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Holland 1 -2 Germany: The broken team…

A match that Holland needed to win in order to keep chances of qualifying to the knock-out stages of Euro 2012 in their own hands, ended in a bitter defeat. Germany had the better of the game, except maybe in the closing stages when Van Marwijk made some changes and Holland bravely, but desperately, chased an equalizer. In the end, Germany thoroughly deserved the victory, based on their tactical superiority and several key German players outperforming their Dutch counterparts.

The starting line-ups

The starting line-ups

A lot of speculation went on in the build-up to this game and most of it concerned whether Klaas-Jan Huntelaar should start ahead of Robin van Persie and whether Van der Vaart should be accommodated as deep-lying playmaker in favour of either Van Bommel or De Jong.

However, Van Marwijk opted for the same starting eleven that played against Denmark, with the exception of Joris Mathijsen who returned from injury at centre-back, at the expense of Ron Vlaar.

Germany manager Joachim Löw fielded the expected starting eleven.

 The first half

The game started out at a slow pace with both teams happy to take some time to settle in. In most matches, either one or both of the teams look to take advantage of open play turnovers to launch quick breaks, but this match was different early on. Both teams set out rather patiently, mainly aiming not to lose possession in dangerous areas, and knowing that not conceding might be the main objective early on.

But after this quiet opening phase, some interesting aspects could be seen. Holland had created a few chances when Van Persie used his excellent of the ball skills to get in behind the German defensive line, but he failed to convert his early opportunities. Germany soon adapted by dropping their defensive line a bit deeper, thereby opening up more space in midfield, which soon worked to their advantage.

Özil’s movement

Germany smartly used Mesut Özil’s lateral movement to unsettle the Dutch defense and take advantage of the large spaces in midfield with both teams’ defensive lines wary of conceding too much space in behind them.

As can be seen from the diagram below, Özil received passes both at the right and left offensive midfield area, indicating his smart lateral movement. Particularly on their right wing, Germany created numerous offensive moves, with Thomas Müller clearly dominating the struggling left-back Jetro Willems.

With Özil moving laterally, a choice had to be made in the Dutch defensive midfield zone. Nigel de Jong mostly covered Özil in his lateral runs, but this left Van Bommel on his own to cover the ground in front of the Dutch defense, where he was overloaded by Khedira and Schweinsteiger.

Broken team

The same diagram shows that Wesley Sneijder operated in his beloved left wing area, but his activity in this match was concentrated here even more than it was before. This is not to state Sneijder had a weak game, not at all, but the defensive part of his job as a central offensive midfielder was an area that Germany smartly exploited.

With Sneijder mainly staying high up the pitch and the Dutch defensive line wary of not conceding space in behind them, the ‘broken team’ problem appeared. The distances between the offensive four and the defensive six were way too large for Van Bommel to be covered, even more so with De Jong being dragged aside by Özil.

Broken wings

An area where Holland normally dominates their opponents are the wings. And both of them failed to perform here. Ibrahim Afellay had an anonymous game and failed to contribute. On the other wing, much of the credit should go to Philipp Lahm, who defended very well against his team mate Arjen Robben. Lahm, a right-footed defender who fills in at left-back for his country had the advantage of protecting against Robben’s inside runs with his stronger foot and prevented Robben from making his usual threatening runs. Germany’s excellent defensive performance also stood clear from the tackling chart (below), and from the fact that the Germans won 65% of the duels, a record high rate at European Championships since 1980.

Another reason for the disappointing wing performance was the complete lack of offensive contribution of the full-backs. Jetro Willems had his hands more than full defending Thomas Müller and Gregory van der Wiel failed to overlap and lend support to Robben.


 The main man for Germany was Bastian Schweinsteiger. The Bayern München midfielder smartly advanced in central midfield and teaming up with Sami Khedira, he overloaded Van Bommel on occasions that Özil had already dislodged De Jong sideways. This 3v2 battle in midfield proved crucial to created the two goal scoring chances that striker Gomez showed his clinical finishing skills on.

