High-flying Roda JC beat NAC Breda away last weekend to go top of the Eredivisie, albeit only for a day. Their 4-4-2 diamond proved too much for NAC, whose wingers failed to track back their markers, allowing Roda full control of the game in the second half.
Both teams have a certain aspect that makes them unique in the Eredivisie. NAC is the only team to be managed by a duo rather than by one manager and Roda is the only team to consequently play two upfront, rather than a lone striker or three forwards. While NAC’s mid-table position may be quite in line with the squad’s quality, it’s Roda’s performance that has drawn much attention, and rightfully so. Up there with the best, their 4-4-2 diamond has proven hard to beat in the Eredivisie this year. It was Jonathan Wilson who described the diamond as a system that has “never hung around for long, which suggests it may have limited applicability.” Which suggests that a turn to the books of football tactics history might not be a waste of time for those managers facing Roda any time soon.
NAC generally lines up in a 4-3-3 formation, playing a dynamic narrow triangle in midfield where Gudelj tends to play the holding role, with Luyckx and Gorter playing in close proximity. Furthermore, all three tend to rotate as well, providing an element of unpredictability to NAC’s game. The front line is composed around central striker Matthew Amoah, who provides a ground supply. He is aided by inverted wingers Kolkka, Boussabon and, when not falling out of favour again, Leonardo.
Roda’s 4-4-2 diamond draws on the goal-scoring qualities of Mads Junker upfront, who misses his fellow Danish striker Skoubo through injury at the moment. Although historically most 4-4-2 diamonds relied heavily on a creative man-in-the-hole behind the two striker, Roda play Willem Janssen in that position, who offers a respectable athletic input rather than being a technical wizzkid. Ruud Vormer provides the base of their midfield, generally in a playmaking role, as was the case against NAC.
The opening phase
The game was characterized by a high paced opening phase during which both teams saw their full-backs involved in a lot of the play. However, with Roda’s full-back missing a wide target to pass onto and NAC’s wide players not showing their best in possession, not many chances where created.
In an attempt to confuse their opponents, NAC started switching wingers Kolkka and Boussabon around regularly. Add to that their rotating midfield triangle and the game got a bit messy in this phase. Roda was not able to find a way around NAC’s crowded midfield either, so both teams looked energetic without any real chances being created.
Breathe in, breathe out…
The main concern for team playing the 4-4-2 diamond has traditionally been their lack of width. In defense, the wide midfielders, beautifully termed ‘Carrilleros’ in Argentine football history, have to help out in central midfield to prevent the holding midfielder from being overrun. Therefore, space is conceded on the wings for the opposing full-backs to run into.
On the other hand, when in possession, the diamond tends to stretch play, looking to provide width and the ‘carrilleros’ move out to the side. Using some beautiful tactics expression, one could state that the team is breathing. Breathing in during possession of the ball, breathing out in defense.
Roda applies this aspect of playing a 4-4-2 diamond very well. Sutchuin on the left and Delorge on the right are always looking to help out in the centre during defense, while they’re stretching play wide in possession.
A small mistake
NAC capitalized on a small Roda mistake to score the opening goal, close to half-time. The screen below shows Roda’s broad 4-4-2 diamond shape, after left midfielder Sutchuin started pressing NAC’s right full-back Feher. NAC’s striker Amoah (in possession) has smartly dropped into the midfield and Sutchuin’s team mates do not follow-up his pressing. A well-timed run by midfielder Luyckx (arrow) is enough to create a big gap in Roda’s defense, which is effectively exploited for the opening goal.
Although the same players started the second half, two important tactical changes were made by Roda manager Harm van Veldhoven during half-time. The first changes implied that Roda upped their defensive line almost to the halfway line, successfully playing NAC’s attacking three offside on more than one occasion. The second change was to force both full-backs forward. These two changes completely changes the face of the game.
Roda’s midfield was now provided width with both full-backs regularly looking for overlap and this relieved their ‘carrilleros’ from constantly running sideways as soon as Roda regained possession. Now Roda effectively had a numerical advantage in central midfield, giving them plenty of passing options as well as a lot more pressing on NAC’s possession.
Failing to track back
The effect of the full-back’s overlapping run was enhanced by the fact that both NAC’s wingers completely refrained from tracking back. First Roda right-back de Fauw was allowed to join a right flank attack, winning Roda a penalty, which Junker missed, in the opening minutes of the second half. Then left-back Hempte was left completely free (as depicted in the screen below) to cross for Junker, whose header only just missed the goal. Finally, on another de Fauw cross, Sutchuin finished one of a series of Roda attacks, equalizing the score.
After that, the only logical move from a NAC point of view would be to remove one of the wingers, whose persistent failure to track back handed the game to Roda in the second half. But both were allowed to stay on the pitch and Roda’s dominance in wide areas was allowed to continue.
As if to highlight the fact that Roda’s full-backs won the game for them, it was left-back Jimmy Hempte who converted a direct free-kick on the edge of the area to score the winning goal.
In the end
Setting your team out on the pitch may be an important element to managing a football team, making in-game adjustment is quite another thing. And these in-game adjustments in exactly where Van Veldhoven won one over NAC’s John Karelse and Gert Aandewiel. Pushing the full-back’s on in order to win the game in the wide area’s won the game for Roda, as NAC didn’t correct the failings of their wingers not tracking back.
So, from a tactical point of view, we’ve seen a deserved victory and come the end of the season, we can safely say that Roda’s diamond went top of the table, if only for a day…