Tag Archives: PSV

Find the leak! Analyzing PSV’s midfield…

Three men in suits, one interviewer, Sky Sports One, ninety minutes, pure inspiration. Sometimes you just need a little spark to get your writing going again, and for me, this show worked. In case you missed it, you can listen to the podcast version of this interview with Sam Allardyce, Damian Comolli and Chris Anderson here. Three men with different backgrounds, yet one conviction: the use of data provides you an advantage in the playing field that is professional football.

1

West Ham manager and football stats pioneer Sam Allardyce

Ironically, when I listen to something I am immensely grasped by, instead of concentrating on the presentation at hand, my mind goes off wandering. This also happened during the show. There were so many great talking points that I could hardly resist chewing on several concepts, at the risk of missing content.

Do these men on TV really focus on shots on target, ignoring the heterogeneity of that parameter? Are clean sheets really that important that focusing on defense over offense pays off? And who should be the Dutch equivalent of Allardyce, a manager often portrayed less sensible than he is, convinced of the use of data? Which two other guys would be able to fill in an talk sensible analytics on a Dutch TV broadcast?

 

The bucket game

But the main thought that crept in my head was of an old game we used to play on summer days when I was a little kid. You were handed a pretty large bucket of water, with the sole and simple goal of bringing this bucket over the finish line, with as much water as possible still left in it. This was complicated by the fact that the bucket contained some holes, small and larger ones, which allowed the water to leak out freely, if you didn’t control the holes with your fingers.

2

But controlling the waterholes required the use of at least one hand, which significantly slowed down the process of walking the bucket towards the finish line. Most kids started out at a frantic pace, allowing the water to leak freely, but rushing the bucket to the finish line, only to find out that this was not the optimal strategy. On the other hand, concentrating too much on keeping the holes as tight as you could did not win you the game either, as the bucket was created to prevent you from stopping all the leaks simultaneously. Therefore, a balancing act between stopping leakage and keeping the pace going was the best.

So, why am I telling this long introduction story? Because it makes up a perfect metaphor for a football match, and it that sense it kept creeping up my mind during the footy stats debate on Sky. Football teams are just like the water bucket. The water is their possession of the ball. Some teams focus too much on preventing the water from leaking out and fail to create enough output, while others rush to the finish line, losing a lot of water along the way.

 

PSV

This theoretical metaphorical talk will probably work better with a real life example at hand. Let’s focus on what’s presently my favorite study object, PSV, and try to implement some of the detailed performance statistics that we can gather from various sources around.

PSV are an interesting case study, because, as you’ve probably noticed, things are not entirely going according to plan. Instead of competing to the title, they have hit a two-wins-from-twelve streak and are currently back in 10th position. Pressure on young manager Phillip Cocu is building and it remains to be seen if Cocu is allowed to even finish his debut season.

As I wrote for De Volkskrant, PSV have a huge offensive problem, and that is part of the reason I’ve picked them for this case study. After all, defensive stuff is still next to impossible to analyze with public data focusing on on-the-ball events. PSV create the 3rd most shots of the Eredivisie, yet their horrific shot quality makes them only rank 11th in terms of Expected Goals scored.

Let’s assume PSV starts with a full bucket of water – there’s more in this metaphor as the point of regaining possession may represent the amount of water to start with – and conclude that they don’t carry enough of it over the finish line, or in other words, they don’t create enough shots of decent quality.


Leak

Now, where do PSV leak?

At around 380 completed passes per match, PSV are well behind Ajax (530), Twente (450) and Vitesse (410).  In the reverse stat, passes completed by the opposing team, PSV (270) is at a level playing field with Vitesse (260) and Ajax (270) and slightly ahead of Twente (300). So, PSV is less of a passing side, but out of possession it keeps the pressure on, like the other top teams. I’ve deliberately left Feyenoord out for now, not because I don’t rate them at the same level as said teams, but because their profile is quite different, which makes them a nice case study for later.

Another interesting way to look at passes is the amount of incomplete passes. Variation here is self limiting as you can’t keep losing huge amounts of passes, since in between each lost pass, you’ll need to win the ball back first. So, less spread among the teams, and PSV comes in nicely at 86 incomplete passes per match, ahead of Ajax (88), Twente (90) and Vitesse (94).

 

Where is the leak?

Now, where do teams leak the water? Which players are responsible for the mainstay of misplaced passes? Naturally, going from front to back, outfield players should have a decreasing amount of misplaced passes, as defenders have less opponent pressure to worry about when passing and the consequences of their misplaced passes can be more severe.

PSV’s top players in terms if misplaced passes are Stijn Schaars (11.3 per match), Jetro Willems (9.7) and Adam Maher (9.2). Yes, you read that correctly, two of PSV’s midfielders are responsible for 20 misplaced passes per match.

The context for this number consists of Ajax (Poulsen 4.9, Blind 7.0), Twente (Gutierrez 8.3, Eghan 6.4, Ebecilio 5.2) and Vitesse (Atsu 6.1, Vejinovic 4.8). PSV ‘s rivals lose around 11 to 12 passes in central and defensive midfield, PSV around 20.

So, the problem is not the amount of passes going astray, but probably the area where they do.

This would be okay-ish if the likes of Maher, Toivonen and Schaars had enough offensive output going to make up for it, but that is definitely not the case. PSV’s strikers get a horribly low amount of touches on the ball, which may be partly their own fault, but if I were to manage a football team, the midfielder should know it’s their job the make sure the striker sees enough of the ball.

Matavz (12.4 passes per match) and Locadia (13.8) are bystanders in comparison with Sigthorsson (26), Havenaar (25) and Castaignos (23). If all your rival teams note performances that are this close in the same range, you’re probably the outliers, and not in a positive sense.

 

In the end

Overall, it seems PSV are leaking to much water to get a top level offense going. The paper I wrote for De Volkskrant already diagnosed the horrific shot quality, with main contributors Depay, Bakkali and Maher. Today’s article on 11tegen11 goes into more detail and highlights their water leak in midfield, with Schaars and Maher misplacing nearly twice as many passes as rival midfielders do. As long as Cocu does not fix these type of issues, the leak will continue and results will continue to surprise in a negative sense. Performance data are here to help, and this type of analysis is an example of what quite superficial passing information can already tell you.

