PSV 2 – 2 Ajax: Does match data confirm the naked eye observations?

Posted on 20 September 2011

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The thrilling encounter between PSV and Ajax, which ended in a 2-2 final score after Ajax came back twice, has been reviewed on 11tegen11 immediately after the match had ended. Now that the match data, provided by InStat Football, has come in, it might be interesting to revisit some of the statements made on the basis of naked eye observation and see if the stats point in the same direction.

 

A few points from the match review can easily be tracked.

  1. The draw was deemed a fair result in a match that saw both teams dominate different phases of the game.
  2. Preventing PSV to circulate the ball to Kevin Strootman had been highlighted beforehand as an important part of Ajax’ defensive strategy, which seemed well carried out.
  3. Ajax’ inside right wing role by Eriksen allowed Pieters a relatively easy build-up, leading to a left-sided dominance in PSV’s pattern of play.
  4. There was a distinct lack of defensive quality, with two particularly offensive minded midfield line-ups.

 

Let go over those points one by one and see what the data tell us…

1.       The draw was deemed a fair result in a match that saw both teams dominate different phases of the game.

 

Note the lines for shots, possession and attacks circling around each other during different phases of the match. Red: PSV, blue: Ajax.

Just like we did in the previous match data report, we’ll break down each team’s number of possessions into the number of attacks created with it, and the number of shots created with those attacks. Both teams will be shown to be remarkable similar in this regard, although, as is demonstrated in the above graphs, they dominated during different phases of the game.

Both teams created 75 attacks. PSV did so from 103 possessions, for an attack ratio of 73%, while Ajax did so from 111 possessions, for an attack ratio of 68%. And both teams created 15 shots for a shot ratio of 20%, with 9 attempts coming from inside the box for both teams. PSV managed to find the target with 8 of their shots, while Ajax were slightly less accurate with 6.

 

2.       Preventing PSV to circulate the ball to Kevin Strootman had been highlighted beforehand as an important part of Ajax’ defensive strategy, which seemed well carried out.

In the match against Legia, used to demonstrate that new summer acquisition Kevin Strootman is the most important element in PSV’s possession game, the defensive midfielder was shown to receive far more passes than his team mates: 15% of PSV’s completed passes was directed at Strootman in that game.

In the Ajax match, Strootman received only 21 passes, the third lowest number of PSV’s outfield players, behind Matavz (19) and Manolev (20). The total number of PSV passes was indeed a lot lower (303 vs 543), but the share of PSV passes finding Strootman dropped from 15% in the Legia game to 7% in the Ajax game.

 

3.       Ajax’ inside right wing role by Eriksen allowed Pieters a relatively easy build-up, leading to a left-sided dominance in PSV’s pattern of play.

Initial observation of the match suggested that PSV built the majority of attacks through Pieters, who found himself in a lot of space as Eriksen played a very narrow inside right wing role and often only checked his man when Pieters did advance with the ball at feet. Although Pieters did made more than twice as many passes as his counterpart Manolev (59 vs 29), PSV finished the match with 25 right sided attacks compared to only 19 left sided attacks.

So, somewhere in transition between Pieters’ possession and PSV developing an attack, a preference for right sided passes occurred. An eye-catching difference in this area is the passing game of Toivonen and Wijnaldum. Eleven of Wijnaldum’s 19 passes were directed at the three offensive players (Lens 8 ; Matavz 2 ; Mertens 1), while only three of Toivonen’s 18 passes reached a forward player. So, PSV’s right sided offensive midfielder Wijnaldum, played a significantly more offensive passing game than their left sided midfielder Toivonen did. This may help explain the data described in the above paragraph.

 

4.       There was a distinct lack of defensive quality, with two particularly offensive minded midfield line-ups.

Ajax' first half dribbles, showing a 100% success rate.

Measuring defensive performances has always been the Achilles heel of match data analysis. The most compelling story in this regard is perhaps Manchester United selling Jaap Stam, back in the nineties, when his number of tackles per game started dropping. Assuming that the defender was past his peak, Ferguson sold Stam to Lazio, with some of his best footballing years yet to come. Only later insight revealed that his improved positioning skill allowed him superior defending, without the need for risky tackling. With that in mind, it’s always important to take context into account when assessing the value of raw match data.

The PSV – Ajax game contains very interesting differences regarding both teams and particularly regarding both halves of the match. Ajax succeeded in completing an amazing 16 of their 17 dribble attempts, but all 10 of their offensive half dribbles were made in the first half. PSV, on the other hand, had only two completed dribbles out of 9 attempts in the first half, compared to 8 out of 12 attempts in the second half.

In both teams, several players stood out with a remarkably low rate of ground tackles won, confirming the initial observation of offenses dominating defenses in this match. Some ground tackle success rates for Ajax: Blind (0/6), Van der Wiel (1/6), Janssen (3/10), De Jong (1/4). And for PSV: Pieters (2/8), Marcelo (1/4), Manolev (3/8), Toivonen (1/6).

The introduction of Enoh, who won all of his 7 ground tackles, shifting Anita, who won all six of his ground tackles, to left-back, did increase the amount of tackles won by Ajax, but still didn’t stop PSV from completing a much higher rate of their dribbles in the second half. PSV also created 12 of their 15 attempts in the second half, while Ajax’ attempt were quite evenly spread.

PSV's tackles. Note the big difference between the first half (left) and the second half.

In the end

In short, yes, regarding the four points mentioned above, the data do confirm the observations made during the match. But there still remain so many interesting observations that only come forward when looking at these data. Take for example the difference between Toivonen and Wijnaldum with regard to their passing preference.

Our aim for the near future is to regularly implement the use of match data like these, courteously provided by InStat Football, to structure the observations made regarding tactics and player performances. Should more coverage be available and hopefully in the near future, all Eredivisie match be covered, the necessary context will become available to interpret different data as it should be. At present, though, the intermittent use of match data seems a very helpful tool to structure naked eye observations. As always, please feel free to share your thoughts on this type of analysis, which is only just emerging in the Eredivisie.

 

This post could not have been created without the support of InStat Football.

Posted in: Eredivisie