Ajax v PSG-09-17-2014

HOW THE MATCH WAS WON by Keith Scarlett

UEFA Champions League
September 17, 2014
Amsterdam Arena
Ajax 1 v 1 PSG

Everything started well from the opening whistle with a fast score from Cavani in the 14th minute. However, as was the case in their most recent Ligue 1 road trips, PSG could do nothing more than secure a single point at the Amsterdam Arena. Master of their subject in the first half, PSG was much too passive after the break, leaving Ajax with reminders that they could easily have a game in hand if the opportunity arose.

Here is what I thought were the key tactical aspects that played into the outcome of this match. What are your thoughts? Please let me know what you think and what other tactics you think were a factor in this match in the comments section below.

It was time for a return to a "normal" starting eleven for Paris-St. Germain in this match. Having been demoted to the bench in league play after the good start of Pastore, Matuidi was finally returned to the eleven deviation, collectively a 4-3-3, despite recent rumours that heralded a change of system.
With the Dutch side, Frank de Boer also opened up in the classic 4-3-3; a system upon the historical Dutch club built its biggest hits. Since parting ways in late August to join Manchester United, Daley Blind is replaced in midfield by Viergever, who has arrived from AZ.

Ajax Presses and PSG Answers Back:

Used to having most of the ball in their league, Ajax announced quite quickly from the kick-off that they were here to play. Driven by their two most offensive players, Sigthorsson and Klaassen, the Dutch forced the ball down PSG’s throats until it reached the hands of Sirigu. Franck de Boer then focused his side’s efforts on PSG’s Parisian revival, revolving around David Luiz, Thiago Motta and Marquinhos (targeted by Klaassen). Forming a second curtain down the middle, Viergever Serero was faced with Matuidi and Verratti, yet another phase of laundry from the Paris camp.


Klaussen and Sigthorsson squeeze the Paris revival while being covered by Sereno and Viergever.
NOTE: now the Ajax central defenders are responsible for tracking the movements of Ibrahimovic.

PSG, however, soon found ways to rid themselves Ajax’s pressure. Using width, they were able to rely on their three vs. two advantage and then push forward to the edge of the centre circle. Here is where the Ajax pressure slackened: Verratti and Matuidi could be pressed down between the lines without the presence of Ibrahimovic, who was now a danger in the case of successful pass played to him.

In the midfield, PSG was faced with an Ajax front behind an attacking line of Klaassen and Sighthorsson that was seeking to protect their central defence. Looking for opportunities to play in behind the latter, as was the case in the opening goal when Cavani latched onto a ball he recovered after Lucas turned-over Boilesen, PSG relied on the availability of Ibrahimovic, who physically dominated Ajax when clinched.

The Swede was particularly effective on the left side. This was logical since it that side that Cavani had to abandon after being forced out of in line in order to compensate for the movements of his captain in midfield. It was in this area that Ibrahimovic sought Maxwell or Matuidi, who brought the depth needed to penetrate into the final third. On the other side of the field, Lucas Moura and Van der Wiel had to cope with Andersen and Boilesen, which required them to execute any combination play at great speed.


PSG Solves Ajax

Despite the Dutch attempts to disrupt, PSG ended up setting their foot on the ball during the first half.  Enjoying a big mistake by Boilesen to take advantage of, they have added an almost total domination in the midfield to their technical mastery, which was sometimes even supplemented by the way their attackers and three midfielders completely stifled their counterparts.

Instead of staying in position, Matuidi, Verrati and Thiago Motta modelled the movements of their opponents.  This resulted in Moisander and Veltman having no way to cut off the ball.  Viergever was blocked by Matuidi with Thiago Motta and Verratti in behind undertaking the task of extinguishing Klaassen and Sereno.  On the flanks, Lucas Moura and Cavani battled it out with Van Rhijn and Boilesen, respectively.  They would even slide in to assist with duels (Schone vs. Maxwell and Anderson vs. Van der Wiel).


Aside from a few sequences initiated by pressing, PSG let Moisander and Veltman have the ball.  The circled areas are the areas that PSG needed to win.  They were somewhat effective in the first half with Verratti getting a hold of several balls produced from PSG winning duals in these areas.

As a result of their defensive game plan, the few quality attacking forays by Ajax in the first half came from Moisander; a central defender in De Boer’s system. The goal for PSG was to leave no space for the Dutch to attack, thus forcing the Ajax defenders to take risks. Scoring the early goal allowed them to "manage" the match more efficiently and for Ajax the break couldn't come soon enough.


Not being chased by Ibrahimovic from behind allows Moisander to bring the ball up out of the back, but he has no options.

After the break, Frank de Boer decided not to react tactically.  Zimling was brought on for Viergever, and in the opening minutes of the second half, the Danish loan from Mainz had a huge impact on play.  While in the first half, Viergever was closely tracked by Matuidi, Zimling had much more freedom and became the launching pad that allowed Ajax to settle in and compete in terms of possession.

Now working almost with all pistons firing, they looked for and found, Serero and Klaassen, who were now playing at a much higher clip.  Sigthorsson and Schöne found more room to roam after the entry of El Ghazi, provided guidance to the match and were finally able to supply the width with balls served at the right pace. As an alternative to playing wide, they found success also in bringing it back out to Zimling, who always made sure to make himself available in midfield.


In the opening minutes of the second half, the impact of Zimling on the Dutch game was growing while Ajax continued to multiply their own sequences of possession in the PSG half.  Through the 60’ mark, the battle in the midfield had clearly shifted in favour of the Dutch.  This swing back in domination of possession was obviously accompanied by Ajax regaining their foothold by pressing as was seen earlier in the match.


The distribution of passes for Ajax in the first-half (left) and second half (right)

PSG then became too dependent on Ibrahimovic. The Swede had begun to drop-back to relieve his partners; even offering a great opportunity to break Lucas in behind against the run-of-play, but he was unable to convert. Because they were now drawing a lower line of defense, PSG had to run more, which cost them energy, which ended-up being all for naught, as they were unable to maintain any sort of efficient possession due to their lack of depth. What was effective for the first 45 minutes had now been completely extinguished by Ajax regaining control.


The distribution of passes for PSG in the first-half (left) and second half (right)

In the last quarter of an hour, Ajax played with much more confidence and returned into the match vigorously, only disturbed by a few flashes of brilliance from Lavezzi in the final minutes. Even though Zimling had given them hope in the 47th minute, Laurent Blanc waited until the 82nd to change his system. That was probably too late to reverse the trend, even though Ajax was able to regain confidence.

…It was a push and then a push back battle between two quality clubs…the side that ended up pushing the hardest is How The Match Was Won!

What do you think?

I would love to hear your thoughts about this or other tactics of the match that were an important factor in its outcome. Let's discuss it below in the comments section.

HOW THE MATCH WAS WON by Keith Scarlett, Assistant Women’s Football Coach – Perth Glory FC, Australia, former U.S. Soccer National Staff, follow him on Twitter @keithscarlett and catch his personal blog, "An American Coach Down Under:" http://keithscarlett.blogspot.com

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