With the Dutch FA the first of the major leagues to suspend the current season indefinitely with no promotion or relegation, it is a good time to reflect and review one of the bright sparks of lower league football in Europe, Volendam. In this tactical analysis review of the side, we will look into how the team function with and without the ball, the tactical trends within those moments of the game and the key players that make the team tick. For this season review and tactical analysis, we will split the pitch into thirds and review some key tactical trends as well as some statistical analysis within each of these areas of the pitch.
Club History and Context
Coached by former Dutch international and club stalwart Wim Jonk, Volendam has a strong comparative link with the Dutch national playing identity, first and foremost playing in brilliant orange.
A small village just north of Amsterdam is home to this entertaining and attractive football side nicknamed Heen-en-weer club (the back-and-forth club) due to the many times the club has been promoted and relegated throughout its history.
Jonk is in his first year of management at the club after a spell with Ajax as the Head of Academy and his influence and that of his mentor Johan Cruyff over this emerging team has been clear to see until the league postponement in mid-April.
With 55 points from 29 completed games, Volendam sat in 3rd position in the Eertse Divisie, a little way from the automatic promotion places but well placed for the opportunity to compete in the Nacompetitie, the playoff involving the team placed 16th in the Eredivisie. With 16 wins and a goal difference of +15, you could make an easy assumption that their attractive, possession-based philosophy is their biggest strength but also at times their biggest downfall. We will look at the reasons why this could be the case during this season analysis.
While teams around them have, for the most part, put tactics and substance over style in their games against Volendam, which we will cover later Jonk’s men have struck true to their philosophy, at times to their detriment! This will become even clearer through the key season statistical areas.
- Averaged 1.9 goals scored per game with a total of 55 scored in 29 games. This number is from an average of 6 chances created per game.
- Their xG backs up these stats and suggests that they over-performed in front of goal with 1.78 per 90 minutes. More on this later.
- They averaged 584 passes per game with a completion rate of 84%. Of this number 17 passes were categorised as key passes on average per game.
- They averaged 15 counter-attacking chances per game through the season. This number links into their defending strategy of high pressing and counter-pressing which will be covered later.
Out of Possession
- Their opponents averaged 1.43 goals scored from an average of 5.7 chances created.
- The opponent xG is on the nose at 1.42 in front of goal per 90 minutes. In short, the stats would show Volendam didn’t concede any more goals than they were meant to based on the chances they conceded.
- Opposition averaged 448 passes per game with an 80% completion rate.
- Teams created 18 attacking moments per game listed as counter-attacks.
Wim Jonk’s involvement with Johan Cruyff and the Ajax Academy is a clear indicator of his philosophical approach through the season. Like Cruyff’s influential spell with Barcelona, Volendam show some clear principles and some example and we will look at images of those being brought to life.
Jonk uses variations of the traditional 4-3-3 in over three-quarters of the matches to bring this philosophy and tactics to life. The mirrored man orientated approach to defensive shape meant that two sitting midfielders were employed to deal with the opposition 4-3-3. More of this later.
Like another Cruyff disciple at Manchester City, Wim Jonk is a principled coach with a clear style. Below you will see some simple examples that he has employed through the season with the ball.
Build up to create superiorities
Progress the ball from the back into controlled midfield possession using the goalkeeper and the centre backs as deep-lying playmakers.
Midfield pivot to dominate possession
Use of a single pivot midfield player to dominate possession and link the build-up to controlled possession and offer support underneath the ball when required.
The creation of width. Done in three different ways dependant on the situation.
The full-back offering normal positional platforms.
The wide forward, as above offering vertical width when the full-back is engaged.
The rotation of midfield players outside to receive to play around a block or open up the central zone to play through.
Possession Through the Zones
How they build
As a starting point to this area of the tactical analysis, Volendam had 691 build up’s against high pressure across the season. This was a shade under 24 per game. Remember this is only build-up play against pressure. This doesn’t account for the 13 games where the opposition set up in a deep or medium block and applied no pressure to the build-up by Volendam. In relative speaking that means the number is closer to 43 per game for the times the opponent presses high and early.
There are some clear trends and traits from Jonk’s men across the season and their build-up solutions are largely based on the shape of the opposition press and the numbers in the first line of pressing.
This number will alter their patterns. For example teams pressing with one player in the first line are eliminated by using just the centre backs and the goalkeeper.
With teams pressing with two players in the first line, it is usual for Jonk to employ the #6 into the centre back line to make a double overload including the goalkeeper, another central piece to the build-up.
The second line of pressure is affected by the midfield of Volendam and the full-backs.
We will discuss some trends from these moments now.
