Willem II and ADO Den Haag are amongst the teams that expected to battle against relegation this year. The ‘Tilburg Tricolores’ avoided relegation only in the play-offs of the past season after finishing in 17th place, while ADO only just avoided these play-offs by grabbing six points from the final four games of the season.
After six matches, Willem II are still pointless, conceding 20 goals in the process. This weekend’s 2 -4 home loss against ADO Den Haag was extra painful in that context, as Willem II might see ADO as a rival for the relegation places, come the end of the season.
ADO, on the other hand, find themselves on the 8th spot after six games, having produced a W2 D2 L2 start to the season, and the average number of goals in matches involving ADO is as high as 4.5. Since the start of the play-off system, where the 16th and 17th placed team enter the promotion/relegation play-offs, now seven seasons ago, the number of point needed to place at least 15th has been 27 to 34, averaging 31 points. And with 6 of 34 games (17.6%) of the games played, ADO has already acquired 8 of these 31 points (25.8%). Okay, this is never any sort of guarantee, but things are looking good in Den Haag.
Things look even better when considering ADO’s fresh and attacking 4-3-3 formation, making excellent use of the physical abilities of striker Bulykin, who joined their campaign after three games. The strong target man is supplied by excellent crosses, especially by right winger Verhoek and receives his share of long balls in ADO’s direct style of play too. His return of three goals in as many matches proves that manager Van den Brom has installed a playing style that fits his group of players well.
Willem II missed three important players in Sheotahul, Hakola and Wojciechowski, much like Utrecht missing most of their first-choice attackers away at Groningen. This led manager Heerkes to a rather defensive 4-5-1 formation, packing the midfield, aiming to control possession there. They refrained from pressing ADO in their attacking half, drawing up a curtain of tricolored shirts around the halfway line. In Maceo Rigters, their new leading striker who was contracted on loan from Blackburn, featured in the lone stiker role. He left the Eredivisie in 2007 to join Norwich City in the English Championship and was transferred to Blackburn Rovers the following season, but did not score a single goal during the past three foreign years.
ADO, as mentioned before, lined-up in a 4-3-3 formation with strong target man Bulykin leading the line. His supply consisted mainly of crosses, especially from right winger Wesley Verhoek, and of long balls from defense. The midfield consisted of Toornstra and Radosavljevic in controlling roles and fans’ favourite Lex Immers looking to connect with the strikers, making more probing runs from midfield.
A quick goal
Ironically it was Maceo Rigters who found the net after just five minutes of play. ADO mainly used the opening minutes to play the ball around at the back, and Willem II manager Gert Heerkes was seemingly still busy organizing his midfield. Rigters seized upon the first opportunity to shoot , following a weak headed clearance by ADO, and ended his three and a half year of goal drought with a powerful effort from the edge of the area.
After this early opening goal, ADO kept searching a way past, through or around Willem II’s packed midfield. By exerting more pressure than their opponents, even as far as Willem II’s central defenders, ADO succeeded in dominating possession, but mainly in their own half where Willem II sat back. The best chance in this phase fell to Willem II, forcing Coutinho to block a close header from an indirect free kick.
ADO finding a way back into the game
After about twenty minutes, ADO succeeded in imposing their game plan on Willem II. Taking advantage of the lack of pressure on the full-backs, they successfully circulated the ball to their wingers, leading to a series of crosses and therefore. The lack of an outlet on the wings meant that Willem II’s possession spells became shorter and shorter, leading to an ADO-dominated phase shortly before half-time. In the end it was through a deflected long range effort by midfielder Radosavljevic that ADO got the deserved equalizer.
The remaining minutes before the half-time break saw an insecure Willem II clearly affected by the disappointing equalizer. Defensive midfielders Van der Heijden and Landgren took a very defensive stance, almost changing their 4-5-1 into a 6-3-1-like defensive fort. ADO’s bombardment, however did not produce a second goal and manager Heerkes and his Tricolores safely reached the dressing room, just in time for some much-needed tactical changes.
The second half
And indeed, Willem II started the second half with more pressing, now drawing the line about ten meters over the halfway line. But, still having a lack of outlet on the wings, the possession that they now won more often was only short-lived. And to add to their misery, a 49th minute series of comical defending allowed Frantisek Kubik a free shot on goal to score his third goal of the season.
But Willem II did not leave it at that. Another moment of irony saw Willem II scoring from practically their first cross into the box, after ADO bombarded their area with crosses in the first half. The highlight of this goal was certainly the technically skillful cross by Jan-Arie van der Heijden that found the head of captain Levchenko who scored the 2-2, just minutes after Kubik put ADO in front. A glaring marking error where two ADO defenders marked the same player after a textbook cross of runs by two Willem II players did not help either.
Strengthend by this equalizer, Willem II took matters more in their own hands now. Their midfield played much further up the pitch, using Van der Heijden’s passing skill and Levchenko’s experience to dominate ADO, simply outnumbering their midfied 5 v 3. To be fair Willem II lacked a bit of luck when, again, Van der Heijden hit the bar with a long range effort, which took a deflection on its way in. After having been used as a central defender in the opening matches of the season, it’s these type of efforts that highlight why Heerkes should definitely play him in midfield as he does now.
ADO wins in the end
The 70th minute mark is probably where fatigue kicked in as Willem II’s midfield fell back a little and ADO lacked passing accuracy. It was ADO scoring the winner in the 79th minute after hesitant defending and slightly sloppy marking allowed Verhoek to cross the ball for Kubik to score his second goal of the evening.
After this, the match was practically over. Willem II lacked all sorts of attacking options on the bench and ADO survived up to the final whistle, even scoring a fourth goal in the process. Bulykin got his deserved goal in injury time, settling the score at 2-4, another high scoring ADO game.
Only 28 matches left
With six games gone, Willem II manager Heerkes is left empty-handed. Against ADO, his defensive 4-5-1, partly forced by his injury-plague, lacked both pressure and an outlet on the wings. On a more positive note, the appearance of Jan-Arie van der Heijden in a passing role on their midfield might offer something to build on.
Once the injured players return, a form of 4-3-3 seems the most logical way forward for Heerkes and his men, positioning Levchenko in front of defense, Van der Heijden as playmaker in midfield and having Lasnik link up with solo striker Rigters. As the latter is neither known for his goal-scoring ability, nor for his pace, Willem II should definitely try to connect their attacking midfielders and their wingers with their new acquisition upfront. A slight withdrawal of the wingers turns this formation into a 4-1-4-1, offering more stability for away matches and in defending a much desired lead.
ADO, as mentioned above, are well on course to their target of staying clear of this year’s relegation places. New manager Van den Brom quickly found a suitable formation and playing style in a direct 4-3-3 which will bring them a nice season if the first six matches are anything to go by.