Tactical analysis Germany Netherlands 2-4 Euro Qualifiers

Germany – Netherlands: Another Thrilling Game Between These Rivals (2-4)

The fourth meeting in eleven months between the Netherlands and Germany yielded six goals and yet another fun game. Before half-time, Germany were in control of the match, having scored the opener and wasting several moments to double their lead. They would rue their wastefulness, as it gave Koeman the opportunity to alter his tactics, subsequently tilt the game and haul in a win.

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.

The previous three matches between Germany and the Netherlands – twice in the Nations League, one European qualifier – had turned into fun tactical battles every single time. One Dutch win, one draw, and one German win. Not once did a team completely dominate a match and, crazy as it might seem, when the Netherlands arguably put in their best performance, they lost, while Germany lost a game 3-0 wherein they completely contained the Netherlands from open play in the first half. 

What had been a trend, was that in every match – most often in a 3-4-3 shape – Germany’s pacey attackers had caused all kinds of problems for the Dutch defense, leading manager Ronald Koeman to try a bucketload of different solutions. The one he liked best was used for this match as well: a 5-3-2 shape off the ball, with Quincy Promes and Denzel Dumfries as wing-backs and Matthijs de Ligt, Virgil van Dijk and Daley Blind in central defense. 

What was new in this match was that the Dutch went for a 3-5-2 shape in possession as well, ditching the 4-2-3-1 formation that has been customary during qualification. Ryan Babel acted as the central striker, Memphis Depay as a roaming second striker and the aforementioned Promes and Dumfries as de facto wingers. 

Comfortably leading the group with nine points from three games, manager Jogi Löw might have come to a positive conclusion about his post World Cup style change, where he switched from a possession-oriented playmaking style to a more direct approach on the ball and increased emphasis on containing the opponent and creating chances on the break. 

Against the Netherlands, his 3-4-3 / 5-2-3 formation was built on two wing-backs going up and down the flank in Lukas Klostermann and Nico Schulz, with Matthias Ginter, Niklas Süle and Jonathan Tah in defense. It also left room for a brilliant central midfield pairing of Joshua Kimmich and Toni Kroos, while Marco Reus spearheaded the three-pronged attack, flanked by Serge Gnabry and Timo Werner. 

Netherlands the ball, Germany the goal

Indeed, the Germans gave up high pressing altogether at the start of this game. Instead, they formed their off the ball 5-2-3 formation, completely blocked off the center and calmly waited to see what the Dutch would come up with to break through.

Seventh minute. Clear 3-5-2 formation for the Netherlands, as wing-backs push up. De Ligt in possession, plays the ball to Blind because there is no forward option.

Seventh minute. Clear 3-5-2 formation for the Netherlands, as wing-backs push up. De Ligt in possession, plays the ball to Blind because there is no forward option.

Well, the Dutch did not come up with anything much in the first half, really. In theory, the spaces in either halfspace If you divide the field in five vertical lanes, the halfspaces are the lanes that are not on the wing and not in the center. Because there is no touchline like on the wing, players have the freedom to go everywhere. But this zone often is not as well-defended as the very center. This makes it a very valuable offensive zone to play in and a lot of chances are created by passes or dribbles from the halfspace. should have been there to exploit, because Germany only played with two central midfielders. However, Germany’s front three prevented any quick switches of play thanks to their positioning, meaning the pass from a center-back to an offensive player was anticipated long before it was played. 

If Promes or Dumfries would be played in by a center-back, the German wing-backs would step out to prevent the ball from being played forward. Add in some conservative positioning by right central midfielder Marten de Roon and all in all, the Netherlands had a very bad offensive plan in the first half.

When Germany had possession in midfield – which did not happen very often – and their wing-backs went forward, they were able to pin back the Dutch defenders five-against-five. In one of these moments, Germany scored the opening goal. 

Moment leading up to the opening goal. Kimmich quarterbacks the ball to Klostermann, whose run is dealt by inadequately by Promes. 

Moment leading up to the opening goal. Kimmich quarterbacks the ball to Klostermann, whose run is dealt by inadequately by Promes. 

Because the Netherlands effectively defended man-for-man in this situation, every individual mistake was very costly. Blind made the decision to step into midfield to follow Gnabry – can you fault him for that? – while Van Dijk and De Ligt were tied by Werner and Reus, meaning Promes had to deal with a run of Klostermann. He did inadequately, which gave Klostermann a free run at Cillessen. The Dutch goalkeeper saved the first attempt, which fell for Gnabry, who scored the opener after nine minutes of play.  

Germany miss chances to decide the match early

After the opening goal, the Dutch problems in possession seemed amplified. Because neither De Roon nor Wijnaldum were used in either halfspace, Memphis Depay started to roam further back from his striker position. However, in the entire first half, he was unable to hold the ball up effectively and provide linkup play. Promes and Wijnaldum started to switch positions on the left in order to confuse the Germans, but this was very rarely utilized. All it effectively did was harm the Netherlands when transitioning from attack to defense. 

