AZ 6-1 VVV

The first-half formations.

Kolbeinn Sigþórsson grabbed a quintuple as Gertjan Verbeek’s AZ side grabbed their first win at home since November.

Graziano Pellè got an 89th-minute winner when these sides met at De Koel earlier this season, but there was never any danger of AZ needing a late clincher this time. The game was sealed just shy of the quarter-hour mark, but perhaps that was unsurprising – Venlo have been on a torrid run of form in the league recently, with no win since November 5, and now 25 goals leaked in their last eight games. AZ, on the other hand, came into this tie having drawn both games played after the winter break, but clearly saw it as a good opportunity to stop the rot. A win against the side second-bottom and eight points from safety has temporarily lifted AZ up to fourth, and given the Eredivisie what would appear to be a new free-scoring superstar-in-waiting to fill the boots of Luis Suárez. Continue reading

Cheick Tioté

Newcastle XI for Sunday's 6-0 thrashing of Aston Villa. Typically British, this scene depicts one of many Steve Harper punts upfield for Andy Carroll to flick on at Kevin Nolan or Wayne Routledge. Carroll won most of his duels with Kieran Clark, creating space for Nolan's - slow - bursts. However, Hughton's bizarre insistence on playing a ridiculously high-line allowed the likes of Stephen Warnock and Stylian Petrov to play quarterback-passes over to Ashley Young or Mark Albrighton. Tioté's athleticism may help United maintain this tactic, as less loose-balls in the midfield will land at the feet of the opposition, and even if they do, the Ivorian offers a better recovery option than the one provided by Alan Smith.

Unlike the majority of their Premier League counterparts, Newcastle United’s squad seems to askew cosmopolitanism. Buttressed by an English spine, you can almost taste its Carling-flavoured depth.

This isn’t to suggest Geordies are a xenophobic bunch – rather, it’s a reflection on a monotonous birthplace-list nestling in a league where Wigan Athletic don’t include a single Englishman in their first-team.

With the signing of Cheick Tioté all but complete, Chris Hughton’s squad is gaining the seemingly-mandatory globalisation-embracing feel the 20 items in Richard Scudamore’s Premier League basket encompass.

The Ivory Coast star will line-up alongside an Argentine midfielder – both of whom will then be in front of a defence boasting a floppy-mopped chap from Córdoba, and a speedy Spaniard.

Tioté joins Alan Smith as the only man on Tyneside to have played under two England managers – Steve McClaren (FC Twente), and Sven-Göran Eriksson (Ivory Coast).

Physically, the centre-midfielder will have no problem in adjusting to the frenetic pace of Premier League life: Tioté is strong, powerful, agile, quick and possesses great balance. Continue reading

Sibir Novosibirsk-PSV

Sibir vs PSV could be a tactically intriguing contest. Akin to Diego Forlán at the recent World Cup, Ola Toivonen has been pivotal in the oppositions's corridor between midfield and defence so far this season. In the space of four days, both De Graafschap and Scotland have fallen foul of his charms, and his impeccably timed ghosts to the edge of box resulted in a hat-trick on the weekend. Yet with Balázs Dzsudzsák's absence denying PSV the crucial left-footed wideman option, two right-footers on the channels could play into the home side's hands. Cramping the centre would nullify the left winger's cuts inside, and land-mine Toivonen's hunting ground.

PSV Eindhoven sit atop the Eredivisie table after two rounds of the 2010/11 season, but continental competition-wise, must contend UEFAs second-class competition after a disappointing campaign last season.

Fans of the Philips-owned giants are accustomed to Champions League football, and resultantly, the prospect of a tie 5,000 miles away on a Thursday evening must be difficult to muster up enthusiasm for.

Therefore, fans of the Lowland outfit, so recently semi-finalists in UEFAs primary tournament, don’t really know how to respond to their side’s participation.

At the other end of the spectrum are the Dutch club’s latest opponents, Sibir Novosibirsk. Rock bottom in Russia during a season 15 rounds older than its Dutch counterpart, the Europa League offers welcome respite. Continue reading

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse

Ajax 4-2 Vitesse, 14/08/2010. Two vastly different interpretations of 4-2-3-1.

Vitesse’s euphoria at an opening day victory over ADO Den Haag was short-lived, Ajax – admittedly uncomfortably – returning to winning ways.

Despite Luis Suárez’s suspension and cover in the midfield conspicuous by its absence, Martin Jol was still able to construct a strong ‘2-3’ as he restored his side to 4-2-3-1.

The 4-3-2-1 deployed against Groningen was shelved because another negative mob of wave-breakers lay in wait for this clash. Yet it wasn’t the formation that cost Ajax in Round One – rather, defensive lapses at set-pieces proved their undoing.

Fortunately for the Fulham-lusting tactician, his rearguard was at full-strength; Jan Vertonghen returning in place of Oleguer. Their opponents from Arnhem were also virile in the personnel department. Well, sort of….

Theo Bos has a minuscule squad, and this *strong* XI had a midfield with an average of <20. Stalwarts Piet Velthuizen (GK) and Dalibor Stevanovič (left-sided attacking midfielder) were excluded, both on the verge of book-balancing departures. Continue reading

Groningen 2-2 Ajax

Emanuelson was Ajax's most potent weapon, forcing Luciano to cover his runs onto scooped passes. The Ajax flyer was aided by Kieftenbeld's roaming. While the Belgian's indiscipline proved costly, Fredrik Stenman's overlaps were coherent and punishing. Like Ajax, Groningen's threat came from the left, but in a different sense tactically - winger/full-back one-twos rather than hit-and-run football.

