Netherlands – Germany: Both Teams Dominate One Half And In The End, The Germans Win (2-3)
Germany obliterated the Netherlands in the first half as their two-and-a-half attackers were a constant menace for the Dutch defense. After a change of system, the Netherlands clawed their way back into the match, and the game was level after sixty minutes. Even though this is a new era for Die Mannschaft, one of their key traits apparently is still with them, as Nico Schulz scored a late winner to grant Germany the win.
Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias.
These teams met twice in the UEFA Nations League. In both games, Germany were arguably the better team for the majority of time, even though the difference was more pronounced in Gelsenkirchen than it was in Amsterdam. Despite being the lesser team twice, the Netherlands got four points out of those matches, effectively relegating Germany to Division B. Fair to say there is no love lost between these countries anyway, and recent history has added another layer to a historic rivalry.
We’ll say the Dutch played in a 4-3-3 formation for now, even though there were a lot of tactical quirks that deserve explaining. Koeman’s team is built on a very steady ‘diamond’ at the back, consisting of Jasper Cillessen in goal, Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt in central defense and Frenkie de Jong as holding midfielder. Up top, Memphis Depay has been a gigantic force in Koeman’s tenure. In this game, he was flanked by Quincy Promes on the left and Ryan Babel on the right.
Joachim Löw’s decision to throw out Jérôme Boateng, Mats Hummels and Thomas Müller has been well documented. The jury is still out on the question whether this decision was taken solely from a sportive perspective or if it was rather symbolic. Fact of the matter is: this is a new era for Germany, as only Toni Kroos and Manuel Neuer remain from the squad that was crowned World Champions in 2014.
In a midweek friendly against Serbia, Löw opted for a 4-2-3-1 formation. A decoy, as Germany started in a 3-4-1-2 formation here. Neuer, controversially, still is the starting goalkeeper and captained the team, the three central defenders were Matthias Ginter, Niklas Süle and Antonio Rüdiger. Joshua Kimmich keeps playing as a midfielder for Germany, and alongside Toni Kroos, Germany might have one of the best double pivots 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. in international football. The attacking trio consisted of number ten Leon Goretzka and the two strikers Leroy Sané and Serge Gnabry.
Germany’s flexible formation is too much for the Dutch
From a tactical point of view, the key player for Germany in the first half might have been Leon Goretzka. In this match, Bayern’s hyper-versatile midfielder was used as a very offensive number ten, who almost acted as a third striker. He pushed up and either dragged Frenkie de Jong into defense or created a three-versus-three situation in the middle of the pitch.
Starting as early as the second minute, the Netherlands struggled with this. In the first move of what would become a recurring pattern, Gnabry moved towards the ball-carrier, was played in and played a one-touch pass in the space behind, as Sané got the better of De Ligt. His return pass to Gnabry led to the first shot of the match, routinely saved by Cillessen.
Second minute: Schulz plays in Gnabry, who will find Sané in the space behind De Ligt.
In the image above, the Netherlands are portrayed in a 5-3-2 defensive shape. This is largely how they went about their business in the first twenty minutes or so, if they aimed to defend in a low block, A low block refers to a team that retreats deep in their own half out of possession, generally only disrupting their opponents around their own box. with Promes acting as the left back and Daley Blind becoming the third central defender.
Sometimes De Jong would drop into defense as an extra central defender, and at times, it even happened simultaneously. When Babel dropped back further and further from the right wing, the Netherlands at times defended in a situational 6-3-1 formation.
All to no avail, as Germany got chance after chance with their direct approach. In the fifteenth minute, Van Dijk was pulled out of position by Gnabry, and this time left back Schulz was the one running into space. He was found by Kroos, as Schulz immediately sought out to feed Sané, who was one-versus-one with De Ligt in the penalty area. De Ligt slipped, Sané had a free chance to score and did.
Koeman makes subtle change
After about twenty to twenty-five minutes of total German domination, Koeman decided to switch over Babel and Promes. This created a 4-5-1 or 5-4-1 formation, depending on the position of Frenkie de Jong, who was constantly alternating between picking up Goretzka or protecting the space in front of the defense.
What stood out in all phases was a very man-oriented approach. Whenever Gnabry or Sané would drop into midfield, De Ligt or Van Dijk would follow into midfield, leaving vast spaces in the central defense, which were exploited in both systems by the Germans.
