Tag Archives: Twente

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

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

The ‘Lokhoff’ effect & The ‘McClaren’ non-effect

The previous post introduced the concept of PDO, a statistic that was originally introduced in the NHL a few years back, to determine which share of a team’s performance can be attributed to non-sustainable performances (‘luck’) and which share to sustainable performances (‘skill’). Since it’s an important concept in order to understand the following graphs, let me provide a short summary of PDO. A more detailed explanation can be found in the previous post, where lots of links are provided to suggest further reading on the topic.

In short, PDO combines a team’s shooting percentage (Sh% = the fraction of goal scoring attempts created that is scored)  and a their saves percentage (Sv% =  the fraction of goal scoring attempts conceded that is scored). It’s as simple as that.

PDO = 1000 * (Sh% + Sv%)

Does a high shooting or saves percentage gives your team a good chance of winning the match at hand? Certainly! But does it provide a solid base to build your future on? No, definitely not.

The single thing  to get your head around in order to get to grips with the concept is that what constitutes Sh% and Sv% in future matches is for almost 90% random and only just over 10% correlated to the previous performance. Again, see previous post

Now, what can we rely on then? Of all representatives of a good performance, parameters like points won, goals scored, shots taken , etc., the best correlation is found for the total shots ratio, or the fraction of shots in a particular match that is taken by your team. Future performances show over 60% correlation with historical data, making this the best predictor for future performance…

 

The ‘Lokhoff’ effect

Now, with the theoretic part out of the way, let’s get to the fun part. The graph below is a simple illustration of VVV’s points per game (PPG) over the course of the 2011/12 Eredivisie season.The graph shows the cumulative average points per game, restarting when the new manager was appointed.

Managed by Belgian Glen de Boeck, VVV found themselves struggling to avoid relegation and finished the first half of the season on the 17th place in the table, five points behind the safety of the 15th spot. De Boeck was fired, and experienced manager Ton Lokhoff was installed around Christmas time. With the season now over, VVV finished in 16th place and came one point short to avoid the relegation play-offs…

Points per game (PPG) under De Boeck (first half of season) and Lokhoff (second half of season)

In terms of PPG, the installment of Lokhoff certainly coincided with an improvement. During the first half of the season, managed by De Boeck, VVV obtained 0.59 PPG, never topping the 0.65 mark after more than a few games had been played. Under Lokhoff, however, VVV lived the dream and started out brilliantly, before settling down to finish at 1.24 PPG. With that rate, they would have finished a full season at 42 points, enough for a comfortable 12th place. Note that the graph, as well as the next ones, use a cumulative average over the course of the season, and that this cumulative average is reset upon the installment of the new manager. In other words, the number shown at match day five is the average PPG over the first five matches and the average shown at match day fifteen is the average over the first fifteen matches.

 

Luck or skill?

The key question now is, was De Boeck unlucky when managing VVV, or did Lokhoff really improve the performance. In order to answer that question, we can look at the PDO and the Total Shots Rate (TSR) for both parts of the season.

VVV's luck (PDO) and skill (TSR) in the first and second half of the season

In this graph it is well illustrated that the season started out with the PDO developing pretty close to the 1000 mark, which indicates a neutral amount of luck came VVV’s way. Later on VVV rode an unlucky series, with the PDO slowly tailing off, even as far as to finish the first half of the season at a dramatically low 970. The TSR, meanwhile, reflecting the sustainable level of performance, was ever increasing throughout the season and finished at 0.333, not high in absolute terms, but steadily rising as a sign that De Boeck got his team improving as he went along. The combination of an improving performance and the dropping PDO resulted in the rather flat PPG.

Under Lokhoff, VVV started brilliantly in terms of their TSR, but as more matches were played this extreme level of performance proved unsustainable, but they still showed an improvement over De Boeck’s 0.333 and finished at 0.400. However, following the trend in TSR under De Boeck, VVV might well have finished the season around the 0.400 level too!

A short bump in PDO helped VVV to their excellent start under Lokhoff. All in all, they finished the second part of the season with a PDO of 1010, mostly due to a rise in the final three matches, thereby compensating for the decreasing TSR, overall resulting in an upkick in PPG in the final three matches.

 

The ‘McClaren’ non-effect

VVV showed an remarkably different pattern of performance under both managers, as indicated by the rising TSR under De Boeck and the falling, though higher, TSR under Lokhoff. Twente’s story is quite a different one. Their season started out brilliantly, with the team winning their first four matches and eventually settling around the 2.0 PPG mark. During the winter break, manager Co Adriaanse was fired, not so much because of a lack of result, but because of communication issues with the players as the story ran. The return of manager Steve McClaren brought an excellent start, but soon the team’s performance faded and the season ended dramatically as McClaren finished way below expectations at 1.59 PPG.

Twente's points per game (PPG) curve under Adriaanse (left) and McClaren (right)

Let’s study Twente’s PDO and TSR to look for an explanation as to why McClaren started well, but faded so dramatically.

Under Adriaanse, Twente’s TSR was relatively stable, as was their PDO. However, their extremely high level of a PDO of 1068 over the first half of the season always seemed unsustainable. Twente’s high level of PDO held on almost during the entire season, even increased during McClaren’s first 8 games, but finally came down. Some awfully back luck saw McClaren’s team return to average in order to finish the second half of the season with an average PDO of 992.

