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World Cup 2014

World Cup 2014 Tactics: Analysing Netherlands’ tactical approach, formation, and set up

Netherlands remain the greatest team yet to win the World Cup, and after falling just short in the last edition, they’ll be hoping to have another shot at it. The task isn’t easy with a difficult group to navigate, and a side that is comparatively weaker than the one we saw in 2010. The big positive is Louis Van Gaal, whose experience and success rate can be decisive, while his tactical approach is always intriguing.


Under Louis van Gaal, the Dutch national team certainly went through quite a change. After Bert van Marwijk’s rather defensive minded 4-2-3-1, Louis van Gaal opted to play a classic 4-3-3, to which the Dutch are more accustomed and happier about. However, van Gaal did not seem to be satisfied with the 4-3-3 he used in the qualiyfing stage and will try to adapt a 3-5-2/3-4-3 before the tournament starts, a system he tested against Ecuador in a friendly match, only a couple of weeks ago.

In that particular game, the Netherlands did not really choose to press up high, but rather looked to close down their opponents in the midfield. The three center-backs were Veltman, de Vrij and Martins Indi from right to left, while the wing-backs Janmaat (right) and Kongolo (left) hugged the touchlines, but still tried to position themselves closer to their center-backs vertically. Louis van Gaal used a double pivot of Daley Blind and Clasie, while Wijnaldum who is just back from injury was deployed as a classic playmaker. Up front the duo of Memphis Depay and Robin van Persie started, but with Wijnaldum drifting to the right, Depay moving towards the left and van Persie staying rather central, the system looked more like 3-4-3, when Holland were attacking.

MORE READING | Interview with Dutch football expert, Peter McVitie, discussing Van Gaal’s approach, his focus on the youth and more.

Of course the line-up mentioned above was only for an exhibition match. It is only natural that van Gaal will deploy the trio of Robben, Sneijder and van Persie up front for more important games and most likely in the World Cup as well. Robben’s style of play suggests that he will position himself towards the right touchline and will cut inside to his left foot to either shoot or create chances for his teammates who make runs towards the back post on the opposite side. Meanwhile Sneijder is and has been a central playmaker throughout his career but has the tendency to drift towards to the left with or without the ball. When considered that Sneijder was used on the left flank mainly by Roberto Mancini for Galatasaray, this type of role seemingly will suit him and will form a very dangerous trident up front.

The double pivot of Blind and Clasie used against Ecuador isn’t the most effective duo to introduce the ball from the center of the midfield, therefore it will be mostly up to the wing-backs to do the service and their performance will prove to be crucial. Louis van Gaal would like his midfield to toughen up a little bit more for tournament, so the introduction of Nigel de Jong for Clasie will not come as a surprise. It is also highly likely that Ron Vlaar will make it to the starting line up, replacing Joël Weltman as the first choice right-center back.

Made using Tactical Pad

Made using Tactical Pad


It is obvious that with their trident up front, Netherlands possess an incredible amount of fire power. However as mentioned above, the lack of creativity from the central midfielders will put extra burden on the wing-backs to carry the ball to more advanced positions. Daley Blind isn’t necessarily a bad passer of the ball, however it is unclear how he will react under pressure, especially when the Netherlands will play against Chile and Spain in the group stage and both teams press aggressively high up the pitch.

On a fine day Arjen Robben is unstoppable, but on a bad day he is simply intolerable. He attempts too many take-ons, loses his nerves, tries to beat the opposition by himself and eventually breaks down. This has happened to him in the past, notably four year back in the final, later on in the UEFA Champions League final against Chelsea in 2012. He however, scored the winning goal in the following year’s UEFA Champions League final and had an excellent display, especially after being moved to a more central position by Jupp Heynckes. Here in van Gaal’s 3-4-3 (3-4-2-1 to be more accurate) he can again move to central positions and drift sideways to find space between the lines, which will inevitably lead to more creativity in the attacking third.

The usage of a 3-men defense isn’t something that viewers are accustomed to in national team level that much. Chile played a 3-man defense under Bielsa and continued to do so since Sampaoli has taken over (they do switch to a 4-men defense depending on the opposition). It is also highly likely that Mexico will use a 3-5-2/5-3-2 throughout the tournament. In the case of Holland, they haven’t perfected this system yet and this will take time to adjust to. Wing-backs are constantly in danger of being overloaded by opposition full-backs and wingers. Group stage opponents, Spain, play a very narrow game in midfield due to their wingers cutting in and opening up space for their full-backs to overlap and create chances on the flanks. Van Gaal will need to pay special attention to this.


Daley Blind | The Ajax player has had a terrific season for his club, winning a third consecutive Eredivisie. What’s made it special for the player is his transformation from a left full back to a central player. Coach De Boer trusted him to play in a sort of ’Busquets Role’, and the player rewarded his coach’s trust in a big way. Making 70+ passes a game at an 88% completion rate speaks volumes of his ability. With the Netherlands switching to 3 at the back, there isn’t a lot of confidence in their central midfielders to get the ball forward to their deadly trident. However, Blind will be key to helping them do just that. Moreover, with the likes of Spain and Chile looking to press them high up the field, the central midfielders and their ability to hold onto the ball under such pressure makes Blind crucial.

 The Wingbacks | The obvious space to exploit in a 3-5-2 is down the wings, and both the expected starters at full back, Kongolo and Janmaat have an important role to play. It is vital that they move forward to provide much needed width in attack, but they also need to ensure that they hold the fort at the back, as there is no protection behind them. If the wing backs do their jobs effectively, the 3-4-3/3-5-2 can be a very tough system to counter, but in case they don’t, it can be exploited quite easily. This is where Kongolo and Janmaat will come under the scanner, and they could very well determine how far the Dutch team goes.


It is almost sure that Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij will be regulars on the starting eleven, while Memphis Depay could be introduced if more width is needed. If Wesley Sneijder isn’t at his best by the time that the tournament begins, then Memphis Depay does have a chance of gaining a spot in the starting lineup and play towards the left, which will turn Holland into a flat 3-4-3. Depay, at only 20 years of age has been capped 8 times already and if he manages to show himself, then he could complete a big transfer this summer. Here’s a detailed Scout Report on Memphis Depay. The PSV man also featured in Outside of the Boot’s list of 100 Best Young Players to watch-out for in 2014, in the attackers category.


It wont be easy for the Oranje to lift this trophy, with a number of tough opponents in their way. If they manage to get through the group ahead of either Spain or Chile, a potential clash with Brazil in the second round will not raise too many hopes of progression. However, a win against the champions in the opening game will change everything, so a lot depends on that clash.

This article was written by Firat Aktav. Follow him on Twitter @FiratAktav

Read our Analysis of all teams here, and all other WC2014 related content here.

Firat Aktav

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