Champions League Group Stage Preview
Having comfortably navigated their way past Club Brugge in the qualifying round United now embark a trip to Holland for the first game of the group stage where they face current Dutch Champions PSV Eindhoven.
PSV are one of the so called “Big Three” of the Eredivisie and won it last year for the first time since 2007-08 finishing 17points ahead of Ajax who had previously been Champions for four consecutive years. This was PSV 22nd national title.
The club are managed by former PSV player Philip Cocu who played under Louis Van Gaal at Barcelona where he formed a three man midfield with Pep Guardiola and Luis Figo and as Van Gaal’s captain lifted the La Liga title in 1999. He returned to PSV in 2004. Over a ten year period Cocu won 101 Dutch caps. Cocu had a brief spell as PSV caretaker boss in 2012 but has been the permanent since the summer of 2013.
Cocu favours a 4-3-3 team shape, but it usually closer to 4-1-2-3. Two key players from last year, our own Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum have now moved on but with five weeks of the new season played PSV are holding their own in fourth place with eleven points; they beat struggling Cambuur 6-0 at the weekend. Having lost players United might be tempted to take PSV lightly but they shouldn’t and with a Dutch manager, who will know all about Cocu and his team surely we won’t. Van Gaal will know that Cocu is widely considered to be one of Europe’s best young managers and a shrewd tactician whose teams are always well organised.
His teams play a zonal defensive system which allows them to maintain a solid shape. The back four is screened by a central pivot with two central midfield players further forward. His wide players start deep but will push forward and inside to support the central striker when they attack. (Memphis does this almost as second nature of course and it is a feature of his game developed by Cocu at PSV). PSV don’t press aggressively. If they do press they tend to pick their moments to do so, and only those players closest to the ball will do the pressing, most commonly the midfield three. The defence will concentrate at this moment on maintaining its shape. PSV like to defend on a narrow front. United’s wide players therefore much stay wide in an attempt to try and drag the fullbacks out.
When attacking PSV are a team that likes to hit teams with pace in wide areas. Wingers will start wide and look to break quickly either down the line or by cutting inside towards the central striker. All three central midfield players are capable of launching a counter attack with a searching pass towards the wings.
The player to watch is perhaps Luuk de Jong who will be full of confidence having scored a hat trick at the weekend.
The Dutch Eredivisie is not as strong as the premier leage of course but PSV are a dangerous side who will not fear United and the Reds will need to right on their game especially facing their opponents on their own ground.