Euro 2012 Tactical Preview: Double Pivot with RVP up top!

With less than a week until the kick-off of the next major international tournament, it is time to consider some tactical issues going into Euro 2012. And 11tegen11 is not the only one to do so. During the build-up to next week’s kick-off, for the Dutch on Saturday against Denmark, tactical issues are being discussed all around.

It is safe to say that around these major tournaments no Dutchman seems short of a powerfully formulated opinion on how the national team should play and it is striking to note how many of those take a different view compared to what the manager prefers. Thereby taking the easiest spot.

Should Holland not be crowned Champions of Europe in a few weeks time, things will be considered to have gone wrong. Fans having taken that easy spot of disagreeing with the manager will console themselves with their moral victory of having had a different view on how the team should have played and do seldomly concern themselves with the fact that the performance under their tactical preferences might have been the same, or even worse. Fitting with this excellent depiction by @Zone_14 on the Beyond the Pitch website, summarizing the Dutch football fans’ mentality as having a massive inferiority complex, wrapped in an ever great superiority complex.

That being said, this preview will now focus on the two most debated topics regarding the Dutch national team: which version of the 4-2-3-1 formation to play and which striker to use. Minor issues by now are the left wing area, where Ibrahim Afellay earned his starting spot over Dirk Kuyt, who played more matches than any other player under Van Marwijk, with a series of bright and energetic performances, showing that the Barcelona winger has returned to fitness in time, after injuring his cruciate ligaments early this season. Furthermore, the only position that has not been clearly settled yet is at left-back, where both Stijn Schaars and Jetro Willems compete for the starting spot. Young Willems barely has 1500 minutes of Eredivisie experience for PSV under his belt, but offers offensive qualities that seem more limited with Schaars playing. The Sporting Portugal player, however, offers more experience and this may give him the edge here.

 

The starting XI for Euro 2012

The formation

Obviously, Holland will operate in a 4-2-3-1 formation. They’ve done so for all of the past years and to no shortage of success. As has been extensively described earlier, Van Marwijk generally uses two different variants of that formation. The first one, used against comparable or superior level opposition, fields two genuine holding midfielders and will accordingly be termed The ‘ Double Pivot’ version. This was also the preferred version throughout the nearly successful 2010 World Cup campaign.

The second variant field one holding midfield and pairs him with a deep-lying playmaker, as Van Marwijk has preferred against defensive sides of inferior quality. This version will be termed the ‘ Deep-Lying Playmaker’ version and was used for most of the Euro 2012 qualifying matches.

It is safe to say that Holland will use the Double Pivot formation during Euro 2012. However, this still remains an area where the majority of the fans disagree with Van Marwijk. There is a loud voice demanding the creativity of Van der Vaart to be installed, rather than the defensive solidity of Nigel de Jong. A frequently heard phrase which is used here is that this “ brings more football to the team”, as if defending is not part of playing football…

 

Comparing the Double Pivot and the Deep-Lying Playmaker

When we arbitrarily consider all matches that Holland has played since the start of the 2010 World Cup, we find 29 matches, of which two can be excluded from further analysis. Against Ukraine they fielded a B-side in what most resembled a 4-3-3 formation, against Bayern Munich they did not play another country. Of the World Cup final we will consider the result after 90 minutes.

The Double Pivot was used in 20 matches and produced 2.39 points per game, while the Deep-Lying Playmaker was used in the remaining 7 matches to produce a magnificent 2.71 points per game.

However, this analysis would not be complete without considering the fact that the DP was used against significantly higher rated opponents compared to the DLP. The average FIFA ranking of the DP opponents is around the level of the Czech Republic, while the average DLP opponents ranked around the level of Hungary.

 

The striker

This is another example of the manager’s favorite versus the fans’ favorite. With the top scorers of both the English Premier League and the Bundesliga to choose from, some have termed this a luxury problem. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has won over lots of support among the fans with his magnificent goal scoring record in the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign, while Robin van Persie’s goal draught at the World Cup helped Huntelaar’s case further.

Before we’ll go into the numbers here, consider the following. Would you prefer Holland to win the tournament, or the striker to score goals? Right, and that is exactly what is wrong with looking at the outcome side of things (goals, assists) on an individual basis in a team sport. There seems to be growing trend among comparable sports, like basketball and ice hockey, to look at team outcomes with particular individual players playing. For a number of reason, however, this methodology is difficult to translate directly to football.

