In what is arguably the tournament’s ‘Group of Death’, Netherlands will have to hit the ground running early on to stand any chance of getting out of the group. Their first group game against current World and European champions Spain will probably set the tone for their tournament. If Louis van Gaal’s men can get any positive result, they can go into the game against the easiest of the trio, Australia, with much confidence and seal qualification by then. If van Gaal’s side leave it to the last game, that game against Chile could be the decider for the runners-up place. With the likes of Arturo Vidal and Alexis Sanchez the star on-form names for the Chileans, the Dutch could very well falter under this pressure.
Even though van Gaal is likely to stick with his 5-3-2 formation, he has brought 6 players classified as ‘Forwards’, and probably three specialist strikers amongst them. His first-choice front two will definitely be Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, with the Manchester United striker holding his position up top as the classic No.9, while the latter is given the freedom to roam about and around, making timely diagonal darts beyond the opposition defence. van Gaal will look for his team to send the ball as quickly as possible to Robben and especially van Persie, usually via playmaker Wesley Sneijder.
The Oranje will also rely heavily upon their impact players off the bench. Experienced poacher Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is a very good option to have off the bench when they are in search of a goal, while the relatively unknown quantities of Jeremain Lens and Memphis Depay might be what is needed against seasoned World Cup defenders.
The Dutch lacks enough star names in recent times, and this cannot be any more emphasised than at the back. This could be the main reason why van Gaal decided to opt for a back five. Most of their first-choice defence will be experiencing their first World Cup, while besides Aston Villa’s Ron Vlaar, the other four in Daryl Janmaat, Daley Blind, Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi play in the Dutch Eredivisie. Though the latter two are young and seen as the Dutch’s first-choice defenders for the best part of the next decade, the general lack of experience will probably see the Dutch come undone.
Wild Card: Jordy Clasie
Feyenoord’s diminutive midfielder dictates play from deep and is one half of a midfield double pivot in front of the Dutch defence, lining up alongside the more aggressive and defensive-minded Nigel de Jong. With the Dutch looking to play direct and get the ball up as fast as possible, Clasie’s role will be even more important especially if Sneijder is being marked out of the game. His ability to play long range passes from deep to the front two will be vital to not only push the Dutch defence out of their deep positions, but also give the likes of Robben, van Persie and Depay to attack the opposition as many times as possible.
This will probably be the first of many international tournaments for Clasie, who is rated highly in Holland and by van Gaal, such that the Dutch manager is targeting the midfielder as the new midfield lynchpin for his new Manchester United side. Opposing teams will do well to note the greater importance of disrupting Clasie’s game over Sneijder’s.
Even as the Dutch as a clutch of forwards to pick from and send off the bench, the truth is probably only van Persie and Robben can be considered as world-class. Their forward strength is in numbers, not so much in quality. Along with the fact that their defence will do well to keep the likes of Spain and Chile out, Netherlands will struggle.
The Oranje should have enough to get out of the group stages, maybe just, but the likelihood of meeting Brazil in the round of 16 means an early exit is inevitable.