The second half

 The second half started with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar up front, Robin van Persie in behind him, coming mainly from a left wing role with the invisible Afellay removed, and with Rafael van der Vaart introduced for Mark van Bommel. The Dutch captain was the scapegoat for the disastrous first half, both in terms of tactical developments and in terms of players underperforming. After an initial ten minutes where Germanycould and perhaps should have taken advantage of a few good opportunities, Hollandslowly fought their way back into the match.

 Around the hour mark, Van Marwijk opted to switch Van Persie and Sneijder, much like he did in the closing stages of the Denmark game. For Sneijder, who already operated in that zone, not all too much changed, but Van Persie seemed liberated in his role as a second striker, sometimes joining up high with Huntelaar, sometimes dropping deeper to escape the attention of the German centre-backs. Another notable advantage of this change was that without a nominal wide left winger, it was easier to pose threats to the German defense. Before, the German defense was sure to outnumber the Dutch centrally, with Sneijder and Afellay by and large working in the same part of the pitch. But Van Persie’s vertical movement from a deeper lying striker position posed more problems for the German defense and more options for Sneijder’s passing from a static lateral position.

The improvement brought about by this chances was evident in the Dutch goal, where an Van Persie once again showed his excellent skills in creating, and this time also finishing, his own goal scoring chance.

 Overall it didn’t prove enough for the win and in fact the best chances in the second half fell to the Germans with goal keeper Stekelenburg proving his worth on attempts by Özil and Badstuber.

In the end

In a match where both the tactical performance and the individual player performances were below-par, Holland didn’t deserve anything more than this defeat. Germany smartly exploited the distance between the Dutch front four and the defensive unit and two well-timed runs from deep by Schweinsteiger were enough for the win.

Let’s not forget that Holland are not eliminated yet, a two goal win over Portugal might still do the trick if Germany beats Denmark in their final game.

Germany 3 – 0 Holland: Devastating result highlights tactical errors

Never before will a friendly have been billed so highly in the Netherlands as the past ‘friendly’ confrontation with Germany. Not only are matches between these two teams generally loaded with tension, but to see two favorites for the Euro 2012 title meet in a friendly just half a year before the main tournament might serve as an advert for friendly international football matches. In the end Bert van Marwijk will have regretted  this clash, though , as his side helped Holland slump to a marginal performance and a devastating 3-0 defeat to go with it.


Holland’s 4-2-3-1

The starting line-ups

Of the two 4-2-3-1 variants that Van Marwijk uses, the expected double holding midfielder variant came out against Germany. Ever since the World Cup, Holland tends to use that system against equal or superior sides, while against inferior estimated opposition the deep-lying playmaker variant has helped them install more creativity in the side.

Kevin Strootman partnered captain Mark van Bommel in defensive midfield to shield the defensive four, while the left flank experiment of the Switzerland match, with Hoffenheim’s Braafheid and Babel starting at left back and at the left wing, was given another chance. This meant that Dirk Kuyt made another start from the right wing, playing in a very narrow and confusing inside wing position. Up front, Huntelaar replaced Van Persie as Van Marwijk seemed to have agreed with Arsenal’s Arsene Wenger on a single friendly for Van Persie.


Germany’s 4-2-3-1

Against Ukraine Löw experimented with a three-at-the-back two striker formation, which ended up in a 1-3 score at half time with Germany pulling two back in the second half. In the match, Löw turned to his usual 4-2-3-1 formation that involves intelligent midfield movement of the three central midfielders and central role for striker Klose, both literally and figuratively speaking.

With Schweinsteiger and Lahm not playing, Joachim Löw featured young Toni Kroos in midfield beside Khedira. Löw played Jerome Boateng at right-back and Dennis Aogo at left-back. Holger Badstuber partnered Mertesacker at centre-back. Formation wise, Germany’s midfield three kept nicely tight, while Kroos and Khedira took turns going forward, using excellent decision making to join the offense when needed.


