Feyenoord shows no mercy for naive Ajax

Each match this season Ajax seems to have more ball possesion than her opponents, just like last sunday in De Kuip. But again it didn’t help them any further. With match statistics we evaluate how Koemans side succesfully countered the naive Ajax of De Boer back to Amsterdam. Koemans team didn’t have much possession, but when they did, they moved the ball to the strikers quickly, which gave them time and space to become very dangerous in front of Kenneth Vermeer. It ended in a historic 4-2 punishment leaving the Feyenoord fans celebrating.

As analysed on 11tegen11 Ajax was indeed the team with most of the possession, but they struggled to get trough the Rotterdam’s last line of defense. Most of Ajax possession was by defenders, as we can clearly see in the visualisation below. The image shows who received the most passes. As you can see, the two center-defenders of Ajax were most involved in the play.

The data on which the visualisations are based on are made available by Infostrada Sports. Home-side Feyenoord is represented by the red circles, visitors Ajax by the blue circles. 

The bigger the circle, the more often the ball was received by the player. The fatter (relatively) the edge, the more passes the player sent went wrong. Positions on the pitch by 11tegen11

The visualisation above shows the huge difference between Feyenoord and Ajax. Besides the fact that Ajax had more possession, we can also see that it is distributed much more equally between defence and attack by Feyenoord players. At the same time, we can see that the Feyenoord midfield was often ignored in the built-up. It suggests that Feyenoord played the ball forward quickly on the counter. The Ajax defence, on the other side, received the ball much more than their own attackers. It suggests the defenders and midfield were very important in the Ajax built-up play, although this in practice meant just playing the ball around at the back.

At some points, it seemed like Ajax was much better than Feyenoord. If we look, for example, at the pass accuracy, we see that the players who have the most accurate passing played at Ajax. But as we saw just before, it was mainly at the back and centre midfield, relatively unimportant passes with low risk of loosing possession. A good pass accuracy is fancy, but finally it are the passes on the final third that make the difference.

Figure that shows the pass accuracy percentage for each player on the pitch. 

Feyenoord was praised for their hard work and determined play. Let’s see if  the data gives us any clue on the duels between players. Small players (in length) in general lost most of their duels. Players that lost most duels were on average 10 centimeters smaller than the players that won lots of duels. Especially the talented Eriksen (0%) and Anita (17%) lost (almost) all their duels. The relatively long Vertonghen (88%) and Blind (83%) did this better, they won almost everything. In the Blind case we must note that he was still often passed by because his opponent Schaken, who often was too quick or too smart for Blind, could avoid a duel. Theo Janssen, the unfortunate Ajax playmaker, didn’t duel at all. The one duel he was involved with, he lost.

Duels won and the amount of intercepted passes for each player. The circle’s width stand for the amount of passes intercepted. The circle’s height represents the percentage of duels won. 

Although Ajax dominated the midfield in terms of passing, Feyenoord dominated in terms of duels and interceptions. They were just on top of the Ajax players, winning duels and intercepting passes. At the back, Vertonghen is the key man for Ajax, winning both duels and intercepting. Vlaar fulfills this role at Feyenoord. What also strikes it the low amount of duels won by Ajax-back Anita. He intercepted a lot, but lost most of his duels.

Ajax seems to dominate, but in reality the team is very weak this season. Especially at the back, conceding already 28 goals in 19 matches. Most typical is the role of Vertonghen, who is both the leader of this Ajax but desperate at the same time. He was the player who made most dribbles (!!) of all the players (18). The second-best dribbled just 12 times. Frank de Boer lost this one to Ronald Koeman and seems to be beaten because of naivism and inexperience. If he doesn’t drop the naieve style of play, trying to dominate games with players who lack technical ability and creativity, more punishments will follow. Even when their play apears nice at first glance.

A big thumbs up for Infostrada Sports who made the data for this article available. Follow them on Twitter!  

About Thomas Boeschoten

Thomas is uitgever van Catenaccio. Volg Thomas op Twitter | Meer artikelen van Thomas