Roger Schmidt at PSV Eindhoven 2021/22: One last chance for silverware – tactical analysis
In Roger Schmidt’s first season in charge at PSV, the Eindhoven based side finished in second place in the Eredivisie, a staggering 16 points back of Ajax. So far this season, that has been totally different. While still sitting second place behind Ajax, they are currently only two points behind them. Schmidt has also led his side into the quarter-finals of the inaugural UEFA Europa Conference League, while also being in the final of the KNVB Beker. The final stretch of this season for PSV could become a magical one, and is Schmidt’s last chance for silverware in Eindhoven, after announcing he will be departing the club in the summer when his contract expires.
This tactical analysis piece will take an in-depth look at the tactics that Schmidt has employed this season at PSV. This will help to get a greater understanding of his philosophy and examine why PSV Eindhoven are having such a great season currently.
Utilising attacking rotations during the build-up phase
One thing that Roger Schmidt has done well to implement at PSV is utilising attacking rotations during the build-up phase. These rotations are able to strongly benefit PSV when they are in possession and building out; as it means there is always a free passing option. In the Eredivisie so far this season, PSV have the highest passing rate in the division. Their 15.7 passes per minute of possession just beat out the 15.1 of Ajax. This high number of passes per possession shows that PSV opt for a more methodical build-up; as opposed to trying to get from back to front in only a few passes. This is where these attacking rotations come into play. The movements of the four attacking players allow the deeper-lying double pivot, as well as the fullbacks, to have options to pass to when they are attempting to progress play into the middle and attacking third.
The image above shows a great example of these attacking rotations that PSV regularly use during attacking build-up phases. The fullback, Phillip Max, is in possession in the middle third of the pitch. At the moment, the only passing option forward is Joey Veerman, but he is being marked by two Fortuna Sittard players, the fullback and one of the central midfielders. To create the space for a passing option, Veerman makes a run behind the opposition fullback. This allows Eran Zahavi to drop into the pocket of space in midfield, and as a result, become a passing option for Max. The pass is then played to Zahavi, who switches the play to the far side to allow this attacking sequence to continue developing.
The image above from the Europa Conference League second leg shows another example of these attacking rotations utilised by PSV. Jordan Teze is in possession and looking to play the ball into the middle third. Ritsu Dōan makes a run in behind the opposition defence, attracting the attention of FC København’s fullback, who tracks his run. Teze plays the ball out to the far touchline to Mauro Júnior, who is the only free forward option. This pass attracts the attention of the opposition midfielder, who moves to close down Júnior on the far touchline. This allows Mario Götze to drop into the vacant space in midfield, becoming a free passing option. The ball is played to Götze who has the time and space to turn, and as a result, continues the attacking sequence for PSV.
The image above from PSV’s recent match against FC Utrecht shows another example of these attacking rotations used to progress attacking sequences. Phillip Max is in possession and has driven into central midfield. He scans for a forward passing option, but there is not one. To create a passing option, Mario Götze makes a run towards the Utrecht backline, which attracts the attention of the central midfielder circled in red. The midfielder gets caught being attracted to Götze’s subsequent run, which opens the space for Eran Zahavi to drop into midfield and become a forward option for Max. The pass is played to Zahavi, who is able to have the time and space to turn and find Ritsu Dōan. Unfortunately, Dōan is dispossessed, but the ball was still able to be progressed forward as a result of attacking rotations.
The final example of these attacking rotations is shown above. Jordan Teze is in possession and looking for a forward passing option. Cody Gakpo and Eran Zahavi rotate positions, along with Mario Götze. Götze is operating on the left-wing, with Gakpo centrally and Zahavi a bit deeper. Gakpo is able to make a movement into the space, attracting the attention of the circled midfielder. The pass is played to Gakpo, who then passes it on to Zahavi who is as a result unmarked. This allows the attacking sequence to continue.
This section has shown that the attacking rotations that Roger Schmidt has implemented at PSV Eindhoven have benefitted the side greatly. These movements and rotations in the middle and attacking third allow PSV to progress attacking sequences, and give them forward options for passes, instead of passing sideways or backwards and initiating opposition sides to press.
Involvement of fullbacks in the attacking third
Roger Schmidt wants his fullbacks to get forward and be heavily involved in the attacking third, and with PSV he has two of the best in the Eredivisie. In Phillip Max, PSV have one of the best attacking left-backs in the league since his move from FC Augsburg in 2020; while Mauro Júnior has been transitioned from a midfielder into PSV’s starting right back and has excelled. While attacking rotations help PSV move the ball forward into the attacking third, once they get there, the roles of the two fullbacks become crucial to chance creation.
This image above from PSV’s match against Heracles shows an example of the fullbacks’ involvement in the final third. Phillip Max has plenty of space to drive into and makes a run into the opposition’s 18-yard box. The loose ball finds Joey Veerman, who attempts to play a ball into the path of Max but underhits it, which allows the defender to clear the ball. While this did not result in a goal scoring chance, these are the types of runs that Roger Schmidt wants his fullbacks to make. Eran Zahavi ends up making an excellent run into the box in between the two centre backs, and if the pass to Max was better, he would have been able to square it to Zahavi for a tap-in. While no opportunity for a goal-scoring chance developed, it shows the danger that PSV’s fullbacks are able to create in advanced positions.