Above is an overview of the build phase used by Volendam against one player in the first pressing line. Centre-backs connected tightly to the goalkeeper with the #6 acting as a central pivot point. Medium, neutral position from the full-backs.
Here is an example against two players in the first pressing line. The same principles on show. Narrow centre-backs, connected to the goalkeeper with a central pivot #6.
The use of FB’s and Width
The use of full-backs is fundamental to the build phase for Volendam. Jonk uses their neutral position for two key reasons-
- To stretch pressing teams across the pitch to give centre-backs the chance to punch through the gaps created or play around the compact central pressure.
- Create a large focus on play into central areas from the full-back position to engage pressure to then switch to the free weak side or hurt the opposition quickly on the ball side.
Here are some examples.
Here we see full-back ready to receive possession, neutral position with the opposition press broken by the centre-back driving beyond the line and attracting the wide forward into the press. You will see that on the ball side half of the pitch Volendam are outnumbered 4v5. This means the full-back becomes the free man in the picture with the other option allowing Volendam to switch to the weak side and away from the pressure.
In this example, the centre-back plays into the neutral full-back and then runs beyond the ball. This is a rotation between centre-back and #6 to free up space for the #6 to receive the ball. Again the goalkeeper is the outlet as the plus one player and security to switch to the weak side.
CB’s driving through the first line of pressure
A common trait of the centre-backs under Jonk this season is to drive beyond the first line of one or two defenders. This has two main advantages
- Creating an overload in the next line and a player in possession with time and space.
- Attracting players from the second line of pressure to the ball freeing up free players as in the previous image.
Use of the #6
In general terms, the #6 is the leader of the next line of possession once the centre-backs remove the first pressing line. For that reason, the image below is a classic overview.
In this you can see the #6 takes up a central pivot position and acts as a bounce pass from one centre-back to the other. He will receive under moments of high pressure and it is his role to find the free man, in this case, the opposite centre-back in time and space.
In this image, you can see the Volendam #6 drops into the backline to create a back three against two players pressing in the first line. You will see that they still prioritise the full-back pass.
This is because of the vacation of the central zone by the midfield three creating a vulnerability against the counter-attack from central areas.
How they create
In the middle third Volendam look to dominate the centre of the pitch in line with one of the key principles of positional play championed by Cruyff. This domination revolves around the movement of the midfield three. They are fluid in their movements and this fluidity allows Volendam to progress the ball vertically quickly, create overloads in wide areas and finally commit multiple defenders to the ball creating free men between the lines.
Here are some examples.
Progress the ball vertically, find the furthest pass. To counter high pressing teams who limit time and space there are two trends that present themselves through the season. The first is using the front three to get in behind early.
In this image you can see the full-back in possession, width still being key, the shape of the midfield three in a standard triangle and the beginning of a run in behind from the wide forward. The height of the opposition backline here lends itself to getting in behind early and the links to progressing the ball vertically quickly.
Very often that leads to the opposition backline dropping deeper limiting space in behind but now giving more time and space in midfield. So the second principle is to use the front three to progress the ball forwards.
This image, from later in the same game shows the defensive line dropping deeper, giving more time and space in midfield. To progress the ball up the pitch here, Volendam often play into the top line and pressure in order to find a third man runner facing forwards higher up the pitch. It is common to find one of the front three coming off the front line to link the play together. Notice again the width spreading the opposition across the pitch.
The next area of interest in this part of the field are the rotations we see from the three midfield players. This allows them to create overloads in wide areas with the full-backs or wide forwards and opens up passing channels into the top line.
These rotations are usually seen in two moments;
- The #6 dropping deeper to receive, not always fully into a back three.
- The centre-backs in possession and driving into midfield.
This image gives you an insight to that moment. The centre -back drives beyond the #6 with both the central midfield players rotating out to take up positions outside the line of the opposition midfield giving the centre-back space to drive into and gain direct access to the Volendam top line.
If the opposition central midfield players stay inside, it allows Volendam to go around them with the overload in the wide area.
Here you can see Volendam have gone around the compact central area to move the opposition. You can see the large distances between the opposition midfield creating gaps to play through for Volendam. Notice the opposition midfield pressing the Volendam supporting midfield player opening up space beyond him for the wide forward. If the midfield player stays inside it leaves an overload for Volendam in the wide-area to progress the ball.
In similar moments to above with the opposition moving across the protect the outside channel and limiting ball progression, Volendam will take advantage of the weak side with big switches to create 1v1 moments, another key principle of positional play.
