These two mid-table teams faced each other in this game. For both teams, there is no danger of a relegation battle, but for Sparta Rotterdam, there is a minor chance that they can take one of the Europa League places. For the rest of this season FC Emmen are only playing for better league position and to improve their style of play and tactics, which have been interesting if we compare them to rest of the bottom half teams. In this tactical analysis, we will look deeper at how they want to build up.
Sparta which have sent lots of players to the Premier League use the 1-4-4-2 formation. Head coach Henke Fraser sometimes likes to switch to a 1-4-4-2 diamond formation, as he likes to play with two strikers. Patrick Joosten and Mohamed Rayhi started up front and supported left-winger Deroy Duarte on attacking. With only one defeat from the last seven matches, Sparta were very confident before the game.
At the same time, Emmen’s formation was 1-4-2-3-1, with one change from the last game against Willem II. Former Championship player Kerim Frei who was injured, replaced by Luka Adzic on the left side. After all, they were missing six players from their line-up. Emmen haven’t won any of their 12 away games and was looking for the first one from Rotterdam.
Sparta’s approach to the game
As we mentioned earlier Sparta defended with a 1-4-4-2 with a low defensive block. They started this game with a very organised defensive approach and maintained this tactic for the whole game, even when they led by three goals. By giving possession to the opponent they were able to focus on making counter-attacks. With this patient style of play, Sparta minimised Emmens’ dangerous attacks. As we will show later in this analysis, Emmen couldn’t build up any real dangerous chances on the Sparta goal.
The strikers closed the middle and forced the opponent to play in the wide areas, as the main focus for them was to keep Emmen defensive midfielders off the ball in the build-up phase. This move helped them to keep Emmen away from places where they couldn’t play in front of the defensive line. Central midfielders cover the middle together with strikers, while wingers played part-zonally and part-man-oriented style. When opponent played to the sides, the wingers would start to press.
With this defensive-oriented playing style, Sparta concentrated on counter-attacks and managed to do it pretty well. Most of the counters started from the middle third as wingers or strikers press and won the ball. Emmens players were opening up and allowed the gap to appear. Sparta used that space and played behind the defensive line.
As they kept the opponent away from good chances, they did pretty much reduce all of their chances on goal. One trigger in their tactical move was to let Emmen keep the ball and because of the compact defensive organisation, they needed to space out which meant bigger distances when they lost the ball. This transition happened on various occasions in Sparta’s half in the middle third.
In the second half on 66th minutes, Sparta changed their formation from 1-4-4-2 to 1-4-1-4-1. Second striker Rayhi moved to left midfield and midfielder Adil Auassar took the defensive midfielder role. With this tactical move, they created more support for their central midfielders and closed the space between the defensive and midfield lines
Emmen’s possession-based attacks
Emmen’s tactics were clear and you were able to see what the team wanted to execute. With their possession-based football, they wanted to attack with shorter passes. They manage to do this at first two thirds while there were big problems with non-verbal communication between the players. The full-backs moved to advanced positions and wingers moved inside. The formation in their build-up was either 1-3-4-3 or even 1-3-3-4. When one player did create space for others, they didn’t use that space to make options to play deeper on the field. That forced Emmen to play outside of Sparta’s organised defensive formation.
The biggest problem with this miscommunication was in timings. When an attacking player did move behind the line, the on-ball player solely looking at the ball and neglecting his marauding teammate. That’s why he missed the opportunity to play space. Sometimes this forced him to be in a situation where it was too late or too difficult to pass forward.
There were moments when attackers made movements to open up their game. However, the on-ball player was unable to see those moments, again because they were too far or too focused on looking at the ball. Because of this, Emmen couldn’t play to the last third of the field, and Sparta had enough time to organise their defence.
Emmen wanted to build up from the back and were able to do that quite easily into the midfield. In the few moments when communication between attacking players and central defenders was good, they did manage to play through three lines. This happened a couple of times only because of miscommunication between the lines. Most of the vertical passes came from the left side, especially from left central defender Bart Vriends. In these moments, the wingers made runs from deep to the space behind the opponents’ central defenders.
Emmen defensive formation was 1-4-4-2 while they faced many problems. Mostly because their zonal style was not compact enough. There were some occasions where Emmen looked good defensively, but mostly they allow too much gap in between the lines. Distances got bigger especially after a long period of possession with the ball. Over-attacking and a lack of tactical understanding on a team level were the biggest reasons for this. That’s why Sparta were able to score three goals from counter-attacks.
There were moments when they lost balance and that also opened opportunities for Sparta to play behind the lines. In these moments both central defenders were moved to the side but the far-side defender didn’t follow them. That opened a space behind the line. In these moments the backline didn’t get any support from midfield.
If the defensive line was compact, there was a huge space in midfield. Once again the problem was in communication on both an individual and team level.
Why were Sparta’s throw-ins hard to defend?
In this part of the analysis, we’re going to take a look at Sparta’s throw-in tactics. Sparta’s throw-ins were always a threat to Emmen. Their man-oriented defending in these situations and lack of quality in marking was a problem. The Sparta players made a couple of moves and they were able the lose their markers. That opened the space to play for a free player. Emmen players just lost their own players. Also, any supporting player was too far away from these situations. All the scoring chances happened outside of the box. As this happened a couple of times the defending was unbalanced.
The manoeuvre was quite similar to both sides. Emmen did have enough players in their defensive third. Still, with two or three counter moves, Sparta able to loosen markers and open the defence. Mainly this happened when a player from the middle moved away from the ball and switched with a player on the side. Same time there was one player who kept forward option closer the corner flag.
Defending against the long throw-ins, Emmen man-marked opponents and at the same time, two players were covering areas where the second ball will probably land. The purpose of this zonal defence was to win the second ball and to create support for the first player on the ball. Even with this numerical superiority, Sparta did create dangerous situations to the opponents’ goal.
This was a game of two very different tactical approaches. It shows the beauty of football. You can play different ways to get the results you want. It was total organised defending and trust of counter-attacks versus possession style of football. Both teams executed their tactical tasks. However, this time Sparta’s strategy was well-implemented and they took care of Emmen’s attacking from the beginning. Of course, an early goal helped a lot to execute Sparta’s tactical approach to this game. Very organised defending and compact distances between the lines secured the three points. Also, three goals came from the counter-attacks, so, you could say the tactic worked.
Emmen are a really interesting team to watch as their playing style is different than most of the bottom half teams in the Eredivisie. They executed their playing style quite well in the first two-thirds of the field. Their problems became obvious in a final third; some even started in the halfway line. A very ambitious way to play and a good place for young players to make their next step in top-level football. However, there is still more defensive work to do for the away side.
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