The reigning champion of the Eredivisie has proven to be quite a challenge even for top teams. Flexibility is the key in this case. Eindhoven is able to play impressively with or without the ball.
Variable, well organised and balanced
Eindhoven often needs to dictate the game in their domestic league. Their possession per game is just over 56% in general. A well-organized structure and short passes are their preferred methods to create breakthroughs and chances.
Guardado at the heart of PSV today.
But where did all the balls go that Locadia received? pic.twitter.com/ciJ2fvT3gD
— 11tegen11 (@11tegen11) 20. August 2016
In an usual 4-3-3 formation the focus lies on the wings where they try to reach out to their fast players or to connect with Luuk de Jong in the centre. Long balls are an option as well due to the power de Jong brings to the table. The former Gladbach player can control many balls or spread them wide to faster teammates. As a result they get better access offensively while giving their own defence a moment to breathe. He already scored three times and contributed three assists so far this season, which make him their top goal scorer. Internationally he managed score and assist as well.
Other dangerous players are Davy Pröpper (2 goals, 2 assist), Gastón Pareiro (3 goals, 1 assist) and Andrés Guardado who is the most flexible player in the team positionwise. He already played in the Bundesliga for Bayer Leverkusen and is able to play all central positions and also on the wings. With Luciano Narsingh and Jürgen Locadia they got some talented players who have their strengths in offence. All of them have pace, technical abilities and a good sense for open spaces.
Furthermore their set pieces provide some danger as well. They already scored six times off of them in the Eredivisie. You can add ten from open play whereas there is no preferred attacking zone. 36% left, 33% right and 31% central attacks show that quite well.
Two years ago when Eindhoven finally managed to obtain their title after a longer title less streak, they had players like Depay, Wijnaldum and Maher. Hence individual quality was a key at this time as well as smart structure and compactness. Due to the departures of the mentioned players the focus shifted more and more to the system. If there is something wrong, Eindhoven struggles heavily because there is no stand out player to compensate for it.
Especially the centre is there current showpiece. Guardado acts a bit more defensively by trying to initiate the build-up play. The Mexican international is very confident in his playing style and actions in general. His success rate in one on one duels is 74% in the Champions League, which is quite impressive. In front of him there are Hendrix (will miss the game) and Pröpper working in the half spaces. This is where players like Maher and Wijnaldum were not replaced on the same level. Sometimes they try to push forward in order to outnumber the opponent. Pröpper deserves an honourable mention for his attempts.
The 4-3-3 in general is not a fixed system under Philip Cocu. Due to asymmetric positioning of the wingbacks sometimes a three at the back formation is created when building up. Often it is Willems, who supports in the first third of the pitch. The team played 4-4-2, 4-1-3-2 and 5-4-1 formations this season as well. Creating triangles to maintain possession is one of their specialities. An interesting fact is that all players get an equal amount of playing time. Rotation is very important for Cocu, who does not have that one key player in his squad. Their most important feature is the organisation, which makes it really hard for opponents to prepare.
PSV Eindhoven is one of the best teams in duels this season. When playing 4-4-2 or 5-3-2 and pressuring the opponent, it is nearly impossible to outplay them. On good days a more offensive approach can be quite compact as well. Their pressing is very man-oriented, not quite as good as Atlético Madrid but sometimes it can lure the opponent out of their comfort zone.
Last season they reached the round of sixteen where they lost to Atlético after two scoreless games in a penalty shootout. Quite a harsh way to leave Champions League football but it shows what this team is capable of.
Different playing style on higher levels
If Eindhoven was able to reach their top performance regularly – who knows what they could have achieved over the past few years? Especially on a higher level the team struggles. In the game vs. Madrid this season they faced constant pressure and failed to cope with it massively. All the different pressing formations and many other traps where too much for them.
Changing the in-game speed is something they cannot handle very well. Cocu’s team lost six times in total this season including both Champions League matchups as well as against Feyenoord (current leader in the Netherlands) and Heerenveen (third place). When something is on the line they cannot live up to their potential. Also the difference from Eredivisie to Champions League from a statistical point of view is huge.
The usual organisation fails to work the whole of 90 minutes. As a result the coach is forced to change his approach. In the last two Champions League games they played a 5-3-2, which changed to a 3-5-2 in possession. That lead to a lack of offensive power over the wings and as a consequence more and more long balls were played. In total ten more in the Champions League than in the Eredivisie per game. That’s why Luuk de Jong’s role is much more important on international level. There is also a different approach defensively visible when changing up the formation.
In a four at the back formation the biggest problem was the man-orientation as well as covering the centre of the pitch. Atlético managed to create gaps between the backline and the midfield so that they were able to conquer the centre. Long balls and interceptions were inevitable. Cocu’s reaction was a 5-4-1 with which he scraped almost all the offensive efforts, but stabilized the defence a bit.
The lack of quality in the Eredivisie is displayed is those games quite obviously. They are not challenged as much and can ease their way from game to game. With more competitiveness in the league more of the potential, which is undoubtedly there, could be triggered. The lack of experience may be another factor against Eindhoven, who has the second youngest squad of all teams (24.1 years average).
How PSV could play
We are expecting Eindhoven to play with a five at the back formation in a 5-3-2. Their match-plan might be to isolate Bayern’s wingers around the ball, which is a common method against the German champion. The three men midfield is likely to shift together to cover Bayern’s central players in half spaces. The five players at the back bring width to the game, which secures side switches. The centre must with high intensity to maintain the compactness in combination with the wingbacks as well.
Up front, next to Luuk de Jong, his most likely partner will be Narsingh. Both of them will try to pressure at the right time after forcing Bayern to play down the wings.
When intercepting the ball, spaces are open to counter with pace. Eindhoven will be aware of Bayern’s struggles to access the half spaces and outplay them just like Frankfurt did on Saturday. Other current sensitive areas are the flanks. David Alaba only won 44% of his duels vs. Frankfurt and also Lahm’s side was anything but secure. Bayern need to change everything in comparison to the match on Saturday. A win is only possible if the team gets faster into their duels after loosing the ball. Structured pressuring and courtesy in general should improve massively as well. The display above shows that the only option to avoid pressure is with support of the midfield or switching sides effectively.
On Saturday the midfield played some horrendous passes although the pressure Frankfurt displayed was neither very aggressive nor high up the field. The regression playingwise is currently too big. You can see the question marks above the players’ heads when they are trying to find a suitable passing option. This was rarely the case over the past three years. Even if there were some problems there was always a matchplan visible. The team acts headless most of the times. Ancelotti’s approach does not work so far and now it is time to change things up. He even announced it publicly, but did not say if it will affect the system or the players starting the game. The most important weeks of the first half of the season start right now.
In the past it was possible to compensate individual struggles with tactics. Guardiola could beat teams with his approach whether the individuals were at their top or not. He also had the option to coach ingame as well. All that is over now. Ancelotti’s players are depended on their individual quality and nothing more. If some players do not live up to their full potential it is going to be hard to win constantly. The team needs to accept their responsibility as well as their coach, because it is too simple to put all the pressure on Ancelotti. Bayern needs a reaction and show that all players are able to find better solutions than shown in Frankfurt on Saturday.