World cup squeeze – Match day 2 (Spain V Netherlands)

The Dutch leave Spanish in dismay

Line ups:
Spain (4-3-3): Casillas, Pique, Iniesta, Xavi, Alonso, Sergio Ramos, Busquets, Alba, Costa, Silva, Azpilicueta

Netherlands (5-3-2): Cillessen, Vlaar, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind, De Jong, Janmaat, De Guzman, Van Persie, Sneidjer, Robben

The pre-game thought was put much into the team selections. Although Spain was more of the players and Netherlands with the system. Del Bosque opted to go for Costa up front and packed 5 man midfield, which on paper was a 4-3-3, excluding Pedro and added Sliva instead. Netherlands have stuck with their recent usage of 5-3-2.

Early pattern

Spain started the game interestingly more direct than expected, even with the inclusion of Diego Costa, with Pique and Ramos both hitting early long balls up to either Costa or Iniesta. A lot of their play was organised down the left hand side.They began with the better half of the passing in midfield although it was not up to the Spanish usual standard. The midfield with the addition of Sliva looked quashed and with the Dutch attempting to squeeze this space as well, their became a stagnant exchange of poor passing standard, by both teams. The netherlands however, game plan was not central to midfield passing and instead focused on quick transition, so it had a larger hindrance on Spain. Spain also seemed to play without any player on the right hand side of midfield. Xavi played centrally in front of Busquets and Alonso, Sliva drifting between the lines but spent a lot of time linking with Iniesta on the left hand side of the pitch. The Dutch were obviously set up to hit on the break, with Persie and Robben pushed against the spanish CB’s and the rest of the team looking to frustrate and prevent Spain breaking through. Blind and Janmaat didn’t look to push beyond the half way line and kept a close eye on both Spanish fullbacks.

Costa’s link with the midfield and Spain’s uncharacteristic play

The recent friendly’s have not given a good enough a picture to if Costa and the rest of the Spanish team could blend together. The first half showed strange behaviour, with a lot of the team seemingly abandoning what they have gone with for the last 6 years. Most notably Pique and Ramos. It was also surprisingly true of Xavi and Sliva as well, with a lot of direct balls being played over the top of the Dutch Defence. Costa was noticeably uncomfortable as expected with the Spanish system, with him not being used to not having the ball as much. For the first half Costa’s movement however was as good as always, it’s just whether it was compatible with Spain’s passing. There was uncharacteristically lack of patience with Spain’s play. Which was true up until the first goal, which came from a move which Spain and watchers on have become so accustomed to in recent years, with a beautifully weighted pass to Costa. Subsequently his trickery then lead to the penalty and Alonso’s goal. Furthermore another one of Spain’s key attributes, their high pressing was poor, lazy and not expansive – this was true throughout the whole game.

Netherlands begin to get brave

After going 1-0 down and Sliva’s brilliant chance squandered, the plan to just allow the furthest three to counter became obsolete with a close 0-0 being no longer an option. There was a definite switch by the Dutch team to start pressing higher up and push more men forwards, particularly the wingback’s (Surprisingly this was not the original plan of Van Gaal with Spain starting with inverted and very centrally minded wingers). With Robin Van Persie always offering a run in behind and the poor organisation and marking by the Spanish defenders, something was bound to give and it was just about keeping score down at the other end. The goal came about despite the warning signs. There was a inability for the Spanish team or management to respond to them. A fairly nonchalant ball from an unpressed Blind, went straight over Ramos, on to Persie’s head, who finished brilliantly. Van Gaal after the interval told them to keep up the bravery of the runs, which is in sharp contrast to Del Bosque, who ran along the lines of “keep it up lads, just need another goal, it’ll come”.  This all became very clear later as the match progressed.

Van Persie’s Brilliant finish

Spanish Implosion and Brilliant Robin & Robben

Spain it seemed had not learned at all. The defence still maintained a disorganized structure and high line. The gap between the midfield and defence was too large and Busquets and especially Alonso simply don’t have the legs. It was also glaringly obvious that Ramos + Pique looked very uncomfortable with the pace of and simply just a two-man front line. Neither of them were communicating about covering and marking. The 2nd goal is a epitome of this, Robben running at the gap between the two CB’s, causing havoc and managing to knock past both of them, Casillas and into the net. This became the show for the rest of the game. After an controversial 3rd goal, Spain just looked beaten. They’re not a team who are used to being beaten or shocked this much and because of this simply a lot of their players just imploded and forget almost all that had come before. Casillas made a horrible mistake for the 4th and Persie pounced. Robben then rounded it off, with a similar goal to the 2nd. He also could of added a hat-trick, as well as giving a few of his team mates some goals, if it was not for some poor finishing and a deflated Casillas making some saves. The Spanish players at this point looked completely beaten and seemed to just forget how to do what they have done so well over last several years. Robben’s running and pace just caused havoc that they couldn’t recover from, and Persie adding the finishing touch’s and some good movement finished the day for them.

Concluding thoughts

The death of Tiki-Taka has been banded around for the last two years, and only seems to be espoused when it goes wrong, they seems to be a lot of bitter people after six years of Spanish dominance will revel in this. This is normal in any successful team. This result does constitute that. What it does constitute is a big re-think for Spain.

Concerning for the Spanish side

Concerning for the Spanish side

The arrogance of the management at times to seemingly just go into games with very limited marking or organisation tactics (Similar at confederations last year with Neymar given a free run on the left hand side), must be thought again. The devotion as well to players like Iniesta, Costa and very seemingly tonight Sliva instead of the much need direct and wide running of Pedro needs to be adjusted, if certain players don’t have the legs to play in a high pressing system, they are plenty of quality players on the bench who can and are itching to start a game, and Del Bosque really needs to enlighten himself to this. If Spain do get knocked out early in this tournament, it’s important not to forget they probably have the best U20’s and U21’s sides who both play same style and way as this national team. So it’s by no means the long time return of Spain to the Quarter Finals glass ceiling.

Del Bosque needing a big  re-think and fast

Del Bosque needing a big re-think and fast

For the Dutch, this a transition side for sure and they’re team has very mixed areas of quality, it was a quality result for them tonight and will give them lots of confidence, however it will be a tough ask for them to reach further than quarter finals. Tonight was more about a team who was highly tactically superior to the other despite differences in quality and a nativity by the other. It also represented and this is true of a lot of big sides including club level, as they’re not used to being defeated it becomes very easy to implode, so I think the goal margin could perhaps be more misleading but the fact that the Netherlands won in the first place is more of an important fact and could have ramifications for the rest of the tournament.

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