True to his pre-match words, Cor Pot stuck to a 4-3-3, but the shape turned out to be mightily different due to the midfield trio’s positioning. The game eventually saw Strootman, van Winkel and Maher almost play in a single vertical line when on the ball, and this led to much lesser lateral play with the pass where the midfielders pick out the fullback rarely played.
Germany, on the other hand, attempted to play a style which turned out to be one of the reasons why Pep Guardiola chose Bayern Munich. Before the game, Adrion said that his starting XI was fixed and he would decide the shape based on Netherland’s attacking intent. The Germans eventually also set out as a 3 man midfield, the only difference being that Rode and Rudy formed a double pivot in the centre with Holtby playing in the No.10. With Rode and Rudy playing in a deep flat zone, the 3 forwards – Herrmann, Lasogga and Mlapa – along with captain Holtby were given all the freedom to press forward.
By the end of the first half, the only intent that the German forwards showed was via their pressing upfront. All 3 German strikers kept exchanging positions and the central one was most of the time busy, tracking the deep lying Strootman. But it is the duo of Rode and Rudy who were touted as the sparks in this team , as Rode especially is expected to move to Bayern in the summer.
Rode and Rudy operated as any central pivot would and attacked and defended alternately. Rode remained in a deeper role mostly and allowed Rudy to press ahead. While Rode was the distributer from deep, Rudy was much more talented on the feet and wriggled through tough spots on all his ventures ahead. Here again, Strootman’s deep positioning helped the Dutch to keep the runs of Rudy and Holtby in check.
While Rudy might have turned a few heads and Rode might have shown a calm presence, the real game changer for the Germans was Holtby. The ex-Schalke man played perfectly as the No.10 man and was always present to latch onto the second ball from the main striker. On receiving the ball, he then ran directly at the CBs of Netherland. Holtby, while playing at Spurs, was initially asked to shift out to wider roles to adjust Bale, but the German’s touches and confidence on the ball, which are quite reminiscent of Rafa van der Vaart, could not keep him away from the centre.
It was Holtby’s runs that Strootman had to track here, and fortunately for the Dutch, Strootman is no Rafa when asked to defend. The Dutchman’s presence rarely allowed the German captain to get away when the ball was played to his feet. As usual, the Germans tried to build up from the back and did not utilize the height that was provided in the centre. So most of the balls falling to Holtby were cut out by Strootman before the German captain could dribble forward.
The game turned out to be a fascinating one after the one-sided first half. Both of Germany’s goals came as a result of Holtby pushing further up the pitch. In fact, this position of his turned out to be very similar to the one that Adam Maher was occupying at the other end.
On the whole, Netherland’s experience in the ranks is what that won them the game, as the Dutch again seemed to falter at the wrong time. This group indeed promises to be a battle of No.10’s , as Spain’s Sergio Canales offers a similar quality of football.