Tag Archives: PSV

Match Stats analysis of PSV – Legia 1-0: Lessons for Frank de Boer

With the support of InStat Football, who kindly provided match stats on this game, 11tegen11 is able to dive into the stats behind PSV’s disappointing 1-0 home victory over Legia Warszawa in the first match of the Europa League group stage. This review will focus on numbers rather than naked eye tactical observations and will concentrate on breaking down PSV’s game, rather than focusing on Legia. It will highlight some important aspects ahead of Sunday’s clash with league leaders Ajax.


PSV’s 4-3-3 system

After the disappointing end to last season’s campaign, manager Fred Rutten has come in for quite some criticism, being blamed for focusing too much on the defensive side of things and consequently holding onto a double holding midfielder system, even when facing inferior opposition. Rutten’s tactical plans seem a tad different this year, changes which have been highlighted in a previous post describing PSV’s switch from the double holding midfielder 4-2-3-1 system to a more genuine single holding midfielder 4-3-3 formation.

In the present match, PSV’s summer acquisitions started together for the first time, meaning that Slovenian striker Tim Matavz, who was acquired from Groningen near the transfer deadline, as well as Strootman, Wijnaldum and Mertens all featured in the starting eleven. At the back Rutten held onto the Marcelo-Bouma pairing, preferring the tall Brazilian over Timothy Derijck, who captained ADO to their Europa League qualification last year.


A comfortable win?

PSV won this game 1-0, through a 21st minute goal by left winger Dries Mertens. In total PSV created 18 goal scoring attempts against Legia’s 7 with both teams shooting around a third of those attempts on target (6 v 2).

Half of PSV’s shots were from inside to box, yet only two of those nine attempts were on target. In contrast, Legia’s four shots from outside the box were all off target, while two of their three shots from inside the box were on target, but saved.


Possession analysis, the debate

A hot topic in recent debate on stats analysis in football concerns how to treat possession. Generally, possession is measured as time in possession, but this parameter has shown limited applicability. Quick counter attacks have been demonstrated to be the most dangerous types of possession, while slow build-up attacks can’t nearly match that goal scoring threat per second of possession.

The most straightforward form of possession analysis seems to simply count the number of possession and deduct the efficiency of turning these possession spells into attacks, attacks into shots and shots into goals. And of course, defensive efficiency could be provided the same parameters: preventing your opponent from turning possession spells into attacks, attacks into shots and shots into goals.


Possession and attack analysis, the numbers

Conventional analysis would express PSV’s dominance as 59% of possession, simply stating that PSV possessed the ball 1.5 times longer than Legia did. Another way of looking at the same information is to say that PSV had 143 spells of possession, which lasted on average 14 seconds, while Legia had 134 spells of 10 seconds on average.

Red: PSV ; Blue: Legia

With 143 possessions, PSV created 94 attacks, with attacks being defined as any possession with a completed pass inside the opponent’s half. Legia, on the other hand, turned only 65 of their 134 possessions into attacks. PSV’s attack ratio of 66% compared to Legia’s 49% proved the home side to be more effective in turning possessions into attacks.

PSV’s 94 attacks were quite unequally distributed, with 31 on the left flank, 38 in the center and only 17 on the right flank. Of 94 attacks, 18 shots were created, for a shot ratio of 19%. Although PSV’s left flank was the focus of almost twice as many attacks as their right flank, the shot ratio of the left flank was only 13% versus 18% on the right wing and 21% in the center.


Passing analysis

Note the difference in passing pattern between Strootman's first and second half

PSV ‘outpassed’ Legia with 543/636 completed passes for a pass completion ratio of 85% versus 357/441 for 81%. The fact that PSV turned more of their possessions into attacks, or in other words, succeeded in playing more of the game on the offensive half of the pitch, was also reflected in their 56 passes into the box versus Legia’s 22. However, Legia’s efficiency of these passes was much higher, completing 13 of them (59%) versus PSV’s 15 (29%).

To those who’ve read the previous statistical analysis of PSV’s game, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Kevin Strootman was PSV’s main passer of the ball. Playing in the single holding midfielder role, he received 82 of PSV’s 543 completed passes (15%). Another eye-catching number is Marcelo’s 78 received passes, which highlighted the fact that Legia deliberately refrained from pressing him in PSV’s build-up. His central defensive partner Bouma received only  33 passes, the lowest number of all PSV’s defensive and midfield players.

Having received most passes, Kevin Strootman was also PSV’s main distributor of the ball, which he did quite well in terms of completing passes: 90/104 or 87%. A remarkable observation is his direction of distribution. Left-back Pieters received 21 of Strootman passes compared to right-back Manolev’s 5 and left winger Mertens received 12 compared to right winger Lens’ 1.


Dries Mertens

Apart from Strootman, one more PSV player deserves to be highlighted here. If not so much on the basis of his performances against Legia, although he scored the only goal of the match and managed three of PSV’s six shots on target in this game, then certainly because of his thrilling start to his PSV career earlier this season, having scored in the first five consecutive Eredivisie matches.

Mertens received 56 passes, mostly from Pieters (21) and Strootman (12), while attempting 53 passes of his own, indicating that he only lost three more balls for his team than he won back with defensive work himself. He completed 38 of his passes (72%), with the majority of incomplete passes being played into the box. Only 5 of his 16 passes in that area found another PSV player.

Mertens played a role in 59 of PSV’s 94 attacks (63%), highlighting his central role in PSV’s offense. His participation rate was much higher than team mates Lens (34%, correct for his 73rd minute sub), Toivonen (43%), Wijnaldum (37%) and Matavz (43%). Mertens participated in 38% of PSV’s counter attacks, 35% of open play attacks and 90% of set piece attacks.


Lessons for Frank de Boer

In-depth match performance data can offer a lot of insight into the patterns of play of a certain team. By studying the data from the PSV – Legia game, Frank de Boer can draw some useful conclusions on PSV’s playing patterns and their major threats.

A key factor for Ajax in Sunday’s game will be to frustrate Strootman’s passing game. He featured in a team high of 78% of attacks, so any pressure on him will significantly impair PSV’s game. His passing pattern, at least in the Legia game, was extremely focused on the left side of the pitch, with the left sided players receiving over five times more passes than their right sided team mates.

Another key aspect will be how Ajax deals with PSV’s wingers, who both play a very different game. Left winger Mertens is involved in double the number of attacks that right winger Lens is, and aims 30% of his passes into the box, compared to Lens’ 10%.

These two points are certain to return in the match review of the PSV – Ajax game, which may reveal more on the true strengths of both teams.


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

Why PSV is better off with an offensive 4-3-3 formation

Only six games into the season, PSV manager Fred Rutten has seen his side transform from a toothless bunch to a free scoring title contender. This post will first glance over the match tactics involved, in order to identify the positive changes made by Rutten, before taking a dive into some detailed match stats to illustrate the effects of Rutten’s tactical changes.


