Now that the dust has settled after Friday’s showdown in Salvador, we can look at where the game was won and lost. Holland completely outclassed Spain, coming from 1-0 down to thump five goals past the deflated reigning world champions.
The game was a clash of two world-class coaches, with one getting his tactics perfect, and the other failing miserably...
Where the game was won for Holland
Since midfield lynchpin Kevin Strootman was ruled out of the World Cup, Van Gaal has changed his tactics from a 4-3-3 to a 5-3-2. It was this new system that he deployed against Spain to a devastating effect.
Van Gaal set up with a central defensive trio of Bruno Martins Indi, Stefen de Vrij, and Ron Vlaar. The trio pushed high up the field, hassling and pressing the Spanish, who had the lion’s share of the possession.
Martins Indi operated on the left side of the trio, with De Vrij on the right and Vlaar down the middle. The threat from Spain’s wide men, Andres Iniesta and David Silva, was sterilised by Martins Indi and De Vrij. This left Vlaar with the responsibility of containing a volatile Diego Costa. Early on, Vlaar made a brilliant double tackled to shut out Costa and frustrated him throughout the game.
The Dutch played with two wingbacks, Daley Blind (left) and Daryl Janmaat (right), with the former having an outstanding game. Blind made lung-busting runs up and down the left flank all night. Silva failed to tack back and support Cesar Azpilicueta, allowing Blind to terrorise the Spanish right-back. The Dutchman’s two most notable contributions were his two assists. The first was a perfectly timed diagonal ball that Van Persie met with a sublime header. The second was beautiful lofted pass that found Arjen Robben in the box, who finished cooly.
Holland’s midfield trio, and particularly Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman, neutralised Spain’s midfield threat with an aggressive high line. They pressed and hassled Xabi Alonso, Sergio Busquets and Xavi and did not allow them to exert their influence on the pitch.
Holland’s chief playmaker Wesley Sneijder had a relatively quiet night as his team bypassed him and found Van Persie and Robben with balls over the Spanish defence.
Van Gaal’s biggest stroke of genius was pairing Van Persie with Robben to form a formidable strike partnership. Spain’s defence could not cope with their blistering pace and technique on the ball.
Holland knew they would not see a lot of the ball so they pressed, won the ball and looked for van Persie or Robben with a long through ball. The duo bamboozled the Spanish defence with their runs on and off the ball, and Iker Casillas was helpless against their clinical finishing.
Where the game was lost for Spain
Much has changed in world football since Spain won Euro 2012, with many claiming that tiki taka is dead. Most successful teams in recent years have employed a pressing game, hitting their opponents on the counter. This was certainly the case on Friday evening in Salvador.
Vicente del Bosque stuck to his tiki taka principles against Holland, but was undone by Van Gaal’s press and counter. Spain’s play lacked a spark, as they looked flat and lifeless. The centre-back pair of Gerard Pique and Sergio Ramos could not cope with the explosive pace of Robben and Van Persie. Their midfield were outmuscled and outclassed by their Dutch counterparts. Costa’s threat was neutralised by Vlaar.
Spain’s biggest failure came from playing Iniesta and Silva in wide positions. Both are outstanding players when they are played through the middle and can dictate the game. However, when they were deployed out wide, the Dutch defence constantly closed them down.
Neither Iniesta nor Silva tracked back to support the full-backs, allowing Holland to sting them on the counter. Holland played a high line, which could have been utilized by pacey wingers, such as David Villa or Pedro, but Iniesta and Silva did not play direct enough to take full advantage.
Manchester United fans will be left purring after a masterclass from Van Gaal. However, Spain will have their work cut out after being completely outclassed by the Dutch.
Tiki taka may be dead and buried now.
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