This was a game between teams who were looking for a win after both lost last week. Lately, Twente has been on a bad run of results and they have won only two games from the last 12. At the same time, Heerenveen’s record from the last eight games is only three draws and four losses. With this statistic, we expected an interesting game. Both teams were looking to win to secure their middle table places, especially for Twente, who need points to get away from the Eredivisie relegation battle. In this tactical analysis, we will focus more on Heerenveen’s tactics.
Twente lined up with 1-4-3-3 formation, which they have played for most of this season. Heerenveen didn’t make any changes after last week’s loss against FC Utrecht. We expected to see positive attacking tactics from head coach Jonny Jansen’s side. They have created the second-highest number of shots per game with 16.8 in the whole league, right after Ajax’s 22, which is a sign of entertaining attacking football. In this analysis, we’ll be looking at how their attacks happen.
Twente will be missing former Barcelona youth striker Aitor Cantalapiedra who has been very important for the team this season. This means that former Premier League player Haris Vuckic will start as a lone striker.
Heerenveen in the defensive phase
Heerenveen is a notably organised team whose pressing normally starts around the halfway line with their 1-4-2-3-1 formation. In some cases, it is more 1-4-2-4 as the far side winger stays higher up the field. Only a few times does the pressing start higher up. Their early goal possibly altered their plans a little bit too.
Heerenveen closed the middle and forced Twente to play to the sides. The whole team would defend zonally in this phase and the main trigger was the halfway line. When the opponent reached the halfway line, the wingers started to press. Another trigger was when the opponent played inside to their shape. While defending in lower block, the full-backs started to press the opponent on the wings with help of the wingers.
The whole team was very compact in both depth and width. There was no space between the lines. It was remarkable how the whole defensive line anticipated longer passes as the opponent central defenders had the ball without pressure. They were ready to drop right away. The same happened at team level when Twente played a back pass. The whole team moved higher up and kept their compactness but were closer to the ball.
Although it opened up space behind the line, the ball was too far for the dangerous long pass. The width distances on team level were 43 meters. In depth, it was 44 meters. With this zonal defending they forced Twente to play into wide areas.
One way to force the opponent to play to the wide areas was Rodney Kongolo’s movement to the right half-space to close any option to play forward. With this move they created two-versus-one situations for the winger. The second task on the team level was to let the defensive line to play a man to man-oriented style when the opponent turned to their zone. With this action, midfielders could keep their zones higher up the field. Kongolo was creating numerical advance in these situations.
While Heerenveen was very compact, the problem in their defence was the times when pressing should start. When it was a bit late, it opened up opportunities for long diagonal passes behind the far side defender. Twente’s right-winger Queensy Menig did move from the blind side of Sherel Floranus in behind him. However, most of those long diagonal passes were cut out by the defensive line, mainly because the backline read and anticipated the situation well.
Transitions from defence to attack
After winning the ball back the main target was to play with depth. If that option was closed, then a switched pass away from the pressure to the other side was the next option. On that side, the winger was in an advanced position and could anticipate that pass would come. Either way, this tactical approach was useful also when Heerenveen was able to play forward. The winger on the opponent’s weak side was in a position where he could support and create numerical superiority to the counter-attacks. The main target was to play ball to the forward Chidera Ejuke. As he was the target, he also chose where the next pass was played.
One notable tactical approach to make this happen was to leave the winger on the far side higher up in defensive situations. With this tactical choice, they were able to create options in counters to play either deep or wide.
In these situations, Heerenveen created many numerical superiority situations against the opponent’s defenders. As you can see in the picture below, there was always least one player who did run behind the defenders. With this move, he created more space for the other players to move advanced positions.
Flexible attacking from the sides
Heerenveen wanted to build-up from the back. The main goal was to build-up into central midfield behind the first pressing line. Also, if possible, the target was to play through two lines. If they manage to play behind the second pressing line higher up the field, the target was then to turn and play for the striker or wingers in behind the opponent defensive line.
In the build-up phase there were moments when central defender Ibrahim Dresevic moved more to the side and Ricardo van Rhijn moved into a more advanced position. In this phase, both Hicham Faik and Kongolo dropped deeper to support the goalkeeper Filip Bednarek.
Another way they would build-up was to pass in behind to Faik who had enough space to turn and play it to the right-winger Alen Halilovic who stayed on the touchline. With this action he created more space for the teammates to open opponent press.
In the build-up higher up the field, the formation was 1-4-2-4. Kongolo moved to play alongside Faik and Joey Veerman moved closer to Ejuke. The target for the central defenders was to play for Veerman or Ejuke who were in the channels and created a second option to play deeper.
In slower build-ups, Heerenveen created overloads to the left side between Twente’s midfield and defensive lines. The central defenders passed the ball to make the opponent move sideways and open up spaces in their formation. In these situations, as you can see from the picture, there was numerical superiority on both sides.
In the first half, most of the attacks came from the right side as there was a clear way how to deliver those attacks. When Halilovic got the ball and started to dribble with it, Van Rhijn moved up and support him by creating overload to the side. At the same time, three or four other players moved towards the goal and created options for crosses.
Heerenveen started this game with a high tempo and active pressing. The longer the game went on, the more possession Twente had. Despite a lot of possession, they were unable to create any good scoring chances. Heerenveen’s defensive organisation was very compact and the timing in their defensive actions were well executed.
In the second half, after the third goal, for some reason Heerenveen looked like they were happy with the result and they couldn’t maintain the same actions anymore. After Twente’s first goal they focused more on counter-attacks for the rest of the game.
All in all, this was a very entertaining game for the spectators with five goals. With this win Heerenveen secured their place in the mid-table. For Twente, the season is not over yet. There is however a light at the end of the tunnel, as they were able to score a goal. Their defensive organisation needs to improve though. If they can improve defensively they can take enough points to stay away from the relegation battle.