Australia vs. Netherlands: 6 Things We Learned
In what was one of the most riveting matches of the tournament so far, the Netherlands beat Australia 3-2 on Wednesday.
Thanks to Robin van Persie's equaliser and Memphis Depay's winning goal, the Dutch managed to avoid an upset. But it certainly didn't come easy.
Before the Dutch comeback, the Australians took the lead through a wondergoal scored by Tim Cahill and a—arguably harsh—penalty shortly after the half-time break.
It was a difficult match for the Dutch—and very different from their 5-1 demolition job against Spain last week.
Here, we take a look at six lessons Louis van Gaal and his men can draw from the match.
5-3-2 Can Easily Become 4-3-3
As was the case during the match against Spain, Van Gaal employed a 5-3-2 formation against Australia.
This meant that Daley Blind, who often plays as a defensive midfielder for his club Ajax, played as a left-wing-back.
But when the Netherlands' tactics seemed ineffective and Bruno Martins Indi suffered an injury, Van Gaal decided to switch back to Oranje's tried-and-trusted 4-3-3 formation.
Van Gaal simply replaced the injured Martins Indi with left-winger Memphis Depay. Blind remained at left-back, and Ron Vlaar and Stefan de Vrij remained in the centre of the defence.
Had Martins Indi not suffered an injury, Van Gaal could have played him as a left-back and Blind as a defensive midfielder. Seeing as Martins Indi sometimes plays in that position for his club Feyenoord, that would not have been a problem.
In any case, it's clear that the versatility of many of the Netherlands players allows Van Gaal to be tactically flexible.
Van Gaal Will Use Sneijder in 4-3-3
The Netherlands played 4-3-3 during their qualifying campaign. Until his injury, Kevin Strootman was a key man in this formation's midfield setup.
Wesley Sneijder was not always in Van Gaal's starting XI. In part, this was because the manager did not think Sneijder was fit enough, as per Eurosport.com. Probably, it was also because there's no room for a true No. 10 in Van Gaal's 4-3-3.
But when Van Gaal made the switch back to 4-3-3 against Australia, he did not take off Sneijder. Still functioning as a playmaker, Sneijder simply dropped slightly deeper.
This could mean that Van Gaal now has faith in Sneijder's fitness, even when using him in a 4-3-3 formation.
Depay Ready to Step Up
Sometimes, you need a super-sub to step up and score when you're behind. Van Gaal, who is known for working with youngsters, decided to bring on Memphis Depay when the Netherlands were trailing.
By doing this, Van Gaal killed two birds with one stone: A talented youngster got to make his World Cup debut, and the Netherlands received a fresh impetus up front.
As if Van Gaal knew Depay would step up, the PSV winger scored the winning goal for the Netherlands, proving he's ready to play a prominent role for Oranje.
The Dutch Know How to Battle
For a long time, the Dutch were famous for their attractive style of play. Almost always playing with wingers and technically gifted attackers, the words "the Netherlands" seemed like a synonym for "beauty."
Oranje still have technically gifted players, but the match against Australia made clear the Dutch now know how to battle as well. Coming back from being behind against the tough-tackling Australians, the Dutch managed to turn things around.
In this regard, the Netherlands' physical 2010 campaign—that saw the Dutch reach the final—might have helped the Dutch school of football evolve into something that's not just attractive but combative as well.
Granted, Australia's first goal was amazing, and their second goal resulted from an awkward penalty. But Australia's ability to be dangerous in front of the Dutch goal showed that Oranje's defence might not be as solid as was hoped.
Vlaar, Martins Indi and De Vrij, who started as the Netherlands' three centre-backs, all made a mistake or two, and at a World Cup, mistakes are simply not allowed.
Going into the match against a hard-pressing Chile side, the defence might be the biggest worry the Dutch are facing.
Where Does This Leave Huntelaar?
Late in the second half, Van Gaal took off star striker Van Persie for Dynamo Kyiv's Jeremain Lens. In a way, this substitution made sense: Van Gaal has always liked Lens, who played as a left-winger in Oranje's 4-3-3 during the Dutch qualifying campaign.
But if Van Gaal prefers using Lens as a stand-in for Van Persie, what is Huntelaar's place in the Netherlands' hierarchy of strikers?
Van Persie will be suspended for the Netherlands next match against Chile. It will be interesting to see who Van Gaal will use up top. Will he once again for Lens or will Huntelaar finally receive the nod for once?