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From Upset Alert to Dutch Delight: Tactical Tweaks Spark Netherlands Rout

From Upset Alert to Dutch Delight: Tactical Tweaks Spark Netherlands Rout

Alexander Yaremenko Alexander Yaremenko

Before the start of the Romania vs Netherlands match, hardly anyone could have imagined that one team would completely dominate the match.

But it happened, and Ronald Koeman’s team scored three successive goals against the Romanians, while missing many chances.

Romania was definitely disappointing. In my preview for this match, I thought Edward Iordănescu’s team would defend with a medium-low defensive block and try to catch the Dutch on the counterattack.

In reality, the Romanians naively tried to defend with personal orientations in the middle block, and the Netherlands easily broke through with their penetrating passes.

Romania’s Defensive Struggles and Tactical Shifts in Euro 2024

In the Euro 2024 qualifiers, the Romanian national team played two matches against Switzerland. 

In these matches, Edward Iordănescu’s team attempted to adopt a middle defensive block, but the Swiss consistently cut through the Romanian midfield. Romania avoided defeat and secured a draw in the first match and won the second match due to Switzerland’s poor finishing.

Initially, Romania seemed unlikely to make the playoffs in Euro 2024 due to their shaky defensive organization. 

However, in the first round against Ukraine, they displayed a well-organized defense in a 4-1-4-1 formation, displaying compactness and toughness on the flanks. Their pressing game was aggressive, surprising the Ukrainians and leading to the opening goal. Romania also executed lethal counterattacks, netting three goals against Ukraine.

Subsequently, Romania lost to Belgium, conceding an early goal and then being forced to attack aggressively, which led to a second goal. Against Slovakia, both teams exchanged several dangerous attacks in the first half, but the match ended in a draw in the second half.

In the first 15 minutes of the match against the Netherlands, Romania demonstrated their ability to aggressively press their opponents and maintain a compact middle block using a 4-1-4-1 formation. They also launched potent attacks from the flanks with dangerous crosses and shots, seemingly positioning themselves for a potential victory.

However, after a strong start, Romania altered their tactics. The midfielders abandoned their previously organized positioning and started engaging in individual battles. Perhaps they wanted to do the same thing as Austria, who used personal pressing quite well against the Netherlands. But this led to chaotic midfield play for Romania, with the team cycling through different formations such as 4-4-2, 4-1-4-1, 5-4-1, and 5-3-2.

As a result, Romania lost their compactness both horizontally and vertically due to an inconsistent mix of man-marking and zonal defense, coupled with frequent formation changes. The Romanian defensive line could have addressed this issue by playing higher up the field to close the space behind the midfielders, but they failed to do so. 

This disorganization was reminiscent of their defensive lapses against Switzerland during the Euro qualifiers.

The lack of structure led to Cody Gakpo’s opening goal, who found himself in a 1v1 situation against Andrei Rațiu without adequate support.

Although the Netherlands didn’t convert many of their chances, Romania had ample time to adjust their defensive strategy.

Romania could have reverted to their successful 4-1-4-1 formation and utilized a zone defense with a high defensive line, which worked effectively in their first match against Ukraine and at the beginning of the game against the Netherlands. However, their failure to do so may have been their biggest blunder.

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Koeman’s Masterstroke: New Formation Unlocks Dutch Firepower

In the preview for this match, I mentioned that the Netherlands’ main strength lies in their offensive play. They created numerous chances throughout their three group matches due to their dynamic attacking talent.

Even in the lost game against Austria, Ronald Koeman’s team had more dangerous chances and higher expected goals than their opponents. 

Cody Gakpo, Memphis Depay, and Xavi Simons worked well together, seamlessly combined, crafting intricate plays in front of the Austrian penalty area and delivering incisive passes into dangerous zones. Nathan Aké effectively supported the attacks from deep, and substitute Wout Weghorst almost found the net immediately after coming on.

Against Romania, Koeman reintroduced Denzel Dumfries into the lineup, providing much-needed width on the right wing. He also shifted the formation to a 3-2-4-1 attacking setup, with Tijjani Reijnders functioning as a deep-lying playmaker, delivering sharp, penetrating passes.

Moreover, the Netherlands had Xavi Simons and Steven Bergwijn playing in half-spaces, while Cody Gakpo and Denzel Dumfries stretched the opponents’ defense on the flanks. Memphis Depay, playing as the center forward, moved all over the pitch, helping overload certain areas and creating numerical advantages.

Therefore, Ronald Koeman managed to find the most optimal pattern for the players, allowing them to maximize their potential. The Dutch adhered to this attacking structure almost perfectly, displaying a plethora of attacking ideas.

In my opinion, if they can refine their execution and positional defense before the decisive matches of the tournament, they stand a strong chance of reaching the final.

Netherlands Tighten Up Defense, But Concerns Remain

The Netherlands must sharpen their ability to capitalize on opportunities and reinforce their positional defense in order to achieve the best possible outcome at Euro 2024.

Throughout the group stage, the Dutch defense allowed their opponents too many dangerous scoring opportunities. Even in their 0-0 draw against France, the Dutch could have easily conceded 2 or 3 goals had their opponents been more clinical in front of goal.

In their match against Romania, Koeman’s team effectively neutralized threats near their goal. The defense was aggressive, maintained a high line, and utilized pressing and counter-pressing effectively. Cody Gakpo was particularly active in supporting his teammates on the left flank, which further solidified the Dutch defense.

Despite these improvements, the Romanian team managed to stretch the Dutch defense with diagonal passes at the beginning of the game. Furthermore, problems in the holding midfield position persisted, even in a favorable scenario for the Dutch.

Nevertheless, if Stefan de Vrij, who is not accustomed to playing in a very high defensive line, maintains the high press rather than dropping back, Ronald Koeman’s team could address the issue of the lack of a holding midfielder through effective pressing.

Koeman Frustrated by Missed Chances as Netherlands Edge Romania

Ronald Koeman is likely feeling frustrated with his team’s inability to capitalize on their scoring opportunities in this tournament. Despite Cody Gakpo scoring a goal in three of their games, including the first goal against Romania, he and his teammates have struggled to convert numerous chances. 

This inefficiency in front of goal led to a narrow 1-0 scoreline for a significant portion of the game, leaving Romania with the chance to equalize and potentially shaking the confidence of the Dutch team.

Netherlands Impress, But Can They Replicate Their Form Against Turkey?

Despite their missed chances, the Netherlands have shown enough quality to be considered strong favorites in their upcoming Euro 2024 quarter-final match against Turkey.

Romania’s defeat can be attributed to their poor defensive game plan, but the Dutch also demonstrated strong pressing and excellent positional play in attack, making it one of the most impressive performances of the tournament. 

It seems like there is nothing stopping them from confidently defeating Turkey in the quarter-finals. We will see if they can do it on Saturday.

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