Early season results

After a false start that saw them lose 3-1 away at AZ in the first match, PSV continued with a narrow and bleak 1-0 home victory over newly promoted RKC. At that early point in the season, Rutten changed things around a bit. His side came in for quite some stick on the back of two season’s ending in third place finishes under Rutten’s reign, and more so, Rutten’s general conservative approach was openly criticized by the home fans. Early signs of the pre-season games were hopeful of a change to a more progressive midfield and the arrival of left winger Mertens, offensive midfielder Wijnaldum and upcoming all-round midfield man Strootman has injected PSV with the types of players needed in such a system.

However, Rutten didn’t extend his pre-season intentions into the first competitive games of the season, but rather returned to a double holding midfielder system, introducing young Funso Ojo beside Strootman, with Wijnaldum in the hole behind lone striker Toivonen. The abovementioned disappointing games against AZ and RKC helped Rutten turn back to his offensive pre-season midfield, shifting Lens from right wing into the striker role to move Toivonen back to his natural offensive midfielder role, supporting Wijnaldum and leaving a single holding role for Strootman. The vacated left wing was filled in by 18-year old talent Zakaria Labyad.

From that moment on, PSV’s season took a turn for the better. And as if to destroy any remaining doubts, Rutten changed his team back to the conservative double holding midfielder system for the away game at Ried, for a disappointing 0-0 draw that was erase with the more offensive system with a 5-0 win in the home game.

For clarity, let’s refer to PSV’s initial conservative formation as a 4-2-3-1 and to PSV’s subsequent offensive formation as a 4-3-3. The 4-2-3-1 was applied in the games against AZ away, RKC at home and Ried away and the 4-3-3 was applied against ADO away, Ried at home and Excelsior at home.

Average positions of the 4-2-3-1 as used against AZ. Also note the deep position of striker Toivonen (7).

Average positions of the 4-3-3 formation as used in the home game against Ried.















A simple glance at the results under the 4-2-3-1 system (1-3 ; 1-0 ; 0-0) versus the 4-3-3 system (3-0 ; 5-0 ; 6-1) tells quite a story already, but there’s more to it than that. With the help of InStatFootball, a company specifying in detailed football match data, 11tegen11 is able to use specific team and player data to study the differences between both system more in depth.


Goal scoring chances

The major change in score lines between the three matches played under the 4-2-3-1 versus those three played under the 4-3-3 system is underlined by a spectacular improvement in the amount of goal scoring chances too. The table below illustrates this well, showing that PSV increased their shots on target from 3.7 to 11 per match, while reducing their conceded shots on target from 4 to 1.7.



Goals PSV






Shots PSV






Shots on target PSV







Midfield passing

PSV’s change from a double to a single holding midfielder is reflected very well in their midfield passing statistics. Kevin Strootman and Funso Ojo started all three 4-2-3-1 matches as the double pivot, holding the midfield in front of PSV’s back four. Both contributed an equal share of passes, averaging 68 and 66 passes per 90 minutes respectively, with completion rates of 83% (Strootman) and 87% (Ojo).

However, offensive midfielder Wijnaldum lacked support, resulting in him passing the ball less than half as often as his defensive midfield team mates. Wijnaldum made on average only 29 pass attempts per 90 minutes, completing 86% of those.

Under the 4-3-3 system, Strootman increased his passing to an impressive average of 98 pass attempts per 90 minutes, even slightly increasing his completion rate to 85%. With Toivonen’s support, Wijnaldum’s pass attempts increased to 47, with 85% completion and Toivonen added another 43 passes himself, reaching 91% completion of those three games.

In conclusion, PSV’s midfield passing improved massively with Strootman operating as a sole holding midfielder. He proved very well capable of increasing his game to cover for the absence of Ojo in that department, while Wijnaldum received the support of Toivonen in the offensive midfield area. PSV’s total amount passes made by central midfield players increased from 163 to 188 (+16%), while the completion rate remained intact (85 and 86%). On top of that, passes were now made in a more offensive and central midfield zone, as is illustrated in Wijnaldum’s passing diagram’s for the Ried away game (4-2-3-1) versus the ADO away game (4-3-3).

Wijnaldum's first (top) and second half passing chart shows his lack of central offensive passes in the match against Ried away.

Note the contrast with his passing in the ADO game, where the support of a second offensive midfielder allowed him a much more active and central role.














Offensive efficiency

As a whole, PSV operated more efficient in terms of generating attacks from possessions and generating chances from attacks. Under both the 4-3-3 and the 4-2-3-1 system  PSV averaged a similar amount of possessions (134 and 136), and the amount of attacks resulting from it were equal too (95 and 100), amounting to a figure of 71% to 74% of possessions turned into attacks. Note that attacks are defined as any spell of possession with passage to the opponent’s half of the field.

The difference in offensive efficiency between both systems becomes very clear when looking at the amount of open play attacks turned into shots. For clarity reasons set piece attacks and quick counter breaks have been eliminated. On average 6.8% of open play attacks resulted in a goal scoring attempt under the 4-2-3-1 system, while the 4-3-3 nearly tripled that number to 18.8%, resulting in an increase in the number of attempts from open play from 5 per match to 13.


In the end

This post clearly illustrates the difference in passing and offensive efficiency between PSV’s three matches played out under last season’s 4-2-3-1 system in comparison with the more offensively intended 4-3-3 system. Particularly, in player terms, the major step up by Kevin Strootman in his role as single holding and passing midfielder has been impressive.

This is the first post on 11tegen11 to use extensive in-depth match data, which was courteously provided by InStatFootball, without whom this analysis would not have been possible. The aim is to keep using match data in order to back up (or reject) tactical observations of the naked eye. Please don’t hesitate to provide feedback via the comment boxes below this post, twitter, or email.

Eredivisie season 2011/12 preview: the title contenders

In the build-up to the start of the 2011/12 Eredivisie season, 11tegen11 will review all Eredivisie clubs to discuss the tactical implications of all summer changes. Nine Eredivisie clubs will kick off the new season with a new manager and several clubs have seen key players leave, freeing up space to fit in young talents and new acquisitions. The first chapter of this preview series will discuss title contenders Ajax, Twente and PSV.



Manager: Frank de Boer (since December 2010)

Formation: 4-3-3

Key players gone: Demi de Zeeuw (Luis Suarez and Urby Emanuelson during winter transfer window)

Key acquisitions: Theo Janssen, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Thulani Serero, Derk Boerrigter

Frank De Boer was quite outspoken about his goals for the coming season: retaining the title and reaching the knock-out stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League. Much will depend on whether the club will retain the services of captain Jan Vertonghen and right full-back Gregory van der Wiel. With goal keeper Maarten Stekelenburg’s contract expiring in 2012, the club will be keen to cooperate on a deal seeing him leave, as rumored, to AS Roma this week. Understudy Kenneth Vermeer already showed his qualities during earlier spells in the first team squad and will be ready to perform at that level again.

Frank de Boer inherited a squad playing a double pivot in front of their back four with one central playmaker, which he immediately changed to a single holding midfielder with two probing central midfielders. The trade of Demi de Zeeuw for Theo Janssen fits into that plan perfectly. Janssen’s excellent vision and passing skill provides De Boer with the perfect opportunity to switch to a deep-lying playmaker system rather than the single holding midfielder that we saw during the second part of the 2010/11 season. This will also allow central midfielders Eriksen and Siem de Jong more on the receiving end of offensive passes with new striker Kolbeinn Sightorsson demanded to free up space for them by applying false nine principles.

