Mark Van Bommel turned down the Bayern Munich II job in order to coach PSV’s U19 side as he also worked as an assistant for Bert Van Marwijk with the Australian National side. Last summer, he began pre-season preparations with PSV just days after being knocked out of the World Cup as he sought about modernising the team’s style. Longer and more draining tactical sessions were implemented, a drone was used in training while PSV ended training sessions with competitive games to underline the thrill of winning. Van Bommel also sought about implementing a new style with longer spells in possession, high pressing and ferocious counter-pressing in order to build a dominant PSV. Van Bommel toured some of the training grounds across the continent and implemented ideas he ruminated over in his travels.
BUILDING UP FROM THE BACK
Mark Van Bommel has brought structure to PSV’s build-up play by implementing a double-pivot where neither of the midfielders will drop in between the centre-backs in build-up play. The fullbacks will stay deeper as passing options as this will create a two-chain of Daniel Schwaab and Nick Viergever to play out of the back. This will manifest as a 2+2/2+4 shape with the centre-backs circulating the ball between each other, playing wall-passes into the midfielders and to the fullbacks before receiving the ball again. They do this to create spaces in the opposition defensive structure so Schwaab can play balls in between the lines to the ten space or Luuk De Jong who will make a movement into a deeper position to receive possession.
The double-pivot will also rotate and make movements to create space as Pablo Rosario is capable of receiving the ball and playing passes through the lines. The double-pivot rarely strays from the same vertical line while the ten, be it Gaston Pereiro, Mohamed Ihatteren and De Jong all drop deep against teams with more organised high presses and defensive shape to ease transition. PSV normally play a 2-4-3-1/2-4-2-2/2-4-1-3 in possession as the wide players, Hirving Lozano and Steven Bergwijn will move into the centre and create space for the fullbacks to gradually push into and create width. Bergwijn and Lozano are both capable of receiving the ball in the centre from deep in order to work combinations with the onrushing fullbacks.
The picture above shows Angelino in possession in the opposition half as the fullbacks have created width with wingers moving into the half-spaces. There is also the presence of passing triangles all over the pitch in order to work combinations into the box as Sadilek is making a run into the open space between Bergwijn and Angelino in order to receive possession and take a marker with him. The absence of the marker in this previous space will allow the Spanish left-back to work a pass to his direct passing option who can play a pass to Rosario in order to switch play to the other flank. Van Bommel seeks to move the opposition’s defensive shape with patience in possession and circulation of the ball to open passing lanes in the centre. PSV are also willing to play direct long-balls to De Jong to evade opposition pressure as the centrally placed wide men will crowd around the towering striker to work combinations into the box.
PSV press as a 4-2-3-1 shape as the biggest difference from Phillip Cocu’s tenure is the presence of an outright attacking midfielder behind De Jong. More recently, De Jong has been deployed as an attacking midfielder with Donyell Malen playing up front to foster interchanges and movement in the final third. The striker will lead the press which will be a medium block triggered into a phase of higher pressure by back-passes or the wingers pushing up to cover sideways passes to their flank. PSV press in a man-orientated fashion as the central striker will move to press the keeper and cut out the passing lane to the central areas as the midfield three move up to press the defensive midfielder and centre-backs.
In the above situation, PSV are in a 4v4 in the Ajax half, looking to constrain the central spaces with overloads as Rosario and Hendrix look to cut off the passing lanes through the centre while acting as press security. The PSV fullbacks are also tasked with marking the Ajax fullbacks as a pass to Nicolas Tagliafico will trigger Denzel Dumfries into pressing the Argentine while a pass to the opposite flank will force PSV to switch with Angelino tasked with marking Noussair Mazraoui. The PSV fullbacks have become well-versed in winning possession in the opposition half.
Another intriguing thing about PSV’s pressure is De Jong as Lozano is forcing his man to spend more time in possession while the striker could steal possession. PSV win a lot of possession in the higher areas from attackers retreating to win the ball from an opposition player’s blind side. The centre-backs, Viergever and Schwaab are positioned in a higher line while being tasked with covering the wide areas when their fullbacks push up to engage the man in possession. They have both become adept at pushing up into the higher positions to retrieve loose passes and long balls before calmly recycling possession.
PSV COUNTER PRESSING
Van Bommel has described his style as a dominant style where his side dictates what their opponents do in and out of possession. PSV seek to counter-press upon losing the ball rather than instantly falling into their defensive shape as they did under Cocu. The players closest to the man in possession will instantly apply pressure and force the long ball for the PSV defenders to recycle or force a mistake so PSV can regain possession higher up the pitch. PSV struggle with matching the tempo needed for effective counter-pressing at times as they can be late to the man in possession and have discernible holes in their counter-pressing structure. This is an essential tenet of Van Bommel’s style as Hirving Lozano and Gaston Pereiro have suffered first-half substitutions for not abiding by their coach’s rules. Now that Malen provides a more energetic presence in leading the line, PSV have been more effective in counter-pressing and forcing mistakes in order to regain possession.
PSV ZONAL DEFENDING
PSV revert to a zonal 4-4-2 defensive shape when they are in the defensive phase as a team works past their first line of pressure. The attacking midfielder will play next to the striker with the wingers dropping either side of the double-pivot to create numerical advantages in the wide areas while the midfielders and centre-backs look to close the central pockets. In UEFA Champions League games, it was customary to see De Jong dropping into the midfield double pivot with one of the midfielders moving out wide while the attacking midfielder would move to the opposite flank. This allowed PSV to push their wingers into the attacking line in order to construct more rapid counters, using the pace and directness of the wide players in the more central positions by allowing them to pick up the ball in the higher areas.
As the opposition move closer to the PSV box, the double pivot will move closer to the centre-backs, especially as the opposition build-up through the wide areas, as midfielders look to create congestion in the centre to block crosses and shots before clearing the ball. Van Bommel’s side can switch to a 4-4-2 in a medium block as the ball-near winger will always move up to pressure the man in possession on his flank.
Van Bommel’s PSV mid-season dip in form have now put Ajax in the front seat of the title race but the long-term prospects of the former midfielder’s appointment are encouraging. Upon being hired, Van Bommel promoted Cody Gakpo and Malen to the first team as both have been essential to earning victories in the second-half of the season. Mohamed Ihatteren, Michel Sadilek and Rosario have also earned opportunities as the former Bayern Munich, PSV and Barcelona midfielder’s willingness to give young players an opportunity has been impressive. PSV’s team could undergo a metamorphosis over the summer as these youngsters assume leading roles in the team which could prove much more beneficial for the young coach’s playing style.