Twente Vrouwen: The tactics behind their unbeaten and prolific start to the Eredivisie campaign – scout report
When naming the strongest teams in European women’s football, some of the first to come to mind are Barcelona Femení, Lyon Féminin, Chelsea Women and Wolfsburg Frauen, who all currently top their respective domestic leagues. However, another side worth adding to that list is Twente Vrouwen who also currently tops their division, the Vrouwen Eredivisie, and, like Barcelona, have yet to drop a point.
The Eredivisie is not as one-sided as Liga F (the Spanish top flight) can be though, and so it is an achievement for Twente to have won every league match during the 2022/23 campaign, and this tactical analysis will look in closer detail at the tactics that have helped them to get to this stage of the campaign with maximum points. The analysis will specifically focus on their different ways of building attacks under head coach Joran Pot and how their productivity in the final third is down to more than players being in the right place at the right time, and will also look at their defensive shape to show why teams have found them difficult to break down.
Final third tactics
Given that they have been victorious in every league match so far, it perhaps comes as no surprise that Twente Vrouwen have also been the Eredivisie’s highest scorers so far, with 66 goals to their name to date. However, what is worth pointing out is that they are 22 ahead of the next-highest scorers, title rivals Ajax Vrouwen, and that statistic alone demonstrates just how potent they have been when in the final third this season.
When taking a closer look at how they create chances, one very noticeable aspect of their play is their dependency on the wide spaces. As this situation against league newcomers Fortuna Sittard Vrouwen shows, Twente constantly look to push as many players as possible into the final third when they have the ball and want them to take up positions where they are in close proximity to each other, as that enables structures like this to be formed.
The obvious observation to make about this particular shape is that it gives Twente a way of playing through their opponents more easily, and that is true. However, what also needs to be highlighted is the role played by left-back Marisa Olislagers, who has moved up the field to join her teammates here. Olislagers has shown throughout her time at Twente that she fits their attacking full-back profile, and it is a common feature of their games to see her high up the pitch and supporting her team’s offensive play.
One of the reasons that she is so good at this is her ability to read the game and know where she can have an effect on it. In this case, she knew that she would be needed to deliver the ball into the middle, but she has also been seen making overlapping runs and duelling with opponents when needed, so there is no doubt that her presence and ability to offer different things on the wing has been a major part of Twente’s overall offensive successes this season.
It is not just about individuals standing out for Twente though, because so much of what they do well comes down to their teamwork in different areas of the field. When in the forward areas, star striker Fenna Kalma and fellow attacker Renate Jansen have a solid partnership and know how they can work together to both link up play and give Twente a constant target in the final third, and, as with Olislagers, both know what to do at every moment of the game in order to pose as big a threat as possible.
In this case, they have split and are now on either side of the Ajax defensive line, offering two different options for midfielder Suzanne Giesen to find and making it harder for the defenders to guess which way the ball will go. However, with Ajax staying compact throughout and focusing on the ball, simply making a pass to either player will not automatically lead to a shot on goal. Therefore, Twente need another player to lend a hand, and Wieke Kaptein comes in to do just that, with her running through the middle of the Ajax line as soon as the ball travels towards Jansen.
The immediate aim of this is to momentarily distract the defenders and give Jansen more time to control the ball, but the secondary aim is to then provide the forward with a passing option in the open space behind. This is important, because the angle that Jansen would need to take to shoot at goal would make it easy for the defenders to force her towards the goal line, so she needs to get the ball away quickly in order to keep the attack alive, and Kaptein enables that to happen.
On this occasion, despite good execution, the move didn’t lead to anything, but the way that Twente worked together to set it up is the key point to take from it because it shows once again how every player knows their role and how that has enabled them to be so difficult to keep out this season.
With Kalma currently leading the Eredivisie’s scoring charts and being one of Europe’s most prolific strikers (men’s and women’s), having found the net on 25 occasions to date this season, it might be expected that she tends to stay in advanced areas and waits for the ball to come to her. However, as is expected of every player in a Twente shirt, she joins in when it comes to building attacks and keeping chances alive, with it common to see her either drop back or move into the wide channels where necessary in order to link up with teammates.
That presents another tactical question though because the risk of that happening is that the central spaces are left unoccupied and Twente are unable to keep playing forwards whenever they have the ball. However, that is where player rotation comes in, with players again being aware of their surroundings and recognising where the spaces are, meaning that there is always a player in space whenever Twente have possession. In this case, it is Jansen in that central role, as the red circle shows, and that means that the league leaders can move the ball out of the congested area of the pitch and into one where they can think about creating a goalscoring opportunity.
However, once again, with players around her, Jansen will find it difficult to turn and run at goal before Ajax have closed her down. Kalma as a result makes a run behind her, as the yellow arrow illustrates, meaning that Jansen can again move the ball forwards with her first touch and Twente have the best possible chance of getting a shot away at goal. Therefore, again, teamwork has been the key for them, and it is a major reason that they have been so successful this season.
However, whilst having a potent edge to their game is important, the reason that Twente Vrouwen have so many chances to score is because their build-up play and transitions are executed well in every game, with players again working well together to progress the ball through the thirds and keep the pressure on their opponents.
Another thing worth mentioning is that they don’t only have one way of moving up the pitch, with them able to adapt depending on how their opponents have set up. In Fortuna Sittard’s case, they tended to leave a lot of space open between their players, so Twente were able to play a more direct style of football and move the ball up the field without needing to use a link player in the middle.
Playing this way relies on individual intelligence, because players need to have a good vision of the entire field in order to not give the opposing side any chance of intercepting the ball in transit. Fortunately for Twente though, they do have players who can make those decisions and pass the ball with pinpoint accuracy, with centre-back Caitlin Dijkstra noticing Kalma’s run further up the field here and sending the ball in her direction.