Twente's luck (PDO) and skill (TSR) in the first and the second half of the season

 

In the end

Simple curves, yet interesting observations. VVV manager Glen de Boeck was fired after running into some bad luck, with the team’s PDO falling dramatically. Despite his steadily increasing TSR, which indicates an improving performance, this drop in PDO prevented his team from getting the points that their improving performance deserved. De Boeck’s successor Lokhoff did improve the team initially, but his TSR is dropping ever more, indicating that that initial bump in improvement will not hold for the long run. Assisted by a run of better luck he got off to a flying start.

At Twente, Adriaanse got the team performing at a rather constant level, around a TSR of 0.6. However, Twente’s PDO level over 1060 was never going to hold in the long run. Under McClaren, Twente’s performance initially dipped, but improved near the end to finish the season at the same level as under Adriaanse. However, a return to average PDO levels made the performance drop dramatically, a development that was just waiting to happen.

Twente 1 – 2 Ajax: A major step towards the Eredivisie title for Ajax

Before the start of the present Eredivisie season, this match may have been heralded as a potential title decider, given the fact that both teams battled it out last year in both a title decider on the final match day and the Dutch Cup final. But given Ajax’ comfortable six points lead going into this match, the present match was more about the race for second place. Infostrada Sports’ Euroclubindex rated Ajax’ chances of winning the title before this match over 99%, giving Twente only an outside chance of winning the title of 0.2%.

There’s more to these two clubs than their past season rivalry though… Ajax’ passing midfielder Theo Janssen won the Eredivisie ‘Player of the Year’ 2010/11 honours in a Twente shirt and red-hot striker Luuk de Jong meets his older brother Siem as both spearhead their teams’ respective strike forces!

 

Twente’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

Despite Twente’s managerial change, halfway through this season, results haven’t picked up in the second half of the season. Guided by Co Adriaanse, they won 1.94 points per game, while the PPG under McClaren was 1.93 before the start of this game. Though unchanged in terms of PPG, Twente under McClaren scored less (2.36 goals per game vs 2.53) and conceded more (1.29 vs 1.06) compared to Adriaanse. This might indicate  a drop in results over the long run…

In tactical terms, Twente takes a more cautious approach, the whole ‘Chadli as a central playmaker’ experiment has ended prematurely and target man Mark Janko has even left the club. In Twente’s previous match, McClaren left Chadli out of the starting XI, but the Belgian managed to provide the game winning goal in the dying seconds, coming off the bench. This time, Chadli started from the beginning.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3

The rise of Frank de Boer’s Ajax in the second half of the season has been more than impressive. While winning ‘only’ 1.94 PPG in the first half of the season, their second half has been truly outstanding, with 2.43 PPG before this match at Twente. While their goals scoring rate has only marginally contributed to this improvement (2.71 vs 2.86 goals per game), it’s their goals per game conceded (1.35 vs 0.79) that has made the difference. Ajax’ first half of the season has been characterized by an unfamiliar low GK saves percentage, but their second half of the season has marked the expected ‘regression to the mean’ phenomenon.

In tactical terms, De Boer has shown to stay true to his possession-based 4-3-3 system and recently important players like Boerrigter and Van der Wiel have returned to action.

 

The first half

The game started out with a comfortable control of possession by Ajax. Twente did try to take a leaf out of Feyenoord’s book, judging by the way they attempted to pressure Ajax early on, but they never really got their pressure game going. In possession, Ajax positioned their full-backs rather high up the pitch, with Van der Wiel more prominently involved than Blind today. Defending midfielder Anita dropped deep between, or even beyond the level of both centre-backs, who spread wide across the pitch.

This set-up allowed Ajax’ midfielders to make intricate passing triangles and, contrasting with the Feyenoord game, where their back line was more narrow, they comfortably avoided Twente’s pressure. In order to exert their pressure, Twente striker Luuk de Jong was assisted by midfielder Willem Janssen, who tried to track Anita into his deep position. This depleted Twente’s midfield population and proved a crucial part of their problems in this match.

 

Van der Wiel

Other problems for Twente were found on their left wing. Ajax right winger Ismael Aisatti played a nice inside winger role, and posed a decision making problem for his marker Tiendalli. Either Tiendalli would track Aisatti and leave space for Van der Wiel to make his impressive overlapping runs, or he would stay wide, leaving Aisatti to the spare centre back. But this alternative solution would allow Ajax to outnumber Twente in central midfield, given Willem Janssen’s previously described dislocation.

All in all, Ajax generally proved comfortable in possession and apart from an incidental good dribble by Ola John, who hit the post with his shot, the best chances were created by Ajax.

In a role reminiscent of his idol Dani Alves, Gregory van der Wiel featured prominently in Ajax’ best chances. His overlapping runs made excellent use of the space created by Aisatti and the relatively high position of Twente’s back line, which was needed for their pressing.  For Ajax’ 28th minute opening goal he shook off Ola John on a delicate Alderweireld through ball and rounded Mihaylov, who gently fouled him. Against his old club, Theo Janssen only just converted the penalty to give Ajax the lead.