Apart from Janssen and Sigthorsson, Ajax also secured the services of creative midfielder Thulani Serero, who impressed as player of the year in the 2010/11 South African Premiership, and winger Derk Boerrigter, last season’s Jupiler League player of the year. Should Ajax indeed retain all of their current outfield players, De Boer’s main concerns over the season will consist of the choices he will have to make as a result of the strength in depth of the current squad.

Vurnon Anita impressed as a holding midfielder during the latter stages of the past season, but the arrival of Janssen indicates his best chances of playing time might be a return to a full-back role, competing with Van der Wiel and rising star Boilesen. The two offensive midfield spots will presumably be taken by Eriksen and De Jong, which will see Serero and Uruguayan international Lodeiro in fierce competition for playing time. Sigthorsson looks a sure starter as the central striker, with El Hamdaoui definitely on his way out and Ajax rumored to be looking for an understudy here. Finally, wing starters Ebecilio and Sulejmani will see Özbiliz and Boerrigter ready to take over any time.



Manager: Co Adriaanse (since July 2011)

Formation:  4-3-3

Key player gone: Theo Janssen

Key acquisition: Willem Janssen

For the second time in succession Twente will start a new season with a new manager. Michel Preud’homme traded his Twente contract for a managerial position at Al Shabab Riad and in Co Adriaanse Twente found an experienced Eredivisie manager, ironically moving in the reverse direction as his predecessor after being relieved from his duties managing Qatar’s Olympic team earlier this year.

With a managerial change taking place it’s risky to state firm things about the tactics of the coming season, but some form of 4-3-3 looks the best fit to both squad and manager. Adriaanse stated some interesting things about his intentions with last season’s revelation, Belgian international Nacer Chadli. While mostly used as an inside left winger, the new Twente manager will aim to play Chadli in a central playmaking role behind their lone striker. This will allow him to connect with Twente’s main playmaker Bryan Ruiz, who drifts in from the right wing with large amounts of positional freedom. Any form of double playmaker system would be new to the Eredivisie, but a Dutch based version of Palermo’s Pastore-Ilicic tandem would be more than welcome.

To complete Twente’s strike force, Swedish international Emir Bajrami is expected to gain more playing time on the left wing after only completing only one full game despite 21 appearances during last season’s Eredivisie campaign. The choice to move Chadli to the centre of the pitch would force either De Jong or Janko out of the starting eleven, with the Austrian target man looking to be the most likely victim, although he may still prove very valuable as a ‘plan B’ target man striker.

Twente’s midfield will have to do without Theo Janssen. The omnipresent midfield was an integral part of Twente’s success of the past two seasons and the 2010/11 Eredivisie player of the year might be dearly missed in Enschede. Adriaanse’s move directing Chadli to a central position may be seen to fill in the void of creativity in the central part of the pitch, left by Janssen’s departure. Behind Chadli, holding midfielder Wout Brama, still only 24 years old but with 218 matches for Twente under his belt already and new signing Willem Janssen will complete the midfield three. Willem Janssen started all 34 Eredivisie matches for Roda last season and his energetic runs will add to the dynamism of Twente’s midfield.




Manager: Fred Rutten (since July 2009)

Formation: 4-3-3

Key players gone: Balasz Dzsudzsak, ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, Jonathan Reis, Markus Berg, Danny Koevermans (Ibrahim Afellay during winter transfer window)

Key acquisitions: Dries Mertens, Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum

After finishing the Eredivisie in third place for two consecutive seasons, which does not live up to the high expectations of his appointment as PSV manager, Fred Rutten will try and take PSV back to where they were at the end of all but one of the ten seasons prior to his appointment: first or second place. In order to do so, his options to bring in major signings seemed limited. Until the 14m transfer of winger Balasz Dszudszak and a deal selling the ground under their stadium to the city of Eindhoven that is…

Hungarian winger Dszudszak was hardly the only player leaving PSV, as central defender ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, veteran striker Koevermans, talented Brazilian striker Reis and, during the winter transfer window, captain Ibrahim Afellay all left the club for a combined fee of 4m. Striker Berg returned to HSV after his one year loan deal ended.

PSV re-invested Dszudszak’s transfer money in three presumed first team starters. Winger Dries Mertens and holding midfielder Kevin Strootman was transferred in from Utrecht and creative central midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from Feyenoord. With that, the void of three departed strikers still remains to be filled. The only natural striker left in PSV’s current first team squad is Género Zeefuik, a home grown player who only started one Eredivisie match in his career so far. Alternatives could be provided by playing winger Lens or offensive midfielder Toivonen in that position too. As a potential transfer target Ajax’ out of favor striker Mounir El Hamdaoui is mentioned, but no deal has been done yet.

In tactical terms Rutten’s third season may see a mini-revolution. The disappointing results of the past two seasons induced quite some criticism on Rutten’s tendency to stick with two defensive minded central midfielders. And see, so far in the pre-season friendlies, PSV has appeared with a midfield three consisting of Strootman in a single holding role with the pair of Toivonen and Wijnaldum providing offensive input. It remains to be seen if the void of strikers will call Ola Toivonen back to that position, but early signs point towards more offensive intentions by Rutten.


In conclusion

Ajax will have to be wary of defensive key players like Vertonghen and Van der Wiel making late transfer window departures, Twente seem to have a plan in place to deal with Janssen’s departure and PSV showed offensive intentions during the pre-season friendlies. It can hardly be overstressed that the transfer window still lasts for over a month and early results in the competitive matches may lead to changes of tactical directions, but the outline for another exciting and close Eredivisie title challenge is here!

Twente 2 – 0 PSV: The champions retake the Eredivisie lead

In the most anticipated match of the Eredivisie season so far, reigning champions Twente beat league leaders PSV 2-0 to leapfrog them in the standings and retake the lead for the first time since last November. Squad depth, tactical flexibility and the return of superstar Bryan Ruiz provide vital elements in this enthralling performance.


PSV’s issues

In tactical terms, both teams are very consistent. PSV consequently apply a solid 4-2-3-1 system that draws heavily on the creative input of wingers Lens and Dszudszak. In midfield both Engelaar and Hutchinson play a conservative short passing game that does not appeal that much in terms of creativity and bright moments, but it proves highly effective in terms of controlling possession and providing defensive cover.

The starting line-ups

The Achilles heel of PSV’s formation this season has certainly been the striker area. Having none of their four potential central strikers sticking above the rest from the start of the season on, Rutten has struggled in this area from early on. Initially, Markus Berg, on a season-long loan from HSV did not fullfil expectations in terms of goal scoring. Later on, Koevermans was provided with a short run of games, but he is generally deemed more of a strong target man, able to open even games in a late substitute role rather than starting from the kick-off.

Some months into the season Jonathan Reis returned from Brazil, having overcome personal problems as well as his cocaine addiction. He firmly claimed the first team spot with a series of convincing performance, but was unfortunately injured during the Roda game and is out for the season with ligamental knee problems. Finally, Holland Under-21 international Genero Zeefuik made some useful substitute contributions, but was not yet able to step into the shoes of the first team starting role.

