With Nigel de Jong ruled out of the rest of the World Cup, Louis van Gaal should move away from the 5-3-2 due to a lack of personnel in the midfield department.

  • By Adrian Bucher
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Following the confirmation that Nigel de Jong is set to miss out on the rest of this summer’s World Cup, head coach Louis van Gaal will be cursing his luck as, from a tactical point of view, de Jong’s injury is arguably the worst casualty that the Oranje could have possibly suffered.

In van Gaal’s 5-3-2 system, de Jong took on the role of enforcer, relieving much of the defensive responsibilities from the other two midfielders, Wesley Sneijder and Georginio Wijnaldum, allowing them to operate more offensively. Should van Gaal opt to maintain the 5-3-2 system, there are two possibilities that the Dutch can employ following the introduction of a replacement midfielder.

Firstly, the midfield could play without an enforcer, and share the defensive responsibilities between themselves. However, even during the years when Sneijder was the driving force for the national team, he proved, more often than not, his lack of defensive capabilities, which has not improved with age. As for the other midfielder, van Gaal has employed the services of  Wijnaldum and de Guzman, however, this has consistently been the weakest part of the Dutch lineup over the course of the World Cup, often relying on de Jong for much cover, regardless of who was being fielded.

The alternative is to field a midfielder as a direct replacement for the Amsterdam-native. However, similar to the above point, given the fact that van Gaal must rely on Wijnaldum and de Guzman, despite their mediocre showings, reveals the lack of faith placed by van Gaal in his midfielding substitutes. Arguably, the reason for the switch to the 5-3-2 was to accommodate the loss of Kevin Strootman, a player not unlike de Jong, to injury. With both defensive midfielders now unavailable the 5-3-2 should no longer be regarded as the formation to rely on.

In this light, more emphasis should be placed on different formations. The 4-3-3, often used as the Oranje’s second-best option, is one that has gotten them out of trouble in recent games, and one that captain van Persie has spoken of his preference to. It must be kept in mind that even in a 4-3-3 set up, de Jong’s absence will be missed, however, the net effect of the midfielder’s loss would not be as largely felt.

A 3-4-1-2 set-up is also another plausible alternative, and was the one that dramatically secured the Netherlands’ progression to the quarter-finals against Mexico. With Dirk Kuyt having impressed on the flanks, Daley Blind could be reverted back to the central midfield, with Janmaat or Depay on the opposite flank. This leaves Wesley Sneijder as the attacking midfielder just behind van Persie and Robben. This represents a huge risk, as, though the Galatasaray-man scored the eqauliser, he had cut, at times, a frustrating figure in the final third, making few key passes and was guilty of some poor finishing.

Why is de Jong’s injury so crucial? Unlike other areas in the squad, there is really is no one that can fill the void left by the AC Milan man. Should Robben or van Persie be absent, there are alternatives in the form of Memphis Depay and Klaas Jan Huntelaar. If Daley Blind or Daryl Janmaat succumb to any knocks, Paul Verhaegh, though uninspiring in his last outing, is an option. de Guzman and Wijnaldum are interchangeable, and there still remains Jordie Clasie.

To make it past their next opponents, Costa Rica, who have defied the odds and made it to the quarter-finals, van Gaal will have to make some bold and important decisions, and hope that the Netherlands do not become the latest victims to Costa Rica’s historic run. As has often been a talking point for this Dutch squad, the lack of experience may come to hurt them, and with one of their veterans now out, more pressure will be placed on van Gaal’s young guns to avoid complacency against their next opponents in what is an arguably favourable match.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)