When it isn’t possible to play that way, Twente also have players who are capable of dropping back and creating links in the midfield. In this case, it is Jansen who has got back to receive a short pass from Olislagers around the halfway line, and the reason that Twente have elected to make this short pass is that Ajax have not left as much space open between them.
The other thing to mention here is that Twente have a wide setup, and the reason for this is that they want to manipulate their opponents into leaving spaces open and allowing them to find a way through. This was further shown by the way that, before Olislagers passed to Jansen, Twente spent a number of minutes passing the ball around the pitch and testing their opponents’ resolve, trying to see where they might be able to break through.
As a result, Ajax became more impatient and looked to regain possession as quickly as possible, with right-back Nadine Noordam ultimately falling into Twente’s trap and leaving a gap open behind for Ella Peddemors to attack. With her now moving forwards, Jansen was able to send the ball in her direction and capitalise on Ajax’s error, leading to a shot on goal. However, it was the way that they took their time and forced the gap to open up that was the most notable thing here.
Whilst a lot of Twente’s transitional play once again comes down to their teamwork, one player who has been central to their tactics is Giesen, with her demonstrating time and time again her intelligence and ability to read what is happening around her. Here, she has used those qualities to make a run into the gap between Jansen and Kalma, having once again noticed how Ajax have a narrow defensive shape and how the chances of the ball reaching the striker directly are very slim. However, with her now in between her teammates, there is a clear route for the ball to travel along, giving Twente a better chance of moving it into the space behind.
As with a lot of Twente’s players, she is versatile and doesn’t only operate in central midfield areas either, with her being given a roaming role and tending to pop up wherever she is needed. As this graphic indicates, she has had touches of the ball in almost every section of the field, and her ability to make these positional adjustments and help to provide these links is one of the reasons that Twente have been so tough to play against this season.
One thing that has been evident throughout this scout report is how Twente Vrouwen’s success is built on players operating on the same page and knowing what to do at each moment of the game, and that extends to those in the defensive line too.
As was highlighted earlier, when Twente have possession and are looking to build an attack, their first aim is always to make the pitch as big as possible. That mentality very much starts at the back, with the defenders spreading out across the pitch and making it difficult for their opponents to regain possession, and that is shown here with Fortuna Sittard having numbers in advanced areas but not being in a position to intercept the ball.
The two full-backs are also positioned ahead of the centre-backs, which again helps to keep the ball moving forwards in that it gives the centre-backs shorter passing options if they are unable to play directly up the field. These might be small points to make, but any manager or coach will endlessly repeat that sport is built on little details like this being done well, and the fact that Twente are having such a successful season shows that they are working hard on every element of their play that they can.
Playing with attacking full-backs can leave Twente open at the back, but they also have defenders who are quick and who are capable of moving back into position as soon as the ball is lost. On the occasion that the opponents attack too quickly though, they rely on individual abilities to prevent attackers from creating opportunities and getting that right comes down to each of the back four knowing which of them is best suited to each role.
Here, Fortuna Sittard’s Alieke Tuin is moving into Twente’s third and has Belgium defender Isabelle Iliano for company on her inside. Twente, meanwhile, have right-back Maud Roetgering and former Brighton and Hove Albion Women defender Danique Kerkdijk chasing the two players, but Roetgering is not in the best position to get back and block any potential cross. Therefore, she slows down and Kerdijk, on the inside, takes over, with Roetgering swapping positions and focusing instead on preventing Iliano from becoming a viable passing option.
This might not seem like a huge point to make, but the result of this switch was that Twente were able to prevent the ball from being transferred into the middle, thereby ending the chance of a goal being scored before those in the middle could get back into position, and the fact that Twente have only conceded two goals in their 13 league games so far shows how players again working together has helped them to be largely robust and tough to break down.
However, that statistic can be turned around to show that, despite not losing a game, Twente can be beaten, and it is Ajax and PSV Vrouwen who have profited from attacking against them in the right way.
In this case, Netherlands midfielder Sherida Spitse is in her usual deeper role and is looking for a way to move the ball up the field, with both striker Romée Leuchter (reportedly a target for many European clubs) and midfielder Victoria Pelova (who joined Arsenal Women in January) looking to get up the field and give her those options. However, Spitse instead sends the ball towards the gap between Twente’s lines, as the white arrow shows, and her aim here is to cause confusion in their ranks.
The reason for this is that Twente, for all of their good play, have at times shown a lack of communication when they don’t have the ball, and this pass led to midfielder Danique van Ginkel and centre-back Marit Auée both going for it and ending up in each other’s way. It might be an easy problem to address, given the way that Twente are a team in every sense of that, but the fact that the ball fell at the feet of Ajax forward Ashleigh Weerden as a result of this mix-up, who then hit the crossbar with her shot on goal, shows that these moments of poor play could be very costly for them. If they want to maintain their winning run in the league, then this is an area that they will need to work on, because it is a definite chink in their otherwise impenetrable armour.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at current Eredivisie leaders Twente Vrouwen, picking out the tactics that have helped them to win every game in the league and showing why the rest of the division’s teams have so far been unable to take a point off them.
Whilst good tactics and having different ways of moving around the pitch are both essential factors, what has also become clear is that the biggest reason for their excellent form is their teamwork, with players knowing what each other will do in every moment and therefore recognising how they can either support or cover as needed.
Twente will find it difficult to keep up their winning run for the entire season, with it already shown in this analysis that they are beatable if teams play against them in the right way. However, whilst they continue to pick up positive results and work hard, it does seem to be more of a possibility than a dream, and there is no doubt that they and the Eredivisie will be worth keeping an eye on throughout the remainder of the campaign.