Against Twente, Rutten didn’t have much of a choice, with Koevermans and Reis out, and he started Markus Berg. One-time Holland international Otman Bakkal replaced the suspended Ola Toivonen in the advanced midfielder role. Otherwise, PSV was able to field their preferred starting eleven.


Twente’s stability

Despite having faced serious injury problems themselves, Twente’s season has been a quite stable one. Their 4-3-3 formation, finally re-adopted by Michel Preud’homme after a short switch to the 4-2-3-1 earlier this season, is characterized by stability too. The midfield three of Janssen, Brama and Landzaat play a narrow controlled system with lots of movement in possession. Brama plays the most conservative role, generally man-marking the opposing advanced midfielder, Bakkal in this case. Landzaat is the most advanced man, making well-timed runs from deep to arrive late in the box. Finally, Theo Janssen is the spin-doctor of Twente’s team, providing an excellent deep-lying playmaker role with the combination of his technical skills and vision.

In this match, tall striker Janko was still out with injury. Strong, but temperamental central defender Douglas suffers from a six match suspension and long-term injured full-back Tiendalli made his return to the pitch only in the closing minutes. But most importantly, Bryan Ruiz came back from his tough knee injury to put his mark on the game in a substitute role, allowing him just thirty minutes of match action, but a decisive role nonetheless.



The first half

Twente has a habit of starting their matches in a controlled conservative style and this game was no exception to that. PSV was allowed to dominate possession, but only slightly and Twente’s compact midfield three made it difficult for PSV to transfer the ball their central offensive players Bakkal and Berg. An early controversial incident shook up things as Lens cleared the ball of his own goal line using his left arm and a penalty and red card could and should have been awarded. Curiously, this allowed PSV a way back into the game, with Twente being most distracted by this moment.

Both formations were quite balanced, both in terms of quality as well as in terms of the formations. PSV’s double pivot and single offensive midfielder combined well with Twente’s midfield shape and both teams’ midfielder effectively cancelled each other out for quite some time in the first half. The difference was generally made in the striker role.

While Markus Berg plays a static lone striker role, looking to get on the end of moves and score goals, Twente’s Luuk de Jong uses more positional freedom, regularly dropping off into the midfield. This allowed Twente an extra man a times and it allowed their right winger, Emir Bajrami, to drift inside and get involved in a role generally performed by Bryan Ruiz.

On top of that, De Jong played a much better game than Berg did. In short, Twente used their striker well to complete midfield combinations, while PSV saw their striker miss two excellent first half scoring opportunities, a decisive factor during the first half.


The second half

The urgency of this game was much more expressed during the second half as both teams applied more pressure on their opponents. After Bajrami saw a low shot from outside the box pushed onto the post by Isaksson, PSV took the game to their opponents during the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Twente’s patience was tested here as they kept their calm, sitting back and limiting PSV’s goal scoring chances very well.

Twente definitely changed the game around at the hour mark. Superstar Bryan Ruiz’ appearance at the side line just before his entrance on the pitch electrified the stadium and he immediately made his appearance felt. Ruiz possesses excellent dribbling skills and controls the ball very well during his dribbles. After Berg spilt possession around the halfway line, Ruiz was allowed a short turn past PSV defender Marcelo who held onto him for the slightest of moments. Twente was awarded a penalty that Janssen converted.

Rutten is that much consequent in his 4-2-3-1 system that he didn’t turn to a second striker beside Berg, even after conceding this second half goal. Instead he opted to remove Berg with twenty minutes of play left and brought young Genero Zeefuik to the pitch. Overall, PSV upped their stance and tried to force a way back into the match, but with Dszudszak and Lens unable to contribute Twente’s defence was never really tested.

Near the end of the game Twente took full advantage of a weak Dszudszak free kick to counter to a second goal. Theo Janssen picked the ball up in his own half and finished a long run with a delicious slightly off balance chip over Isaksson to score one of the best Eredivisie goals this season and to finish this very important game.


In the end

After winning away in Eindhoven, Twente managed a second victory of their Eredivisie direct title rivals to retake the lead. The tactical flexibility of their 4-3-3 was clearly demonstrated in this match. At times they patiently absorbed PSV’s pressing moments, like in the first fifteen minutes of both halves, without conceding more than a few goal scoring chances. And at times they moved forward in compact shape too, like their dominance around the hour mark.

Furthermore, they showed superior squad depth as both teams missed their preferred first choice striker today. Twente has the flexibility of advancing Luuk de Jong, who played an excellent link-up game in a false nine role, while PSV missed Reis’ goal scoring instinct as Berg missed the opportunities to score a first half goal. Now having played both Twente and Ajax twice and not having scored a single goal in those four matches, PSV’s striker issues have been made very clear.

Although Twente retook the Eredivisie lead, the race is far from over. Twente plays Ajax away on the final day of the season with PSV visiting Groningen at the same time. Furthermore, PSV’s superior goal difference might give them the edge if things get really tight.

N.E.C. – PSV 2 – 2: Two costly points lost by the league leaders

N.E.C. managed to maintain their excellent home record of just two losses this Eredivisie campaign as a fierce gung-ho final minutes brought them a late, but deserved equalizer. PSV lacked creativity, playing without Toivonen, leaving Berg and Koevermans on the bench and of course, missing Afellay since the winter transfer window.


Two 4-2-3-1’s

The preferred formation in this Eredivisie season is definitely the 4-2-3-1. Both PSV and N.E.C. consequently play this formation and variety should not be expected in terms of tactics, but more in terms of the starting eleven.

The starting line-ups

PSV manager Rutten finally punished Markus Berg for his recent substandard performances and gave young striker Genero Zeekfuik his first start for the club. Behind him, Otman Bakkal replaced Ola Toivonen who suffers from a four game suspension after his elbow on Jan Vertonghen in the game against Ajax. Otherwise, PSV played their standard first eleven, this time with Maza Rodriguez and Wilfred Bouma in the heart of their defense and Marcelo on the bench. Rutten has tended to rotate between his three central defenders during recent games.

N.E.C. welcomed Leroy George for his second start since his injury against the away game against PSV earlier this season. The right winger’s pace seems an important asset to provide some variety in their attacking play, as the majority of goals have simply been scored by one man, Belgian striker Björn Vleminckx. In defensive midfield they miss passing midfielder Niki Zimling, as the Danish international is suspended after his late direct red card against ADO. He is replaced by Lorenzo Davids.


The first half

PSV started the game positively, pressing their opponents back and dominating the opening five minutes. But after this early opening phase, the home team grew into their game more and more. PSV still had the better of the game, but N.E.C. improved their control on the midfield part of the game. Bas Sibum did a good job man-marking Bakkal out of the game and debutant striker Zeefuik had a tough time against the physical presence of both Nuytinck and Zomer in N.E.C.’s central defense.

