The final analysis, part four: second half changes on the flanks

July 17, 2010

As the game wore on, Arjen Robben took up even more advanced and central positions when Holland had the ball.

Indeed, the shot below sees Robben (green) about to race through for his one-on-one with Iker Casillas, and the Spain defence temporarily looks like a back three up against two strikers, with two man-markers and Gerard Pique (yellow) as the sweeper.

In fact, you could make a case that Holland were essentially playing a similar system to Dunga’s Brazil side, with a lopsided 4-2-3-1 / 4-3-1-2 – Dirk Kuyt shuttling between midfield and a wide forward role (a la Elano/Ramires/Alves), with Robben playing as a second striker (a la Robinho). A similar picture emerges below (where Eljero Elia had replaced Kuyt) for Robben’s second run on goal – note how central he is (yellow), and how far he is from the man who had been tracking him, Joan Capdevila (green).

Spain also changed the way their wingers were deployed, with the introduction of Jesus Navas for Pedro Rodriguez. Navas (blue) kept more natural width on the right-hand side.

The width coming from Navas (again in blue) meant that Andres Iniesta (pink) took up more central positions.

The introduction of Navas didn’t create any more attacking players for Spain, however. Holland were still reasonably comfortable when Spain’s build-up play was laboured, especially when Kuyt dropped in to take care of Navas, as in the example below, on the far side.

This meant that Holland were effectively able to double-mark Spain’s other three attacking players. David Villa (green) is being taken care of by the two centre-backs (blue), whilst Xavi and Iniesta are up against the other four Dutch defensive players (red). The other man just ahead of the ball, Sergio Ramos, is retreating to his right-back position.

Spain dealt well with the potential threat of Elia after he came on, by taking advantage of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s tendency to stick closely to his man. Here, Jesus Navas (blue) makes a run away from goal, and is tracked by van Bronckhorst (green). In turn, Ramos (red) bombs on into the space created, meaning Elia (yellow) has to drop into left-back to take care of him. Spain’s switching of their right-sided players like this meant that Elia was in too deep a position to help launch attacks.

The game finally started to open up for Spain when they introduced Cesc Fabregas for Xabi Alonso. He and Xavi took it in turns to come short for the ball, whilst the other one stayed high up the pitch. As well as Fabregas’ driving runs both on and off the ball, it also meant Xavi got more time on the ball – here, he is in ten yards of space when he receives the pass, and Mark van Bommel (blue) was forced to come 15 yards higher up the pitch to close him down.

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