Utrecht v Ajax

Lasse Schone celebrates his winner 

FC Utrecht were left to rue their poor finishing on Sunday as they lost by a single goal to Ajax, who were far from convincing in their quest to catch runaway leaders Feyenoord.

Utrecht had several good chances to take the lead in the Gelgenwaard stadium, though a fantastic strike by Lasse Schone saw Ajax take the three points.

Utrecht lined up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond formation that sought to pose a threat to the Ajax defence going forwards whilst limiting the space for Ajax number 9 Kasper Dolberg to operate in, and it worked with Utrecht Captain Willem Janssen outstanding in the heart of the defence.

In a game that struggled to come to life in the first half, Utrecht ended it strongly although they lacked the cutting edge needed.

As chance after chance went begging, Utrecht were left to count the cost of their wastefulness as Lasse Schone hit a half volley from outside the penalty area that flew into the top corner to seal the victory.

Diamond shines for Utrecht

Manager Erik Ten Haag has stuck with the recent tradition at Utrecht of playing with two strikers, a deviation from the 4-1-4-1 formation he deployed whilst in charge of Bayern Munich’s second team.

However, to compete in the midfield area against sides that play 4-3-3 he has chosen a diamond formation which sees all four midfielders very narrow and compact.

When Utrecht advanced, it was with short incisive passing as the diamond formation meant the midfield unit was always close together, and despite their lack of possession, the threat the diamond posed going forward saw Utrecht have by far the better chances.

If a Utrecht forward dropped deep, the tip or outside of the diamond would penetrate behind, thus Utrecht always posed a threat to the Ajax back line and only poor finishing let Utrecht down.

Bosz will be Boos (Angry in Dutch)

Ajax lined up in a 4-3-3 with Lasse Schone as a single pivot and Davy Klassen and Hakim Ziyech as the attacking midfielders ahead.

Up front, Kasper Dolberg was the central striker with Anwar El Ghazi and Amin Younes playing as inverted wingers, which suited the Utrecht formation as they had plenty of players infield when they cut inside.

It was arguably his strongest line-up, nonetheless, Head Coach Peter Bosz would have been very disappointed with his team’s display.

Needing a victory to keep up with Feyenoord, you would have expected his side to be at their best, however the ball was turned over far too much, the decision-making from his players was poor and they could have been at least 2-0 down at half time.

Dolberg found it hard to get into the game and with Willem Janssen marking him very tightly, his hold up play was mixed with possession often lost.

When an opportunity did present itself, the Dane seemed out of sorts and wasn’t his usual composed self, possibly affected by the aggressive marking by Utrecht.

As Ajax like to build up through him, he is often used as a wall to play off, I feel though, he needs to be facing the opponents goal more often.

Dolberg here is finally  facing forward

The set piece delivery from Ajax rarely threatened the Utrecht defence who had enough height to deal with most crosses in the box, and the inverted wingers often took too long to shoot when cutting inside allowing the Utrecht compact midfield time to recover back.

With Younes attacking inside from the wide left position, I would have expected Ajax to get their full backs to attack, similar to how Feyenoord play with Jens Toonstra and Rick Karsdorp, but the Ajax full backs were far too conservative.

Possibly due to Utrecht playing with two strikers, Ajax were caught between attacking with real intent and playing it safe to keep enough players back defensively.

Their attacking play suffered because of this.

When Utrecht advanced it was often centrally with close passages of play, so switching play quickly to attack wide would have seen Ajax create much more.

Bad Build up

One feature of Peter Bosz’s teams is how they like to build up from the back, the selection of winger Daley Sinkgraven as full back is one feature to enable a better build up.

However, against the diamond Utrecht formation, Ajax were guilty of poor ball handling and were fortunate not to concede from losing possession around their own penalty area.

Lasse Schone is immediately pressed on receiving 


Up next for Utrecht is a home tie against SC Cambuur in the quarter final of the KNVB Cup,kick off 18.30 whilst Ajax host ADO Den Haag on Sunday, kick off 14.30.

