Netherlands scraped a 2-0 victory off a rampant Chile side to secure top spot in FIFA World Cup 2014 Group B on Monday afternoon, with Leroy Fer heading home and Memphis Depay notching late in the second half.
La Roja had dominated the game but failed to create any clear-cut chances on goal and were punished by a slick set-piece move and a rapier-like counter-attack.
Formations & XIs
Netherlands lined up in their 3-5-2/3-4-1-2 formation with a few forced changes. Jeremain Lens replaced Robin van Persie (suspension), Daley Blind moved in to replace Bruno Martins Indi at centre-back (concussion) and Dirk Kuyt slotted in at wing-back.
Chile retained their 3-4-1-2 system too, with their only change being Felipe Gutierrez in for Arturo Vidal. The move pushed Charles Aranguiz into a No. 10 role.
Netherlands began the game with Wesley Sneijder (No. 10) man-marking Marcelo Diaz deep in Chile's midfield.
Whenever Diaz was substituted or missed a pre-tournament game, his side always struggled to build attacks from the back, so Louis van Gaal decided to try and reduce his influence by attaching a man to him.
In response—and in a similar fashion to how Philipp Lahm and Sami Khedira avoided Ghana's man-marking—Diaz began shuttling forward to take Sneijder away and encouraging Charles Aranguiz to drop in instead, thus switching responsibilities.
After 15 minutes, the Dutch decided to commit a man to Aranguiz too, with Georginio Wijnaldum and Nigel de Jong taking it in turns to track him.
Same Game Plan
For 20 minutes, Netherlands did very little on the ball, sitting deep and respecting Chile's possession game.
But as the midfielders became more comfortable with the flow of the game and settled into their spoiler roles, high turnovers started to occur.
It was at this point it became clear that Van Gaal, largely, was playing a near-replica of the system that beat Spain 5-1; sitting off deep, looking to nick the ball and placing it at Arjen Robben's feet to run with.
At half-time the Oranje had totalled just 27 percent possession, yet taken more than twice as many shots on goal. Kuyt and Daryl Janmaat, the wing-backs, spent almost the entire time in their own half.
To circumvent the tight marking of Diaz, Aranguiz and (at times) Gutierrez, Alexis Sanchez and Eduardo Vargas began dropping deep and receiving the ball in positions the central midfielders would usually occupy.
When De Jong and Co. switched targets and tried to dispossess the forwards, they'd turn, sprint and try to play a pass through the channels between the centre-backs, picking out a midfield runner.
Aranguiz and Diaz would now surge into the channels and try to penetrate the box at pace. This paved the way for Eugenio Mena to advance from the left and linkup, ending Chile's insistence on forcing the ball down the right despite the area being clogged.
At half-time Jorge Sampaoli switched from 3-4-1-2 to 3-3-1-3, sending on Jean Beausejour to play left-wing, placing Vargas in the centre-forward role and retaining Aranguiz behind the striker.
The idea seemed to be to get two players high up on each flank and attack the wide areas given the Dutch's special attention to the middle, matching up two vs. one on the flanks.
Unfortunately it didn't work, and La Roja began conceding space in midfield as they were outnumbered three vs. two. Robben began slipping into space more regularly, so Chile tried something else.
Sampaoli sent on Jorge Valdivia to play as an orthodox No. 10 in a 4-2-3-1-esque system. Soon after Mauricio Pinilla, a pure striker, was sent on to replace Vargas. The Dutch back five stayed strong.
The game was won by a Fer header from a corner, signalling the Dutch's ability to finally take advantage of the height disparity between the two sides. Depay iced the cake by sweeping home after stellar work by Robben.
Sampaoli: "It was very difficult for us. Our intention was to bring down the hard wall of the Dutch defence. We couldn't work it out."— Matthew Stanger (@MatthewStanger) June 23, 2014
Sampaoli met his tactical match here in Van Gaal, and if this game proved anything, it's that either is a nightmare draw for Group A competitors.