World Cup 2014-Van Gaal’s tactics against Spain


Oranje’s coach is ready to make the turn from the traditional Dutch 4-3-3 to a more defensively solid 5-3-2 in order to overcome the disadvantages of Holland’s inexperienced back line. Another reason for this new approach by Van Gaal is the unfortunate injury of Kevin Strootman. AS Roma’s midfielder was to play a key role for the team as there isn’t any -to quote Van Gaal- “adequate substitute” to impose Strootman’s defensive qualities as long as his ability in turning defense into attack fast.

As a result Van Gaal will try to emulate the system which helped Brazil win the World Cup back in 2002, when the three center backs fielded by Luis Felipe Scolari helped the two full backs to exploit their offensive prowess and emerge as an integral piece in Brazil’s build-up play.  Feyenoord’s Daryl Janmaat on the right and Ajax’s Daley Blind on the left are prompt to play the role of a more attacking full back which will give support to the three attacking players, as long as provide cover for the defence in times of need. The pool from which Holland’s coach must choose to form the back three line is rich in talent but rather inexperienced. Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar seems to be fixed in the centre of that line, with Stefan de Vrij, Joel Veltman, Bruno Martins Indi and Terence Kongolo battling for the other two spots. In front of the defence expect two strong ball winning midfielders, with the likes of Nigel de Jong and Jordy Clasie ready to close the gaps, win the ball and quickly move the gameplay forward. With the ability of these selected players to play in many different position,Van Gaal is one coach who can change the formation during a game at will.

As for the attack, the burden will fall on Wesley Sneijder, Robin Van Persie and  Arjen Robben to create the chances and the goals, with the Bayern’s winger in an unfamiliar(but suitable) inside role, close to Van Persie(on paper).  With that in mind Van Gaal will obviously try to free space in the flanks for the full backs to exploit. Of course Sneijder has the key role in the centre of the field, with his final pass being particularly important in order for the dynamic duo to find time and space in front of the goal. It remains to be seen which of the three will remain higher up the pitch. On paper it looks like Sneijder is the one deepest,but against someone like Spain,its hard to see Van Gaal trusting Sneijder to close down the Spanish deep lying playmakers. Robben can be expected to drift towards the right touchline to push the more attacking Jordi Alba back. Also the declining Xavi mostly will have a minimal impact on this game with his area being a lot more congested and also with him playing slightly advanced role than what he plays for Barcelona.


It looks like Van Gaal has picked  this tactic in order to contain Spain in the opener game of the group. Closing the gaps between defence and midfield and placing an extra central defender in order to function as a sweeper, the plan is not to allow Spain’s brilliant front line to pose any threats by running towards the defense by changing the pace of the game in a blink of an eye. The three at the back will help in coping with the wingers who will drift inside and the wingback can cover the full backs,so the front 2(or 3) might remain free to spring counters. Netherland’s best option would be to leave Van Persie high up the pitch centrally and Robben little wide in space. So when the Dutch get the ball,pass it to Sneijder who should find Robben running into space and crossing for Robin Van Persie to finish. Sounds easy ain’t it? It’s anything but.

Themis Karapanagiotis

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