PSV did create a handful of opportunities, mainly through Jeremain Lens, who had an excellent game and displayed a high work rate. He more than once had the better of his opponent, the Frenchman Amieux. PSV’s main source of danger was this right flank. Bulgarian right-back Manolev is known for his overlapping runs, and, it must be said, also for his abysmal crossing. But this time around, it was his excellent cross that found Balasz Dszudszak at the far post for PSV’s equalizer. While it was certainly not against the run of play for PSV to score, the fact that it was Dszudszak scoring contrasted with his unusually anonymous game up to that moment.

N.E.C. had just a minute before gone a goal up thanks to a magnificent long range strike by Leroy George. He had indeed been N.E.C.’s prima source of danger during the few times that they succeeded in playing him in behind PSV’s defensive line.

The main difference between the teams, apart from the individual player quality of PSV’s wingers, was made in midfield. N.E.C. lost numerous balls here which allowed PSV to start their counters in their opponent’s half. Particularly Davids’ passing was off the mark and N.E.C. seemed to miss their passing midfielder Zimling here. PSV, on the other hand, connected quite well in midfield as Lasse Schöne often preferred to step out of the midfield to press PSV’s central defenders. This left Davids with both Engelaar and Hutchinson and that explained why PSV had a relatively easy game in the midfield passing department.


The second half

Initially the game went on in the same pattern as the first half, but gradually PSV gained more control. Bakkal got himself more involved than before after taking a slightly deeper role, playing more as a true third midfielder than playing as the advanced midfielder that Toivonen usually does.

But N.E.C. upped their game, clearly motivated by manager Vloet and they did not hold back in tackling their opponents. Their midfield passing game might have been astray today, but they certainly made up for it with their tackling. Particularly Davids played a much better second half in this regard.

Despite these positives, N.E.C. suffered a goal around the hour mark as Lens got a free run at the goal after left-back Amieux suffered from a muscular injury during a tackle. The PSV winger rounded Zomer and fired in at the first post to give his team the lead.

But instead of controlling the game and playing for the third goal, PSV seemed to have problems controlling possession. Lacking Afellay in midfield, they had a tough time playing around N.E.C.’s committed tackling.

With fifteen minutes to go Rutten replaced Zeefuik with Berg, perhaps hoping for an improvement in ball retention up front, but the Swede played a large anonymous role in his part of the game. Vloet, meanwhile, removed one of his defenders. Actually, Wellenberg, who replaced Will earlier that half, suffered from a knee injury, and Vloet took the opportunity at hand to bring young striker Ricky ten Voorde. Now playing a sort of 3-1-3-3 formation, N.E.C. certainly took the game to their opponents.

And in the final minutes of the game they saw their commitment and gung-ho style of attacking rewarded with the equalizer. Captain Ramon Zomer crowned a decent game in defense with a second post header to give the hosts the point they deserved.


In the end

PSV certainly lost two important points in this tricky away fixture in between the Europa League meetings with Rangers. Not being able to play around N.E.C.’s committed tackling and failing to take enough offensive profit from their earlier dominance in the midfield passing department, they got punished with a late equalizer in the end.

PSV 0 – 0 Ajax: Goalless but not shy of excitement

Just three days after overcoming a deliberately weakened Lille side, PSV faced the perfect opportunity to create a definite gap with title rivals Ajax in this home game. Ajax, playing a 4-3-3 system, just like Lille did in Eindhoven a few days ago, looked to reduce the gap with PSV to just two points, aiming to keep their title ambitions alive, as was reflected in Frank de Boer’s words, going into this game: “It’s D-day!”.


Two interesting match-ups

The starting line-up. Note both sets of three midfielders cancelling each other out.

Studying the starting line-ups of PSV and Ajax, the most intriguing match-ups were to be found in the Van der Wiel vs Dszudszak and the Pieters vs Sulejmani confrontations. Both of Holland’s present first choice full-backs, fielded for different side, were to be expected to fight out crucial battle versus their opponent’s most threatening attacking player.

From a tactical perspective, just like mentioned in the report of the Lille game, the midfield line-ups from a mirror image of each other with PSV fielding two more conservative midfielders versus Ajax’ two more offensive midfielders. Atiba Hutchinson is PSV’s ‘destructive’ midfielder, mainly occupied with man-marking the opponent’s main attacking midfielder, in this case Eriksen. Captain Orlando Engelaar on the other hand should be PSV’s ‘constructive’ midfielder, but struggle to bring the amount of offensive passing and creativity that PSV lacks since Afellay left for Barcelona during the winter break.


Pressing all over

PSV started the game with furious pressing, even consequently pushing up to Stekelenburg all the time and, despite they could never maintain the intensity of pressing displayed during the opening minutes, this resulted in their 60-40 possession dominance throughout the first half. And with the midfield fairly marked out because of the equal 3 vs 3 line-up, the preferred passing route, just like in the Lille game, was over both flanks. Dszudszak got involved a lot and fought hard battle with Van der Wiel, who did a decent job in terms of tackling, but in return could not make any attacking contribution. This left Ajax without one of their major advantages they usually exploit and kept them from taking advantage of the weaker part of Dszudszak’s game, his defending against full-backs making runs from deep.

Unlike PSV, Ajax hardly circulated the ball from the full-backs to their wingers, but merely looked to construct their attacks from the centre of defense. Jan Vertonghen regularly used his cross-pass to Sulejmani and at occasions, joined the midfield in a libero role. But with El Hamdaoui struggling to receive the ball at feet, Ajax missed a focal point in their central attack.


Exploiting space

On that right flank Ajax had a strongpoint in Sulejmani’s speed advantage over Pieters, which kept PSV from pressing their defensive line all too far forward. This contributed to the turning point of the first half. PSV clearly dominated the first fifteen minutes, albeit without creating any real goal scoring chances. From that moment on, Eriksen took a more advanced stance, looking to get into space between PSV’s holding midfielders and their defensive line. So PSV had to make reduce the gap between the holding midfielders and the defensive line in some way. This implied to either slightly withdraw the holding midfielder, lowering the intensity of their pressing in the process, or the advance their defensive line, which would increase the risk of Ajax’ pace wingers getting in behind their men.

PSV made the most sensible choice by lowering the amount of pressure, thereby letting Ajax back into the game and a true midfield battle arose. Both teams were not shy of confronting their opponents with strong tackles and yellow cards for Vertonghen, Manolev and Engelaar were the result. Although goal scoring chance were still scarce, the close midfield game had a lot of excitement in it, at least during the first half.


The second half

PSV looked happy enough with the pattern of the game during the first half, while Ajax did make some changes during half time. Not in terms of substitutions, but in terms of tactics that is. Full-backs Anita and particularly Van der Wiel threw themselves forward on occasions, although constantly aware of the threat posed by PSV’s wingers. On the right flank the support lent by Van der Wiel provide Sulejmani with the opportunity to pose somewhat more of a threat compared to the first half.

On the other hand, this implied that PSV got some more space to work with and it resulted in a few Dszudszak crosses coming in from the left. Unfortunately for PSV, striker Markus Berg had another of his rather anonymous games and never connected with his fellow attackers. With Toivonen fairly well marked out by Enoh, PSV struggled in the centre part of their attack.

Ajax, despite having balanced the play from their early first half change on, did not succeed in creating too much goal scoring chances themselves. The best Ajax came up with were a handful of long range shots as, just like his PSV counterpart, also El Hamdaoui had a hard time battling it out with PSV’s centre-backs.

