PSV 2-2 Ajax: PSV press, Ajax fight back

September 19, 2011

The first half line-ups (PSV in white/red, Ajax in blue)

PSV twice took the lead by exploiting a clear weakness in the Ajax defence, but the away side managed to claim a point.

Fred Rutton made two changes from PSV’s previous league game. Wilfred Bouma and Zakaria Labyad dropped out, with Timothy Derijck and Tim Matavz coming in.

Frank de Boer was without Miralem Sulejmani and chose to bring Vurnon Anita into the side as the holding player.

This match was open and entertaining, largely because there were two attack-minded midfields who wanted to play the ball rather than win it back.

PSV start strongly

For the first few minutes there was a huge difference in the two sides’ attitude without the ball – PSV pressed Ajax strongly from the first whistle, winning the ball quickly and putting them in command of the game. Ajax, however, were happy to sit back in their own half, showing a surprisingly passive approach when out of position.

The first goal resulted directly from the pressing – Ajax were high up the pitch when Gregory van der Wiel was dispossssed, and some neat passes down the PSV left eventually resulted in Tim Matavz finishing well. The battle in that part of the pitch – Ajax’s right-back zone – turned out to be the key battleground of the game.

Midfield battle

PSV’s pressing didn’t last long, however, and the game settled down into a fairly tame, free-flowing midfield battle based around movement rather than tackling. PSV’s two attack-minded central midfielders, Ola Toivonen and Georgino Wijnaldum, showed a decreasing amount of interest in defending as the game progressed, and it was a surprise that Theo Janssen didn’t influence the game more when breaking forward from central midfield.

There was some confusion in the way Ajax played to the right of the pitch. Cristian Eriksen played as a narrow right-winger, tucked into the midfield, whilst Siem de Jong started to the right of the triangle and burst forward. In addition, van der Wiel tried to motor forward on the overlap, and presumably there was the intention of making a triangle on that flank to overload PSV – but it never quite worked, and the main outcome was the leave the flank ripe for PSV counters, through Erik Pieters and Dries Mertens.

Ajax step it up

The injury to PSV goalkeeper Przemysław Tytoń, which stopped the game for 15 minutes at the end of the first half, was a key factor in the game. PSV’s momentum was broken up, and after that stoppage Ajax regrouped and started to press much more. They played the game in PSV’s half and eventually found an equaliser through Kolbeinn Sigþórsson – for all their attempts at intricate play, it was Sigþórsson doing a battering ram act that eventually got them the goal.

PSV then recovered after half time and started pressing more, and it’s tempting to conclude that the concession of a goal, and the return to a deadlock in the game, suited their natural game more – in particular, their midfield. They were much more positive and worked good situations down their left. This was the period when van der Wiel was exposed – he made a crazy tackle on Mertens to concede the penalty for the second goal, then got caught too high up the pitch for a chance Mertens wasted when one-on-one.

Late on

Van der Wiel partly atoned for his poor defensive performance with a good run down the right for the equaliser. By this stage, Frank de Boer had introduced the physical threat of Dmitri Bulykin for Sigþórsson, and this prompted more direct balls into the box – Bulykin tucked home Sigþórsson’s ball.

The final stages were exciting but not frantic – both teams tired, and though the midfields basically gave up defending, there was a feeling that both managers were content with a point.


There is an interesting pattern to many Eredivisie games in terms of tactics – they’re rarely won by a change of formation, but the game goes through many separate phases – often revolving around whether the sides are pressing. This was the case here – especially in the first half, when both teams were on top when they pressed.

Ultimately, this was a battle between two teams who aren’t built to play against each other – they’re built to convincingly beat more lowly sides. Both wanted to dominate possession, to play the ball gently through midfield and to construct clever attacks, when a bit of organisation wouldn’t have gone amiss. Still, it was a good game, and the nature of the final scoreline – PSV making the running, Ajax just about catching up – summed up the game well.

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