How has Ruud van Nistelrooy managed to compensate for the loss of Gakpo and Madueke? – scout report
Sir Alex Ferguson is arguably the greatest manager of all time. With his managerial career spanning four decades, the Scot coached hundreds upon hundreds of players, particularly during his illustrious tenure at Old Trafford.
However, no players really went on to have enthralling careers in football as coaches or managers. Steve Bruce, Mark Hughes, Laurent Blanc and Ole Gunnar Solskjaer certainly coached at high levels in the game and have had great careers, but it would be amiss to label them as top-of-the-range.
Others like Gary Neville, Bryan Robson and Paul Scholes have had a go but retracted back to punditry with their tails between their legs.
Now, there is a final wave of Sir Alex’s fledglings who have been trying their hand at management, from Dwight Yorke at Macarthur in Australia to Wayne Rooney at Derby County and DC United to even Carlos Tevez at Rosario Central in Argentina.
Michael Carrick is definitely the most promising right now, having taken Middlesbrough from relegation fodder to top-three candidates, but there is another product of the Ferguson school of coaching who is making waves in Europe right now.
Having taken charge of Jong PSV for one season, Ruud van Nistelrooy made the colossal step up to the first-team, replacing the popular Roger Schmidt at the helm who had just lost the Eredivisie title to Erik ten Hag’s Ajax by a marginal two points.
The former Manchester United frontman was tasked with going one step further than his predecessor and winning the trophy for the first time in five years.
After an excellent first half to the season, PSV Eindhoven have progressed to the knockout phase of the UEFA Europa League, beating Premier League leaders Arsenal, and have been locked in a title bid with Feyenoord.
Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke in particular were lighting the grass in the Philips Stadion on fire. Unfortunately for van Nistelrooy, the duo were snapped up in January due to their tremendous performances under his wing.
Nevertheless, the show must go on, and the boss has had to adapt to losing two of the team’s most important limbs.
In this tactical analysis, in the form of a team scout report, we will take a look at how van Nistelrooy has tweaked his tactics at PSV to make up for the loss of both Gakpo and Madueke to Liverpool and Chelsea respectively.
What did Gakpo and Madueke offer?
The answer to this question is very simple: goals and being a constant threat. In van Nistelrooy’s 4-3-3/4-2-3-1, Gakpo was deployed on the left of a three while Madueke was playing just off the right.
Former Barcelona striker Luuk de Jong was the man tasked with leading the line. There are quite a lot of things that the experienced target man does incredibly well, including winning the first contact from aerial duels and holding the ball up. However, scoring goals is not one of them.
This isn’t a dig at de Jong. While many attribute the number ‘9’ as a team’s sole goalscoring outlet, it technically isn’t true. There are instances where sides can get away with having a striker as a link-man as opposed to being the goalscorer. Manchester United and Arsenal this season are two of the best examples. PSV were another. Not everyone can be a Ruud van Nistelrooy in the box.
Given de Jong’s lack of potency in front of goal, it did mean that the burden of putting the ball into the opposition’s net fell heavily on the shoulders of others – more specifically, Gakpo.
Gakpo’s goalscoring form in all competitions since the beginning of the campaign has been stellar, even for the Netherlands across the UEFA Nation’s League and the FIFA World Cup.
Overall, the Dutch inside forward scored 18 goals, including 16 non-penalty goals. What were more impressive were his outperformance in the final third. Gakpo registered an xG of merely 9.84 but bagged 16 times, showing a ruthlessness in front of goal that very few were matching in Europe.
The greatest example of this ruthlessness was the winger’s strike versus Ecuador in the second game of the group phase in Qatar. Gakpo had one shot, accumulating a woeful xG of 0.02. Yet, he scored. The strike also came on his left foot which makes it even more unimaginable that it rippled the net.
The burden of converting chances fell heavily on the shoulders of Gakpo. Moving to Anfield must have been quite sweet relief for the attacker…for about ten minutes until he saw Darwin Nunez in action for the first time.
