NAC 4 –2 PSV: A rigid man marking system unsettles another league leading team

Posted on 27 November 2010

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NAC Breda managed to beat another league leading team, after their 2-1 win over Twente a few weeks ago. Deploying a rigid man marking system they succeeded in frustrating PSV’s game and they once again illustrated that playing a formation that suits the players best will generally be rewarded. Combining Amoah’s skill and strength with the pace and dribbling of Lurling and Leonardo was enough for no less than four goals from their side. PSV did not find the answer to the questions that this rigid man marking system posed to them.

 

NAC’s formation

The starting line-ups. Note the three midfield duo's close together.

NAC went into this match knowing that they had not lost at home to PSV in over four years. Their attacking intentions were reflected in the choice for Boussabon in a central midfield role, indicating a forward pointed triangle rather than their more familiar backwards points three man midfield triangle. However, it should not be taken for a true 4-2-3-1, which is characterized by more or less the same midfield shape, but with wide players who tuck in when out of possession, temporarily turning the formation into a 4-5-1 at times. NAC fields true attackers on the wings: Leonardo and, back from injury, Anthony Lurling. Therefore, 4-3-3 remains the best formational notation here.

Although the inclusion of Boussabon in a central midfield role, much like in the away match at Groningen, hints of attacking intentions, NAC generally took a rather conservative stance in this match. Looking to break quickly and take advantage of Leonardo’s and Lurling’s pace, they seemed happy enough to allow PSV possession in their own half and keep their defensive shape.

 

PSV’s fixed first eleven

PSV manager Rutten seems to have sorted out his first eleven. He plays the same formation as he did in the 0-0 draw at Ajax, with natural attacking midfielders Bakkal and Afellay in the controlling midfield positions. Former captain Orlando Engelaar is left out again. Their 4-2-3-1 formation is not all that different from NAC’s 4-3-3, but when needed, wingers Dszudszak and Lens are known to tuck in well, turning the formation into a 4-5-1 when out of possession. Toivonen, though a natural striker, proved as recently as in the Ajax match that he’s not shy of putting in a defensive foot where needed too.

 

Midfield organisation

As expected, PSV dominated possession from the beginning, although they had a difficult time turning their own half possession into attacking moves. This was a direct result of NAC’s midfield organization where a strict man marking system was applied, a fact that was stressed by NAC’s manager Karelse who even blamed a lack of strict man marking for the first half goals. Luijckx took control of Toivonen, Boussabon made sure to stay close to Bakkal and Schilder marked Afellay. It was this combination of three midfield duo’s that moved along the pitch. Therefore, it were not so much the midfield players that provided the edge to this match, but the players moving into midfield. PSV’s right-back Hutchinson regularly did so, as well as NAC’s striker Amoah, who is known to drop into the midfield regularly.

 

The first goal

A first slip of the man marking organization allowed PSV to open the score. Luijckx lost his sight of Toivonen for a moment, as illustrated in the screen below, and the Swede nicely set up Reis to finish the move. His eighth goal in  as many matches illustrates why Rutten sticks to him over on-loan striker Berg and former Dutch international Koevermans.

 

More goals

More goals defines a better football match, or words along that line, is frequently heard among football punditry. Well, this must have been a good match for sure. Three more first half goals followed after Reis opened the score. Although from a tactical perspective the match took a rather dull direction due to the formations practically cancelling each other out, the goals provided the spice to the match.

NAC took full advantage of, ironically, a Toivonen error. Under no obvious pressure, the Swede misplaced a short pass and with a quick break involving all three of their strikers, NAC equalized through Leonardo. But their equalizer was short-lived as their lack of professionalism was shown from their ongoing protests against a, correctly awarded, free-kick in PSV’s own half. With most of NAC’s team still focused on debating the referee’s decisions, PSV played a ball over the top where Lens’ cross found  Dszudszak at the far post.

But before the half time whistle NAC managed to grab a second equalizer. A short spell of pressure resulted in a corner where Amoah got the better of, again, Toivonen to head home at the first post.

 

The second half

In contrast to what might be expected, it was NAC that took matters into their own hands from the second half kick-off. Advancing their full-backs seemed to surprise PSV and a series of quick chances was the result. Ali Boussabon finished off one of these moves with a brilliant outside foot strike, putting NAC in the lead for the first time in the game.

PSV seemed not just surprised, but knocked out for over fifteen minutes after this beautiful goal. This much time passed before Rutten’s team got their shape back. NAC had by then changed their 4-3-3 into the most effective modern day defense, a 4-1-4-1 formation. Leaving Amoah upfront to battle it out with PSV’s defenders, they created a numerical advantage at the back which took PSV a long time to figure out. Rutten’s first attempt to change the game was rather unsuccessful, removing Toivonen for Engelaar, advancing Afellay behind Reis did not change the face of the game at all.

This change was not to happen until the red card for holding midfielder Luijckx, who generally dominated his part of the pitch, but did so at the cost of too many fouls. He should definitely have been removed by his manager by the time he committed another foul to receive his second yellow card.

Kees Luijckx, who generally dominated the midfield, in one those tackles he ultimately paid the price for.

PSV responded a few minutes later by introducing Koevermans, a second striker for central defender Marcelo, but NAC had doubled their lead by that time already. Another quick break, involving man of the match Amoah, saw them combined through PSV’s forwards thinking defense.

 

In the end

PSV did not create anything from the handful of chances that their gung-ho final minutes had forced. NAC managed to hold onto their 4-2 lead and, after their 2-1 win over Twente, succeeded in defeating another league leading team for the second time in three weeks. What’s more, this meant NAC’s third consecutive home Eredivisie victory over PSV.

 

PSV manager Fred Rutten, who did not show the flexibility to overcome NAC's man marking system.

NAC’s rigid man marking system proved too much for a PSV side that did not apply enough personal switches to unsettle their opponents. Players running with the ball at feet will not unsettle this type of defense and the demand for a quick ball circulation and lots of switches upfront was unheard by Fred Rutten today. The end result is that the top of the Eredivisie is cropping together more than ever…

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