As the game went to the closing stage, both teams seemed to favor ‘not losing’ over winning the game at all cost and, with rivals Twente losing at the hands of AZ in a match played at the same time, rightly so. The final phase of the game saw PSV inverting their wingers in a final attempt to clutch the win, but with both defenses easily outnumbering their opponent’s attackers, clear goal scoring chances were few. PSV found another good performance by Stekelenburg on their way during the handful of shots on goal they had.


In the end

Let us remember the first half of the game over the second. Both teams tried to work around a balanced midfield with the two sets of three midfielders cancelling each other out. PSV mainly circulated the ball through the flanks, while Ajax, partly due to PSV’s effective pressing, frequently used the long ball. PSV found the balance between pressing their opponents just enough without giving up space behind their defensive line or running out of steam near the end of the game. In the end, both teams showed to be very evenly matched and also in terms of tactics their formations neutralized each other’s main attacking threat.

PSV 3 – 1 Lille: A controversial incident decides the fate of the game

The surprise comeback to a 2-2 result in the first leg meant that PSV had quite an advantage going into this match. But the main advantage for PSV was created by their opponents themselves as Lille clearly proclaimed their Europa League campaign to be their lowest priority target, ranked behind their aim of qualifying for Champions League football next season and defending their first place in Ligue 1. PSV, on the other hand, fielded a full strength squad to face this reduced Lille side, where big names such as Gervinho, Hazard and Sow were left out of the starting eleven with the match against Lyon in mind.


Mirror images

The starting line-ups

PSV’s 4-2-3-1 and Lille’s 4-3-3 produced a mirror image of formations with both three-men midfields mainly neutralizing each other. Lille’s two central midfielders Gueye and Dumont effectively countered PSV’s double pivot. Particularly Gueye frustrated Engelaar’s passing game quite well. And since Engelaar does not half contribute what Afellay did in that same position in terms of offensive passing, Gueye frustrating his passing game meant that PSV had to take advantage of their wing play.

And the wings were where they dominated the game from early on. Lens on the right wing and Dszudszak on the left regularly had the better of their direct opponents, Lens in terms of pace and Dszuszak in terms of technique. Man-in-the-hole Toivonen was confronted with Lille captain Mavuba who played a very conservative conservative holding role, mostly dropping between both centre-backs  in Lille’s build-ups. This meant that Ola Toivonen mainly posed a threat during the moments that PSV won possession early in Lille’s build-up.

The main problem for PSV in the early phase of the game was Berg’s inability to finish the chances provided to him by PSV’s dominant wingers. He managed to hit the post once from quite close and did not capitalize on a few other chances. Berg, who was the preferred striker going into this season, did struggle to live up to expectation earlier this season too and lost his spot to young Jonathan Reis, who unfortunately severely injured his knee, rendering him unavailable for the remainder of the season. Early in the season 11tegen11 has stated that PSV had a striker problem as Berg’s main successes have all come in a two striker 4-4-2 system, mainly during his time at Groningen. His sub-standard performance against Lille underlined this issue.


A goal down

Despite dominating the opening stage of the game, PSV managed to go a goal down against the run of play for the second time this season. Just like in the Sampdoria match a defending error formed the base for an opposing opening goal. PSV simply ran into the trap of the Lille keeper playing a long goal kick towards towering striker Tulio de Melo who simply won the header from Bouma (1.78m vs 1.91m) with Marcelo (1.90m) having to defend the pace of Frau.

Up until the half-time whistle, the goal did not change the pattern of play. Lille, understandably, was happy enough to sit back and look for high balls towards Tulio de Melo or quick balls into space for the wingers to run onto. Meanwhile PSV, unable to play through the centre due to Lille’s narrow three-men midfield, kept on failing to finish the crosses that kept coming in. Frankly speaking, their main threat was Dszadszak’s inside dribbling when looking for the right-footed shot from outside the box.



A highly controversial moment decided the fate of the game as Balasz Dszuszak used his wit in quickly taking a direct free kick just outside the edge of the box. While Lille keeper Mouko was still occupied with placing the defending wall, Dszudszak found the far corner empty and neatly curled the ball just inside the post. Understandably, Lille felt hard done, but to the letter of the law referee Iturralde handled the situation correct. The referee is obliged to either blow his whistle or give any other sign that the free kick may be taken. The fact that this sign was not visible or audible to the Lille players may harm the spirit of the game, but was, strictly spoken, not against the rules.

To the rescue! Once more, Balasz Dszudszak scored the first goal for PSV

Another important consequence of this incident was Frau’s first yellow card, given for complaining, which was quickly follow by his second, at the hour mark, for a foul around the midline area. Lille, reduced to ten men then also saw their manager, Garcia, sent to the stands. They chased the game by bringing Hazard and Sow onto the pitch.

The advantage in midfield was quickly exploited by PSV as Toivonen used his freedom to set up Lens in behind Lille’s defensive line. A simple, but deftly executed one-two with Berg was enough for the tap-in and, quite frankly, a ticket to the final 16 of the Europa League. Lille, as mentioned above, did finally introduce their Ligue 1 top scorer, Moussa Sow, but the Senegalese striker was unable to alter the fate of the game. In the end PSV managed a third goal to flatter the score when Lille effectively had surrendered. Iif they hadn’t already done so before the kick-off in Lille that is, when deciding to field an upgraded “B” team…


In the end

It’s difficult to assess the value of this double match-up from a PSV perspective as in the first match Lille fielded a far from full-strength team and, in spite of that, gained the upper hand, only to allow PSV to come back to 2-2 in the final minutes of the game. And it this game, matters were fairly balanced until a rather controversial incident, followed by a red card for goal scorer Frau, determined the fate of the game.

All in all, PSV did qualify for the final 16 of the Europa League and with the other Dutch teams, Ajax and Twente, also still in contention, this year may develop as one of the better European seasons of recent years. From a Dutch perspective that is, and yes, from a Europa League, rather than a Champions League perspective too.

AZ 0 – 4 PSV: Less than the score line suggests

Both teams had to make up for three lost points in the previous round of the Eredivisie. PSV uncharacteristically failed to score at home and lost through a dying seconds opening goal to ADO while AZ gave away their 1-0 lead at Excelsior to lose 2-1 in the end. Tonight PSV needs the win to keep the close title race with Twente going and AZ needs these home points in order to keep their hopes of direct Europa League qualification alive.


Two 4-2-3-1’s

The starting line-ups with Hutchinson marking Schaars out of the game from the 20th minute on. Of further note is the Holman / Pieters area.

Both teams tend to favor the fashionable 4-2-3-1 system, but their style of play is not exactly alike. PSV draws a lot on the quality of wingers Lens and Dszudszak, the latter now definitely staying another half season in the Eredivisie after his suggested move to Lille, curiously PSV’s next Europa League opponents, fell through during the past transfer window. PSV does have to do without the passing skills and offensive input of Ibrahim Afellay now that he moved to Barcelona. Their double pivot is formed by Hutchinson in a ‘destroyer’ role with ‘passer’ Engelaar beside him. In central defense ‘Maza’ Rodriguez replaced Marcelo who returns from injury, and might just make PSV’s Europa League clash with Lille next Thursday.