Nobody else at the Dutch giants was putting up similar numbers as Gakpo. Even Madueke, who earned a big-money move to Stamford Bridge at the same time, chimed in with merely a handful of goals.
Madueke’s importance to the team far outweighed output though. The Englishman is the type of player that stats do an injustice to. Yes, of course, he could be more productive in the final third, having scored just three times in all competitions and registering a total expected assists number of 1.3 this season under van Nistelrooy.
However, there is a reason why one of Europe’s biggest clubs battled hard for his signature and it’s not just because Todd Boehly has buckets of cash to waste, although that could be a percentage of the reason.
From a quick analysis of Madueke’s ball-carrying stats, it’s evident how important the player is in the final third at carrying the ball into the penalty area which, in turn, will create chances for his teammates.
Furthermore, from the same visual, we can see that Madueke is a wonderful ball carrier from deep as well and can bring his team into higher areas of the pitch, pinning back the opposition in the process.
Final third proficiency and ball progression have been lost by PSV and so van Nistelrooy has had to tweak his tactical set-up to compensate for the loss. Let’s take a look at how the Premier League legend has done this.
A change of shape
While the 4-3-3 has seen a lot of daylight at the Philips Stadion, van Nistelrooy has primarily advocated for the 4-2-3-1 as it is best suited for the personnel available at his disposal.
The three-man line behind the centre-forward is notably the most fluid part of PSV’s attack. The trio rotate constantly but can also play a number of different positions.
For instance, young star Xavi Simons is capable of playing mainly as a number ‘10’ behind the striker but has also been used on the flanks and even as a number ‘9’ in a false role.
In an identical fashion to the former PSG star, Guus Til can also operate on the flanks but prefers to play as a striker or in an attacking midfield role.
When Gakpo and Madueke were at the club, normally Simons and Til would rotate positions regularly. However, nowadays, the duo have been given star roles in the team.
From an analysis of Simons’ heatmap this season for PSV in all competitions, we can see that he has roamed all over the opposition’s half as a result of playing in any position across the front three.
There was also a shift in formation when Gakpo and Madueke left. Having been an advocate for the 4-2-3-1 this season when PSV were in full flow, van Nistelrooy has decided to shift to more of a 4-1-4-1 which becomes a 4-3-3 during the attacking phases and the high press.
This was van Nistelrooy’s way to get a little bit more creativity into the team, adding an extra advanced central midfielder in front of a single pivot instead of a two-man nadir.
The 4-2-3-1 has still been the predominant formation for PSV Eindhoven this season with 55 percent usage, but the 4-3-3/4-1-4-1 is slowly creeping its way up in the race with 24 percent in total.
But has creativity suffered or been enhanced? In PSV’s last three matches where they deployed a 4-1-4-1, the side have registered an xA of 2.49 but are underperforming this number slightly, boasting two real-time assists.
Now let’s compare that to the three games prior when PSV were lining out in a 4-2-3-1 with a sole number ‘10’.
There is a noticeable difference when analysing the two different data vizzes. While, of course, it’s quite a small sample size for each, the Dutch side created far more opportunities from outside the penalty area.
Granted, the numbers isn’t significantly different but over the course of three games, one assist extra can be the difference between one point or three.
Furthermore, losing Gakpo has had an immense effect on PSV Eindhoven’s ability to create chances in the final third. The Dutchman was not only PSV’s top goalscorer but also boasted the most assists with 16 in all competitions.
Gakpo had an excellent delivery on him and linked up wonderfully in the final third with his teammates. The attacking players had cooked up some poetic chemistry with one another which can be achieved only from minutes on the pitch.
Gakpo knew the exact movements that each player would make, and vice-versa, which allowed PSV to play some wonderful combinations in the final to break through the opposition’s defensive block in the central corridors.
Here, Gakpo drove inside from the left flank and played the ball to the feet of Luuk de Jong who had his back to the opponent’s centre-back. Knowing the exact pass that Gakpo was going to play, Simons began making a third-man run in behind the backline to receive from de Jong.
