Breakdown in Dutch midfield spotted by Schweinsteiger:
Much has been written about Holland’s use of two protective midfielders, not least of which in the game against Denmark. This safety-first approach by van Marwijk has to this point been most notable in the loss of attacking threat as the front four have an enormous burden of creativity to break down as many as twice the number of opponents in a set defence. However, against Germany it was a breakdown in the defensive aspect of this approach which caused the defeat.
Some background: teams play one protective midfielder to sit in front of the defence and pick up any opposition players looking to get into that dangerous area with time on the ball. However, that player may have to move out wide, to cover a fullback who had pushed forward, for example, or to prevent a two-on-one or three-on-two developing on the wings. Attacking teams can exploit this by deliberately drawing that protective midfielder out of the centre, then moving the ball into the space he has vacated.
The natural counter to this is two play two protective midfielders alongside each other, allowing one to join the play developing on the wings, while the other remains in situ to protect the area in front of the centrebacks. The tradeoff with this approach is obviously that it means one less attack-minded player on the pitch, but it is much more secure as opposition teams can’t dislodge both protective midfielders at once, by design.
In the context of this game, de Jong was often drawn out of the centre by Ozil, which was fine from a defensive standpoint as that would leave van Bommel in the protective role in the centre. However, van Bommel also began to wander out of this role whenever he saw an overload on the wing, particularly when Khedira was joining Ozil in wide areas. van Bommel’s job in these situations was to stay put, and both managers would have expected this, as that’s the entire point of playing two protective midfielders, but for whatever reason van Bommel started to drift. Schweinsteiger was very quick to notice this and join the attack from his more withdrawn role as a possession-maintaining option. When he burst forward into the space vacated by van Bommel, he showed exactly why this area of the pitch is so important to defend, as he slid in Gomez behind the defence twice for two assists.
This was not a deliberate ploy by Germany; they would have expected van Bommel to stay put, but Schweinsteiger was excellent in recognising the threat and taking advantage – particularly as he would have known that moving up to the edge of the area would have allowed Holland to break with all three German midfielders caught up the pitch if they won possession. It was a fantastic piece of adaptive play by Schweinsteiger and won Germany the game.
Willems weak link: In addition, Willems had a poor game – perhaps part of the reason van Bommel started moving out to the left as he recognised the difficulties the left back was having. In normal, non-van Bommel-assisted play, Germany were more of a threat down the right, getting to the byline more often and getting more crosses into the box from this wing.
Sneijder improves: After a poor game against Denmark by his standards (which he subsequently admitted was due to carrying a small injury), Sneijder started the first half where he left off, not quite connecting with van Persie and misplacing too many passes. However, again he improved in the second half after being moved to a more explicit left side role, driving infield more often to take shots at goal, and notionally grabbing an assist for van Persie’s goal (albeit Sneijder’s pass had little bearing on the chance, which was all of van Persie’s creation).
Germany take the lead in the group heading into the final game, as expected, but owe a huge debt to Schweinsteiger who showed excellent reading of the game and adaptability to create their two goals. Holland’s qualification is now out of their hands, thanks to van Bommel, whose abandonment of his post may have sealed his nation’s fate.
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