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

Ajax is better than PSV in the Game State that matters most

Football analytics is a young business. And as such, it is still a rapidly developing field, where new concepts are launched all around. Some of these concepts are there to stay, others disappear as quickly as they came. For me, Game States definitely belong to that first group.

With Game State we indicate the score differential of the match in-play. Each match opens with both teams at GS 0, and a scoring team moves to GS +1, with the conceding team moving to GS -1. This Game State obviously has a big influence on how teams approach the game at hand. However, in traditional – if I may say so in this young business – football analytics groups all match events together, regardless of Game State.

The best concepts in football analytics make rational sense as well as intuitive sense. And such is the case with Game States. A team holding a narrow lead is a different team than a team that defends that lead. Obviously, better teams hold more leads than they defend, but even within teams, the shifts that occur when Game States change are fairly homogeneous. We’ve learned before that moving from GS 0 to GS +1 brings an average team a 10% decrease in Total Shot Rate, while the opponent increases 10% simply because of the shift in Game State.

On this day before the big game, PSV – Ajax, we look at the two best teams of the Eredivisie with a focus on their performance levels at the most crucial Game State: GS 0. The main reason for doing so, and I can safely say this out loud now, is that I have my doubt about the accuracy of the Total Shot Rate model used to predicted the final Eredivisie standing. It has significantly overestimated PSV and underestimated Ajax.

The model uses the Relative Shot Rate (RSR) to estimate the total points at the end of the season. RSR is a variation on the Total Shot Rate (TSR). Early in the season, the RSR has advantages over TSR, because teams have encountered a different strength of opposition, but by now those advantages have gone and RSR is nearly equal to TSR. At the moment, PSV’s TSR stands at 0.671 with Ajax at 0.632. Now what does this figure tell?

PSV has a higher ratio of chances created and conceded. Does this single figure make PSV the better team? No, because you may generate all the chances you want, you’ll need conversion as a skill to turn shots into goals.

PSV’s shooting percentage stands at 17.0%, which compares favorably to Ajax’ 15.4%. Does a higher TSR in combination with a higher shooting percentage make PSV the better team? No, because you can score all you want, you’ll need to prevent the opponent from scoring from their shots too, and this is where saving percentage comes into play.

PSV’s saving percentage is 87.4%, compared to Ajax’ 89.5%. But wait, that’s about the same difference as we found at shooting percentage, only this time PSV comes out on top. That’s true, and so both teams have a comparable PDO, which is the sum of shooting percentage and saves percentage. PSV’s PDO is 1044, and Ajax’ PDO is 1048.

Performance metrics at all Game States
TSR Sh%   Sv% PDO
Ajax 0.632 0.154 0.895 1048
PSV 0.671 0.170 0.874 1044

So, if we wrap these numbers up we can safely say that PSV generates a higher ratio of shots. Taking shooting and saving into account, both teams are roughly equally efficient. Now why doesn’t PSV live up to the expectations of our TSR model?

The answer is to be found in game states. We can repeat the exact same exercise of looking at shot rate, shooting percentage and saves percentage for each game state. I won’t go over every single number, but instead focus on the most crucial Game State: GS 0. The average Eredivisie team plays out nearly 50% of shots at this Game State, but since Ajax and PSV are the two top teams, they can be expected to play out less shots at GS 0. Of all shots in Ajax’ matches, 41.9% take place at GS 0. For PSV this number is 35.4%.

Here’s the table for PSV and Ajax in terms of TSR, shooting and saving efficiency, and PDO at    GS 0. Note that PDO in this case provides a nice summary of efficiency, wrapping up both offensive (shooting) and defensive (saving) skills.

Performance metrics at GS 0
TSR Sh% Sv% PDO
Ajax 0.668 0.128 0.924 1052
PSV 0.604 0.151 0.867 1018

The TSR tells us that at the most crucial Game State (GS 0), Ajax is by a distance the better team in terms of shot creation. PSV partially makes up for the lower TSR with their shooting percentage of 15.1%, which is higher than Ajax’ 12.8%. However, PSV loses this advantage in saves percentage, because their 86.7% is much lower than Ajax’ 92.4%. The combined efficiency is higher at Ajax, indicated by a PDO at GS 0 of 1052, compared to 1018 for PSV.

So, analyzing all shots in every match in one group, PSV seems the better team.

But at GS 0, the most crucial stage of the match, Ajax creates a better shot ratio, and is more effective. They gain more leads, which is a good thing in itself, but it also allows them to play more time at favorable game states, leading to an even better performance.

 

This post is a translation of yesterday’s article for ‘De Zestien’, the football blog of Dutch national newspaper ‘De Volkskrant’. Admittedly, it turned into a rewrite, more than a translation.

PSV 4 – 2 Ajax: First blow by Advocaat

PSV beat Ajax on formally neutral ground, but within their home ArenA with a superior performance on the night and a fitting 4-2 score line to go with it. Ajax manager Frank de Boer was delivered some tactical home work for the next time Ajax will meet the bigger teams, and Advocaat showed a stable, compact formation that exploited their athletic offensive qualities well.

 

A little ‘Johan Cruijff Schaal’ history

The Johan Cruijff Schaal, or Dutch Super Cup, has been played out for 21 years in a row now, and prior to this match, no less than 15 of these 21 Cups have been won by either PSV (8) or Ajax (7).  Obviously, these two teams have also contested the most Super Cup matches, with 6 of the past 21 Super Cups contested in an Ajax – PSV final.

Remarkably, only one of these six clashes between Ajax and PSV have been won by the reigning champion, which goes back to the 2002/03 season when Ajax had prior won the double. Even more remarkable, and perhaps a nice illustration of the lack of predictive power of a single match or the fact that real prizes are won in spring, is the relationship between winning the Dutch Super Cup and the following title challenge. Of the past 21 Super Cup winners, only 5 teams went on the win the title and it’s been twelve years since a team last won both the Dutch Super Cup and the subsequent Eredivisie title (PSV in 2000/01).

