Tag Archives: Twente

Twente 2 – 0 Vaslui: Solid result in tough game

Based on the 2-0 final score line you wouldn’t tell that Twente had a tough time breaking down their Romanian opponent at home. Twente missed four key players and had severe problems building attacks from the back. As a result, the transition from last season’s double holding midfielder system to an offensive 4-3-3 didn’t go all that smooth yet.

 

Twente’s improvised starting eleven

The starting line-ups. Note Adailton's smart positioning inside, to add to Vaslui's numerical advantage in the midfield area

New manager Co Adriaanse will aim for offensive pressing football from a 4-3-3 formation, which is quite a change from Twente’s previous patient approach, based on two holding midfielders, with Brama covering midfield playmaker Theo Janssen. Without their best players, Twente will rely on the playmaking inputs of Bryan Ruiz and Nacer Chadli, with the latter presumed to take up a central pitch position under Adriaanse.

However, for this match Chadli was out due to a knee injury and Ruiz was also ‘unavailable’, adding to speculations on a move away from Enschede. On top of that, new signing Willem Janssen was ill and right wing back Roberto Rosales is returning from Copa America duties with Venezuela.

This forced Adriaanse into fielding a young starting eleven. He drafted left-back Thilo Leugers into a box-to-box midfield role, completing the duo of Brama as holding midfielder and Luuk de Jong as the most offensive central midfielder. Leugers’ left-back spot was filled in by Bart Buysse and Tim Cornelisse, a veteran defender signed from Utrecht, replaced Rosales at right-back. Bajrami started on the left wing and on the right wing talented Steven Berghuis earned his first appearance for the senior side. Both wingers played predominantly wide roles.

 

Vaslui’s game plan

Vaslui based their game on solid defending from a compact 4-2-3-1 formation. Both defensive midfielders consequently prioritized their defensive duties and right winger Adailton, a former Serie A veteran, used his experience well to contribute to Vaslui’s packed five men midfield.

Offensive intentions mainly came though set pieces, with Adailton’s 15th minute free kick rattling the cross bar a fine example, much like was outlined in this preview of the game. On top of their set pieces, quick surging counters, predominantly played through left winger Sanmartean provided some options for Vaslui too.

 

The first half

Taking a deep stance, Vaslui had no problems leaving both Twente’s central defenders a lot of time on the ball. As a result, Douglas and Wisgerhof mainly showed off the weaker aspect of their game, passing the ball over longer distances. In earlier years Twente always had Theo Janssen dropping deep to collect short passes of both central defenders, but not only does Twente miss the player Janssen now, but their transition to an offensive 4-3-3 formation played a role too.

A single holding midfielder is simply easier to mark than two of them taking turns in receiving short build-up balls. As a solution, the free playmaking style of Bryan Ruiz would have been highly valuable in matches like these, where the opponent is happy enough to sit back, pinning Brama with a single offensive midfielder, as Wesley did in this case. Halfway through the second half Twente started working their way around this problem by dropping Bajrami into deeper positions, but this reduced his ability to express his skills in a wide winger crossing role, which should be his main quality. All in all, Twente failed to create goal scoring chances, with a few unsuccessful Bajrami crosses being their main offensive threat throughout the first thirty minutes.

 

An opening goal anyway

Vaslui carried out most aspects of a compact five men midfield game rather well, but they slipped up with regard to their discipline. Though they succeeded in keeping Twente away from their goal for the majority of the first half, they did so at the cost of 21 fouls, earning  five bookings over the course the match. On one of these occasions, Leugers was fouled inside the penalty area when making a well timed effort to connect with a cleared Bajrami cross. Striker Mark Janko converted the penalty to put Twente one nil up with their only shot on target so far.

 

 

Ongoing problems

Twente’s problems building from the back couldn’t have been illustrated better than they did in the first minute of the second half. Douglas and Wisgerhof clumsily gave possession away in their own half and a dangerous effort by Wesley was claimed well by Mihaylov.

It was Twente, however, who added another goal to the game. Firing in a close range rebound after Luuk de Jong’s header from a set piece cross hit the post, Mark Janko added his second of the game with Twente’s second attempt on goal.

Now facing a 0-2 score line, Vaslui made a clear offensive substitution, removing holding midfielder Costin to introduce wide midfielder Milisavljevic, moving Adailton to a second striker role. The main effect of this offensively intended change was that Vaslui allowed Twente to take over the dominance in the midfield department. With the match drawing closer to its end, Vaslui dearly missed the numerical advantage that their compact five men midfield had offered them up till that time. As a result, Twente finally succeeded in creating from the midfield area, although, ironically, they did not add to their tally during this phase of the match, despite creating more than half of the goal scoring attempts in the final thirty minutes of the game.

 

In the end

With a 2-0 home win Twente may feel quite confident of reaching the play-off for the group stage of the Champions League. In an analysis performed last year, 89% of teams were shown to reach the next round of a European tie after this result.

Twente’s weak building from the back may be of concern, but the absence of both Ruiz and Chadli make it difficult to judge their performance in this regard. Still, it will be very interesting to see how they will deal with grouped compact five men midfield teams, like Vaslui. And perhaps some of the lower rated Eredivisie teams might take their lessons from the fact that the Romanians allowed just two shots on target during the first hour (with one of them from a penalty kick), only to concede more chances after giving up their numerical midfield advantage.

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.

 

Ajax

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.

 

Twente

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.

 

 

PSV

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!

Ajax 3 – 1 Twente: Eredivisie decided in fantastic final

A home victory over title rivals Twente meant that Frank de Boer’s Ajax secured the 30th Eredivisie title in the club’s history. Both title contenders faced each other on the final match day with Ajax needing a win for the title. And just one week after losing the Dutch Cup final to Twente in overtime, Ajax managed a 3-1 win in a tight and very exciting match that was ultimately decided by small tactical adaptations, which become clear when comparing this match to the Cup final.