Simons was slipped through on goal in a 1v1 situation. His touch let him down and so the goalkeeper collected the ball, but it’s still an example of the scintillating football that PSV were playing with their stars in the team.
Even Madueke with his directness was wreaking havoc against backlines. The England U21 international is an incredibly direct player, constantly looking to take defenders on and dribbling as close to the opposition’s goal as possible to create opportunities or to score himself.
Losing this technical ability in the final third was a big blow for the PSV boss and the chemistry amongst the players has been lost with players such as Anwar El-Ghazi being more regular starters in the side as well as Joey Veerman and Guus Til.
Instead of relying on Gakpo and Madueke for creativity from the flanks too, particularly the former, van Nistelrooy has been leaning heavier on the fullbacks, especially Phillipp Mwene on the left. However, nothing can replicate the men who now reside in England.
Have PSV replaced Gakpo’s goal contributions?
As we discussed earlier, Gakpo has scored 18 goals in all competitions this season. 11 of these were non-penalty goals for PSV. Furthermore, his 16 assists bring his tally of total goal contributions to 27.
Since the Dutch giants have scored 69 goals in all competitions, 27 goal contributions equate to 39 percent of PSV’s total goals. This is a massive chunk of goal contributions to sell.
Unfortunately, given the financial disparities in modern football, there was no other choice but to allow one of football’s largest and richest clubs from swooping in and stealing the young attacker from his home. Gakpo was Anfield bound.
Nevertheless, his loss left van Nistelrooy with a lot of issues, namely how to replace his importance to the team.
Gakpo had scored 11 non-penalty goals under van Nistelrooy and was outperforming his xG of 8.19 despite only holding an xG per shot rate of 0.12. This showed that Gakpo was a high-quality finisher.
We’d love to tell you that everything has been rosy in the garden since Gakpo parted ways, and that van Nistelrooy has easily replaced his star man and his side scoring more goals now than ever before.
In 2018, Coutinho managed to earn a colossal move from Liverpool to Barcelona. It seemed unthinkable that the Reds’ attack would be able to survive such a detrimental loss, yet they did – and blossomed into the best front three in world football without the Brazilian.
Unfortunately, PSV’s story hasn’t quite been the same. In seven games without Gakpo, van Nistelrooy’s men have scored nine goals, which isn’t horrendous.
However, the team have underperformed their xG of 10.33. But what is worse is that each of their 101 shots since have had an xG average of 0.1 which is painstakingly low.
Gakpo was showcasing elite finishing numbers and so could get away with having a low xG per shot rate of merely 0.12. Spread across the entire side, PSV have struggled with this.
In the post-Gakpo world for PSV – spanning seven matches so far – van Nistelrooy’s side have also underperformed their total expected assists too.
PSV have compiled an xA of 6.38 but have registered just five real assists in the seven matches. Again, this isn’t the end of the world but it does point to the team struggling to convert chances in the penalty area.
PSV haven’t quite been able to find Gakpo’s numbers elsewhere and so there has been a clear dip in the attacking third. The Boeren are still in a title race, but the loss of Gakpo may be a bit too much of an obstacle to overcome to go all the way, particularly now with the transfer window closed.
It would be tough for anyone to function with one less limb. Unfortunately, PSV Eindhoven have lost both their arms but are desperately trying to crawl on their knees to the finish line.
Madueke was an important piece of van Nistelrooy’s jigsaw and so was a big loss but it wasn’t enough that you lost sight of the overall picture on display. However, Gakpo was the whole picture. Without him, there’s pretty much nothing.
With Feyenoord looking sensational this season and Ajax making a comeback under John Heitinga, PSV look like the ones who will inevitably fall away in the title race.
In the post-Gakpo era, PSV have won just three of their seven matches in all competitions and have some difficult fixtures on the horizon, including a double European header against Sevilla.
Such a heavy reliance on one man has left a large hole in the squad’s heart, and it’s now up to van Nistelrooy to heal the wound or let it bleed out – the latter could lead to dire consequences for him.