This game was always going to be interesting as two top-six teams played against each other. Feyenoord had been in a good form and had only drawn one game from the last six. They were in the third spot in the Eredivisie, just behind Ajax and AZ Alkmaar, which kept them in the fight for the straight Europa League place. Willem II’s story has been very different lately. They had won only two games out of the last six. They still had the chance to finish the league in the top-six and secure Europa League qualification place. This tactical analysis will examine how both teams approached this game with their tactics.
Feyenoord’s formation is 1-4-3-3 with one defensive midfielder. Willem II’s formation is 1-4-3-3 with two holding midfielders. With these tactics, there is one versus one in midfield. In this analysis, we will focus on how both the teams tried to bag the three points. Feyenoord, as the home team, were big favourites but Willem II had shown the tactical ability to win games like this throughout the season.
Feyenoord manager Dick Advocaat started the game with the same line up as the 1-1 draw against PSV. At the same time, Willem II head coach Adrie Koster made two changes from the last game, right full-back, Bart Nieuwkoop, came in and also Mike Ndayishimiye took a place in midfield.
Willem II’s tactics for this game
It was clear from the first minute what the tactical approach of Willem II head coach Koster was for this game. Willem gave the ball to Feyenoord and dropped deep to defend. Formation in these moments were 1-4-2-3-1 or 1-4-4-2. With this tactical move, they closed the passing options with zonal defending and let the opponent keep the ball in front of their defensive shape. Actually, the team was very compact and more aggressive in press when Feyenoord was able to play inside of their shape. The tactical idea was to look for counter attacking opportunities.
When Feyenoord were passing between the central defenders or in front of Willems attackers, the press was quite passive. Any real defensive activity happened when Feyenoord players dropped in front of attackers. At that moment when Feyenoord played inside of the shape, the pressing turned aggressive. The tactics were clear and they maintained it very well for the first 30 minutes.
At 2-0, Willem started to press higher up the field and in the second half, the tactical change to the game plan was very clear. Interestingly they won more possession at the same time. While this happened, distances were bigger than in the first half. Pressing and especially counter-pressing which happened quicker after losing the ball. The main reason for that was a longer period of possession. When they lost the ball in opponent half, transition started immediately and the opponent got less time and space to play which lead more losses in possession.
How Feyenoord responded offensively
As Willem dropped deeper, the Feyenoord build-up was slow and their passing happened outside of the opponents’ shape. Many times, this phase was like U-shape passing from side to side. Only once in a while the central defenders played forward passes.
Whilst the tempo was low, there was patience to the build-up. The players knew that the possibility for advanced passes would come sooner or later. It was very remarkable how they created new options to play into the advanced positions. Because of the compact defending from the opponent, there were only a few times that there was a bigger gap to play to the middle.
In the build-up phase, the central defenders got two options. First, it was by playing to the middle behind Willems first press. Defensive midfielder Leroy Fer operated between the opponents’ striker and their attacking midfielder. The second option was to play to the wide areas, either wingers or advanced defenders.
In these moments the future Premier League player Steven Berghuis had a big role. Especially, when he was cutting inside right to half-space or sometimes even dropping and take the role of the defensive midfielder. With these moves, he tried to get the opponent unbalanced. In those situations, Jens Toornstra moved to the right side if Rick Karsdrop wasn’t already there. With these moves, they kept the formation in balance. On the left side winger, Ridgeciano Haps came into the pockets a bit differently, enough to open the flank for Tyrell Malacia for forward runs.
At the beginning of the game, Feyenoord, the club who produced Liverpool‘s legend Dirk Kuyt, struggled to get into the good shooting areas. In the 25th minute, a tactical change to attack more from the left than right opened Willem II’s defensive compactness. A minor manoeuvre, but with this move, Feyenoord scored two goals in five minutes.
Feyenoord’s defensive adjustments
In the first half, Feyenoord didn’t have to defend much because they had possession most of the half. When they defended, it was the mid-block defence in 1-4-1-4-1 formation. The actual press started from the halfway line or if Willem tried to play to the middle. With this, they were able to minimise their opponents’ strengths to play in behind the line for the wingers.
In the second half, Feyenoord had less possession and had to defend more. Statistically, if the first half possession was 68%, in the second half it was only 46%. This also put them to work in a more compact way than in the first half. Their organised defending worked and there were only two chances in the whole game. The deeper they defended, the more man-oriented it was, especially from back four. Because of this, Willem couldn’t find a way to progress in their attacks.
Even Willem had more possession in the second half, Feyenoord was so compact and narrow which forced the opponent to play to the wide areas. There was not a big threat from the middle. Because of the minimum distance between the lines, Willem’s strikers couldn’t find space to get on the ball. One reason was that the sole striker, Vangelis Pavlidis, played against two central defenders and midfielders were man marked by Feyenoord midfielders.
The biggest problem in defence was on their right side. Mostly because of the tactical task for the right full-back Karsdrop. Also, Willem had analysed this and tried to play to the space behind. In those moments when Karsdrop participated in the attacks, he created space behind him and left room for Willem to attack to that space. Space also opened when Willem played the ball to the winger, Mats Köhlert, and Karsdrop was forced to press him higher up.
Feyenoord’s set-piece system
Against opponent’s corners, Feyenoord’s organisation was a mixture of zonal and man-marking. All players participated in defending set-pieces and were in the box. In these situations, six players defended zonally and three players man-marked Willems’ players. Against short corners, they put one man to come closer and defend it. But, a teammate was ready to move to support him and to create a two-versus-two situation.
When defending free-kicks from deep, their organisation was almost similar as in corners. That was clear step good reasoning from the defensive percpective because free kicks from the areas like this are very similar to corner-kicks.
When free kicks came further away from the goal, all the players dropped to defend. This helped them to create numerical superiority, three players man-marked the opponents and the six played zonally. In those few set-piece situations, this style of defending worked well and there wasn’t much danger in these situations.
This was a tale of two halves and is probably the best way to describe this match. Feyenoord were very dominant in the first half and kept possession while Willem II focused on defending. In the second half, the teams were almost the opposite. It looked like Feyenoord were happy to hold on to their lead. Despite a second half of better possession, Willem couldn’t build up any real danger to Feyenoord’s goal. It was obvious how much stronger team the home side was. The biggest difference with both teams was length of the possession. Feyenoord kept possession for a longer period of time and Willem lost it sooner. One reason was the away team’s approach to the game.
Feyenoord looked very strong and played with patience when the game was even. They couldn’t play inside the opponents’ shape and were forced to play in front of Willem’s pressing line. The little tactical change on 25th minute secured two goals for the win. During the whole game, there were only a few chances to score from both sides. That tells a lot about the game in itself. A very defence-oriented approach which is understandable when both teams are playing for a place in Europe.