Tag Archives: NAC Breda

NAC 4 –2 PSV: A rigid man marking system unsettles another league leading team

NAC Breda managed to beat another league leading team, after their 2-1 win over Twente a few weeks ago. Deploying a rigid man marking system they succeeded in frustrating PSV’s game and they once again illustrated that playing a formation that suits the players best will generally be rewarded. Combining Amoah’s skill and strength with the pace and dribbling of Lurling and Leonardo was enough for no less than four goals from their side. PSV did not find the answer to the questions that this rigid man marking system posed to them.


NAC’s formation

The starting line-ups. Note the three midfield duo's close together.

NAC went into this match knowing that they had not lost at home to PSV in over four years. Their attacking intentions were reflected in the choice for Boussabon in a central midfield role, indicating a forward pointed triangle rather than their more familiar backwards points three man midfield triangle. However, it should not be taken for a true 4-2-3-1, which is characterized by more or less the same midfield shape, but with wide players who tuck in when out of possession, temporarily turning the formation into a 4-5-1 at times. NAC fields true attackers on the wings: Leonardo and, back from injury, Anthony Lurling. Therefore, 4-3-3 remains the best formational notation here.

Although the inclusion of Boussabon in a central midfield role, much like in the away match at Groningen, hints of attacking intentions, NAC generally took a rather conservative stance in this match. Looking to break quickly and take advantage of Leonardo’s and Lurling’s pace, they seemed happy enough to allow PSV possession in their own half and keep their defensive shape.


PSV’s fixed first eleven

PSV manager Rutten seems to have sorted out his first eleven. He plays the same formation as he did in the 0-0 draw at Ajax, with natural attacking midfielders Bakkal and Afellay in the controlling midfield positions. Former captain Orlando Engelaar is left out again. Their 4-2-3-1 formation is not all that different from NAC’s 4-3-3, but when needed, wingers Dszudszak and Lens are known to tuck in well, turning the formation into a 4-5-1 when out of possession. Toivonen, though a natural striker, proved as recently as in the Ajax match that he’s not shy of putting in a defensive foot where needed too.


Midfield organisation

As expected, PSV dominated possession from the beginning, although they had a difficult time turning their own half possession into attacking moves. This was a direct result of NAC’s midfield organization where a strict man marking system was applied, a fact that was stressed by NAC’s manager Karelse who even blamed a lack of strict man marking for the first half goals. Luijckx took control of Toivonen, Boussabon made sure to stay close to Bakkal and Schilder marked Afellay. It was this combination of three midfield duo’s that moved along the pitch. Therefore, it were not so much the midfield players that provided the edge to this match, but the players moving into midfield. PSV’s right-back Hutchinson regularly did so, as well as NAC’s striker Amoah, who is known to drop into the midfield regularly.


The first goal

A first slip of the man marking organization allowed PSV to open the score. Luijckx lost his sight of Toivonen for a moment, as illustrated in the screen below, and the Swede nicely set up Reis to finish the move. His eighth goal in  as many matches illustrates why Rutten sticks to him over on-loan striker Berg and former Dutch international Koevermans.


More goals

More goals defines a better football match, or words along that line, is frequently heard among football punditry. Well, this must have been a good match for sure. Three more first half goals followed after Reis opened the score. Although from a tactical perspective the match took a rather dull direction due to the formations practically cancelling each other out, the goals provided the spice to the match.

NAC took full advantage of, ironically, a Toivonen error. Under no obvious pressure, the Swede misplaced a short pass and with a quick break involving all three of their strikers, NAC equalized through Leonardo. But their equalizer was short-lived as their lack of professionalism was shown from their ongoing protests against a, correctly awarded, free-kick in PSV’s own half. With most of NAC’s team still focused on debating the referee’s decisions, PSV played a ball over the top where Lens’ cross found  Dszudszak at the far post.

But before the half time whistle NAC managed to grab a second equalizer. A short spell of pressure resulted in a corner where Amoah got the better of, again, Toivonen to head home at the first post.


The second half

In contrast to what might be expected, it was NAC that took matters into their own hands from the second half kick-off. Advancing their full-backs seemed to surprise PSV and a series of quick chances was the result. Ali Boussabon finished off one of these moves with a brilliant outside foot strike, putting NAC in the lead for the first time in the game.

PSV seemed not just surprised, but knocked out for over fifteen minutes after this beautiful goal. This much time passed before Rutten’s team got their shape back. NAC had by then changed their 4-3-3 into the most effective modern day defense, a 4-1-4-1 formation. Leaving Amoah upfront to battle it out with PSV’s defenders, they created a numerical advantage at the back which took PSV a long time to figure out. Rutten’s first attempt to change the game was rather unsuccessful, removing Toivonen for Engelaar, advancing Afellay behind Reis did not change the face of the game at all.