Zone 14 passmap Germany Netherlands 2-4 Euro Qualifiers

Halfspace map illustrates Dutch problems in possession on the left side. 

Germany started to get loads of possibilities to counterattack, because the Netherlands turned the ball over a lot. Most notably between the twentieth and thirtieth minute, Germany let several opportunities go waste, as Werner could have been launched with a head start on Blind on one occasion, while in another instant Gnabry tried a strange lob effort from twenty yards out instead of putting Werner one-on-one with Cillessen.

Germany’s wastefulness was most clear in the 42nd minute, when a rare longer attack resulted in a shot for Reus from eight yards out, which was saved by Cillessen. Add in several of their wasted counterattacks and it will be clear where Löw will focus his post-game analysis meeting on: make more of your opportunities. 

Expected goals plot Germany Netherlands 2-4 Euro Qualifiers

Germany had a lot of counterattacking opportunities that did not end in a shot in the first half. 

Koeman switches two players and formation 

As has been customary when these two teams have met, the game can be set on fire out of nowhere, which is exactly what happened at the beginning of the second half. Five minutes after the break, De Ligt nearly worked a cross into his own net, while Wijnaldum had a good chance at the other end, which was saved by Neuer. 

In the 58th minute Koeman made a double change by bringing in debutant Donyell Malen and Davy Pröpper for the anonymous De Roon and Dumfries. And boy, did that set of changes change this match! 

61st minute. Babel and Promes play as wingers in possession, Depay and Malen striker duo, Wijnaldum plays further forward, three central defenders and two holding midfielders as cover.

61st minute. Babel and Promes play as wingers in possession, Depay and Malen striker duo, Wijnaldum plays further forward, three central defenders and two holding midfielders as cover.

Because of the flexible tasks of De Jong, Blind, Babel and Depay, one could call this formation a 3-5-2, 4-2-3-1 or even 4-3-3 at times. It worked immediately, as De Jong – with Pröpper now in the team no longer solely responsible for performing playmaking duties from deep midfield – ventured forward, collected a wayward cross from Babel and put in the 1-1.

Shortly after conceding the equalizer, Löw produced a double sub himself, putting on İlkay Gündoğan and Kai Havertz for Reus and Werner, presumably to gain midfield control, by sacrificing Werner’s pace up front. Painful example of a perfect substitution in theory, being made redundant by a goal that was scored two minutes earlier.

As is made clear from the dynamic passmap, the average position of the Dutch team shifted upwards after all these subs, as the game was played primarily on Germany’s half. In the 65th minute, the Netherlands got in front, as a headed effort by Van Dijk from a corner kick was initially well saved by Neuer, but it fell for Depay, who put in a sharp cross that was promoted to a goal by the unlucky Tah. 

Netherlands counterattack Germany to death

Rightly so, the Germans started to press significantly higher up the field than they had done all match after going down a goal. Even though the Dutch had four out-and-out attackers on the pitch in this phase, the Germans did not create a lot of quality chances. They were very lucky to get a penalty after De Ligt awkwardly touched the ball with his hand. Cool job done by Kroos, level game after seventy minutes. 

With twenty minutes left to play, the game morphed into an open, end-to-end game, with both teams getting chances thanks to the vast spaces on the field. In this phase, Löw’s decision to take off Werner became a bit more painful than it already was, as this was exactly the type of match that suits him.

With twelve minutes left to play, the Netherlands scored one of the best goals you will see this international break, as Blind one touched a German turnover into Depay, who played a through ball to Wijnaldum. One little dribble and outside-of-the-foot pass later, Malen was able to tap the ball in for his first goal for the Netherlands, and more importantly: the lead.

Koeman then reacted by bringing on Nathan Aké to preserve the lead. Already into stoppage time, at the end of one of many Dutch counterattacks in the second half, Depay – who was thus heavily involved in three of the four Dutch goals scored – brilliantly set up Wijnaldum, who scored the fourth goal for the Netherlands.

To cap off the rollercoaster second half, Gnabry could have scored the seventh goal of the game deep in stoppage time, due to a defensive mistake by De Ligt, but he volleyed the ball on the crossbar. Fitting end to a very exciting game.

Expected goals pitch plot Germany Netherlands 2-4 Euro Qualifiers


Germany should not worry too much about this result alone, as they had their chances to put the game to bed early. What has been a consistent factor post-Russia, is that it is hard for them to put together solid, ninety minute displays. There is always a lapse somewhere in the game, and if Löw wants his team to compete for trophies again, that trait should be eliminated. 

Despite missing out on the last two major tournaments, the Netherlands can now genuinely be seen as a team residing on the tier close below elite national teams like France, Spain and Brazil. Despite clear weaknesses – in possession most notably – on their day, they can beat every team in the world. 

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Erik Elias (29) is co-founder of Between The Posts. Dutch, so admires Johan Cruijff and his football principles, but enjoys other styles as well. [ View all posts ]


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