With both the Netherlands and Chile guaranteed a place in the round-of-16, it is arguably the centre-back whose presence will be missed more than the absence of the captain.

  • By Adrian Bucher
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As Louis van Gaal prepares to take on Chile in São Paulo on Monday to determine who finishes as winners of Group B, he will have to do so without the services of Robin van Persie (suspension) and Bruno Martins Indi (injury). Though the absence of both players represent a huge loss for the Oranje, from a tactical point of view, the loss of the defender not only presents van Gaal with a selection headache, but also has a larger influence on the overall approach that the Dutch will take to the final group game.

Simply put, van Persie has been outstanding in front of goal, and is currently the joint top-scorer of the tournament (alongside four other players, including compatriot Arjen Robben) with three goals to his name. His suspension, which he feels was unfair, places a lot more burden on the other attacking players to get the ball forward. However, though a central figure to the Oranje’s Brazilian campaign, van Gaal can rely on adequate cover to fill in for their suspended captain.

Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Dirk Kuyt, and more recently, Memphis Depay, are all luxurious alternatives that can be deployed in order to break down the Chilean defence. The characteristics of  these players additionally allow for much tactical flexibility. In Huntelaar, the Netherlands posses a centre-forward, whereas Kuyt plays the role of a second-striker role, and Depay able to operate on the wings. This sort of flexibility is not apparent, however, in the defensive department.

As was seen last time out against Australia, following Matrins Indi’s withdrawal in the first half, van Gaal had opted to use two centre-backs, as opposed to the three-man system he had been using up until that point, with Janmaat and Blind dropping back as fullbacks. This decision had left the Dutch defence exposed, and forced van Gaal into another tactical change that eventually ensured three points against the Australians. This incident clearly highlighted van Gaal’s lack of alternatives in defence, as instead of bringing on a centre-back to replace the Feyenoord man, the Manchester United coach-elect had decided to bring on Depay.

Martin Indi’s injury means that more pressure is placed on the shoulders of Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij to keep Alexis Sanchez and company at bay, and there is little to suggest that van Gaal has enough faith in his alternatives for centre-backs to stick with a three-man central defence. As such, Blind and Janmaat will inevitably be needed to track back and take on a more active role in defence, which limits their involvement in getting the ball into the Chilean half.

Dutch fans would have clearly preferred to have avoided the absence of two of their key players from the Chile game in their efforts to top the group, as finishing top would give the Oranje a preferable draw in the knockout stages of the tournament. Though van Persie’s presence in attack will undoubtedly be missed, Martins Indi’s injury significantly alters van Gaal’s tactical approach to the game, as the injury means that certain tactics will no longer be available.

Regardless, the Netherlands will be hoping to continue their impressive start to the tournament, and will be aiming to secure top spot with at least a draw against Chile. Louis van Gaal certainly have the men at his disposal to achieve this.

Adrian Bucher (39 Posts)