This change was not to happen until the red card for holding midfielder Luijckx, who generally dominated his part of the pitch, but did so at the cost of too many fouls. He should definitely have been removed by his manager by the time he committed another foul to receive his second yellow card.

Kees Luijckx, who generally dominated the midfield, in one those tackles he ultimately paid the price for.

PSV responded a few minutes later by introducing Koevermans, a second striker for central defender Marcelo, but NAC had doubled their lead by that time already. Another quick break, involving man of the match Amoah, saw them combined through PSV’s forwards thinking defense.


In the end

PSV did not create anything from the handful of chances that their gung-ho final minutes had forced. NAC managed to hold onto their 4-2 lead and, after their 2-1 win over Twente, succeeded in defeating another league leading team for the second time in three weeks. What’s more, this meant NAC’s third consecutive home Eredivisie victory over PSV.


PSV manager Fred Rutten, who did not show the flexibility to overcome NAC's man marking system.

NAC’s rigid man marking system proved too much for a PSV side that did not apply enough personal switches to unsettle their opponents. Players running with the ball at feet will not unsettle this type of defense and the demand for a quick ball circulation and lots of switches upfront was unheard by Fred Rutten today. The end result is that the top of the Eredivisie is cropping together more than ever…

Heerenveen 0 –2 NAC: Jans still puzzled, while NAC successfully reverted to their 4-3-3

Ron Jans still hasn’t found the right formation for Heerenveen, while NAC looked happy to revert back to their 4-3-3 formation. Heerenveen’s shuffled attacking line-up looked out of sorts, building up more frustration for striker Bas Dost who continuously lacks the support he needs from the wings. Two early second half goals decided the match which it very clear to Jans how not to field his team…

The fourth round of the KNVB Beker, the Dutch FA Cup, saw most Eredivisie clubs paired to a lower league or even amateur opponent, but Heerenveen and NAC were two of the Eredivisie clubs paired together. Both teams are ranked midtable so far, but tend to look upwards , aiming to compete for the play-off places come the end of the season.

Jans still searching

The starting line-ups

Heerenveen manager Ron Jans is still searching, in his first season at the club, how to put all the pieces together. Despite Jans playing the same 4-2-3-1 formation as he did at his previous club, Groningen, Heerenveen has looked all but settled so far and is ranked at a slightly disappointing 10th position so far. Main concerns have been the lack of adequate supply for striker Bas Dost and the balance on the midfield, with the advanced midfielder position being filled in by different players almost every match.

In this match, Bas Dost was flanked by split wingers Beerens on the left and Narsingh on the right. Especially the choice to play the right-footed Beerens on the left flank will have raised more than one Frisian eyebrow with Dost desperate for high crosses into the box. Ousmane Assaidi, one of the usual players to fill the left flank was positioned on the attacking midfielder spot. Jans is clearly still looking for the best configuration here.

NAC reverted back to 4-3-3

NAC stepped away from their 4-2-3-1 experiment of the Groningen match, in which they were heavily dominated by their opponents. Playmaker-for-a-day Ali Boussabon, who did not convince at all that day might still have not fully recoved from his abdominal muscle injury. Reverting to their more familiar 4-3-3 formation meant that Gorter was moved back from the left flank into his usual midfield position. More importantly, instead of  filling the space behind striker Amoah with a fixed man-in-the-hole, like in a 4-2-3-1, the space was now open for Gorter to advance into from midfield and for Leonardo to drift inside from the right flank. In turn, space was create for right-back Milano Koenders to advance frequently on the flank.

The first half

The return to their familiar 4-3-3 system was clear from NAC’s fresh start to the match. Putting pressure early on and looking to involve both full-backs, Koenders more than Janse, in their attacks gave them the upper hand early on. A series of chances was the result, in most of which one of the full-backs played an important role. Heerenveen, meanwhile, seemed unable to pass around the pressing NAC midfield, and supposed-to-be-playmaker Assaidi hardly touched the ball in the first fifteen minutes of the match.

NAC played left-footed dribbler Leonardo on the right wing in a very inside-minded role. He looked to drift inside a lot, thereby providing the extra man on the midfield, which allowed NAC a crucial dominance in that department. On the other hand, Heerenveen’s attacking midfielder Assaidi played thus far advanced that he could hardly be counted among Heerenveen’s midfield. NAC’s controlling midfielder Gillissen looked happy enough to sit deep and man-mark him out of the match in a discrete but excellent performance.

