De Graafschap 2 – 1 Willem II: Fancy tactics don’t guarantee a fancy game

Posted on 5 March 2011


A late comeback ensured a home victory for De Graafschap in a game many wouldn’t like to have stuck in their memory for too long. Despite the disappointing performance and lots of mistakes on both sides, this game carried some fancy tactics that I didn’t want to keep to myself.


Improvised home team

Missing no less than three of their four regular midfielder, De Graafschap fielded an improvised diamond in this game. Having started no more than three games among them, Overgoor, Kujala and Sebens filled in for De Graafschap’s regular midfielders. De Graafschap missed their influential captain Meijer as the anchor of the midfield, veteran Jungschläger as one of the carrileros and playmaker Hersi in-the-hole behind their two strikers.

The starting line-ups. Note that early into the match Willem II's full-backs regularly stepped into the midfield, effectively creating a crowded six vs six game there.


Three-at-the-back for Willem II

It is no surprise that a three-man defense increases the heart rate of many football tacticians, so it was nice to see to see Willem II build upon the success of N.E.C.’s three men defense in their match away at Roda. Playing a 3-3-3-1 formation, they prevented a lot of troubles that their 4-3-3 would have seen against a 4-4-2 diamond side.


In theory

Generally, in a 4-3-3 versus 4-4-2 diamond, the four men defense tends to get occupied by the two strikers who tend to roam around, often occupying the space left open on both flanks. This easily leads to a four-versus-three advantage for the diamond in the center of midfield. In order to assist their outnumbered midfielders, the full-backs of the 4-3-3 sides tend to step into the midfield, effectively turning the formation into a one-on-one defense against the two strikers who then easily drag the central defenders out of position with their tendency to drift wide.

Now, playing a three men defense leaves the desired three-versus-two situation at the back, while allowing the former full-backs to fulfill their midfield duties. This creates an extra line in front of the defense, hence the four-band formational notation 3-3-3-1.  The potential to be outnumbered in midfield Is initially reversed to a six-versus-four advantage. That is, until, just like in this match, the full-backs of the 4-4-2 diamond realize they’re defending a lone striker with four men and step into the midfield too. A flooded midfield game tends to arise.


In reality

This may all sound quite like fancy and advanced tactics, but how did the theory translate to reality?

Well, initially Willem II’s two bands of four dominated the game, as could be expected, but quite early on De Graafschap’s full-backs did indeed regularly advance into the midfield, as outlined above. So, in a way, Kalezic quickly countered Heerkens’ smart tactical move. Making it 1-1 in tactical terms, still 0-0 on the scoreboard.

As if to support the recent undercurrent against the tactical side of football blogging, both teams put in a awful performance on the pitch. In terms of pass completion, first touches, tackles… Well, in every department the match was no joy to watch, expect for the initial tactical set-up theory outlined above.

The pattern of play was generally that of a midfield stalemate with only a very limited number of goal scoring chances. With Willem II’s 3-3-3-1 and De Graafschap’s full-backs regularly appearing in midfield, a midfield occupied by twelve players proved very crowded indeed.



Kalezic’ tactical change

It took until the 55th minute for De Graafschap manager  Kalezic the change this around a bit. He brought Hugo Bargas to the pitch instead of the very disappointing Rik Sebens. And instead of playing in that central playmaking role, Bargas tended to play as a left winger and De Ridder was shifted out to the right wing, indicating a shift to 4-3-3. And this proved a very interesting change as it posed all sorts of questions to Willem II manager Heerkens.

While his side had effectively countered the 4-4-2 diamond, their three men defense seemed a bit understaffed to counter the new three man De Graafschap attack. But he quickly adjusted his formation to their more regular 4-2-3-1. In terms of player positions things very shifted around too. Pressel played as left-back, Biemans shifted back to partner Swinkels in the centre of defense and Pereira moved from left to right-back. This left Van der Heijden and Gravenbeek in the holding midfielder roles, with the first acting as a deep-lying playmaker and the latter attempting the odd run from deep.


Willem II spill a late lead

With three goal in the final fifteen minutes, Willem II went from joy to tears. First the ugliest of goals put them in front as Hakola finally fumbled a ball across the goal in a move initiated by a horrible back pass into De Graafschap’s own penalty box.

But, manager Kalezic saw his three men front line turn things around in the end. Willem II’s late advantage was short-lived as Poepon crowned an incisive Rose pass from midfield to score the equalizer, assisted by Steve de Ridder. And in the end things got from bad to worse as substitute striker Hugo Bargas capitalized on a failed clearance by Willem II keeper Verhulst to score a late winner.


In the end

The interesting development of tactics ensured by the brave choice to field a three man defense against the 4-4-2 diamond was completely nullified by the horrendous performance put in by both squads. In the end it was Willem II pulling the short straw, but weren’t things the other way around last week during Willem II’s late comeback against Heerenveen?

Posted in: Eredivisie