Netherlands came into Euro 2020 as clear Group C favourites, and they did not disappoint by any stretch of the imagination, winning all three of their matches. Frank de Boer’s team have been tactically fluid, outstanding both in and out of possession and have genuinely looked like one of the most exciting teams at the tournament. So with the knockout stages just a few days away, we take a look at Netherlands’ tactics at the tournament so far.
system of play: 3-4-1-2
Frank de Boer has deployed a 3-4-1-2 formation in all three matches so far, playing Georginio Wijnaldum in an advanced role in front of an outstanding midfield pivot. The shape sees some minor 3-4-3/5-2-3 tweaks in defense which will be explored in this article, but their 3-4-1-2 has been absolutely integral to their attacking success and the overall influence of their best players like de Jong, Wijnaldum and Depay.Embed from Getty Images
In goal, Frank de Boer has given a surprise starting birth to veteran keeper Maarten Stekelenburg, who is now 38 years old. While the 6’6 keeper is yet to be truly exposed, the decision has paid off to an extent, as Stekelenburg is also yet to make a mistake. At the back, Netherlands’ defensive success in their final two group stage games should have been expected. They boast three experienced defenders still at the very top of their games in Matthijs De Ligt, Stefan De Vrij and Daley Blind, each able to offer something different to the team. Stefan De Vrij’s role on the right of the back-three was a slight surprise given that he normally plays in the middle for his club team Inter Milan, but it’s proven to be another excellent decision. De Ligt always seems to be in the right place at the heart of the back-three to kick and head anything out of danger, while De Vrij is much more progressive and likes to occasionally venture forward with the ball. The Inter man’s ability to carry the ball out from the back and progress into the opposition’s third troubled Austria all game long, and added an extra number to create chances down the right with one of their stars of the tournament so far – Denzel Dumfries. But before getting to Dumfries we first have to mention Daley Blind, who is also quite progressive on the ball and pops up in advanced positions both in and out of possession for the Oranje. On Blind’s side Patrick Van Aanholt’s made a surprise start in all three matches ahead of the younger Owen Wijndal, and has performed well due to his pace getting up and down the wing. Speaking of pace up and down the wing, Denzel Dumfries has been one of the names of the tournament so far, as he bagged two goals in Holland’s opening two games. His high position on the right has allowed for greater attacking fluidity to the Dutch, specifically giving Wout Weghorst more room to roam in central areas.Embed from Getty Images
In central midfield, Marten de Roon partnered Frenkie de Jong in the opening two matches, with 19-year old Ryan Gravenberch performing excellently alongside the Barca man in the final group stage game. Expected to play in a deeper role, Georginio Wijnaldum’s been given so much license to get forward and score goals as the number ten in the team, where he’s bagged three goals in three matches. The two in front of him have been nearly as deadly and certainly just as influential, with Wout Weghorst finally getting the attention he deserves alongside the team’s star man Memphis Depay. Depay has been absolutely everywhere for the Oranje, scoring 2 goals with 1 assist in 3 matches so far…but it’s felt like he’s assisted just about every goal Netherlands have scored. Weghorst has also performed an important role both in and out of possession for the Dutch, and has been unlucky to only bag 1 goal so far. The exciting youngster Donyell Malen has also impressed from his minutes in the team, assisting two goals himself. So those are the players, now let’s get into more of how Netherlands utilize their talents to success.
build-upEmbed from Getty Images
Through being the undeniable best team in their group, Netherlands have kept 54% of the possession in their matches so far. But they’ve been far more progressive with their possession than most, and are certainly far from just a patient team passing the ball around.
The centre-backs circulate the ball around with relative quickness, looking to get the ball into the wing-backs and then centrally for Frenkie de Jong. De Jong will then look to drive the ball forward and break lines either from a pass or a dribble, both of which he can do with ease. The Barcelona man has been a standout at the tournament so far, oozing class from central midfield and making Netherlands’ possession incredibly productive and forward-thinking. From there, Wijnaldum and Depay will both look for space in between the lines to receive, and both are also capable of driving the ball forward at speed upon receiving themselves. No team has completed more dribbles per game than Netherlands (13), with de Jong at the top of that category from an individual perspective, ahead of Kevin de Bruyne and Kylian Mbappe. In addition to taking players on and dribbling when possible, the Dutch have favoured a short passing game, with no other team completing fewer long passes per game at the tournament so far.