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

In his second full season as manager, the hand of Frank de Boer becomes more and more visible in Ajax’ playing style. Controlling possession is a key component of their game and the subsequent control of where the majority share of possession is being played out seems crucial in controlling the outcome of the game. Today, Ajax succeeded in dominating possession stats, but in the absence of a true offensive playmaker, failed in turning possession into offensive play.

The most obvious departure in Amsterdam is of course captain and defense leader Jan Vertonghen, who left for Tottenham Hotspur. Furthermore, stand-in striker Bulykin and fringe players Aissatti and Lodeiro left the club. Ajax attracted central midfielder Lasse Schöne on a free transfer from N.E.C. and recently added Swedish right winger Tobias Sana to their squad, after failing to meet the financial demands of Heerenveen regarding Luciano Narsingh. Notable promotions from their own youth academy include Viktor Fisher and Mitchell Dijks, who started this match on the left wing and left back respectively.

Ajax were without Van der Wiel and Eriksen who enjoy a slower build-up to this season after participating in Euro 2012, and without the injured Boerrigter and Sulejmani and Boilesen who haven’t returned to match fitness yet.

 

PSV under Advocaat

In tactical terms, the most interesting change at PSV is of course the return of Dick Advocaat over former manager Fred Rutten. Under Rutten, PSV initially played a controlled 4-2-3-1, but in the past season Rutten mostly opted for a more adventurous 4-3-3, including both Toivonen and Wijnaldum in central midfield. Despite last year’s excellent result in terms of Total Shot Rate (TSR 0.680), which even topped Ajax’ TSR of 0.678, PSV failed to mount a serious title and fell seven points short in the end.

Advocaat returns to the 4-2-3-1 formation, as was already noted when bringing in veteran midfielder Van Bommel, to feature beside rising star Kevin Strootman.

The most notable loss in PSV’s squad should be Zakarya Labyad, who left for Sporting Portugal, but PSV managed to strengthen their squad in more than one area. First of all, veteran midfielder Mark van Bommel returned to be appointed captain immediately. Further additions include the aforementioned winger Luciano Narsingh, who topped last season’s assists charts when providing for Bas Dost at Heerenveen, and Mathias ‘Zanka’ Jørgensen, a powerful central defender who came from Copenhagen. Zanka, who earned his nickname from a character in the movie ‘Cool Runnings’, didn’t feature in this game yet.

 

The first half

PSV’s opening goal, where Ola Toivonen headed in at the unmarked near post, came that early that there was hardly time to observe both teams’ game plans. Leading as early as from the third minute, PSV seemed compact and comfortable. They kept both Van Bommel and Strootman quite close to their defense and packed the most important part of the pitch with numbers. On top of that powerful six men block, all three of Mertens, Lens and Narsingh added pace to exploit any turnovers won in open play.

These turnovers mostly arose from Ajax’ problems in possession when building from the back. It seems that a crucial role in their 4-3-3 formation is what Christian Eriksen generally adds to the team. A midfielder that is happy to actually receive the ball in midfield and looks to build from there. Today, with Theo Janssen Ajax had a player who prefers to receive balls deeper in midfield and spray long passes, like he started doing after the passing had generally gone astray during the first fifteen minutes. Besides Janssen, Siem de Jong is more a receiver of offensive passes than a creative force in midfield. With the playmaking efforts of Eriksen beside him, Siem de Jong would be much more of a threat.

This point regarding Ajax’ lack of an offensive playmaker was well illustrated with the introduction of Lasse Schöne during the second half. Although fielded formally on the left wing, Schöne, is by trade a central midfielder and this went to show in his inside playmaker role during the second half. This phase, shortly after his introduction, also marked the best period Ajax had in terms of providing counter play against their generally superior opponents.

Ajax struggled to create from open play, and PSV comfortably sat on their early two goal lead after Lens exploited his pace in excellent fashion to dummy Blind for the second goal. On the brink of half time, Toby Alderweireld headed home from a corner, to give Ajax some hope of restoring matters in the second half.

 

The second half

No substitutions were made at half time yet, but Ajax made a few slight tactical alterations. Most notably, Sigthorsson used more positional freedom and aimed to dislodge the comfortable Van Bommel-Strootman block by dropping deeper from his striker spot. In turn, this opened up space for Siem de Jong to make his overlapping runs.

PSV obviously had no need for major changes, and this was shown in the fact that only ten minutes into the second half they increased their lead again. Jetro Willems overlapped on a turnover on the left PSV wing and his shot, annex cross, found Toivonen for a simple tap-in to make it 3-1.

At this point, Ajax manager Frank de Boer played his best move of the game. It didn’t exactly pay off on the score board, but introducing Lasse Schöne, as explained before, provided Ajax’ baseline offensive intentions with finally a player who’s comfortably as an offensive playmaker.

The Amsterdam hopes came back with Marcelo’s own goal when the defender mishit his clearance of an early Özbiliz cross, but in a closing phase with vast and wide spaces all over the place, PSV managed to put the game beyond doubt in the final minute, when Wijnaldum crowned his substitute appearance with the final goal of the game.

 

In the end

PSV seems off to a nice start of their campaign. The installment of Van Bommel besides Strootman will do the latter a lot of good, lifting a lot of work off his shoulders and freeing up space and cover for Strootman’s offensive qualities to shine. The versatility offered by Strootman will also enable PSV to fluidly shift between 4-2-3-1’s and 4-3-3’s when circumstances so demand. A second mention goes out to PSV’s impressive offensive line, where all three of Mertens, Lens and Narsingh throw in that much athletic qualities that they will no doubt overwhelm the average Eredivisie opponent.

Ajax manager De Boer claimed beforehand that this was the final match of the pre-season campaign, to contrast well with his rival Advocaat, who firmly casted his eye on winning the Johan Cruijff Schaal. De Boer may hide behind a series of absentees, but the omission of an offensive playmaker is something that could have been avoided by including Schöne in the starting line-up.

A second worry might be the freedom for PSV’s offensive midfielder. Toivonen and his replacement Wijnaldum both scored from open play, which highlighted the general problems for a single holding midfielder to cover both horizontal and vertical runs. In national competition, Ajax will probably overpower most of their opponents even without tackling this issue, but lessons provided by these kind of matches should not be ignored in the face of another Champions League campaign.

