2014 World Cup: Positives and negatives as Netherlands beat Ghana with Van Gaal’s new system

Published on: 4 years ago
2014 World Cup: Positives and negatives as Netherlands beat Ghana with Van Gaal’s new system
Rashid Sumaila (right) and Robin Van Persie

By Peter Mcvitie 

“I call it differently, I call it a 3-4-3,” said a defiant Louis van Gaal earlier this month when questioned about the new system he has implemented into the Netherlands team ahead of the World Cup.

The injury to Kevin Strootman in early March robbed Van Gaal of one of his most important players. A player who is, quite simply, irreplaceable in the national team.

Indeed, had it been any other player who picked up such a horrifying injury as the cruciate ligament tear to the midfielder’s right knee, even someone like Robin van Persie or Arjen Robben, Van Gaal would have been able to slot another player in without having to change too much in the way of tactics.

Such is the importance of the Roma midfielder, though, that the injury has forced the coach to completely change his style.

As preparations went on, the media in the Netherlands noted the use of five defenders in training behind a midfield three and Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben up front. It was, it seemed a 5-3-2.

A defensive formation? From Van Gaal and the Netherlands? It can’t be!

It isn’t.

If anything was made clear in the Oranje’s two most recent World Cup warm-up matches against Ecuador and Ghana, it was that this is certainly no defensive formation and it certainly is more of the 3-4-3 Van Gaal originally claimed.

“We’re not going to play with a 5-3-2,” the coach said. “I absolutely never said that. That’s just what the media say. They are making a fuss about something that is not there. I’m trying to hone a system that stays as close as possible to the principles of the Dutch school.”

Daley Blind and Daryl Janmaat operate as wing-backs in this system but the two push extremely high up the pitch, so far that they can’t really be considered defenders any more. With the Feyenoord duo Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij playing alongside their former team-mate Ron Vlaar in the centre, the trio can spread out to help cover for the void left by the wide players.

Then, with Nigel de Jong operating as a holding midfielder, there is ample cover in front of the back line, especially when Jonathan de Guzman drops deep enough. With the energy and box-to-box role of De Guzman coupled with the advancing of Janmaat and Blind, it gives extra support to the trio of stars who lead the lines for the Netherlands.

Against Ghana, Arjen Robben, Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie showed that they can combine to make a wonderful front trio.

Five minutes into Saturday’s match in De Kuip, the three players linked up together, bursting forward with great pace and wonderful movement to open the scoring. Sneijder passed it to Robben in the centre and burst into the visitors’ box to receive a perfectly timed and weighted pass which allowed him to get in behind the Ghana backline. The Galatasaray player then cut it across the face of goal for Van Persie to tuck in comfortably.

As the game wore on, the Dutch were able to stretch the Ghanaians more and more. A low Blind cross from the left flank found Robben at the back post but the Bayern Munich star scuppered the golden opportunity, sending it wide. Later, Janmaat cut in from the right side and played a nice pass to Robben in tonnes of space on the left. As he bore down on goal, goalkeeper Adam Larsen Kwarasey came off his line and did well to block the shot.

Overall, Robben was wasteful when it came to finishing, but his work on the ball was very good. He had more shots than anyone, with three great chances, but failed to hit the net.

Coming up against a back four which sat quite deep and marked him quite tight, Sneijder didn’t have a great deal of space to work with in between the Dutch midfield and front two, however, his excellent movement allowed him to get on the ball a lot throughout the game and continue to pick out some excellent through balls and passes out to the flanks.

This system is one which suits the former Real Madrid player remarkably well. He is able to link up with the wingers in Blind and Janmaat while the intelligent runs of Robben and Van Persie allow him to send some delightful through balls in behind the defence to open up key chances.

As well as that, the fact the Netherlands are now utilising an orthodox central midfielder alongside a holder like De Jong means he has much more support in midfield, unlike in Euro 2012, in which there was a huge hole between him and the deep-lying AC Milan player and Van Bommel which opponents exploited with ease. With this system and this set up in the centre, the Dutch are able to recover possession better and ensure they can retain it in the opponent’s half.

De Jong is certainly a key component of this team. Heading into this World Cup, the Milan player is looking to redeem himself. After the 2010 edition and his time at Manchester City, the 29-year-old has a reputation of being a brutal and dirty player only out to stamp on some opponents and stick a boot into a chest or two.

