Yesterday evening saw the much awaited kick-off of the Dutch Eredivisie. And it was the defending champion’s honour to feature in the first match, away against last year’s number nine, Roda JC. A potentially tough fixture as Roda performed particularly well in the second half of last year’s competition and, in contrast to Twente, succeeded in keeping much of their squad together during the summer transfer window. Of their regularly featured players, only midfielder Marcel de Jong and central defender Jean-Paul Saeijs departed. New signing Jimmy Hempte from Belgian outfit KV Kortrijk was attracted as the new central defense partner to the athletic and passionate part-Norwegian, part-Gambian Pah-Modou Kah.
Twente’s squad deflated
Twente saw a much bigger chunk of their preferred 2009 line-up leave their squad. Just look at this list of names… Striker and captain Blaise N’Kufo, who scored 96 goals in 193 matches for Twente; prolific left winger Miroslav Stoch, loaned from Chelsea, now on loan at Fenerbahce; creative force in midfield Kenneth Perez, who provided 22 assists in 82 Twente matches and finally right-back Ronnie Stam who missed just one Eredivisie match last season. And what’s more, success manager (in Holland that is) Steve McLaren left FC Twente for fallen German Champions Wolfsburg.
New manager Michel Preud’homme was allowed to invest nearly ten million euro to replace the key players mentioned before. Let’s go over a few of the signings made. Six million was spent to attract 1.96m high striker Mark Janko who scored 23 goals for Austrian side Red Bull Salzburg last year. A further three million was invested in lightning quick left winger Emir Bajrami, who recently earned his first cap for Sweden. And Belgian manager Preud’homme did some homeland shopping in attracting Zulte-Waregems Bart Buysse to replace Ronnie Stam at left-back.
Twente’s well-known 4-3-3
In the opening game of the 2010/11 season, only left winger Bajrami featured in the first eleven, while no less than four new signings had to take place on the bench. Twente started with the exact same line-up as they did when winning the Johan Cruijff Schaal in Ajax’ ArenA last Saturday. This meant a 4-3-3 with a narrow midfield triangle pointing backwards, aiming for control of the central midfield, with a running winger on the left and Ruiz in a drifting role coming inside from the right wing.
Roda’s aggressive 4-4-2 diamond
Roda took a very interesting approach by lining up in a 4-4-2 diamond formation, thereby electing not to battle it out with Twente’s dominant midfield players, but rather trying to play around it, using athletic wide midfield performances by Laurent Delorge on the right and Willem Janssen on the left. Their formation fielded two out-and-out strikers, something which always bears the risk of being one man short in midfield when facing 4-3-3 and 4-5-1-esque formations. Look at their 4-4-2 diamond in this early match screen.
Pressure is so 2010…
During the first minutes of the game Roda’s game plan was clearly visible. Intense pressure on Twente’s central midfield and defense, leaving them no options other than side passes to full-backs Tiendalli and Carney who saw a low of the balls that Twente would preferentially run by Wout Brama and Theo Janssen during the build-up of play.
Midfield roles, again…
In 11tegen11’s article on Ajax’ midfield performance during their home draw against PAOK we’ve discussed the concept of the three different midfield roles that are characteristic of a three-man midfield combination, be it 4-3-3, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-1-3 or 4-5-1. Credits again to the excellent article on Zonal Marking defining the concepts of destroyer, passer and creator.
Let’s try and determine the different roles of the three central midfield players that Twente fielded against both Ajax and Roda. As mentioned previously, their midfield is a narrow triangle pointed backwards, therefore containing one pure controlling midfielder and two central midfielders.
Three different Twente midfielders
Wout Brama is their single holding midfielder who obviously does not play the creator role from that position. Whether he plays a destroyer or a passer role is a more tricky question. His style of play tends to be that of a passer, but he doesn’t have another controlling midfielder by his side, like for example in a 4-2-3-1 or in a defensive flat 4-4-2 formation. Therefore, since he is often faced with at least one nearby opponent, severely limiting his passing options, his play mostly tends to a destroyer role.
Cheik Tioté definitely has the build of a destroyer midfielder. He’s physically strong, wins tackles and positions himself well. He therefore plays best when facing a direct opponent, allowing one-on-one midfield battles. However, as he’s lined up as Twente’s right-sided central midfielder, things depend on the opposing formation for him. If the opposing formation has a left-sided central midfielder for him to battle against, like for example in a 4-2-3-1 or in a flat 4-4-2, things are looking good for Tioté.
Theo Janssen is a technically gifted player, making it easy to say he’s the perfect creator midfielder. However, he’s only half-perfect. Providing dangerous passes is only half the job that a creator does. The other half of this role consisting of positional creativity, making dangerous runs, drifting into space. Imagine Mesut Özil’s role during the World Cup and you’ll get the picture. So despite his excellent technical skills, Theo Janssen is not a true creator type of player. Twente will definitely miss Kenneth Perez’s quality in this regard.
Roda’s effective counterplay
Against Roda’s diamond midfield, these problems of Twente’s midfield became exposed. Brama was effectively limited to a destroyer role in the presence of direct opponent Hadouir, who did a good job never to be far from his side during Twente’s possession of the ball. Tioté was not given a direct opponent to excel against, since a diamond midfield has no left and right central midfielder. Compare his game against Roda with his recent performance against Ajax and you’ll know. And the static play of Theo Janssen in a forced creator role was all too easy to defend for Ruud Vormer, playing at the base of Roda’s midfield diamond.
In the end
The smart choice of a high pressing diamond midfield lined-up against Twente’s 4-3-3 ensured that Twente could never do what it did best. During their past successful season they patiently circulated the ball, waiting for a sparkling Bryan Ruiz moment. To Roda’s credits this moment never really looked like arriving yesterday…