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

Ajax 2 – 0 PSV: Impressive pressing performance leaves PSV no chance

This clash between two Eredivisie title contenders may go down as one of the best games Ajax played under their current manager, Frank de Boer. The home side pressed PSV all over the pitch and the successive dominance in possession allowed them to continue an intense pressing level throughout the full ninety minutes. PSV proved unable to work their way around the pressure, and after going a goal down, new manager Philip Cocu could not turn this game around.

This match report has been composed with the use of match data that were provided by Infostrada Sports.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3 that wasn’t really a 4-3-3

The line-ups for this match, with the size of the dot corresponding to the number of completed passes. Note Aissatti

No less than six players out of the presumed best XI missed out today. Long-term injuries have kept the entire front three of Sigthorsson, Boerrigter and Sulejmani sidelined, while midfielder Theo Janssen (suspended) and injured defenders Gregory van der Wiel and Nicolai Boilesen also missed out. Frank de Boer today picked Daley Blind at left-back, ahead of the recently disappointing young defender Koppers.

In midfield, De Boer made the interesting choice to go with both Eyong Enoh and Vurnon Anita, something he was reluctant to do at first, but a solution that worked out extremely well. Siem de Jong featured in the striker role, be it with a lot of positional freedom, allowing Christian Eriksen to overlap. Eriksen played a more central and more offensive role today due to the coverage provided by the double pivot of central defensive midfielders behind him.

 

PSV’s 4-3-3

With a fully fit selection available, PSV should have been expected the have the better of Ajax in this department. Philip Cocu, who took over after the departure of Fred Rutten, elected Georginio Wijnaldum over Jeremain Lens at the right wing, although, after losing a series of duels to Blind, he was at times swapped with central midfielder Zakarya Labyad.

At right-back, Stanislav Mannolev seems to have fallen out of favor, mainly due to his defensive liabilities and his eye-catching lack of control that limits his offensive output. Atiba Hutchinson got the start, with excellent performances against Heerenveen’s Assaidi recently.

 

The first half

There is one word to describe the events of this match: pressure. Ajax played the way Frank de Boer would have liked them to play for longer, pressing their opponents all over the pitch, making it barely possible for PSV to string more than a few passes together.

Such an intense pressing strategy is employed more often, but regularly fails to win enough possession for the home team to be able to keep up with the amount of energy it costs. It often fades around the fifteenth minute, with the away side slowly gaining an advantage when playing around the pressing team. Not so today though, as Ajax gained roughly 66% of possession early on and proved able to press PSV during the remaining part of the match. The math is quite simple here, conserve the ball a lot and you’ll be able to limit the amount of time the intense pressure is required.

 

The problem for Ajax

Winning possession is one thing, turning it into goal scoring chances is quite another. In the first half, Ajax’ chances were limited to long range shots and an odd of target header from a corner. Ajax mainly spent their possession in midfield, where they enjoyed a rather simple acquired numerical advantage. Striker Siem de Jong drifted deep, even below the level of the midfielders, adding up the extra man. As mentioned before, playing both Enoh and Anita provided Eriksen with double the amount of defensive midfield cover that he’s used to, liberating more of his offensive threat.

All in all, the first half showed a dominant Ajax side, a PSV side that looked robbed of any opportunity to circulate possession and a limited number of goal scoring chances. An impressive stat to show Ajax’ pressing was PSV’s number of first half goal scoring chances: zero.  Striker Matavz and left winger Mertens completed one and two passes respectively in the first half, an expression of how early Ajax’ pressing generally intercepted possession, or reversely, how unable PSV proved to deal with it.

One more stat? Okay, Vermeer completed all but one of his 18 first half passes, while Tyton failed to complete a single passing attempt out of eleven.

This graph presents the number of completed passes per team as the match goes from 0 to 90 minutes. This allows insight into which team dominated which phases of the match. Ajax outpassed PSV in nearly all 5 minute sections of this match, with their most dominant spell during the 55th-65th minute, when they scored their goals.

The second half

With PSV limiting themselves to stopping Ajax’ threat and Ajax winning their dominance with a false nine striker role, providing goal scoring threats from within the box seemed a concern for the home side. It took a brilliant short corner routine (or a fluke cross?) by Ismael Aissatti to open the score, again from outside the box. He curled one over the arms of Tyton, just into the far top corner of the goal.

Ajax now defended a lead, so possession became a goal in itself, rather than a way to obtain goals. Immediately after the 56th minute goal, Ajax went on to dominate possession for the next ten minutes, as is shown in the passing chart. By that time they had doubled their lead through a Siem de Jong penalty, won by, again, Aissatti.

Cocu’s only change that had any chance of turning things around came in between both Ajax’ goals, as he removed his slightly injured captain Toivonen, who disappointed throughout. The PSV captain generally needs his side to be present on the opponent’s half to make an impact and his performance in terms of creation is generally limited.

Cocu introduced pacy winger Lens, but his presence obviously did not solve PSV problem of being unable to pass through Ajax’ numerical advantage in midfield. With their offensive three of Matavz, Mertens and Lens completing only 17 passes in the final third of the game, PSV was never able to construct any offensive threat. Ajax generally intercepted the ball early in PSV’s game, with Vertonghen particularly on song today. The Ajax captain made 14 of his 27 (!) interceptions while defending the lead, with the pair of Enoh and Anita throwing in another 15.

 

In the end

Pressing is a key element of how Frank de Boer wants his Ajax side to play. And today turned out very well. Pressing may very well backfire on a team, for example when not holding on to the ball enough themselves, making the spells of pressing needed longer and more frequent. Today’s pressing was in part a success due to the lack of PSV pressing. This allowed Ajax a rather easy time on the ball, as was evident from the 695 passes with a near 80% completion rate.

Siem de Jong’s false nine role proved crucial in gaining the upper hand in midfield, but again, Ajax had trouble turning their possession into quality goal scoring chances. Overall number of 11 Ajax shots, 7 of which on target, versus 3 PSV shots, 2 of which on target, don’t tell the whole story. Most of Ajax’ attempts stood a relative small chance of going in and it took a moment of individual brilliance (let’s give Aissatti the benefit of doubt, should it exist) to open the score.

