How Feyenoord won the battle of third place against AZ


The Dutch Eredivisie is having quite the season. There is a thrilling race for the title as well as a dramatic end to the season in the relegation zones. But there’s another exciting fight going on: the battle for the third place between Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar. They met on Saturday in Rotterdam at De Kuip. The home team won 2-1 and increased the gap to seven points, third place is almost secured for Feyenoord according to statistics in this tactical analysis.

Finishing in third place is of great importance to both teams. If you come third you won’t have to enter the playoffs for a Europa League spot. By finishing the season in third you qualify for the Europa League spot whereas fourth enters you into the playoffs.

In this tactical analysis, we will have a look at three tactical trends during this Eredivisie game. We will look at how Feyenoord was setup up defensively, AZ’s pressing on Feyenoord’s backline and what was the key to Feyenoord’s victory.


Feyenoord vs AZ line-ups

The home team fielded a 4-3-3 formation. Feyenoord coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst could not use Nicolai Jørgensen due to suspension. This comes as a result of the red card he picked up in last week’s Eredivisie match. This gave an opportunity for Robin van Persie to start up-front alongside Steven Berghuis and Sam Larsson on the flanks. In midfield, there was a central midfield pairing of Tonny Vilhena and Jens Toornstra, while Jordy Clasie was playing between midfield and defence.

AZ manager John van den Brom wanted to close the gap with Feyenoord in the Eredivisie to one point with a win at De Kuip, which meant that they would have to be dominant in attack. His 4-2-3-1 consisted of a low defensive block of Teun Koopmeiners and Adam Maher. In front of them was the three-man midfield of Albert Gudmundsson, Guus Til and Calvin Stengs which had to supply Seuntjens in order to create goal scoring opportunities.

Feyenoord’s defence

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3

Feyenoord’s 4-3-3 was built to attack and secure three points at home. Their attacking movement started out from the back. Feyenoord employed a traditional four-man defence consisting of Tyrell Malacia, Sven Van Beek, Eric Botteghin and Cuco Martina. The role of the full-backs was vital in Feyenoord’s system, as they are part of the attacking plan.

Feyenoord’s four-man defence building up

You can see the four-man defence on the image above. Both full-backs Malacia and Martina would make runs down the line to assist in an attack when Feyenoord had the ball. The centre-backs would push up allowing the full-backs to make forward runs. This can be seen in the image below where Malacia is moving forward.

Malacia makes a run down the line on the left

The space the full backs had, was created by the central midfield pairing of Vilhena and Toornstra. They would move into the middle, leaving spaces on the flanks for the full-backs to make runs down the line. Malacia and Martina did that frequently. Especially on the right side with Martina. As illustrated by the image below from

Feyenoord favoured attacking on the right flank. Credit

In attack, Martina would make a run down the line, even further than Malacia and provide the width and main crossing outlet for the Feyenoord forwards to attack. Martina’s influence on the right side was significant for the Feyenoord attacks. As you can see on the image below, Martina is ready to make a run down the line.

Martina making a run down the line

When AZ had possession of the ball, Feyenoord were defensively sound by the presence of Clasie, who had a key role in both defence and attack. The central midfield pairing and wingers would drop to assist the defence, as you can see below.

Clasie dropping to the defence, supported by Vilhena and Larsson

Clasie acts as the fifth defender when Feyenoord are defending and is frequently assisted by another midfielder and winger. When there is more pressure on the defence more players drop in.

The four-man defence strengthened by Clasie and Toornstra

Above you can see the following situation. When AZ stayed in possession of the ball, more Feyenoord players came back. Clasie and Toornstra dropped down to secure a six-man defence. The third midfielder – in this case, it’s Vilhena – and both wingers Berghuis and Larsson would assist that six-man defence as well. The only player who would remain up top was the striker Robin van Persie.

AZ’s high pressing

AZ has been an exciting outfit in the Eredivisie this season and their attacking 4-2-3-1 featured Gudmundsson and Stengs making runs down the line.

AZ’s 4-2-3-1

In order to get a chance up front, AZ had a clear plan to press Feyenoord. The AZ attacking players Mats Seuntjens, Til, Gudmundsson, and Stengs would press high on the Feyenoord defence, knowing that was a weak factor in the home side.

AZ presses in pairs

AZ pressed in pairs to make it difficult for a Feyenoord defender to play his way out of trouble. On the image above you can see Botteghin with the ball being pressed by Til and Gudmundsson, who in the process also prevents Martina being available for a pass.

Til and Maher pressing Vilhena
Til and Stengs pressing the Feyenoord defence

On the two images above you see that Til is always the one who presses alongside another AZ player. The way AZ pressed made it difficult for Feyenoord to pass the ball out of it and they often sought to play the long ball forwards, because of it. This caused trouble for Feyenoord, as AZ could then attack from the back and use their pace to create chances.

AZ 0-1 in the making

AZ attacking players had the pace on their side and were quick to react after recovering the ball from Feyenoord. The cross was delivered into the box and two players were running towards it. This led to the first goal scored in the 36th minute by Seuntjens

Feyenoord’s second-half adjustments

After 45 minutes in this Eredivisie match, Feyenoord were trailing AZ 0-1 and something needed to change in the second half. Van Bronckhorst did not alter his formation and persisted in forward runs by the full-backs. When one full-back was making a run down the line, the other full back would move centrally.

Martina has the intention of making a run down the line, Malacia moves to the middle

In the first half, all of the second balls fell for AZ and Feyenoord were left chasing. In the second half, this changed by bringing both full-backs narrower when attacking.

Four Feyenoord players in the box

On this occasion, Vilhena got the ball from Martina and goes on to deliver a cross with Van Persie waiting in the middle to receive the ball. Larsson is waiting on the edge of the box to attack the cross as well.

Malacia receives the ball from Vilhena and scores the equaliser

Malacia is on the receiving end of this cross and this was the difference between the first half and second half because they always had a player just outside the box. Either it was Malacia or Martina, but on this occasion it was Malacia and he fired this ball home which meant the equaliser for the home side.

Final thoughts

It was a tough match in the Eredivisie on Saturday night for both teams. Feyenoord had to win to make sure to hold off AZ in pursuit of that third place, but it did not come easy. The pressing of AZ caused troubles and it was only in the second half when both full-backs joined the attack, that Feyenoord could make the difference.