AZ misses a central defender too, as Moisander is suspended. Nick Viergever partners Mexican international Hector Moreno in AZ’s central defense. Behind them another unfamiliar face features, as goalkeeper Sergio Romero carries an injury picked up during the recent Argentina international friendly and he is replaced by AZ’s rather unknown reserve goalkeeper, Costa Rican Esteban Brown.


Deep-lying playmaker

The match started out as a fairly balanced affair with two team playing essentially the same formation. As can be seen from the depicted starting line-ups, pairings of AZ and PSV players can be recognized all over the pitch, the only exception of course being that both teams have a spare man in defense due to their 4v3 defenses, and both double pivots outnumber their opponents man in-the-hole.

And this area of the pitch proved crucial in understanding the shift in the balance of play that occurred throughout the first half. During the first twenty minutes AZ captain Stijn Schaars was allowed quite some freedom and excelled in his deep-lying playmaker role. Often receiving the ball slightly left of the central axis he was allowed too much space and was able to direct AZ’s game. Just like in PSV’s victory over Roda, manager Rutten showed his flexibility and changed his approach during the game as he direct Hutchinson to a direct man-marking role on Schaars, successfully limiting the role of the AZ captain for the remaining part of the first half. Schaars had to drop even deeper to receive the ball at feet, but was unable to direct the game due to the Hutchinson pressure and the increased passing distance.



Meanwhile, as stated above, PSV drew on the strengths of their wingers. On the right wing Lens was occasionally able to get in behind his marker and use his pace to good effect while on the left wing Balasz Dszudszak emerged from his rather anonymous start to the game with a beautiful long range effort, curling the ball into the far top corner for PSV’s second goal. A crucial factor in PSV’s left wing game was the amount of freedom for left-back Pieters, who shows signs of an excellent development of late and is now regarded as the main candidate for the left-back spot in Van Marwijk’s national team too.

AZ right winger Brett Holman did not have the best of games, missing quite some shooting efforts in the first half and often drifting across the pitch in an attempt to make up for this by sheer work rate. As a consequence, his opponent Pieters was often allowed too much space and was able to assist Dsuzdszak on PSV’s left wing, outplaying Simon Poulsen 2v1 here. One of Pieters’ overlapping runs from deep saw him provide the cross that ultimately led to Berg’s tap-in after goalkeeper Esteban Brown pushed Toivonen’s effort on the post.


Second half changes

AZ made some logical changes chasing the game after half time. Seeing playmaker Schaars being effectively cancelled out by the excellent marking job of Atiba Hutchinson, they turned to the other part of the double pivot instead. Rasmus Elm, Swedish international, was deployed in more of a box-to-box role, frequently making runs to join Sigthorsson in the attack.

Atiba Hutchinson, whose marking job on Stijn Schaars made a huge difference

On top of that, with half an hour to go, AZ switched to a three-at-the-back concept with central defenders Moreno and Viergever taking turns in joining the midfield, both with and without the ball at feet. This immediately created some chances with Elm shooting from distance and Holman, again, missing a great opportunity from a left wing Elm cross.

Instead of providing a way back into the match, the changes backfired on AZ, shortly after manager Verbeek was, not for the first time in his career, sent off to the stands. Balasz Dzsudzsak once again showed his class by scoring another effort from outside the box after making his favorite run, cutting inside from the left wing. With the match effectively over, Berg scored a second goal too, rounding the goalkeeper after being played onside through in behind AZ’s advanced defensive line.


In the end

Despite the impressive 0-4 score line, this may have been the type of match to go down as AZ losing rather than PSV winning. Two similar 4-2-3-1 formations ensured a rather boring match from a tactical perspective as the teams cancelled each other out right from the start. In the end, PSV’s individual class provided enough for the win, with Dzsudzsak and Pieters on the left side performing particularly well, assisted by Holman’s poor game of missing chances and lacking defensive discipline.

PSV 3 – 1 Roda: Second half turnaround wins the game for PSV

In their ultimate match before the winter break PSV faced Harm van Veldhoven’s Roda at home. On match day six both teams met each other before and the  0-0 draw proved that Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond was capable of posing PSV some difficulties. In this match, however, PSV manager Rutten managed to find the solution during the first half, as was illustrated by the day and night difference of both halves of the match.


PSV’s 4-2-3-1

The starting line-ups

Only one absentee is to note in PSV’s formation as former captain Orlando Engelaar is suspended after his red card against De Graafschap. His place besides Afellay, who played his final home game for PSV before leaving to Barcelona, was taken by Atiba Hutchinson. Other than that, PSV fielded a full strength first team. Of note was a serious knee injury for young striker Jonathan Reis, who had just seemed to have won the battle for PSV’s striker position. He injured his knee running into Roda’s goalkeeper Tyton and is out for the season with both cruciate ligaments and a collateral ligament of his right knee ruptured.


Roda’s diamond

Perhaps the most discussed formation on 11tegen11, Roda’s diamond-shaped 4-4-2 will be quite familiar. Laurent Delorge returns from injury in the Roda midfield to complete their first choice eleven. This allows Roda to return firmly to the diamond shape rather than playing something approaching a 4-2-2-2, which they tended to do in Delorge’s absence when Wielaert was drafted into midfield besides Vormer.


The first half

An early goal should always a be considered a game changer, but in this match PSV’s early opening goal did not bring them the upper hand. They did open the score as early as in the fifth minute, when Dszudszak crosses a free-kick into the box where Marcelo won the header and Lens finished the easy tap in.

Despite being a goal down it was Roda that dominated the game, at least possession-wise. Their midfield four frequently switched positions and this brought about the intended confusion among their opponents. PSV opted to man mark Roda’s defensive midfielder Vormer with Toivonen and their attacking midfielder Janssen with Hutchinson. Carilleros Djoum and Delorge were more or less zonal marked, but as they often took advantage from the spaces created by Vormer and Janssen moving around, Roda had the upper hand in the midfield battle during most of the first half.

Despite that, the best goal scoring chances fell to PSV as their wingers Dszudszak and Lens proved difficult for Roda’s full-backs to control. This may well be related to a lack of support by Djoum and Delorge who had to deal with Afellay playing a sort of box-to-box role too.

About halfway through the first half Roda managed to equalize through virtually their first goal scoring opportunity. Anouar Hadouir showed his technical skill by curling a free-kick on the edge of the box over the PSV wall into the goal.

After this goal, PSV applied much more pressure on their opponents. Both full-backs played a more advanced role, pressing Djoum and Delorge. As a result the game settled down and both teams had trouble converting own-half possession into fluid attacks. Most goalmouth action was set piece related, mostly through PSV corners. With both teams now having scored through a set piece the first half settled at 1-1.


Second half changes

No personal, but significant tactical changes were applied by PSV manager Rutten at half time. His full-backs now regularly appeared as wide midfielders, overloading Djoum and Delorge who had to deal with both full-backs as well as assist Vormer and Janssen in stopping Afellay, Hutchinson and Toivonen. The Swede now played a deeper role, allowing PSV to outnumber Roda in midfield. The theory behind the 4-5-1 formations, i.e. to withdraw a striker in order to outnumber the 4-4-2 of the opponent, came to full effect here.

