Tag Archives: red card

Ajax 4 –0 AZ: Early goal secures a dominant win

Only three months after their match in the Dutch Cup quarter final, where Frank de Boer made his debut as Ajax manager, Ajax and AZ met again in the ArenA. An early goal gave Ajax a comfortable start on which they built a patient game, pressing AZ just enough to stay clear of trouble, preferring to save their energy for later this week.

 

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

Ajax’ played their familiar wide wingers 4-3-3 system where a disciplined defensive midfield task allowed both full-backs to bomb forward regularly in support of the wingers. Holding midfielder Eyong Enoh was rested one more match, ahead of the Europa League match with Spartak Moscow later this week, to fully recover from his arm injury. Vurnon Anita replaces him in Ajax’ central midfield were Demi de Zeeuw returns in the starting line-up too, after struggling with the prolonged consequences of the nasty kick in the face against Uruguay during the semi finals of the World Cup.

His appearance in Ajax’ starting eleven has everything to do with another clash between Frank de Boer and Mounir El Hamdaoui, who by seems to have definitely fallen out of favor with the Ajax manager. After being subbed of for disciplinary reasons, with the Moroccan striker eager to provide his view on the subject in the Dutch media. Siem de Jong, who replaced El Hamdaoui’s in the lone striker role during Ajax’ comfortable Cup semi-final win over RKC, plays up front again.

AZ figures their preferred starting eleven, one might say, although recently Viergever did play ahead of Moisander at times. With the former Ajax academy defender suspended after his red card against Twente, Moisander partners Moreno in central defense again. Attacking midfielder Wernbloom, suspended too, is replaced by last week’s match winner Erik Falkanburg.

 

A quick lead

Ajax, particularly at home, is known for playing a pressing game and they did so right from the kick-off here. Often winning possession early in their opponents half, Ajax created a handful of chances early on. As early as in the fifth minute AZ captain Stijn Schaars blatantly failed to cover a well-timed run from deep by Demi de Zeeuw and the Ajax midfielder completed a neat finish from a left wing cross.

And these runs from deep, both from De Zeeuw and from Eriksen were Ajax’ main source of danger. Both wide players stretched AZ’s defensive line from one side of the pitch to the other to facilitate this. Siem de Jong did not play a false nine role here, but looked to receive the ball at feet, taking advantage from his excellent teamwork skills. In that regard, he’s a more fitting player to Ajax than El Hamdaoui, who is more keen on being a goal scoring threat himself.

 

AZ’s game plan

Did AZ not put any sort of counter play against Ajax? Well, they had a plan, but were generally unable to carry it out and when they tried, they were often punished by Ajax.

Verbeek likes his teams to play with three defenders at the back when in possession, as has been detailed here before. Today he didn’t do so by advancing one of the full-backs into the midfield, but rather by having Moreno play a libero style of centre-back role. The Mexican international frequently showed up in Ajax’ midfield, in order to try and create a numerical advantage here.

But as Ajax applied early pressure, AZ had lots of trouble playing around their opponents, even early in the build-up. Meanwhile, on the rare occasions that AZ did control the ball in midfield, both Ajax wingers proved well aware of their defensive tasks and helped their midfielders out, nullifying the potential numerical advantage for AZ.

 

The second half

As expected, AZ started the second half in quite a different tone. Aggressively entering the midfield tackles now, they succeeded to win some tackles in that department and with that Moreno’s libero role came to some effect. Ajax absorbed this AZ momentum patiently without giving too much away and looked to take advantage of the increased amount of space between AZ’s midfield and defense.

It was exactly that kind of move, involving Sulejmani’s pace and De Jong’s link-up play that created the second Ajax goal. And with that, AZ’s momentum was gone.

Verbeek made a desperate attempt to find a way back into the match by bringing on a second striker, Pellè, to replace holding midfielder Elm. Previously playing as the aerial target man in a fairly direct AZ game, the big man lasted only two minutes today. He got sent off after a vicious tackle on substitute striker Cvitanich, sliding boots first over the ball.

And again, any attempt to gain the momentum was gone for Verbeek’s team. Ajax’ left winger Ebecilio, by now firmly established in the first team, opened his league goal scoring account, just a few days after finding his first Ajax goal in the Cup semi-final against RKC. On top of that, in the closing minutes of the game, Vurnon Anita crowned a sublime performance with the final Ajax goal to make it 4-0. Anita generally controlled the midfield very well, winning a fair share of tackles, and making analysts regret that chalkboards have not made their way to the Eredivisie yet.

 

In the end

AZ gave away the first Ajax goal cheaply and never fully recovered. They didn’t find their way around Ajax’ pressing game and the move to advance Moreno to the midfield in a libero role backfired on them, opening spaces for Eriksen and De Zeeuw to make their runs from deep.

Twente 1 – 0 Utrecht: Early red card decides the game

Twente managed a narrow win over an Utrecht side that got reduced to ten men after just twenty minutes of play. They saw the correct, but late, decision making of Preud’homme rewarded with the goal their numerical advantage on the pitch deserved.

