High-flying ADO went into this match with high expectations. A home win over troubled Feyenoord would strengthen their fifth place in the Eredivisie, which would probably be enough to guarantee Europa League football next year. That is, if either Ajax or Twente will go on to win the Dutch Cup over fellow semi-finalists RKC and Utrecht. Unexpectedly, ADO went 2-0 down before half-time, only to snatch a draw with two goals within the final ten minutes. Feyenoord let a win slip for the third time in the past four matches.
Two similar 4-3-3’s
Most times when two teams with similar formation play each other, a fierce tactical battle is hardly to be expected. And indeed, both teams played a fairly similar 4-3-3 system, deploying wide wingers, looking to cross balls into the box. As can be seen from the starting line-ups diagram, most players face a direct opponent, rather than a zone with different opponents appearing now and then. Both teams full-backs clearly face a wide winger and the two midfields look like inversed mirror images. Feyenoord’s midfield is slightly more on the conservative side with both Meeuwis and Leerdam being naturally more inclined to defend than to attack, while ADO fields two more attacking minded players in Immers, who is capable of playing a decent striker role at times, and Toornstra, who provided two goals and two assists in ADO past five matches.
And these similarities are exactly where both managers tried to unsettle their opponents too. A potential weakness in most 4-3-3’s is the single holding midfielder who can be overloaded in several different ways. The Anderlecht – Ajax game showed two different ways of trying to unsettle the opponents single holding midfielder. Anderlecht had their attacking midfielder deploying an unlimited amount of positional freedom, hoping to drag Ajax’ holding midfielder out of position. Ajax tried a different option by regularly dropping striker El Hamdaoui beside attacking midfielder Eriksen into the midfield in a false nine role, overloading Anderlecht’s holding midfielder. In this match no clear attempt to dislodge either Radosavljevic or Meeuwis could be seen, until Van den Brom altered his formation when chasing a two goal lead.
The first half
The opening phase was clearly dominated by ADO as the similar formations meant that a lot of play developed on both wings with the two midfields more or less cancelling each other out conceding a huge number of fouls in the process. And as Verhoek and Kubik clearly had the better of De Cler and Swerts, who both played a weak game, ADO dominated the game. After the first fifteen minutes, Feyenoord managed to involve Miyaichi more in their game and they started developing some chances themselves too, most of them created by the Japanese dibbler himself.
Curiously, there was a clear difference regarding ADO’s defensive strategy versus Feyenoord’s wingers. On ADO’s left side of defense the full-back was consistently helped out by the left centre-back, Leeuwin, moving over to provide cover, with Derijck covering lone striker Castaignos. This worked very well, as Biseswar hardly posed any attacking threat during the first half at all. On ADO’s right side of defense, Derijck hardly moved over to cover his full-back, Ammi, and left this task to midfielder Toornstra, who had a lot of ground to cover because of this. Feyenoord could have taken more advantage by having either Wijnaldum or Castaignos preferentially drift out to the left side, looking to outnumber ADO on this tactically weaker flank.
Despite ADO having the better of their opponents during most of the first half, an out-of-the-blue goal by Castaignos put Feyenoord ahead. The talented youngster who will move to Inter during the next summer transfer window in a 6.5m deal, was played in behind ADO’s defensive line and finished the move with a beautiful lob. A close range finish from a corner shortly hereafter even meant a brace for the 18-year old as he put Feyenoord 2-0 up before half time.
Second half changes
Instead of being able to make some offensive changes, ADO manager Van den Brom was forced into two injury-substitutions first. His entire left flank, that was quite dominant in the first half, had to be replaced within a few minutes. First left-back Mitchell Piqué was unable to start the second half and he was replaced by Kum. Then a few minutes later pacy left winger Frantisek Kubik twisted his ankle and young Charlton Vicento was brought on.
The only notable tactical change at this time was ADO’s choice to play split wingers in the second half, moving Verhoek to the left wing and playing Vicento on the right wing. On top of that, Wesley Verhoek was given more freedom to drift inside, roaming behind striker Bulykin at times.
Up until the 70th minute Feyenoord was able to hold on quite comfortably, even being close to a third Castaignos goal as the striker hit the post on a quick counter break. Van den Brom’s decision to bring midfielder Visser for defender Leeuwin proved a game-altering move. Playing a 3-4-3 formation from that moment on, ADO dominated the game in midfield, albeit at the cost of a handful of Feyenoord breaks because of the one-on-one defense. Central midfielders Immers and Toornstra took turns in joining Bulykin up front and Feyenoord’s central defense had their hands full with the two of them appearing there.
Just like Roda manager Van Veldhoven in the game against Ajax a week before, Van den Brom saw his courageous move rewarded with a come-back. With ADO now dominating the midfield, they started overloading Feyenoord’s box and were regularly able to place three attackers within the box for the arriving crosses. ADO’s midfield dominance was well illustrated in the build-up to their first goal as Immers drew De Vrij from his defensive line with Feyenoord’s midfielders already occupied with ADO’s other midfielders. Immers found Vicento on the edge of the area and a powerful shot ensured the first ADO goal.
Despite the clear midfield problems, Feyenoord manager Been did not reply well. He brought Fer for Wijnaldum, a clear one-on-one substitution that did not alter their system, so did not alter their problems. Instead of removing one of the three strikers, who all made a rather tired impression anyway, he chose to replace Meeuwis, by that time Feyenoord’s anchor man in midfield, with a more technical attack minded player, Luigi Bruins.
Feyenoord ultimately paid the price as a move involving quick passes of all three starting ADO midfielders Radosavljevic, Immers and Toornstra ended with a cross for Bulykin who fired in the 2-2. The Den Haag cult hero celebrated by making a ‘stork’ pose, a celebration requested by ADO fans earlier that week.
In the end
Feyenoord managed to give another lead away by conceding in later stages of a game. While an element of luck may be needed to win games like these, the tactical problems during the final fifteen minutes of the game, after ADO went 3-4-3, cannot be ignored. Been’s substitutions did not illustrate any attempt to tackle this issue as he left three strikers on the pitch and ultimately paid the price for it.