Three international matches, two points, one goal and a boom in the media: Frank de Boer’s start as national coach of Orange was turbulent to say the least. After the extra full international period, it is not yet clear what exactly his vision is for the Dutch national team.
By Evert van Zoelen
After a tactical turnaround, Mexico was lost on Wednesday (0-1), switching back to the ‘Koeman system’ resulted in a poor draw against Bosnia and Herzegovina (0-0) and a new system led to the best match against Italy (1-1). How did the Orange play during these games and which elements went well and which did not go well?
The complete turnaround against Mexico
In the first game under De Boer, he seems to have completely changed course. The 4-2-3-1 formation used under Koeman is exchanged for a 4-3-3 with the point to the back. Teun Koopmeiners plays as single controller and Georginio Wijnaldum and Donny van de Beek are placed higher on the field.
The Netherlands plays against Mexico with the point to the back. Source: ESPN.
The Netherlands opens nicely against Mexico. Steven Berghuis keeps moving in from the right to become playable in midfield. In addition, the interaction between Ryan Babel and Memphis Depay is good. Whenever one of the two moves into the ball, the other makes the running action in depth. As a result, the Netherlands still has some movement at the front. It does not lead to really well played opportunities.
Memphis moves into the ball and Babel goes deep. This forces the defenders of Mexico to make choices. Source: ESPN.
De Boer defensively also opts for a different way of applying pressure. Striker Memphis drops back to cover controller – and Ajax player – Edson Álvarez, while wingers Babel and Berghuis run from the backs to put pressure on the central defenders.
In this case, Babel and Memphis have been replaced and Memphis runs from the back to the central defender. Babel covers up Controller Alvarez. Source: ESPN.
Because De Boer has decided to rest the majority of the basic players who would play against Bosnia, it remains unclear whether the blueprint of the Orange is really under De Boer.
Back to Koeman system
In the game against Bosnia, De Boer switches back to the system that Koeman used at Orange. It starts from a 4-2-3-1 system with Frenkie de Jong and Marten de Roon as controllers for the defense. On the right side, Denzel Dumfries goes high, so that Donyell Malen comes to play between the lines. With this, Koeman’s system with the three ‘tens’ has been restored.
The Netherlands is again playing with three ‘tens’ between the lines. Source: NOS.
Although the Netherlands has seventy percent of the ball possession, it only manages to shoot at goal four times. The build-up is smooth and there is little movement without a ball. This is mainly due to the fact that De Boer runs into a problem that Koeman has also encountered several times. Opponents have started to adapt to Orange and recognize that Frenkie de Jong is the most important player in the build-up. Bosnia puts Miralem Pjanic on top of his Barça teammate.
Pjanic covers De Jong. Source: NOS.
In principle, this is not a disaster, since the Netherlands with Stefan de Vrij and Virgil van Dijk has two central defenders who have a great play-in pass. However, the problem becomes significant because the attacking players in the Dutch national team show little variation in their running actions.
When the Netherlands has a free midfielder, Luuk de Jong, Quincy Promes and Malen often stand side by side. Instead of alternating between entering the ball and deep players, they often make the same running actions towards the ball. This makes it fairly easy for the Bosnians to cover the attackers of the Netherlands and the game of Orange is very slow and without any progression.
There is no variation in the running actions of the attackers at Orange. An option could have been that Luuk de Jong had come into the ball and that Wijnaldum and Promes had gone deep. Source: NOS.
When these running actions are made, the passing from midfield is not good. The ball is delivered too late or incorrectly. Or the receiving player has a wrong assumption.
Just like with Koeman, the Netherlands tries to put pressure under De Boer immediately after losing the ball. It is essential here that the field occupation is correct when in possession of the ball. If the distances are too great, it is impossible to walk to immediately put pressure on the ball.
This problem is visible against both the Bosniaks and the Mexicans. After losing the ball, the Netherlands immediately tries to put pressure and three to four players sprint towards the ball. But because the mutual distances are too great, there is no one who gets pressure on the ball, so the opponent can easily play under it.
The Netherlands immediately tries to put pressure on the ball after losing the ball, but there is no one who really gets pressure on the ball. Bosnia can therefore easily avoid it. Source: NOS.
An additional disadvantage, which is especially visible in the match against Bosnia, is that left back Daley Blind has been placed higher under De Boer. Offensively, this can lead to extra possibilities, but defensively it ensures that the remaining defense is not well organized. When Bosnia manages to play football under the first pressure, it is often only De Roon, Van Dijk and De Vrij who are still behind the ball in a space of about 70 meters.
