VVV-Venlo 2019/2020: compact defending in counter-attacking football

For today’s article, I’m looking into a change in compact defending with the 2019/2020 VVV-Venlo side. They changed management in the summer when Robert Maaskant took over. He was brought in to bring a more attractive, attacking footballing style – but wasn’t successful in results. Jay Driessen came in as interim before Hans de Koning and in this piece, I will look more closely into the defensive transition of the playing style: compact defending with counter-attacking football.

I will use the images of the match against Heracles Almelo and the images of the match against FC Twente to compare the matches. We focus on the position of the players in a counterattack.
In the game against Heracles Almelo, Robert Maaskant used a 4-1-4-1 formation against the opponent’s 4-4-2 formation. This formation was maintained throughout the match, but the way VVV-Venlo stands in the transition phase from attack to defence is typical. Maaskant attempted to play attacking football and put high pressure on the midfield, as shown in the image below.

VVV-Venlo pressed high when ball was lost there. Couples put pressure, except the striker – who presses on one of the central defenders.

Above you see a situation in which VVV-Venlo had the attack, but lost the ball and must therefore defend against a counter. They want to eliminate the danger under Maaskant by putting a high press. The striker has a fairly free role and has to press one of the central defenders. You also see a lot of pairings, which means that the VVV player puts the relevant player under pressure. The number 8 and number 7 are left unmarked, because they also try to think of the rest defence. This consists of Janssen, Schäfer and Röseler, with Post and Pachonik quickly joining in.

This is the idea that Maaskant had, but in the situation against Heracles Almelo you could see how vulnerable this formation actually is. There are big gaps on the pitch and there is no compact defence. In addition, the footballing qualities of Heracles Almelo were not taken into account.

A cross from Van Ooijen reached Post, who attempted a header on goal. It was defended and Heracles Almelo switched. VVV-Venlo have 7 people in the 16 at the moment.

As soon as Heracles Almelo have the ball, they switch to attacking quickly. At the moment VVV-Venlo are having a hard time because they are defending in two different ways. Actually in two places, as you can see in the picture below.

Merkel played the ball to Dessers, who ran into space and currently only had Janssen in front of him. The two trios are out of position and that makes it easy for the Heracles Almelo duo to advance.

The rest defence wasn’t good here and this was often the case that particular season under Maaskant. The attacking intentions were certainly there, but the way in which the defenders defended in the transition left much to be desired. This tactic is partly to blame for VVV-Venlo’s many goals conceded.


Jay Driessen has shifted some tactical accents and these were immediately present in the match against FC Twente. Compact defending is the priority and it must stand as a defensive block. When VVV-Venlo lost the ball, things were different. In the image below you can see the moment when the ball is lost.

VVV-Venlo loses the ball on the half of FC Twente and stands like a defensive unit. The ball is lost here and three FC Twente players get the opportunity to enter the space, to make the most of the counter-attack.
This does not seem to change with Robert Maaskant’s style of play, but Jay Driessen plays with space oriented zonal marking – meaning that the players cover the zone where the ball is at that particular moment. You can also see this in the picture below.

Space-oriented zonal marking by VVV-Venlo under Jay Driessen. The whole team moves to the position where the ball is. The defence moves to the left in this case and the three midfielders put pressure on the position where the ball is. At the same time, a space is created on the left side and one has to watch out for a technical equiped team that can quickly play out of that pressure.

Jay Driessen presses less on the moment of ball loss, but they stand in the right position to press at the right moment. So in the 27th minute in the match against FC Twente, there is a loss of possession, but instead of pressing high on the pitch, you see that there is a clear defensive line in this VVV-Venlo team.

The defence moves as a unit with the location of the ball, while Post-Linthorst-Opoku drop back to assist the defence. Thus you have a 7v5 defensive overload in the transition phase from attack to defence.

There are just as many people in the defence when it comes to the transition, but the positioning of the Venlo players ensures that VVV-Venlo are in a better position to deal with the counter. This has to do with the compact defence of VVV under Driessen plus the fact that the way of zone marking is correctly applied in the counter-attack.

In the end, VVV-Venlo stood in a 4-4-2 formation in the defensive phase with Linthorst still dropping. This defensive set-up makes it difficult for Twente to finish off this attack successfully, despite the quick counter-attack.

Choosing the right line-up is very important, but the tasks assigned are perhaps even more important. The positioning is a lot better and if individual players perform the tasks well in the defensive phase, you get a better whole. Wingers need to drop back far and Wright and Opoku did just that. The defence is compact and there are no large gaps in midfield.

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