Australia vs. Netherlands: Van Gaal's Switch to 4-3-3 Wins Oranje the Game

Sam TigheWorld Football Tactics Lead WriterJune 18, 2014

PORTO ALEGRE, BRAZIL - JUNE 18: Memphis Depay of the Netherlands (C) celebrates scoring his team's third goal with Robin van Persie (L) and Wesley Sneijder during the 2014 FIFA World Cup Brazil Group B match between Australia and Netherlands at Estadio Beira-Rio on June 18, 2014 in Porto Alegre, Brazil.  (Photo by Quinn Rooney/Getty Images)
Quinn Rooney/Getty Images

Netherlands moved on to six points in the FIFA World Cup Group B on Wednesday after coming from behind to beat Australia.

Arjen Robben had given the Dutch the lead in the 20th minute but Australia's Tim Cahill did his best impression of that legendary Marco van Basten strike to draw his side level.

Mile Jedinak's penalty put the Socceroos in front in the second half, but Robin van Persie and Memphis Depay combined to steal the three points in a tight affair.


Formations & XIs

Australia cut off supply to Sneijder, Van Persie & Robben.
Australia cut off supply to Sneijder, Van Persie & Robben.@stighefootball

Australia set out in a 4-2-3-1 formation with Mark Bresciano a deep No. 10, Ryan McGowan in for Ivan Franjic at right-back and Matt McKay in for Mark Milligan in central midfield.

Netherlands continued in their 3-5-2 set, with no changes to the XI after Ron Vlaar and Daley Blind shook off injury concerns. Robben, Robin van Persie and Wesley Sneijder completed a fierce attacking trident on paper.


Penned In

Australia started strongly, retaining the ball with a degree of confidence and setting a high stance up the pitch in defence.

Cahill, Bresciano, Mathew Leckie and Tommy Oar closed down the Dutch ballplayers very well, forcing quicker decisions and punts out of defence.

Problems ensued from here, as the 3-5-2 only lends two men to central midfield versus Australia's three. The two Louis van Gaal selected, Nigel de Jong and Jonathan de Guzman, are hardly reliable ballplayers or registas in the face of pressure.

They spent the entire first half struggling to pass through the central zones, and the centre-backs would then opt to play a hopeful diagonal out to Daley Blind—which missed the mark more often than not.

Credit: ITV Sport


Three vs. Three

Australia managed to organise a three vs. two overload in central midfield and a three vs. three up front.

The pressure in midfield made De Jong and De Guzman's central passing sloppy, and as many of their efforts were cut out by Australia's terriers high up, they were immediately given to Leckie and Oar to use in the final third.

Credit: ITV Sport

Oar matched up square-on to Stefan de Vrij and Leckie the same to Bruno Martins Indi.

Whenever it was possible to take them on one vs. one, they would, and they'd usually make ground in the wide areas, with the wing-backs caught higher up due to the high turnovers they couldn't help; Martins Indi in particular looked very scruffy on the turn and in space.


Formation Change

Robben opened the scoring after 20 minutes, and it's no coincidence that it came in the first instance the winger was able to find space to surge into. McGowan was too tight, got rolled and the Bayern Munich man did the rest.

Before that, he hadn't had a sniff and Sneijder, either and got completely swamped out by Jedinak, McKay and Bresciano in midfield.

Van Gaal switched to a 4-3-3 formation at the break, bringing on Depay and placing him on the left wing at the expense of the injured Martins Indi.

Switch to 4-3-3 removes 2 vs. 3 in central midfield for Dutch.
Switch to 4-3-3 removes 2 vs. 3 in central midfield for Dutch.@stighefootball

The move placed more players closer to RvP in the final third, allowed Blind and Daryl Janmaat to face up to Australia's wingers and added an additional midfielder—Sneijder—to the centre of the pitch.

It worked a treat, as the Dutch began moving the ball more freely and creating overloads in the Socceroos' half. They enjoyed their first spell of sustained pressure and were able to commit between four and six men into the final third for each attack.



Australia manager Ange Postecoglu was able to construct a side who could effectively nullify the 3-5-2 formation but couldn't react to Van Gaal's 4-3-3 change.

That's not a total slight on him—moving to 4-3-3 took away the chance to overwhelm the Dutch in the middle and force abject play—and individual quality won out on the day.

"It's heartbreaking. The players deserved a reward today," Postecoglu told after the match. "Everyone was outstanding. For the majority of the game, we looked more likely to win than game than not."

Van Gaal just continues to make all the right moves, doesn't he?