I love the Eredivisie with a passion, although I understand I’m a bit biased in my views on how entertaining it is. My club has played in and out of the Eredivisie, so it’s a kind of a mythical land to me personally. In this article, however, I will not look at that but focus on the game played between AZ and Feyenoord.
In the image above you can see the formations in the game AZ vs Feyenoord. What’s interesting is that AZ had a very compact 4-4-2 with Clasie and Midtsjø playing a bit deeper, while Karlsson and Sugawara acted as wide midfielders/wingers, who supported Pavlidis and De Wit. In defence the two lines of four players were solid and made to withhold any Feyenoord attack.
Feyenoord employed a 4-2-3-1 and opted for a distinctive difference between the attacking players and the defensive players. The double-pivot consisting of Hendrix-Kökcü is one of good ball-progression, which enables the midfield trio Sinisterra-Til-Toornstra to go more up the field, to aid Linssen.
In the pass networks of this game, you can see something similar going on. AZ’s midfield play close to each other and the strikers, while in Feyenoord’s network, the fullbacks play high and close to the wide midfielders/wingers. Two slightly different systems, but effective in making sure the opponents cannot progress in their favourite nature. AZ wants to block the flanks by making sure the full-backs don’t go too high, while Feyenoord want the double pivot to play higher up the pitch, to match the compact four-man midfield of AZ.
AZ’s attacking play
How does AZ construct its attacks? In the image below we can see how they start their attacks and how the defenders are positioned.
In the image above you can see AZ when they have recovered the ball from Feyenoord and are looking to start their attack from the middle third. Left-back Wijndal has the ball on the left and is making a run forward, while the central defensive duo and right-back Witry stay in their own half. Midtsjø and Classie play close to the defensive four because they just were in the defensive phase of the game.
Going forward, it’s the fullback’s intention to connect with the wide midfielder, in this case, Wijndal wants to connect with Karlsson. Which can be seen in the image below.
In the image above there are two distinct things happening. On the left side we see that Wijndal passes the ball to Karlsson on the flank and directly underlaps. His run follows the arrow and he goes to the empty space in the attacking third in order to deliver a cross into the box.
This is a good run from the progression of the attack, but this is only possible by the position of the two strikers. Pavlidis has dropped significantly and takes the attention of the double pivot, which means there is more space in the attacking third for the run of Wijndal.
Karlsson manages to give the through ball to the upcoming Wijndal and he comes in a very good position to give the cross. There are three different options. The first option is to cut it back and pass it to Pavlidis who gestures he wants to receive the ball. Secondly, he can give it to the near post zone where De Wit can connect with it. And, the third option is Sugawara – who comes from deep and moves to the far post.
Wijndal and Witry do this on some occasions, as you can also see in the image below, where the pass maps in the opposition’s half are illustrated.
Az loves to attack via the flanks and let the wide midfielders connect with the attacking fullbacks. In doing so, something is asked from the players. The fullbacks need to be able to deal with the pace and runs, while the wide midfielders should possess the qualities of a playmaker as we have illustrated here with Karlsson.
Feyenoord’s passing from double-pivot Hendrix-Kökcü
So, Feyenoord was the more dominant side in this game with 66,59% possession of the ball. But what did they do with it when they were on the ball? In the 4-2-3-1 Arne Slot employed, it was vital for the double-pivot to have good ball-playing abilities: Hendrix and Kökcü were tasked with directing the play with their passing. In the visual below you can see all the passes they made during this game.
In the image above you can see that while they both play in the defensive midfield role, they both have different tasks within the game. Hendrix manages to be the more defensive role and is less involved with passing. Kökcü is a lot more progressive in both his positioning and his passing. He wanders to the left and has many passes he makes in total, but definitely also many passes to the final third. One could say that Kökcü is instrumental in how Feyenoord connect the midfield with the attack.
Feyenoord’s solution to AZ’s defence
Feyenoord was struggling all first half how to deal with the way AZ was playing. The four-man midfield and compactness really helped AZ in the transitions and in the defensive phase of the game. With trailing 2 goals to 0, Feyenoord had to find a solution to break down AZ’s 4-4-2.
They were helped by the goal of Geertruida, which was basically gifted to them and gave them a confidence boost to tackle this problem.
The first thing Feyenoord did was utilising set pieces. Every set-piece play (corner, throw-in or freekick) is an opportunity to make a direct impact. Now, this is not something you can enhance during the game, but the intensity and enthusiasm in making the most of it was definitely felt.
The second thing Feyenoord did, was starting to use passing triangles combined with third-man runs. I will illustrate that below.
In the image above you see Feyenoord with three players on the right flank, but they are pressed by two players of AZ. In order to beat that press, you need to up the tempo and/or be well-positioned. In this particular case, you have Kökcu on the left, with Sinisterra in the middle and Pedersen near the line. As soon as Sinisterra has played the ball to Kökcü, makes a run forward – while Kökcü passes the ball to Pedersen. Pedersen will feed the ball to Sinisterra again, and in doing so, have beat the press and are in a good position to continue the attack.
In the image above, you can see the moment that Sinisterra moves to the open space in the penalty area and from there it’s about finding someone near the six-yard box. The way of using the triangles, combined with the third-man runs, lead to confusion in AZ’s defence and made sure Feyenoord came into that final phase of their attacking play. From the cross or cut back, the attackers could manage to become a threat in front of the AZ goal.
In the image above you can see how the shots were divided in this game between AZ and Feyenoord. While AZ were the better team in the first half, they had one major chance next to the two penalties. That’s why they mainly accumulated an xG of 2,38. Feyenoord didn’t have a penalty but scored a goal that had a high xG. Overall, Feyenoord has more shots but fewer xG per shot, as we can see in the image above.
In aspects of the game, especially in the first half, AZ was better on the flanks. They used underlapping full-backs to support the attack while tasking the strikers with dropping once in a while. Feyenoord has troubles passing their way through the compact four-man midfield, but in the second half found a way to beat the compactness and press: using triangles with third-man runs. Feyenoord failed to score more goals, but that also was the consequence of rather solid defending by AZ in the penalty area.
*Telestrations were made with Keyframe Sports.