Once advancing into the opposition’s half, it is also very common for the centre-backs to do so as well. Daley Blind in particular will advance down the left and look for moments to play in Depay, but de Vrij has also shown great dynamism in galloping forward from his position on the right of the three. Blind also likes to play longer passes, which can be effective for the Oranje in switching quickly to the right and engaging Dumfries, just as the opposition try to set up how they are going to defend left-sided Depay. By having so many players remain in close proximity in their build-up like this, particularly once advancing into the opposition’s half, it makes it very difficult for opposition sides to transition. We spoke about the same trend with Italy at this tournament, and it’s no surprise to us that many think of these two sides as the most dominant of the Euros so far.
defensive principlesEmbed from Getty Images
Netherlands have been one of the outstanding teams so far in the tournament, and not just for their attacking prowess, but also for their defensive solidity. Apart from a bad five minute spell against Ukraine that saw them concede two back to back, the Dutch have not conceded another goal at the tournament. With three outstanding centre-backs, two defensively solid central midfielders and a high pressing structure, it’s pretty obvious why they’ve had so much success. But that is to say that other teams have fared much worse defensively at this tournament, with arguably better squads.Embed from Getty Images
What the Dutch have done so extraordinarily well at the tournament so far is in winning the ball back quickly after losing it. Their pressing structures have been sound right from the front of their attack, but they’ve also counter-pressed particularly well – with Frenkie de Jong leading the charge from midfield.
Since Netherlands spend a considerable amount of time in the opposition’s half through their possession and attack, they then make it easier on themselves to condense the field and stop their opposition from playing out or counter attacking. Every Dutch player looks to get into the opposition’s half whenever they’re able to advance into the final third, and the close proximity that they operate in to unbalance the opposition’s defense makes it easier to quickly counter-press upon losing the ball. This then allows de Boer’s team to continue making dangerous, risky passes into the final third and into the penalty area, knowing if they don’t come off that the team are still well set up to defend right away. De Jong has been particularly crucial here, and normally leads the first action on the counter-press given that the area of the field Netherlands most frequently lose the ball is toward the edge of the eighteen yard box. De Jong arrives to the scene lightning quick, or is already there as part of that close proximity attack, and then easily helps his team restart play right away. This is just one more reason why the Barcelona man has been a real standout at the tournament thus far, showcasing his exceptional quality both on and off the ball.
In terms of their high press (on longer spells without the ball, and goal kicks), Netherlands shift into a 3-4-3 shape. This involves Wijnaldum taking up a position on the right of the front three rather than the central role he holds in possession. This adaptation is actually quite common for teams playing 3-4-1-2 like Mainz and Atalanta and similar approaches of a front three high block are taken by teams like Everton and France who play with a free roaming right winger in possession and then shift them back out wide off the ball. What this allows for the Netherlands specifically is several advantages. Firstly, it allows Wout Weghorst – as the supposed main goal threat and target man – to continue operating in central areas rather than out wide when defending. If Netherlands win the ball, he’s a great outlet to have with his exceptional link-up play as well as size and strength, and having him in the middle is therefore the best place for him to be. If the press is broken, Weghorst can then again stay high and central, as the more mobile Gini Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay track back instead. The second advantage of this defensive shape is that it is fantastic for creating defensive triangles in wide areas. That could be from wing-back, central midfielder and winger combining, or from the outside centre-back instead if the press is broken…which Netherlands usually don’t allow. If teams try to play centrally to combat this, they face the task of two outstanding ball winners in midfield. If they go long, they face three aerially solid defenders, and wing-backs with more than enough recovery pace to help chase down any loose passes. When done right, there is simply no way past Netherlands’ press.
