PSV Eindhoven stunned Europe when they made it out of their group with some strong performances at home and took it to the wire against Atletico Madrid in the Last 16. They will certainly need to reach a higher level in their group this season as they face European behemoths Bayern Munich, Spanish juggernauts Atletico Madrid and the stubborn FC Rostov.

psv alrIf last season was all about re-aligning the attack after the departures of Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum, this season will be about a defensive restructure after losing the bullish Jeffrey Bruma. Hector Moreno’s performances at the 2016 Copa America Centenario were below average as he played as an outside centre-back in a back three for Mexico but was denied any sort of protection from a wing-back. Last season against Atletico, he was constantly caught out when PSV played a back four in the first leg as his interpretation of marking spaces needs to improve. Nicolas Ismait-Mirin has put in his best performances in a back three as his mobility and eagerness to cover for teammates makes him perfect for that type of system.

In a back-four, he tends to lack the distribution of Bruma to truly thrive in that system as he prefers to drive the ball out of the back and be caught in possession by the oppostion. Summer signing Stephan Schwaab will add some experience to the backline as PSV technical director Marcel Brands has had his eye on the former Stuttgart defender since he joined PSV in 2010.

The fullbacks will remain as they have been for the past few years with Jetro Willems reprising his role as ultra-attacking left-back and Santiago Arias maintaining his presence as tenacious right-back. Willems has started this season as his ability to ping pin-point crosses to Luuk De Jong will be integral to PSV. He put in an impressively solid defensive performance against Atletico last season and much of the same will be expected if he will truly grow into the player he is meant to be. Arias will need to curtail his nasty side as he accumulated 11 yellow cards and 3 red cards last season for his aggressive style. His ability to work the underlap gives De Boeren another dimension to their attack.

Joshua Brenet will be breathing down the necks of both fullbacks as he is able to play on both flanks. His lumbering size, imposing style and athletic running ability covered up for the loss of Willems as with regular football, his game has come leaps and bounds.
If two season’s ago, the midfield was Georginio Wijnadulm’s and last season it was Andres Guardado’s, this season it is Davy Propper’s and next season it will be Jorrit Hendrix’. Propper’s immaculate poise on his first touch, penetrative passing and hardworking nature makes him and Guardado the heartbeat of this PSV team as he tackles tigerishly, works the ball forward impeccably and is always available for a late run into the box. When he is at his imperious and hardworking best, PSV begin to flow and their play from defence to attack becomes less laborious. Guardado’s left foot will always present PSV with creativity from set-pieces and long-balls as Guardado’s experience is paramount to this PSV team. He is the schemer at the base of the midfield as he is now a fully-fledged deep-lying playmaker as his vision and execution can be near perfect at times.

At 21, Jorrit Hendrix has reached 100 appearances for PSV and has also received his first callup to the Dutch National Team which was a year or two overdue. He mixes hard-work and an edge of your seat technique that you can only find in few midfielders, a man who never shirks a tackle and can play short intuitive passes, his stock can only rise higher and higher. Something PSV don’t lack this season is options as with Bart Ramselaar, Siem De Jong and Olexsandr Zinchenko they possess a plethora of options in midfield.

In attack, Cocu has more quality and diverse options than he has had since he begun his managerial career. Jurgen Locadia who led PSV in assists and offers a more physical and direct option from the left flank would have supported Luuk De Jong in the front three. He will be out for three months with a hamstring injury leaving an attainable space in PSV’s front three. He has Zinchenko, 18-year-old sensation Steven Bergwijn who recently scored his first Eredivisie goal away to PEC Zwolle and Florian Jozefzoon all vying for his role.

De Jong is the undisputed striker, as his aerial initiative, selflessness and ability to get on the end of deliveries has made PSV’s most influential player signified by his captaincy. He scored the goal that levelled the scoreline against CSKA Moscow in the pivotal final group game last season while his ability with his back to goal is impressive, especially for someone with his physical attributes. On the right, PSV will have either Luciano Narsingh or Gaston Pereiro.

Narsingh will look to make amends for missing a penalty in the shootout against Atletico which resulted in the rood-witten being knocked out while Pereiro will look to make amends for his red card in the first leg. Narsingh is an archetypal wideman, blessed with pace and fine crossing technique while Pereiro can play anywhere across the front line. Blessed with a brilliant repertoire of tricks and flicks, an astute awareness of his position when in possession and being capable of calm and clean finishes far beyond someone of his tender age. However, both tend to drift in out of games and Narsingh’s bouts with form has been more extensive which is frustrating as they are capable of changing games with moments of genius.

Atletico Madrid

PSV have a chance to avenge the devastating penalty shoot-out loss to the Rojiblancos from last season while playing the Spanish giants at home in the first game will give PSV a chance to send out a message to the rest of the group. Both legs were typified by some inspired Jeroen Zoet performances in the PSV goal as the Eredivisie champions held out for over 180 minutes.

Atletico have bought well with the likes of Nico Gaitan, Kevin Gameiro and Sime Vrsaljko coming in but the team will have to adapt to a new attacking dynamic. PSV were lucky as in the first-leg, Antoine Griezmann was having a barren spell while this time, he is coming off a disapointing season and eager to right the wrongs of last year. Playing a higher line like they did last season in the home leg will be suicidal with Koke’s ability on the through ball and the pace of Yannick Fereira-Carrasco, Gameiro and Griezmann.

