Tactical analysis PSV Eindhoven FC Basel Champions League Qualification 3-2

PSV Eindhoven – FC Basel: Youngsters Play Vital Role In PSV’s Resurrection (3-2)

After blitzkrieging FC Basel early on, PSV took their foot off the gas pedal and nearly paid the price for it. Their attacking mentality towards the end of the match paid dividends however, as it forced a chaotic ending that turned the game on its head. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias

The 2018/19 season had ended a mere four days ago, with the final of the Africa Cup, yet on this warm Tuesday evening PSV Eindhoven and FC Basel were already contesting Champions League tickets. 

Seasons? There are no seasons anymore. Football is a relentless year-round business nowadays, and the biggest event of that global entertainment industry is called the UEFA Champions League. 

PSV, quite frankly, had a stunning Eredivisie season last year. They gathered 83 points in total, which would have meant a title in six of the last ten seasons. PSV conceded 26 goals – six goals less than Ajax – and scored 98. A very impressive debut season for manager Mark van Bommel, one of those central midfielders you just knew would manage a team one day after hanging up the boots.

However, this is 2019 and when a team does well in a country like the Netherlands, the best players will get stripped. Luuk de Jong, Angeliño and Daniel Schwaab are already gone, with Steven Bergwijn and Hirving Lozano presumably next in line. 

With De Jong gone, four technical speedsters now formed the front four in PSV’s 4-2-3-1 shape. The wingers were Lozano and PSV’s record signing Bruma, while Bergwijn played as the number ten, supporting striker Donyell Malen. Mexican international Érick Gutiérrez took Jorrit Hendrix’ place in left central midfield.

Their opponents FC Basel used to be one of those clubs that consistently punched above their weight in Europe and dominated the domestic league. Their dominance has been taken over by Young Boys, who have won back-to-back titles with a brand of pressing football that is very much in vogue in Europe’s elite leagues nowadays. 

Basel manager Marcel Koller fielded a 4-3-3 or 4-1-4-1 shape. In midfield, lone pivot Éder Balanta was partnered by Luca Zuffi and Fabian Frei. Ricky van Wolfswinkel started the game as right winger, with Albian Ajeti up top and captain Valentin Stocker on the left. All by all a decent side, but it’s fair to say that it features no potential top quality like Mo Salah, Breel Embolo or Manuel Akanji, signaling Basel’s on-the-pitch decline. 

Man-marking frees up right side

Basel’s way of marking in midfield was strictly man-oriented. Their midfielders Zuffi and Frei took care of PSV’s Rosario and Gutiérrez. Whenever Rosario and Gutiérrez got on the ball, the intense pressure made it impossible for them to pass forward. However, this type of marking also left a two-versus-two situation on Basel’s left, and PSV’s right. This was also aided by the positioning of PSV’s left back Michal Sadílek, as he incidentally played as the third center-back when building up, allowing right back Dumfries to push up. 

In the opening fifteen minutes, time after time again, PSV managed to break through on the right, thanks to very simple moves: Lozano going inside, and Dumfries overlapping. When a wide player, most of the times a wing-back, runs outside to fill in the space left by a winger going inside with or without the ball, this is called overlapping. Due to the bad communication between Taulant Xhaka and Valentin Stocker and the space allowed by the man-marking system, PSV managed to break through multiple times. Even as early as the second minute, when Dumfries produced the first of many questionable crosses.

14th minute. Positioning of all players in the pass leading up to the opening goal. Notice the way Basel man-marks in midfield, leaving a direct pass to Lozano open.

The opening goal of a game is not often a direct result of a tactical development, but in this game, it was. Once again, Basel’s midfielders were playing three one-versus-one duels in midfield and cancelled out their individual opponents, yet their strict man-marking caused problems elsewhere in the process. 

In the situation depicted, Luckassen played a fine entry pass into Lozano, who turned and sprinted past Xhaka. Inadequate defending by Alderete led to a free run on goal for Donyell Malen. The striker missed, but the rebound was worked in by Bruma, who scored in his official debut, and put PSV up after fourteen minutes. 

PSV drops back to create space for their attackers

After the goal, PSV decided to drop back a bit, pulling up a zonal 4-2-3-1 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. With all their players blocking central areas and Basel’s buildup play being even more static than PSV’s, the intensity of the game tuned down a lot. When Basel’s central defenders attempted direct play, PSV were mostly able to win the duel and pick up the ensuing second ball. 