Utrecht:(4-1-2-1-2) David Jensen; Mark van der Maarel, Ramon Leeuwin (Giovanni Troupee 64min),Willem Janssen, Robin van der Meer;Wout Brama, Sofyan Amrabat, Yassin Ayoub, Nacer Barazite ( Menno Koch 86min); Richairo Zivkovic (Kristoffer Peterson 76min), Sebastian Haller.

Ajax: (4-3-3) Andre Onana; Joel Veltman, Davinson Sanchez (Matthijs d Ligt 74min),Nick Viergever,Daley Sinkgraven;Lasse Schone, Davy Klassen, Hakim Ziyech( Donny van de Beek 90min); Anwar El Ghazi( Justin Kluivert 73min ), Kasper Dolberg, Amin Younes.

83.Lasse Schone 0-1


Attendance: 21,009



Brentford v Newcastle United


 Daryl Murphy glances home brilliantly

Daryl Murphy’s first league goal for Newcastle, in only his second appearance, sent his side back to the top of the Championship in a hard-fought win against Brentford at Griffin Park.

Dwight Gayle had put the Magpies into a first-half lead with his 20th goal of the season before going off injured.

The lively Lasse Vibe equalised for Brentford after the interval and almost put them ahead when his chip hit the post and rolled along the Newcastle goal-line.

However, Murphy’s header from a fantastic Ayoze Perez cross then sealed the win late on.

Newcastle’s return to the Championship summit came after Brighton lost 0-2 at Preston and puts them a point ahead of the Seagulls having played a game more.

Bees blown away by Gayle

Gayle wheels away after giving Newcastle the lead

Brentford have had some success of late with their 3-5-2 shape and the players seemed very comfortable going forward, although I found they lacked options wide when their wing backs were in possession, which tended to funnel attacks infield.

Although Tom Field is quite capable going at an opposition full back, I don’t feel the Brentford wing backs are enough like wingers to threaten a team like Newcastle wide, they are more natural defenders and struggle to beat someone in a one on one.

Play therefore often tends to be recycled backwards, slowing down the Brentford attacks.

Where the 3-5-2 encountered problems most though was when Brentford lost the ball.

With the wing backs high, Brentford were vulnerable to balls down the sides, with centre backs often dragged out into areas where they were less comfortable, and this was typified by the Newcastle opening goal.

Brentford lost possession in the Newcastle half and with acres of space down the outside channel due to the Bees’ wing back high, Dwight Gayle was released with Harlee Dean having to travel out into areas a full back would normally be occupying.

Gayle was given plenty of time to run one on one against Dean, who was forced to retreat into his area.

He shifted the ball onto his left foot before driving the ball past Bentley in the Brentford goal.

Against strikers of the quality of Gayle you simply cannot leave such spaces available and a more compact zonal defence may have been better, particularly when you have centre backs who prefer to defend centrally.

3-5-2 asks a lot of the Brentford midfield

Woods here can’t get close enough to block the cross that led to  Murphy’s goal

There were warning signs for Brentford in the first half when Newcastle were able to switch play early enough to their wingers and full backs to create overloads and it meant in the place of wingers, Brentford’s midfield had to get across to help out in place of wingers.

The midfield trio of Nico Yennaris, Josh McEachran and Ryan Woods had their work cut out to sustain it however.

McEachran did not have the legs to keep up with the marauding Dumnett in the first half and Newcastle could have run Brentford ragged by moving the ball quicker and stretching the midfield three of Brentford, particularly McEachran.

Woods was more able to cover the ground as he has greater mobility, however, by the 79th minute Woods didn’t have the energy to close quickly enough in the move that lead to the winning goal.

I felt Newcastle could have tested Brentford more by playing Matt Ritchie and Yoan Gouffran on their natural sides, particularly when Murphy came on.

Once Gayle came off, and Murphy replaced him, the effectiveness of inverted wingers was less as Murphy thrives on crosses into the box which don’t tend to come with inverted wingers, they invariably look for threaded passes into a forward or third man runs from midfield, so with Murphy on I expected Rafael Benitez to swap them round to get more balls in the box.

The winning goal came from one such ball, with Newcastle moving the ball from the right-wing to the left-wing, with a cross being delivered with inventiveness via the outside right foot of Perez and a brilliant header by Murphy.

