Between de Jong’s tantrums whenever a pass from his teammates skip him, Blind’s versatility and lighting speed of German attacking trio, this was a thrilling encounter. And don’t let the score fool you, Germany could’ve had a lot more from this match with some better finishing in the first 60 minutes of the game.
Both teams set up in a 3-5-2. This match is a pure example of same initial formations, but tactically absolutely different approaches. These different approaches were dictated by the players available to each manager. With Koeman having masters of possession in his side, it’s only normal for him to force possession play and high defensive line. On the other end, Germany tried to maximize its attacking potential by unleashing Werner, Reus, and Gnabry into space whenever possible.
With the Netherlands in possession most of the match, especially in the first hour of the match, Germans were more than happy to sit back and wait. Gnabry, Werner and Reus all had their defensive duties, and one of them was man-marking de Jong so the talented Dutchman cannot control the pace of the game easily. Koeman responded to this by giving de Jong full freedom on the pitch in order to have him on the ball as much as possible. This proved as a success, given that de Jong wasn’t just involved with 81 touches on the ball, but was also free to move with German in possession, resulting in 11 possessions won, and two of those coming in the opponent’s final third.
Another important factor in a match was hybrid role of Daley Blind. Koeman used the attention to de Jong and freed up his man on the left. Blind initiated most of Netherland’s attacks by positioning slightly higher than van Dijk and de Ligt. This initiated the Netherlands to overload the left side of the pitch, with the idea to free up central space for one of Babel or Depay. The Germans were, however, aggressive enough in the first 50 minutes to contain this.
As for the Germans, they almost played with 5-2-3, with Gnabry dropping very deep and providing pass options for Kroos and Kimmich. Low’s general plan was to put a lot of pressure on the Dutch backline, with Werner, Reus and Gnabry interchanging in deep runs. Another factor that played into their hands was the lack of pace from Dutch back three, especially targeting de Ligt and Daley Blind.
Lack of rhythm for Reus costed the Germans, as they could’ve made much more in the first half of the match. Gnabry was excellent at dropping back and pulling his guard with him, opening acres of space in already highly-positioned Dutch defense. The play from the action below was actually initiated by Werner receiving the ball in the heart of the pitch. Four Dutch players are late to cage him in, and this is the result.
Example above is the modern football at its best. Every outfield player in the space of 40 meters, every milimeter matters. Also, if this situation was the other way round, would dare to bet that Neure wouldn’t at least try to sweep the ball?
In games like these, diagonals are a perfect way to open up some space for your team in possession. But given the numbers and tighteness of central areas, most players don’t have time and space to execute good diagonal to switch the play. This, however, can be solved by having an excellent ball-playing centre-back.
Centre-backs are the only players with some extra time on the ball, as the team not wanting to press up high will leave them free on the ball. This wouldn’t be a problem for Germany if Netherlands didn’t have two of the very best – van Dijk and de Ligt.
Germans have their own guns in this fight, as we have almost an identical situation with German hunting the goal and in possession.
Changes were an important factor in this match. Koeman wanted the win, so he put centre-forward Malen instead of Dumfries, while switching de Roon with Pröpper. By putting in a typical striker in Malen (10 goals last season, all inside the box) Koeman gained two things. First was better pressing on German centre-backs with Babel, Depay, Malen and Promes all going high up the pitch, and de Jong and Pröpper following to mark Kroos and Kimmich. The second was that the German centre-backs now had a player to be occupied with as Depay and Babel dropping back earlier left the Netherlands with lack of depth and made things simpler for Germany.
Low wisely responded by putting in Havertz and Gundogan for Reus and Werner in order to regain control of the match and cool down the Dutch pressing. However, just one mistake was all that the Dutch needed with intense pressing, especially as they were in a better rhythm for this match as far as the possession-based game goes.
A match like this is a sight to behold. Two sides with a modern approach to the game and coaches reacting to the events on the pitch in a Pröpper (had to) manner. Add in players of world-class quality and you get 90 minutes which fly by as if it was mere stoppage time. Pressing in one way or another is the only way forward, and it’s thrilling to see more and more national teams adopting this approach, although it cannot be as practiced as it can with club football. We can already see some great tactical movements in 3-5-2, already used in Italy with Conte, and it looks like the trend will grow further and further.
Hope you enjoyed this one!