The first half was easily summarized as a series of NAC chances that were not converted, only now and then interrupted by an incidental moment of Heerenveen danger. It was hardly coincidental that is was a Dost header from a rare high cross that formed Heerenveen’s most dangerous first half moment.

An image to symbolize that NAC outnumbered Heerenveen's midfield

The second half

Subbing Haglund on for the invisible Svec in defensive midfield did not mean a tactical change for Heerenveen. Their play was constructed the same as before, as were their problems. The NAC players must surely have been told to be on the right path as it took only a few minutes for them to open the score. Fittingly, it was from a Jens Janse cross that Amoah scored to put the visitors in front. And even before Heerenveen could reply, NAC doubled their lead through Robbert Schilder who underlined his excellent midfield performance with a goal.

From that moment on, NAC looked happy to sit back in more of a 4-5-1 formation, keeping only pace Leonardo upfront for most of the time and tucking Amoah into a wide right-sided midfield role. The introduction of Gudelj, a defensive midfielder, for winger Kolkka confirmed this observation.

Heerenveen, meanwhile, gradually introduced more elements of attack into their formation. A step in the right direction was to switch Assaidi, who disappointed in the central playmaking role, to the left wing, moving Beerens to the right and introducing Djuricic in the central role. From that moment on, Dost was provided an aerial cross now and then, although it was too little too late already. Even the desperate move to remove right-back Koning for attacking midfielder Elm did not change the fate of the game, what’s more, Heerenveen’s formation looked top-heavy and the best chances fell to NAC instead.

In the end

Overall, the familiarity of NAC with the 4-3-3 triumphed over the unfamiliarity of Heerenveen with the 4-2-3-1 as they played it today. Especially Bas Dost must have the feeling that his move to Heerenveen has failed to live up to expectations so far. He wasn’t helped today by his manager playing Assaidi in a central and Beerens in an inverted role. Playing Beerens on the right and Assaidi on the left seems the most logical set-up here.

But Heerenveen’s midfield continues to look out of sorts. The question here would be who to play in-the-hole with the main candidates being Geert-Arend Roorda, Filip Djuricic and Viktor Elm, all of whom have not convinced so far. Time is ticking if Jans still aims to qualify for the play-off places…

NAC reverted back to the 4-3-3, a formation that suits their squad very well. Especially striker Amoah looks better when allowed the space to drop deeper in a false-nine like role, and also Donny Gorter performed much better in his usual midfield role, compared to the recent left wing experiments. Tactically, this will remain their way to go, but the inherent difference in squad quality combined with the current injury plague will hurt their ambitions to leap into the play-off places at the moment.

Groningen 2 – 1 NAC: Three goals by Groningen captain Granqvist, yet still a narrow score line

Groningen managed to beat NAC Breda, two teams separated by only three points in last year’s final standings, but having quite different season starts this year. Young manager Pieter Huistra continues to impress with a 4-2-3-1 that suits the Groningen players very well. Against NAC they dominated the match, although the score line suggested otherwise, but creating 11 shots on target while allowing only one sums up the story here.


Groningen’s season start and the return of Holla

The starting line-ups

In this match, Groningen is looking to build on their best season start ever, looking to strengthen their aspirations of qualifying for European football next season. Quite a debut for starting manager Pieter Huistra! He is a consistent tactician in the sense that he consequently plays a 4-2-3-1 system, keeping his wingers quite wide and focusing a lot of play on ground passes. Add to that Groningen’s aerial strength from the back, especially with set piece goals coming from captain Andreas Granqvist and the picture of their game play is drawn.

Groningen gained a lot in terms of passing accuracy with the return of Danny Holla after his ankle fracture. He is yet to find his form, but when he does, he plays a rather classic deep-lying playmaker role, which in turn relieves Sparv from being the main passer in Groningen’s midfield. The young Fin is then  allowed to lower his passing distance and aim for keeping possession, much like the third central midfielder role that Zonal Marking defined as the ‘passing midfielder’.


NAC’s inverted wingers 4-3-3

NAC saw manager Robert Maaskant depart only three matches into the new season, only for his replacement duo John Karelse and Gert Aandewiel to set win 13 points from their first five matches. Three straight defeat followed and NAC is placed in mid-table at the moment. For most part of the season, they’ve played a straight 4-3-3 formation, relying quite heavily on the creative input of striker Matthew Amoah. In his lone striker role he tends to be supported by inverted wingers like Leonardo, Boussabon and Kolkka.