Nucleus of Newcastle

Newcastle were impressive through midfield and attack, with excellent delivery from set plays via Matt Ritchie, although aside from Dwight Gayle, the main threat from Newcastle were their full backs.

Welshman Dumnett, a product from the Newcastle academy was particularly impressive, and at 183cm a great size and build, whilst DeAndre Yedlin had pace to burn on the right.

As soon as the ball landed with the wingers the full backs were on their way, attacking the space left by the wingers invariably coming inside.

Manager Benitez switched to a three-man central defence when Vernan Anita was forced off injured and this was a smart tactical move to retain what they had after losing three starters to injury.

Newcastle were much weaker than when the game kicked off and with a slender lead, this change in shape seemed a good call.

Substitute Grant Hanley slotted in-between Jamaal Lascelles and Ciaran Clark as extra cover for the final stages as Brentford pushed for an equaliser.

  Brentford use a block to free one of their main headers

One area of concern for manager Rafael Benitez will be their defensive set up at corners.

The Magpies bring all 11 players back, with a mix of zonal and man marking.

Brentford attempted to block goalkeeper Karl Darlow, he struggled to come for the ball, a tactic that lead to the Bees equaliser.

When Darlow did attempt to claim one delivery, he misjudged the flight and parried the ball too low which allowed Vibe to poke home.

The near post space will be a particular worry for Benitez as Brentford were able to put the ball into this area at will.

At Liverpool Benitez favoured a zonal marking system which was successful, so I wonder if he will revert to this in time.

The Magpies man marking system meant they were susceptible to being blocked off and with Woods’ outstanding delivery, Newcastle struggled to contain Brentford’s three main headers.

As the role of the near post space zone marker is a vital one, Benitez will be concerned with how Murphy defended this area once he came on.

It appears, in Benitez’s system, the near post space area is defended by his number 9 as Gayle was tasked with this role before he went off injured, and the Magpies will need to defend this area better in the games ahead.

Next up for Brentford is an away fixture against Wigan Athletic, whilst Newcastle host Rotherham United, both matches on Saturday 21st January at 15.00 GMT.

Brentford: Bentley; Egan (sub Hofmann 87 mins), Dean, Bjelland; Colin, Yennaris, Woods, McEachran (sub Jota 80 mins), Field; Sawyers (sub Clarke 90 mins); Vibe
Subs (not used): Bonham, Kerschbaumer, Barbet, Hogan
Bookings: Vibe (81 mins) (second of season)

Newcastle United: Darlow; Yedlin, Clark, Lascelles, Dummett; Colback, Hayden (sub Anita 62 mins (sub Hanley 71 mins)); Ritchie, Pérez, Gouffran; Gayle (sub Murphy 28 mins)

Subs (not used): Sels, Lazaar, Ameobi, Sterry Bookings: Dummett (31 mins)

Attendance: 11,435

Tom Lawrence


Tom Lawrence unleashes against QPR; credits Getty Images

Tom Lawrence is quietly making a name for himself in the Championship with Ipswich Town.

After joining on a season long loan from Premier League champions Leicester City, 22-year-old Lawrence has been in sensational form for the Tractor Boys.

The Welshman scored a fantastic solo goal against Sheffield Wednesday at the start of November, before his wonder strike against QPR, whilst also topping the assist chart for the Tractor boys.

Predominately right footed, his delivery is exceptional from open play and set pieces.

Quick, strong and with a wonderful technique, Lawrence has the tools to be a very effective attacking midfielder or winger, whilst his accuracy from distance means he could also be a threat inside off the front as a number 10.

I saw play on the left against QPR where he was such a threat they had to double up on him.

As teams work him out, he will have to mix his game up when faced with two defenders.

Either check out and find the spare player, or use a trick to deliver with his left foot when he is unable to cut inside onto his favoured right foot.


QPR v Ipswich Town

Pawel Wszolek slides home the equaliser for QPR: credits REX FEATURES

Ian Holloway made it two wins in a row after a late win sealed another hard-fought victory.

QPR, who had lost six in a row before their win at Wolves on New Year’s Eve, move up to 17th place in the Championship, two points and two places behind Ipswich.

QPR started poorly and would count themselves fortunate to go ahead.