So in this 3-4-3 shape, Netherlands have achieved so much defensive solidity. They can drop into a 5-4-1 or 5-2-3 lower down on the field if they need to, but they usually win the ball high enough to allow Wijnaldum and Depay to continue operating in advanced roles rather than holding real defensive duties. Against a team like France or Belgium where they might need to be more defensive, it will be interesting to see how the Oranje react. But when speaking about the Group Stages, it’s hard to find many faults about Netherlands, apart from a bad five minute spell against the Ukraine in their opening match.
attacking principlesEmbed from Getty Images
While Netherlands have succeeded in having one of the better defensive records at the tournament thus far, their attack has been where they’ve really set the stage alight. As of June 21, 2021, no team has scored more goals than the Dutch so far (8), completely making our very own Kausty Kapoor eat his words for what he said not once but twice about Netherlands’ supposedly poor attack. Sorry Kausty. Memphis Depay has been outstanding and at the heart of everything good for de Boer’s team, while many others around him have stepped up their games to contribute in unique ways.
First and foremost, de Boer has struck lightning with Gini Wijnaldum’s advanced number ten role in the team. The former Liverpool midfielder made a name for himself in the Premier League as an extraordinary box to box midfielder capable of making intelligent runs into the box, but he’s taken that to new heights for his national side here at the Euros. The 30-year old captain has netted three goals in three games so far, acting as the side’s top scorer. His goals have however been partially down to the creativity of Depay and Malen up front, who are always on the move looking for gaps, looking to get on the ball, and looking to create inside the penalty area for other players.Embed from Getty Images
Memphis Depay has been one of the standout players of the tournament thus far, and his influence comes from just how much he wants to get on the ball and get involved in every stage of the team’s attack. The former United flop has demonstrated incredible intelligence with his movement in dropping deep during the build-up, as well as looking for gaps in between the centre-backs and moments to pull away from any defenders attempting to track his movement. Everyone else around Depay understands that their role is more about scoring and finishing off the chances that he creates, rather than attempting to be genuine creative influences themselves. This is where a player like Denzel Dumfries has also succeeded in getting forward and advancing into the penalty area, to try and finish off chances that have been created by Depay in some shape or form – either the assist or the pass to the assist.Embed from Getty Images
What Depay also does magnificently well is link-up with those around him with quick one-two-touch pass and move sequences. This has been a hallmark of Netherlands’ play at the tournament so far and with a variety of players capable of holding onto the ball in tight spaces (de Jong, Malen, Gravenberch, etc.), Depay does not have to do this alone. In Weghorst the team also have a target man and another player very good with his back to goal, which allows the same ability for these one-touch combinations to thrive. Through these combinations and Depay’s overall influence down the left, de Boer’s team will then favour that side in particular, and may look to cut it back to a defender and switch to the right for Denzel Dumfries to get on the end of. Then again, the outside centre-backs and de Jong will push up with the play themselves and ensure that if these switches don’t come off or the opposition win the ball, Blind and De Vrij are often in the right place to help the team regain possession and restart the attack. When you add all of these things in conjunction with each other, not to mention the natural numbers in the box from playing a front two, it’s easy to see why Netherlands have scored the most goals at the tournament so far.
conclusionEmbed from Getty Images
Netherlands have been one of the standout teams at the Euros so far, playing a free-flowing brand of football with loads of goals and loads of spirit. While much of their attack has come through the outstanding Memphis Depay, they’ve demonstrated much flexibility and variety in not only scoring goals, but maintaining possession and keeping their opposition away. Their defense has also been solid, led by three excellent centre-backs, their 3-4-3 pressing structure and two outstanding ball winning central midfielders. With all of these things working in tandem, Netherlands’ success at the tournament so far cannot be understated. How far they can go remains to be seen, but they have been one of the very best sides of the Group Stages at Euro 2020.
So there it is! A tactical analysis of Frank de Boer’s Netherlands at Euro 2020 so far. Be sure to check out more tactical analyses, and follow on Twitter @mastermindsite. Thanks for reading and see you soon!
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