 

The second half

Steve McClaren obviously felt the need for change, making a half-time substitution as he removed Willem Janssen for Wesley Verhoek, shifting Nacer Chadli back into central midfield, with the obvious intention to get the Belgian playmaker more involved. On top of that, the introduction of Verhoek should give Twente more width in search of the equalizing goal.

Initially, Twente gained more ground, proved able to stroke more passes together, but they didn’t solve their midfield problem. Ajax wasn’t afraid to drop deep, even in possession, and the probing runs of Van der Wiel seemed to make Twente hesitant to advance their defensive line all too far forward.  The stretched midfield allowed Ajax more advantage then it did to Twente, given Ajax’ excellent passing triangles and their numerical advantage with Aisatti’s tricky inside winger role.

 

Two more goals

In spite of their tactical worries, Twente did find the equalizer in the 71st minute. Leroy Fer hammered the ball home after Ajax failed to adequately clear a corner kick that crowned a series of Twente crosses with even centre-back Douglas involved, making a dangerous bicycle kick attempt from close range.

Twente’s advantage was short-lived though, as another one of those overlapping runs by Gregory van der Wiel allowed him to get at the end of a cross by substitute left winger Ebecilio. Van der Wiel neatly curled the ball into the top corner with his left foot, thereby winning the match for his team and ending any speculation as to who would win the MotM award today.

 

In the end

A convincing performance by an Ajax side that has practically secured the Eredivisie title by now. Twente proved unable to deal with the technical and positional skills in possession and, needing a win in their search for second place, refrained from letting Ajax enjoy possession in harmless areas. In contrast, Twente allowed Willem Janssen to pressure very high up the pitch, and fell into the midfield trap that consisted of Aisatti’s inside winger role. Van der Wiel’s overlapping runs won the game today…

Twente 0 – 2 Feyenoord: Title hopes dented by Feyenoord midfield

Only two weeks after their magnificent 6-2 away win over PSV, Twente went into this match a hurt team. Coming off an Eredivisie loss against N.E.C. and a painful 4-1 Europa League loss at Schalke, Steve McClaren’s team stumbled to a third consecutive loss at the hands of a well organized Feyenoord side.

 

Twente’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups. Note that Feyenoord's wingers frequently switched flanks in order to improve their ball retention and offensive efficiency.

Twente missed both of their experienced centre-backs Douglas and Wisgerhof in this match, and young Nils Röseler paired stand-in centre-back Rasmus Bengtsson to make his first Eredivisie start. Furthermore, goal keeper Nikolay Mihaylov wasn’t fit enough to start, giving veteran Sander Boschker his first competitive match in over six months time. Veteran full-back Tim Cornelisse replaced Roberto Rosales at right-back.

In formational terms, their 4-3-3 is undisputed. Today McClaren opted for inverted wingers, with Nacer Chadli on the left wing, and Ola John playing right. With offensive full-backs and overlapping central midfielders, Twente’s lone striker Luuk de Jong should theoretically be provided enough support.

 

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3

Playing the same formation as Twente, Feyenoord gave it more defensive outlook. Particularly their central midfield was primarily aimed at frustrating their opponents and winning possession, rather than providing overlapping runs themselves. In personal terms, 17-year old Tonny Vilhena made his debut, playing alongside Karim El Ahmadi with holding midfielder Jordy Clasie behind them. In defense, Nelom missed out, so Bruno Martins Indi featured at left-back.

 

The first half

The game started with Twente dominating possession as high as 70% over the first fifteen minutes, but this hardly meant any danger for Feyenoord’s compact lines. Most of Twente’s possession was in their own half and Feyenoord seemed more than happy to allow that to happen. Gradually, though, Feyenoord’s midfield started to raise the pressure on Twente and it was this tactical battle that formed one of the highlights of this attractive match.

What followed was a practical battle where Feyenoord tried to apply pressure on their opponents and Twente aiming to apply their superior technical skills in playing around it. This phase of the game was certainly not about creating goal scoring chances, but merely about gaining the upper hand going into the later stages of the game.

Should Twente succeed in maintaining possession dominance as high as their 70% of the initial fifteen minutes, then Feyenoord would sooner or later run out of gas, having to press for two-thirds of the playing time. However, should Feyenoord obtain some success with their demanding out-of-possession playing style, they would have all sorts of space to create danger with early turnovers. Compare this to their performance against Ajax, whom they defeated with an excellent out-of-possession tactic.

While initially it looked like Twente would win this battle and play around Feyenoord’s midfield, near the end of the first half this proved quite different. Twente’s midfield passing became unusually sloppy, a least partly as a result of Feyenoord’s excellent work in midfield. Feyenoord’s main problem in this first half was the substandard ball retention by their wingers.

Most of their turnovers were circulated to one of Schaken and Cabral, but both wingers lost possession a lot and this didn’t help the possession versus pressure battle that was going on. Koeman could be seen to instruct his wingers to switch flanks more than once, but this didn’t solve the problem. However, going into the break, Feyenoord dominated the amount of shots created 6-3 over Twente.

