Eredivisie in Europe: Feyenoord defeat Man Utd, PSV’s night of misfortune
Four Dutch clubs began their campaigns in Europe this week; PSV once again, the sole representative of the Eredivisie in the Champions League, while Feyenoord, Ajax, and AZ played on Thursday in the Europa League.
PSV 0-1 Atletico Madrid
This fixture provided a very testy two legs last season in the Round of 16 as two resilient defences faced each other and refused to budge, eventually leaving the tie to be decided on penalties.
This season, Atletico have started their league campaign in less-than-ideal form, with two draws preceding a resounding 4-0 victory at Celta Vigo, but nevertheless approached the game with relative confidence.
The home side opted for the 3-5-2 that worked well last season, with Daniel Schwaab coming into defence and Luciano Narsingh pairing Luuk de Jong up top. However, PSV’s philosophy with the ball remained the same as when they play their usual 4-3-3; very heavy passing between the backline and very little central penetration, with Jetro Willems functioning essentially exclusively as a winger.
Part of why PSV preferred to avoid the centre over the duration of the game itself, was also because both Gabi and Saúl were absolutely imperious in the centre. Only Koke (119) managed more touches in the game than Gabi (113) while 74 of the Atleti captain’s 110 passes went forward and often found Koke, Griezmann or Gaitan. When the opponent’s midfielders are so dominant, the natural inclination would be to move the ball into areas they do not often inhabit and thus, PSV’s tendency to play through the wings was exacerbated.
PSV also had a penchant for long shots, which may have been better utilised elsewhere – 33% of their shots came from outside the box, compared to just 6% for Atletico. In a way, this game was a match-up between a side that typified efficiency and knew how to make a situation work, and one that was just a tad naïve, but did show promise.
The Eindhovenaren have seldom had a worse game in terms of refereeing decisions than on Tuesday; two penalties denied, a fair Luuk de Jong goal denied just a few minutes into the game. Furthermore, there is the claim that Atkinson should have stopped play before Atletico scored, since Davy Pröpper was left with a bloodied head from a collision with Gimenez. It was all made worse by the fact that PSV got a very dubious penalty and still failed to convert.
Ultimately, PSV were well within their right to feel a bit hard done by with the defeat, but Phillip Cocu has just as much to think about ahead of the trip to Rostov in 15 days’ time, where we will expect to see a more attacking PSV side, though it will also serve PSV well to be wary of the Russian opposition after they ousted Ajax in the qualification round. Some work on defending set pieces on the agenda at De Herdgang, then.
Before that, domestically, PSV still have to face Feyenoord in a top-of-the-table clash, and speaking of Feyenoord..
Feyenoord 1-0 Manchester United
Paul Pogba, Zlatan Ibrahimovic, Jose Mourinho. Slain by our own Feyenoord. The Pride of the South becomes the Pride of all Netherlands as they defeat Manchester United – a club that is in an entirely different world in financial capabilities to Feyenoord.
The most important player for Feyenoord was Karim El Ahmadi. Coming up against a world-class midfielder like Paul Pogba can be quite daunting, but the Moroccan held strong and provided the solidity at the base of midfield that Vilhena and Kuyt needed to push forward. El Ahmadi won 50% of his tackles on Pogba and intercepted the ball a further two times.
Feyenoord, like most Dutch teams, use a man-marking system while United (who used man marking until a few months ago) now use zonal marking under Jose Mourinho. However, over the course of the first half, there were a few occasions where Schneiderlin and/or Herrera moved towards the ball instead of covering space in the central zone and found Toornstra and Berghuis given the chance to cut in towards goal.
The home side seemed to have noticed this and then in the second period, started focusing on orchestrating plays that drew the midfielders out wide in the middle third, which in turn created space in the middle. This culminated very well when leftback Rojo was caught high up the field and Schneiderlin lost the ball near the halfway line. Both players failed to be aware of space and ran back essentially in the exact same line towards Basacikoglu on the left flank. Meanwhile, the degree to which Vilhena was unopposed/unchallenged in his run was pretty shocking from a defensive perspective. The seas parted and the young midfielder had a clear route ahead, with zero pressure, and timed his run and picked his shot perfectly.
