Arjen Robben: Are the Netherlands Better Off Without Him Against Germany?

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Arjen Robben: Are the Netherlands Better Off Without Him Against Germany?
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Arjen Robben is one of the most talented footballers on the planet, yet following the Netherlands' 1-0 loss to Denmark to open the Euro 2012 tournament, many disgruntled fans were suggesting Robben be benched against Germany.

Why would anyone want to bench one of the world's most talented players? It's simple: Robben is a giant ball hog.

There is really no other way to put it. Robben has become a vacuum on the right side of the attack for Holland. Robben runs the equivalent of a clear-out in basketball—often trying to break down the defense one-on-one, or even one-on-two or three. That style of play can work, but not if the rest of your team runs the sport's best pick-and-roll.

Ian Walton/Getty Images

In their first Euro 2012 match against Denmark, Robben had seven attempts on goal, but just one on target.

The one bending ball that hit off the post was indeed a great chance for Holland, but Robben created the situation by waiting too long after intercepting the ball, allowing the keeper to regain his line and then dribbling into three defenders—while three different teammates waited for an open pass—before sliding the shot just wide.

For everything Robben did right on that play—pressuring the ball, intercepting a pass in space and attacking the goal—he did nearly as many things wrong by ignoring his wide-open teammates.  

The dynamic winger certainly provided pace all match, even into the late stages of the rather shocking defeat, so it's hard to say Robben played poorly for Netherlands when, at times, he looked like the most offensive-minded player on the field.

And then he shot the ball. And he shot the ball. And he shot the ball again.

Robben did register those seven attempts, but few had any real chance of pressuring the Danish keeper. Even the official UEFA.com commentary started to get bored with all the wild shots. 

14'  - Robben (Netherlands) misses the target. The veteran midfielder hits a speculative effort well over the bar from range.

16' - Robben (Netherlands) has an attempt on goal.

Arjen Robben steps up a gear, darting infield from the right and hitting a fizzing low effort, but it does not tax the alert Stephan Andersen.

36' - Robben (Netherlands) hits the woodwork.

Arjen Robben strikes the base of the left post with a curling left-footed effort from the edge of the area as the Denmark defence just backs off him.

63' - Robben (Netherlands) misses the target.

Arjen Robben sends the Netherlands' 22nd effort of the match wide of the post from a header after darting into a great position. 

65' - Robben (Netherlands) misses the target.

79' - Robben (Netherlands) misses the target.

Arjen Robben scoops a curling effort well over after Wesley Sneijder initiates a quick breakaway. 

Ian Walton/Getty Images

Early in the match, when Robben was linking well with Wesley Sneijder and Robin van Persie, the Dutch offense looked as dynamic as we expected.

When he is at his best, Robben is forcing the defense wide and opening space for the central attackers, then cutting the ball back to his left foot and finding the open player for a shot (or taking one himself). At times against Denmark, Robben was at his best. 

Yet as the match progressed, Holland seemed to press more and more. Robben made several dynamic runs into scoring areas with open teammates to distribute the ball to. Instead, Robben missed the target.  

Wasted run after wasted run down the right side of the field. In fact, when Robben did have a speculative run into the box where he passed before shooting, it's almost as if his teammates were so surprised to see the ball come their way they weren't in proper position to put a ball on frame.  

That just won't work against Germany and Portugal.

It's not as if the Netherlands are without options either. Fans were clamoring for Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to start, allowing either van Persie or Sneijder to work more from the outside, with the other tucked behind the traditional striker.

Rafael van der Vaart is fed up with coming off the bench and should be starting for his side. While the more likely scenario would be to set a more attacking formation by replacing Nigel de Jong with van der Vaart, another option could be putting him out wide instead of Robben, creating a more traditional 4-4-2 or even 4-4-1-1 formation.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Still another option could be to start Dirk Kuyt on the right side instead of Robben and keep the same formation the Dutch had in the first match.

However, the formation wasn't the issue; it was the finishing. Both Robben and van Persie need to be better against Germany and Portugal if the Netherlands expect to advance.

Granted, this talk of benching is completely reactionary. There are a few important things we must remember before jumping into the circus of suggesting coach Bert van Marwijk bench someone like Robben.

First, it will not happen.

Second, with all the disconnect in the offensive third, Robben was still effective getting the ball into space. If he can manage to keep his head up and find an open teammate, the goals may come pouring in for Holland (yes, a big if).

It may just take some time for Robben to gel with the other Dutch players who have seen more time together. Robben played in a whopping two matches for the Netherlands leading up to Euro 2012, neither of which came in the qualifying phase of the tournament.

Kuyt, by comparison, played in six friendlies and nine qualifying matches. Since 2010, van der Vaart has played in 10 matches for the Dutch, including eight qualifiers.

Perhaps most importantly, the Netherlands play Germany, and there is no way one of the huge stars of the Bundesliga is going to sit on the sidelines and watch his country play against Germany when seven of his Bayern Munich teammates are lined up for the other side.

Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Even if the familiarity with Robben could prove to be an advantage for Germany—assuming Philipp Lahm is set to mark the winger, that dynamic will be fascinating to watch—benching Robben against Germany would lose him forever. Not just for the rest of this tournament, but forever.

Van Marwijk has to start Robben against Germany. Then, if the match against Portugal still matters, he can see what moves need to be made.

Keep in mind, the biggest issue heading into both the Germany match and the group stage finale against Portugal is not the offense; it's the defense. Holland managed so many chances against Denmark it's actually amazing none of them went into the net. The bigger issue against teams like Germany and Portugal will be if the back line can hold up to constant pressure.

Hey! Maybe Robben can play centre-back. After all, it would give him much more space to dribble with his head down.

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