 

The second half

Only a few minutes into the second half, Feyenoord was rewarded for slowly gaining the upper hand in the aforementioned tactical battle. One of many misplaced passes in Twente’s midfield, by Chadli this time, opened up the opportunity of Feyenoord to counter quickly over the left wing, where Jerson Cabral clearly outpaced Tim Cornelisse. His cross was unintentionally met by the heads of both Twente centre-back, leading to a rather (un )lucky opening goal.

Now sitting on a 1-0 lead, Feyenoord’s attitude towards the pressure-possession game altered somewhat. Their game seemed more aimed at controlling possession and their defensive four started seeing more of the ball.

Of course, Twente tried to launch an offensive with over thirty minutes to play, but generally, their midfield passing was not up to standard. Both inverted wingers were directed closer to striker Luuk de Jong, whose target man qualities were more and more searched with hopeful direct high balls. Twente’s best chance to level the score came through one of these early high balls, flicked on by de Jong, but Chadli saw Feyenoord goal keeper Mulder save excellently with his left foot.

Feyenoord’s control of the game was illustrated by their share of possession increasing after their opening goal. They finished the game with a 49% share of possession and 322 passes, 120 of which were made in the final thirty minutes. This shows Twente’s failings at pressuring Feyenoord, as a well executed home team offense would have lead to less Feyenoord possession and certainly less passes executed.

Substitute striker Cissé put the win beyond doubt by scoring Feyenoord’s second goal. By that time McClaren had depleted his defense in an ultimate attempt to level the score.

To no surprise, all three of Feyenoord’s midfielders formed the top-3 in their public Man of the Match vote, carried out on Sidekick, the recently launched app by Eredivisie Live. Rising star Jordy Clasie pulled the strings in midfield and was named MotM in the end.

 

In the end

Feyenoord won the crucial battle that took place around the 15th to 30th minute. Initially, Twente dominated possession this much that Feyenoord could never have maintained their level of pressure for the full ninety minutes. By the looks of Twente’s patient approach to the opening phase of the game it seems that they aimed to overcome a tired opponent in the second half.

But since Feyenoord forced Twente’s midfield into sloppy passing by their standards, the opportunities for the away side to open the score started to arise near the end of the first half. And come the second half Feyenoord needed only a few minutes, and admittedly, a lucky deflected own goal, to take the lead.

In the final half hour, Twente seemed unable to adequately pressure Feyenoord, as was illustrated by the broad possession and passing stats. All in all, the result seems a fair reward for Feyenoord’s performance, with the midfield three of El Ahmadi, young Vilhena and MotM Clasie particularly on song.

Twente 2 – 0 N.E.C.: Don’t judge a game by it’s score line!

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and along that same line, don’t judge a game by its score line. Yes, Twente further reduced the gap with league leaders AZ with this seemingly comfortable win, with a nice home clean sheet in the process too. But, no, Twente played below par for most of the match, most notably in the first half, due to positional issues that were rightfully addressed during the break. N.E.C. deserves more credit than the score line gives them, for winning the first half on points. But producing the best chances counts for nothing in football, unless you convert them into goals.

 

Twente’s 4-3-3

The starting line-ups

Coming off a series of three draws in their last four home games, Twente aimed to break the trend with a slightly offensive variant of their usual system. The versatility in the 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-3 crossover system lies in the behavior of central midfield Denny Landzaat. This time around, he didn’t sit beside Brama, but rather played in an advanced role beside central playmaker Nacer Chadli.

With top scorer Janko starting from the bench again, Twente played the same starting eleven as they did in the 6-2 win at Utrecht last week.

 

N.E.C.’s compact 4-5-1

Manager Alex Pastoor gained a lot of credits for keeping Excelsior in the Eredivisie on an extremely tight budget last season, playing some flashes attractive football in the process. His move to N.E.C. initiated high expectations in Nijmegen and many pundits deemed N.E.C. likely to be the overachievers this season. Unfortunately for Pastoor, the results didn’t pick up as expected in his first matches at N.E.C., with finding the target and converting shots on target being the main problems. Things do look a bit more brightly as of recently, with the away win at Feyenoord and last week’s final minute draw at Groningen.

Against Twente, Pastoor played the same eleven as he did last week, apart from the absence of central defender Van Eijden, which meant a first start for Hungarian defender Zoltan Szelesi.

 

The first half

N.E.C. surprised their opponents with a wave of pressure early on. They did so from a very compact 4-5-1- formation which took excellent advantage from the space conceded in behind Twente’s advanced full-backs and in front of the back line, where Brama seemed unable to cover that entire area on his own. Despite creating a series of goal scoring chances, N.E.C. seemed unable to convert, a problem that so often showed itself this season. At times N.E.C.’s compactness showed Pastoor to take a leaf out of Arrigo Sacchi’s coaching book with regard to the movement of defensive, midfield and offensive lines and having the outfield players move as a well coordinated unit.

Twente produced a short spell of initiative around the tenth minute, which resulted in two goal scoring chances for Nacer Chadli, but the Moroccan international failed to open his goal scoring account so far. Immediately after this short spell, the compact playing N.E.C. team regained control of the match and starting building chances.