 

Roughly the same line-ups

The starting line-ups. Note Janssen's deep position.

Ajax started this game with the exact same line-up as they did a week before. Mounir El Hamdaoui was still not fit. Siem de Jong started in the striker role, which allowed Ajax to use his excellent ball retention, team work and involvement in Ajax’ ground play. Nicolai Boilesen was again preferred over Daley Blind after his excellent offensive input a week before.

Demy de Zeeuw featured in the same central midfield role, but his positioning was much more offensive in this game. He often pressured Twente’s centre-backs alongside Siem de Jong and was mostly guarded by Twente’s holding midfielder Wout Brama, whereas in the previous game Brama was mostly confronted with Eriksen.

Michel Preud’homme made two changes in comparison with last week’s match. Mihaylov returned in goal, replacing Sander Boschker who was allowed to play all Cup matches this season, and Roberto Rosales was fit enough to start ahead of Dwight Tiendalli at right-back.

 

One major change

At first glance Preud’homme seemed not to have changed all that much, but as the match started, one major change became apparent. Theo Janssen and Denny Landzaat had switched positions for this match in comparison with the Cup final. Preud’homme would have felt the need for more defensive stability in Twente’s midfield as his team faced a 0-2 score line near the end of the first half of the Cup final. On top of that, Twente knew that a draw would be enough to secure the title and that Ajax managed to win all but one (N.E.C.) of their Eredivisie home games where they scored first.

Landzaat offers more defensive stability compared to Janssen, whose sloppy marking was generally held responsible for De Zeeuw’s opening goal in the Cup final. In return, Janssen is a vital element in Twente’s midfield with regard to passing the ball.

So, in return for more defensive quality to match Ajax’ two most offensive central midfielders De Zeeuw and Eriksen, Twente took a risk with regard to the positioning of their most important player. Janssen’s involvement in the game was significantly reduced in comparison with the Cup final, and in fact with Twente’s season in general. He was well guarded by Anita and Twente’s long high passing game that was quite successful earlier on bypassed him a lot.

 

The first half

Ajax dominated possession early on, as was to be expected, since they played at home and needed a win. With Twente taking a relatively defensive stance, Ajax found their defenders under a lot less pressure than they were a week before. Particularly Jan Vertonghen was able to display his excellent quality with the ball at feet. This included both his long passing skill, including his signature left-foot cross pass to right winger Sulejmani, and his libero-like advances into midfield with the ball at feet.

Curiously, the score line developed along similar lines as it did in the Cup final. Siem de Jong scored the opening goal with a well-executed cross volley finish from a second post cross by right-back Gregory van der Wiel. During that phase, Ajax seemed quite in control of the game. Twente’s spells of possession were quite short, both due to their direct game with frequent long balls towards striker Luuk de Jong and the lack of Janssen’s passing qualities in midfield, as outlined above.

 

The second half

The score line followed the patch of the Cup final immediately at the start of the second half. First Denny Landzaat scored a curious own goal as he headed the ball into his own net while under no pressure at all during another cross by Gregory van der Wiel.

But, again, Ajax’ two goal lead was short-lived. Twente responded immediately to the change of scenario, as Landzaat advanced his stance and the pair of both him and Theo Janssen overloaded Vurnon Anita, who had not yet received the support that this new Twente midfield line-ups had warranted. With both Eriksen and De Zeeuw well in front of the ball, Janssen was allowed a clear shot from the edge of the box and his skillful left foot placed the ball past Vermeer.

 

Twente press, but don’t score

Energized by their immediate reply to the own goal, Twente took matters into their own hands. The change of scenario described above wasn’t replied by Ajax and Twente continued to overload Ajax’ single holding midfielder with a pair of offensive central midfielders.

Halfway through the second half, Twente increased their offensive pressure by bringing striker Mark Janko for Denny Landzaat. Janko, match winner during the Cup final, played alongside Luuk de Jong, increasing the aerial presence even further. Simultaneously, De Boer responded by replacing Sulejmani with holding midfielder Eyong Enoh, inducing a series of changes in the team. Ebecilio switched to the right wing, Eriksen took up the vacated left wing. De Zeeuw, who was subbed off in the Cup final, kept his central offensive role this time.

With both Anita and Enoh in midfield, De Boer hoped to have installed the necessary defensive power, but he was still a step behind Preud’homme, as the introduction of Janko for Landzaat had increased Twente’s formation effectively to a 4-2-4, which connected well with their long passing style in this game.

Siem de Jong celebrates his second goal, and with that, the decision in the match

Despite building the pressure, Twente could not capitalize and ultimately paid the price for their risky 4-2-4 formation when man-of-the-match Siem de Jong finished the game in the 78th minute. Talented Danish midfielder Christian Eriksen provided a beautiful through-ball that was nicely chipped over Mihaylov by the Ajax striker for his second goal of the game. Ajax managed to see out the remainder of the game without conceding again, winning the Eredivisie title in a season where they topped the table only on three match days.

 

In the end

Twente paid the price for tuning their formation to the needs of the day. Ajax hardly concede games at home after opening the score, so Preud’homme’s focus on the defensive aspect of this game is quite understandable. But Janssen’s advanced position during the first half meant that the game bypassed him a lot and Twente dearly missed his presence as deep-lying playmaker. In hindsight Preud’homme could have deployed him deeper too, in a formation approaching the 4-3-2-1 system, which would allow Ruiz a free floating playmaker role.

