Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel – tactical analysis

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics

The second round of qualifying for the group stage of UEFA Champions League 2019/2020 has very even clashes. One of those matches is PSV vs Basel, two teams that are usually in the group stage. The first leg, played in the Netherlands, left some interesting details for tactical analysis.

PSV and Basel played a very open game. Both teams used a different tactic, which allowed us to see a couple of interesting proposals. The result, finally, was in favour of PSV in the last minutes of the match. But both teams always sought to generate goal opportunities from their tactical proposals.

The following tactical analysis will show why PSV defeated Basel in the first leg of this qualifying round. This tactical analysis will show the different strategies and tactics used during the match by both coaches. In addition, this tactical analysis will show the strengths and weaknesses of the tactics used by PSV and Basel.


Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Taken from Wyscout.

The first thing to take into account when tactically analyzing PSV is their formation. Their coach, Mark van Bommel, uses a 3-2-4-1 formation to accommodate the players. In other words, van Bommel uses a three-player line in the backline, but with two centre backs and a full-back. Michal Sadilek is usually a full-back, but in the three-player line in the back, he doesn’t go so far as to attack so as not to leave the team unbalanced behind.

The lines of midfielders are divided into two, but with joint functions between all the players in that area of the pitch. Pablo Rosario and Erick Gutiérrez are in charge of receiving the first pass from the backline, but they are also two defensive midfielders.

Further ahead are Hirving Lozano and Bruma, which are located in the outer lanes of the pitch. Lozano and Bruma are two very fast players and have a double function: to accompany quickly the attacks of PSV but to make a line of four players next to Rosario and Gutiérrez when PSV does not have the possession of the ball.

Steven Bergwijn and Derrick Luckassen are the two attacking midfielders. Both play the role of feeding striker Donyell Malen with passes to look for goalscoring opportunities. In addition, they must have a lot of mobility to seek to disturb the opponent in that area of the pitch.

For his part, Basel coach Marcel Koller had a 4-2-3-1 formation. This is a tactical system that can have some variants to move quickly from defence to attack and vice versa. It will depend on the mobility of the players and the order in which they perform their functions.

For example, Koller uses a four-player line in the back with two full-backs like Silvan Widmer and Taulant Xhaka. Both are players who have a dual function in attack and defence. They must generate situations of two versus one with the wingers on both wings, which are Ricky van Wolfswinkel and Valentin Stocker.

In turn, the wingers must collaborate in defence when Basel does not have possession of the ball in their control. Both must go back a few meters to make a line of four players in midfield next to Fabian Frei and Eder Balanta. The team can vary to a 4-4-1-1 formation quickly.

Luca Zuffi is the player in charge of the ideas in Basel. Zuffi should be the link between the midfielders and the forward, Albian Ajeti. Zuffi and Ajeti must play very close to each other. In fact, Zuffi often plays as a second striker and constantly reaches goal position to generate more attacking options.

Generation of spaces

PSV have a tactical basis for playing and it is the generation of spaces by building different societies. In other words, several players get together through a lot of mobility. In addition, PSV bases their tactics on the possession of the ball. It is what is usually called a game of possession and position. This is what van Bommel works on and tries to capture in the matches.

For example, the generation of spaces in PSV starts from the moment the centre backs try to connect with the first line of midfielders. In this stage of the game, the roles played by Gutiérrez and Rosario are very important. Both are in charge of going back to receive the first pass from the centre backs.

The midfielders are not only trying to receive the ball but also generating spaces in the Basel lines through the movements. The idea of van Bommel is to form triangles to have more options for passes between PSV players.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Triangles between the first line of midfielders and the backline to generate spaces and pass options.

Reactive tactics

The match between PSV and Basel had two different strategies from the proposal to attack or defend. In this case, PSV was the proactive team and Basel the reactive team. That is, one team had the initiative of possession of the ball and the other was more cautious and waited with tactical order. Basel’s reactive tactics were evident in their functions when defending the PSV attacks.

Basel used several formations within the same match. Their initial 4-2-3-1 system could quickly move to a 4-4-1-1 system. But in addition, the good proposal of PSV forced Basel to use another formation: 4-1-4-1.