Twente just came off a temperamental defeat to AZ this past weekend, where Preud’homme and fellow Twente staff members had a tough time keeping their cool in response to what they considered to be dubious decisions by referee Bossen. But tonight illustrated that these decision will eventually balance out as the slightly harsh and very early second yellow card for experienced Utrecht full-back Cornelisse provided the path for their qualification for the Dutch Cup final.

 

Without Ruiz and Douglas

The starting line-ups, which were in effect only until the early red card.

Twente obviously missed their wide playmaker Bryan Ruiz after his recurrent knee injury forced him to come off against AZ last weekend. Today formation contrasted with the rule of thumb that Twente goes 4-2-3-1 when both Janko and De Jong is included in the starting eleven and 4-3-3 when either of them is replaced by Landzaat. Versatile Luuk de Jong replaced Bryan Ruiz on the right wing, keeping the 4-2-3-1 intact. At left-back there was another start for Bart Buysse ahead of young Thilo Leugers.

At centre-back Twente missed Douglas, who sits out a six match suspension after his violent behavior against AZ. He was replaced by Rasmus Bengtsson, keeping Onyemu on the bench after his disappointing game against AZ.

 

Ongoing injury problems at Utrecht

While Twente may had had to slot in a few unusual starters for this game, Utrecht manager Du Chatinier has done so for most of the season so far. Mainly his attacking line-up has hardly been at full strength with Jacob Mulenga out since early November after tearing his cruciate ligaments. Furthermore, Nana Asare misses another four to six weeks with a meniscus injury, after already missing several months earlier this seaon.

Should he have a full strength squad for once, manager Ton de Chatinier prefers a 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-2-2 formation with Asare playing behind Van Wolfswinkel, who is regularly joined upfront by Mulenga, playing from the right wing. Dries Mertens tends to play a wide playmaker role from the left, looking to bring others into play with his pace and dribbling skills.

So with two of his presumed attacking four out, De Chatinier fielded a more defensive midfielder on the right wing. He obviously preferred to keep Mertens on his beloved left wing, looking to take advantage of Rosales’ defending, Twente’s weak link in defense.

 

 

An early red card

With the game still settling in and Utrecht proving quite match for Twente, the away side saw themselves reduced to ten men just twenty minutes into the game. Veteran right-back Cornelisse received to quick yellow cards, seeing his hopes to finish his career with a Cup final fall to pieces. Utrecht immediately switched things around in order to prevent themselves from getting overrun.

A 4-4-1 formation was the result, with Lenksy operating as a temporary right-back and Van Wolfswinkel in a lone striker role. Both lines of four were kept were tight with Silberbauer and Strootman playing close to an otherwise already deep back line. This successfully denied space for Twente’s creative players Chadli and De Jong to work in. As expected, Twente did dominate possession from that moment on, but the passing was often off the pace and hardly ever was there more than one passing option available.

At half time, Utrecht surprisingly replaced striker Van Wolfswinkel with right-back Van der Maarel. This meant another series of switches, although the compact 4-4-1 system that worked so well during the second part of the first half remained intact. Dries Mertens fulfilled the lone striker role with Lenksy now playing on the left side of midfield and Duplan on the right.

 

Twente’s problem

Although Utrecht’s deep stance made it easy for Twente to dominate the game possession-wise, they had hard time turning their possession into goal scoring chances. Their game plan was quite simple: crossing high balls into the box from deep positions, hoping that either Janko or De Jong would connect. In order to play this game, Luuk de Jong frequently joined Janko upfront, vacating the right wing. Denny Landzaat was the most likely candidate to fill in here, shifting Brama, whose holding midfield role was completely redundant, into a central midfield role beside Theo Janssen. But Landzaat is hardly the player you’d want to occupy a right wing role. And although wing-back Rosales provided support here, Twente failed to stretch Utrecht’s back line.

The formations at the time of Twente's late opening goal. Note Utrecht's compact 4-4-1 and the big gap to lone striker Mertens. And not the difference on Twente's right wing.

 

Twente’s solution

This problem was solved by Preud’homme, but only as late as in the 64th minute. Young winger Ola John, younger brother of Collins John, who enjoyed a five-year spell at Fulham after playing for Twente himself, entered the pitch to replace Landzaat. His wide right sided role immediately made a difference.

Utrecht’s back four, which by then consisted of  Van der Maarel-Silberbauer-Wuytens-Nesu as Alje Schut also had to leave the field injured, got strechted. As a result, space opened up for the creative game play of both Luuk de Jong and Nacer Chadli. And after Twente first hit the bar and the post, it was a matter of time before they scored the opening goal. As if to illustrate the solution of their problems, it was a right wing cross that set-up Mark Janko for a neat first post tap-in.

 

In the end

An early red card like this is almost always decisive, but in order to break down the compact 4-4-1 formation that Utrecht switched to, Twente needed to adapt. In the end they did, but it took half a match to figure that out and by then hope of survival had really settled in among Utrecht’s players. This unnecessarily toughened up Twente’s battle in an already tough fixture list at present.

Perhaps it’s these small managerial differences making a difference come the end of the nine game run to the finish of the Eredivisie and to the final stage of the Europa League.