Here you can see the supporting midfield player opening out to switch to the weak side full-back once the wide forward threatens beyond in the inside channel. Notice the overload the opposition have here on the ball side. A key principle of attracting multiple players to the ball creating free players for Volendam someone else is achieved here.
In other moments, Volendam will use the same principle but play into midfield to find the weak side.
Here you can see a similar situation. Volendam have gone around the block again but now play back into midfield to attract the opposition to the ball. This allows them to create a 1v1 moment here for their wide forward against the full-back. The same principle of overload to isolate but this time with a different variation.
This overview gives you an insight as to why they average so many passes per game and how they manage to create an average of 17 chances per game. Volendam use many patterns of play but the ones outlined here have been used the most. There is a clear link to the build-up and the chance creation process in the final third which we will move onto next.
How they finish and score
Volendam scored 55 goals through the season. Those goals have come from the chances created as shown below.
The big stand out here is the amount of goals scored from inside the penalty area and the golden zone.
- 44 goals from inside the golden zone accounts for 80% of the season tally. While that is not groundbreaking, exactly half of those goals recorded an xG of 0.2 and lower from a total of 109 shots of that value from the golden zone.
- If you link that figure to the average chance creation per game of 17 you begin to understand why they have been so successful this year.
- Given the numbers, you would expect them to create 8.5 chances of this value per game with a 20% conversion rate while the other 8.5 chances per game carry a higher xG. Of those with the higher xG inside the golden zone, it only took 46 shots for the same number of goals which creates a conversion rate of 48%.
Of those chances, there is a clear theme. Goals from cutbacks and balls played hard and low to receivers in the first or second line of runners to finish within the width of the goal. This links heavily into the themes of how they create as talked about above.
This is a classic example from the Volendam season. A three-step process for chance creation.
- Incisive pass in tight space to a forward run
- A cross or cutback low and hard into the width of the goal
- A runner from the first or second line of attack to finish on minimal touches
Here are a couple of other examples
These two images give you more insight into the type of chance created by Volendam. Creation of width to progress the ball forwards. Play into the furthest line when possible. Forward runs in behind. Deliver into dangerous areas.
From their own third to the top third Volendam are strongly principled with a clear style. Dominating possession allows them to pin back the opposition and probe away for moments to create chances. Even under high pressure, they want to play through or around rather than over their opponent. At times it has cost them, giving away chances and putting them under pressure close to their own goal but their commitment to Jonk’s game model is entertaining to watch.
Out of Possession
Without the ball, Volendam can be described as front foot, aggressive and energetic with a few cracks that their attacking threats tend to paper over. They have a high defensive line, press well as a collective and counter-press aggressively by getting numbers around the ball quickly in an attempt to stop forward passes hurting them quickly.
The image above shows the average position of the team in the last three games of the season. This shows the distance from their own goal they like to defend, the domination of possession and the limited time they spend defending in a low block.
We will now split the pitch into three again and focus on how Volendam defend the different parts of the field.
How they press high
Like the majority of teams in this league, high pressure and recovering the ball close to the opponents’ goal is a big priority. Volendam use a 4-4-1-1 shape without the ball however, there is a definite man to man orientation across the pitch that makes this shape fairly fluid.
In this image, you can see an overview of the defensive shape.
The highest midfield player pushes through to join the aggressive, pressing #9. The wide forwards take care of the full-backs and the two leftover midfield players look after their direct opponents.
This leaves a plus one situation in the backline. This is important as it allows one midfield player to push through and press higher up the pitch supported by a centre back pushing through into midfield. This at times causes issues in a 1v1 situation in the Volendam backline but for Jonk and his side, the reward of recovering the ball outweighs the risk of getting played through, especially so far from their own goal.
This image shows the practicality of the previous image. Aggressive #9 locking the pitch in half with his pressing line. Wide forward dealing with full back and two midfield players pushing through to man-mark the deep-lying opposition midfield players.
Here the highest midfield player takes care of the deepest opposition midfield player while the wide forwards lock on to the full-backs.
With the goalkeeper going longer here, the deepest Volendam midfield players are responsible for picking up the next ball and recovering possession.
How they are compact
In moments of controlled possession for the opponent in the centre of the pitch there is a clear defensive shape of 4-4-2 or 4-4-1-1 which is compact in width and depth with a high line in relation to the ball.
This image is a good indicator of the compact shape. Notice, the #9 still applying pressure to the ball forcing it forward. The wide forwards are narrow, protecting the outside shoulder of the deepest Volendam midfield players and forcing the ball outside. This creates moments to press the ball again in wide areas with the touchline used as an extra defender.
The depth front to back is minimal to limit time and space between lines for opposition players and make any incisive pass a potential moment to create turnovers.
