Only 46 days after their miraculous escape in the Europa League qualification play-off final against Groningen, it was already time for ADO to get their 2011/12 campaign underway. They did so with an away match in the second qualification round of the Europa League against Lithuanian side FK Tauras, who came in fourth last season and are currently ranked ninth halfway through the present season in Lithuania’s twelve team league.
Given the over achievement of the past season, when presumed bottom-half team ADO managed an impressive seventh place, ADO fans feared the departure of most of their eye-catching players. Well, the most significant departure was a rather unexpected one. Successful manager John van den Brom, who played an impressive 324 games for Vitesse, was lured to Arnhem with last season’s assistant manager Maurice Steijn, who played 98 games for ADO himself during the nineties, appointed as his successor.
ADO lost two important offensive players, as their top scorer Dmitri Bulykin’s loan contract from Anderlecht could not be renegotiated and Slovakian left inside winger Frantisek Kubik left ADO for Russian side Kuban after just one year in Den Haag. On a positive note, right winger Wesley Verhoek stayed true to ADO, at least so far, with all sorts of rumors about his future going on. As a replacement for Kubik, winger Marc Höcher was attracted on a free transfer from Helmond Sport, after scoring 15 and assisting 14 goals in the Jupiler League last season. This would assume that Charlton Vicento fills in the striker role. Another option would be to advance Lex Immers from central midfield to that position.
Both central defender Timothy Derijck and upcoming midfield talent Jens Toornstra, like Verhoek, have received offers from Utrecht, but stayed at ADO so far. ADO made a straight swap at their left-back position, where Mitchell Piqué left and 26-year old Slovakian Filip Luksik was brought in. Finally, Pascal Bosschaart and Danny Buijs, regular substitute players during the past season left the club on free transfers.
ADO enjoyed a fantastic 2010/11 season with their optimistic wide winger 4-3-3 formation. Aleksandr Radosavljevic consequently covered in close proximity of the back four, while both central midfielders Toornstra and Immers made well timed connecting runs forward. However, with no direct replacement found for Bulykin as of yet, Immers played as central striker today with Leeuwin drafted in from central defense to the right-sided central midfield place.
This swap, Leeuwin for Immers in midfield, meant less offensive input from that area for ADO, while part of their success of the past season was the confusion they brought about with two central midfielders looking to overload formations playing with a single holding midfielder.
Tauras’ 4-1-4-1 / 4-4-1-1
Despite starting out with a clear 4-1-4-1 formation, Tauras swapped for a 4-4-1-1 early on. ADO’s midfield shape, with Leeuwin playing practically beside Radosavljevic, forced Tauras’ central midfield triangle to a better fit. A few chances were conceded in the process though, mainly from moves starting at the feet of Radosavljevic, who escaped Tauras’ pressure in deep positions during their early 4-1-4-1 line-up.
Other than that, ADO had quite a tough time breaking their opponent open. Due to the crowded centre of the pitch and ADO preference for wide wingers, most offensive moves were played out on the sides of the pitch. Right winger Verhoek fired in some of his trademark crosses from deep, but left winger Vicento struggled to make an impact.
His problem was most of ADO’s problem too. Tauras kept their two bands of four close together, as was to be expected, which led to their full-backs receiving constant cover from the wide midfielders. With ADO mainly used to wide wingers and central midfielders arriving in the box with late runs forwards, their full backs are not all too adept at playing an offensive role. And that was exactly was caused the problematic second part of the first half. Tauras simply outnumbered ADO’s wingers and kept their opponent at an adequate distance from the goal.
Second half changes
ADO manager Maurice Steijn seemed to realize the lack of bodies in the wide areas of the pitch as full backs Luksik and particularly Ammi increased their offensive input, making those much needed overlapping runs.
ADO’s game plan, however, was undone early in the second half as Tauras deserved a penalty on practically their first possession in the opponent’s box. Left back Luksik was sent off on his debut for the club and striker Jerkovic slotted the penalty home to put the home side 1-0 up.
No shortage of events
Put to the test like that, Steijn made some drastic changes. Ramon Leeuwin dropped a line to fill in at centre back, to allow Christian Kum an unusual left wing back role, where he covered most of the left side of the pitch. Immers was initially withdrawn to a central offensive midfield role, with Verhoek and Vicento operating as a pair of central strikers. Later on, with the introduction of newly acquired Tjarron Chery, Immers moved back to the striker role with the substitute operating in the hole. In formational notations a 3-3-1-2 would seem to cover best what ADO lined up like.
Whether it was due to their change of shape or not, space opened up for left sided attacks and a quick move by Kum allowed Verhoek to fire in his first left sided cross, which Immers finished off. But ADO’s comeback was short lived as Tauras only Dutch (!) player, Regilio Seedorf, a second cousin to Milan’s Clarence, put the home side 2-1 up with an out of the blue screamer from distance, only their second attempt at goal.
ADO’s abrupt change from a wide winger game to a narrow pair of front strikers operating with a man-in-the-hole kept providing them with opportunities though. And it was club icon Lex Immers who leveled the score from the penalty spot after Chery was clumsily fouled on the edge of the box. In the final second of extra time things took a turn for the worse for Tauras as centre back Sirevicius found the back of the net of his own goal to give ADO the win.
In the end
Not many would have expected such an eventful game from a second qualifying round of the Europa League tournament. A red card, two penalties, five goals and a drastic change of approach of tactics by ADO made for a highly enjoyable match. Of course it is very early in the season, but at least we’ve seen ADO’s new manager at work, put to a test with his team being a goal and a man down in their much awaited first European match in 24 years. His drastic change of approach changed the face of the game and overcame an opponent that managed two goals from two attempts.