PSV won the cup final. Roger Schmidt’s team managed to beat Ajax 2-1 at De Kuip. The final unfolded as a tactical battle between Roger Schmidt and his colleague Erik ten Hag. Where Schmidt and Ten Hag’s plan was mainly upset by refereeing and VAR: VoetbalPrimeur looks back on the thrilling final battle.
By Evert van Zoelen
Under Ten Hag, Ajax are defending themselves against a so-called male orientation in midfield. Players catch the opponent in their zone and form a pair with him. This game is no different. In the midfield we see Davy Klaassen form a couple with Ibrahim Sangaré and Ryan Gravenberch is the back of Erick Gutiérrez. Edson Álvarez is therefore able to face Mario Götze and support the central defenders.
Ajax make pairs in midfield. Source: FOX†
However, Schmidt devised a ‘Veerman plan’ to get out of this pressure from Ajax. The people of Eindhoven have set up a fake right-winger with Joey Veerman. This poses problems for Ajax, if they don’t have the ball themselves. After all, should Daley Blind cover when Veerman enters midfield or just stay in position? When Blind covers, there is room for Mauro Júnior to dive. If Blind stays in position, Veerman can create a surplus in midfield. Arne Slot used the same trick against Ajax earlier in the season, playing Jens Toornstra as a right winger.
Blind covers when Veerman moves to midfield. Source: FOX.
After eleven minutes of play, this tactical gesture seems to pay off. Veerman comes in and pulls Blind out of position, so the organization at Ajax isn’t quite left. Veerman then returns to the side room and manages to reach Götze with a helicopter. The German serves Eran Zahavi, who seems to give the Eindhoven side the lead. But the referee disallows the goal for offside.
In the rest of the match, PSV will continue to use the same principle, but with little success. It mostly has to do with Veerman’s own game. The Volendammer has come out dangerously a few times, but his final passes are unclean. This ensures that PSV cannot create additional danger through this tactical move.
PSV defend the usual 4-4-2 formation that Schmidt has used since arriving in Eindhoven. Götze and Zahavi protect the way through the center and the midfielders behind them defend from the area.
PSV take care of Ajax, with four midfielders and the Zahavi-Götze duo up front. Source: FOX.
Ten Hag devised the ‘Gravenberch plan’ to be able to play football under this PSV organisation. The Amsterdam side choose to let Gravenberch often choose to position themselves on the left flank. That means PSV have to make choices. As a full-back, Mauro Júnior already has to deal with Dusan Tadic, while the previously discussed Veerman must also be able to put pressure on Blind in the build-up.
Gravenberch chooses a wide position on the left and comes free. Mauro Junior must cover Tadic. Veerman stays with Blind. Source: FOX.
When the ball goes to the left, it is often Gutiérrez who comes in support. Sangaré tilts towards the center at these times so as not to let the space between him and Gutiérrez become too big. This is where the problem always arises for PSV. The space between Sangaré and Gutiérrez is still passable, but the space between Sangaré and Cody Gakpo is still very large. After all, Gakpo is placed further up front as he also needs to be able to put pressure on Ajax’s build-up.
We see this phenomenon a few times in the game. For example, with the goal disallowed by Noussair Mazraoui just before half-time. Ajax go up on the left, after which Sangaré and Gutiérrez move in that direction. The ball is moved to the center where a wide space is created next to Sangaré.
Goal disallowed Mazraoui. As Gravenberch moves to the left, a large space is created in the center next to Sangaré. Source: FOX.
Later in the game we see the same pattern in the forbidden 2-2. Sangaré and Gutiérrez are pulled to the side, after which Davy Klaassen appears in the space behind Sangaré.
Building until 2-2 forbidden. Sangaré and Gutiérrez move to the side, allowing Klaassen to appear in the space behind Sangaré. Source: FOX.
Gravenberch’s first goal also starts with this pattern, although after that it’s the individual class of the Ajax player himself that allows the use of space. But PSV crawled twice into the needle’s eye, after the ‘Gravenberch plan’ proved effective.
The PSV makes the difference in the switch
The PSV ends up hitting the switch. From the moment the Eindhoven players win the ball, Zahavi and Götze are regularly two against two in front, facing the central defenders of Ajax. In the first half there is already the necessary space, but at the start of the second half PSV strikes after all. In the 47th minute, for example, it is a referral situation from which the free kick arises, which is directed by Gutiérrez. Gakpo strikes immediately later, when Lisandro Martínez loses the ball in the build-up.
Make way for PSV in the transition, in the phase where the people of Eindhoven make the difference. Source: FOX.
In the final stage of the match, Ten Hag brings in an extra striker with Sebastien Haller, after which Ajax go out in a 3-3-4 formation. Schmidt brings extra speed to the team with Yorbe Vertessen and Bruma. After all, Ajax leaves even more room for the switch. Suddenly, it is the PSV which is largely responsible for the final phase. With chances for Vertessen and Bruma, PSV are still close to 3-1.
Schmidt will see there a confirmation of his concentration on moments of transition. The retired coach has already filled his trophy cabinet in Austria and China and is now winning his first serious award in the Netherlands, with his workhorse as the deciding factor.
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