FC Basel – PSV Eindhoven: Walking On A Thin Line For 180 Minutes (2-1)

Basel progressed to the next round of Champions League qualification after a game of opposites and similarities. Manager Mark van Bommel was not able to solve PSV Eindhoven’s overarching problems, and they eventually fell short to a team that played their cards well, despite never looking completely in control.

Tactical analysis and match report by Kareem Bianchi

The Champions League is widely regarded as the most exciting and unpredictable competition in Europe, and plot twists are constantly lurking around the corner. PSV Eindhoven’s defeat to FC Basel was just another example of the fate teams who fail to take their chances in the first leg have to deal with. In said first leg, after taking an early lead, Mark van Bommel’s men let down their guard by squandering chances and allowing Basel to have their sporadic say in the match, courtesy of a shaky defense. Only some desperate attacking followed by two goals in injury time saved the hosts to put them in an advantageous position for the second leg. 

For the return, neither manager made any changes in the lineup, suggesting that both teams would stick to their respective strategies and tactical plans. Both teams nominally field four defenders, three midfielders and three attackers, with Albian Ajeti up front leading the attack for Basel and Hirving Lozano, Steven Bergwijn, Bruma and Donyell Malen inciting counterattacks for PSV.

Strong Basel start leads to an early goal

Perhaps convinced by Basel’s static in buildup and the success of their zonal medium block A medium block refers to a team that retreats in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents some way into their own half. in denying central entries during the first leg, PSV chose to defend in their usual atypical 4-3-3 shape. It is atypical because Bruma positions himself on the midfield line, while being oriented on the opposition’s fullback, and therefore slightly wider than Lozano on the other side. 

PSV’s formation would turn into a 4-4-2 formation when the ball reached wide areas, because the winger closest to the ball would drop a bit further back. Unlike the previous encounter, however, Basel were able to progress the play with more consistency through the space left out wide, by PSV’s central focus. Basel could use the time PSV needed to shift to play combinations between wide players. Moreover, since only one of the central midfielders moved to the ball-side, space in the middle would form, meaning Basel could access the center from wide.

In the buildup that led to the free kick from which Basel took the lead, Fabian Frei and Valentin Stocker were able to disorganize the visitors’ backline with a simple dropping movement from the latter, who drew in Denzel Dumfries with him while playing a quick one-two combination. Focusing on Jeroen Zoet’s questionable goalkeeping is focusing on the noise over the signal, as the way Basel were able to cut through the defense deserves questions being raised.

The action leading to Basel’s free kick. One-two combination into the space behind Dumfries.

Mark van Bommel reacts

Van Bommel reacted to Basel’s opening goal by adjusting the defensive shape to a 4-4-2 shape in every stage of the opposition’s buildup, probably because of the struggles at applying immediate pressure on the fullback from Lozano. In their new shape, PSV could still block central passes while maintaining good cover on the wings. 

Although it did stop the opponents from immediately playing the ball wide, Lozano’s defensive contribution remained an unsolved problem; he frequently stayed high on switches, leaving Dumfries in one-on-one duels against Stocker. Lozano’s positioning did not contribute to the offensive phases either, as PSV were unable to counterattack, due to Basel’s precise passing around the defensive block, an opposite approach to the helpless long ball strategy from the first leg. Basel’s men were also quick at recovering their positions after a lost ball, and the midfielders were able to slow down potential counterattacks numerous times through their positioning. 

Similarly to Basel’s equalizer in the first leg, PSV’s goal to tie the score and take the lead on aggregate came out of nothing, after having risked going two goals behind on multiple occasions. In perfect PSV style, Bruma’s goal stemmed from a counterattack. After Basel midfielder Éder Balanta failed to control an interception and thus gifted the possession back to the visitors, Malen runned in behind the defense and provided Bruma with a cross, which he headed in very aptly. Level game after 23 minutes.

The equalizer was more of a fluke than the result of a change in approach by van Bommel’s team. This could be especially noticed in the moments following the goal, when Basel took control. Aside from the episodic nature of football, throughout the remainder of the first half, PSV kept struggling at building play due to the marking of both midfielders who were closely controlled by attacking midfielder Luca Zuffi and pivot Fabian Frei, whilst Balanta marked Bergwijn. In the first leg, Mark van Bommel’s men were still able to overcome the man-marking by taking advantage of one of the limits man-marking presents: the inability to cover different areas of the field at the same time. However, this time, the wingers stayed tighter in the halfspaces If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. to cover direct passing lanes to Lozano and Bruma, man-marked aggressively by the fullbacks as well.

PSV take control

Whereas in the second half in Eindhoven PSV had greatly struggled at breaking down Basel’s defense through a more fluid and interchangeable attack, the same adjustment from van Bommel had an opposite effect in this game. The fluidity in attack and synchronized movements from the attackers drew defenders out of position and created space for their partners, impacting the team’s chance creation from the very start. Malen was the most impressive, roaming across the frontline, showcasing a great understanding of timing and space. Bergwijn particularly benefited from the increased freedom. Thanks to the new approach, he could concentrate on attacking the space in behind the defensive line instead of carrying the burden of having to connect midfield and attack. The post hit by the Dutchman just minutes after the start of the second half was in fact no fluke. 

PSV’s fluidity in attack opens a big gap in Basel’s defense.

With both teams being unable to take the lead in the first twenty minutes, the game slowed down until Basel eventually scored for the second time, virtually ending PSV’s hopes. The goal was a result of a failed clearance by Bruma, after which one pass into the box was enough to create a three-versus-three situation. Van Wolfswinkel, the Dutchman, tapped in the go ahead goal and Basel were leading. 

A late offensive surge by PSV resulted in very little scoring opportunities, as the constantly took the play out wide and went for crosses. Even though Basel rarely came off their own half, PSV did not manage to score,  meaning they will have to test their luck in the Europa League this season.


Although van Bommel made many adjustments throughout the match, PSV never really seemed to have fully overcome their problems, showing inconsistencies in their play and underlying defensive issues that require more than mere tweaks. This PSV side looks nothing like the powerhouse that dominated the Eredivisie for long periods of the past season, able to compete head-to-head with a legendary Ajax roster. Luuk de Jong was always going to be hard to replace, at least when considering the implications he had on the style of play, but Mark van Bommel must find a viable solution before it is too late. 

Having already lost the Dutch Super Cup and having failed to qualify for the Champions League against a Basel side that won because of the opposition’s shortcomings rather than distinct merits, and with the threat of big clubs interested in their attacking stars, PSV must act quickly to bridge a gap with Ajax that is progressively increasing and looking more inevitable than ever in recent years.

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots. 


Be the first to comment on this article

Leave a Reply

Go to TOP