Dutch coaches are largely well regarded and are known for adopting a possession-based style of play, with bosses such as ten Hag also being able to implement pressing into their systems in recent years.
Having managed AZ Alkmaar to great success, Arne Slot was brought in to manage Feyenoord from the start of the 2021/22 season and assisted by Robin van Persie guided the Rotterdam-based side to third in the table as well as the 2021/22 European Conference League final.
The 44-year-old admitted that it may take time for him to instil his philosophy on the Feyenoord players but even he may be surprised by how quickly the team have adopted his methods.
There is a general misconception within the beautiful game from an outside perspective that managers mould players to play a certain brand of football even when the squad doesn’t possess the necessary personnel. This just is not the case. Pep Guardiola was forced to overhaul Manchester City’s starting eleven before he could properly implement his philosophy on the team, likewise with Jurgen Klopp at Liverpool. Arne Slot could be Dutch football’s next Johan Cruyff in terms of football management and his approach to the game suggests just that.
Who is Arne Slot?
Slot is a Dutch manager who has spent the entirety of his managerial and playing career in his native country. He currently manages Feyenoord who sit on top of the Eredivise table, ahead of Dutch giants Ajax and PSV.
His senior playing career started in 1995 when he made his debut for FC Zwolle as a midfielder. He then moved around Dutch teams such as Sparta Rotterdam, PEC Zwolle and NAC Breda. Before retiring in 2013 at age 35.
In the early days of his managerial career, he coached one of the youth teams at PEC Zwolle in 2013 before joining Cambuur as their assistant manager until 2017. He then made another step up in his career, joining AZ Alkmaar as the assistant to John van den Brom whose spell didn’t go too well. After the dismissal of Van Den Brom, Slot was given the first-team manager role at AZ.
The 44-year-old’s maiden season as a first-team manager was cut short due to the Covid-19. The team still placed second thanks to their goal difference, but a winner wasn’t crowned in 2019. The following season, Slot was sacked from AZ after being accused of not being focused on the team. Despite this he still averaged 2.11 points per game – the highest points tally from any manager in the club’s history.
Arne Slot’s tactics and style of play
The 44-year-old’s managerial style has been likened to Leeds fan favourite Marcelo Bielsa. This is largely due to the attack-minded nature of his tactics, which bore plenty of fruit for Leeds under Bielsa.
Feyenoord have particularly been impressive in possession, displaying a true positional and tactical understanding of the game. Watching Slot’s side feels like a lesson in football at times. Slot was an avid user of the 4-2-3-1 at AZ Alkmaar. This has not changed since his switch to Feyenoord. The Dutch giants have deployed the convention system in 85 percent of their games this season so far. The similar 4-3-3 is the only other eleven-man tactical structure utilised by Slot at De Kuip.
As Feyenoord play a 4-2-3-1 for the most part, their build-up structure generally remains the same as this with the double-pivot staying behind the opposition’s first line of pressure. The fullbacks push high while the two centre-backs split and allow the goalkeeper to practically become a third ball-player in a temporary back three.
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Feyenoord’s build-up play is really vertical, crisp and rapid. Unlike some Dutch coaches, Slot doesn’t want slow build-up. The ball needs to be moved fast with risky passes, breaking the opponent’s lines for faster and smoother ball progression up the pitch.
In case Feyenoord aren’t able to build from the back, their goalkeeper, Justin Bijlow, plays a long ball usually aimed towards the left halfspace. Bijlow has a very good long pass, usually being able to play it towards the chest of one of the forward players after which another player comes directly behind the first player to receive the second ball.
Feyenoord have completed the second-highest number of progressive passes per 90 in the Eredivisie this season with 79.81. As expected, only Ajax have achieved more. Their accuracy on these passes has been an impressive 81.2 percent. Again, only Ajax has a better rate.
The previous coach, Dick Advocaat, had Feyenoord play in a defensive block with very intensive man-marking duties. Slot chooses to have Feyenoord press high-up while also preferring to build-up from the back and applying intensive counterpressing when possession is lost.
Arne Slot’s Feyenoord analysis
After his dismissal in 2020 from AZ Alkmar, Slot was announced as the new Feyenoord manager and initially agreed to a two-year deal. Feyenoord’s starting elevens have been largely consistent over the past few months and there is a heavy emphasis from the new manager on having players in the team that are comfortable in possession.
Having these players profiles on the side allows Slot to play a certain way. The personnel also possess high tactical intelligence and are capable of playing in numerous positions to bring Slot’s ideology of positional fluidity to fruition.
The double-pivot are tasked with ensuring that they do not remain stagnant while the ball is in front of them with the backline or goalkeeper. Slot wants his two holding midfielders to constantly drift into space behind the first line of pressure, rotating, interchanging and looking to receive the ball to progress the team forward.
Slot has done a wonderful job with this side. His predecessor, the legendary Dick Advocaat, was underwhelming at best and the team finished fifth in the 2020/21 campaign. Now, they look like proper title contenders in the Eredivisie.
The team look completely brand new and are playing a beautiful brand of football in pure cohesion, almost as if the players have been together all their lives in the same side. Even Arne Slot himself will be surprised by how quickly the players have adapted to his philosophy of the game.