5 Things for Netherlands Coach Louis Van Gaal to Test in Friendly vs. Wales
The Netherlands are facing Wales in what will be their final friendly before they head off to Brazil to compete in the World Cup.
This means that Louis van Gaal's opportunity to experiment has almost passed. Against Wales, the Dutch boss will get his final opportunity to make some last-minute tweaks. After that, Oranje will face Spain in the first match of the group stage.
Ahead of the Netherlands' final friendly, we take a look at five things Van Gaal might want to test before the World Cup finally starts.
5-3-2 or 4-3-3
In the Netherlands' first friendly ahead of the World Cup, against Ecuador, Louis van Gaal—usually a firm believer in 4-3-3 and attacking football—shocked friend and foe by experimenting with an unusual 5-3-2 formation.
When Oranje faced Ghana, in their second friendly, 5-3-2 was used again, and it became apparent that this new formation was here to say.
Against Wales, then, Van Gaal will have to make his final decision: Will 5-3-2 truly be the formation used when the Netherlands face Spain?
In theory, it wouldn't be too late to turn back to 4-3-3, the formation the Dutch used during the qualifiers...
Tasked with providing width during the attacking phase of play, the wing-backs play an essential role in Van Gaal's newfound 5-3-2 formation.
On the right, Van Gaal can put his faith in Feyenoord right-back Daryl Janmaat, who played a major role in the manager's decision to make the tactical switch.
On the left, however, things are not as clear cut.
Against Ecuador, Feyenoord's Terence Kongolo started out as the left wing-back. In the second half, he was replaced by Patrick van Aanholt.
With the squads cut down to 23 men, however, Van Aanholt has been sent home. Against Ghana, Daley Blind—who played alongside Nigel de Jong as a defensive midfielder in the previous friendly—was given a chance at left-back.
Blind impressed, but that doesn't mean Van Gaal has made his final decision. Bruno Martins Indi, who sometimes plays as a left-back for his club Feyenoord, could also play on the left flank—to name just one example.
In making his decision, Van Gaal will probably keep in mind that Blind has performed well as a defensive midfielder—the position he's currently being trained for at club level.
The Defensive Midfielders
In the match against Ghana, Jonathan de Guzman replaced Daley Blind—who had been moved to left-back—to play alongside Nigel de Jong.
During a training session this week, however, De Guzman suffered what looks like a minor injury, as was reported by Sky Sports.
Although De Guzman might return to fitness in time for the World Cup, the game against Wales will give Louis Van Gaal the perfect opportunity to test out who could best replace him, should it be necessary.
Against Ecuador, Jordy Clasie performed admirably in De Guzman's position, providing the assist for a beautiful goal scored by Robin van Persie.
The aforementioned Daley Blind, who partnered Clasie in midfield against Ecuador, is another prime candidate for the position.
Because of Blind's excellent game as a left-back against Ghana, Van Gaal is likely to go for Clasie, although Norwich City's Leroy Fer might be given a chance as well.
When Louis van Gaal first announced his plans to play in a 5-3-2 formation, fans and pundits alike immediately thought of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. While the Dutch normally play with only one striker (Robin van Persie), this new formation allowed for two...
However, it quickly transpired that one of the two "strikers" would in fact be quick winger Arjen Robben, and that Wesley Sneijder, relieved of defensive duties, would be given the opportunity to function as a true No. 10 right behind them.
But that doesn't mean there isn't another role to play for Huntelaar. The Schalke striker could, for example, function as a sort of "super-sub," coming on as a substitute for either Van Persie or Robben, providing fresh energy and goalscoring threat.
Van Gaal could also choose to substitute Sneijder for Huntelaar, dropping the idea of a "playmaker" and letting Robben be the No. 10, free to run at the opposition's defence from deep.
That way, Dutch fans and pundits would finally get the Huntelaar and Van Persie partnership they've dreamed of...
How to Best Go for the Counter
While Klaas-Jan Huntelaar could pose a formidable goalscoring threat, he might not be the ideal attacker to use in a 5-3-2 formation—a system largely geared toward playing on the counter.
Because of their tendency to catch opponents on the break, teams using 5-3-2 usually play quick and agile attackers like Jeremain Lens and Memphis Depay—the young PSV player who partnered Robin van Persie against Ecuador in the absence of Arjen Robben.
Huntelaar, who can be seen as lethal in the box, but not as a fast runner, would simply not pose as much of a counter-attacking threat, and consequently, he could miss out on playing time.
Against Wales, Van Gaal will have to answer the following question: Is there a way to get the most out of Huntelaar without hurting the team's ability to counter-attack?