It’s not a rematch. It’s a remix.
When broadcasters across the globe welcome viewers to Spain’s clash with the Netherlands, they’ll be quick to alert the world that this is a revenge match for the Oranje. However, a maximum of four Dutchman, who played in the 2010 finale, will take the pitch against La Roja. Holland is a different squad than it was four years ago. While Robin van Persie, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder, and Nigel de Jong look to avenge the extra time defeat, there will be eight men behind them looking to prove themselves on the sport’s biggest stage.
The personnel Louis van Gaal will deploy against Spain are a new bunch. Bruno Martins Indi, Stefan De Vrij, and Ron Vlaar are expected to make up an adapted three-center back, two-wingback system. Daley Blind will be at the ready to bomb down the pitch from the left flank or break up play in the middle. The Dutch Footballer of the Year is the key to the defensive half of the squad. Look for Daryl Janmaat to defend the right flank.
In Salvador, the Spanish could field a team nearly identical to that of the edition four years ago, except at the back, as Carles Puyol and Joan Capdevila are not in the squad. Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos will be the center back pairing, unless Vicente del Bosque opts for Javi Martinez. The duo will be flanked by Jordi Alba, and a pick of Cesar Azpilicueta or Juanfran, though both players saw time in the team’s two warm-up matches.
Del Bosque & Co. will continue to paint blue arrows across digital fields created by Opta throughout their involvement in the tournament, so the question becomes who will break them up, and even more importantly, who can keep them out of the 18 yard box? Blind could be that player if he is put in the middle of the park. While he can feature as a left back, van Gaal would be wise to add the Ajax star to the middle of the pitch, so that he can disrupt the narrow attack of the opponent.
Spain will not be the side that has to react. Del Bosque will not abandon the team’s shape and style. A few players that are not in the core of the squad will be peppered into the lineup, but expect Xabi Alonso, Xavi, and Sergio Busquets to make up the middle three. In the attack, Diego Costa is not necessarily a starter, though if he plays, his style will have to mesh with that of the team. Costa likes to run into the channels on counters and scrap for the ball in the six-yard box, but that may not combine well with the Spanish system. It will be up Andres Iniesta and another attacker to flank Costa and integrate him into the game. Perhaps a long ball or two from Alonso could send Costa towards goal.
To defend the Spanish attack, the Oranje will have to choose between playing two or three center backs. In warmup matches, the Dutch dabbled between the two shapes, and it worked against an attack-minded Ghana. While playing three at the back is supposed to give an extra man to fend off two strikers, it can be effective when packing men behind the ball against a team where six players vigorously pass and move in the final third.
The Dutch will sit two or three breakers of the midfield in front of the center backs, and the reaction of van Gaal’s defense to the movement of the Spanish players will be a deciding factor. One of the center midfielders in front of the back line, which could be Jonathan de Guzman or Leroy Fer, will be tasked with breaking forward and connecting the defense with the creative line of Robben, van Persie, and Sneijder. A skilled and cohesive break will be paramount to Holland getting a result, which would ease pressure on the squad ahead of matches against Australia and Chile.