I don’t want to get too carried away or build up your expectations but this has the potential to be one of the best matches in World Cup history. Two nations, both alike in tactical philosophy, in fair Sao Paulo where we lay our scene. This match is of the utmost importance to both sides with the winner avoiding the tournament favourites Brazil in the round of sixteen (A draw will be enough for Holland to top the group). They have been arguably the two best sides of the tournament so far, both recording memorable victories over the reigning champions Spain along the way. This promises to be a fascinating clash.
The reason why it could be such a good match is the exciting styles of both teams. Both teams (Chile moreso) aim to press aggressively, winning the ball as high up the field as possible to launch counter attacks and catch out the opponent in the transitional phase between having the ball and not. This is why there is a possibility that the game will be attack, press, turnover, attack, press, turnover; certainly for some stages of the match if not almost all of it. Realistically, I don’t think it will be like this for all of the ninety minutes. Jorge Sampaoli and Louis Van Gaal don’t belong in the same sentence as the word “pragmatic” however they are not afraid to sit deep and defend for periods when it is necessary, certainly to a greater extent than Marcelo Bielsa, for example. Chile showed this discipline when they let Spain have the ball in their own half for periods of the second half when they were already 2-0 up.
We have established that both of these sides are probably best when they don’t have the greater share of possession as their attacking threat relies on the opponents losing the ball in vulnerable areas. This begs the question: If nobody wants the ball, who will have it?
The answer to this is probably Chile. Despite only having 37% possession against Spain, they dominated the ball against Australia with a 66% share of possession (All my stats are from OPTA despite their possession calculation methods being fairly dubious http://leastthing.blogspot.co.uk/2012/02/how-ball-possession-is-measured-in.html). Holland achieved a similar 36% possession vs Spain however only had 50% of the possession vs Australia showing that they’re not keen to dominate the ball even against the weaker sides. Possession is also a crucial part of Chile’s game as they are effective at quick circulation amongst defence and deep midfield to create space further up the field.
Unlike England (sigh), it isn’t predictable how these teams will line up as Chile have used two different systems in their two matches so far whereas Holland have an injury to Bruno Martins Indi and a suspension for Robin Van Persie for picking up a yellow card in two consecutive matches. My best guess is that Chile will stick with their 3-4-1-2 formation they used successfully against Spain however I think Arturo Vidal will drop into a deeper midfield role to replace the injured Charles Aranguiz however Vidal himself missed training along with Aranguiz on Friday so it is in the balance as to who they will start with. Vidal dropping to a deeper midfield role vacates the number 10 role which will most likely be filled by Jorge Valdivia who started in that position vs Australia in Match 1.Chile may revert to the 4-3-1-2 system they used against Australia as this provides more width when the full backs push up the field. I think it’s most likely that Chile will use the 3-4-1-2 and I think they only used 4 at the back vs Australia because it is commonly accepted that 3 centre-backs vs only 1 striker is a waste of resources. Also the 4 at the back allowed more men to be up field when they won the ball so they could move it up the pitch more effectively.
Holland, meanwhile is even more difficult to predict. A 4-3-3 is fairly likely as centre-back Bruno Martins Indi is unlikely to start after suffering concussion against Australia. Also an absent Van Persie will mean an out-and-out striker such as Huntelaar may be required. Depite this, dutch football tweeter @MFPowerhouse expects Veltman to replace Martins Indi and Depay to replace RVP so Holland stick with their 3-5-2/5-3-2 system. Dutch newspaper De Telegraaf this morning has reported that they will go for a more experimental side with Kuyt at left wing-back, Blind at centre-back and Lens to play up front with Robben. I’m not 100% sure of the validity of this so I’ll show I think they will line up, either way they are still retaining the 3-5-2 shape they’ve been using in this World Cup.
The key for Holland as always will be moving the ball up the field as quickly as possible, most effectively at the feet of Arjen Robben. His breakaway goals vs Spain and Australia shows how dangerous losing the ball to Holland can be. The Chile defenders will need to be focused and stay in shape at all times and I expect Marcelo Diaz to sit even deeper than usual when Chile have the ball high up the field. This pace on the breakaway will be even more a threat if Memphis Depay starts up top with Robben. Chile struggled against quick counter attacks against Australia and only thrived vs Spain because Spain have lost their pace in circulation in midfield and therefore the Chilean defence could drop and pressure could be applied to the Spanish midfielders.Chile also sometimes have a tendency to be fairly sloppy in passing and lost the ball several times in their own half against Spain, this simply cannot be done on this occasion with the pace of Holland’s forwards. Holland also have the advantage from crosses and set pieces as they are much taller than Chile. Danny Blind showed us how he can put a ball on a sixpence when he assisted THAT Van Persie goal vs Spain. Chile are the shortest team at the tournament with an average height of only 167cm and this could be further exploited if 6’1″ Klaas Jan Huntelaar makes an appearance at some point in the match. Their vulnerability in the air was shown when they conceded their only goal of the tournament to date from a Tim Cahill header.
Despite maybe having more of the ball over the ninety minutes, the key for Chile will be winning the ball as high up the field as possible. Their main two methods of doing this are pressing the man on the ball and cutting off his options when 1) they have their back to goal, 2) when a player receives the ball in an isolated position. The only real way to avoid this onslaught is very quick circulation in central midfield to not give the Chileans a real chance to press each player. This quick circulation is something I fear Holland don’t have the ability to you with Nigel De Jong being more of a break-up midfielder than a passer, Jonathan De Guzman does belong to a possession-based Swansea side but may not be able to move it at the intensity they require. Below, it shows Xabi Alonso being pressed facing his own goal, forcing a mistake which leads to Chile’s first goal.
This constant obsession to press the man on the ball sometimes leaves gaps in Chile’s defence which will definitely be exploited with two Holland forwards present, and with Wesley Sneijder always capable of providing killer through balls. Below it shows how so many players going towards the ball can create space in behind for forwards to make diagonal runs into.
Valdivia will also advance in between Vargas and Sanchez to occupy all of Hollands back 3 which could make them susceptible to runs from midfield, especially from Arturo Vidal. Nigel De Jong and Jonathan De Guzman will definitely have a torrid time tracking these runs if the Juventus midfielder starts. Despite this, Chile will not have the man advantage they had vs Spain’s defence when their front 5 pushed up onto Spain’s back 4 which gave them more width and allowed them to play diagonal cross-field balls. Holland will certainly be more equipped to deal with Chile than Spain were. Chile will also be tougher to break down the Australia were as I expect Jara to mark Robben with Medel sweeping behind to add protection. Australia struggled to deal with him with only two centre-backs.
Key areas of the match: Vidal’s fitness, Dutch CMs speed of circulation, Holland’s pace on breakaway.
Prediction: Score draw- sending Netherlands through in 1st place to play probably Mexico or Croatia and Chile through in 2nd to play Brazil.
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