They did so by smartly using their single striker in a target man role, having Zeefuik receive a ton of difficult balls played out from defense. The N.E.C. striker did an excellent job winning duels from Douglas in order to provide both an outlet from defensive pressure and a stepping stone for N.E.C.’s offensive breaks. All in all, Zeefuik, who failed to score a goal in 597 minutes of competitive football this season, provided an excellent display of the usefulness of a non-scoring striker.

 

The second half

After hearing his team being whistled off their own pitch by Twente’s fans, Co Adriaanse turned things around at half-time. He introduced top scorer Mark Janko for winger Emir Bajrami, a move that fixed several out-of-position issues at once. Janko played up top, with Luuk de Jong in the advanced midfielder zone and Nacer Chadli coming from the left wing.

Both De Jong and Chadli immediately displayed more comfort and routine. Luuk de Jong, despite his tall stature, tends to thrive when he is able to receive the ball at feet and make probing runs at defenders. Nacer Chadli, the presumed central playmaker of Twente’s 2011/12 season, doesn’t quite display the movement that this position demands, though the departure of Bryan Ruiz shifted a lot of pressure onto his shoulders. Add to that the fact that Chadli only just returned from a three months injury and this issue may still come good for Twente.

As if to illustrate their appreciation for the manager’s half-time changes, Twente produced an early second half excellent chance that involved Nacer Chadli crossing from the left wing, Janko laying off with a header and De Jong closing in on Janko, only just failing to open the score just yet.

The opening goal was only minutes away then, as Luuk de Jong was able to pick up the ball on the half-way line. He did not find the slightest of pressure on his path towards the N.E.C. box and fired in from the edge of it, finding the corner of the goal.

 

The changed game

As is so often the case, the opening goal changed the game. N.E.C. was forced to trade their compactness for more pressure, conceding more space in the process. Pastoor brought on an extra striker as Melvin Platje replaced Nick van der Velden, which meant a switch from 4-5-1 to 4-4-2, as system much more adept at playing in an open space game. Shortly after coming on, Platje provided Zeefuik with an excellent through ball, but N.E.C.’s conversion issue troubled them again. Before today’s game they ranked 17th in that regard, needing on average 7.3 shots on target to score a goal, and today’s failure to convert any of their many chances against Twente won’t improve that number.

With Twente’s second goal, where Chadli opended his account for the season, firing in from a nice Luuk de Jong assist, the match was effectively over. Only having score more than once in five of this season’s fifteen Eredivisie match, there seemed no way N.E.C. could produce two goals in the remaining twenty minutes of the match.

 

In the end

Based on the result, Twente beating N.E.C. 2-0 at home doesn’t sound all that bad, but judging the game by the score line leaves a lot unmentioned. On one hand, N.E.C. deserve a lot of credit for their smart compact playing style, which made life difficult for Twente. On the other hand, their failure to convert any chances in this game illustrated where their game needs fixing.

Twente disappointed in many regards. Too many players played way beyond their usual levels, with left-back Tiendalli and out-of-position Chadli the most obvious examples. Introducing Mark Janko, and shifting De Jong and Chadli to more familiar positions fixed the game for Twente, but the only reason they were still in contention at that point is the above mentioned conversion issues of their opponents.

Don’t judge a book by its cover, and along that same line, don’t judge a game by its score line.

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.

Groningen 1 – 1 Twente: Hard working home side match superior away side skills

Having beaten Ajax at home, but losing at Heracles away recently, Groningen have been a team with two distinct faces so far this season. Against last season’s runners-up Twente, they displayed both of them, conceding the first half advantage, but making up for it in fighting spirit come the second half. Coming off an excellent 4-1 Europa League away win at Odense, Twente looked like hoping to see the game out easily, but got caught out in the end.

 

Groningen’s 4-2-3-1

The starting line-ups

Though playing in the same formation as they did in the past season, Pieter Huistra’s team falls way short of their record breaking season start of that 2010/11 season. They miss captain Granqvist, whose distribution tasks from the back have not been taken over yet, and striker Tim Matavz, whose excellent goal scoring record brought invaluable points during the past campaign.

Other than that, Huistra has decided to degrade goal keeper Luciano to the bench, in favor of veteran goal keeper Brian van Loo. Luciano caught some attention with a few misses come the end of the season, but his shot stopping qualities came out excellently in last year’s defensive performances analysis. Groningen conceded only 0.105 goals per shot allowed, or in other words their opponents needed on average 9.5 shots to score against them. This number was second only to Ajax’ Maarten Stekelenburg, whose qualities were reflected in 11.1 shots needed to score against him.

In spite of that, or unaware of that, Huistra decided to remove Luciano in favor of Van Loo. This match makes for interesting observations in that regards, as Van Loo was clearly at fault for the Twente goal, but made a series of excellent second half saves. Come the winter break we might need to look at the data again…

 

Goals per shot allowed (2010/11 season)

 

Twente’s 4-2-3-1

Twente manager Co Adriaanse generally has his team playing an offensive, high pressing formation. Most times this is best described as a 4-3-3 set-up, although at times Adriaanse likes to tune it to a 4-2-4 set-up with second striker Luuk de Jong pushing high up against target man Mark Janko. In the match against Groningen Twente adopted a slightly more defensive approach, perhaps taking a bit of a breather during the spell of the game where they defended their 1-0 lead. With De Jong playing behind Janko and Landzaat focusing on his defensive duties during most of the game, a 4-2-3-1 seemed the best fit to describe them today.

