Netherlands finished runners-up in the 2010 World Cup, and after a disastrous European Championships in 2012, will look to bounce back straight under outgoing manager Louis van Gaal. We analyze the tactics Van Gaal will look to employ as he looks to make his mark on the international stage, and why half the battle already looks lost after a spate of off-field injury setbacks. Netherlands are up in a tricky group alongside Spain, Chile and Australia, and their chances of making it out of the group stage seems a bit on the unlikely side.
Van Gaal has been known for his expansive attacking football over the years as a top notch manager at club level, and he has managed to integrate a glut of youngsters into the squad. The Oranje will possibly line-up in a pro-European and modern 4-2-1-3, and their greatest asset will be their attackers. A double pivot is preferred by the wily Van Gaal, but he faces the biggest problem in the area beset by injuries.
Kevin Strootman was set to play a key role in the double pivot but his season-ending knee injury has provided Van Gaal with a fair share of headaches. Strootman plays the elegant box-to-box playmaker role and shares the creative burden with trequartista Wesley Sneijder. But his injury has rendered all of Van Gaal’s pre-tournament plans useless, as he has to choose from the inexperienced duo of Jordy Clasie and Leroy Fer or Jonathan de Guzman to partner Nigel de Jong in the engine room.
Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Jeremain Lens look odds on to lead the line, with Sneijder right behind them in the hole. The major concern would be Lens’ inexperience at the big stage, but Van Gaal has the veteran Dirk Kuyt to call upon whenever required.
Ron Vlaar leads the back-line along with the battering ram of Bruno Martins-Indi, while the classy Daryl Janmaat and Daley Blind will be the full-backs. The issue with the goalkeepers was a welcome headache with no less than five top class custodians fighting for three spots on the plane, but Tim Krul is widely expected to be the No1.
The attack. Looking at the top end of the Dutch line-up, things get clearer as to what is their biggest strength. The attacking trio of Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder could be playing their last World Cup together, and their firepower and experience could be vital in the Oranje’s progression deep into the tournament proper.
And to make things look better, the bench looks good even with the talents of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar and Dirk Kuyt waiting on the wings. They look heavily experienced, which could prove handy in tight games.
Tim Krul is one of the finest shot-stoppers in European football at the moment, although the fact that he is a Newcastle player almost makes him obscure. But his anticipation and command over the 18-yard box could be crucial in a Dutch defence which looks very raw at best.
At hindsight, there are no obvious weaknesses but the defence looks a bit too inexperienced and raw for that matter. Ron Vlaar and Bruno Martins-Indi aren’t world class centre-backs by any account, while Janmaat and Blind too lack the big game experience. Martins-Indi and Blind featured for the under-21s last summer, while Ron Vlaar’s struggles at struggling Premier League team Aston Villa is enough for a vivid assessment. Overall, the defence could be a big worry when laid siege upon, and whether the aforementioned four can withstand the pressure is the big question.
Rafael van der Vaart’s and Kevin Strootman’s injuries have turned a formidable midfield into a midfield of paupers for the Dutch. An out-of-sorts Wesley Sneijder will have to shoulder the extra creative burden, and things could get uglier if they unfold against Spain in their opening match. A lot depends on how Van Gaal keeps his unit close amidst the difficulties.
Louis van Gaal’s record as a club manager is impressive, but the fact that he failed to cover himself in glory the last time he was a national team coach could come back to haunt him. He could try too hard to rectify his earlier mistakes, or he could set his sights on his new Manchester United job. Either way, a distracted mindset of Van Gaal could prove detrimental for the Dutch, who aren’t quite the strangers to dramatic self-implosions.
Netherlands haven’t been mentioned in the same breath as the other contenders like Spain or Argentina or Brazil or Germany in the build-up to the World Cup, and it seems like the status quo will be maintained. They could even get knocked out in the group stages, as they face a better unit in Spain and a Chile team that would be making the best of the familiar conditions. An early Dutch exit won’t raise too many eyebrows, but a march to the final would surely raise more.