If you are a follower of Dutch football or the Champions League in general, you will have heard of it: Ruud van Nistelrooij is PSV’s new head coach. It was announced a few months ago, but for me it’s time to look at it more closely from a tactical perspective. What does Van Nistelrooij bring to PSV? How does he differ from his predecessor? And, what can we expect from this team and his pivotal players?
- Jong PSV — data
- Jong PSV — tactics
- PSV — tactics
- Differences with Schmidt
- Eye for youth
- Final thoughts
Ruud van Nistelrooij hardly needs ian ntroduction as he was a world class player, but to sum it up:
- Name: Ruud van Nistelrooij
- Date of birth: 01–07–1976
- Nationality: Dutch
- Position: Striker (player)
- Contract expires: 30–6–2025
- Clubs (player): FC Den Bosch, SC Heerenveen, PSV, Manchester United, Real Madrid, Hamburger SV, Malaga
- Clubs (coach): Dutch team assistant, PSV Youth, Dutch team assistant, Jong PSV, PSV
So what can we expect from Ruud van Nistelrooij at PSV? Most of it is based on how he let his Jong PSV side play in the Eerste Divisie. He has been labeled as a coach that has a style that mixes Bobby Robson, Diego Simeone, and Marcelo Bielsa. But how does he do that? This article hopefully is the answer to that.
Jong PSV — Data
Before we look into the tactics of Van Nistelrooij, we will look closer to what his Jong PSV side achieved in the Eerste Divisie 21/22. They ended the league on a 12th position which was fairly okay considering their average age is 19,9 years old.
Not my best data visual, I must admit — but interesting nonetheless. Jong PSV with an average age of 19.9 years old, managed to finish 12th on points. In goals scored they ranked 8th, expected goals 15th — which can be concluded as a structural overperformer in those metrics. The same goes for conceded goals vs expected goals against — more goals went in than expected.
What is important for Van Nistelrooij is that his teams are attacking teams that are dominant on the ball and dominate play from possession. In that regard, his Jong PSV side did very well with the 4th place in possession.
Jong PSV — tactics
The information on the data is very brief, but the question arises: how did Ruud van Nistelrooij accomplish this? We will take a brief look at his tactics at Jong PSV.
First of all, the build-up. For Van Nistelrooij it’s of extreme importance to have control of ball possession and making sure you always got an overload against a pressing opposition. So you are playing against a 4–2–3 or a 4–3–3, they will likely press the central defenders with their striker and their ‘10’. What PSV always wants to have in these situations is that they have one defensive playermore than the opposition — to create an overload and surpass the press. This is usually done by a midfielder dropping deep. When the opposition uses three players to press, PSV will do the build up with four defensive players — in this case it will be the back four and the midfielder will not drop deep. It also has an advantage in rest defence, because you already have a decent defensive organisation in there. It’s in this ideal of building up, he has watched Bielsa a lot.
Next step, is the conversion of ball possession to creating chances. PSV have a lot of possession but keep it long too — which can lead to non-efficient attacks. To come to chances, PSV is very reliant on the wingers to create something and for that the positioning of the backs is vital. Before we touch upon that, we have to stress that the diagonal balls from the defensive/middle third are of vital importance in this way of play/
In the image above you can see how PSV operate when they have the ball with their central defenders. Initially he full backs move up down the line in this 4–2–3–1 and the double pivot drops deep. Van Nistelrooij want his full backs to invert to allow more space for his wingers in the next attacking phase.
The reason why Van Nistelrooij does this is that he likes his full backs to operate in the half-space in a playmaker role. But, more importantly, he wants his wingers to have space to make the 1v1 and have space to dribble. If you play in these positions/roles — dribbling ability is very important to him in attack.
For a striker, it’s of great importance to make yourself available via third-man runs, but also be able to play the target man role in Jong PSV.
When entering the transition phase from attack to defence, there are a few interesting things to be seen in Jong PSV. When losing the ball, there are two task to be carried out. The first one is for most forward players to press with the intention of making sure all depth is cut out of the ball possession. The second task is for the defensive players to drop deep so that the defensive organisation is restored. This might be seen as a bit more conservative idea of play, but it also leads to the fact that counter-attacks aren’t dangerous in this approach. Defensively solid, but regaining possession in the midde third, doesn’t happen a lot.
In terms of defending when the opposition has the ball, Van Nistelrooij favours to play deeper and play man-marking. He likes pure defensive actions and the ability for defenders to stick tight to the opposition and defend their player. This again, might be considered as a slightly more traditional approach — but it also leads to the notion that Jong PSV recovers many balls in their own defensive third.
PSV — tactics
So translating this view to PSV is obviously admirable, but does it work 1-on-1? Short answer: no. Let’s have a look at how PSV likes to start. They like to start in a 4–3–3- formation in which they have three pure attackers and a three-man midfield. This midfield often consists of a single pivot (Sangare) and two attacking midfielders (Veerman and Til).
In defence, the formation changes. This is not only because of how Van Nistelrooij wants to maximise the opportunity to regain the ball, but also because of the man-marking — so the system needs to be flexible. He often changes his 4–3–3 into a 4–1–4–1 defensively, as you can see below.
The 4–1–4–1 is formed by the wingers dropping deep to assist the two attacking midfielders who become central midfielders. The defensive midfielder in this scenario will drop deeper to form a bridge between the four-man defence and the four-man midfield.