The three formations that Twente uses (4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-4) are in fact different shades of grey. In tactical terms, the positioning of Luuk de Jong and of the second central midfielder, Denny Landzaat in this match, is a tell tale of Twente’s ambitions in the match at hand. With De Jong closing in on Janko, joining him in the central area, Twente aims for the 4-2-4-esque formation, but with De Jong equally capable of playing a genuine offensive midfield role, and Landzaat more withdrawn, a true 4-2-3-1 comes out.

 

The first half

Both teams set out for an enthusiastic start to the game, with Groningen creating a hopeful series of chances during the first fifteen minutes. But as is often the case, the match settled down a bit when the home side took their foot off the gas, as their frantic start could never be kept up. The game that arose showed Twente playing a smart game, exerting pressure on all but one of Groningen’s defenders and midfielders.

Young centre-back Virgil van Dijk, an impressive physical presence, and often praised for his qualities in that regard, was deliberately left free during Groningen’s early possession. His limitations were painfully shown as he squandered a lot of short to medium range passes, opening his teams up for some dangerous quick Twente counters. One of them saw left winger Ola John fire in from the edge of the area. As mentioned above, Van Loo didn’t show his best in failing to deal with the short corner attempt and Twente got their desired opening goal.

 

The second half

Twente seemed intent to sit on their lead, rather than aiming to extend it further. Adriaanse made two half time substitution, with Bengtsson for Wisgerhof clearly fueled by an slight injury to the Twente captain. Willem Janssen replaced Bajrami as right winger, but this substitution had quite some impact.

Janssen is more of a central midfielder by nature and plays an inside right role at best. This freed Groningen’s best player of the game, left-back Lorenzo Burnet to venture forward and express the best parts of his game. Groningen was often praised for having the best left side of the past season’s Eredivisie, and Burnet may just be looking to fill Frederik Stenman’s boots in that regard. His wing-back qualities connected very well with Dusan Tadic’ one-on-one skills and crossing.

Groningen also threw in a more offensive stance for midfielders Kieftenbeld and, particularly, Sparv, which opened up space. Sparv’s passing qualities helped their ball circulation, although the downside of this increase in space was also displayed in the fact that Twente’s counters were hardly stopped before Van Loo’s goal was taken under fire. A series of excellent saves saw the Groningen goal keeper make up for his first half error.

Groningen’s offensive intentions were rewarded when substitute striker Hyun-Jun Suk, having replaced Bacuna at the right wing position, tapped in a rebound. The 1-1 score line, at that moment in the match, seemed a good reflection of the equality in terms of goal scoring chances created.

 

In the end

Groningen’s hard work and more offensive second half intentions in the end proved enough to match Twente’s de facto superior playing skills. A few glimpses of quality were shown in a substitute appearance by Nacer Chadli, Twente’s star player after the departure of Bryan Ruiz. All in all, Twente looked a tad distracted during this game. Given their busy schedule this may be intentional, but it cost them in the second half.

Roda 2 – 1 Twente: Adriaanse’s first defeat in a tactically surprising match

Two tactically tuned formations played out an interesting match, where Roda countered their way towards beating their opponents in the second half. Twente manager Co Adriaanse deliberately left his right wing vacated and ultimately paid the price as Roda, one of only four teams that Twente failed to beat both home and away last year, exploited the opportunities that Twente’s unusual shape offered them.

 

Roda’s change of formation

The starting line-ups. Note Twente's vacated right wing.

One of only two Eredivisie teams to consequently play a two striker formation with a diamond midfield, Roda showed up rather differently for their home match against favorites Twente. Manager Van Veldhoven, always a guarantee for interesting tactical moves, sacrificed the second striker that generally plays off Mads Junker, a role played by Pluim in three of this season’s four matches so far, to install a five men midfield and go for a genuine 4-5-1 formation.

In addition to a different formation, Roda’s playing style was also quite different from what the home crowd will be used to. They sat very deep, particularly during the first twenty minutes, and absorbed the expected pressure their superior opponents gave them. Both wide midfielders mainly provided defensive contributions during that early phase and consequently Mitchell Donald, playing ‘in the hole’, intitially had a tough time connecting passes to lone striker Junker.

 

Twente’s unusual shape

One of the key questions in listing the starting names on the team sheet should be whether to adapt the names to a certain playing style and formation or the adapt the style and formation to the names available. And in this case, Adriaanse clearly went for the latter option. In the absence of the injured Chadli and Bajarami, and of course departed superstar Bryan Ruiz, he could have featured youngster Steven Berghuis on the right wing, but instead opted for a change of formation.

In an attempt to fit in new acquisition Fer in central midfield without forcing either top scorer Janko or the talented Luuk de Jong to the bench, Adriaanse vacated the right wing position. This move proved crucial in determining the fate of the game, as Roda took just over twenty minutes to figure out the countering options Twente provided them with.