The Champions of the 2010/11 Eredivisie

Let’s conclude this review with a word of praise for Frank de Boer and his staff, who’ve managed to overturn a five points gap on both PSV and Twente during the second half of this year’s Eredivisie.

Twente 3 – 2 Ajax: Overtime winner secures the Cup for Twente

In a match that superseded all expectations, Twente claimed the victory with a dramatic overtime winning header by Janko to win the Dutch Cup for the third time in the club’s history. In contrast to what might have been derived from both team’s managers pre-match, when they stressed the importance of next week’s fixture deciding the Eredivisie title, both teams did not hold back and a true football fest was the result.

 

The line-ups

The starting line-ups

The only exception to the expected line-ups, as detailed in the match preview, was the start of Twente’s Dwight Tiendalli at right-back over Roberto Rosales, due to fitness issues. In tactical terms however, both full-back can play in a quite comparable role. Veteran goal keeper Sander Boschker’s starting role in Cup matches was maintained, which meant both teams started with their nominal second choice goal keeper.

 

Twente’s game plan in defense

An interesting choice by both managers was to have their midfield players exerting intense pressure high up the pitch. On Ajax’ side this meant an advanced pressing role for De Zeeuw, who played beside Eriksen when defending Twente’s possession of the ball. And on Twente’s side this meant a very advanced role for Landzaat, who regularly showed up at the level of Luuk de Jong and kept intense pressure on Vurnon Anita, Ajax’ midfield holding player who is preferred over Enoh in recent matches because of his superior distribution.

Add to that the strict man-marking role that Wout Brama carried out on Ajax’ main offensive and creative midfield threat Christian Eriksen and Ajax’ difficult start to the game becomes understandable. The Ajax defense had a torrid time playing the ball into the midfield during the first twenty minutes and, intstructed to avoid long balls at all times, they bravely played short own half passes until often no other option was left than to have Vermeer hoist the ball forward, where they subsequently lost out against Twente’s superior aerial qualities. The main fact keeping balance in the game at this early stage was the amount of early fouls conceded by Twente’s midfield.

 

 

Ajax’ game plan in possession

Practically unable to pass the ball around Twente’s marking, and having the creative movement of Eriksen cancelled out well by Brama, Ajax frequently had left winger Lorenzo Ebecilio dropping into the midfield beside Anita to increase their passing options here. In turn, this allowed left-back Boilesen a lot of space to exploit his strongpoint of making forward runs from deep, both with and without the ball at feet. Ruiz, who said in an interview a few days before the match “Who? I don’t know him” when asked to comment on the young Dane, regularly failed to track his runs and ultimately Twente paid the price in Ajax’ opening goal in the 19th minute.

Boilesen made an excellent run from deep, outplayed Tiendalli, and played the ball in for Siem de Jong. Boilesen’s run had dragged Wisgerhof wide to cover there and De Jong had dropped from the central striker area, unsettling Twente’s other central defender, Douglas. The resulting space in central defense was exploited by De Zeeuw, who scored after a nice feint that allowed him past Theo Janssen.

Boilesen (in possession) went passed Tiendalli and drew Wisgerhof (red) wide. Ruiz (yellow) fails to track the run properly, while Siem de Jong has vacated the striker position, dragging Douglas (red) out of position. De Zeeuw will finish the move after nutmegging Janssen (orange).

 

Twente’s game plan in possession

Describing Twente’s offensive plans Is quite simple. They were clearly aware of the potential of Luuk de Jong to win headers and flick-ons over central defenders Alderweireld and Vertonghen and their forward did not disappoint them. Luuk de Jong, brother of Ajax striker Siem is still only 20-years old, but has already made his debut  for the Dutch national team in the recent friendly against Austria.

While the game plan of overloading Ajax’ central defense with optimistic crosses and long balls forward may not sound too sophisticated, it proved highly effective. Despite Ajax dominating possession 61-39% over the whole of the game, Twente managed to create no less than 27 goal scoring chances, of which a relatively high amount of 14 were on target. To complete this statistic, Ajax managed 21 attempts, of which 8 were on target.

 

Two more first half goals

In a move that was started through another Boilesen run from deep along the left touchline, Ajax got a tad lucky to see an Ebecilio long range shot deflected in. But despite a comforting 2-0 lead close to half time, Ajax allowed things to turn against them almost immediately. Of all people, Douglas pressing as high as Anita won possession for Twente, upon which Ajax displayed a lesson of ‘how not to apply compact defending’. Note in the screen below that all ten Ajax outfield players are positioned very compact, yet none of them either tackled the simple one-two pass between Brama and De Jong, or tracked Brama’s run before he received the ball to finish off the move.

Admittedly, Twente’s fluidity has shook Ajax’ formation a bit here, with offensive midfielder Eriksen defending Twente’s nominal left winger Chadli at the wide right of Twente’s attack, but still, to allow a one-two combination through these compact lines of defense is worrisome.

Note Ajax' compact shape with defenders (red), midfielders (orange), wingers (yellow) and the striker (blue) all in close proximity of each other. Part of what's happening here is that Van der Wiel marks the zone outside of his opponent, keeping Alderweireld from closing the gap that will arise in the centre of defense after Vertonghen was forced to step out.

 

The second half

With no substitutions, or changes to their game plans, both teams started the second half and consequently, the same pattern of play developed. In the most influential substitution of the game, De Boer brought Enoh instead of De Zeeuw in an attempt to regain the initiative in midfield, but he did so after the damage of losing the initiative was done.

Ajax right-back Van der Wiel lost track of Luuk de Jong, who generally moved into wide positions cleverly, and De Jong picked out a well-placed low cross for ‘man of the season’ Theo Janssen to score the equalizer.

