How will Netherlands line up against Chile in the crucial Group B decider on Monday? Priya Ramesh explores Louis van Gaal’s options.

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oranje train aWith both teams already qualified from their group at the expense of defending champions Spain and a resilient Australian side, The Netherlands take on Chile on Monday, sans captain and talisman Robin van Persie and possibly more crucially, defender Bruno Martins Indi who suffered a concussion in a collision with the scorer of a van Basten-esque volley vs the Dutch – Tim Cahill.

This leaves dear old Louis with more than one headache, splitting his seasoned tactical mind, most importantly, the typically Dutch 4-3-3 or the 5-3-2 that has seen recent success?

This is where the unavailability of Martins Indi causes problems, because how Van Gaal decides to deal with this is the deciding factor between the 4-3-3- and the 5-3-2, so we’ll be looking at each formation in terms of the defence first.


Option 1: Continue with the 5-3-2

If Van Gaal wanted to keep the 5-3-2, which is what he said he would use vs Chile, he needs to replace Martins Indi and naturally, Joel Veltman and young Terence Kongolo emerge as contenders for the spot. Veltman is definitely the more experienced of the two, having played and shone in the Champions League this year against the likes of Barcelona and Celtic and is coming off the back of a fantastic season with Ajax. A terrific ball-playing defender, he will fit into the tactic of playing long, pinpoint balls to the forwards and is quite fast, able to handle Sanchez, though he can be slightly lax at the back sometimes.

However, Veltman is right-footed – the same as de Vrij and Vlaar, and it is vital to have at least one left-footed centreback in the 3-man-defence, which is where Kongolo’s chances increase multifold. A left-footed centreback from Feyenoord who can play leftback too and is used to this 5-3-2 system, having been a regular starter in Koeman’s last few weeks at the helm. However, he did only really break into the first team halfway through the season, is only 20 and might need some more maturity and experience before being thrust into the spotlight of the World Cup.

Option 2: Switch to the 4-3-3

After Martins Indi had to be stretchered off at half time, the Dutch brought on eventual matchwinner Memphis Depay and switched to a 4-3-3, with the defence playing on with 4 men and Depay joining the attack on the left side. Ultimately, if Van Gaal feels he is not in a position to play either Veltman or Kongolo, he will stick with the rest of his defenders in a 4-man defence. However, we saw a 4-man defence being stretched by the width and pace of Chile’s attacks and especially on the left side, Ron Vlaar and Daley Blind are not the fastest of defenders. Stefan de Vrij has had a generally good season but was definitely inconsistent in the first half of the season and his positional awareness still needs a lot of work, and so far, his positioning errors have been negated by the presence of an extra centreback behind him. Playing in a centreback partnership, if de Vrij is caught out, it could prove to be more costly.


Option 1: Continue with the 5-3-2

The absence of Robin van Persie means there’s a spot left up top alongside vice captain Arjen Robben and it could see it being claimed by any one of Jeremain Lens, Memphis Depay or the perennially overlooked Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, though the latter seems unlikely. Lens played up front when he came on for van Persie in the 5-1 demolition of Spain and Depay started alongside van Persie as one of the two strikers in a pre-World Cup friendly and performed well. Playing up front in a 5-3-2 definitely requires pace – either that, or you need to be Robin van Persie. Both Depay and Lens definitely have pace, but both are the same height – a relatively vertically challenged 178cm, which makes them a smaller target for the long, aerial balls that the defence plays up.

Huntelaar, standing at more or less the same height as van Persie fits this requirement better and is one of the best finishers around the D box of his  generation, a quintessential poacher and the man that his current coach Van Gaal called, “”In the box, (he is) the best player in the world, bar none.” So, why not Huntelaar? Because he severely lacks the kind of pace or mobility that van Persie possesses, which is suited to this system. Moreover, Huntelaar and Robben have not always had the best of relationships and were another spat to emerge between the ex-Ajax man who criticised Robben’s selfishness, things would not bode well. Though he is a fantastic finisher, Huntelaar can’t dribble from the deep as well as van Persie can and thus, is likely to be overlooked again if van Gaal sticks with the 5-3-2.

Option 2: Switch to the 4-3-3

If van Gaal were to use a 4-3-3, it would mean either having to use Huntelaar – a figure who is more than popular among the Dutch fans – or using a false 9 by playing any one of Robben, Lens or even Dirk Kuyt in the striker role.

The most natural and best option would be ‘the Hunter’, who is very much used to spearheading the attack in a 4-3-3 and being a very big, dominating physical presence, will give the relatively shaky Chilean defence something to worry about. This role requires significantly less dribbling ability and more of being in the right place at the right time and purposeful movement.

However, if van Gaal still does not rate Huntelaar, the automatic choice would seem to be Jeremain Lens in the 4-3-3.

Chile play a similar 3-5-2/5-3-2 system too and we saw Spain’s 4-3-3 crumble vs an efficient execution of the 5-3-2 twice in this World Cup already, so is the risk of a 4-3-3 worth taking, especially without the most important player in the Oranje’s 4-3-3 that forced this formation change – Kevin Strootman? Or will Van Gaal stick to his plans and the 5-3-2 that has fared pretty well for him, so far? Overlooked since Euro 2008, will Klaas-Jan Huntelaar finally get a chance?

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Priya Ramesh (5 Posts)

Freelance Dutch football writer, suffering student, unique mixture of calcium, water, collagen and iron.