If you are an Eredivisie fan and you love the tactical side of the beautiful game, then you are probably very impressed with the tactical manoeuvres of Feyenoord this season. The Rotterdam giant saw a huge exodus of players at the end of last season and many people thought they would have had a very challenging time this season. Those people were partially right, since Feyenoord struggled at the beginning of the season and only won one of their first six games. However, since then, the 2002 UEFA Cup winners have made significant strides. They currently sit 3rd in the league and are playing some of the most dominant and invigorating football in the Eredivisie. Home games against Ajax, AZ and FC Twente as well as the away game against PSV have been some of the most stimulating and entertaining displays we have seen from any team in the league this season.
This relatively successful season so far is largely down to how well the players have been able to maintain the tactical set-up of this team. The 4-3-3 formation utilised is being executed with great discipline, hard work and skills by the players. The three main aspects of this Feyenoord system and strategy are as follows:
The Goalkeeping & Defensive Shake Up
Let’s start by looking at the goal keeper and the back four. Vermeer was brought into the team at the beginning of the season to bring more solidity to the defence and he has done just that. His experience, agility and calmness under pressure have not just curtailed the number of goals the team concedes, but it has also seemingly helped to bring confidence into the young centre backs of Van Beek and Kongolo.
The back four of Nilom, Van Beek, Kongolo and Wilkshire have all been playing very impressively. Van Beek brings great physicality and grit to the centre of the defence and Kongolo’s ball-playing and anticipation skills have been complimented by Wilkshire’s exuberant runs along the right full-back position. Nelom has also put in his best performances as a Feyenoord player this season. He has moved from being a very shaky, inconsistent and error-prone left-back last season, to becoming a much more solid and reliable full-back this season. There are still occasions of lapsed concentration and needless giving away of the ball by Nilom this season, but they have been less numerous than last season and his reading of the game has evidently improved.
The Midfield Dynamics
The Feyenoord midfield has been very impressive this season. Clasie continues to be a pass-master and he even ramped up his tackling and overall work rate. El Ahmadi has looked much more impressive in the box-to-box role this season than he looked most of his time at Aston Villa. His very intelligent forward runs have been a great advert for how to play that running midfield position with balance and poise. Immers is the kind of attacking midfielder who runs all game and constantly puts himself in positions to receive the ball. This man is a maverick to some fans as he is not very fast and not particularly technical, nevertheless, he can be quite an effective attacking midfielder at times. Most people would probably agree though that it is his huge selfless work rate that makes him such a useful player.
These three midfield players at times behave as one dynamic organism with an almost telepathic relationship. When Clasie gets the ball he never takes too much time to pick out the runs of Immers or El Ahmadi, each player seems to be fully aware of the intentions of the others at any given time and in any situation. El Ahmadi seems to know when to make a rampaging forward run without leaving Clasie in too much of a vulnerable situation to provide cover for him and Immers is always looking for El Ahmadi’s position to ensure that he can assist with any required covering or forward run. In the recent home game against FC Twente, Immers was practically switching with Clasie as the holding midfielder on several occasions and he still managed to venture forward to score. This dynamic midfield system has been partly responsible for some of the most dominant displays we have seen this season.
The Strike Force
This Feyenoord system requires a fast, strong centre forward that is very good at holding up the ball and getting his teammates into the attacking third. Colin Kazin-Richards plays that role quite well. He constantly moves around the penalty box to pull his markers out of position and use brute strength to hold off central defenders. This holding up of the ball essentially allows his wingers and midfielder to get into the attacking third. And with very fast wingers like Manu and Boetius, it only takes a few seconds for these guys to make runs ahead of him and get into good positions to take a lay-off and cross into the box for Immers or El Ahmadi. Both Beotius and Manu are fast wide men and Manu in particular is deceptively strong. These guys provide very direct runs into the box and with improvements to their finishing, could become much more effective.
Toornstra is playing out of position on the right, but if one didn’t know his resume from his Utrecht and ADO Den Haag days, one could think he is a natural right winger. Toornstra isn’t the flamboyant speedy winger that we are used to seeing in the Dutch top flight. However, this man embodies hard work, dedication and drive for results. He is also, probably one of the better readers of the game in the entire Eredivisie. In fact, he is quite similar to Dirk Kuyt. Both players aren’t very fast, but they read the game very well, track back and defend astutely.
This Feyenoord team is playing an exhilarating, entertaining and dynamic brand of football where the young players are all improving constantly and each line of the team consists of well drilled vibrant players moving in a constant state of relative cohesion and discipline.
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