Total football, an attacking, exciting, possession based style of play. The Dutch were renowned for playing like this for many years, since Johan Cruyff and Rinus Michels introduced it in the 1970’s, and have gained many plaudits for it. However, in more recent major tournaments, the Oranje have moved away from this style. Since 2008 the Dutch played a more direct 4-2-3-1, before implementing a 5-3-2 in the 2014 World Cup. Louis Van Gaal did play a Dutch 4-3-3 in the qualifying process but decided that the injury of Kevin Strootman left the team unbalanced, and thus decided to put 5 at the back to accommodate for this. Since Guus Hiddink has taken over he has played three different formations, with each of them failing to bring a huge amount of success, up until the 6-0 drubbing of Latvia. So, with a fully fit squad, which tactics could the Dutch implement? Fin Crebolder investigates…
The bread and butter of Dutch football. Nearly every Dutch manager will look to play 4-3-3 at their club or country if they can. Based on the total football of the 70’s, it focuses on fast attacking football whilst also prioritising possession. However, as already stated, the Netherlands have stopped playing this style of play, although Van Gaal did use it in the qualifiers for the World Cup. When Hiddink was announced to be the successor to Van Gaal, he said that he intended to bring back “the Dutch school” style of football, and has tried to play a 4-3-3 in the majority of games. The Dutch have dominated possession in most of their games, but have often struggled to find an end product, and also look shaky in defence. However, 4-3-3 is a formation that is at the heart of Dutch football, and will always be an option for the Oranje.
4-4-2. Not a formation hugely associated with Dutch football, despite the number of world class strikers that the nation has produced. Since 2010, the two Dutch managers have both refused on playing two out and out strikers, therefore meaning that Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has had to play second fiddle to Robin van Persie for the last four years. The main advantage of playing a 4-4-2 is that it enables the team to field both Huntelaar and Van Persie, with Van Persie operating as a second striker behind Huntelaar, meaning it sometimes changes to a 4-4-1-1 formation. Fielding two strikers also allows for the inform Bas Dost to play alongside one of Van Persie and Huntelaar. In attack, the wingers and full backs bomb forward, with Blind dropping between the two centre backs, thus changing it to a 3-3-4 formation. The main problem with this formation is that, with only two central midfielders, it leaves the team at risk of being overrun in the midfield, leaving the defence exposed. Despite this, it is a flexible formation that enables Hiddink to utilise all his best players.
The Dutch never utilised a 5 man defence in their history, up until the 2014 World Cup. Van Gaal had played a classic 4-3-3 in the qualifying process, but felt that the untimely injury to Kevin Strootman left the team too unbalanced, after seeing them be torn apart by France in his absence. After the match, he spoke to Robin Van Persie and Arjen Robben, and decided to change to a 5 man defence. This worked excellently, and got The Netherlands to the World Cup semi-finals, when pre-tournament, most doubted that they would even escape the group stages. Arjen Robben excelled in his role as a striker, and almost single handedly destroyed Spain with his excellent pace, dribbling and shooting. Ron Vlaar thrived in a 5 man defence, and Daley Blind was brilliant at wing-back. However, Hiddink has proved reluctant to use this formation, only playing it once, in the first half of the Euro qualifier against Czech Republic. Despite it proving the be successful during the World Cup, it was just a short term fix, and most Dutch managers are unlikely to play it, due to the fact that it goes against the fundamental beliefs of how Dutch football should be played.
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