In Brazil, though, he will show the world that there is much more to him than that and that he is a completely different player now. With excellent positional sense, great energy and good passing and with the support of a regular number eight, Netherlands can get the best out of the ex-Ajax player and build a central midfield partnership which adds a lot to the attack and the defence.

Van Gaal sees this new formation and style as the best possible way to cover for the loss of Strootman while simultaneously getting the best out of the key players in the squad and maintaining some balance in the centre of the field. The early signs are positive.

This style allows for smoother and quicker transition from defence to attack and allows them to stretch their opponents and use the full width of the field. While it robs them of the positive attacking wingers such as Memphis Depay and Jeremain Lens and prevents Robben from being able to cut in from the flank and fire towards goal, it does allow him to put his speed to great effect and means he, Van Persie and Sneijder operate as a more compact and intricate front three.

Netherlands were wasteful in possession against a rather poor, sluggish and limited Ghana team. They were not as effective or efficient as one would  expect, with too many chances going to waste. Their second-half performance was rather poor and they should have killed the game off instead of leaving the Black Stars with time to draw level.

It was certainly not a wonderful performance, but it was never going to be. A new system with a relatively fresh and young team, the expectations for the Dutch are not great.

However, they can improve between now and their World Cup opener against Spain. With the Spaniards, Chile and Australia to contend with in Group B, the expectations for the Oranje are minimal.

Even finishing second in the group will likely set up a tie with Brazil in the next round. No one in Netherlands expects the country to go far in the World Cup, but the latest victory will lift some spirits as we know now that they can build on the foundations of this attacking system.

Next week’s meeting with Wales will give Van Gaal’s team the opportunity to build upon Saturday’s win and create a better understanding and thus bring greater fluidity to the team before the summer showpiece.


The Final Squad

Louis van Gaal announced his final 23-man squad for the World Cup on Saturday before the meeting with Ghana and there weren’t too many surprises in it.

While many expected FC Twente star Quincy Promes to make the final cut, it was always unlikely due to the new system which doesn’t require any orthodox attacking wingers, particularly with Arjen Robben available.

It is for this reason that Jean-Paul Boetius has been cut as well, since Memphis Depay is available to play on the left if called upon.

Perhaps the main shock was the omission of Patrick van Aanholt. The Vitesse left-back has enjoyed a positive season with Vitesse and has shown to be a very strong attacking full-back. That he has been left out means that Daley Blind will likely take up the left back position with Terence Kongolo available as back up.

The squad:

Goalkeepers: Jasper Cillessen (Ajax), Michel Vorm (Swansea City), Tim Krul (Newcastle United)

Defenders: Paul Verhaegh (Augsburg), Daryl Janmaat (Feyenoord), Joel Veltman (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Feyenoord), Ron Vlaar (Aston Villa), Bruno Martins Indi (Feyenoord), Terence Kongolo (Feyenoord), Daley Blind (Ajax)

Midfielders: Leroy Fer (Norwich City), Nigel de Jong (AC Milan), Jordy Clasie (Feyenoord), Jonathan de Guzman (Swansea City), Georginio Wijnaldum (PSV), Wesley Sneijder (Galatasaray)

Forwards: Arjen Robben (Bayern Munich), Robin van Persie (Manchester United), Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (Schalke), Dirk Kuyt (Fenerbahce), Jeremain Lens (Dynamo Kiev), Memphis Depay (PSV)


