Seven games into the new season and not a word spent on Vitesse yet in 11tegen11. And yet, in some regards Vitesse has been one of the most dynamic teams so far. Disappointingly, however, this only held true for the off-pitch events so far. A change of ownership last August meant that Vitesse is the first, and so far only, foreign owned club in Holland. Georgian Merab Jordania took over the club, speaking of title challenges within three years and building the club into a stable force in European club football. Not the smallest of ambitions for last year’s number 14 of the Eredivisie, is it?
The Arnhem-based club saw an influx of (mainly loaned) players with the likes of Aissati (Ajax), Rajkovic and Delac (Chelsea) and Barazite (Arsenal) coming in. However, building a team is quite a different story so far and despite all this talent that Vitesse brings to the pitch now, results have so far failed to pick up. New owner Jordania, who is rumoured to be financially supported by Chelsea owner Roman Abramovitsj, only picked up his first points today.
Excelsior, a satellite club to Feyenoord and also from Rotterdam, have had a kick-start to their season. Building upon a solid 4-1-4-1 formation Excelsior already obtained an excellent return of 10 points after six matches, winning all of their three home matches of which the beating of big brother Feyenoord certainly helped building their confidence. Key factor in their ‘plan A’ system is pacy lone striker Guyon Fernandez. Plan B is formed by strong target man Roland Bergkamp who sometimes alternates his midfield position with Fernandez in an attempt to confuse the opponent’s defense.
Today, Excelsior had to do without their top scorer Fernandez, who suffers from a two match suspension after violent behaviour in the match against AZ. So, it’s plan B today, playing big man Bergkamp upfront. Another player who deserves to be highlighted on Excelsior’s part is captain Ryan Koolwijk. After only making his debut as a professional football players at the age of 22, the tall and skilled mifielder has grown within three years to Excelsior’s captain and deep-lying playmaker. His influential role on their game is not to be underestimated.
Vitesse tends to line up in a rather regular 4-3-3 formation, although off-pitch developments have not allowed manager Theo Bos to build a team and frequent adaptations to the preferred eleven have been seen. Against Excelsior no less than five players featured in the first eleven who were not part of the pre-season squad, before the Georgian takeover.
Intense Excelsior pressure for fifteen minutes
The match surprisingly started out with intense pressure from the home team. Excelsior pressed Vitesse all over the pitch, not allowing them any space to pass the ball. Aided by having a pitch of the minimum required dimensions, they succeeded in limiting space to the extreme. A telling example of this phase was the fact that their biggest scoring chance arose from their right-back missing a left-back cross close to Vitesse’s goal. However, most teams cannot play this type of pressure game for longer period of time and after 15 minutes Excelsior took a deeper stance, taking up their more familiar 4-1-4-1 shape.
In consequence, possession fell to Vitesse, dominating in this area with 66% during the first half. This was not to say that Excelsior lost their grip on the game, since their game of limiting space to the extreme was played very well by the low-budget home team. Vitesse did not force a single chance, but on the other hand, missing the raw pace of striker Fernandez, Excelsior didn’t create their usual chances from quick breaks. The only exception was formed by a beautiful chip into the penalty area from captain Koolwijk, leading to a situation where left winger Vincken was pulled to the ground. Excelsior should have had a penalty there, but as so often happens, it was a lot easier to spot from a close-up camera shot than from the referee’s point of view.
Half-time changes for Vitesse
Some matches are made to illustrate the importance of a half-time managerial talk and this one can definitely be viewed in that regard. Vitesse manager Bos changed things around, subbing off the disappointing Nilsson and Pluim and introducing the experience of Dejan Stefanovic and the technical skills and pace of Julian Jenner.
Both players set out for an energetic return from the dressing room, as can be said for the entire Vitesse team in the second half. Playing higher up the pitch, inducing more pressure on Excelsior’s midfield, they forced more passing mistakes and looked to capitalize on the subsequent interceptions.
The deserved turn-around
The difference between Vitesse’s first and second half couldn’t have been illustrated better than by Dejan Stefanovic scoring the opening goal from an energetic display of work rate, winning the ball at the edge of Excelsior’s box and taking maximum profit.
After this opening goal, Vitesse started to play like a team with self-confidence and the making of something potentially beautiful could be seen. In part aided by the fact that Excelsior had to give up more space given the 0-1 score, Vitesse’s passes connected much better now. Unlike for the English Premier League, no passing statistics are available in the Eredivisie to quantify this type of statements, so we’ll have to do with this sideline observation here.
Excelsior’s ‘plan B’ falling apart
As mentioned before, big target man Bergkamp forms Excelsior’s ‘plan B’ in the absence of pacy striker Fernandez to use in quick breaks. Unfortunately for manager Pastoor, his ‘plan B’ fell apart too, when Bergkamp had to leave the field injured with over half an hour to play. Lacking squad depth for a serious ‘plan C’, Excelsior only was to be applauded for trying anyway.
With the best developments from a tactical viewpoint now having passed, the best moment of football in this game was yet to come. If you’d just check out one moment of this match, make sure it’s this one. A magnificent strike from Ismail Aissati drove the ball over goalkeeper Paauwe into the Excelsior goal from 35 yards out. After this, Excelsior even forced central defender Van Steensel forward, but it was to no effect. Missing their structure from that point, the match was over by then.
Excelsior shouldn’t take too much from this game. Missing the prime focal point in attack, they were forced to a ‘plan B’ from the beginning, and with Bergkamp leaving the field injured, things started looking quite bleak. Not a surprising fact considering the small stature of the newly promoted club. Their return of ten points from seven matches still forms a solid base to achieve their goal of avoiding relegation.
Regarding Vitesse, we might just have seen the first signs of things to come. In for a turbulent season this year, expectations should best be kept inside until next year. Manager Bos seems more than capable of building a squad from all the loose pieces coming to his disposal recently. And given these mutations, it’s just too early to draw conclusions on their playing style and tactics as yet.