Are PSV in crisis or is Cocu merely having teething problems?
Not so long ago, people were hailing PSV as the imminent champions of the Eredivisie.
The Eindhoven giants’ first campaign under fledgling coach Phillip Cocu started very brightly. Beginning the season with three straight wins, in which they scored 11 goals, it looked like this would be a smooth year for the fresh, electrifying young team. Even when the next three games produced three consecutive draws, there was no need to worry. Everything was lovely and bright in the Philips Stadion as the unbeaten run stretched another week with a complete mauling of Ajax. That 4-0 thrashing of the reigning champions was, according to some, a sign that the domestic dominance of Frank de Boer’s team was coming to an end, bringing in a new period of excellence for another team in red and white.
Incredible then, so it is, that those wonderful, exciting and blistering opening seven league games would be followed by seven dim displays of impotence and dearth. In that time, PSV have won one, lost four and drawn two, scoring only seven goals. They’ve lost to Roda, NAC, Groningen and AZ, while drawing with Zwolle and latest opponents Heerenveen. They then succumbed to Ludogorets in the Europa League on Thursday night in a flat, toothless performance which saw them lose 2-0.
So concerning is the current form of this once mighty Eredivisie side that the “c-word” is beginning to fly around the Philips Stadion. No, not “Cocu you useless c—!” but “crisis”.
That very notion gained a lot of steam last Saturday. Marco van Basten’s side missed their talisman and goalscoring hero Alfred Finnbogason, but it got worse early on in the game when Joey van den Berg was dismissed, meaning they had to play with ten men for 75 minutes.
It was all going well for PSV as they dominated against a weakened Heerenveen team. A goal and thus victory seemed imminent.
However, they found no such joy as the game wore on. Firing shot after shot towards Kristoffer Nordfeldt’s goal, they were denied by a mixture of a very Heerenveen keeper and PSV’s own inadequacy.
Disaster then struck when Heerenveen’s substitute Yanic Wildschut drove towards goal and fired past Jeroen Zoet to break the deadlock.
The visitors were on the brink of a previously unthinkable and magnificent win over one of the biggest teams in the country.
PSV fought back, however, and in the 90th minute their persistence paid off when Florian Jozefzoon lifted the ball over Nordfeldt and into the net.
After 25 shots, nine of which were on target, PSV finally registered a goal and secured a point.
It should, though, have been much, much simpler for a team of PSV’s might.
They are now seven points behind league leaders Vitesse and face a difficult game against Feyenoord on Sunday before they host the Arnhem club the following week. The worst case scenario is that PSV find themselves an incredible 13 points behind the leaders in just two weeks.
It’s a worrying situation, but what is to blame here?
Looking at the players at PSV’s disposal, there is no way they should be in such a position and in such horrendous form. A strong goalkeeper reinforces a robust and vigorous defensive line which consists of a centre-back pairing of Jeffrey Bruma and Karim Rekik. Ahead of that sits and athletic, versatile and energetic midfield which Adam Maher, Stijn Schaars, Ola Toivonen, Oscar Hiljemark, Park Ji-Sung and Goerginio Wijnaldum can all slot into. The chosen permutation of three of that selection is lined up to combine with a front trio which consists of left winger Memphis Depay and either Zakaria Bakkali or Luciano Narsingh on the right – three electrifying players – who support the central striker Jurgen Locadia or else Tim Matavz.
On paper, they have a remarkably strong group of players, but how does it transfer onto the pitch?
Well, defensively, very well. They have conceded just 15 goals in 14 games, only Twente and Zwolle have shipped less, seeing 14 hit the back of their nets.
In attack, however, they have only the seventh best record in the Eredivisie having scored 25 goals, 18 of which were netted within their first seven matches of the campaign. That is an incredible dip in form for such a team.
As a result of this form, doubt has been cast on the managerial abilities of the 43-year-old who is, technically, in his second spell at the helm of the first-team. He was first drafted in as caretaker coach in 2012 following the departure of Fred Rutten, after which he decided he needed another year in charge the youth team to further hone his skills before he could take over on a permanent basis.
