Based on the 2-0 final score line you wouldn’t tell that Twente had a tough time breaking down their Romanian opponent at home. Twente missed four key players and had severe problems building attacks from the back. As a result, the transition from last season’s double holding midfielder system to an offensive 4-3-3 didn’t go all that smooth yet.
Twente’s improvised starting eleven
New manager Co Adriaanse will aim for offensive pressing football from a 4-3-3 formation, which is quite a change from Twente’s previous patient approach, based on two holding midfielders, with Brama covering midfield playmaker Theo Janssen. Without their best players, Twente will rely on the playmaking inputs of Bryan Ruiz and Nacer Chadli, with the latter presumed to take up a central pitch position under Adriaanse.
However, for this match Chadli was out due to a knee injury and Ruiz was also ‘unavailable’, adding to speculations on a move away from Enschede. On top of that, new signing Willem Janssen was ill and right wing back Roberto Rosales is returning from Copa America duties with Venezuela.
This forced Adriaanse into fielding a young starting eleven. He drafted left-back Thilo Leugers into a box-to-box midfield role, completing the duo of Brama as holding midfielder and Luuk de Jong as the most offensive central midfielder. Leugers’ left-back spot was filled in by Bart Buysse and Tim Cornelisse, a veteran defender signed from Utrecht, replaced Rosales at right-back. Bajrami started on the left wing and on the right wing talented Steven Berghuis earned his first appearance for the senior side. Both wingers played predominantly wide roles.
Vaslui’s game plan
Vaslui based their game on solid defending from a compact 4-2-3-1 formation. Both defensive midfielders consequently prioritized their defensive duties and right winger Adailton, a former Serie A veteran, used his experience well to contribute to Vaslui’s packed five men midfield.
Offensive intentions mainly came though set pieces, with Adailton’s 15th minute free kick rattling the cross bar a fine example, much like was outlined in this preview of the game. On top of their set pieces, quick surging counters, predominantly played through left winger Sanmartean provided some options for Vaslui too.
The first half
Taking a deep stance, Vaslui had no problems leaving both Twente’s central defenders a lot of time on the ball. As a result, Douglas and Wisgerhof mainly showed off the weaker aspect of their game, passing the ball over longer distances. In earlier years Twente always had Theo Janssen dropping deep to collect short passes of both central defenders, but not only does Twente miss the player Janssen now, but their transition to an offensive 4-3-3 formation played a role too.
A single holding midfielder is simply easier to mark than two of them taking turns in receiving short build-up balls. As a solution, the free playmaking style of Bryan Ruiz would have been highly valuable in matches like these, where the opponent is happy enough to sit back, pinning Brama with a single offensive midfielder, as Wesley did in this case. Halfway through the second half Twente started working their way around this problem by dropping Bajrami into deeper positions, but this reduced his ability to express his skills in a wide winger crossing role, which should be his main quality. All in all, Twente failed to create goal scoring chances, with a few unsuccessful Bajrami crosses being their main offensive threat throughout the first thirty minutes.
An opening goal anyway
Vaslui carried out most aspects of a compact five men midfield game rather well, but they slipped up with regard to their discipline. Though they succeeded in keeping Twente away from their goal for the majority of the first half, they did so at the cost of 21 fouls, earning five bookings over the course the match. On one of these occasions, Leugers was fouled inside the penalty area when making a well timed effort to connect with a cleared Bajrami cross. Striker Mark Janko converted the penalty to put Twente one nil up with their only shot on target so far.
Twente’s problems building from the back couldn’t have been illustrated better than they did in the first minute of the second half. Douglas and Wisgerhof clumsily gave possession away in their own half and a dangerous effort by Wesley was claimed well by Mihaylov.
It was Twente, however, who added another goal to the game. Firing in a close range rebound after Luuk de Jong’s header from a set piece cross hit the post, Mark Janko added his second of the game with Twente’s second attempt on goal.
Now facing a 0-2 score line, Vaslui made a clear offensive substitution, removing holding midfielder Costin to introduce wide midfielder Milisavljevic, moving Adailton to a second striker role. The main effect of this offensively intended change was that Vaslui allowed Twente to take over the dominance in the midfield department. With the match drawing closer to its end, Vaslui dearly missed the numerical advantage that their compact five men midfield had offered them up till that time. As a result, Twente finally succeeded in creating from the midfield area, although, ironically, they did not add to their tally during this phase of the match, despite creating more than half of the goal scoring attempts in the final thirty minutes of the game.
In the end
With a 2-0 home win Twente may feel quite confident of reaching the play-off for the group stage of the Champions League. In an analysis performed last year, 89% of teams were shown to reach the next round of a European tie after this result.
Twente’s weak building from the back may be of concern, but the absence of both Ruiz and Chadli make it difficult to judge their performance in this regard. Still, it will be very interesting to see how they will deal with grouped compact five men midfield teams, like Vaslui. And perhaps some of the lower rated Eredivisie teams might take their lessons from the fact that the Romanians allowed just two shots on target during the first hour (with one of them from a penalty kick), only to concede more chances after giving up their numerical midfield advantage.