Blind makes more forward walks. Source: NOS.
The residual defense in the Netherlands is not well organized. Source: NOS.
Where the Netherlands under Koeman increasingly focused on defending zones, De Boer again opted for man-covering in midfield. The Netherlands is defensive against both Mexico and Bosnia. The few problems arise especially when communication between the players is not good. For example, De Roon chases his opponent once, which makes him suddenly end offside.
Against Bosnia, De Boer opts for a different method of pressure than the first game. Luuk de Jong stands between the central defenders and the wingers Malen and Promes between the backs and the central defenders. De Jong puts pressure on the central defender on the side of the ball, with the winger on the off-ball side covering the furthest central defender.
De Jong, Promes and Malen are in between the defenders. Source: NOS.
New system brings success against Italy
Before the match against Italy, De Boer indicates that he has a certain plan in mind and that the players can decide whether they will indeed start with ‘Plan A’. When the lineups become known, this plan turns out to be a 5-3-2 formation.
In the match in the Johan Cruijff Arena a month ago (0-1 defeat without a chance), the Netherlands had a hard time putting pressure on the backs of Italy. Right back Danilo D’Ambrosio let himself completely sag next to the central defenders, while left back Leonardo Spinazzola attacked completely. With this, Italy came to play 3-3-4 in a kind of way.
From the 5-3-2, the Netherlands gets a lot more grip on it. Strikers Memphis and De Jong sink to the head circle and position themselves to cover the pass lines to playmakers Marco Verratti and Jorginho, while also being able to put pressure on central defenders Giorgio Chiellini and Leonardo Bonucci. When right back D’Ambrosio is played in, Wijnaldum gets out to put him under pressure. The rest of the midfield will then be in pairs.
De Jong and Memphis cover the pass lines to Jorginho and Verratti. Source: ESPN.
Wijnaldum gets out to the right back. The midfield then comes to play in pairs and Blind steps on to the sagging Barella. Source: ESPN.
On the right side it is now Hans Hateboer who can take care of Spinazzola as wingback. In this way, Van de Beek and Frenkie de Jong do not have to tilt to the side, so that they can continue to cover the midfielders of Italy. When Hateboer continues, it is De Vrij who takes care of Lorenzo Pellegrini left winger.
On the right is the Hateboer who gets out, De Vrij then takes over the winger. Source: ESPN.
Playing with five defenders in the back also gives the Dutch defenders the space to continue when one of the attackers of Italy tries to lower themselves back. Italy frequently does this in order to escape the pressure from the Netherlands. In these cases, De Vrij, Ake and Van Dijk continue aggressively to ensure that Italy does not manage to create a free player in the build-up.
Pellegrini tries to fall back to get out, De Vrij steps on him. Source: ESPN.
Offensively, this playing style also gives the Netherlands more guidance. Because Italy has to absorb the wing defenders of Orange, the Italian right back keeps stepping on Blind. This constantly creates spaces for Wijnaldum and Memphis to move in, which in turn creates space in the center for other players.
The drafting of Luuk de Jong ensures that the Netherlands has a point of contact if it is put under pressure in the construction. Especially in the first half, the long ball from Jasper Cillessen to De Jong is a frequently used option. The ball does not always arrive, but because Wijnaldum, Frenkie de Jong and Van de Beek are always well positioned for the second ball, the Netherlands is still able to continue playing football several times.
In addition, it is mainly Blind who creates danger during changeover moments. Since D’Ambrosio leaves that zone during the build-up of Italy, there is often a lot of room for Blind to become playable during chaotic situations. Several times this leads to dangerous opportunities.
After a long ball from Italy, a chaotic situation ensues, after which Blind can continue freely. This creates a dangerous 3v2 for the Netherlands that ends with a free header from De Jong that goes in front. Source: ESPN.
In three games, De Boer has played with three different tactics, so it is still not entirely clear what exactly his vision is for the Orange. After two very mediocre games against Mexico and Bosnia, the Netherlands came out a lot better against the Italians. But when Italy switched tactics after 75 minutes, the Netherlands had a lot more trouble absorbing it, so the question remains whether this method will also have an effect in the long term.
Evert van Zoelen is an analyst for the YouTube channel TheNextManager, has written for tactics websites and magazines such as Spielverlagerung, TrainersMagazine and Futbol Netradince and watches important matches for VoetbalPrimeur.
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