Yesterday’s come-from-behind victory against Australia saw the Oranje employ the use of three distinct formations over the course of the match. Though Louis van Gaal’s men escaped with all three points, there are several questions that need to be addressed as the Dutch prepare for their upcoming matches.

  • By Adrian Bucher
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With the first week of action at the 2014 FIFA World Cup having now been completed, the Netherlands’ 3-2 victory over Australia, coupled with Spain’s shock elimination at the hands of Chile, means that the Dutch are now safely through to the knockout stages of the tournament with a game to spare. Though the Oranje eventually overcame a spirited Australia side in Porto Alegre, several players, including Robin van Persie were left underwhelmed with the team’s performance, saying that the team’s first-half display ” was very bad from our side.” In the end, what proved to be crucial to the Netherlands’ attempt to overturn the 2-1 deficit was the second formation change of formations, after the first alteration had nearly cost the team dearly.

Louis van Gaal had opted to begin the match using the same 5-3-2 formation that was used in the Oranje’s 5-1 thrashing of Spain in Salvador, and it looked to immediately pay dividends as Arjen Robben burst into the Australian penalty box, before calmly slotting the ball past Mathew Ryan in the Australian goal, with just under half of the first half played. Parity was later restored courtesy of a Tim Cahill volley a minute later. Though the backline had been solid throughout the opening exchanges in the match, the three-man central defence had looked more vulnerable to the Australians than against Spain, with Bruno Martins Indi looking particularly shaky at the back. Eventually, the Feyenoord  man suffered a concussion and had to be stretched off at the end of the first half.

The first tactical shift occurred as a result of the injury, with van Gaal deciding to replace the central defender with PSV winger Memphis Depay. The Dutch consequently began the second half with a 3-4-1-2 formation, with Daryl Janmaat reverting back to defence alongside Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij. What immediately followed was an Australian siege along the Dutch left flank. With Janmaat being an attacking fullback, he has a natural tendency to advance up the pitch. However, with the new tactical set-up, Janmaat was tasked with added defensive responsibilities, which were often neglected by the Leidschendam-native, leaving the left flank exposed on a number of occasions – which was particularly magnified by Depay’s lack of cover on the left wing, given his own attacking tendencies. Though Australia took the lead after a penalty had been awarded, due to a handball committed by Janmaat, it was clear that if the Dutch continued with the 3-4-1-2 formation, there was a risk of falling further behind.

The change to 4-3-3 proved to be the key to the Dutch turn around. The use of three wide players along each flank had provided more stability along the flanks, relieving much of the defensive duties of Janmaat and Depay, whilst also reducing the exposure to the Australian attack. In the middle of the park, Nigel de Jong had been outstanding in limiting play through the middle, and as such, with the wings more secure, and more balance introduced to the rest of the team, the Oranje were able to get the ball back into the Australian half. The switching of Depay to his preferred right wing, after having been deployed on the left, resulted in the 20 year-old marking his World Cup debut with an assist and a goal from distance, assuring that the Dutch grabbed their second win from as many matches.

With a place in the knockout stage confirmed, Louis van Gaal will have much to ponder about ahead of the final group stage match against Chile. Though both teams are guaranteed their place in the round of 16, the result of this match will determine who finishes as group winners – which is particularly significant as the group runners-up will more than likely have to meet Brazil in the first knockout stage, whilst the winners can enjoy an arguably smoother path to the quarter-finals.

Though captain Robin van Perise is set to sit out the match, due to suspension, what is perhaps more significant is the possibility of Bruno Martins Indi missing the match following his concussion. In this respect, the three man central-defence is surely not an option for van Gaal, as evidenced by the second half of the Australia match. With Memphis Depay impressing on his tournament bow, as well as the availability of Klaas Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt, the Oranje have solid options in attack. What is most pressing is that with these new constraints in the defence, van Gaal may not be able to enjoy the same tactical flexibility that allowed the Dutch to survive their Australian scare, due to a lack of personnel. Chile were just as able to limit the attacking chances of Spain as the Dutch were, and, as such, stability in the midfield cannot be understated when these two nations lock horns on Monday.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)