For this match, however, NAC has in fact adapted to Groningen’s tactics. They play a 4-2-3-1 themselves, playing Ali Boussabon behind striker Amoah , fielding split wingers, with left-footed Leonardo on the right and Gorter on the left.

In this match, beforehand, the focus will certainly be on Groningen’s left (and NAC’s right) flank, where Stenman defends the unpredictable Leonardo. The Brazilian is not known for tracking back at all while Frederik Stenman excelled in his advanced role, teaming up with Dusan Tadic very well over the past few matches. This area of the pitch will most likely be a tell-tale of how the match will develop.


The first half

In fact, the game started with an own goal by Andreas Granqvist, who headed a corner into his own net in the second minute of the game. This changed the face of the game even before it had started. NAC interpreted the advantage as a license to draw back into their own half and let Groningen dominate the game. The led to a rather messy opening fifteen minutes where Groningen recovered from the early set-back and NAC seemed comfortable enough. In this phase, the game was obstructed by a lot of small fouls, more than one every two minutes for the first half.

After this opening phase, Groningen got their game running, especially with Stenman, as predicted, down the left flank. During one of their pressing phases they gained a penalty from a NAC handball, which Granqvist converted in order to settle both the game and his personal score line.

Granqvist plces the ball on the spot for one of his two penalty kicks of the night

Groningen’s pressure carried on with NAC seemingly yet to have to start their game. NAC’s relatively high defensive line won them quite some offside, but also meant that the cleverly playing Gonzalo Garcia had space for his through-ball, on one of which Matavz should have put Groningen in front at that time. As so often happens, the home team took a small break, catching their breath, after playing a very intense first twenty minutes.


A lead just before half-time

The final stage of the first half saw Groningen up the pressure on their opponents once more. Their improved midfield passing was expressed in some nice one-touch moves, one of which lead to a shooting chance for Enevoldsen. A further display of their technical skills was the excellent effort from outside the box when Gonzalo Garcia hit the crossbar with a ferocious volley.

Just before half-time Groningen earned a second penalty, after a second handball, not as much a deliberate one, but it did take a scoring opportunity away. Again, Granqvist stepped up and again,he scored, putting Groningen in front this time.


The second half

Attention was of course turned to NAC at the beginning of the second half. Being behind now, the away side had to come up with something to change the course of the one-sided game. Of first note was the half-time change to move Gudelj from a very controlling midfield role into more of a box-to-box role. He tried to provide Boussabon with more attacking support in midfield, but NAC missed the input of Donny Gorter in central midfield, after stationing him at the left wing when trading the 4-3-3 for the 4-2-3-1.

It took until halfway into the second half for NAC to make more chance in search of the equalizer. Captain Rob Penders was subbed off for Anthony Lurling, in a move which strengthened NAC’s attack further. But as the match carried on, it was quite clear that this NAC side seems to lack firepower upfront. Groningen survived up to the final whistle without too much difficulties to win the three points they deserved.


In the end

It’s not a unique situation in the Eredivisie, a player scoring an own goal and two regular goals too, but it did provide a special sense to the game for Groningen captain Granqvist. Both teams playing a 4-2-3-1 a sticking to it, meant a disappointing match from a tactical point of view. Furthermore, NAC seems to lack the depth in their squad to provide the required variation in a match that, like this one, doesn’t go their way.

NAC 1 – 2 Roda: A 4-4-2 diamond and a deserved second half turnaround

High-flying Roda JC beat NAC Breda away last weekend to go top of the Eredivisie, albeit only for a day. Their 4-4-2 diamond proved too much for NAC, whose wingers failed to track back their markers, allowing Roda full control of the game in the second half.



Both teams have a certain aspect that makes them unique in the Eredivisie. NAC is the only team to be managed by a duo rather than by one manager and Roda is the only team to consequently play two upfront, rather than a lone striker or three forwards. While NAC’s mid-table position may be quite in line with the squad’s quality, it’s Roda’s performance that has drawn much attention, and rightfully so. Up there with the best, their 4-4-2 diamond has proven hard to beat in the Eredivisie this year. It was Jonathan Wilson who described the diamond as a system that has “never hung around for long, which suggests it may have limited applicability.” Which suggests that a turn to the books of football tactics history might not be a waste of time for those managers facing Roda any time soon.



The starting line-ups. Roda's away kit is blue indeed.

NAC’s 4-3-3

NAC generally lines up in a 4-3-3 formation, playing a dynamic narrow triangle in midfield where Gudelj tends to play the holding role, with Luyckx and Gorter playing in close proximity. Furthermore, all three tend to rotate as well, providing an element of unpredictability to NAC’s game. The front line is composed around central striker Matthew Amoah, who provides a ground supply. He is aided by inverted wingers Kolkka, Boussabon and, when not falling out of favour again, Leonardo.


