Don’t judge a book by its cover, and along that same line, don’t judge a game by its score line. Yes, Twente further reduced the gap with league leaders AZ with this seemingly comfortable win, with a nice home clean sheet in the process too. But, no, Twente played below par for most of the match, most notably in the first half, due to positional issues that were rightfully addressed during the break. N.E.C. deserves more credit than the score line gives them, for winning the first half on points. But producing the best chances counts for nothing in football, unless you convert them into goals.
Coming off a series of three draws in their last four home games, Twente aimed to break the trend with a slightly offensive variant of their usual system. The versatility in the 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 crossover system lies in the behavior of central midfield Denny Landzaat. This time around, he didn’t sit beside Brama, but rather played in an advanced role beside central playmaker Nacer Chadli.
With top scorer Janko starting from the bench again, Twente played the same starting eleven as they did in the 6-2 win at Utrecht last week.
N.E.C.’s compact 4-5-1
Manager Alex Pastoor gained a lot of credits for keeping Excelsior in the Eredivisie on an extremely tight budget last season, playing some flashes attractive football in the process. His move to N.E.C. initiated high expectations in Nijmegen and many pundits deemed N.E.C. likely to be the overachievers this season. Unfortunately for Pastoor, the results didn’t pick up as expected in his first matches at N.E.C., with finding the target and converting shots on target being the main problems. Things do look a bit more brightly as of recently, with the away win at Feyenoord and last week’s final minute draw at Groningen.
Against Twente, Pastoor played the same eleven as he did last week, apart from the absence of central defender Van Eijden, which meant a first start for Hungarian defender Zoltan Szelesi.
The first half
N.E.C. surprised their opponents with a wave of pressure early on. They did so from a very compact 4-5-1- formation which took excellent advantage from the space conceded in behind Twente’s advanced full-backs and in front of the back line, where Brama seemed unable to cover that entire area on his own. Despite creating a series of goal scoring chances, N.E.C. seemed unable to convert, a problem that so often showed itself this season. At times N.E.C.’s compactness showed Pastoor to take a leaf out of Arrigo Sacchi’s coaching book with regard to the movement of defensive, midfield and offensive lines and having the outfield players move as a well coordinated unit.
Twente produced a short spell of initiative around the tenth minute, which resulted in two goal scoring chances for Nacer Chadli, but the Moroccan international failed to open his goal scoring account so far. Immediately after this short spell, the compact playing N.E.C. team regained control of the match and starting building chances.
They did so by smartly using their single striker in a target man role, having Zeefuik receive a ton of difficult balls played out from defense. The N.E.C. striker did an excellent job winning duels from Douglas in order to provide both an outlet from defensive pressure and a stepping stone for N.E.C.’s offensive breaks. All in all, Zeefuik, who failed to score a goal in 597 minutes of competitive football this season, provided an excellent display of the usefulness of a non-scoring striker.
The second half
After hearing his team being whistled off their own pitch by Twente’s fans, Co Adriaanse turned things around at half-time. He introduced top scorer Mark Janko for winger Emir Bajrami, a move that fixed several out-of-position issues at once. Janko played up top, with Luuk de Jong in the advanced midfielder zone and Nacer Chadli coming from the left wing.
Both De Jong and Chadli immediately displayed more comfort and routine. Luuk de Jong, despite his tall stature, tends to thrive when he is able to receive the ball at feet and make probing runs at defenders. Nacer Chadli, the presumed central playmaker of Twente’s 2011/12 season, doesn’t quite display the movement that this position demands, though the departure of Bryan Ruiz shifted a lot of pressure onto his shoulders. Add to that the fact that Chadli only just returned from a three months injury and this issue may still come good for Twente.
As if to illustrate their appreciation for the manager’s half-time changes, Twente produced an early second half excellent chance that involved Nacer Chadli crossing from the left wing, Janko laying off with a header and De Jong closing in on Janko, only just failing to open the score just yet.
The opening goal was only minutes away then, as Luuk de Jong was able to pick up the ball on the half-way line. He did not find the slightest of pressure on his path towards the N.E.C. box and fired in from the edge of it, finding the corner of the goal.
The changed game
As is so often the case, the opening goal changed the game. N.E.C. was forced to trade their compactness for more pressure, conceding more space in the process. Pastoor brought on an extra striker as Melvin Platje replaced Nick van der Velden, which meant a switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2, as system much more adept at playing in an open space game. Shortly after coming on, Platje provided Zeefuik with an excellent through ball, but N.E.C.’s conversion issue troubled them again. Before today’s game they ranked 17th in that regard, needing on average 7.3 shots on target to score a goal, and today’s failure to convert any of their many chances against Twente won’t improve that number.
With Twente’s second goal, where Chadli opended his account for the season, firing in from a nice Luuk de Jong assist, the match was effectively over. Only having score more than once in five of this season’s fifteen Eredivisie match, there seemed no way N.E.C. could produce two goals in the remaining twenty minutes of the match.
In the end
Based on the result, Twente beating N.E.C. 2-0 at home doesn’t sound all that bad, but judging the game by the score line leaves a lot unmentioned. On one hand, N.E.C. deserve a lot of credit for their smart compact playing style, which made life difficult for Twente. On the other hand, their failure to convert any chances in this game illustrated where their game needs fixing.
Twente disappointed in many regards. Too many players played way beyond their usual levels, with left-back Tiendalli and out-of-position Chadli the most obvious examples. Introducing Mark Janko, and shifting De Jong and Chadli to more familiar positions fixed the game for Twente, but the only reason they were still in contention at that point is the above mentioned conversion issues of their opponents.
Don’t judge a book by its cover, and along that same line, don’t judge a game by its score line.