Holland v Brazil: tactical preview

July 1, 2010

Dealing with Kaka may be difficult for Holland

These two have been widely dismissed as being the most negative, defensive teams their respective countries have ever produced – and yet this is still considered a glamour tie.

Does that say more about the illustrious histories of both sides or the level of competition amongst other sides in this tournament?Either way, in pure entertainment terms for the neutral, it might not be an all-time classic, but in tactical terms it should be more fascinating than ever.

The basic interest stems from the fact the two sides have arrived at similar formations in completely different manners. Holland’s shape is a fairly standard European 4-2-3-1, but Brazil’s is more of a slant on their traditional 4-2-2-2.

Therefore, this should be more exciting than a traditional 4-2-3-1 v 4-2-3-1 match-up. That can often create static games, for the simple reason that each side’s central playmaker is being picked up by two opposition holding midfielders, whilst wingers and full-backs cancel each other out. Here, the positioning of Brazil’s two wide players creates a more interesting situation, and it will be interesting to see how Bert van Marwijk responds.

Robinho plays from a left-sided position, but has drifted around the pitch more at this tournament than he has done previously in this system. In theory it will be a simple contest between him and Gregory van der Wiel, but after his movement into deep areas was so effective against Chile, expect to see him moving central into the space generally filled by Kaka, to try and give Holland problems in that zone.

In the final third, Brazil like to work that left-hand side, which might be problematic for Holland, because their right-sided defensive midfielder, Mark van Bommel, plays higher up the pitch than Nigel de Jong. Considering Brazil’s tendency to play on the counter-attack through Robinho and Kaka, leaving either man free is not advisable. If van Bommel moves forward and leaves Kaka to de Jong, then that will open up Holland’s left-hand side for an attack from Dani Alves.

Probable starting line-ups

That is another area of concern for Holland, because Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s lack of pace could be severely exploited by Alves, who looks set to continue on the right because of Elano’s injury and Ramires’ suspension. So far, van Bronckhorst has countered the threat of pace by getting very tight to opposing right-wingers, and not allowing them to turn – which has worked rather well. But because Alves will often retreat to a position alongside the two holding midfielders, this approach won’t be possible. van Bronckhorst will need help – with de Jong otherwise occupied, this might force Dirk Kuyt into a very defensive role.

Another problem Holland might encounter is Brazil’s pressing high up the pitch. Holland’s opponents have generally dropped off and sat deep in their own half – Denmark the most notable example, and Japan did the same. This has allowed de Jong and van Bommel plenty of time on the ball, something they won’t get in this game. Perhaps, though, this will force de Jong to move the ball more quickly, which might help their attacking players.

Holland’s defence (as a four) has looked slightly dodgy, but their defence (as a team) has been excellent. It will be interesting to see how van Marwijk plays this game with his front players – should they press Brazil’s central midfielders, or let them have the ball in deep positions and get men behind the ball? The second approach seems more likely, so we might be in for a reasonably low-tempo game if Brazil dominate possession.

Wesley Sneijder may find himself confronted with two Brazilian holding players, so Holland’s biggest threats may be Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie. Robben finds himself up against Michel Bastos, not a natural left-back, but one that has done well so far when tested. Bastos, as ever, must look to show him down the line – but that’s not always a solution – give him too much space down the line, and Robben will take it and punish you that way. He might find coming inside slightly more difficult considering the presence of Brazil’s two holding midfielders – Josue or Felipe Melo will be charged with doubling up against him, and Robben can’t expect too many overlaps from van der Wiel, pegged back by Robinho.

The key player for Holland is van Persie. 27 next month, the time has arrived for him to show his true quality on the international stage. So far, he hasn’t looked completely up to speed following his long injury lay-off, but this game will be about his positioning and movement as much as his touch on the ball. Lucio likes physical confrontation, and so van Persie is better off playing a false nine role, rather than remaining pressed up against the centre-backs.

All of this largely ignores Dunga’s tactics; but it’s difficult to see what, how or why he will change his usual system, tactics or personnel. The unavailability of Ramires and Elano secures Dani Alves’ place, whilst a late fitness test will decide whether Melo or Josue starts alongside Gilberto Silva.

Expect few surprises from Brazil – the focus here is on van Marwijk.

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