A long throw in from the right hand side of the penalty area was inadvertently flicked on by Ipswich Captain Luke Chambers to Idrissa Sylla who volleyed into the roof of the net from inside the 6 yard area.

David McGoldrick had two good chances early on for the Suffolk side before Sylla’s opener, though Rangers’ Guinean striker was forced off with a neck injury soon after giving his side the lead.

The outstanding Tom Lawrence equalised soon after the restart with an effort that is likely to be a contender for Town’s goal of the season, however they missed a series of chances before the home side’s winner.

Brett Pitman had a great chance to put Ipswich ahead after receiving a bouncing ball over the top from strike partner David McGoldrick though Pitman delayed too long and allowed Grant Hall to recover brilliantly to intercept.

With the game nearly at an end, substitute Nedum Onuha cleared a long ball over the top which beat Adam Webster, allowing Wszolek to control and round Bartosz Bialkowski before slotting into an empty net to seal a surprise 2-1 win.
QPR lack tempo

Ian Holloway will be a happy Hoop; credits standard.co.uk

There is no doubt manager Ian Holloway will be delighted with the six points collected over the Christmas period, although the performance levels will have been disappointing.

Holloway stuck with the formation from the Wolves victory and the same scorers produced again with Sylla and Wszolek on the score sheet again.

The 4-2-3-1 deployed against the Tractor boys saw QPR rarely threaten, with Ipswich controlling possession and the team performance was similar to the Aston Villa game, where the away team had the majority of the ball and dominated proceedings.

With the added numbers in midfield it suited QPR to play out from the back, and the back four split to do so, although as soon as Ipswich man marked their two centre backs, QPR decided to kick long and often lost the first ball.

It appears Ian Holloway’s men need some rotations to get out against sides that field a front two or who prevent them building up.

When QPR did play long and regain the second ball, they were too keen to go forward early with long balls and often surrendered possession straight back, and no one was more guilty than substitute Abdenasser El Khayati.

He was introduced to add some impetus and tempo to the game in the second half, however, he slowed the game down and was too ponderous in possession, often incurring the wrath of the home crowd who wanted more dynamic play.

The crowd also grew restless as the Hoops attempted short corners, rather than delivering into the area as Rangers rarely threatened the Ipswich goal.

A set piece, such as a corner, provided the chance to do so,however the short corners were poor and they may be better delivering into the opponents penalty area to test the opposition, rather than trying to be too clever when not in the run of form to do so.

Positive signs for Ipswich despite the result

Lawrence celebrates his stunning equaliser; credits eadt.co.uk

Cole Skuse was terrific in midfield, always looking to link with the front two and by playing with two forwards, naturally it enabled the Ipswich midfielders to look forwards rather than sideways and it was via Skuse that Ipswich equalised.

For the Town equaliser he received in midfield and with no option wide to the right, turned back inside before finding Lawrence between the lines, who shifted the ball onto his right foot before unleashing an unstoppable shot into the top right hand corner.

Welshman Lawrence, on loan from Leicester City, was a real threat on the wing all game, even before he scored and, as Ryan Fraser before him, it seems Mick McCarthy has made another shrewd loan signing.

He started on the left and was able to shift the ball and deliver brilliant in swinging crosses as well as provide great service from set plays.

Once QPR realised he was becoming too dangerous, they doubled up on him, however he still tried to cut back onto his right foot into traffic, when attacking down the line and delivering with his left foot would have been the better option.

QPR (4-2-3-1): Smithies; Perch, Lynch, Hall (cpt), Bidwell; Cousins, Manning (El Khayati 69); Wszolek, Mackie, Borysiuk (Onuoha 58); Sylla (Washington 38).

Subs ( not used) : Ingram, Shodipo, Ngbakoto, Sandro.

IPSWICH TOWN (5-3-2): Bialkowski; Emmanuel (Ward 46), Chambers (cpt), Webster, Berra, Kenlock (Knudsen 77); Skuse, Bru (Douglas 69), Lawrence; McGoldrick, Pitman.

Subs ( not used) : Gerken, Dozzell, Sears, Varney.

Attendance: 15,136
Referee: T Harrington