 

The first phase

During the first twenty minutes of the match, Twente’s pressing, combined with their compact axis formation took Roda by surprise and the away side dominated the game. Roda sat too deep and invited pressure from their opponents, while allowing too much space in front of their defense even for the five men midfield to cover. Throughout the game Roda consequently played for offside, probably in an attempt to keep tall strikers Janko and De Jong away from the danger zone, but the lack of pressing exerted by the midfield still allowed the odd ball to come through for the overlapping runs of Fer and Janssen.

Roda’s deep wide midfielders added to the problem in that phase, inviting their opponents, Twente’s full-backs, to step into the midfield and provide some width in that department, further stretching the area to be covered here.

 

 

The second phase

Things changes a bit around the twenty minute mark. Roda took a less deep stance and thereby reduced the area in front of their defensive line. Suddenly the five men midfield proved more than capable of pressing the, now reduced, zone where Twente’s midfield had to operate and a reduction in the number of through balls was the result.

Twente’s game plan from that phase on consisted of mostly early left wing crosses through Ola John, launching high balls for Janko and De Jong to try and connect with. However, it was the odd through ball that seemingly settled the case in the 35th minute, as Roda’s midfield pressure slipped up just for a moment and Twente played Janssen in behind the, now slightly advanced, defensive line of Roda. Janssen’s shot was saved by Roda keeper Kieszek, but he gave up a rather cheap rebound for Janko to finish. With that, the tall Austrian striker scored his sixth goal of the season, now having scored in each of the first five matches.

As quickly as it was unexpected, Roda replied instantly. With his first arrival in the opposing box, holding midfielder Ruud Vormer finished after a nice one-two with Donald.

 

The second half

Only two minutes into the second half, Roda scored a second goal. It seems like Van Veldhoven instructed his team to exploit the defensive weakness that Twente imposed on themselves by vacating the right wing spot. The ball was quickly circulated to that area, where left full back Jimmy Hempte made an unopposed run forward. His pass found Donald in glaring space in Twente’s central defense and Donald, who played such a tough opening phase of the match when support was lacking, fired home from the edge of the area.

Adriaanse replied by correcting his formation, finally introducing a right winger, Steven Berghuis. Remarkably, it was captain and central defender Wisgerhof who was sacrificed. This led to a 3-3-4 formation, and with that to a clear picture for the remaining half hour to be played. Twente desperately fired ball forward while Roda was provided more and more space for their quick counters.

Twente’s midfield still consisted of three central midfielder that do not share the highest amount of creativity among them: Brama, Willem Janssen and Fer. It was in this difficult phase for them that the absence of Bryan Ruiz was most visible. On top of that, Roda’s packed five men midfield made things difficult for the away side, who found themselves with too many men in front of the ball.

The result was a closing phase where Roda’s counters provided more goal scoring threat than Twente’s attempts to find striker Janko and De Jong, but no more goals were scored.

 

In the end

This was a strange match in the sense that both teams played in a different shape than they usually do. But they did so with different incentives. Roda’s formation was defensively tuned from a 4-4-2 diamond to a genuine flat midfield 4-5-1 in order to deal with their opponent’s midfield strength. Furthermore, their defense, playing a medium high line and aiming for offside, was clearly aimed at reducing the threat of tall strikers Janko and De Jong.

Twente’s formation, on the contrary, was defensively tuned to fit in the presumed starting eleven names, rather than to beat the game plan of their opponent. Admittedly, Adriaanse missed the star qualities of Bryan Ruiz, who was sold to Fulham and the flair that could have been offered by the injured Nacer Chadli. But in this match he seemed to have based his vacated right winger formation around the preference to both add new acquisition Leroy Fer to the central midfield, and leave the Janko – De Jong striker partnership intact.

In the end, the team that adapted it’s starting eleven to their game plan beat the team that adapted their game plan to their starting eleven.

Twente 2 – 1 Ajax: Ten men Twente win Johan Cruijff Schaal 2011

In a replay of last year’s Dutch Super Cup, Twente managed to beat Ajax in the Amsterdam ArenA, despite starting the game without playmakers Chadli and Ruiz, and playing the entire second half with ten men. Admittedly, Ajax did create more and better goal scoring chances, which was hardly surprising given their home advantage and the fact that they played against ten men for the entire second half, but in football mainly creating more chances hardly guarantees success.

 

Ajax’ deep-lying playmaker 4-3-3 system

The starting line-ups

In our recent preview we’ve covered Frank de Boer’s tactical approach to this season. Featuring playmaker Theo Janssen in a deep-lying midfield role, virtually all of the central build-up play runs through the former Twente captain, who curiously captained his new team against his old one in his very first competitive match for Ajax.

Ajax were without two influential players as goal keeper Stekelenburg was in the process of getting his transfer to Roma done and central defender Vertonghen still suffers from a groin injury pickup in pre-season training. Daley Blind was shifted from full-back to centre back, a position he regularly played during his time in Ajax’ youth academy and one he will aim to play in the future, following the footsteps of his father’s development, who also started as a full-back before moving to a central defensive role.