PSV should take a critical look at their plans going into this game. While they did defend compact, like they normally do, they failed to press Ajax and thereby allowed Ajax longer spells of possession than strictly needed. And even though no imminent goal scoring danger was created, Ajax was allowed to conserve energy that was unleashed as soon as PSV had regained possession. Homework for Cocu.

 

 

This report could not have been made without the generous support of Infostrada Sports.

PSV 3 – 1 Vitesse: Not as convincing as the score line suggests

Although the final score line would suggest otherwise, PSV had a lack of grip on their opponents. Aided by an out-of-the-blue opening goal by Tim Matavz, they were given the opportunity to sit back and counter, a game much better executed than their pressing style that formed plan A. Vitesse, meanwhile, defended well up till the opening goal, and grew into the game only when chasing PSV’s 2-0 lead.

 

PSV’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

In terms of formation and first eleven, Fred Rutten is quite consistent. He played the same eleven that disappointingly drew 1-1 at Utrecht last week, starting 18-year old Zakaria Labyad at the right wing, ahead of borderline Dutch international Jeremain Lens. Veteran defender Wilfred Bouma had to do with another start from the bench.

 

Vitesse’s 4-3-3

After last week’s disappointing 4-4-2 diamond experiment, that ended with a disappointing 0-1 home result against fierce rivals N.E.C., John van den Brom returned to the 4-3-3 of the first half of the season. Missing African internationals Wilfried Bony and Anthony Annan, he played Marcus Pedersen up front, while the return of captain Guram Kashia meant that set-piece taker Jan-Arie van der Heijden, who filled in at centre-back last week, returned to central midfield.

All eyes were on Vitesse’s bench though. Former PSV striker Jonathan Reis, who suffered a severe knee injury in a PSV shirt just 13 months earlier, is by now a Vitesse player, after his PSV contract ran out and he opted against returning in Eindhoven.

 

The first half

The game started out with PSV pressing their opponents, aiming, as expected, to control this home game. However, things did not work out quite well for the home side, as Vitesse seemed well organized, while PSV made some crucial errors in their pressing game.

Let’s first see what Vitesse did right in this phase of the game. They kept a very compact center, with a midfield three both close together and close in front of the back line. To combat PSV’s options in possession, they effectively eliminated Strootman’s passing options by applying Stanley Aborah in a strict man-marking role. The Belgian-Ghanaian midfielder is well made for defensive midfield duties, and he frustrated Strootman’s game very well.

Interestingly, this caused Vitesse’s most defensive midfielder by style, to play in the most advanced midfield position. Sort of the ‘advanced defensive midfielder’ in response to Strootman playing as PSV’s deep-lying playmaker.

PSV, meanwhile, aimed to press their opponents, hoping for turnovers in Vitesse’s half, where in PSV’s eyes, most of the game should take place. However, their pressing coincided with repeated fouling, their 20 fouls throughout the game offering Vitesse an outlet of pressure on average every 4.5 minutes. Also, these 20 turnovers granted by fouls, compared weak with Vitesse’s 7. Overall, the process of fouling and free-kicks granted Vitesse 13 possession spells more than PSV had.

 

The opening goal

The match was quite balanced in terms of goal scoring chances, with PSV having limited options due to Vitesse’s well-executed defensive plans, and Vitesse having trouble to bridge the distance to Isaksson’s goal. Despite this, PSV nicked the opening goal after talented winger Zakarya Labyad, whose contract runs out this summer, moved inside for a moment, picked the ball up in central midfield and made a probing central dribble to fire in an excellent long range shot. Vitesse goal keeper Velthuizen, proud owner of the best saves-to-shots ratio of the Eredivisie, had to give up the rebound, which Matavz neatly slotted home.

 

The second half

While the cliché sounds that a team is strengthened by an opening goal, the reverse seemed true for this match’ second half. Vitesse played further up the pitch, particularly with their wingers pressing PSV’s full-backs further back. Vitesse gained the upper hand in terms of ball possession, though most of it was at the feet of centre-backs Kashia and Kalas, a talented Chelsea loanee.

The most interesting part of the pitch were the wings. PSV’s full-backs Manolev and Willems displayed a lack of grip on Vitesse wingers Chanturia and Ibarra, but, in contrast, the same PSV full-backs regularly exploited the lack of defensive awareness of Vitesse’s young wingers. In short, with the center kept very compact, practically all opportunities arose through wing play.

 

More goals

With the game being more and more open as Vitesse gradually increased their offensive intentions, both teams were granted more goal scoring opportunities in the second half. A main problem for Vitesse throughout the match was the lack of an effective striker. Marcus Pedersen featured anonymously for the 60 minutes he spent on the pitch, although in the first half his team set out rather defensively and the large gap between himself and the rest of the team made life very difficult for him. He was replaced by Reis at the hour mark, but despite (or because, or unrelated to) all the attention given to his return to Eindhoven, the former PSV did not add anything to Vitesse’s game.

Doing what their team does best, PSV countered to their second goal. A beauty it was though, as Dries Mertens picked the ball up around the half-way line, completed a central dribble and found the upper left hand corner of the goal from outside the box.

Now two goals down, Van den Brom introduced a second striker, with Japanese international Mike Havenaar, son of a Dutch goal keeper who played much of his career in Japan, entered the pitch for centre-back Kashia. Vitesse effectively switched to an offensive 4-4-2 / 4-2-4 formation that overloaded PSV’s mediocre (in defensive terms) full-backs. This brought them their goal, as Renato Ibarra had the better of left-back Willems and crossed for Havenaar to head home.

In the final minutes, PSV increased their lead to 3-1, with Manolev illustrating that he adds to PSV’s game more in offensive than defensive terms. He broke through on the right wing and combined to finish the move himself too.

 

In the end

The 3-1 score line suggests much more comfort than PSV actually had in this home game. Their pressing intentions during the 0-0 phase of the first thirty minutes were carried out quite sloppy, with repeated fouling helping their opponents out. After the opening goal they proved some danger on the counter, but defended too close to their own goal.

Vitesse, meanwhile, gradually improves and improves as a team. Manager Van den Brom seems to have his grip on a squad he joined only this summer, but Vitesse severely missed the presence of Wilfried Bony up front. Playing PSV by eliminating Strootman proved quite effective, and the concept of an ‘advanced defensive midfielder’ worked very well in this regard.

