In the most anticipated match of the Eredivisie season so far, reigning champions Twente beat league leaders PSV 2-0 to leapfrog them in the standings and retake the lead for the first time since last November. Squad depth, tactical flexibility and the return of superstar Bryan Ruiz provide vital elements in this enthralling performance.
In tactical terms, both teams are very consistent. PSV consequently apply a solid 4-2-3-1 system that draws heavily on the creative input of wingers Lens and Dszudszak. In midfield both Engelaar and Hutchinson play a conservative short passing game that does not appeal that much in terms of creativity and bright moments, but it proves highly effective in terms of controlling possession and providing defensive cover.
The Achilles heel of PSV’s formation this season has certainly been the striker area. Having none of their four potential central strikers sticking above the rest from the start of the season on, Rutten has struggled in this area from early on. Initially, Markus Berg, on a season-long loan from HSV did not fullfil expectations in terms of goal scoring. Later on, Koevermans was provided with a short run of games, but he is generally deemed more of a strong target man, able to open even games in a late substitute role rather than starting from the kick-off.
Some months into the season Jonathan Reis returned from Brazil, having overcome personal problems as well as his cocaine addiction. He firmly claimed the first team spot with a series of convincing performance, but was unfortunately injured during the Roda game and is out for the season with ligamental knee problems. Finally, Holland Under-21 international Genero Zeefuik made some useful substitute contributions, but was not yet able to step into the shoes of the first team starting role.
Against Twente, Rutten didn’t have much of a choice, with Koevermans and Reis out, and he started Markus Berg. One-time Holland international Otman Bakkal replaced the suspended Ola Toivonen in the advanced midfielder role. Otherwise, PSV was able to field their preferred starting eleven.
Despite having faced serious injury problems themselves, Twente’s season has been a quite stable one. Their 4-3-3 formation, finally re-adopted by Michel Preud’homme after a short switch to the 4-2-3-1 earlier this season, is characterized by stability too. The midfield three of Janssen, Brama and Landzaat play a narrow controlled system with lots of movement in possession. Brama plays the most conservative role, generally man-marking the opposing advanced midfielder, Bakkal in this case. Landzaat is the most advanced man, making well-timed runs from deep to arrive late in the box. Finally, Theo Janssen is the spin-doctor of Twente’s team, providing an excellent deep-lying playmaker role with the combination of his technical skills and vision.
In this match, tall striker Janko was still out with injury. Strong, but temperamental central defender Douglas suffers from a six match suspension and long-term injured full-back Tiendalli made his return to the pitch only in the closing minutes. But most importantly, Bryan Ruiz came back from his tough knee injury to put his mark on the game in a substitute role, allowing him just thirty minutes of match action, but a decisive role nonetheless.
The first half
Twente has a habit of starting their matches in a controlled conservative style and this game was no exception to that. PSV was allowed to dominate possession, but only slightly and Twente’s compact midfield three made it difficult for PSV to transfer the ball their central offensive players Bakkal and Berg. An early controversial incident shook up things as Lens cleared the ball of his own goal line using his left arm and a penalty and red card could and should have been awarded. Curiously, this allowed PSV a way back into the game, with Twente being most distracted by this moment.
Both formations were quite balanced, both in terms of quality as well as in terms of the formations. PSV’s double pivot and single offensive midfielder combined well with Twente’s midfield shape and both teams’ midfielder effectively cancelled each other out for quite some time in the first half. The difference was generally made in the striker role.
While Markus Berg plays a static lone striker role, looking to get on the end of moves and score goals, Twente’s Luuk de Jong uses more positional freedom, regularly dropping off into the midfield. This allowed Twente an extra man a times and it allowed their right winger, Emir Bajrami, to drift inside and get involved in a role generally performed by Bryan Ruiz.
On top of that, De Jong played a much better game than Berg did. In short, Twente used their striker well to complete midfield combinations, while PSV saw their striker miss two excellent first half scoring opportunities, a decisive factor during the first half.
The second half
The urgency of this game was much more expressed during the second half as both teams applied more pressure on their opponents. After Bajrami saw a low shot from outside the box pushed onto the post by Isaksson, PSV took the game to their opponents during the first fifteen minutes of the second half. Twente’s patience was tested here as they kept their calm, sitting back and limiting PSV’s goal scoring chances very well.
Twente definitely changed the game around at the hour mark. Superstar Bryan Ruiz’ appearance at the side line just before his entrance on the pitch electrified the stadium and he immediately made his appearance felt. Ruiz possesses excellent dribbling skills and controls the ball very well during his dribbles. After Berg spilt possession around the halfway line, Ruiz was allowed a short turn past PSV defender Marcelo who held onto him for the slightest of moments. Twente was awarded a penalty that Janssen converted.
Rutten is that much consequent in his 4-2-3-1 system that he didn’t turn to a second striker beside Berg, even after conceding this second half goal. Instead he opted to remove Berg with twenty minutes of play left and brought young Genero Zeefuik to the pitch. Overall, PSV upped their stance and tried to force a way back into the match, but with Dszudszak and Lens unable to contribute Twente’s defence was never really tested.
Near the end of the game Twente took full advantage of a weak Dszudszak free kick to counter to a second goal. Theo Janssen picked the ball up in his own half and finished a long run with a delicious slightly off balance chip over Isaksson to score one of the best Eredivisie goals this season and to finish this very important game.
In the end
After winning away in Eindhoven, Twente managed a second victory of their Eredivisie direct title rivals to retake the lead. The tactical flexibility of their 4-3-3 was clearly demonstrated in this match. At times they patiently absorbed PSV’s pressing moments, like in the first fifteen minutes of both halves, without conceding more than a few goal scoring chances. And at times they moved forward in compact shape too, like their dominance around the hour mark.
Furthermore, they showed superior squad depth as both teams missed their preferred first choice striker today. Twente has the flexibility of advancing Luuk de Jong, who played an excellent link-up game in a false nine role, while PSV missed Reis’ goal scoring instinct as Berg missed the opportunities to score a first half goal. Now having played both Twente and Ajax twice and not having scored a single goal in those four matches, PSV’s striker issues have been made very clear.
Although Twente retook the Eredivisie lead, the race is far from over. Twente plays Ajax away on the final day of the season with PSV visiting Groningen at the same time. Furthermore, PSV’s superior goal difference might give them the edge if things get really tight.