Winning the midfield initiative was provoked by Preud’homme, who instructed Janssen more and more forward, thereby successfully overloading Anita, Ajax’ single holding midfielder. This more or less restored the balance in the game that had been lost after Twente’s offensive move, which initiated very much of an end-to-end spell in the game with Twente gaining the upper hand here.

As a result of these changes, Ajax operated from a deeper stance and, with only moderate success, aimed for counter-attacking play through their pacy wingers Sulejmani and Ebecilio. Twente, meanwhile, saw themselves able to improve the quality of their optimistic long forward balls and crosses, as their more advanced position allowed them to play them in from a closer distance. Ajax’ weakness at defending high balls entering their box, be it in open play or from set pieces, almost cost them the Cup near the end of regular playing time as first Ruiz and then De Jong headed only inches wide.

 

Overtime

Two fatigued players were subbed of at the start of overtime. Bajrami replaced Chadli and Ajax’ third choice centre forward Cvitanich replaced Van der Wiel, with Anita shifting out to right-back and Siem de Jong dropping a line back, into midfield.

Playing with two offensive midfielders again, as Ajax did before the De Zeeuw-Enoh substitution, created a long spell of possession dominance for Ajax. Seemingly, Twente paid the price for their intensive pressing game earlier in the match and their lines got stretched. Ajax, however, failed to capitalize on this opportunity, despite coming close with two excellent long shots by Siem de Jong and hitting the bar through a header by Daley Blind, who had replaced Boilesen earlier on.

Another fatigue related substitution followed, with Bengtsson replacing Wisgerhof who had problems facing the energetic performance of Cvitanich. And Twente provided themselves with a fresh striker too. Mark Janko replaced Luuk de Jong up front.

And the Austrian striker won’t soon forget this substitution appearance, as he headed the ball past Vermeer with only minutes to play. Another addition to the string of high crossed set pieces that have proved fatal to Ajax this season.

 

In the end

In what was beforehand regarded as the less important confrontation of the two best Dutch teams, who will also battle for the Eredivisie title next week, both Ajax and Twente went all out. An atmospheric football evening followed, in which Twente came away with the win and their third Dutch Cup victory. Overall it was a fairly balanced game between two very evenly matched sides, which can only add to the build-up of tension for next week’s clash.

Twente – Ajax: A tactical preview of the Cup final

In their third and fourth match up of this season, Twente and Ajax will meet in both the final of the Dutch Cup next Sunday and in what may be called the final of the Eredivisie on Sunday May 15. Both managers have already expressed themselves in clichés such as “the Cup is a very important prize” and “our next match is always the most important one”, but the general feeling is that this weekend’s Cup final is overshadowed by the importance of the Eredivisie title decider next week. And it’s not just the title that is decided, but both teams may even end up losing their Champions League ticket in the case of a loss next week, with PSV aiming to regain second place.

Despite that, with both important matches played a full week apart, both managers have expressed their intention to start with a full strength line-up in the Cup final.

Captains Wisgerhof and Vertonghen (outside left and right) grabbing a hold of the Cup with managers Preud'homme and De Boer

 

Twente’s formation over the season

Over the course of the season, Michel Preud’homme has made a gradual change of formation. Initially, he went with the 4-3-3 formation that he had inherited from his successful predecessor Steve McLaren, but, as was described earlier, he switched from a single holding midfielder to a double pivot, allowing both full-backs more offensive freedom. With Brama and Janssen generally playing the more conservative midfield roles, Preud’homme regularly featured Luuk de Jong in an advanced midfield role behind newly acquired striker Mark Janko in what could best be termed a 4-2-3-1 formation.

But injuries to both Janko and Ruiz during the early months of the year forced a change of approach. Veteran midfielder Landzaat was introduced to the midfield, allowing De Jong to advance to the striker position. And with that, a crossover between the 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations was born. De Jong plays more of a ground ball target man, compared to Janko, and frequently drops back from the striker position, opening up space for Chadli and Ruiz to run into.

At the same time Landzaat is more of a natural central midfielder than De Jong, so the previous system of Brama and Janssen as consequent holding midfielders and De Jong more advanced has been replaced by a more fluid midfield three. Brama still covers in front of defense, but Janssen and Landzaat tend to take turns going forward, their counterpart offering support to Brama in the meantime.

This must have been the midfield fluidity that Preud’homme had been looking for, as over the past ten matches, Janko and De Jong have only started together twice.

 

Expected line-up against Ajax

The expected starting line-ups. Note the potential for Twente to overload Ajax' midfield with Ruiz drifting in and De Jong dropping.

With Bryan Ruiz back from knee injury problems just in time for the decisive matches of the season, Twente starts returning to its full strength line-up again. Ruiz will play his beloved drifting role, starting from the right wing and Chadli will aim for a more straightforward left wing role. Based on recent matches Luuk de Jong is expected to start in the striker role, with Mark Janko perhaps coming off the bench if things don’t work out.

The fluid midfield trio of Brama, Janssen and Landzaat will plays as outlined above and in central defense Douglas returned from his six match suspension a few matches ago to retake his left-sided central defense position beside captain Wisgerhof. The return of Dwight Tiendalli has provided Preud’homme with a choice of two out  of three likely full-backs to start. Either Rosales or Tiendalli will play as offensive right back, with Buysse or Tiendalli playing on the left side of defense. Preud’homme varies his full backs a lot, perhaps because the offensive wide role demands a lot of stamina and three candidates for two spots might be a good way to keep them fresh. It’ll be interesting to see which pair he’ll prefer this time.