Twente 2 – 2 PSV: Match data analysis of a balanced affair

Having lost both Eredivisie encounters with Twente in his previous season with PSV, manager Fred Rutten seemed intent on preventing this happening again. In the end PSV trailed the eventual champions Ajax by four points, having won only two of a potential twelve points in the double clashes with direct title rivals Twente and Ajax. Twente manager Adriaanse went into this game with a very offensive starting eleven, but saw his midfield overrun at times and might just have been happy to see his team translate the equality in terms of goal scoring chances into a late comeback goal, after Strootman’s 72nd minute red card, to settle for a final 2-2 score line.

 

Twente’s offensive 4-3-3 formation

The starting elevens

In earlier reports, Twente’s starting formations has been described as a fluency between traditional 4-2-3-1 and 4-3-3 formation, with a tendency to transform into 4-2-4-like situations in chasing situations or dominant home games. Today, Adriaanse played the pair of Luuk de Jong and Nacer Chadli in central midfield, leaving Wout Brama the only defensive minded central midfielder. Up front, pacy wingers Ola John and Emir Bajrami were responsible for serving target man and Twente top scorer Mark Janko. A remarkable change in defensive terms was Bengtsson starting ahead of Twente captain Wisgerhof.

 

PSV’s regular 4-3-3

Fred Rutten made the switch from last year’s conservative 4-2-3-1 to a much more open 4-3-3 style, with high-flying Kevin Strootman the focal point of the team in a complete defensive midfield role. The young Dutch international thrives in this position, seemingly capable to perform a hybrid holding/playmaking role. Up front is where Rutten made his variation, as talented winger Zakarya Labyad keeps Jeremain Lens benched for the second Eredivisie match in a row.

 

InStat Football data analysis

Possession and attacks

Both teams scored two goals, with Twente coming back to level the scores in the end. A look at the possession and creation will shows that this balance in the final score was expressed in other possession and creation related parameters too. In the below graphs, the balanced overall aspect of the game is well presented. Note that the spell of Twente dominance near the end of the match occurred after PSV’s Kevin Strootman saw a 72nd minute red card.

Possession of the ball was 51% Twente versus 49% PSV, with Twente’s possession consisting of 126 spells versus PSV’s 134. With those 126 possessions, Twente created 85 attacks (defined as possession of the ball in the opponent’s half), for an attack ratio of 67%. PSV created 81 attacks, for a slightly lower attack ratio of 60%.

Of Twente’s 85 attacks, 8 were created through set pieces and the remaining 77 (91%) in open play, with a spread in terms of left-center-right of 22-35-20. PSV’s fraction of set piece related chances was double that of Twente, having created 14 chances from set pieces and spreading the remaining 67 (82%) in terms of left-center-right side of the pitch as 20-30-17.

PSV’s open play was more based around more counter attacks, with 17 (25%) of their 67 open play chances arising from such situations, compared to Twente’s 10 (13%) of 77.

 

Shots, possession and attacks throughout the course of the match. Red Twente, blue PSV.

Goal scoring chances

Twente’s 85 attacks led to 18 shots, for a shot to attack ratio of 21%. PSV performed slightly more efficient, as may be expected with a higher rate of counter attacks, with 20 shots from 81 attacks, or a shot ratio of 25%.

Of Twente’s 18 shots, 12 were from inside the box, compared to PSV’s 7 of 20. Yet, Twente found the target with only 4 of their 18 shots, compared to PSV’s 9 of 20. Twente’s 6 shots from outside the box were all off target, while PSV’s 13 shots from outside the box were on target a neat 6 times.

 

Passing

In terms of passing, both teams performed nearly identical. Twente achieved an overall pass completion ratio of 80%, with 392 of 492 passes completed, while PSV’s pass completion was 354 of 471, or 75%. Twente’s higher overall pass completion seems partly related to their higher fraction of non-attacking passes (31% vs 27%), with non-attacking passes having a completion ratio of 95% to 98%.

Both teams attempts a comparable amount of passes into the box, with 13 (33%) completions of 39 attempts for Twente and 11 (32%) completions of 34 attempts for PSV.

 

Ola John versus Emir Bajrami

In terms of duels, challenges and dribbles, Twente’s Ola John had a fantastic game. Competing for a team-high 23 ground challenges and winning 12 (53%) of them, he also completed a team-high of 8 dribbles out of 13 attempts. Compare his performance to his contra-lateral team mate Bajrami and note the differences. Bajrami competed for the second most Twente ground challenges, but won only 5 of his 19 attempts. Meanwhile, he also completed less than half of Ola John’s dribbles, three of seven attempts.

Another stunning difference between Ola John and Bajrami was to be found in terms of offensive passing. Even though Bajrami’s overall pass completion ratio of 76% was slightly higher than Ola John’s 74%, John completed 5 of his 9 open play passing attempts into PSV’s box, making him responsible for over half of Twente’s completed open play passes into their opponent’s box, while Bajrami failed both of his only 2 open play passing attempts into PSV’s box.

 

Ola Toivonen

While all but one of PSV’s players put in very comparable individual performances across all objective defensive and offensive parameters, captain Ola Toivonen formed the negative exception. His abject performance was illustrated in virtually every department.

Toivonen competed a team-low of just 7 ground challenges, winning only 2 of them. He won only 2 of his 7 air challenges, which you wouldn’t expect from a 1.90 meter captain of the team. He failed his single dribbling attempt and won only a single defensive tackle. Toivonen played a part in only 29 (36%) of PSV’s attacks, the third lowest behind central defender Bouma (27) and right winger Labyad (24).

The Swedish international completed 24 (73%) of 33 passes, but only 14 (58%) of his completed passes were with attacking intentions, a team-low figure. To conclude on his miserable performance, only a single PSV outfield player, center back Bouma, made fewer than Toivonen’s single attempted pass into Twente’s box, a pass that he failed to complete too.

 

In the end

The stats tell the story of a rather balanced game, with Twente too often failing to find the target with the 18 attempts that their slight dominance in attacking possession created. PSV, on the other hand, operated much more efficiently with their 20 attempts that were created from a higher fraction of counter attacking play.

