First place Feyenoord Rotterdam paid a visit to Excelsior in an important fixture in the title race as their closest title rivals Ajax defeated, last place, Go Ahead Eagles 4-0 to put the pressure on the team from Rotterdam.
Feyenoord came out pressing in their usual 1-4-3-3 against the 1-4-2-3-1 of Excelsior and controlled the tempo of the match through their pressing and extended possession, but an inability to finish and defensive errors ended up costing them a much needed 3 points.
Feyenoord pressing switches
Feyenoord use their 9 and 10 to apply pressure to the opposing center backs. When one of these players sprinted to press the center back on the ball, the other player marked the holding midfielder of Excelsior in order to deny Excelsior an easy progression past their first line of pressure. The ball-near wingers from Feyenoord would take an angle that made it difficult for the Excelsior center back to play a vertical pass forward. This led to Excelsior having to play long balls or predictable passes to the outside backs who were immediately pressed by the Feyenoord outside backs that took an advanced position during pressing. Once this pass was played, the outside back from Excelsior was pressed by both the Feyenoord ball-near winger and ball-near outside back.
This would give Feyenoord a back 3 during pressing, which would cost them as the game wore on. This pressing structure required a lot of sprinting to get into position from the Feyenoord center backs and outside backs, especially if Excelsior was able to switch the ball quickly.
Pulling players out of positional slots
Feyenoord dominated the first half through the positioning of their wingers on each sideline to create maximum width. Berghuis (#19) played as an inverted right winger. When he received the ball all the way wide, he would dribble centrally and drag the outside back out of his positional slot. Vilhena (#10), the attacking midfielder, would move into the space vacated by the outside back and be able to receive the ball unmarked in behind the opposition outside back. This caused a lot of problems for Excelsior in the first half because their outside back was unsure about whether to stay with Berghuis as he dribbled centrally, or if he should stay in his position. This created Feyenoord’s best scoring opportunity in the 15th minute.
Berghuis received the ball on the sideline and quickly dribbled centrally which dragged the Excelsior outside back out of position and drew a press from the Excelsior holding midfielder. The positioning of Feyenoord’s other attacking players was also key in creating this chance. Jorgensen (#9), the striker, positioned himself to occupy the left-sided center back from Excelsior which created an even bigger gap between the left back and left center back of Excelsior that Vilhena exploited. Toornstra, another Feyenoord midfielder, and Elia, the right winger, occupied the right center back and right back respectively. This put Feyenoord into a 4-2-4 attacking shape, which led to Excelsior failing to pass on marks because no one was free in the back line. This also led to Vilhena being wide open behind the opposition left back.
Feyenoord’s central midfielders, specifically El Ahmadi and Vilhena, were constantly looking to run into the vacated positional slots of the Excelsior defenders. By occupying the center backs with Jorgensen and an advanced midfielder, either El Ahmadi, Vilhena, or Toornstra, the Excelsior center backs could not shift over to cover the outside backs. The outside backs didn’t know what to do so they kept pressing the wingers of Feyenoord, Berghuis and Elia. This created the gap behind the fullbacks, which when created would be filled by a Feyenoord central midfielder.
This was the real theme of the first half. Feyenoord’s pressing put Excelsior under a lot of pressure with no passing options which caused them to play a lot of long, hopeful balls.
In possession, Feyenoord used the width of their wingers to pull the outside backs of excelsior out of position. The central midfielders for Feyenoord would exploit this space with runs out of midfield that Excelsior could not pick up. The real key to this success was due to the positioning of Jorgensen (#9) and Toornstra (#28) to occupy both of Excelscior’s center backs. However, Feyenoord did not finish their chances and went into the half 0-0.
The second half began in similar fashion to the first. But, like the first half, Feyenoord continued to struggle finishing their chances. Exclesior’s first goal came off of a throw-in. The ball came in centrally and a quick turn by an Excelsior central midfielder had him free in front of the Feyenoord back line. Instead of staying compact and waiting for the Excelsior player to either shoot or continue to dribble, the Feyenoord right center back, Botteghin, stepped up to pressure the ball carrier who slotted it into the space behind him to an Excelsior striker that finished.
Botteghin was to blame again for the 2nd goal as a bad vertical pass during the build-up cost Feyenoord possession with a lot of numbers committed forward. Botteghin, in an effort to make up for his mistake, pressed out of position again, but was easily played around due to the superiority Excelsior had in their counter-attack. Without a right sided center back, the remaining Feyenoord players tried to create a defensive structure, but ultimately were put 2-0 down.
An Excelsior set-piece goal put the 1st place team in Eredivise away 3-0. This match showed how important it is to pull players out of their positional slots, particularly in the back line.
Feyenoord were able to use their superior positioning to exploit the spaces behind the Excelsior fullbacks, but an inability to put the ball away, ultimately, cost them the match. Botteghin, the Feyenoord right center back, was caught stepping out of his positional slot twice and Excelsior was able to exploit the most dangerous space on the pitch – the space behind the opposition center backs.
The difference was that Excelsior put their chances away while Feyenoord failed to finish their chances. Feyenoord has it all to do, still, with 1 game left in the Eredivisie. Ajax is 1 point behind the league leaders heading in to the last game. Feyenoord will have to make sure they finish their chances against Willem, or it could mean losing their grasp on the title in the last game of the season.