PSV is a team that uses the entire length and width of the pitch to generate depth and amplitude. The Dutch team is trying to get the most out of every sector of the pitch and that’s something to highlight. Koller realised this and changed his tactics in the midfield area.

This tactical variant that Koller proposed in Basel made Balanta the only defensive midfielder. Balanta’s task was to cover the line of midfielders in front of him. Stocker, Zuffi, van Wolfswinkel, and Frei were positioned to cover the width of the pitch and cover the external lanes used by PSV to attack.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Balanta located between a line of midfielders and the backline. As the only defensive midfielder, he must cover the entire width of the pitch. That is to say, moving constantly from left to right and vice versa.

Variants in attack

PSV showed two different facets when they attacked the right and left sectors of the pitch. This speaks well of the work of van Bommel, as the different movements make it difficult for the opponent to have a reference when defending.

On the left, an interesting partnership was formed between Bruma, Bergwijn, and Sadilek. That triangle in attack caused a lot of problems for Widmer, Basel’s right-back. In addition, so that PSV was not exposed in defence, Rosario was responsible for covering the position of Sadilek.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Left attack by PSV between three players again forming a triangle. The idea is to generate numerical superiority in that area of the pitch.

Meanwhile, by the right sector, the movement to generate spaces in the attack included another player: Donyell Malen. Malen took on greater prominence when the PSV attacks turned to that sector of the pitch. Malen’s tactical moves made it difficult for Basel to defend.

Malen constantly retreated a few meters for Hirving Lozano to move into the position left by the striker. That is to say, Malen with a tactical movement generated the space for Lozano to go there taking advantage of his speed and power in those situations.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Triangle formed in the right sector to generate numerical superiority. This time the striker, Malen, leaves his position to create a space that can be occupied by Lozano, a fast player in situations of one versus one.

Basel pressure

Given the tactical triangles generated by PSV with the possession of the ball from the defensive zone, Basel’s response was to generate pressure in that zone. Basel’s pressure wasn’t suffocating and wasn’t as constant throughout the game. At times Basel let PSV have freedom when they had the ball. In fact, Basel never pressured the centre backs.

What Basel did to cover PSV’s internal exit lanes was to pressure the receivers. That is to say, Zuffi and Ajeti man-marked Gutiérrez and Rosario during the whole game. This is something that lately has been implemented again in the world of soccer. The reason Basel constantly pressured those two players was to force PSV to long passes.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
Basel pressing at the start of a PSV attack. Two players of Basel man-marks the possible receivers of some pass. This forced PSV to play long balls at various moments of the match.

PSV in defence

The tactical idea of PSV and van Bommel was to have possession of the ball as long as possible. But it is impossible to keep the ball for the whole match. That’s why PSV’s defensive tactics were based on another formation or tactical system. Again the movements of certain players were important to generate an order in defence.

Not having possession of the ball PSV made a formation of 4-3-2-1. Rosario was in charge in those moments of the match in completing the line of four players in the back. In addition, Bruma was in charge of going back a few meters to form the line of three players in midfield. So PSV provided a defensive pyramid-shaped tactic with several players to close the internal lanes.

Champions League 2019/2020: PSV vs Basel - tactical analysis tactics
PSV changing their formation to comply with defensive tactics. Four players in the backline and three players in midfield not to let Basel filter passes between the lines.


The first leg of the second round of the UEFA Champions League group stage qualifying was decided in favour of PSV. It is a pity that one of these two teams will not be in the group stage, as both have proved to have arguments to compete in the top tournament at the club level.

PSV have the advantage for the second leg thanks to the 3-2 win, but the match was more complicated than expected for van Bommel’s team. The Dutch team’s tactical idea is very interesting and will surely bear fruit in the coming season. The problem is the defensive tactic, which is still not very clear in some moves. Anyway, it’s always good to win at home.

For their part, Basel scored two away goals that leave them with a good chance to qualify at home. Basel’s tactical idea based on order and quick transitions between the facets of the game is interesting and well-executed. Surely the proposal will be different at home, where Basel will change their tactics for a more offensive and proactive one.

Total Football Analysis Magazine #11: July 2019 - tactical analysis tactics
Artwork by @chapulana

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