In individual terms, Ola John makes a strong claim for man-of-the-match, being responsible of most of Twente’s offensive game play. PSV captain Toivonen provided the single negative exception in an otherwise very balanced team performance.

PSV 2 – 2 Ajax: Does match data confirm the naked eye observations?

The thrilling encounter between PSV and Ajax, which ended in a 2-2 final score after Ajax came back twice, has been reviewed on 11tegen11 immediately after the match had ended. Now that the match data, provided by InStat Football, has come in, it might be interesting to revisit some of the statements made on the basis of naked eye observation and see if the stats point in the same direction.

 

A few points from the match review can easily be tracked.

  1. The draw was deemed a fair result in a match that saw both teams dominate different phases of the game.
  2. Preventing PSV to circulate the ball to Kevin Strootman had been highlighted beforehand as an important part of Ajax’ defensive strategy, which seemed well carried out.
  3. Ajax’ inside right wing role by Eriksen allowed Pieters a relatively easy build-up, leading to a left-sided dominance in PSV’s pattern of play.
  4. There was a distinct lack of defensive quality, with two particularly offensive minded midfield line-ups.

 

Let go over those points one by one and see what the data tell us…

1.       The draw was deemed a fair result in a match that saw both teams dominate different phases of the game.

 

Note the lines for shots, possession and attacks circling around each other during different phases of the match. Red: PSV, blue: Ajax.

Just like we did in the previous match data report, we’ll break down each team’s number of possessions into the number of attacks created with it, and the number of shots created with those attacks. Both teams will be shown to be remarkable similar in this regard, although, as is demonstrated in the above graphs, they dominated during different phases of the game.

Both teams created 75 attacks. PSV did so from 103 possessions, for an attack ratio of 73%, while Ajax did so from 111 possessions, for an attack ratio of 68%. And both teams created 15 shots for a shot ratio of 20%, with 9 attempts coming from inside the box for both teams. PSV managed to find the target with 8 of their shots, while Ajax were slightly less accurate with 6.

 

2.       Preventing PSV to circulate the ball to Kevin Strootman had been highlighted beforehand as an important part of Ajax’ defensive strategy, which seemed well carried out.

In the match against Legia, used to demonstrate that new summer acquisition Kevin Strootman is the most important element in PSV’s possession game, the defensive midfielder was shown to receive far more passes than his team mates: 15% of PSV’s completed passes was directed at Strootman in that game.

In the Ajax match, Strootman received only 21 passes, the third lowest number of PSV’s outfield players, behind Matavz (19) and Manolev (20). The total number of PSV passes was indeed a lot lower (303 vs 543), but the share of PSV passes finding Strootman dropped from 15% in the Legia game to 7% in the Ajax game.

 

3.       Ajax’ inside right wing role by Eriksen allowed Pieters a relatively easy build-up, leading to a left-sided dominance in PSV’s pattern of play.

Initial observation of the match suggested that PSV built the majority of attacks through Pieters, who found himself in a lot of space as Eriksen played a very narrow inside right wing role and often only checked his man when Pieters did advance with the ball at feet. Although Pieters did made more than twice as many passes as his counterpart Manolev (59 vs 29), PSV finished the match with 25 right sided attacks compared to only 19 left sided attacks.

So, somewhere in transition between Pieters’ possession and PSV developing an attack, a preference for right sided passes occurred. An eye-catching difference in this area is the passing game of Toivonen and Wijnaldum. Eleven of Wijnaldum’s 19 passes were directed at the three offensive players (Lens 8 ; Matavz 2 ; Mertens 1), while only three of Toivonen’s 18 passes reached a forward player. So, PSV’s right sided offensive midfielder Wijnaldum, played a significantly more offensive passing game than their left sided midfielder Toivonen did. This may help explain the data described in the above paragraph.

 

4.       There was a distinct lack of defensive quality, with two particularly offensive minded midfield line-ups.

Ajax' first half dribbles, showing a 100% success rate.

Measuring defensive performances has always been the Achilles heel of match data analysis. The most compelling story in this regard is perhaps Manchester United selling Jaap Stam, back in the nineties, when his number of tackles per game started dropping. Assuming that the defender was past his peak, Ferguson sold Stam to Lazio, with some of his best footballing years yet to come. Only later insight revealed that his improved positioning skill allowed him superior defending, without the need for risky tackling. With that in mind, it’s always important to take context into account when assessing the value of raw match data.

The PSV – Ajax game contains very interesting differences regarding both teams and particularly regarding both halves of the match. Ajax succeeded in completing an amazing 16 of their 17 dribble attempts, but all 10 of their offensive half dribbles were made in the first half. PSV, on the other hand, had only two completed dribbles out of 9 attempts in the first half, compared to 8 out of 12 attempts in the second half.

In both teams, several players stood out with a remarkably low rate of ground tackles won, confirming the initial observation of offenses dominating defenses in this match. Some ground tackle success rates for Ajax: Blind (0/6), Van der Wiel (1/6), Janssen (3/10), De Jong (1/4). And for PSV: Pieters (2/8), Marcelo (1/4), Manolev (3/8), Toivonen (1/6).

The introduction of Enoh, who won all of his 7 ground tackles, shifting Anita, who won all six of his ground tackles, to left-back, did increase the amount of tackles won by Ajax, but still didn’t stop PSV from completing a much higher rate of their dribbles in the second half. PSV also created 12 of their 15 attempts in the second half, while Ajax’ attempt were quite evenly spread.

PSV's tackles. Note the big difference between the first half (left) and the second half.

In the end

In short, yes, regarding the four points mentioned above, the data do confirm the observations made during the match. But there still remain so many interesting observations that only come forward when looking at these data. Take for example the difference between Toivonen and Wijnaldum with regard to their passing preference.

Our aim for the near future is to regularly implement the use of match data like these, courteously provided by InStat Football, to structure the observations made regarding tactics and player performances. Should more coverage be available and hopefully in the near future, all Eredivisie match be covered, the necessary context will become available to interpret different data as it should be. At present, though, the intermittent use of match data seems a very helpful tool to structure naked eye observations. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this type of analysis, which is only just emerging in the Eredivisie.

 

This post could not have been created without the support of InStat Football.

