Twente managed a narrow win over an Utrecht side that got reduced to ten men after just twenty minutes of play. They saw the correct, but late, decision making of Preud’homme rewarded with the goal their numerical advantage on the pitch deserved.
Twente just came off a temperamental defeat to AZ this past weekend, where Preud’homme and fellow Twente staff members had a tough time keeping their cool in response to what they considered to be dubious decisions by referee Bossen. But tonight illustrated that these decision will eventually balance out as the slightly harsh and very early second yellow card for experienced Utrecht full-back Cornelisse provided the path for their qualification for the Dutch Cup final.
Without Ruiz and Douglas
Twente obviously missed their wide playmaker Bryan Ruiz after his recurrent knee injury forced him to come off against AZ last weekend. Today formation contrasted with the rule of thumb that Twente goes 4-2-3-1 when both Janko and De Jong is included in the starting eleven and 4-3-3 when either of them is replaced by Landzaat. Versatile Luuk de Jong replaced Bryan Ruiz on the right wing, keeping the 4-2-3-1 intact. At left-back there was another start for Bart Buysse ahead of young Thilo Leugers.
At centre-back Twente missed Douglas, who sits out a six match suspension after his violent behavior against AZ. He was replaced by Rasmus Bengtsson, keeping Onyemu on the bench after his disappointing game against AZ.
Ongoing injury problems at Utrecht
While Twente may had had to slot in a few unusual starters for this game, Utrecht manager Du Chatinier has done so for most of the season so far. Mainly his attacking line-up has hardly been at full strength with Jacob Mulenga out since early November after tearing his cruciate ligaments. Furthermore, Nana Asare misses another four to six weeks with a meniscus injury, after already missing several months earlier this seaon.
Should he have a full strength squad for once, manager Ton de Chatinier prefers a 4-2-3-1 / 4-2-2-2 formation with Asare playing behind Van Wolfswinkel, who is regularly joined upfront by Mulenga, playing from the right wing. Dries Mertens tends to play a wide playmaker role from the left, looking to bring others into play with his pace and dribbling skills.
So with two of his presumed attacking four out, De Chatinier fielded a more defensive midfielder on the right wing. He obviously preferred to keep Mertens on his beloved left wing, looking to take advantage of Rosales’ defending, Twente’s weak link in defense.
An early red card
With the game still settling in and Utrecht proving quite match for Twente, the away side saw themselves reduced to ten men just twenty minutes into the game. Veteran right-back Cornelisse received to quick yellow cards, seeing his hopes to finish his career with a Cup final fall to pieces. Utrecht immediately switched things around in order to prevent themselves from getting overrun.
A 4-4-1 formation was the result, with Lenksy operating as a temporary right-back and Van Wolfswinkel in a lone striker role. Both lines of four were kept were tight with Silberbauer and Strootman playing close to an otherwise already deep back line. This successfully denied space for Twente’s creative players Chadli and De Jong to work in. As expected, Twente did dominate possession from that moment on, but the passing was often off the pace and hardly ever was there more than one passing option available.
At half time, Utrecht surprisingly replaced striker Van Wolfswinkel with right-back Van der Maarel. This meant another series of switches, although the compact 4-4-1 system that worked so well during the second part of the first half remained intact. Dries Mertens fulfilled the lone striker role with Lenksy now playing on the left side of midfield and Duplan on the right.
Although Utrecht’s deep stance made it easy for Twente to dominate the game possession-wise, they had hard time turning their possession into goal scoring chances. Their game plan was quite simple: crossing high balls into the box from deep positions, hoping that either Janko or De Jong would connect. In order to play this game, Luuk de Jong frequently joined Janko upfront, vacating the right wing. Denny Landzaat was the most likely candidate to fill in here, shifting Brama, whose holding midfield role was completely redundant, into a central midfield role beside Theo Janssen. But Landzaat is hardly the player you’d want to occupy a right wing role. And although wing-back Rosales provided support here, Twente failed to stretch Utrecht’s back line.
This problem was solved by Preud’homme, but only as late as in the 64th minute. Young winger Ola John, younger brother of Collins John, who enjoyed a five-year spell at Fulham after playing for Twente himself, entered the pitch to replace Landzaat. His wide right sided role immediately made a difference.
Utrecht’s back four, which by then consisted of Van der Maarel-Silberbauer-Wuytens-Nesu as Alje Schut also had to leave the field injured, got strechted. As a result, space opened up for the creative game play of both Luuk de Jong and Nacer Chadli. And after Twente first hit the bar and the post, it was a matter of time before they scored the opening goal. As if to illustrate the solution of their problems, it was a right wing cross that set-up Mark Janko for a neat first post tap-in.
In the end
An early red card like this is almost always decisive, but in order to break down the compact 4-4-1 formation that Utrecht switched to, Twente needed to adapt. In the end they did, but it took half a match to figure that out and by then hope of survival had really settled in among Utrecht’s players. This unnecessarily toughened up Twente’s battle in an already tough fixture list at present.
Perhaps it’s these small managerial differences making a difference come the end of the nine game run to the finish of the Eredivisie and to the final stage of the Europa League.