Ajax squandered a two-goal cushion in their first game of the 2010/11 league season, inexcusably dropping two points. The Amsterdammers can’t even cite the absence of a suspended Luis Suárez as a defining factor – if anyone, it was Jan Vertonghen whom they missed most.

A point apiece was by no means an inaccurate reflection of what was an enjoyable contest for the neutral spectator, one that pitted débutante coach Pieter Huistra against the club whose backroom he departed to join Groningen.

Huistra wasn’t alone in taking a welcoming bow at the Euroborg; Maikel Kieftenbeld, Jonas Ivens and Dušan Tadić shared their manager’s first-game nerves, while Mounir El Hamdaoui made his debut for the visitors.

The Moroccan led the Ajax line well, justifying his selection by burying two awkward-looking right-foot pokes that gave his new employers a 2-0 cushion.

Given the amount of play Vurnon Anita and Urby Emanuelson saw down the left-flank, it increasingly become inevitable at 0-0 that all El Hamdaoui had to do to open his account was time a slide into the six-yard-box. Continue reading

Roda JC 0-0 FC Twente

The systems deployed. Only one out-and-out winger apiece, both intriguingly deployed on the same side. Eric Addo was often caught by the more direct Emir Bajrami, whereas Laurent Delorge had too many defensive duties to really test Luke Carney on the other side.

This early-round scoreless draw was a bitty, bitey affair that failed to reflect the enjoyable attack-friendly mantra of Holland’s highest-tier.

Roda’s minuscule Limburg Stadion hosted this Eredivisie 2010/11 curtain-raiser in a Friday evening kick-off, but if followers of the two clubs or casual fan anticipated goals, they went hungry.

Under Michel Preud’homme, Twente look to be continuing in the same unspectacular vein ingrained by the Belgian’s predecessor, Steve McClaren.

2009/10s champions showed their superiority in spells, but Roda’s dogged determination and impatience at the away side’s cynical melina succeeded in its discomfort-inducing mission.

Both sides were guilty of littering this contest with fouls, and although Twente’s midfield trio all invaded the ref’s book, they brutally impeded any swashbuckling counters from the hosts. Continue reading

Five lesser known Hungarians

The formations and line-ups for the famous 1953 meeting at Wembley

Following May’s 3-0 defeat to Germany, Hungary terminated the contract of coach Erwin Koeman. The new man, Sándor Egervári, begans his tenure next week with an not particularly highly anticipated fixture against England at Wembley.

For next Wednesday’s fixture, the Dutchman’s successor has picked a squad containing stellar names, newbies and trusted veterans.

Akin to the lack of enthusiasm England’s media, public and managers are giving this tie in the build-up, Egervári has named a suitably unspectacular squad.

Fabio Capello’s players have one eye lingering on the imminent Premier League campaign, while Egervári picked his squad knowing that his nation’s U21 game against Bosnia is of greater importance.

Nevertheless, Football League fans will recognise the likes of Zoltán Gera, Ákos Buzsáky, Gábor Király, Márton Fülöp and Tamás Priskin, all of whom will feature at Wembley.

In order to bolster the casual fan’s knowledge of what other players lie in store for England,  allow me to introduce five players likely to cause problems to the 1966 world champions on Wembley’s woeful turf. Continue reading

Marko Pantelić

Pantelić's position in a typical 2009/10 Ajax XI.

It’s unlikely anyone has a passport bearing more wrinkles than the Serbian striker’s.

Cravings for a long-term deal went unfulfilled by cash-strapped Ajax and leave the veteran hunting what would be his 12th club.

Changing team doesn’t just involve moving city for Pantelić, as the 31-year-old tends to combine a change of scenery with a change of country.

His passport has also been stamped in exotic climes while on international duty – summons which have only arrived in great frequency recently.

Capped 34 times, Pantelić has scored for his country in the Czech Republic, Ireland, Algeria, and South Africa.

Goals have also been scored in European club competition; outfits from Albania, Croatia, Moldova, Romania, Russia and Slovenia the victims. Continue reading

The joys of Heracles Almelo and SC Freiburg

Unsurprisingly, the candidates for the side most pleasing on the eye in Europe generally include Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Werder Bremen.

But scan the Bundesliga in depth, delve inside the Eredivisie, and two more hats are tossed into that ring.

Continue reading

Will Steve McClaren resuscitate Wolfsburg?

England’s Wally With The Brolly left FC Twente at just the right moment. Having delivered the league title and a spot in the Champions League group stage, McClaren will forever hold a place in the club’s history.

But with the centre-forward bound for MLS, the left-winger returning to Chelsea after a loan spell, chief playmaker nearing retirement, and the right winger, left-sided centre-back, and left-back potentially lured elsewhere, the replication of last season’s feat looks very difficult.

FC Twente, 2009/10

McClaren’s Overijssel outfit operated in what was deemed 4-3-3. However, the actuality of the system altered from what was stated on the tin. Two hard-working shuttlers flanked a regista in the centre, and the inside-out wingers would drop back. On-ball, they’d always cut infield – Miroslav Stoch tending to shoot, and Bryan Ruiz making disguised through-balls.

Twente weren’t much fun to watch, however. They’d start play via very cynical, overdrawn melina. Then, one of Douglas or Dwight Tiendalli would carry the ball forward at pace. Alternatively, one of the showing widemen or Kenneth Perez would drop, collect, and instigate. McClaren stuck by this system with great rigidity, and it served him well.

The tools currently available at his new employers, VFL Wolfsburg, won’t allow him to employ a similar system. So does McClaren bring his tried and tested tactics across, or adjust to the formula currently in place at the 8th-placed Bundesliga finishers? Continue reading