PSV 2 – 2 Ajax: Fair result in a very passionate match

The first of this season’s clashes between two of the Eredivisie top three teams produced a passionate match that ended in a 2-2 draw, respecting the fact that, in terms of footballing quality, both sides put in an equal share. However, during various phases of the game one of either teams dominated the other, making this an attractive match with an unpredictable outcome till the very end.

 

PSV’s 4-3-3

Manager Fred Rutten had an almost full-strength squad at his disposal. Only central defender Wilfred Bouma wasn’t fit to start the game, making Derijck and Marcelo the preferred centre back pairing. Striker Tim Matavz, a late summer signing from Groningen, made his first Eredivisie start of the season, after starting earlier this week against Legia Warszawa in the Europa League.

The starting line-ups. Eriksen's inside right wing role proved key to the tactical direction the match took

 

Ajax’ starting XI issues

In contrast to Rutten, De Boer did have some choices to make ahead of this important game. Right winger Sulejmani injured his hamstring in the Champions League match against Lyon and will be sidelined for up to four weeks. Furthermore, De Boer would be looking to strengthen his defensive midfield, as starting a midfield three of deep-lying playmaker Janssen, creative central midfielder Eriksen and all-round man Siem de Jong would carry the risk of being overrun by the ball playing qualities of PSV’s Strootman-Toivonen-Wijnaldum triangle.

In the build up to this game, roughly two variants have been proposed for De Boer to solve these issues. As a first option, and Ajax did play this variant for the first few minutes of the game, Sigthorsson could be shifted out to the right wing, with Siem de Jong filling in the striker role and Anita being brought into the squad in defensive midfield. The second option, which Ajax played from the 5th minute on, was to play Christian Eriksen in an inside right wing role, leaving Sigthorsson up front and, again, bringing Anita into the central defensive midfield.

 

PSV’s kick-start

PSV exerted some frantic pressing early on, resulting in a 2nd minute opening goal by Tim Matavz. To those familiar with the recent breakdown of PSV’s game it should come to no surprise that the attack was constructed along the left wing. Gregory van der Wiel missed a crucial challenge, which unleashed Pieters wide, allowing to cross for Matavz who was left in acres of space by Alderweireld. With just two minutes on the clock, Ajax continued an impressive negative record of eight straight away games where they conceded the first goal. This time had it all to do in Eindhoven.

With this score line, an interesting battle evolved. As outlined above, Ajax had made some forced, yet crucial, changes to their right wing line-up. Eriksen often drifted inside, thereby strengthening the central midfield area and vacating space for Van der Wiel to express his forward drive. Understandably, this worked quite well when Ajax had possession of the ball, but it also meant that they conceded way too much space on PSV’s dangerous left flank. PSV’s attacks were well frustrated centrally, where De Jong and Eriksen cut out the passing to Strootman, but Ajax allowed an easy way out. PSV simply built through Pieters, who often doubled up with Mertens to overload Ajax’ right flank. This imbalance was further enhanced by Ajax’ tendency, just like Legia did, to allow left central back Marcelo much more time on the ball than his right sided central defensive partner, Derijck in this case.

 

Ajax’ gradual recovery

A fifteen minute injury break, involving PSV goal keeper Tyton, who was knocked out in a clash with defender Derijck, induced a kind of extra half time break, halfway through the first half. After this period, Ajax crowned a more dominant spell with Sigthorsson’s equalizer, after the Icelandic striker showed his physical qualities in winning the ball in the edge of PSV’s box.

Ajax captain Vertonghen regularly dribbled into the midfield, providing the extra man in midfield here, while PSV’s problems defending their lead seemed to concentrate in their midfield area. The midfield three of Strootman-Toivonen-Wijnaldum, much praised for their qualities ion possession, often seemed unable to win the ball back other than by making numerous fouls during this phase of the match.

 

The second half

Much like they did in the first half, PSV started with a high degree of pressing, which resulted in them regaining the initiative. It seems like playing for a goal suits the qualities of the current squad much better than sitting on a lead, as with the present 1-1 score line, PSV created the better chances, ultimately leading to Wijnaldum’s penalty kick goal after Van der Wiel went in clumsily on Mertens on the edge of the box.

The openness of the second half had much to do with the lack of defensive input by both team’s offensive midfielders and wingers. On PSV’s side, Toivonen and, less so, Wijnaldum all too often refrained from adequately tracking back, while left winger Mertens seemed instructed to leave Van der Wiel to left back Pieters in order to take advantage as soon as PSV regained possession.

 

 

Ajax, on the other hand, rendered too much freedom to PSV’s left back Pieters as Eriksen often drifted inside. On top of that, as they were a goal down for much of the first and second half, Siem de Jong positioned himself closer and closer to the striker position in search for the equalizer. This may also have contributed to the high midfield foul rate, as most markers closed down men in possession from quite a distance, rather than pressing them back from an organized defensive line.

 

The big man

Frank de Boer took many by surprise by introducing strong target man Bulykin for Sigthorsson around the hour mark. Ajax took a more opportunistic approach to the game and wasn’t shy of leaping the ball forward to the big man, with Siem de Jong now playing quite close to Bulykin, looking to collect and flick-ons.

In the end, much like their 3-3 draw at VVV last week, PSV proved unable to hold onto a lead. Rutten didn’t adapt his formation to Ajax’ more pragmatic playing style, and, with chances appearing on both ends of the pitch, ultimately paid the price. Introducing defensive midfielder Ojo for either Wijnaldum or Toivonen would have seemed appropriate, as both offensive midfielders didn’t cover themselves in glory with regard to their defensive input.

Ajax got their equalizer through a poacher’s finish by Bulykin, who beat last year’s ADO team mate Derijck for a cross by Van der Wiel, who saw his offensive input rewarded, but shouldn’t forget his share in conceding the penalty goal earlier that half.

 

In the end

A draw seems a fair result to the game, and at least both teams got there in more spectacular fashion than they did in last year’s 0-0 in both of their Eredivisie clashes. Any football fans that may have turned their attention to the Eredivisie just for this high billed game have been rewarded with a very open, high scoring and attractive game, but the stigma of the Eredivisie being a low quality league regarding defensive organization might just have gotten a bit stronger today.