Turkey – Netherlands: Burak Yilmaz Sends The Netherlands Chasing Old Ghosts (4-2)

Dutch tactical problems off the ball and a gigantic performance from Burak Yilmaz made this a night to remember for Turkey and one to learn from for the Netherlands. For the Dutch team, games like these ruined their qualification for the 2016 European Championship and the 2018 World Cup. So if they want to qualify for the World Cup this time around, they better take this as a serious wake-up call. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Erik Elias

Turkey’s formation was hard to describe because they did not have a lot of possession, but a 4-1-4-1 shape probably comes closest. In defense, we found some defenders of very serious clubs in Europe: Zeki Çelik of Lille at right back, while the center-back duo was made up of Leicester’s Çağlar Söyüncü and Liverpool’s Ozan Kabak. Central midfielders Hakan Çalhanoğlu and Ozan Tufan played in support of veteran striker Burak Yilmaz.

For some time now, the Netherlands’ system has relied on Daley Blind and Frenkie de Jong to get the ball forward, while Georginio Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay take care of chance-creating duties. This was put into place by Ronald Koeman and kept that way by his successor Frank de Boer. The Dutch had one setback just before kick-off; Valencia goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen went off injured in the warm-up and had to be replaced by Tim Krul.

Left flank the way to go for the Netherlands

When the Netherlands started their buildup, Frenkie de Jong would often attempt to slide into the defense, as the fullbacks pushed up. This created the structure of three defenders and one midfielder in front that is currently dominating top European football.

The way the Dutch started their buildup. 

Most of the time, the Netherlands were able to get the ball upfield because of this buildup structure, but progress halted there. On the right, the trio Tete, De Roon and Berghuis seldomly rotated. Whenever Berghuis got on the ball, it was with a man in his back and far away from goal. On the left, makeshift winger Donyell Malen was constantly switching with Depay, with left back Owen Wijndal deputing as the left winger whenever neither of the two forwards were on the outside.

The only two open play shots from the Netherlands that could have gone in before half-time came through this dynamic offensive pattern, with two shots from Malen from the edge of the box. PSV’s young attacker mostly wasn’t involved though: of all outfield players on the pitch that started for the Netherlands, Malen would record the least touches, even though the Netherlands mostly chose the left as their preferred flank for attacking.

Turkey’s defensive approach was peculiar. They set up in a sort of 4-3-2-1 shape when the Dutch started their buildup, potentially attempting to limit Frenkie de Jong’s influence in the left 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. Whenever they had to defend deeper, they reverted to playing a 4-1-4-1 shape. Because of Malen’s positioning on the left inside, this could change into a 5-3-2 formation as well, with Yusuf Yazici acting as the right back in those moments. 

Dutch corner kicks give Turkey the lead 

Throughout the match, there was not a single spell forTurkey that led to a phase of good attacking play. As it turned out, they did not even have to, because the Netherlands gifted them two goals in the first half. 

In the 13th minute, the Dutch team got a corner kick. They attacked the box with five players, while Depay offered short for taker Steven Berghuis. In essence, that means two fullbacks and Frenkie de Jong was all protection left for the counterattack. In this specific instance, it meant captain Yilmaz got to take a shot from the edge of the box – a clumsy ricochet off De Ligt saw it past Krul and Turkey were now suddenly leading.

With a little over half an hour played, another corner kick for Berghuis. Apparently learning nothing from their first conceded goal, the Dutch team set up in exactly the same way. This time, the initial attack was broken up by Frenkie de Jong, but Turkey managed to get possession, switched to the right side and found a late penalty area runner in the form of Okay Yokuşlu. Malen, too late to track the run, made a clumsy foul. Penalty kick, Yilmaz behind the ball, 2-0 for Turkey.

The only time the Netherlands actually looked like scoring was in the 43rd minute, when another corner kick (this time with less Dutch attackers in the box) fell for De Ligt, who headed it in off the inside of the post. Yokuşlu was the one to head the ball out, even though he stood a full yard behind the goalline. With no VAR, the decision to give the goal could not be overturned…

Throughout the first half, something else that stood out negatively was the Dutch way of pressing. Whenever Turkey had the ball, the Dutch midfielders and attackers left considerable gaps to play in. An example of the bad pressing is in the video below, where Depay does not put in enough work while Marten de Roon is too far back.

At half-time, it was clear Turkey had been the slightly better team; even though neither team had created a lot, they found themselves in a 2-0 lead. 

Lightning goal leads to quick De Boer reshuffle

Only 32 seconds into the second half, the Turks got their third goal. A miscommunication between De Ligt, De Roon and Berghuis left Çalhanoğlu free between the lines. He decided to test his luck from 25 yards; add in some further questionable goalkeeping by Krul, and the score was now 3-0.

Now chasing the game badly, De Boer decided to shuffle it up around the hour mark by bringing in target man Luuk de Jong for De Roon, as Depay became the number ten and Wijnaldum was put in the double pivot Two central midfielders next to each other. with Frenkie de Jong. 

In the 68th minute, he added Davy Klaassen in the mix for the unlucky and anonymous Malen. Depay was given his third position of the night, now playing on the left, with Klaassen behind Luuk de Jong and Berghuis still on the right. Altogether, lots of offensive firepower and with a switch in style – more opportunistic, more crosses – the Netherlands finally got some things going.

The way the Netherlands played in the last phase of the game.

Game ends at six goals and three points for Turkey

Luuk de Jong is a player that splits opinion both in Spain and in the Netherlands, but there is one thing he can do well without any form of discussion: win attacking headers and bring people around him in the game. By playing that way, the Netherlands got two goals in quick succession.

The first came in the 75th minute when a cross was controlled Bergkamp-esque by Klaassen, who quickly put the ball behind Turkey goalkeeper Uğurcan Çakır to score the much-needed goal for the Netherlands. Çakır would take center stage one minute later again, as he clumsily misread another Dutch cross. The ball bounced off Luuk de Jong, right into the goal and the score was 3-2.

Talisman Yilmaz would come back to haunt the Netherlands again though, as he came through big time when his team needed him the most, expertly placing a free kick in the top corner in the 81st minute.

The Netherlands kept attacking and eventually were awarded a penalty deep into injury-time. Symbolizing everything the Netherlands had done this evening, Depay stepped up, missed badly and the game was over immediately after that. 


The Netherlands missed two major tournaments in 2016 and 2018 because of structural tactical problems. After a short uptick and a more modern style of play under Koeman, the squad now again plays predictable and old-fashioned soccer. As the modern game revolves more and more about pressing, the Dutch performance off the ball doesn’t look like anything. After Koeman, if anything, appointing Frank de Boer as national manager is a step backwards.

After the game, De Boer would comment that the Netherlands ‘should have switched the play from one side to another faster’ and the ‘tempo should have been higher’, exactly the type of tactical wisdom from the nineties that won’t get you anywhere nowadays. It remains to be seen if player quality can bail the Dutch out this time.

The Turks got off to a good start for their qualification, but they have to defend more compactly if they want to go to Qatar. Their offensive plan in this game was simply called ‘Burak Yilmaz’; they cannot rely on a 35-year-old striker to bail them out the entire campaign.

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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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