Dutch midfield problems

The fifteen minutes between the kick-off and Müller’s opening goal illustrated several tactical differences between the two sides, although they were playing essentially the same formation.

The first issue concerned the level of pressing. Germany looked rather happy to sit back and have Holland circulate the ball between the centre-backs and defensive midfield up until around the halfway line. Holland, on the other hand, somewhere felt the need to aggressively press Germany’s possession as far as the goal keeper. In order to achieve this pressing, Sneijder regularly advanced beside Huntelaar, thereby severely depleting the Dutch central midfield area. At times Germany were able to circulate the ball past or around this first level of pressure into midfield and this allowed them to exploit the 3v2 advantage in that department.

Out of possession, Holland partly solved the problem of being a man down in central midfield with Kuyt’s confusing narrow role, where he acted more as a fourth central midfielder than as right winger, the role he would have been expected to take. The problem with this inside narrow role arose on turnovers, with Holland suddenly playing a very narrow formation, having difficulty creating enough space for their ball circulation, with a lot of difficulty for Sneijder to express himself. On top of that, Kuyt may be admired for his work rate, adding balance to a creative offensive team, but his movement between the lines and short passing skills are not what brought him to the national team.


Striker issues

Another interesting observation concerns the Dutch strikers. The issue of whether to play Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (KHJ) or Robin van Persie (RVP) is a matter of continuous debate, even more so with KJH seemingly scoring freely for his country and RVP doing the same for his club. Both striker play an inherently different game, and Van Marwijk’s two different 4-2-3-1 variants may demand two different types of players up front.

The offensive variant with the deep-lying playmaker added besides a single holding midfielder, the variant that worked very well during the Euro 2012 qualifying matches, mostly played against inferior opposition, demands poacher-like qualities, offered by KJH. The striker, in this formation, is mainly there to provide the finishing to the creative moves started by the offensive midfielder and the deep-lying playmaker.

The more defensive variant, with a double pivot of two holding midfielders, the variant that worked very well in the World Cup 2010, as well as in friendlies against Uruguay and Brazil, demands more creativity up front, coming from a deep-lying striker role as offered by RVP. The striker, in this particular formation, is there to assist in the construction of attacks and the create space for others to take advantage of.

Against Germany, the poacher striker in the double holding midfielder formation did not work, while the same can be said for RVP in the deep-lying playmaker formation in the recent Switzerland match.



The German goals

Thomas Müller’s opening goal crowned his sublime instinctive near post run, which saw him reduce the man-marking applied by Mathijsen to a non-existent level. After that, the German lead exaggerated the midfield related pressure problems that were already apparent at 0-0, but increased as the Germans looked comfortable without the need to apply early pressure on their opponents. Even before thirty minutes were played, Miroslav Klose finished off the best German pass and move attack of the game. Starting off with a Manuel Neuer goal kick, eight ground passes allowed Klose a long range header that he executed skillfully to drive the ball past Stekelenburg.

The third goal rewarded Mesut Özil for his excellent movement between the lines, as he combined with Klose and Müller and ended up placing the ball into an empty net after a combination through the heart of the Dutch defense.


In the end

This friendly highlighted several tactical issues in Van Marwijk’s team. The combination of the defensive double pivot midfield variant of the 4-2-3-1 and Huntelaar’s poacher qualities did not work. O nthe other hand, Huntelaar’s recent goal scoring glut during the Euro 2012 qualifying campaign showed his qualities to match the more offensive deep-lying playmaker variant much better, off course, taking into account the bias of using that system preferentially against inferior opposition.

Furthermore, the over-optimistic pressure on a high quality opponent like Germany proved counterproductive. And finally, to no surprise, the role of inside winger does not suit Kuyt very well.