Roda’s diamond

Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond draws on the goal-scoring qualities of Mads Junker upfront, who misses his fellow Danish striker Skoubo through injury at the moment. Although historically most 4-4-2 diamonds relied heavily on a creative man-in-the-hole behind the two striker, Roda play Willem Janssen in that position, who offers a respectable athletic input rather than being a technical wizzkid. Ruud Vormer provides the base of their midfield, generally in a playmaking role, as was the case against NAC.


The opening phase

The game was characterized by a high paced opening phase during which both teams saw their full-backs involved in a lot of the play. However, with Roda’s full-back missing a wide target to pass onto and NAC’s wide players not showing their best in possession, not many chances where created.

In an attempt to confuse their opponents, NAC started switching wingers Kolkka and Boussabon around regularly. Add to that their rotating midfield triangle and the game got a bit messy in this phase. Roda was not able to find a way around NAC’s crowded midfield either, so both teams looked energetic without any real chances being created.


Breathe in, breathe out…

The main concern for team playing the 4-4-2 diamond has traditionally been their lack of width. In defense, the wide midfielders, beautifully termed ‘Carrilleros’ in Argentine football history, have to help out in central midfield to prevent the holding midfielder from being overrun. Therefore, space is conceded on the wings for the opposing full-backs to run into.

On the other hand, when in possession, the diamond tends to stretch play, looking to provide width and the ‘carrilleros’ move out to the side. Using some beautiful tactics expression, one could state that the team is breathing. Breathing in during possession of the ball, breathing out in defense.

Roda applies this aspect of playing a 4-4-2 diamond very well. Sutchuin on the left and Delorge on the right are always looking to help out in the centre during defense, while they’re stretching play wide in possession.


A small mistake

NAC capitalized on a small Roda mistake to score the opening goal, close to half-time. The screen below shows Roda’s broad 4-4-2 diamond shape, after left midfielder Sutchuin started pressing NAC’s right full-back Feher. NAC’s striker Amoah (in possession) has smartly dropped into the midfield and Sutchuin’s team mates do not follow-up his pressing. A well-timed run by midfielder Luyckx (arrow) is enough to create a big gap in Roda’s defense, which is effectively exploited for the opening goal.

NAC plays from left to right. Note Roda's diamond midfield shape, although Sutchuin advanced a bit to press his opponent.


Half-time changes

Although the same players started the second half, two important tactical changes were made by Roda manager Harm van Veldhoven during half-time. The first changes implied that Roda upped their defensive line almost to the halfway line, successfully playing NAC’s attacking three offside on more than one occasion. The second change was to force both full-backs forward. These two changes completely changes the face of the game.

Roda’s midfield was now provided width with both full-backs regularly looking for overlap and this relieved their ‘carrilleros’ from constantly running sideways as soon as Roda regained possession. Now Roda effectively had a numerical advantage in central midfield, giving them plenty of passing options as well as a lot more pressing on NAC’s possession.


Failing to track back

The effect of the full-back’s overlapping run was enhanced by the fact that both NAC’s wingers completely refrained from tracking back. First Roda right-back de Fauw was allowed to join a right flank attack, winning Roda a penalty, which Junker missed, in the opening minutes of the second half.  Then left-back Hempte was left completely free (as depicted in the screen below) to cross for Junker, whose header only just missed the goal. Finally, on another de Fauw cross, Sutchuin finished one of a series of Roda attacks, equalizing the score.

Acres of free space for Roda's full-backs, left-back Jimmy Hempte in this case.

After that, the only logical move from a NAC point of view would be to remove one of the wingers, whose persistent failure to track back handed the game to Roda in the second half. But both were allowed to stay on the pitch and Roda’s dominance in wide areas was allowed to continue.

As if to highlight the fact that Roda’s full-backs won the game for them, it was left-back Jimmy Hempte who converted a direct free-kick on the edge of the area to score the winning goal.


In the end

Setting your team out on the pitch may be an important element to managing a football team, making in-game adjustment is quite another thing. And these in-game adjustments in exactly where Van Veldhoven won one over NAC’s John Karelse and Gert Aandewiel. Pushing the full-back’s on in order to win the game in the wide area’s won the game for Roda, as NAC didn’t correct the failings of their wingers not tracking back.

So, from a tactical point of view, we’ve seen a deserved victory and come the end of the season, we can safely say that Roda’s diamond went top of the table, if only for a day…