With the 2014 FIFA World Cup finally underway, we bring you the next in an in-depth series of match previews that centre on tactics, team selections and predicted XIs.
Spain vs. Netherlands is the second game on the second day of the tournament, and it's the first fixture taking place between two genuine titans—2010's winner and runner-up.
How Spain Will Shape Up
Spain's game plan is pass, pass, pass—the sort we've become accustomed to over the seasons, the sort many a side have been murdered by in the past.
They lull you into a sleepy sense of security, metronomically sharing possession of the football for long spells, then in an instant release a runner and it's all over.
The assortment of riches Vicente Del Bosque has to choose from is ridiculous, and with Diego Costa now a naturalised Spaniard with caps to his name, the striking conundrum should be solved.
The squad is so deep Xabi Alonso isn't even assured a place, and if la Furia Roja go 4-2-3-1 as expected, both he and Santi Cazorla—among a raft of others—will miss out. Cesar Azpilicueta could start at either full-back position, with Juanfran and Jordi Alba both struggling with injury.
How Netherlands Will Shape Up
Louis van Gaal had a very nice 4-3-3 system in the works during qualifying, but Kevin Strootman's injury destroyed it. He's since switched to a 3-5-2 formation with the proviso of shielding the suspect defence with more numbers and releasing his key attacking three.
Arjen Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder (restored to the No. 10 role) will enjoy ultimate freedom at the tip of the Oranje formation, but the question becomes whether or not they an glue it all together in such a short space of time.
Feyenoord will make up most of the defensive line, with Bruno Martins Indi and Daryl Janmaat sure starters and Stefan de Vrij possibly coming in. That makes for some immediate chemistry in a like-for-like system, but it's more complicated at the other end of the pitch.
RVP has been watching games live with LVG to ascertain what he needs to do, but many of the pre-tournament friendlies were streaky. The 4-4-2 diamond trial further complicated things, and the Dutch, altogether, look a bit of a mess.
Three Tactical Clashes
1. Closing the Zones
The Dutch kept the ball very well during their qualifying matches, but without Kevin Strootman, without the 4-3-3 base and against possession-hungry Spain, expect that to change.
Netherlands will filter in a deep five-man defensive line early and often, plugging the middle and doing what Aston Villa frequently try to do to Manchester City—allow possession, but at a safe distance.
BMI, De Vrij (or Joel Veltman) and Ron Vlaar will be focused on closing out pockets of space outside the box more than anything else. They won't want to get caught in space—only Veltman has any pace and BMI is alarmingly cumbersome—so it'll be a matter of dropping deep to shield themselves.
2. Possession versus Robben
Spain will rack up the possession figures, but if Netherlands can hold them at arms' length early on, they'll begin to commit more men forward in search of a goal.
La Furia Roja struggled against counterattacks at the Confederations Cup, leaving Sergio Busquets exposed as a single pivot, and if Robben can line up a defensive midfielder one-v-one, he's off courtesy of one Sneijder pass.
Despite the magnificence of that front three, their involvement stands to be both linear and limited.
When Manchester City lost the FA Cup final to Wigan Athletic in 2013, they shot themselves in the foot by employing a formation doomed to fail.
Against Wigan's back five they played a 4-2-3-1 with three No. 10s and wide players making diagonal (inward) runs. They played into the Latics' packed centre and failed to score; Jesus Navas, a Manuel Pellegrini signing, became very important the following season due to his natural width and pitch-stretching ability.
Navas missed the Spanish squad due to injury, removing him as a "Plan B." If Pedro cuts in, David Silva dances inside and the full-backs don't truly work those sidelines, Spain will be going one-v-one with hulking centre-backs in tight spaces.
In short, a recipe for disaster, and the onus will be on Jordi Alba to make the difference here.
Bleacher Report will do a tactical preview and review of every single 2014 FIFA World Cup game. Stay tuned to this link and check it every day for more.