In a match that superseded all expectations, Twente claimed the victory with a dramatic overtime winning header by Janko to win the Dutch Cup for the third time in the club’s history. In contrast to what might have been derived from both team’s managers pre-match, when they stressed the importance of next week’s fixture deciding the Eredivisie title, both teams did not hold back and a true football fest was the result.
The only exception to the expected line-ups, as detailed in the match preview, was the start of Twente’s Dwight Tiendalli at right-back over Roberto Rosales, due to fitness issues. In tactical terms however, both full-back can play in a quite comparable role. Veteran goal keeper Sander Boschker’s starting role in Cup matches was maintained, which meant both teams started with their nominal second choice goal keeper.
Twente’s game plan in defense
An interesting choice by both managers was to have their midfield players exerting intense pressure high up the pitch. On Ajax’ side this meant an advanced pressing role for De Zeeuw, who played beside Eriksen when defending Twente’s possession of the ball. And on Twente’s side this meant a very advanced role for Landzaat, who regularly showed up at the level of Luuk de Jong and kept intense pressure on Vurnon Anita, Ajax’ midfield holding player who is preferred over Enoh in recent matches because of his superior distribution.
Add to that the strict man-marking role that Wout Brama carried out on Ajax’ main offensive and creative midfield threat Christian Eriksen and Ajax’ difficult start to the game becomes understandable. The Ajax defense had a torrid time playing the ball into the midfield during the first twenty minutes and, intstructed to avoid long balls at all times, they bravely played short own half passes until often no other option was left than to have Vermeer hoist the ball forward, where they subsequently lost out against Twente’s superior aerial qualities. The main fact keeping balance in the game at this early stage was the amount of early fouls conceded by Twente’s midfield.
Ajax’ game plan in possession
Practically unable to pass the ball around Twente’s marking, and having the creative movement of Eriksen cancelled out well by Brama, Ajax frequently had left winger Lorenzo Ebecilio dropping into the midfield beside Anita to increase their passing options here. In turn, this allowed left-back Boilesen a lot of space to exploit his strongpoint of making forward runs from deep, both with and without the ball at feet. Ruiz, who said in an interview a few days before the match “Who? I don’t know him” when asked to comment on the young Dane, regularly failed to track his runs and ultimately Twente paid the price in Ajax’ opening goal in the 19th minute.
Boilesen made an excellent run from deep, outplayed Tiendalli, and played the ball in for Siem de Jong. Boilesen’s run had dragged Wisgerhof wide to cover there and De Jong had dropped from the central striker area, unsettling Twente’s other central defender, Douglas. The resulting space in central defense was exploited by De Zeeuw, who scored after a nice feint that allowed him past Theo Janssen.
Twente’s game plan in possession
Describing Twente’s offensive plans Is quite simple. They were clearly aware of the potential of Luuk de Jong to win headers and flick-ons over central defenders Alderweireld and Vertonghen and their forward did not disappoint them. Luuk de Jong, brother of Ajax striker Siem is still only 20-years old, but has already made his debut for the Dutch national team in the recent friendly against Austria.
While the game plan of overloading Ajax’ central defense with optimistic crosses and long balls forward may not sound too sophisticated, it proved highly effective. Despite Ajax dominating possession 61-39% over the whole of the game, Twente managed to create no less than 27 goal scoring chances, of which a relatively high amount of 14 were on target. To complete this statistic, Ajax managed 21 attempts, of which 8 were on target.
Two more first half goals
In a move that was started through another Boilesen run from deep along the left touchline, Ajax got a tad lucky to see an Ebecilio long range shot deflected in. But despite a comforting 2-0 lead close to half time, Ajax allowed things to turn against them almost immediately. Of all people, Douglas pressing as high as Anita won possession for Twente, upon which Ajax displayed a lesson of ‘how not to apply compact defending’. Note in the screen below that all ten Ajax outfield players are positioned very compact, yet none of them either tackled the simple one-two pass between Brama and De Jong, or tracked Brama’s run before he received the ball to finish off the move.
Admittedly, Twente’s fluidity has shook Ajax’ formation a bit here, with offensive midfielder Eriksen defending Twente’s nominal left winger Chadli at the wide right of Twente’s attack, but still, to allow a one-two combination through these compact lines of defense is worrisome.
The second half
With no substitutions, or changes to their game plans, both teams started the second half and consequently, the same pattern of play developed. In the most influential substitution of the game, De Boer brought Enoh instead of De Zeeuw in an attempt to regain the initiative in midfield, but he did so after the damage of losing the initiative was done.
Ajax right-back Van der Wiel lost track of Luuk de Jong, who generally moved into wide positions cleverly, and De Jong picked out a well-placed low cross for ‘man of the season’ Theo Janssen to score the equalizer.
Winning the midfield initiative was provoked by Preud’homme, who instructed Janssen more and more forward, thereby successfully overloading Anita, Ajax’ single holding midfielder. This more or less restored the balance in the game that had been lost after Twente’s offensive move, which initiated very much of an end-to-end spell in the game with Twente gaining the upper hand here.
As a result of these changes, Ajax operated from a deeper stance and, with only moderate success, aimed for counter-attacking play through their pacy wingers Sulejmani and Ebecilio. Twente, meanwhile, saw themselves able to improve the quality of their optimistic long forward balls and crosses, as their more advanced position allowed them to play them in from a closer distance. Ajax’ weakness at defending high balls entering their box, be it in open play or from set pieces, almost cost them the Cup near the end of regular playing time as first Ruiz and then De Jong headed only inches wide.
Two fatigued players were subbed of at the start of overtime. Bajrami replaced Chadli and Ajax’ third choice centre forward Cvitanich replaced Van der Wiel, with Anita shifting out to right-back and Siem de Jong dropping a line back, into midfield.
Playing with two offensive midfielders again, as Ajax did before the De Zeeuw-Enoh substitution, created a long spell of possession dominance for Ajax. Seemingly, Twente paid the price for their intensive pressing game earlier in the match and their lines got stretched. Ajax, however, failed to capitalize on this opportunity, despite coming close with two excellent long shots by Siem de Jong and hitting the bar through a header by Daley Blind, who had replaced Boilesen earlier on.
Another fatigue related substitution followed, with Bengtsson replacing Wisgerhof who had problems facing the energetic performance of Cvitanich. And Twente provided themselves with a fresh striker too. Mark Janko replaced Luuk de Jong up front.
And the Austrian striker won’t soon forget this substitution appearance, as he headed the ball past Vermeer with only minutes to play. Another addition to the string of high crossed set pieces that have proved fatal to Ajax this season.
In the end
In what was beforehand regarded as the less important confrontation of the two best Dutch teams, who will also battle for the Eredivisie title next week, both Ajax and Twente went all out. An atmospheric football evening followed, in which Twente came away with the win and their third Dutch Cup victory. Overall it was a fairly balanced game between two very evenly matched sides, which can only add to the build-up of tension for next week’s clash.