The FIFA World Cup 2014 has moved into the semi-final stage, pitting the final four teams left—Brazil, Germany, Argentina and the Netherlands—against one another for a spot in the coveted Maracana final.
Here we take a look at the second tie on offer: The Oranje against La Albiceleste.
Predicting what Louis van Gaal does tactically is like trying to work out what you'll be doing exactly five years from now: Close to impossible, with the distinct possibility of being wrong.
So far, he's utilised three clear formations during the competition—the 3-5-2, the 4-3-3 and the 3-4-3—to gain numerical or positional parity with his opposition, and Argentina's formation could well dictate how he shapes his XI.
Van Gaal likes to match up evens in midfield, meaning a 3-4-3 (with two central midfielders) played against Costa Rica's 4-5-1, a 3-5-2 (with three CMs) played against Spain and a 4-3-3 (with three CMs) played against Australia's 4-2-3-1.
The smart money is on three at the back, but which nuance is unclear. Ron Vlaar is struggling with a knee injury, but a direct replacement can be found in the form of Joel Veltman.
Alejandro Sabella has some difficult decisions to make regarding squad selection, with Sergio Aguero returning from injury and Marcos Rojo returning from suspension.
Jose Maria Basanta was a very able stand-in at left-back, but Rojo—one of La Albiceleste's few impressive players not named Lionel Messi so far this tournament—will likely take his place. Aguero's fitness levels are known only to Sabella, but he'll be tempted to risk him given the poor form of Ezequiel Lavezzi.
Angel Di Maria's absence due to a thigh problem is this week's blow, and in order to combat his absence, Sabella will need to change the game plan again. We could see Enzo Perez from the start, or we could see Maxi Rodriguez instead.
Whatever the XI, the focus will be on assisting and helping Messi in his quest to carry La Albiceleste to the final at the Maracana.
"Leo has rescued us in a few matches but we can’t just rely on him," Javier Mascherano told reporters ahead of the game (h/t London Evening Standard). "The team should be there to support him."
2 Tactical Clashes
1. Drawing the Dutch Out
The Netherlands will be happy to surrender possession and sit off, but the Argentines have to stop them from doing so.
In losing Di Maria, Sabella has lost his second-best dribbling threat available. Di Maria, when on form, can be key to breaking sides down and breaking between the lines, taking the focus off Messi and causing problems from two different flanks rather than just one.
To combat their blunted efficiency in breaking down low blocks, the Dutch must be drawn out into space much how the Belgians were: put seven behind the ball, relinquish possession and create space for yourself on the counter-attack.
Messi with space to dribble and pass into, Aguero with space to surge into and Lavezzi with room to wiggle; that's what will win La Albiceleste this tactical matchup.
2. Robben (and Depay?) Out-balls
This matchup is the ultimate test of just how willing Louis van Gaal is to attack Argentina, and which formation he deploys will signal his true intents.
He'll be laughing if the opposition play 4-4-2: It means he can match up two vs. two in central midfield and deploy two wide men as out-balls for counter-attacks.
Rojo, despite playing centre-back for Sporting, loves to get forward and Pablo Zabaleta is almost solely responsible for holding the width on the right.
If LVG is able to slot Memphis Depay and Arjen Robben into the space left behind them—a la Karim Benzema behind Stephan Lichtsteiner—he can attack following one pass out of defence at blistering pace.
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.