Feyenoord showed very promising signs of football-ing all game round. Kongolo was very smart in his attacking input down the left, while Berghuis, Kuyt and Toornstra all linked up well behind Jorgenson. With a 100% start to the domestic campaign and now, the United scalp under their belt, Feyenoord may actually be contenders this time round.
Tactics and analysis aside, games like this make you genuinely happy as a watcher and prove Johan Cruijff right time and again; that football is not played by 22 bags of money on the pitch.
Panathinaikos 1-2 Ajax
This game was an absolute mess; scraps, late tackles, defensive horror-shows et al. And yet, to their credit, Ajax did manage to come away with a win and at this point, that is all that matters.
André Onana continues to flummox; the young keeper was partly at fault for the Panathinaikos goal, and yet pulled off some neat saves throughout the game. Once fit, Tim Krul is more likely than not to take over the duties, of course, but in the long term, this might mean Ajax need to keep an eye out for a new keeper next season.
Amin Younes was, as it has come to be expected of him, a real bright spot for Ajax. The slaloming past defenders, the smart passes in the final third was very encouraging. Hakim Ziyech, on the other flank, offered a different threat as he looked to cut in more and pass inward, into the path of Traoré or Klaassen. Together, these two allow Ajax to actually realise some attacking potency through the flanks and it will be good to see this blossom more over the coming days.
In between those two wingers though, lies a problem. Davy Klaassen has come to be Ajax’s version of what many (only me, actually) call the Rooney Quandary: he is the club captain, he always offers a big hypothetical goal threat, but honestly, the team may be better off without him starting. Klaassen came in to fill Eriksen’s position on the pitch but he is an attacking midfielder in a very different mould; more Lampard than Iniesta. The 23-year-old is very good at shooting, finding the target from his shots and being in the right place to nudge in the numerous crosses Ajax used to put in from the right flank, prior to Ziyech’s arrival. He also has the legs and endurance to fulfil the off-the-ball requirements of a #10 in Bosz’s system, but at the moment, is offering very little else. His pass maps show a player who wanders a lot over the pitch without making much meaningful contribution through his passing. Might it be time to try starting Hakim Ziyech in the #10 role?
AZ 1-1 Dundalk
By the time the match ended, the result was overshadowed a fair bit by the concussion to Stijn Wuytens. The Belgian midfielder gave AZ the lead by racing onto a long pass from Rens van Eijden and directing the ball into the goal, but collided with the Dundalk keeper in the process. The collision left him lying completely motionless on pitch for a few minutes while his teammates and even manager van den Brom seemed absolutely shaken, some even reduced to tears.
Sometimes things like that can have quite a toll on the mind; the health of your teammate lingers at the back of your mind and can cause your concentration to falter. This is not to excuse AZ for failing to ensure a win against a team like Dundalk — all due respect — but just accepting that it is possible for players to be affected by things like Wuytens’ concussion.
But even apart from that, Wuytenshad been AZ’s best player in the match, and indeed over the course of their Europa League qualification too and has filled the void created by Markus Henriksen’s departure for Hull. Both him and Joris van Overeem show an acute awareness of playing in the half spaces on either side and AZ’s left side, with Wuytens,Haps and Dabney linking smartly.
Even if they ended up with just a point, AZ did produce a healthy number of key passes (13), while 14 of their 19 shots were on target. The striker role remains an issue, since neither Fred Friday nor Wout Weghorst are yet to put up the numbers to justify they can ably step into Vincent Janssen’s big, big shoes. Largely left to dominate with the ball by Dundalk, the Alkmaar side could have been a bit more proactive in possession but this is a plight that has afflicted many a Dutch side coming up against sides that let them have the ball in the continent.
Ultimately, AZ do have the foundation for a very good team with balance across the field, which may see improvement in efficacy over the season, and if van den Brom can get his team clicking properly, they may be a good bet to advance reasonably well in the competition.
And thus begins our quest to keep the European places we have. #DoItForTheCoefficient
Photo credit: @Feyenoord
Data mentioned: Opta Sports