Atletico opened their season with two draws but the Champions League represents a different kettle of fish. PSV have to do better at breaking down Atletico’s rigid defence which would mean getting the ball to Propper and Pereiro more as the former was involved in PSV’s biggest chances in both games. Deploying Hendrix next to Guardado would also allow more solidity in front of their back-line as Hendrix is adept at filling in as a third centre-back and buzzing around plugging gaps. Atletico have started the season with Stefan Savic next to Diego Godin at centre-back instead of Jose Gimenez as Savic has a better range of passing in order to help with recycling the ball.

PSV will need better performances from their wide-men as they were easily martialled by Juanfran and Filipe Luis which greatly limited PSV in possession and made it easy for Atletico to win possession and spring attacks. A 4-3-3 with a Guardado, Hendrix and Propper should suffice for the home game but a 3-5-2/5-3-2 in order to push Willems and Arias forward with a back three for defensive solidity and the zest of Pereiro next to the presence De Jong could prove a problem for Atletico on the break.

Bayern Munich

A few may say that Pep Guardiola’s tenure at Bayern Munich may not have been a success but he has left Carlo Ancelotti with one of the most well-structured sides in European football. It would take a perfect performance to gain a draw at the Phillips Stadion and even more to pick up something away at the Allianz Arena.

Bayern can slice through teams with neat and inuitive approach play, can stretch a defence to it’s core with the likes of Douglas Costa, Kingsley Coman, Arjen Robben and Frank Ribery out wide and that’s all before one gets to thinking about Jerome Boateng’s ability to find Thomas Muller with gracefully clipped long-balls like he did against Borussia Dortmund, Atletico Madrid and for Germany at the European Championships as well as many others. Robert Lewandowski and Thomas Muller are possibly the most daunting strike force to face leaving out Barcelona’s dreaded MSN and Real Madrid’s goal-hungry BBC.

Muller is coming off his highest scoring season and finds joy in making subtle movements off Lewandowski while Ancelotti possesses a unique range of options in midfield too. Xabi Alonso is their tough-tackling midfield metronome at the base of their midfield while Arturo Vidal found himself at his new club in the second-half of last season with his never-ending bundles of energy and ability to conjure powerful,rasping shots. Ancelotti has moved Thiago Alcantara into a playmaker role in a 4-3-3 as if he manages to sustain a period of fitness, the prospect of that three could send tremors across Europe. Youngsters Renato Sanches and Joshua Kimmich who has found himself in defence add to that bounty of options.

In defence, some of the abilities of Jerome Boateng who has a claim to being the world’s best centre-back have been mentioned as he has become a polarising figure for club and country. Mats Hummels who is also one of the best passers in Europe will be next to him after Bayern hoovered yet another player from Dortmund. Javi Martinez who grew immensely under Guardiola in defence will provide stern competition there and in midfield. Lahm will continue to be the leader of the side while Guardiola once described Alaba as ‘our god’. The gigantic presence of Manuel Neuer will continue to loom large over many strikers.

Bayern also have tactical range after beating Borussia Dortmund in the German Super Cup with less possession while Ancelotti’s wealth of experience in European competition makes Bayern even more of an uphill battle. PSV will need to play a rigid 5-3-2/5-4-1 as they played in the dying stages of their match against Manchester United to hold out and play on the counter. A back five with a bank of four will help deal with Muller’s movements and close out the spaces on the flanks with a player or two pressing the Bayern defence to force the ball out wide or to encourage aimless long-balls.

FC Rostov

Their frustation of Ajax in the first leg and sudden dismantling of the Goedenzonen in the second-leg sent shockwaves through Europe as the Russian Leicester City will prove a stern test for the Dutch Champions. PSV already have a poor record in Russia as they were knocked out of the Europa League by Zenit St Petersburg two seasons ago and were 3-0 down at half-time last year against CSKA Moscow in the Group Stage.
The team who play a rigid 5-3-2 and concede possession looking to play on the break and through set-pieces have translated their surprising second-placed finish in the Russian League into a UEFA Champions League group-stage place. Breaking down Rostov is a task of it’s own but PSV will need focus to tightly mark the likes of creator and midfield livewire Cristian Noboa and the ‘Iranian Messi’ Sardar Azmoun. Azmoun is a quick, skillful and strong finisher as he will be a thorn in PSV’s side in his second-striker role.

Ajax conceded the majority of their goals through set-pieces which PSV will need to be aware of so care will need to taken in tackling around the box. PSV will need to play a 3-5-2 to gain the numerical advantage over Rostov with 3 defenders against their two strikers, 5 midfielders against their midfield 3 and 2 strikers plus runners from midfield against their back five. Willems as a wing-back also brings about the potential for early crosses to Luuk De Jong while De Jong having a quicker partners brings about the opportunity for Guardado long balls as that is the type of directness needed to break down Rostov.

PSV can not look to play out wide in the final third as that is where Rostov are the most comfortable in their half. PSV could struggle in a game like this as they could fall into the trap of having their defenders hoard possession and push high as they caress the ball around aimlessly only to be caught on the counter. The matches against Rostov could easily decide whether PSV are in European competition after the winter break or not.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)