With the Netherlands taking on Spain in their first group match this Friday, the main headline has been to depict this as a rematch of the 2010 World Cup final. I, however, disagree with this.
Both of these teams are in different places from where they were four years ago. Holland’s squad has been a near overhaul as there are only 5 returning players in this year’s team that played in the final, compared to 11 in Spain’s squad.
My focus here is to lay out how the Netherlands will be approaching this match from a tactical standpoint in their bid to beat Spain and top Group B.
Spain has mostly stuck with their 4-3-3 high possession, tika-taka game plan and knowing this, Louis van Gaal will be looking to form a counter tactic. Louis van Gaal is very familiar with this style of play since he was one of the catalysts in its development at Barcelona. In fact, most of the Dutch qualifying matches have featured a 4-3-3 with high possession and quick passing, though in a somewhat more attacking style than the passenacio of Spain. This is the match where van Gaal has looked to make his tactical change.
In the Netherlands’ build-up to the World Cup they have been playing with a much different setup. In most of their matches van Gaal has gone with a 5-3-2 of sorts, which is mainly down to the loss of Kevin Strootman in midfield. Regardless of the reasons, this lineup is almost certainly going to be used as both a counter to Spain and as a way to incorporate the youth of this team with the increased numbers at the back being used to, hopefully, limit mistakes.
Whatever you want to call this tactic, 3-5-2, 5-3-2, 3-4-1-2, or 5-2-1-2, it is basically 3 central defenders, 2 wing-backs, 2 defensive central midfielders, 1 attacking midfielder, and 2 forwards. In using this setup Holland will be looking to both squeeze and stretch the pitch. Defensively the 5 defenders with 2 midfielders sitting in front will try to shrink their own half and do their best to pinch Spain’s midfielders, pushing them to the middle, and filling up the space. The idea of using the wing-backs will be both to push Spain’s wide midfielders more centrally and to provide an outlet for a quick break, thus stretching Spain’s defense on the counter-attack.
The Dutch attack has plenty of veteran talent between Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. With Sneijder playing as their attacking midfielder, van Persie will be pushed up front and Robben given a bit more leeway to move about where he can find space. Robben and van Persie both have great off the ball movement and can be highly technically skilled passers of the ball, meaning they will be a nightmare for defenders.
The real battle for this match will be waged in the middle of the field. The key pairing in Holland’s lineup will be their central/defensive midfielders. This will most likely be Nigel de Jong as the more defensive of the two, along with Jonathan de Guzman, who will be more of a typical central midfielder being used to get the ball forward. There is also the possibility of using Leroy Fer or Jordy Clasie in this role, but De Guzman has slightly more experience than the other two. The job for these two will be to shut down Spain’s passing game and become the catalysts for Holland’s counter attack.
However, the key in this match will be with the wing-back, most likely Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat. In their friendly warm-up against Ghana, Blind had 3 tackles, 3 interceptions and 7 clearances, while on offense he provided 1 key pass and had a 91% pass completion rate from 63 touches. On the other wing, Janmaat had 7 tackles, 2 interceptions and 3 clearances while also adding 1 key pass and 86% pass completion from 53 touches. Overall, this compares very favorably with the rest of the team which had an 80% pass completion rate from 51% possession. In the match they also used 78% of their possession in attacking down the wings with only 22% down the middle. This friendly warm-up match against Ghana is probably the closest to what should be expected on Friday afternoon. The Netherlands came through 1-0 winners from a Robin van Persie goal and the tactical set up is something much more likely to be set out by van Gaal.
This team full of young, up and coming players should have an advantage over a mostly aging Spanish team. Some have said that this Netherlands team is the most fit at the tournament, and they will certainly be tested against Spain. At the same time, they are young and there is still the chance for a mistake, a mistake that a star-studded, veteran, Spain side will pounce on in a second.
Perhaps I am over-hyping this team, but I feel that they have real potential. With van Gaal leading them and reports of there being a more positive locker room this year, this team could surprise a lot of people. There is a very good chance that this young Dutch team can come through this with a result and even a win, which would give them an excellent shot at topping the group. Then again, it is the Dutch, and this feeling of youth filled potential at the World Cup has been seen before.
Probable starting lineup – 3-5-2: Cillessen; Indi, Vlaar, de Vrij; Blind, de Jong, de Guzman, Janmaat; Sneijder; Robben, van Persie
The Netherlands takes on Spain on June 13 with kickoff at 3pm ET taking place at the Arena Fonte Nova in Salvador. The match will be aired live in the United States on ESPN and Univision.