 

A season of two halves for Ajax

No teams has been debated as much a Ajax in terms of tactical transitions over the course of this season. The departure of manager Martin Jol, who preferred a rather conservative 4-2-3-1 system and the appointment of Frank de Boer, who goes with a ‘classic Ajax style’ wide 4-3-3 have been key determinants of the tactical developments over the season. And results have pickup up in quite dramatic fashion in the second half of the season, as Jol managed a 9-5-3 (36-17) record over the first 17 matches of the season and De Boer so far holds a 12-2-2 (33-12) record over his 16 matches in charge. This improvement saw Ajax close the five point gap with Twente to one point and overtake PSV whose 9-4-3 (39-16) record during the second half of the season almost equals Ajax’ first half.

 

Major changes

Comparing to Ajax’ previous encounter with Twente, the 2-2 away draw last September, only three players are expected to start in the same position this time. Admittedly, Vermeer replacing Stekelenburg in goal is forced through injury, but otherwise an impressive amount of changes have been made.

Ajax’ defense has by and large kept its form as Van der Wiel, Alderweireld and Vertonghen are still sure starters, with 19 year old Nicolai Boilesen starting at left back ahead of Daley Blind and Vurnon Anita. The latter is drafted back into defensive midfield, a role he used to play in before Jol turned him into a left back.

Last September, Ajax’ midfield consisted of Siem de Jong, Enoh and Lindgren with a front three of Emanuelson, El Hamdaoui and Suarez. Indicative of the changes brought about by Frank de Boer only one of these six players will feature in Ajax’ starting eleven next weekend. Siem de Jong is widely expected to start ahead of Mounir El Hamdaoui in the lone striker role, as the Moroccan international hasn’t found his form in the field, isn’t getting along with his manager off it, and on top of that isn’t fully fit at the moment.

Right winger Miralem Sulejmani is perhaps the best example of a player flourishing under a new manager. Since the appointment of De Boer, the Serbian hasn’t missed a single Eredivisie start and with six goals and five assists he’s made significant contribution to Ajax’ improved second half of the season.

A devoted servant during the second half of the season: Miralem Sulejmani

 

Key areas

With both midfield trio’s rather well balanced and all four wingers generally showing excellent defensive awareness, a potential decisive match up might be Bryan Ruiz playing the inexperienced left-back Boilesen. The young Dane made a hugely impressive debut replacing the injured Daley Blind against Heracles at home in early April, but had a difficult time playing skilled dribbler Luciano Narsingh in Ajax’ recent narrow victory over Heerenveen. Ruiz’ tendency to drift inside will see him picked up by Anita, which will put extra pressure on Demi de Zeeuw to track any offensive midfield impulses Landzaat or Janssen might employ.

On the other hand, the offensive runs of Eriksen combined with De Jong’s excellent false nine role will limit Landzaat’s offensive abilities as he’ll need to be wary of his opponent’s well timed runs from deep as was illustrated in the same Heerenveen – Ajax match, with De Jong – Eriksen combinations forming the base of both Ajax goals.

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.

Excelsior 0 – 2 Twente: Decent victory for the champions

Off the back of a demanding away trip to Zenit, Twente managed an important away win to keep the pace set by league leaders PSV, who Twente are trailing by just one point. While away at Excelsior, ten men Ajax drew 2-2 and PSV had the utmost difficulty in winning 3-2 in the final seconds, Twente put in a decent team effort to beat the relegation candidates.

 

The starting formations

The starting line-ups. Excelsior's dynamic 4-4-2 was hard to capture in formational notations: 4-4-2, 4-5-1 and 4-2-2-2 all covered their line-up at times.

Twente lined up in a 4-3-3 formation where Luuk de Jong played in his preferred striker position in the absence of the injured Mark Janko. Pacy winger Emir Bajrami replaced the long-term injured Ruiz on the right wing this time, keeping Chadli ion his preferred left side. Manager Preud’homme preferred Swedish Rasmus Bengtsson over Onyewu in central defense and 40 year old goalkeeper Boschker, who has even been called up for the national squad again, replaced the slightly injured Mihaylov.

Excelsior missed prolific right-back Daan Bovenberg due to suspension and played Eekman instead. German goalkeeper Pellatz started his third game in a row, keeping former first choice Paauwe on the bench again. Pastoor lined his team up in a very dynamic 4-4-2 formation.

 

The first half

It may have been a bit more dynamism in Excelsior’s midfield than what was good for them as Twente never really got into trouble early on. Clasie and Koolwijk were the most central of Excelsior’s midfielders, with Roorda on the right and De Graaf on the left often squeezing inside too. This should have brought a 4v3 advantage for Excelsior in the important department that is central midfield.

But Twente simply worked their way around this. All three of Brama, Janssen and Landzaat played very decent games, keeping possession very well and rarely being dragged out of position by Excelsior’s frequent personal switches. Twente started the game in their familiar cautious manner, playing a slow paced game from the back, looking to eventually cross the ball in from either side in the hope of a moment of De Jong brilliance.

Most times, however, Excelsior had been given all sorts of time to organize their defense, so while the actual number  of Twente crosses was quite high, goal scoring chances were quite scarce. The tempo of Twente’s ball circulation was that slow that they always allowed their opponents to organize themselves in defense and crosses swinging into body packed boxes were a frequent sight.

Right-back Rosales frequently appeared in midfield, significantly reducing the potential 4v3 disadvantage in that area. His offensive role was particularly helped by the fact that Excelsior played one advanced central striker, Bergkamp, with Guyon Fernandez in a more dynamic role around him. Fernandez prefers to do so from the right wing, and in turn, Twente’s right-back could venture into midfield at ease.

Near the end of the first half Theo Janssen crowned Twente’s unspectacular, but comfortable control of the game by finishing of a move where for once they moved quickly on a possession turnover in the Excelsior half. Luuk de Jong’s lay-off was the true beauty of this goal, another example of the technical qualities of Twente’s young striker.

