This was a late February game in windy conditions. A typical winter month game between two sides whose approach to the game was totally different. The home team ADO Den Haag was fighting for survival and every point was much needed. In December they chose to change their head coach to reach their goal. Former Premier League manager Alan Pardew came to the club in the Christmas period and soon after that, he signed a couple of English players.
His initial start hasn’t been a huge success, but ADO still had a minor possibility to stay in the top-flight. It was not the easiest task and recent results haven’t helped their hopes. Heracles Almelo, on the other hand, has been a typical mid-table team, with a lot of wins and losses. Lately, the results have been more positive after three loses in a row.
ADO Den Haag’s tactical approach for this game was more defensive-minded than normal. Pardew was looking to start the game with a 4-1-4-1 formation which looked more like a 4-3-3 at times. At the same time, Frank Horsworth’ Heracles used his trusted 4-4-1-1 formation, which they changed later in the game to a 4-2-3-1 formation. In this tactical analysis, we will have a deeper look for the ADO’s tactics to this game.
ADO’s defensive approach to the game
As this analysis shows, the press mainly started from the halfway line in the 4-4-2 formation as Lex Immers moved to press along with former Championship striker Omar Bogle. At the same time, Danny Bakker pushed up to keep the compactness. Even when ADO dropped deep, pressing was not active and in many cases, the actual press started between the middle third and the defensive third line. In these situations, it was remarkable how late the players started pressing. In many instances, the opponent received the ball before the pressing player started any pressing actions.
While the idea was to defend in a 4-4-2 formation, it was more between a 4-1-4-1 and a 4-4-2. The individual defensive actions were a sort of mixture of man-oriented defending and zonal defending. While the defensive line defended more zonally, in the midfield, it was both. There was a clear misunderstanding in the tactics.
Because of this late start of pressing, the ADO midfielders were always a step or two late and that opened the door for Heracles to play between the lines. And not only because of this, but defensively there were many moments when ADO were disorganised and there were big gaps and the distances were long.
While the press started from deep in their own half, there was no visible trigger when it should start, even though they managed to defend their own box quite well. ADO used enough players in defending situations and all the opponents’ players were marked or stayed outside of the box.
During the opponents’ goal kicks ADO pressed high with their 4-4-2 diamond formation. Bogle and Immers pressed the central defender and John Goosens marked the opponents’ defensive midfielder. Wingers closed the middle and left the full-back free. With this, they forced Heracles to build up with long balls to midfield. There were a couple of times when Heracles tried to play short, but in those moments ADO’s press was on time and they were able to build counter attacks from those situations. It worked well especially when the Heracles goalkeeper played straight to the right full-back.
ADO in transitions
After winning the ball, the transition to attack started quickly and the first pass was usually forward. Normally, the target was Bogle. The biggest problem in these situations were misplaced passes to attacking players and the continuity after the first pass. The opponents organised their defence pretty quick and took the space to play in behind the line.
The second problem in most of the counters was the position where they started. ADO won the ball normally deep in their own half and because the whole team was in their own defensive third, there were not enough options to pass forward. This was especially the case if we look at the same situations in opponents’ half, where after winning the ball, there were enough options to play forward.
After a loose of the ball, there was small action which looked counter-press on higher up the field. Most of the times the reason for the lack of counter pressing was long distances between players. Because of this ADO dropped and organised their defence in their own half rather than start to press and open space for quicker attacks. With this tactical move, ADO slowed Heracles’ quick counter attacks.
ADO’s attacking approach
The attacking strategy was very clear – one or two passes and then a longer pass to the strikers, mostly in the air. From 81 instances of possession, ADO lost the ball in under ten seconds 54 times. ADO got support from the strong wind, especially in the first half. The target players were the striker Bogle and left-winger Aaron Meijers who moved inside to create two versus two situations.
The plan was to win second balls to continue attacking and that was the duty of the attacking midfielders. If they won the ball, the target was to play it to the left flank. But the continuity was missing. If there was no room for a shorter build up, the tactics were to play over the opponent’s midfield.
In the moments when there was a shorter build up, there were usually two options. The first was to play short from the central defenders to the full-backs on the sides. The second was to play a pass behind two lines for the wingers.
Because of Heracles’ passive press, most of the time the left central defender played long balls higher up the field. There was enough time and space for an organised build-up but for some reason, the players chose to play long. This was the one main reason why ADO lost possession quickly after two or three passes.
The attacking play happened mainly on the left side. 71% of all attacks came from the left and only 3% from the right. Meijers played 14 forward passes and Erik Falkenburg only one. In many cases it was from start to end from the same side. It was pretty clear ADO attacked mostly down one side and there were only a few shifts from the strong side to the weak side. If that happened, it came from the central defenders, so it slowed down their tempo and allowed the opponents to reorganise- another reason why they lost a lot of possession.
The result was well deserved for both sides. The game was very ‘wavy’, and the biggest reason was how easily both teams lost possession. It wasn’t because of good pressing, it was more from bad execution of decisions and poor decision-making in general, at both an individual and team level. Because of this, the game was very disorganised and there were transition moments after a few seconds of possession.
ADO did have a couple of very good chances in the second half and they should have scored. At the same time, Heracles also created some half-chances but those came from the outside of the box. ADO need to start winning but it is unlikely if their tactics will remain the same. The coaching staff have a lot of work to do before the next few games. There is only a little chance for them staying in the Eredivisie.
Heracles’ tactics were clearer and they did try to play more organised football. Because of the opponents’ tactics to defend deep and keep the opponent away from scoring areas well enough, they couldn’t create many good opportunities to score. The rest of their season should have only one target – to develop a playing style for next season.