Roda managed to hold on for the first few minutes, but one stranded right flank attack, where eventually Vormer found himself out of position, was enough for PSV to turn their midfield advantage into a goal. A quick counter attack allowed Lens a free low cross which Berg finished at the far post.

A second stranded Roda attack paved the way for Dszudszak’s game settling goal that made it 3-1. From that moment on PSV, having dominated the second half completely, was allowed to focus on Afellay’s good-bye, which was celebrated near the end of the game with a symbolic substitution. Seventeen year old Zakarya Labyad, who is considered to be one of the brightest stars of PSV’s youth academy was given the honour to replace the PSV captain.

A snowy goodbye for Ibrahim Afellay


In the end

PSV finally managed to overcome the 4-4-2 diamond that had posed them a lot of problems before. Resemblances to the first Sampdoria game, where PSV only managed a last minute equalizer, were not far off.

In the second half Fred Rutten applied the same principle that helped N.E.C. to a surprisingly comfortable 1-1 draw away at Roda, earlier this season. N.E.C. went into that game with an unconventional 3-3-3-1 formation that cropped into a 3-6-1 at times and dominated Roda’s favorite part of the pitch, the midfield. By advancing his full-backs and withdrawing Toivonen, Rutten managed to outnumber Roda’s midfield and win the game for PSV.

Sampdoria 1 – 2 PSV: A 4-4-2 diamond running out of steam

PSV went into this fifth Europa League match knowing that a draw would be enough to secure a place among the final 32 teams. Sampdoria, on the other hand, were in need of a win to keep their hopes of qualifying alive.


PSV’s 4-2-3-1

Most of PSV’s regulars featured in this match, with two exceptions. Midfielder Otman Bakkal and right winger Jeremain Lens missed out due to illness, causing Fred Rutten to move playmaker Afellay to the right wing, drafting Hutchinson into midfield and thereby creating space to allow Manolev a first start at right-back after a three months injury.

The starting line-ups (Volta replaced the injured Lucchini early in the first half). Note Sampdoria's packed centre versus PSV's dominance on the flanks

PSV’s system is well known as a 4-2-3-1, which has been described here before, for example in their home match against Twente A clear difference between their home and away games can be seen in the positioning of Toivonen. Featuring as a second striker, or a false number ten if you like, in PSV’s home matches, he tends to put in more of a true central midfield role in away games, as evidenced by PSV’s display against Ajax two weeks ago, and more recently in their 4-2 defeat at the hands of NAC.


Sampdoria’s 4-4-2

Past manager Luigi Delneri installed a flat 4-4-2 system, based on bombarding wing players with quite some success. His successor, Domenico di Carlo, was drafted in from high-flying Chievo Verona to continue this same line. And although he still plays with what is best described as a 4-4-2, he did make certain alterations to their line-up and playing style. Regularly facing four band  formations, he prefers a 4-4-2 diamond. In a way this compares to the only Eredivisie team to consequently play a two striker system, Roda JC.

Sampdoria’s hot headed big star, Antonio Cassano has fallen out of favour with the club president after refusing to attend an awards ceremony and the club is currently in the process of looking to terminate the player’s contract. So no ‘Gioiello di Bari Vecchia’ (Jewel of old Bari) tonight, but a striker combo of regular Italian international Giampaolo Pazzini and 21 year old Guido Marilungo.


The previous confrontation

Both teams played each other in the first Europa League match, where Sampdoria held PSV to a 1-1 draw. Aided by an early lead due to a glaring communication error in PSV’s defense, Sampdoria seemed happy to sit deep and often use the long ball towards Cassano, hoping for his creativity to shine. Today, playing at home and being in need of a win, something different is to be expected.


The first half

And different it was by Sampdoria. As if to illustrate that playing style is quite something different to playing formation, they lined-up in the same 4-4-2 diamond they played a high paced game from the off. Often pressing PSV in their own half, Sampdoria managed several dangerous early interceptions, one of which led to Marilungo’s shot that hit the post early in the game.

PSV’s choice to move playmaker and captain Afellay out to the right wing to replace Jeremain Lens had serious implications for their midfield game. PSV clearly missed the passing qualities of Afellay, who himself was replaced by Hutchinson in defensive midfield. Furthermore, Otman Bakkal, PSV’s regular partner for Afellay in defensive midfield, missed out through illness.


PSV’s problems

Facing a packed midfield in the form of Sampdoria’s narrow diamond, PSV often found itself outnumbered here while their full-backs were smartly occupied by the dynamism of Marilungo and Pazzini upfront. Since these two hard-working players managed to occupy PSV’s entire back four, Sampdoria was always sure to outnumber PSV on the rest of the pitch.

Another problem was both Afellay’s and Dszuszak’s tendency to play as an inside forward rather than as a wide winger. This limited PSV’s ability to play around their opponent’s packed midfield, which would have been the most sensible way to go. Although Afellay managed to get in behind his marker one, delivering a dangerous cross that was missed by Toivonen, this was far from enough to pose any real danger to Sampdoria’s defense and striker Reis was limited to a handful of touches.

Sampdoria was able to commit their full-backs forward more and more and it was a cross from their right-back Ziegler that found Pazzini at the first post. His sublime diving header found the far corner and, just like in the teams’ previous encounter, Sampdoria led 1-0 at half time, although this time by dominating the game rather than taking advantage from a defensive mistake.


Second half changes

PSV made one change to the second half and that was to switch Afellay and Dszudszak. With Afellay now no longer split between defending Ziegler’s forward runs and connecting PSV’s offensive passing, his role became more prominent. At the same time Dszudszak was enabled to make some threatening runs inside from the right, looking to shoot with his left foot.

One moment of slack defending from Sampdoria was enough for PSV to equalize. Afellay was not pressured at all in his cross to a completely unmarked Toivonen.

PSV manager Fred Rutten

Sampdoria meanwhile tried to commit more bodies forward, but saw their players run out of energy which saw their tactical plan crumble. Their strikers were no longer able to bind all of PSV’s back four and PSV’s full-backs became more and more involved. This meant that PSV became able to play around Sampdoria’s narrow midfield and the face of the game started to change. Sampdoria, in desperate need for a win, starting chasing PSV’s possession and PSV found space to control the ball.

In the closing minutes of the game Toivonen scored his second goal of the game in his otherwise unimpressive performance. Sampdoria had been reduced to ten men by then, after Marilungo saw a second yellow card for furiously discussing some fairly debatable offside decisions.


In the end

This has been a match with two faces. Before half time Sampdoria was more or less in control, dominating the central area of the pitch while occupying PSV’s wide players, especially the full-backs, with their hard-working striker pair. In the second half, and especially after PSV switched their wingers, PSV gained the upper hand by dominating the flanks, bypassing Sampdoria’s crowded centre. Their strikers and ‘carilleros’ running out of steam meant they virtually surrendered to PSV, a fact further illustrated by Marilungo’s frustrations in the end of the game.