 

Twente’s 4-3-3

Twente is still without both or their playmakers, who, if fit, might feature in a tasty double playmaker system, based around early pressing. Chadli wasn’t fit enough to feature in the game, while Ruiz is a bit behind on fitness after a minor pre-season injury also caused him to miss the CL qualifier against Vaslui last week. The Costa Rican star player feature in the second half though.

This meant that Adriaanse was once again relieved from making a choice between strikers Janko and Luuk de Jong. With Chadli fit again and starting in his presumed central playmaking role and Ruiz covering the right flank, starting both Janko and De Jong together seems unlikely. Adriaanse has a clear link with the tall Austrian striker Janko, both of them having worked together at Red Bull Salzburg during the 2008/09 season that saw the striker produce an incredible 39 goals from 34 matches, equaling one goal every 67 minutes. Meanwhile, Luuk de Jong is one of Twente’s quick rising stars, even making it to the national team for their trip to South America last June. Both of them starting in the same line-up means De Jong is used in a central offensive midfield role, which he is also capable of playing.

 

The first half

As expected, both teams started the game with intensive pressing. Particularly Twente’s presence of five of six players on Ajax’ half during their opponent’s possession left no doubt about their pressing intentions. Ajax managed to keep their calm and the passing skill within their midfield, particularly by Janssen and Eriksen, meant they often find a way through.

An important effect of Twente’s pressing, despite Ajax finding ways through, was that they succeeded very well in keeping Ajax away from their own goal. As a result, Ajax put in quite some effort combining halfway on the pitch and had less players available to commit to offensive action around Twente’s box. Aside from an early chance where Sulejmani saw a close range effort saved by Mihaylov for Eriksen to hit the bar with a rebound header, Ajax created little value in terms of goal scoring chances.

On the other end of the pitch, particularly left winger Ola John kept Van der Wiel pinned back quite nicely. In most matches, Van der Wiel aims to storm forward, following the example set by his idol Dani Alves, but against Twente he had to be wary of John’s pace and prevent giving away space behind his back. Partly as a result of this, but also because Ajax missed Vertonghen’s passing from the back, Ajax focused too much of their offense through the center of the pitch. Unfortunately neat passing diagrams to illustrate such an observation haven’t yet made their way to the Eredivisie, so we’ll have to do with just an impression here.

 

Opening goal

An excellent forward run by veteran right-back Tim Cornellise, a Dutch Super Cup winner with Utrecht in 2004, opened up space on Ajax left wing. Cornelisse was well played through by youngster Steven Berghuis, who made his second consecutive start on the right wing, and a dangerous goal scoring opportunity arose. Even more so as Janssen failed to track De Jong’s run adequately and saw his tug on the Twente youngster’s shirt rewarded with a penalty kick. Janko had no trouble converting the penalty kick to put his team 1-0 up, just like he did four days earlier against Vaslui.

On one hand this goal was against the run of play, but Ajax’ majority share of possession biased that view. Seeing them combine a long distance from Twente’s goal might give the impression that they dominated the game, but in terms of the danger they created though quality goal scoring chances the match wasn’t that unbalanced.

 

Second half

Adriaanse made one half time substitution, which made the impression to be (partly) pre-planned. Left winger Ola John was removed to allow Ruiz 45 minutes of game time. Despite the contralateral winger, Berghuis, being on a yellow card already and playing a less important role in pinning Ajax’ threats back, Adriaanse removed his pacy left wing outlet, who, admittedly, didn’t have the best of games in possession of the ball. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty, but Berguis got involved in an incident judged by referee Van Boekel as a dive, leading to his second yellow card in the 47th minute of the game.

Twente switched to a 4-3-2 formation, keeping De Jong and Ruiz up front and removed Janko to introduce defensive midfielder Thilo Leugers. As a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy this invited much more pressure through Ajax’ right wing, where Van der Wiel was seen in his preferred wing back role from that moment on.

Ajax’ chances may have been rather low quality one, their one man advantage meant that these chances kept on coming. This accumulation of low quality chances was rewarded when Toby Alderweireld found the net from 25 yards out to level the score. With Ajax dominating the majority of possession, De Boer removed Sigthorsson, Boilesen and later on Van der Wiel for reasons of fitness, claiming in post-match interviews that these players, who all entered later during Ajax’ pre-season training for various reasons, were mainly working towards the start of the competition.

 

 

Ruiz winner

As if rewarding his team’s stubborn ten men defense, Bryan Ruiz took full advantage of the space provided to him by Blind and Ooijer, who kept a yard distance with Twente’s star player approach the edge of Ajax’ box. Ruiz brilliantly found the right side of the far post with a curling effort to give the highly anticipated game the quality goal it was waiting for.

Ajax never quite recovered and despite Sulejmani’s hard work in the striker role, where he filled in for Sigthorsson, Ajax lacked quality in the final stages of their offensive moves. A series of long rage efforts and hopeful crosses didn’t turn the fate of the game and Twente ran out winners despite playing half of the match with ten men.

 

In the end

A highly anticipated match to kick off the 2011/12 season with arguably the two best teams of the past season meeting each other in a replay of last season’s Super Cup, Cup final and league decider. Ajax failed to create quality goal scoring chances due to a lack of width an attacking variety and in the end, after removing their striker with the scores still level, saw ten men Twente run out winners through a marvelous long range effort.