What PSV did achieve with their more defensive approach, is to create space for their four thunderbolts up front. In this phase, Bruma came alive even more, as he was prominent in some counterattacks and was at the end of one of PSV’s few longer spells of possession. PSV could only blame themselves for how they handled multiple counterattacking opportunities. 

Zone 14 passmap PSV Basel 3-2 Champions League Qualification

Just a single – incomplete – pass by Basel from Zone 14.

One minute before half-time, lightning struck. PSV wasted another counterattack in the form of Lozano, after which Zuffi picked up the ball. Bruma – the former Leipzig man – failed to press, meaning Zuffi got to pick out a ball over the top. Central defender Derrick Luckassen was horribly positioned, meaning he never got in the way of Albian Ajeti, who scored the equalizer with Basel’s first genuine chance of the match. 

One of the golden rules in football: when there is no pressure on the ball in transition, the back four has to drop or step up. Luckassen at fault here. 

One of the golden rules in football: when there is no pressure on the ball in transition, the back four has to drop or step up. Luckassen at fault here. 

The cruel nature of a low-scoring sport like football – which is multiplied in high stake knockout matches like these – was at show again, as the game was level at half-time, despite PSV being superior in almost every aspect. 

PSV cannot unlock Basel’s defense anymore

After half-time, PSV’s attackers tried to play with a bit more interchangement in their game. The first half, they had been surprisingly position-bound, with Bruma on the left, Lozano on the right and Malen as the focal point. Bergwijn drifted around the most, and after half-time, this was changed up a bit more, as Bruma enjoyed some short spells on the right.

In the 53rd minute, a rare entry pass from Basel’s defense into attack led to a shot from Basel from inside the penalty area, which was a rare occurrence in this match. It was blocked by Nick Viergever. One minute later, a turnover in Basel’s midfield was at the base of a big chance for PSV, as Lozano’s low driven cross was put on the bar by Basel’s central defender Emray Cömert.

The second half mostly revolved about PSV trying to beat Basel’s low 4-1-4-1 / 4-5-1 shape, yet having more trouble to do so than in the first half, making their sloppy counterattacking all the more costly. Substitute Noah Okafor would prove a handful to deal with on the counterattack, but overall, the game dried up a bit. 

Set pieces decide the game in chaos ending

Just as this game seemed to fizzle towards a slow ending, all hell broke loose. First, in the 78th minute, out of the blue, a corner kick for Basel was headed in by Omar Alderete. 

Van Bommel had just thrown on 20-year-old Cody Gakpo for the exhausted Bruma and shortly after, brought on 22-year-old Sam Lammers for Lozano. The 4-2-3-1 formation was kept in place, as PSV’s four attackers now had an average age of 20,75. 

Expected goals plot PSV Basel 3-2 Champions League Qualification

With the tall Lammers, PSV now had the option of going long and fight for the second ball. They kept their patience however, playing from side to side and attacking through early crosses or through balls. In the 89th minute, after a true bombardment of Basel’s box, Bergwijn assisted Lammers, who headed in 2-2. However, PSV weren’t satisfied with the draw, as they kept playing in the same aggressive and offensive way they had been doing before the equalizer. 

It led to a corner in the 92nd minute, which was quickly taken by Gutiérrez and Bergwijn. Basel failed to send a second man over to cover. Two-versus-one is easy for professional footballers, meaning Gutiérrez got a free cross and Malen was able to tap in the winner from close, causing mayhem in the stadium.


Basel seem to have fluffed their chance of progressing to the next round. Against an opponent that undeniably has a lot more individual quality, they were not able to pull a result over the finish line. For this season, perhaps their goal should be to try to adapt to a more modern way of playing the game, both in and out of possession. In order to fight their way back to a Swiss title and possible European campaigns, they will have to. 

PSV is at the mercy of clubs with more money. If Bergwijn and Lozano stay, they could well be in for another truly exciting title race versus Ajax. If they are not, young and talented players like Gakpo, Lammers and Mohammed Ihattaren might be ready to take their chances, but a genuine title race against Ajax seems less likely. For now, reaching the third qualifying round of the Champions League is all van Bommel will be focused on, however. 

Use the arrows to scroll through all available match plots.

Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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