Both teams had to make up for three lost points in the previous round of the Eredivisie. PSV uncharacteristically failed to score at home and lost through a dying seconds opening goal to ADO while AZ gave away their 1-0 lead at Excelsior to lose 2-1 in the end. Tonight PSV needs the win to keep the close title race with Twente going and AZ needs these home points in order to keep their hopes of direct Europa League qualification alive.
Both teams tend to favor the fashionable 4-2-3-1 system, but their style of play is not exactly alike. PSV draws a lot on the quality of wingers Lens and Dszudszak, the latter now definitely staying another half season in the Eredivisie after his suggested move to Lille, curiously PSV’s next Europa League opponents, fell through during the past transfer window. PSV does have to do without the passing skills and offensive input of Ibrahim Afellay now that he moved to Barcelona. Their double pivot is formed by Hutchinson in a ‘destroyer’ role with ‘passer’ Engelaar beside him. In central defense ‘Maza’ Rodriguez replaced Marcelo who returns from injury, and might just make PSV’s Europa League clash with Lille next Thursday.
AZ misses a central defender too, as Moisander is suspended. Nick Viergever partners Mexican international Hector Moreno in AZ’s central defense. Behind them another unfamiliar face features, as goalkeeper Sergio Romero carries an injury picked up during the recent Argentina international friendly and he is replaced by AZ’s rather unknown reserve goalkeeper, Costa Rican Esteban Brown.
The match started out as a fairly balanced affair with two team playing essentially the same formation. As can be seen from the depicted starting line-ups, pairings of AZ and PSV players can be recognized all over the pitch, the only exception of course being that both teams have a spare man in defense due to their 4v3 defenses, and both double pivots outnumber their opponents man in-the-hole.
And this area of the pitch proved crucial in understanding the shift in the balance of play that occurred throughout the first half. During the first twenty minutes AZ captain Stijn Schaars was allowed quite some freedom and excelled in his deep-lying playmaker role. Often receiving the ball slightly left of the central axis he was allowed too much space and was able to direct AZ’s game. Just like in PSV’s victory over Roda, manager Rutten showed his flexibility and changed his approach during the game as he direct Hutchinson to a direct man-marking role on Schaars, successfully limiting the role of the AZ captain for the remaining part of the first half. Schaars had to drop even deeper to receive the ball at feet, but was unable to direct the game due to the Hutchinson pressure and the increased passing distance.
Meanwhile, as stated above, PSV drew on the strengths of their wingers. On the right wing Lens was occasionally able to get in behind his marker and use his pace to good effect while on the left wing Balasz Dszudszak emerged from his rather anonymous start to the game with a beautiful long range effort, curling the ball into the far top corner for PSV’s second goal. A crucial factor in PSV’s left wing game was the amount of freedom for left-back Pieters, who shows signs of an excellent development of late and is now regarded as the main candidate for the left-back spot in Van Marwijk’s national team too.
AZ right winger Brett Holman did not have the best of games, missing quite some shooting efforts in the first half and often drifting across the pitch in an attempt to make up for this by sheer work rate. As a consequence, his opponent Pieters was often allowed too much space and was able to assist Dsuzdszak on PSV’s left wing, outplaying Simon Poulsen 2v1 here. One of Pieters’ overlapping runs from deep saw him provide the cross that ultimately led to Berg’s tap-in after goalkeeper Esteban Brown pushed Toivonen’s effort on the post.
Second half changes
AZ made some logical changes chasing the game after half time. Seeing playmaker Schaars being effectively cancelled out by the excellent marking job of Atiba Hutchinson, they turned to the other part of the double pivot instead. Rasmus Elm, Swedish international, was deployed in more of a box-to-box role, frequently making runs to join Sigthorsson in the attack.
On top of that, with half an hour to go, AZ switched to a three-at-the-back concept with central defenders Moreno and Viergever taking turns in joining the midfield, both with and without the ball at feet. This immediately created some chances with Elm shooting from distance and Holman, again, missing a great opportunity from a left wing Elm cross.
Instead of providing a way back into the match, the changes backfired on AZ, shortly after manager Verbeek was, not for the first time in his career, sent off to the stands. Balasz Dzsudzsak once again showed his class by scoring another effort from outside the box after making his favorite run, cutting inside from the left wing. With the match effectively over, Berg scored a second goal too, rounding the goalkeeper after being played onside through in behind AZ’s advanced defensive line.
In the end
Despite the impressive 0-4 score line, this may have been the type of match to go down as AZ losing rather than PSV winning. Two similar 4-2-3-1 formations ensured a rather boring match from a tactical perspective as the teams cancelled each other out right from the start. In the end, PSV’s individual class provided enough for the win, with Dzsudzsak and Pieters on the left side performing particularly well, assisted by Holman’s poor game of missing chances and lacking defensive discipline.