Boymans lay-offs. The strong VVV striker used all of his physical abilities, even so that his marker Van der Linden came away from the challenge with a broken nose, and completed the move himself. With Heracles’ captain Van der Linden now out, Boymans became even more of a physical threat and VVV aimed to captitalise on this by adding tall Nigerian striker Uchebo, 1.94m / 6’4”, to the strike force.

In the dying seconds of the match it was exactly that man, Uchebo, who came up with the equalizer to give VVV a point in the end. Manager Van Dijk saw his tactical choice for physical presence and a very direct game on this terrible pitch rewarded with VVV’s first draw of the season.

Michael Uchebo celebrating his dramatic equalizer

In the end

At half time Heracles never looked like losing. In full control of the game they looked ready to work on the goal difference instead. But it was quite frankly the chance in VVV’s approach that seemed to take them by surprise. VVV battled their way through, sometimes literally, as Van der Linden could tell, but were able to come away with a draw in the end.