The same set of matches that we used above shows us that KJH scored 14 goals in the 13 matches that he started as a striker, while RVP scored only 5 in 14 games starting as a striker. Ironically, RVP also scored five goals playing as a left winger while KJH started up top. Again, KJH played inferior opposition with the average FIFA ranking corresponding with Macedonia, while RVP’s opponents averaged the strength of Switzerland or Ireland.

Things are more relevant at team level, however, and with 2.57 points per game with RVP starting as a striker he certainly has the edge over KJH’s 2.15 points per game.

 

Which striker to play?

Combining the DP-DLP and KJH-RVP choices brings about the most interesting oberservations. It turns out that Holland has a record of 9-2-0 using the Double Pivot with Robin van Persie up top. Compare this with 5-1-3 with the DP and KJH up top…

 

In the end

It seems the Double Pivot with RVP up top brings the best results against teams of comparable or superior quality, and that’s exactly the type of teams Holland will meet in Poland and Ukraine over the coming weeks.

And it makes sense too. Installing a second defensive midfielder, in casu Nigel de Jong, rather than a more creative deep-lying playmaker, in casu Van der Vaart, provides more cover for the defense, by all means the weakest link in the chain that is the Dutch team. De Jong may be most known for his physical presence and tackling, but his pass completion percentage over the past season, in much the same role as he’ll play in Euro 2012, was a staggering 94%. In other words, he’ll give away less than one in 16 balls. An important part of diminishing the pressure on the defense behind him…

An important difference between RVP and KJH is the striker mobility. In his role at the national team, RVP tends to drift from the striker area, thereby opening up space for the wingers and offensive midfielder to take advantage of. Huntelaar may be the better finisher, but it’s the overall team performance that counts in the end.

9 thoughts on “Euro 2012 Tactical Preview: Double Pivot with RVP up top!

  1. Macky Villasis

    I have to agree with your conclusions, though I would’ve liked a more offensive approach, with Vaart in midfield alongside either Bommel or de Jong. And it really saddens me that the trio of Vaart, Kuyt and Huntelaar, look to start Euro 2012 on the bench… But my question is, when Holland need goals, and Bert needs to bring on Vaart, would that also mean that Huntelaar must be brought on? I seem to think that he works better in a DLP system than RVP.

    Reply
  2. sean

    Intersting approach to the Oranje dilemmas. However, it points as much to the limitations of data-driven approaches as much as anything else.

    1. The lack of data points makes conclusions based on data essentially impossible. 11 games with one system and 9 with the other is just not enough to make statistically significant conclusions (although, having not run any Chi-squared tests myself on the data, it’s possible that it *is8 significant – but unlikely, I’d wager, given the sample size). Making a cross-table out of RVP vs KVH *and* double-pivot vs deep-lying playmaker makes the data even less reliable.

    2. To what extent is the 9-2-0 record just an artifact of van Marwijk’s PDO, and thus likely to suffer regression to the mean? Should such a regression take place at EK2012, he and the team won’t get a lot of sympathy.

    3. A data driven approach can only account for formations *used*, not possible formations unused: a 3-4-3 with KVH *and* RVP? A 4-4-2 diamond formation?

    A data driven approach can only really say ‘given the necessity of choosing between RVP and KVH, the current data, whilst not statistically significant, leans towards an RVH solution’. Given those conditions, then yes, I agree with your conclusions as well – but I’d prefer to see *other* solutions being created, based upon fielding the best (and most-currently-in-form) players that Oranje can field…. albeit, that’s not going to happen.

    I think, to make a prediction, that van Marwijk’s preferred formation happened, by luck and form as much as anything else, to be ideal for the players available at WK2010; but is unlikely to be equally successful again, given the simple facts that player form and available player populations are variable. Helaas 🙁

    Reply
  3. Jarno

    Good read. Don’t think the statistics are very significant, but looking at the tactical side, the defense will need the extra protection. A will try to keep possession, but aren’t good enough at it like Spain

    Reply
    1. admin Post author

      I share your concerns about the statistical significance of this limited dataset, but it is the only thing in terms of match outcome that we have. In fact, I did not even consider testing the significance yet, given the small numbers. But I guess, in a low scoring game this challenge will exist for the foreseeable future. On top of this there are also too few international matches to make statistical significant points when using outcomes like points per game, goals scored etc.