Against more attacking qualitative sides, PSV will play a 4–4–2 in defence as well. It means that Sangare will get a partner in central/defensive midfield.
The 4–4–2 is formed by the same movement of the wingers. They drop deeper to aid the double pivot or central midfield duo. In this case the attacking midfielder will go up the pitch (Til) and aid the striker. The likely scenario in the rest of the season will be that Til will help De Jong — which is going to be a very important duo up front.
So will PSV defend or press the side where the ball is. Under Schmidt there was ball oriented pressing meaning that the whole team would shift to the side where ball was. The whole team would move as an unit to one side to press and regain possession of the ball. This could be quite effective and give you ball recovery high up the pitch, but it also left you exposed on the other flank.
Van Nistelrooij does this differently as you can see in the image below.
As you can see this is different from the other approach, but this also means less risk. When the opposition comes through behind Gakpo the left full-back can go higher up the pitch to confront the player. The rest stays in their position giving it more defensive solidity and no chance of attacking quickly over the other flank with a lot of space. A big disadvantage is that the ball is less likely to be recovered in the attacking final third and it gives the opposition chance to re-organise their defences.
Going forward the vitality of the wingers is essential. As illustrated above, the build-up will frequently end with dribbling wingers who will engage in a 1v1 one with the opposition.
In the image above you see the triangle on the right side when PSV attack over the right flank. They do this with the right winger, the right full back and the ‘10’ who will drop the side where the ball is. They trie to overload a certain area and come to a chance from that play.
This we also can see in the game vs Ajax recently.
In the image above you see Ajax highlighted, but notice how PSV (in grey/black) attack from the right with their triangle. They want to gain advantage by luring Ajax to that side.
Van Nistelrooij likes his wingers to engage in 1v1s, which also means that their will be movement in the two attacking lines in the attacking third. Here we see Til and De Jong high in the box, but also Veerman and Gakpo moving up on the pitch — unmarked.
By luring the opposition to that side again, PSV opens up space in the middle because Ajax doesn’t react adequately.
The three players on the right have occupied time and space for the Ajax defenders and this means PSV can attack through the central zones and move up the pitch. This can lead to attacking, dangerous situations in which they can profit.
Strengths and weaknesses
PSV can be really dangerous through the early cross. That early cross can give the striker and the attacking midfielder a good position to score. This is often done via De Jong and Til. To do that, it’s important for the full back to give the cross while the winger will invert and come into the central zones, ideally zone 14.
One of the major vulnerabilities is how PSV act when they lose the ball. As we have seen previously, the moment of ball recovery is mostly in the defensive third. This can be good when the opposition starts the build-up from the back, but when the ball is lost in the central zones and in the middle third, this gives problems for the defence. PSV has a really good defensive midfielder in Sangare, but when Veerman or Van Ginkel lose the ball in the central areas — the counterattack can lead to very dangerous situations. It’s something we have seen in pre-season and in the recent games against Monaco. Partly it’s because they are used to ball-oriented press and that a loss of the ball doesn’t mean a dangerous situation. But with the system Van Nistelrooij employs — this is exactly such a liability.
Van Nistelrooij speaks a lot about rest-defence and in those situations, the rest-defence isn’t properly utilised. When losing the ball on the flanks, the rest-defence is organised quite well, but in situations where it happens in the central zones against a quick, direct opposition — this leaves big questions. The defence is one of the most vulnerable aspects of this PSV side, so the rest-defence should be optimal to combat any threat through the middle.
Differences with Schmidt
The core difference between Schmidt and van Nistelrooij is that Van Nistelrooij goes back to more conservative values in terms of ball possession. Where Schmidt played a 4–2–2–2 with high ball-oriented press to get the ball in the attacking third, Van Nistelrooij is about being dominant with and on the ball, longer sequences of possession and only using one particular player that is tasked with regaining possession of the ball.
That difference is noticed with the players who are in a transition phase, especially in midfield. Chasing the ball instead of trusting the system to handle it defensively, has put PSV in some difficult situations — but with a few weeks time, I think this transition will be dealt with.
A keen eye for Jong PSV
Van Nistelrooij has a keen eye for the youth of Jong PSV, having worked with a few of them. Due to the unfortunate injury of Madueke, he has been forced to play more inexperienced players such as Bakayoko and Saibari, of which the latter has shown his potential a bit more — but both youngsters are doing quite well so far.
Given the fact that Van Nistelrooij has worked with Young PSV and with the U19s, he knows the culture of the academy as well as what the new prospects might be. That knowledge can help him in the long term going forward.
It’s hard to tell how good Van Nistelrooij as a coach is. He has clear ideas of how he wants to progress, what roles and profiles he needs in his squad and the philosophy of football he wants to play. In many ways, he is the opposite of Schmidt and that means a lot of adapting by the players. We have seen that they are transitioning and are quite vulnerable in defensive situations — especially against Monaco.
But, if key players like Gakpo and Sangare stay in Eindhoven, with the arrival of Luuk de Jong and the talent in various areas on the pitch — this could be a very exciting season for PSV. It’s hard to say if they can compete with Ajax in the long run, but PSV can challenge — although Feyenoord will be a worthy adversary as well. It seems that Van Nistelrooij can grow in his role and in 2–3 seasons time, this might be a title-winning manager.