This image from the match against Heracles shows more in-depth the chance creation that results from the attacking nature of both fullbacks. In this phase of play, Joey Veerman is in possession near the edge of the opposition’s penalty area and is not under any pressure. Mario Götze makes a run inside, attracting the attention of the Heracles fullback. This allows space for Phillip Max to make an overlapping run into the penalty box. Veerman is able to find Max with a ball over the top, who then attempts a cross to Zahavi who makes a great run towards the penalty spot. Unfortunately, the ensuing cross by Max is headed away by a Heracles defender, but once again is able to demonstrate the threat that PSV’s fullbacks offer in the attacking phase.
While fullbacks getting involved in the attacking phases is not an uncommon tactic, not many sides attack with both of their fullbacks at once. This is something that PSV do often, as the image above from their Europa Conference League match against FC København shows. Ritsu Dōan is in possession inside the opposition’s 18-yard box and is getting closed down by two defenders. Mauro Júnior proceeds to make a late overlapping run into the penalty box for Dōan to pass to. At the far post, Max is unmarked and waiting for the ball across the box for an attempt on goal. Unfortunately, Dōan misplaces his pass, which allows the København defender to regain possession and clear the ball out. Though Mauro Júnior did not receive the pass after making the overlapping run, this phase of play demonstrates how both fullbacks like to push into the 18-yard box at simultaneous times. While it does leave PSV a bit stretched defensively at times if they were to turn over possession in a dangerous area; the involvement of both fullbacks in the final third give plenty of opportunities to create goal-scoring chances.
Finally, the attacking nature of the two fullbacks allows them to indirectly create chances for teammates as well. In the phase of play above from PSV’s match against Fortuna Sittard, Max makes an overlapping run past Mario Götze, with the opposition defender choosing to mark the run of Max. This allows Götze the time and space to drive inside and attempt a cross towards the runs of Zahavi and Erick Gutierrez. Unfortunately, Götze’s cross is poor, with Fortuna Sittard easily able to clear it.
For Roger Schmidt, the capabilities of his fullbacks going forward is key to his attacking tactics. In both Phillip Max and Mauro Júnior, he has a left-back and a right-back who have attacking attributes that make them key contributors during attacking sequences in the final third of the pitch.
The final section of this analysis piece will take a look at the pressing tactics of PSV under Roger Schmidt. PSV this season have a PPDA of 9.38, which ranks 6th in the Eredivisie. The pressing system of PSV differs slightly from other sides, with Roger Schmidt utilising a pressing system of multiple players swarming the opposition player in possession. This high pressing aggressive system looks to win back possession as soon as possible; as well as being able to mark any options for the player in possession to pass to if he were to escape the press. This strategy of aggressive counter-pressing also allows PSV to break on quick counterattacks after winning back possession high up the pitch.
This image above from PSV’s match against Fortuna Sittard shows a great example of Roger Schmidt’s pressing tactics. The ball is in possession of the Fortuna Sittard player in the defensive third of the pitch. Both Ibrahim Sangaré and Mario Götze press the ball carrier, with him turning inside centrally. The only two passing options to escape the press get closed down by Joey Veerman and Erick Gutiérrez. As a result, Fortuna Sittard are dispossessed, which allows PSV to initiate a counter-attacking sequence, with Eran Zahavi furthest advanced as an outlet passing option once possession is won back.
The image above shows another example of this pressing system from the match against Fortuna Sittard. The Fortuna Sittard centre-back plays the ball out from the back to the defensive midfielder. This once again triggers the press of Ibrahim Sangaré and former Borussia Dortmund and Bayern Munich man Mario Götze. Their starting positions force the ball carrier to turn inside, which leaves him only one option to pass to. The player looking to receive the pass moves into the vacant space, but once he receives it, is instantly closed down by Ritsu Dōan. As a result, Dōan wins possession back for PSV in a dangerous attacking position and starts a counterattack.
In regards to the pressing shape that Schmidt likes to utilise, it is shown above from the match against FC Utrecht. PSV like to press in a 4-2-2-2 formation, with one of either Cody Gakpo or Mario Götze joining Eran Zahavi in the front line. However, Roger Schmidt opts to be more aggressive in counter-pressing situations, but certain triggers will start pressing sequences when the opposition are building out from the back. In this specific phase of play, the goalkeeper for Utrecht plays the ball long into the midfield, so there are no opportunities for any of the forwards to engage in a pressing action. Instead of constantly pressing and wasting energy, this PSV side will opt to wait for good opportunities to press, therefore being able to easily win back possession and initiate dangerous counter-attacking opportunities.
This final example of PSV’s counter-pressing comes from their Europa Conference League match against FC København. PSV have just turned possession over in the middle third but Götze instantly presses to close down the player in possession. Sangaré is able to anticipate where the pass is going to be played and moves into the vacant space, intercepting the pass and initiating a counter-attacking sequence. Within a few seconds of turning the ball over, PSV are able to use their counter-pressing ability to regain possession. At both RB Salzburg and Bayer Leverkusen, Roger Schmidt implemented this pressing strategy to great success. At PSV Eindhoven it has been no different.
PSV Eindhoven are currently fighting on three fronts at their final chance for silverware under Roger Schmidt. They are in the final of the KNVB Beker, or Dutch Cup, where they will be facing off against Ajax. They also sit two points behind Ajax in the Eredivisie, and if they slip up, can pip them to the title. There is also the small matter of the Europa Conference League quarterfinals, where they will be facing off against Leicester City.
Roger Schmidt has been a great success at PSV, with many fans sad to see the German departing when his contract expires in the summer. It is not certain where he will be heading after this season, but a return to the Bundesliga, and in particular, Hertha Berlin if they stay up has been heavily rumoured. It is also not guaranteed that PSV will win any silverware this season, but under Roger Schmidt, they have a great chance.