Eredivisie champions Twente succumbed to a painful defeat at the hands of Heerenveen, where Oussama Assaidi ran the show, scoring three and assisting the other three goals. A four goal loss for the reigning champions is not unique in Eredivisie history – it has happened two times before – but it illustrates the cropping together of the Eredivisie teams, where, as it seems, any team can beat anyone at present…
Heerenveen’s front-line issues
Ron Jans managed to find some stability at Heerenveen, at least with respect to the playing style. The beginning of the season saw too many disconnections between inside forwards Beerens and Assaidi on one hand and towering central striker Dost on the other hand. Frustrations at both parties grew and manager Jans had to make a choice whether to play for direct danger through the flanks or direct danger through crosses towards the center forward.
On matchday 15, against Willem II, Bas Dost was left out for the first time. His replacement was Viktor Elm, a hard-working natural attacking midfield, but by all means capable of playing as a link-up forward too. His tendency to take up slightly deeper positions and to get involved in the build-up of attacks rather than finishing them did Heerenveen’s attacking game a lot of good and results-wise….
In the match against Twente, however, Jans’ choice to leave Dost out was a forced one, as the striker suffered from injury. Furthermore right winger Roy Beerens missed out due to injury too. He was replaced by Narsingh.
Twente’s injury problems
Many of players that gave Twente their first ever Eredivisie title last season are either no longer at the club, or missed out due to injuries. Captain Blaise N’Kufo (sold), playmaker Kenneth Perez (retired), left-back Stam (sold), left-winger Stoch (end of loan deal) are no longer part of the club. On top of that, influential winger Bryan Ruiz severely injured his knee, underwent surgery recently and is expected to be out for a few months. Finally tall striker Mark Janko is injured for this game.
Needless to say that manager Preud’homme had to make some changes to his attacking line-up. On top of the 4-3-3 Luuk de Jong replaces Janko and his spot in-the-hole is filled in by Landzaat, who is a more defensive minded player, making the formation look most like a 4-3-3. At right-wing young Dario Vujicevic faced the difficult task to replace Bryan Ruiz.
The first half
In terms of possession Twente dominated the start of the match, but they had severe problems with Heerenveen’s pressing which was clearly aimed at preventing Twente’s centre-backs passing the ball into midfield. Playmaker Janssen and holding midfielder Brama hardly completed any forwards directed passes during this phase. In terms of chances the start of the match was fairly balanced, although both teams were limited to shots from outside the box.
The best chance of the game so far led to the opening goal by Heerenveen. In a quick counter move the ball was transferred from the right side of the pitch to the left, where Assaidi was left in acres of space by his ‘supposed-to-be-marker’ Rosales. The Heerenveen winger ran at his man at high speed and lifted the ball over goalkeeper Boschker from distance. Definitely a nice piece of skill by Assaidi, but by all means sloppy defending by Rosales who was way too far away from him in the first place.
This Assaidi-Rosales match-up proved to be very influential in the rest of the game. Twente tends to play with an inside drifting right winger when Bryan Ruiz is match fit, but his replacement Vujivevic showed the exact same role in an attacking sense. He drifted inside at all times, only to run into traffic as Heerenveen kept their midfield quite close to the defensive line. In a defending sense Vujicevic did differ from Bryan Ruiz. The latter tends to put in a lot of, generally unnoticed, defensive work too, while Dario Vujicevic, at least today, was rarely seen to assist his full-back Rosales.
This problem was even more acute as Twente depended on Rosales’ runs from deep to provide width on the right wing. Heerenveen smartly chose to have Vujicevic picked up in the already crowded center, reflecting their zonal marking system. This left Heerenveen’s left-back Jong-A-Pin free to deal with Rosales and in turn Assaidi was able to play a sort of trequartista role, albeit on the left wing. This role allowed the winger to flourish more and more as the match went on and Twente was a goal down for most part of the match to come.
The disadvantage of this strategy was obviously the fact the Twente at times was able to double up on their right wing when Vujicevic did move (back) to the right wing. In the build-up to their equalizer this can be seen and Chadli was found by a Rosales cross to tap in.
The second Heerenveen goal was a copycat from the first one. Assaidi was allowed at least 20 yards of freedom to receive the ball around the halfway line, accelerated towards the Twente defenders and he finished with another shot from around the edge of the box.
The second half
Five minutes into the second half Nacer Chadli took advantage of a moment of disorganization in Heerenveen’s defense. This positioned him in a one-on-one with Breuer and he smartly used his superior acceleration to create space for the shot form a narrow angle.
Vujicevic ran into a yellow card quickly hereafter and was subbed off for Ola John around the 60th minute. Shortly hereafter, with Twente growing into the match and playing two wide wingers now, it was Heerenveen that scored a third goal. Assaidi, marked by two men now as John did at least try to help Rosales out, still succeeded in swinging in a second post cross where, against all odds, Elm beat Douglas to the ball.
Of course Twente did press for another equalizer, but as the match went on Heerenveen grew into their counter-attacking role and even managed to extend their lead in the 74th minute. Striker Elm displayed his qualities as a link-up man by dropping into midfield and forming the base of a counter attack where, again, Assaidi found Narsingh with a lobbed pass.
In the closing minutes of the match Heerenveen extended their lead to the 6-2 final score, only to rub more salt into Twente’s wounds and to generate and even more eye-catching score line.
In the end
Perhaps with Bryan Ruiz on song Twente’s strategy of a drifting right winger would have worked, but young Dario Vujicevic simply did not possess the amount of quality that Ruiz has to create danger in the crowded central area of the pitch. Thereby Twente missed the advantage of this strategy and suffered mainly from the disadvantages. Heerenveen’s left winger Oussama Assaidi was provided with the perfect stage for the winger trequartista role that he played to perfection, finishing the match with no less than three goals and three assists.
In truth, the balance could have tipped over to Twente’s side during parts of the second half too, as the match was up for grabs during the phase where a 2-2 score was on the board.