 

The second half

Credits where they belong, manager Pastoor did try to alter the face of the game, but the firm grip that Twente’s excellent midfield three had on the game did never really slip. Excelsior started the second half with a more advanced defensive line and played De Graaf in a more advanced role on the left wing. Despite this offensive intentions, Twente’s ball retention was very good and when out of possession, the title contenders asserted quite effective pressure on their opponents and they did so in a very disciplined team effort fashion.

So despite the playground in midfield shifting some 20 yard back towards Twente’s goal, control of the game was still at the hands of Theo Janssen, Denny Landzaat and Wout Brama in Twente’s midfield.

It was no surprise that Twente increased their lead. Excelsior needed more and more fouls in midfield in order to keep Twente from breaking quickly when they turned over possession. On one of these occasions, centre-back Kaj Ramstein fouled Luuk de Jong in the box and with a penalty and a direct red card given, the game was in fact over. Theo Janssen completed his brace from the penalty spot to crown his, and his fellow midfielder’s, excellent display.

Despite Excelsior making desperate attempt to find and fight their way back into the match, Twente never lost control of their lead. The fact that they could lower their tempo and find some rest quite early in the second half might be welcome in their tired-looking squad.

 

In the end

A comfortable victory for Twente due to their excellent midfield display, and Rosales who was given the freedom to assist in the potential 4v3 outnumbering. A disciplined team effort in terms of pressure on Excelsior did the job for Twente and Theo Janssen was able to crown his team’s midfield performance with his brace.

Tactical preview of Twente – Zenit

Twente’s season so far

Twente has had a very respectable season so far. Given the fact that their successful manager Steve McLaren and several influential first team members had left during the summer, a sort of ‘transition season’ might have been expected. But those expectations have been superseded as the club had a respectable Champions League campaign, with home draws against defending European Champions Inter, and against Tottenham and Werder, finishing third in their Champions League Group. In the first Europa League knock-out stage they defeated Russian side Rubin Kazan, with a solid 2-0 away win proving the base for that victory.

In the Eredivisie meanwhile, Twente did very well not to suffer from European hangovers and keeping the pace set by league leaders PSV to be only three points behind in second place now. With only one Eredivisie home defeat and an unbeaten home European record this season, Twente are definitely are tough team to beat at their own ‘Grolsch Veste’. But in order to progress beyond Zenit, they’ll probably have to do better than the previous four European games that all ended in draws.

 

Zenit’s season so far

Zenit played four matches so far in this season: two in the Europa League against Young Boys (1-2 and 3-1), one in the Russian Cup against the new club of Roberto Carlos, Anzhi (3-2 win), and most recently in the Russian Super Cup against CSKA (1-0 win). These were no one easy matches for manager Spalletti. In the first match, in Switzerland, Zenit’s 4-2-3-1 faced a 3-4-3, and they had a lot of problems, as 3-4-3 might be a smart formation to play against a 4-2-3-1. Keeping the formation narrow, the wing-backs were the key on the flanks, and the three strikers, who played in narrow style too simply outnumbered Zenit defense in quick breaking attacks.

In the home match against Young Boys, Zenit played with pair of wide forwards for the first time in the last two years, and it was a first step to the famous 4-6-0 formation. And indeed, Spalletti did play the 4-6-0 in the second half of the Russian Super cup. Danny and Lazovic, the former PSV man, moved to the wide areas to stretch the opponent’s defense line, and it proved the key to success.

At the moment Zenit has a lot of injured players. Bucharov, Kerzhakov (probably), Semak, Bystrov, Hubocan and Lombaerts are out because of injury, and that’s why Spalletti turns back to 4-6-0, the unconventional formation that he had so much success with in his Roma days of 2007.

 

Twente’s formation

The presumed starting line-ups, Zenit in this case with Lazovic (or Kerzhakov if fit) as the most advanced midfielder in the 4-6-0 system and Danny on the left wing.

Twente manager Preud’homme enjoyed a short taste of his predecessor’s narrow midfield 4-3-3 formation, but he quickly switched, after two goalless draws to open the season with, to a formal 4-2-3-1, which he now uses in the majority of games. This allows Twente to use the double pivot of two holding midfielders, while at the same time it allows them to field both tall striker Mark Janko and talented striker/midfielder Luuk de Jong. As an alternative, forced by suspensions of injuries, Preud’homme does switch to the 4-3-3 system at times, with Landzaat coming into the squad in central midfield.

Against Zenit a near full-strength 4-2-3-1 line-up is to be expected. But the one injured player happens to be superstar Bryan Ruiz, who still suffers from the consequences of a knee injury that also sidelined him earlier this season. Against AZ, when he was substituted at half time, first Landzaat and later Bajrami replaced him and in the next match against Utrecht, Luuk de Jong was drafted into an unfamiliar right wing role. Both changes did not go all that well, but the option to play Bajrami, a left-footed left winger, on the right wing seems most likely for the Zenit match. A more unlikely option would be to start young Ola John, who made an excellent impression as a substitute in Twente’s most recent game, the 2-0 home victory over NAC. His inexperience though, makes another substitute role more likely.

 

Zenit’s formation

As stated above, there’s a big chance we will see a formal 4-6-0 come back to European football, although Zenit has usually played 4-2-3-1 formations away from home so far. Without any fit strikers in squad, Spalletti will probably play with Danny and Ionov as wide players and Shirokov in the ‘Totti role’ of most advanced midfielder. Central midfielder Zyryanov will act as the central midfielder that will make runs from deep to the center forward position, and Denisov will act as the holding midfielder. Left winger Danny and Shirokov might also be switching positions, either in the starting line-up or during the game.