  • selfmade
    says: 4 years ago
    Was Ghana poor,sluggish and limited in this match? Amazing! Maybe this reporter didn't watch the match or even if he did, his lenses are as usual TAINTED with his usual feelings of looking down upon Africans and making us feel inferior! There was no way in this match that Ghana looks sluggish or poor! Infact those words should be the correct ADJECTIVES TO DESCRIBE THE DUTCH'S! Ghana were very vibrant in this match and even when we were using our fringe players in the first half,the Ghanaian team looks good, very compact and have some sense of hunger and determination and wasn't SCARED OF THE DUTCH PLAYERS ONE BIT! Except the goal, the Dutch's were rather very poor and confused and there though their coach was using a new defensive formation, anytime Ghana attacks them in the second half,their look more condufed than every and they at times seems OUT OF SHAPE! This game should have been a DRAW and finally the dutch lacks match FITNESS! The Ghanaian team looks more FITTER and this is a good sign heading into the WC!
  • Ghanaboy
    says: 4 years ago
    Selfmade I am sorry but you are wrong this time. Ghana was poor in this match. Essien and Rabiu did not cover the back four as they should have. Adomah played very badly, he kept dropping deep too late so much that Inkoom was left on a 2 vs 1 battle against Sneijder and Netherlands wing-back on several occasions. Sclupp`s timidness also led to the only goal; if you watch the replay you will see Robin shifting away from Akaminko and Sumaila. Instead of Schlupp marking him, he was caught watching the ball and could not react when Robin received the pass. Akaminko also made a mistake; when the Dutch started to attack, he made himself useless by going forward, Robin saw the space and shifted to Schlupp`s side. These are not the only critical mistakes that were made but these are the ones I recall. AA must analyze this match very well if we are to perform well in Brazil.
  • selfmade
    says: 4 years ago
    Ghana boy..... Mate, football is a team game and collectively, the Ghanaians were fabulous! I have watched the replays like four times already and the the Ghanaian team were very solid as a TEAM than the individual play we are used to! Yes is true that there were one or two mistakes by our players but i can tell u that the our players really knew what they were doing from a tactical view point! Infact, the dutchs has a pocket of spaces behind our back four only IN THE FIRST HALF but our defence though very poor at times deal with the situation as with all their might! Ghana was not poor and limited in anyway from a tactical viewpoint esp in the second half when we simply took the game to them! I have already said that we can win the WC with this squad but ghana can still do wonderfully well with this squad and I know we can even do better in the Korean match! Ghana didn't look bad at all in this match tactically and they have such a FABULOUS CONFIDENCE and BELIEVE IN THEMSELVES that ll go a long way to help us in the WC! Finally and generally, though there was one or two mistakes from the our players, OUR STRUCTURE, FORMATION,LAYOUT combined with our movements and CHARACTER,ATTITUDE in the match was really AWESOME AND I LL GIVE THEM C+.. This is a ghana squad which is not TIMID ...There is more room for an improvement and Ghana ll be READY IN BRAZIL... Mark my words!
  • Benito
    says: 4 years ago
    All we asking the coach to do is to play his first 11 and let's see how it goes,he seems to holding his cards to his chest,he can't confidently talk about his tactical play...my first eleven Kwarasey Opare Afful J.boye J.Mensah Afriyie Essien Dede K.asamoah Waris Gyan Subs.muntari for essien Kpb for waris Astu for dede...if I were the coach I will play this team against the USA.i know klisnmann will definitely play his 4-4-2 with the diamond in that case he wingers will with draw more into midfield then we can use the speed of dede and asamoah,s skills on counter,I think we can carry the day with the 4-4-2 formation without the diamond.
  • Redd
    says: 4 years ago
    @ selfmade. what structure and movement are you talking about.Maybe you watched a different game.Ghana was worse than poor.It was like the players did not know which positions they were playing.How many times didn't we see Atsu and Jordan chasing the ball everywhere on the pitch like headless chicken.How many times didn't we see sumaila playing like he was fighting a wrestling match.Even in the second half kevin was once foundat the left back position.We were totally poor and sluggish and like a team preparing to play in the COSAFA cup notthe WC.
  • selfmade
    says: 4 years ago
