In a replay of last year’s Dutch Super Cup, Twente managed to beat Ajax in the Amsterdam ArenA, despite starting the game without playmakers Chadli and Ruiz, and playing the entire second half with ten men. Admittedly, Ajax did create more and better goal scoring chances, which was hardly surprising given their home advantage and the fact that they played against ten men for the entire second half, but in football mainly creating more chances hardly guarantees success.
Ajax’ deep-lying playmaker 4-3-3 system
In our recent preview we’ve covered Frank de Boer’s tactical approach to this season. Featuring playmaker Theo Janssen in a deep-lying midfield role, virtually all of the central build-up play runs through the former Twente captain, who curiously captained his new team against his old one in his very first competitive match for Ajax.
Ajax were without two influential players as goal keeper Stekelenburg was in the process of getting his transfer to Roma done and central defender Vertonghen still suffers from a groin injury pickup in pre-season training. Daley Blind was shifted from full-back to centre back, a position he regularly played during his time in Ajax’ youth academy and one he will aim to play in the future, following the footsteps of his father’s development, who also started as a full-back before moving to a central defensive role.
Twente is still without both or their playmakers, who, if fit, might feature in a tasty double playmaker system, based around early pressing. Chadli wasn’t fit enough to feature in the game, while Ruiz is a bit behind on fitness after a minor pre-season injury also caused him to miss the CL qualifier against Vaslui last week. The Costa Rican star player feature in the second half though.
This meant that Adriaanse was once again relieved from making a choice between strikers Janko and Luuk de Jong. With Chadli fit again and starting in his presumed central playmaking role and Ruiz covering the right flank, starting both Janko and De Jong together seems unlikely. Adriaanse has a clear link with the tall Austrian striker Janko, both of them having worked together at Red Bull Salzburg during the 2008/09 season that saw the striker produce an incredible 39 goals from 34 matches, equaling one goal every 67 minutes. Meanwhile, Luuk de Jong is one of Twente’s quick rising stars, even making it to the national team for their trip to South America last June. Both of them starting in the same line-up means De Jong is used in a central offensive midfield role, which he is also capable of playing.
The first half
As expected, both teams started the game with intensive pressing. Particularly Twente’s presence of five of six players on Ajax’ half during their opponent’s possession left no doubt about their pressing intentions. Ajax managed to keep their calm and the passing skill within their midfield, particularly by Janssen and Eriksen, meant they often find a way through.
An important effect of Twente’s pressing, despite Ajax finding ways through, was that they succeeded very well in keeping Ajax away from their own goal. As a result, Ajax put in quite some effort combining halfway on the pitch and had less players available to commit to offensive action around Twente’s box. Aside from an early chance where Sulejmani saw a close range effort saved by Mihaylov for Eriksen to hit the bar with a rebound header, Ajax created little value in terms of goal scoring chances.
On the other end of the pitch, particularly left winger Ola John kept Van der Wiel pinned back quite nicely. In most matches, Van der Wiel aims to storm forward, following the example set by his idol Dani Alves, but against Twente he had to be wary of John’s pace and prevent giving away space behind his back. Partly as a result of this, but also because Ajax missed Vertonghen’s passing from the back, Ajax focused too much of their offense through the center of the pitch. Unfortunately neat passing diagrams to illustrate such an observation haven’t yet made their way to the Eredivisie, so we’ll have to do with just an impression here.
An excellent forward run by veteran right-back Tim Cornellise, a Dutch Super Cup winner with Utrecht in 2004, opened up space on Ajax left wing. Cornelisse was well played through by youngster Steven Berghuis, who made his second consecutive start on the right wing, and a dangerous goal scoring opportunity arose. Even more so as Janssen failed to track De Jong’s run adequately and saw his tug on the Twente youngster’s shirt rewarded with a penalty kick. Janko had no trouble converting the penalty kick to put his team 1-0 up, just like he did four days earlier against Vaslui.
On one hand this goal was against the run of play, but Ajax’ majority share of possession biased that view. Seeing them combine a long distance from Twente’s goal might give the impression that they dominated the game, but in terms of the danger they created though quality goal scoring chances the match wasn’t that unbalanced.
Adriaanse made one half time substitution, which made the impression to be (partly) pre-planned. Left winger Ola John was removed to allow Ruiz 45 minutes of game time. Despite the contralateral winger, Berghuis, being on a yellow card already and playing a less important role in pinning Ajax’ threats back, Adriaanse removed his pacy left wing outlet, who, admittedly, didn’t have the best of games in possession of the ball. Hindsight’s always twenty-twenty, but Berguis got involved in an incident judged by referee Van Boekel as a dive, leading to his second yellow card in the 47th minute of the game.
Twente switched to a 4-3-2 formation, keeping De Jong and Ruiz up front and removed Janko to introduce defensive midfielder Thilo Leugers. As a sort of self-fulfilling prophecy this invited much more pressure through Ajax’ right wing, where Van der Wiel was seen in his preferred wing back role from that moment on.
Ajax’ chances may have been rather low quality one, their one man advantage meant that these chances kept on coming. This accumulation of low quality chances was rewarded when Toby Alderweireld found the net from 25 yards out to level the score. With Ajax dominating the majority of possession, De Boer removed Sigthorsson, Boilesen and later on Van der Wiel for reasons of fitness, claiming in post-match interviews that these players, who all entered later during Ajax’ pre-season training for various reasons, were mainly working towards the start of the competition.
As if rewarding his team’s stubborn ten men defense, Bryan Ruiz took full advantage of the space provided to him by Blind and Ooijer, who kept a yard distance with Twente’s star player approach the edge of Ajax’ box. Ruiz brilliantly found the right side of the far post with a curling effort to give the highly anticipated game the quality goal it was waiting for.
Ajax never quite recovered and despite Sulejmani’s hard work in the striker role, where he filled in for Sigthorsson, Ajax lacked quality in the final stages of their offensive moves. A series of long rage efforts and hopeful crosses didn’t turn the fate of the game and Twente ran out winners despite playing half of the match with ten men.
In the end
A highly anticipated match to kick off the 2011/12 season with arguably the two best teams of the past season meeting each other in a replay of last season’s Super Cup, Cup final and league decider. Ajax failed to create quality goal scoring chances due to a lack of width an attacking variety and in the end, after removing their striker with the scores still level, saw ten men Twente run out winners through a marvelous long range effort.