Another option for Spaletti: to strengthen the defense on the potential weak left side he can move Danny to a central position instead of Lazovic and field Husti on the left wing.

Another option would be that Shirokov will play beside Zyryanov in the centre of midfield, with the Portuguese star Danny playing as a trequartista and Husti as wide player on the left to offer more defensive cover on that flank. One of the strengths of the 4-6-0 formation is the amount of variety is offers in the midfield positions and this combines very well with the flexibility of the midfielders in Zenit’s squad.

But a constant among all the variety will be Zyryanov’s runs from deep. He is very good at this role and scores a lot of goals for the Russian national team and Zenit in this style. Think for example of his goal for Russia against Greece during Euro 2008.

To be fair, Zenit must be considered as the strongest Russian team at present, with the best manager. Luciano Spalletti is a very experienced man and he won the Super Cup match against CSKA using his huge tactical knowledge that he learned during his time in the Italian Serie A. He simply outplayed CSKA manager Leonid Slutsky in the tactic battle, and Michel Preud’homme should be well aware of Spaletti’s capacities to make excellent in-game adaptations.

The main weakness in Zenit’s squad is their left-back, A. Lukovic. He is not a regular first team player, and when a less defensive minded player like Danny or Shirokov plays on the left wing, there is the potential of a lot of 2v1 situations on that flank.

 

Twente players to look out for

Luuk de Jong

This 20-year old Dutch talent has missed only one Eredivisie game and no European match so far. He is equally capable of playing as a lone striker or as the man behind Austrian striker Mark Janko, which offers flexibility to his manager. With 17 goals and 11 assists already he will be a key man to watch for Zenit.

From left to right: Chadli, De Jong and Janssen

Theo Janssen

If you say Twente, you say Theo Janssen. The talented midfield is gifted with the best left foot of the Eredivisie and his free kick skills are renowned. He often acts as a deep-lying playmaker beside Twente’s ‘destructive’ midfielder Brama.

 

Nacer Chadli

A quick rising star in the Eredivisie, Chadli was bought from second tier side AGOVV during the summer and counts as one of the best summer deals made in Holland. He is a skilled dribbler, known for his pace and has scored most of his goals when drifting inside, looking to curl balls into the far post.

 

Zenit players to look out for

Danny

Simply the best attacking midfielder in Russia, who has magnificent dribbling skills, good pace and passing, and he is very good at finishing. His transfer to Zenit cost 30.000.000 euro, and today the Portuguese, who played his first match in Russia six years ago, is a key element of Zenit’s attack. Look at his movement and his technique, and enjoy.

Thirty million euro man Danny

Bruno Alves

Another player whose transfer fee has been exorbitant high. Zenit paid 22.000.000 euro for this central defender – but he prove his value during his fourteen matches in the Russian Premier League last season. With his compatriot Meira he is an essential part of Zenit’s success. But in the last match, against CSKA, both had similar problems with Dumbia’s pace, and this might offer an opportunity for Twente.

 

Alexandr Anyukov and Konstantin Zyryanov

Both are very experienced members of the first team. Anyukov is the captain of the team and the best full-back in the Russian Premier League. With his movement ability and his solid game in defense he is a British style full-back who plays an important role for Zenit, in defense as well as in attack.

Zyryanov, may not be as quick and resilient as he was three years ago at Euro 2008, but he holds up Zenit’ midfield in defense and still is very dangerous in attack. Like his injured teammate Sergey Semak he is also spiritual leader of the team.

 

This contribution to 11tegen11 was partly guest-written by Russian tactical blogger Eugeny Shevelev. You can find him on Twitter as @shevelevee or visit his blog here.

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.

AZ 2 – 1 Twente: An emotional defeat for the Dutch Champions

Reigning Eredivisie champions Twente were defeated by the previous champions, AZ. This all happened in a much debated game, played out in pouring rain, bringing all the excitement that may be expected when these two teams are involved, and more. Twente received their second red card of the season after Douglas lost control near the end of the first half. Their first red card of this season? Indeed, Douglas, against AZ at home, in the first half, with the same referee, Ruud Bossen. Twente went on to lose that game 1-2 too… So after Twente being the only team unbeaten by AZ in their winning 2008/09 Eredivisie campaign, this year AZ is the only team to beat Twente twice.

 

AZ’s successful switch to the 4-2-3-1

Both teams set out with an ambitious single holding midfielder formation, only to see them forced to give up on those plans a few games into the season. AZ started out with an ambitious hybrid 4-3-3 / 3-4-3 formation where both full-backs took turns of advancing into wide midfielder roles and the remaining three defenders moving sideways to form a temporary three men defense. While this should give AZ the edge on the doubled-up flanks, paying relatively less attention to the centre of the pitch posed insolvable problems, as exposed during their early season games against 4-2-3-1 formations such as the Kazakh side Aktobe in the second half of the home game or Excelsior’s compact 4-1-4-1 system.

Realizing this, Gertjan Verbeek shuffled his formation around in order to double up on the holding midfielder, effectively turning the formation into a 4-2-3-1, now playing Rasmus Elm in a more conservative role beside deep-lying playmaker Schaars, preventing him from getting overrun. And after a hugely disappointing three points from their first five matches, AZ then went on to win 40 points from their next 20 matches using this stable 4-2-3-1 system.

Another interesting development in AZ’s tactics has been the installment of the wide playmaker. Originally much depended on the central midfield playmaker, the man-in-the-hole, in Holland often called ‘the number 10’ in line with Louis van Gaal’s and Ajax’ influential nineties coaching philosophy. In response to that, many teams fielded the double pivot, placing an extra holding midfielder in front of the central defense in order to limit space for the central playmaker. This helped to prevent the single holding midfielder from getting overrun when the central playmaker was assisted by a striker dropping deep or a deeper midfielder making a run forward. In response to the fashionable double pivot, many teams were forced to shift their creative players wide.