      As pointed out in the comments below, there may well be an influence of high PDO’s in certain streaks of matches. And of course, how the results would have been with 3-4-3 or 4-4-2 formations, we’ll never know. However, don’t underestimate the time it takes to get these kind of formations going and in that sense Van Marwijk has done a sensible job to stick with one formation and only tweak it towards a DP or DLP version.

      The best data driven approach that I can think of would be to eliminate the PDO effect by looking at expected goals scored, based on historical data to assess the expected amount of goals produced by the chances created. Much like in the piece I wrote last summer on goal scoring chances. This would also have the advantage that you’d study a more frequent event (chances) than goals or wins.
      Sadly, I don’t have the data at my disposal to do so right now…

      Reply
  4. Joseph

    Why is van Bommel undroppable? Why not keep the cover/enforcer role of de jong because he is effective as mentioned and drop van bommel who is 35 years old and replace him with van der vaart? Obviously it is more than age but he proved slow and not up to the task against Spain.

    Reply
  5. DutchSupreme

    There is big differece between “Ireland” and Northern Ireland.

    RVP played against Northern Ireland (FIFA Ranked No.100 when the game was played), and on top of that they fielded a team described by Sky Sports as “kids”, with 3 debutants and only 3 players who had more than 10 caps to their name:
    http://www.skysports.com/football/match_report/0,19764,11065_3485742,00.html

    There is a more accurate analysis of the average Rank of the opponents both RVP and KJH have played against as Striker here:

    http://dutchsoccersite.org/players-talk/
    (Check the comments section – some great work by “prachtig”)

    This actually includes every single game and every single minute that both guys have played as Holland striker under BVM:

    You will be surprised to learn that the outcome was this:

    – RVP has played in 19 matches (1326 minutes) as striker for Holland, all starts, scoring 9 goals.

    – Huntelaar has played 41 matches (2164 minutes) as striker for Holland, with only 21 starts and 20 sub appearances, scoring 23 goals. From his 21 starts Huntelaar scored 18 goals.

    But here’s where it got really interesting:

    – The 19 opponents that van Persie has played against as striker have an average FIFA Ranking of 26. He scored 9 goals from 19 starts in those games, playing 1326 minutes.

    – However the Top 19 opponents that Huntelaar has played against as striker, have an average FIFA Ranking of just 15. He scored 8 goals from 8 starts and 11 sub appearances in those games, playing 940 minutes.

    – When those records are compared Huntelaar comes out on top with the superior goal ratio of 1 goal every 117.5 minutes (compared to van Persie’s 1 goal every 147.3 minutes) despite Huntelaar’s ratio being against a higher ranking group of opposition (Average FIFA Rank) than van Persie played against.

    – Huntelaar scored more goals away from home than van Persie, where opponents are usually harder to beat.

    – Huntelaar also had the better goal ratio against FIFA Top 10 and Top 5 Ranked opponents (having scored against England who were ranked No.5 in Feb 2012) despite playing 94 minutes less.

    These are quite compelling stats which blow away a lot of myths.

    In short, it shows that Huntelaar is the more productive Striker against every kind of opponent both came up against.

    Very Interesting.

    Reply
    1. 11tegen11

      Thanks for these extensive comments, and the interesting link to dutchsoccersite.org

      Still, I disagree on the method of looking at goals scored by RVP or KJH to determine who the preferred starting striker should be. Read this excerpt from the above article:

      “Before we’ll go into the numbers here, consider the following. Would you prefer Holland to win the tournament, or the striker to score goals? Right, and that is exactly what is wrong with looking at the outcome side of things (goals, assists) on an individual basis in a team sport. There seems to be growing trend among comparable sports, like basketball and ice hockey, to look at team outcomes with particular individual players playing.”

      My point is that Holland wins more points versus better teams when RVP starts than when KJH starts. With the caution that this a relatively small data set…

      Reply
  6. DutchSupreme

    “My point is that Holland wins more points versus better teams when RVP starts than when KJH starts.”