This man-oriented approach was also used when Germany commenced their buildup. The Dutch attempted to press with three attackers versus three central defenders, three midfielders against three midfielders, two central defenders against two strikers and fullback versus fullback. A lot of times, this approach was what made the spaces for Sané, Goretzka and Gnabry so big in the first place.
Babel cannot score
Without the ball, Germany formed a 5-2-3 formation, which was probably drawn up to neutralize Frenkie de Jong. Goretzka was ushered into the attack once more, and the middle of the pitch was effectively blocked off, as only the German fullbacks were stationed on the flanks. If you neutralize Frenkie, you largely neutralize the Dutch buildup, which is exactly what happened here.
Germany’s 5-2-3 shape against the ball, and the good ol’ Dutch 4-3-3 formation that looked very predictable.
One of the ways the Dutch could have potentially be more dangerous – and have been under Koeman – is on the counterattack. Kimmich and especially Kroos were doing a stellar job in preventing those counterattacks however, which made the Dutch attacking approach look very stale.
The Dutch did have two genuine opportunities to score though, both caused by Germany’s right back Thilo Kehrer. After operating as de facto right winger on an attack, he failed to take up his defensive position when Germany lost the ball. Three passes later, his man Babel went one-on-one with Neuer, but shot the ball on the imposing German goalkeeper. Three minutes later, Kehrer failed to attack a cross from the right, meaning Babel had a free shot from just outside the six-yard box. Once again, he could only hit Neuer.
The counterattack after that missed chance by Babel led to Germany scoring their second, as Gnabry went one-on-one with Van Dijk, cut inside and brilliantly converted from just outside the area, putting 0-2 on the boards, which was also the score at the break.
Early goal and system change entire dynamic of the match
One of the more fascinating aspects in the game of football is how quickly things can turn around. Besides those two chances for Babel, the Netherlands had barely entered the final third The one-third of the pitch that is closest to the opposition’s goal. in the first half, let alone the penalty area. After three minutes in the second half, young center-back De Ligt knicked a goal back for the Netherlands, with a perfectly timed header to finish an exquisite cross by Depay.
Whether the difference would have been that big without an early goal to spur them on is a big question, but the Dutch took over the game from the moment De Ligt scored. With Steven Bergwijn entering the pitch for Babel and a switch to a 3-1-4-2 shape in possession, the Dutch attacks were more fluid, as Germany was pinned back further back than in the entire first half.
Holland’s 3-1-4-2 formation against Germany’s 5-2-3 shape in defense.
One of the more subtle changes Koeman made was switching the triangle in midfield, making De Jong the sole holding midfielder, as De Roon pushed up alongside Wijnaldum. The two midfielders also switched in their defensive tasks.
Between the 45th and the 80th minute, the Netherlands had nearly sixty percent possession and took eight shots, against Germany’s zero. It is fair to say the formation change worked to a tee. The return was completed by Depay in the 62nd minute, after a scrappy shot was too much for Neuer.
Germany steal it in the last minute
Without creating significant opportunities to score, after Depay’s equalizer, the Netherlands had some half-chances and prolonged phases of possession on Germany’s half. The fact they regularly entered the penalty area and Germany could not muster any sustained possession themselves meant that the Netherlands were well and true in control of this match.
In an attempt to regain control over the ball and thus the match, Löw brought on İlkay Gündoğan in the seventieth minute and Marco Reus in the 88th minute. Even though it did not significantly change the course of the match. The two would combine for the winner however, in the last minute of regular play.
Stepping out of the back line and leaving spaces in the center had been a theme all game long, and in essence, it was what caused Germany’s late winner. De Ligt stepped out of defense unnecessary, as De Jong was already pressing the German ball-carrier Gündoğan. Schulz – who played a very good game – made an outside-to-inside run, which created space for Gündoğan to play a pass to Reus. Reus found Schulz who neatly finished with his unnatural right foot. A fitting end to a vibrant game.
It is not often that an international game turns into a genuinely interesting tactical battle like this, and we should congratulate these two teams for turning in the best game of this international break. Koeman used two different attacking and two different defensive formations, displaying a tactical versatility that is very uncommon in modern day international football.
Just like their game against France in Paris, Germany had a great tactical setup, which did not work for an entire game. Key questions seem to be how to maintain a defensive balance when attacking, and how to further incorporate a playing style without a true striker.
The top two spots in this group guarantee a spot at the European championship. The Dutch are now third in the group. It is too early for sweeping statements, but there is some catching up to do. The next game is against… Germany. The Dutch must be careful not to get too far behind.
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