In AZ’s formation the offensive creativity is provided by Maarten Martens, playing from the left wing. He is given a reasonable amount of positional freedom by the offensive nature of the AZ left full-back, proving the necessary width when he drifts inside. This allows him to avoid the crowded central area of the pitch , but dictate AZ’s offense from the left wing.

 

Twente’s similarities with AZ

Just like AZ with Verbeek, Twente started the season with a new manager, as Michel Preud’homme took over from Steve McLaren who left for Wolfsburg during the summer. And Preud’homme initially went with the 4-3-3 formation that was so successful for Twente during the 2009/10 season. But just like Verbeek at AZ, Preud’homme had all sorts of difficulties to prevent Brama from getting overrun in the centre of the pitch. Missing the intelligent positioning and decision making of Kenneth Perez in the central midfield area left Wout Brama with a double task in the defensive midfield role.

Being the most conservative of the midfield three, he played the role of ‘destructive’ midfielder, but was expected to build-up play too. Switching to a system with a second holding midfielder relieved Brama from his constructive tasks, allowing him to break down the opposition’s play, and allowed Janssen the role of deep-lying playmaker. As an added bonus it allowed to play both talented Luuk de Jong (in the advanced midfielder role) and new signing Mark Janko (in the lone striker role).

The starting line-ups. Playmaker Bryan Ruiz frequently sropped deep to collect the ball, leaving a vacated right wing and contributing to Twente's early passing problems

At present Twente alternates between their 4-3-3 and 4-2-3-1 formations, which can be easily discriminated by the inclusion of Brama, Janssen and Landzaat in the 4-3-3 formation and the two of Luuk de Jong and Mark Janko in the 4-2-3-1 system used today.

And, to draw another parallel with AZ, the concept of offensive creativity on the flanks holds true for Twente too, as their playmaker Bryan Ruiz plays from the right wing, often drifting inside, supported by a very offensive wing-back role by Roberto Rosales.

For this particular match, Twente’s in-form left winger Nacer Chadli started from the bench, after Twente’s demanding confrontation with Russian side Rubin Kazan. United States international and AC Milan loanee Onyewu makes his fifth consecutive start at left-back.

AZ misses playmaker Martens due to an ankle injury and plays young Icelandic winger Gudmundsson on the left flank, who teams up with his national team mate Sigthorsson in the striker role. The latter scored no less than eight goals in his previous seven matches, largely because of his five goals in the 6-1 win over VVV.

 

AZ dominance

AZ clearly dominated the opening phase of the game. Twente’s ball retention was simply not up to the task , too many tackles were lost and the pass completion rate was dramatically low. The three short days in between the tough battle with Rubin and the long travel the week before clearly didn’t help here.

With Janssen and Brama having trouble carrying the ball over the midfield line under quite some AZ pressing, playmaker Ruiz decided to help out by dropping very deep. His good intentions, however, increased Twente’s problems as they lacked another passing outlet with Ruiz dropping that deep.

AZ striker Sigthorsson played an impressive game against Douglas, regularly winning tackles and even headers. The young Icelandic international made good use of his movement, pace and agility and formed a dynamic focal point of AZ’s midfield passing.

 

 

From bad to worse for Twente

AZ’s opening goal, in fact an unlucky own goal by Janssen, was a matter of time and things got worse and worse for Twente as Douglas proved unable to control himself. The Brazilian hit out at Wernbloom, attempted to assault referee Bossen upon being shown the red card and had to be escorted off the pitch by his team mates.  Just a few minutes later Twente lost another influential player as Ruiz was unable to continue, suffering from left knee problems that kept him sidelined for a few months earlier this season. Bart Buysse replaced him, moving Onyewu to the central defense. Twente otherwise kept their formation intact which implied a 4-2-2-1, which due to Ruiz’ free role was close to what was already in effect before the red card.

 

Play suspended

Fifteen minutes into the second half, with Twente bravely battling back into the game by advancing their holding midfielder to full central midfield roles, referee Ruud Bossen called a temporary stop to the game because of abusive and insulting vocal chants from the Twente fans. While Preud’homme and his players seemed outraged and had a tough time controlling their emotions, Verbeek seemed to use this break as a tactical time-out. He brought Falkenburg for Elm, substituting a conservative for a more offensive midfielder.

The line-ups near the end of the game, with both teams reduced to ten men.

 

A second red card and more drama to it

And just as AZ started to take matters into their own hands again, a second red card followed. Nick Viergever could easily have been given a yellow card for a push on Luuk de Jong, but Bossen judged it as a cynical foul and sent him off. With both teams reduced to ten men now, both managers made several substitutions, Twente in chasing the game and AZ answering and thereby turning into a counter-attack 4-4-1 formation.

Twente ended up with a completely unbalanced 3-2-4 formation, desperately trying to overload AZ’s penalty box. And on one of those crosses Luuk de Jong managed a beautiful finish into the top corner for the final minute equalizer.

But as if there hadn’t been enough suspense and Twente drama yet, it was still AZ winning the three points as Erik Falkenburg managed a 93rd minute winner after sloppy marking in Twente’s vacated defensive line.

 

In the end

Much attention after the end of the game went to the dramatic scene of the red-carded Douglas and  the abusive chants leading to a suspension of play, but underneath that a true football battle was fought. Both sides kept adapting to the developments on the pitch and in the end Twente had a hard time keeping their cool in circumstances where luck wasn’t always on their side.