Netherlands vs. Spain: Key Selection Decisions for Louis van Gaal
In what will be a replay of the 2010 final, the Netherlands will face Spain in their opening match of the 2014 World Cup in Brazil on Friday.
Manager Louis van Gaal, who has had plenty of time to analyse his opponents, will likely employ a 5-3-2 formation.
As seen in the Netherlands' three preparatory friendlies, this formation will allow the Dutch to sit deep and lurk for the counter. It will also allow them to perfectly accommodate their three best players: Wesley Sneijder, Arjen Robben and Robin van Persie.
With this in mind, we know who will play as the two strikers and the attacking midfielder. However, we can't be as certain about a few other positions.
Ahead of the match, Van Gaal still has a couple of decisions to make. Here, we explore the manager's options.
The 3 at the Back
Part of Van Gaal's motivation to go for a 5-3-2 formation was the defensive solidity it should provide. With three centre-backs rather than two, it's easier to sit deep and soak up pressure.
Most of the Netherlands' defenders are still young and relatively inexperienced. Who will Van Gaal pick to form his defensive wall?
Judging from the Netherlands' preparatory friendlies, two of the three are certainties: Feyenoord's Stefan de Vrij and Bruno Martins Indi.
The third centre-back will probably be either Aston Villa's Ron Vlaar or Ajax's Joel Veltman.
Out of the two, Vlaar clearly has the most experience. Not only does he play in the Premier League, he was there when the Netherlands played in Euro 2012—although this tournament ended in disaster when the Dutch were sent home after losing all their group matches.
Youngster Veltman, however, has been identified by some as a huge prospect for the future, and Van Gaal often likes to work with young players.
While Vlaar is more of a brute stopper, Veltman is an intelligent, ball-playing defender. What kind of player will be most useful in the match against Spain?
Who Will Partner Nigel de Jong?
The 5-3-2 formation utilises three midfielders: an attacker and two more defensive-minded, holding players.
The attacking midfielder will surely be Wesley Sneijder. Behind him, Nigel de Jong will play.
Who will partner De Jong as the second holding midfielder?
During the Netherlands' preparatory friendlies, it looked like Jonathan de Guzman was Van Gaal's first choice for the job. While De Jong is more of a tough tackler, De Guzman provided more mobility and depth.
Shortly before the Dutch travelled to Brazil, however, De Guzman suffered an injury. Consequently, there was some doubt over his place in the starting XI, as per Sky Sports.
Feyenoord's Jordy Clasie, who provided the assist when Robin van Persie scored in the Netherlands' friendly against Ecuador, could be called upon to replace De Guzman.
Where would that leave the Netherlands' other talented defensive midfielder, Daley Blind?
Where Will Daley Blind Play?
In a squad full of youngsters, Daley Blind looks like one of the Netherlands' most exciting prospects. Able to play as a left-back and as a defensive midfielder, the Ajax player is versatile and tactically intelligent.
Judging by the Netherlands' preparatory friendlies, Van Gaal is a fan of Blind as well. However, seeing as Blind has performed admirably in both of his positions, it's difficult to decide where he must play in the match against Spain.
On the one hand, the Dutch have little choice when it comes to their left-backs. On the other hand, they need a mobile player to partner the more static De Jong. Blind would be perfect for the job.
Generally, versatility is a good thing in a footballer. In the case of Blind, it might be giving his manager a bit of a headache.