Twente 2-2 Ajax: thrilling contest, fair result
Last year’s Eredivisie top two share the points in an open, attacking game.
Michel Preud’homme played a 4-3-3 system that was basically similar in nature to the formation Steve McClaren used at the club last year, even if there have been numerous changes in personnel. Luuk de Jong started upfront in the absence of Mark Janko, and Nacer Chadli returned on the left wing.
Ajax, wearing their change kit of dark blue, made one change from the side which had defeated Feyenoord the previous weekend, with Martin Jol opting to bring in Urby Emanuelson on the left, in place of Miralem Sulejmani. They played, of course, a 4-3-3 system.
The sides were even more similarly set-up than the basic 4-3-3 notation would imply, because both featured ’split’ wingers – the left-sided player looking to stay wide and get down the line, with the player on the right playing a more central role and trying to link up with the main central striker.
The right-sided players differed in their approach here – Bryan Ruiz dropped into trequartista positions to come and look for the ball, whilst Suarez often played more like a second striker, meaning he was often the domain of Douglas, the left-sided centre-back, rather than Nicky Kuiper, the left-back. Douglas struggled early on.
Overall, the game started very nicely – it was open and attacking, with both sides looking to play the ball out from the back, and both sides looking to press all over the pitch. Twente, in particular, made a Chile-esque start with their pressing, and Ajax weren’t able to settle on the ball or look to hit accurate balls into the midfield.
What was evident about Ajax was that they had a slightly more structured shape than Twente, particularly in the midfield. Whereas the home side’s midfield trio was reasonably happy to rotate as and when necessary, Ajax had more of a designated holding player, the Swede Rasmus Lindgren. As the game went on, he became more advanced and Eyong Enoh took turns at dropping deeper – this was perhaps an instruction from Jol having seen his side look slightly more static in the centre of the pitch.
With a slight lack of invention in the centre of midfield, Ajax’s best source of attack was getting the ball to their wide players. Suarez hit the bar with an excellent chip, whilst Emanuelson was finding space on the flank, supported by the left-back Vurnon Anita. At the other end, Ajax’s high line made them prone to balls played over the top – and this is how Twente took the lead, with Theo Janssen rushing through and providing an excellent lobbed finish.
It was noticeable how Twente’s approach changed immediately after they went ahead – suddenly they weren’t as pressing as intensely, they were sitting back slightly more and inviting pressure. The two wide forwards suddenly looked more like (advanced) midfield players, and this strategy allowed Ajax to get back into the game. They responded after a cross from the left wasn’t dealt with properly, allowing Mounir El Hamdaoui to convert a simple chance.
Suarez then became the main man, with his movement troubling the Twente defence, and his habit of playing in the channel between left-back and left centre-back making him difficult to pick up. He got the better of Douglas and crossed for Emanuelson, who hit the post. Moments later Suarez hit the post himself, having won and taken a 25-yard free-kick.
Twente upped the tempo after the equaliser, and played better football when Ruiz came inside and got involved in build-up play, but the first half became bitty and scrappy towards the end of the first half, which finished 1-1.
The beginning of the second period was also slightly unattractive, with the game taking a while to settle down. In stark contrast to the free-flowing football we saw in the opening period, both sides started playing slightly longer passes, in particular towards the wide players. Twente’s second goal came from Janssen winning a second ball following a long punt from the goalkeeper – he slipped the ball to Luuk de Jong, who crossed back for Janssen to finish from close range.
Twente again cooled the tempo having gone ahead, and for the first time they truly looked in charge of the game. Chadli was doing a good job on Gregory van der Wiel, whilst Twente captain Peter Wigershof starting stepping forward with the ball and forcing Ajax’s midfield out.
Jol went for it – taking off the left-back Anita, and throwing on the left winger Sulejmani, and Ajax immediately had more attacking threat. Not that their second equaliser came down to tactics – it was simply a wonderful 25-yard volley from Enoh following a corner.
The final twenty minutes was incredible – either side could have won it, with Twente coming closest by hitting the bar twice and the post one within the space of ten seconds. At the other end, Siem de Jong had a great chance which he put wide, and Douglas had a header following a corner in stoppage time. Honours even.
An interesting contest in formation terms. Both sides played 4-3-3 (as is common in Holland) but both had similar modifications, with a left-winger wide and right-sided forward playing more central.
The technical quality in the game as a whole was particularly admirable, with both sides keeping possession early on and looking to pass the ball. It was a slight shame the game turned into a scrappier battle late on, but it made for a great spectacle.
Both are in this season’s Champions League, and their style of football probably lends itself to home matches rather than trips abroad.