The criticism stretches further than the coach, however. Maher has had a very poor start to the campaign after his move from AZ in the summer. The 20-year-old attacking midfielder is a bright talent and has obvious potential, but he has not settled in well. He is perhaps still used to being the main source of creativity in an advanced midfield role, whereas at PSV he is just another midfielder and not the be all and end all of the team. Bakkali, the 17-year-old starlet who made headlines with his hat-trick on matchday two, has been infuriatingly inconsistent; Narsingh has only recently returned from a lengthy injury which kept him out from January to the end of October; the team’s captain, Wijnaldum, has been out since the middle of September (just before the issues started) and Park for only two weeks less; and Toivonen’s contract negotiations continue to attract negative attention.
While not the most prevalent factor in all of this, the youth of the squad certainly plays a part.
Maher and Schaars are both new signings and given he missed a large proportion of last season as well as the start of this one, Narsingh has the general feel of one too. Add to that the fact Depay is only in his first season as a regular first-team player – 18 of his 20 league appearances last season were as a substitute. Plus, we must remember, that Locadia only made his debut last season, playing 15 games in the league, only four of which he started.
That mash-up of new players operates in front of a defence which consists of no players who were in the PSV team last season, which is backed up by a goalkeeper who spent the last two years on loan at RKC.
To top all of that off, that youthful team is being run by a coach who is still a rookie.
It is no wonder, then, that this team has appeared sluggish at times and is lacking incisiveness in their attacks. There isn’t a great flow to the team and intricate passing in the final third is a struggle as they find it difficult to maintain momentum and make their way in behind their opponents’ defence.
According to Sander IJtsma, the main issue is down to the quality of the chances PSV have created and the position from which most of their shots have come from.
On Saturday, however, PSV seemed to be getting into much better positions, their downfall was a mixture of their own inadequacy in front of goal in general and the strength of Heerenveen goalkeeper Nordfelft.
The 1-1 draw was somewhat of a catastrophe – the destitute Heerenveen should never have been able to rescue a draw, let alone take the lead in the game.
That, however, wasn’t the case on Thursday night, they had several chances to take the lead before Ludogorets broke the deadlock. Most notably, Narsingh twice found himself tearing down the wing and cutting it across the face of goal, only to see the ball fizz past the sliding in Locadia. Of the six shots they did take only one was from inside the box and even that sailed over the bar. Narsingh’s tame low drive down the middle from 25 yards was the only one on target.
This is yet another example to support IJtsma’s argument and, importantly, it is something Cocu pointed to in his post-match comments on Thursday night.
“Overall, we are giving away few chances against any opponent we play,” he said. “This means that the organisation of the back is okay. But we need to do more to make chances, score goals and win games.”
This isn’t the usual all-hope-is-lost-let’s-start-spending crisis. If anything, that would damage their chances of improving. It seems to be one that will test the coaching abilities of Cocu and his background staff. They need to make their players efficient once again, as well as electrifying. To do that, though, they need time.
This is a new team, a new coach, a new era. Upon Cocu’s appointment, it was made clear by Marcel Brands that he would be given time to build this new dynasty. They players need time to settle into their role, but they also need time to galvanise with one another, all while developing individually. It is Cocu who has to make sure the players progress properly while simultaneously learning how to deal with players and generally get comfortable with being in charge of a team.
Cocu made clear himself on the day he was appointed head coach that, as his plan was to make youth a big part of his plans it could take a while to get the team to hit their top gear
“Of course we expect to compete for trophies,” he said when he was confirmed as the new boss. “But you have to be realistic. We’re setting out a new course with PSV and that will take it’s time.”
While this PSV side is made up of clearly talented players, they are young and they are still new to each other. Topping that off with a brand new and inexperienced coach and expecting everything to go off without a hitch and the trophies to start gathering immediately is not only realistic but extremely unfair.
It’s important to remember that the club acknowledged that Cocu’s appointment was the first step of a long-term plan. A rough patch is to be expected, especially in the early stages.
Time is a big factor in football, but when it comes to the building of a long-term project, it’s absolutely critical. It’s absurd to expect PSV to stroll to victory with an extremely young side in an incredibly tight and competitive league. At this stage, it’s all about progress.
Are PSV in crisis? Absolutely not. This is just a bump in the early stages of a long journey and it is certainly something that can be improved upon by Cocu and his coaching staff. It will be smoothed over in time.