    Redd... Mate, watch the game again and u ll see what am saying! I made mention of Ghana having a good structure, good movement, having commendable character and not been timid and am going to take my time to EXPATIATE MYSELF! Firstly, I said the bs has a solid structure because the defence maintained their SHAPE even when they were under pressure! If u compare the last couples of matches against Serbia, Egypt and Montenegro, u ll realised that our defence was only not poor but WERE COMPLETELY SHAPELESS! In those matches, the defence was only bad but were CLUELESS as to how to defend or what to do when they are under pressure but the OPPOSITE was the case in the Holland match! Watch the replays again and u ll appreciate what am saying! Though the dutch players had pocket of spaces in this match, our defensive line WERENT CLUELESS AND DID KNEW WHAT TO DO! Infact contrarily to what people are saying about SUMAILA TACKLES( SOME WERE POOR), it helps slow the dutch trio of robben, sneider and rvp down tremendously! Again still on the defence, the dutch BLEACHED it only in the first mins of the first half and the second half was completely different! Ghana did have a COMPACT DEFENCE LINE MY BRO! Secondly with the midfield, can u HONESTLY TELL ME which DUTCH'S player was the star performer in w.r.t midfield play? I just want u to mention one STAR DUTCH MIDFIELDER who was on TOP OF THE GHANAIAN MIDFIELD? U can't bro as there was none! Essien, rabiu and kwadwo asamoah did a wonderful job in the midfield and the dutch didn't have any dominant midfield compared to us! The midfield was 50-50 my bro! The Ghanaian midfield were TACTICAL VERY ASTUTE! They knew what they were doing and blocked all spaces! Forget about robben making all those diagonal runs BECASUE most of them were completely USELESS! Finally, maybe u have not taken notices but GHANA HAS SCORED ALL its goals from the RIGHT SIDE OF ATTACK and the dutch technical crew placed three CENTRAL DEFENDERS ON ADOMAH wheneve we are attacking and he had a night to forget! Watch the video again and u ll see and realised that all of our attacks were thru adomah and every time he had the ball, we has to negotiate thru 2 dutch players! In the second half, we changed our pattern of attack thru the middle and I can confidently say that this is a Ghanaian team which is not TIMID! They ll be ready in the Korean match and thus team has a solid STRUCTURE!
    says: 4 years ago
    I must say again that two friendlies before the WC is not all that important but warm up. AA cannot play his best eleven at a go with South Korea or expose his tactics before the world cup. You colleagues should know this. Don't forget about all the scouts from our opponents trying to fish out Ghana tactics before the WC and a very brilliant and knowledgeable Akwesi Appiah will not do that likes any coach going to the WC. All in all , mark my words ,God willing Ghana will shock the world and so call best football analysts in the world. After this WC, they will not underrate Ghana Black Stars again..lol God bless Ghana! God bless Black Stars!!! GO BLACK STARS GO!!!!
  • Adebayo
    says: 4 years ago
    I have hammered this point over and over again! Every coach is trying out his first team in a definite system to get them understand his mindset. Coach AA decides he will hide his prized-players in a high profile friendly where he could have tested his system and then perfected in the last friendly against S.Korea. No wonder many of the players looked so confused on the pitch. They simply didn’t know what to do with the ball when they had possession. Others ‘kicked and chased’ and lost possession! In modern football, matches are not won by hiding your system or prized players but by executing it with constancy and perfection that wear down your opponents. Which Tennis player doesn’t know how Rafael Nadal is going to play? Ghana has quality players that can beat any opponent any day. They just need to have a system they are used to and comfortable with! OVER TO YOU Coach!
  • Ghanaboy
    says: 4 years ago
    Redd I think AA allowed KPB ta free-role, so KPB just went anywhere on the pitch where he, KPB, thought he was needed.
  • Chineke
    says: 4 years ago
    @Selfmade: I dont know which match u watched mate. But i think the Ghana team needs a lot of work.I saw no system they were playing. their passes were not accurate, they gave the Dutch too much space to work the ball and that Sumaila is a disaster waiting to happen if he meets Ronaldo cos he will commit fouls in places where Ronaldo stands a good chance of scoring from. I think the coach needs to play a system that suits the players he has to their strengths. In the next friendly he really needs to come out with his starting 11 in the first half at least to test how whatever system he has in mind will work. The team needs to gel before the tournament proper. I liked Kwarasey's performance but he needs more cover from the defence. The coach needs to settle on his preferred defense and allow them to build some telepathy. Communication at the back is key.. u need someone to marshal the defence like John Mensah used to do. Who is doing that this time? Is it Boye? Then play him in the next match and help the defense solidify itself. How is the midfield going to operate? Against Holland, they gave away too many balls and didnt press when they were disposessed. I agree with the assertion that defending is a team effort and starts from the attackers pressing opponents when they dont have the ball. Overall, i understand coach Appiah played his team B to help decide whom to cut. But it is now time to hone his team and try out his system of play.
  • Chineke
    says: 4 years ago
    I totally agree with your sentiments but i will forgive him for the reason that he was trying to decide who to cut. That said, he could have started his starting team in the first half and rather brought on the players he wanted to scrutinize in the 2nd half... That would have given us all a better insight into how the team is looking now
  • selfmade
    says: 4 years ago
    Chineke.. Are u chineke in zamfoot? Let me know mate! Knowledgeable guy