There is less of a man orientated system here with the objective to get numbers around the ball in wide areas or press on negative passes which is another common theme.
Here is a press on a negative moment that Volendam exploit. Here the centre midfield pushes through to the press the opposition #6 on a negative pass and turnover possession. It creates a counter-attack with overload numbers for Volendam to exploit quickly.
How they defend their goal
Volendam conceded 120 shots on target through the season with an xG of 0.2 and lower. As mentioned, opponents averaged 1.43 goals scored from an average of 5.7 chances created. This would lend itself to the belief that the chances they conceded were low in quality by xG standards.
Because of their domination of the ball and their expansive attacking width, opposition teams created 18 attacking moments per game listed as counter-attacks.
You will notice the amount of shots from distance. This can be noted down to the distance of the Volendam backline from their goal. This high line as mentioned allowed them to press high up the pitch and support the pressure applied in the next third of the pitch with small distances between lines being effective. However, this tactic left them exposed to threats in behind in and around their own third.
An example of the type of chance Volendam conceded goals from can be seen below.
In these two images, you can see the height of the backline, even in relation to the ball and how at times it exposes Volendam to the threat in behind. It allows the opposition to deliver in behind a retreating back four for runners to finish. It is common to find the weak side full-back disconnected from the line as in these images. Its also concerning to concede so many goals from moments like this with multiple defenders looking after a single runner.
It is difficult to deny that while there are many positives to their defending principles through the season this type of situation combined with a lack of pace on the turn from the backline caught flat and square has cost them points and ultimately an automatic promotion spot.
The Counter Attack
In the transitional moments of the game, Volendam are efficient with the ball and vulnerable without it.
Without the ball, they are weakest down the sides of the centre-backs in spaces vacated by their attacking full-backs.
The image above is an example of the counter-attack dangers Volendam face. The scramble to recover and protect the goal causes problems in the second line. There is a lack of protection of runners into the box. The recovering backline and deepest midfielder recover to the goal first and create vulnerable moments for cutbacks and second phase balls inside the area.
With 83 shots endangering their goal coming from this counter-attacking moment and 56 of those coming from inside the penalty area, this moment gives the opponent a real opportunity to cause Volendam problems if done correctly. Attacking wide early before going in behind a retreating backline or looking for late runners with cutbacks can be fruitful for opposition teams prepared to be patient and pick Volendam off on the counter.
With the ball in this moment, their ability to get numbers around the ball allows them to secure possession efficiently and then spring an attack with width and overloading their ball carrier with their energetic full-backs going beyond being the key. At times their full-backs seem disconnected from the backline during the defensive moment but there is a real emphasis on them breaking quickly. Again it is Jonk’s use of risk and reward on show.
In these images, you can see their efficient work in attacking transition. Ball recovery and one forward pass finds a free, forward-facing player. Switch quickly to the weak side and make the most of the overlapping full-back whose decoy run creates space for the invading midfield to shoot into the far corner and increase their lead. Ruthless and efficient.
- Franco Antonucci is the most creative of the Volendam midfield players. With 12 goals and 5 assists in his 23 games this season he is a big part of Jim Jonk’s attacking threat. He has performed well over expectations with a season xG of 4.7, while he also makes on average four key passes a game. He also works hard without the ball. Antonucci made 15 challenges per game across the season with a 56% success rate.
- Gijs Small is the Volendam left-back. With 10 assists through the season, his dynamic running beyond the ball and accurate crossing means that he has a big role in creating width to stretch the opposition and run beyond the ball onto incisive passes to deliver balls into the golden zone. He defends well 1v1 with a 70% success rate in challenges however, his ten errors leading to goals have potentially evened out his attacking prowess.
This is a young and exciting team with a bright future for a number of reasons. The squad contains just one player in their 30’s, the next oldest is 24. Therefore, the team have energy and desire to be successful and with further maturity and experience can definitely earn promotion to the big league. The Dutch second tier is a good level for the young professional player to gain experience and it has been an enjoyable process to follow this side through their season.
They have a coach in Wim Jonk who is principled in his philosophical approach and a coach working towards bigger things. His style of play is entertaining while being successful in relative terms and in just his first season in charge he has achieved some excellent results in terms of the process with his team.
Their front-foot mentality and high defensive line is bold and a breath of fresh air. While their defensive organisation and understanding of pressing moments in the mid-third still need some tweaking to limit the threat in behind, their attacking fluidity and creativity will continue to produce positive results at this level.
It will be interesting to see if they can keep the core of this group together and add to it to improve depth and competition for places then they have a real opportunity to kick on in the years to come.