    Hi,

    You are very wrong about that, you know. It is in fact the other way around. Holland’s winning ratio against better teams (in fact against every type of team) is higher when KJH starts as Striker, than it is when RVP starts as Striker. RVP has started 7 games against FIFA Top 10 teams as Striker and only 1 time did it result in a win while he was starting Striker (Brazil, WC). The rest of the time while he has been the starting striker, the team has either lost or been left in a losing position in 3 games (Spain WC, Germany EC, Denmark EC) while he was starting striker, and left in a drawing position in the other 3 games (Brazil away, Italy away, England away) when he was starting as Striker. This leaves Holland with a Winning percentage of 14% (1 out of 7) whenever van Persie has started as Striker against FIFA Top 10 teams, a drawing percentage of 43% (3 out of 7) and a losing percentage of 43% (3 out of 7 times the team was left in a losing position with van Persie as starting Striker).

    In the 3 games that Huntelaar has ever been allowed to start as Striker against FIFA Top 10 teams, it’s left the team in a losing position in 1 game (Germany away), a drawing position in 1 game (Uruguay away) and a winning position in 1 game (Russia away). After he came off against Russia they later equalized. As a sub he’s also helped the team score more than it conceded (“win”) in the time he was Striker, in 2 games (England away, Germany EC) by stretching the opponents with his movement to create space for others, and scoring brilliantly himself.

    Therefore this leaves Holland with a Winning percentage of 33.3% (1 out of 3) whenever Huntelaar has started as Striker against FIFA Top 10 teams, a drawing percentage of 33.3% (1 out of 3) and a losing percentage of 33.3% (1 out of 3 times the team was left in a losing position with Huntelaar as starting Striker).

    The problem is that you are not correctly analysing the effects on the team when both players are utilised as Striker. You were not analysing the data in the right way, which should be based on what the results actually are in the “time” that both are utilised as Striker – from the time they enter the field as Striker to their departure. For example, if one of them starts and Holland are drawing during the time that he was up front, and then he goes off and Holland later concede a goal to lose the game, that shouldn’t be counted as a “loss” for that player.

    Since he played no part in any “losing” position while he was playing as Striker. Instead while that player was Striker the scores were level, hence It should be counted as a “draw” for that player. Because only after he left did the team concede without reply (“lose”) when he was no longer Striker. That was exactly what happened against Bulgaria, who only scored without any reply after Huntelaar left and van Persie became striker.

    So with this understanding in mind, let us look at the true effects on the team in proper detail, of what really happened whenever van Persie was Holland striker vs whenever Huntelaar was striker. I’ve created a similar Notepad file as the one from dutchsoccersite.org to show you what actually happens to the team when each player is utilised as Holland Striker.

    To view this file properly change the font to “Terminal” Size 6:
    http://www.sendspace.com/file/ff0h85

    ** The Results **

    VAN PERSIE AS HOLLAND STRIKER:

    Record vs FIFA Top 10 Opponents (Avg Rank 4):

    Starting:

    P7 W1 D3 L3 F2 A5
    Winning percentage: 14%
    Drawing percentage: 43%
    Losing percentage: 43%
    Goals: 0
    Assists: 0
    Minutes: 442
    Goal Ratio as Starting Striker: 0 Goals in 442 minutes

    Total Minutes as Striker: 442
    Total Goals as Striker: 0 goals
    Total Assists as Striker: 0 assists
    Total Goal Ratio as Striker: 0 Goals in 442 minutes

    —————————————————

    Record vs All Opponents (Avg Rank 29):

    Starting:

    P20 W13 D4 L3 F29 A8
    Winning percentage: 65%
    Drawing percentage: 20%
    Losing percentage: 15%
    Goals: 9
    Assists: 4
    Minutes: 1401
    Goal Ratio as Starting Striker: 1 Goal every 156 minutes

    Switching position:

    P1 W0 D0 L1 F0 A1
    Winning percentage: 0%
    Drawing percentage: 0%
    Losing percentage: 100%
    Goals: 0
    Assists: 0
    Minutes: 13

    Total Minutes as Striker: 1414
    Total Goals as Striker: 9 goals
    Total Assists as Striker: 4 assists
    Total Goal Ratio as Striker: 1 Goal every 157 minutes

    HUNTELAAR AS HOLLAND STRIKER:

    Record vs FIFA Top 10 Opponents (Avg Rank 5)

    Starting:

    P3 W1 D1 L1 F1 A3
    Winning percentage: 33.3%
    Drawing percentage: 33.3%
    Losing percentage: 33.3%
    Goals: 0 goals
    Assists: 0 assists
    Minutes: 213
    Goal Ratio as Starting Striker: 0 Goals in 213 mins

    Sub:

    P7 W2 D5 L0 F3 A0
    Winning percentage: 29%
    Drawing percentage: 71%
    Losing percentage: 0%
    Goals: 1 goals
    Assists: 0 assists
    Minutes: 204

    Total Minutes as Striker: 417
    Total Goals as Striker: 1 goal
    Total Assists as Striker: 0 assists
    Total Goal Ratio as Striker: 1 Goal in 417 minutes

    —————————————————

    Record vs 34 Best Opponents (Avg Rank 28):

    Starting:

    P15 W11 D2 L2 F25 A9
    Winning percentage: 73%
    Drawing percentage: 13%
    Losing percentage: 13%
    Goals: 10 goals
    Assists: 2 assists
    Minutes: 1140
    Goal Ratio as Starting Striker: 1 Goal every 114 minutes

    Sub:

    P19 W5 D13 L1 F14 A5
    Winning percentage: 26.3%
    Drawing percentage: 68.4%
    Losing percentage: 5.3%
    Goals: 3 goals
    Assists: 1 assists
    Minutes: 485

    Total Minutes as Striker: 1625
    Total Goals as Striker: 13 goals
    Total Assists as Striker: 3 assists
    Total Goal Ratio as Striker: 1 Goal every 125 minutes

    —————————————————

    Record vs All Opponents (Avg Rank 48):

    Starting:

    P21 W16 D3 L2 F46 A10
    Winning percentage: 76%
    Drawing percentage: 14%
    Losing percentage: 10%
    Goals: 18 goals
    Assists: 2 assists
    Minutes: 1667

    Sub:

    P21 W6 D13 L2 F15 A6
    Winning percentage: 28.6%
    Drawing percentage: 61.9%
    Losing percentage: 9.5%
    Goals: 5 goals
    Assists: 1 assist
    Minutes: 542

    Total Minutes as Striker: 2209
    Total Goals as Striker: 23 goals
    Total Assists as Striker: 3 assists
    Total Goal Ratio as Striker: 1 Goal every 96 minutes

    —————————————————

    * Final Comment *

    This demonstrates clearly that the team benefits far more from using Huntelaar as the main Striker than it does from using van Persie as the Striker. Against every type of opponent, top, middle or lower ranking, Huntelaar has the better goalscoring record from the Striker position (even much moreso when he is given starts and is allowed to get a rhythm going) but crucially the team itself also has higher winning ratios whenever Hunter is starting as the Striker than it does whenever van Persie is Striker. The obvious conclusion I would draw from this is that Huntelaar should be No.9 and van Persie behind him as No.10. It’s so obvious and yet BVM never does it.

    Not one other team in these Euros would leave a man who has scored 53 goals this season stuck on the bench. A Goalscoring talent who was top scorer in qualifying has been wasted and I fear it’s already too late to salvage the mess BVM has created.

    Reply
    1. 11tegen11 Post author

      Wow!
      Now, that’s an extensive comment…
      Thanks you for that.

      Still, the reason we reach different conclusions comes from the fact that we use different datasets, and different definitions.
      Given the fact that the data to decide whether RVP or KJH should start upfront is severely limited, both of our conclusions don’t seem significant in the statistical term of the word.

      The difference between our data sets are that
      …I’ve excluded matches over two years ago,
      …I wrote the piece before the lost Germany and Denmark games
      …Treat the data as per the ‘intention to treat’ principle
      (this mean any end result from a game starting with RVP or KJH up front will be attributed to that particular striker)
      …Use a different definition to assess opponent quality
      (not FIFA ranked top-10 vs lower, but average FIFA points)

      Anyway, these differences illustrate very well that when the power of the data is limited, like in this case, one can apply definitions and inclusion criteria in order to come to a numerical piece of ‘evidence’ for the statement you want to make. Whether this means RVP or KJH up front, the case for both can be supported with different use of data.

      Reply

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