The final analysis, part one: the basic shapes, and pressing

July 13, 2010

Here is Holland’s basic shape when they have the ball with their goalkeeper, Maarten Stekelenburg. This shows their defence (red), their holding midfielders (yellow), the attacking band of three (green) and the striker (blue).

Note how wide their side is, starting from the centre-backs. Another interesting feature is how much more advanced Mark van Bommel (the right of the holding midfielders) is compared to Nigel de Jong.

Here is the same photo, outlining the positions of Spain’s XI. Again, we have their defence (red), their holding midfielders (yellow), the attacking band of three (green) and the striker (blue).

This is a fairly typical 4-2-3-1 shape when defending, although the two wide players are slightly narrower than one might expect.


Holland were struggling early on because their pressing was so poor in midfield. Here’s an example – Xavi has the ball (light blue), but none of Holland’s midfielders (pink) are attempting to put pressure on him:

Here’s another example – Xabi Alonso (green) has far too much time on the ball to pick a pass, with the Dutch midfielders (pink) standing off:

Another beneficiary of this was Pedro, who got too much time between the lines. Here, he (light blue) has the space to play a pass through the defence to David Villa (pink) who was flagged just offside.

After ten or fifteen minutes, this approach was changed for a more high-tempo pressing game. Here, Xavi (green) receives the ball and is immediately forced to turn back towards his own goal, because of the presence of van Bommel (pink):

Spain’s pressing, meanwhile, was exemplary. Each Dutch player was effectively occupied whenever their centre-backs got the ball. This picture shows the situation in midfield, with colours corresponding to the Dutch player each Spaniard was accountable for – but this was not fixed, the players simply carried out appropriate duties as they drifted around the pitch – Iniesta/Pedro and Alonso/Xavi were two common switches.

As a result, Joris Mathijsen wasn’t able to play the ball into midfield – he was forced to either pass it back to Stekelenburg (bizarrely, Mathijsen-Stekelenburg was the most-common passing combination in the first half) or knock hopeful long crossfield balls to Arjen Robben.

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