The Netherlands maintained their spot at the summit of UEFA Euro 2020 qualifying group C by comfortably disposing of Belarus by a 2-1 scoreline. Two goals in the first half from Liverpool’s Georginio Wijnaldum sealed the victory. The hosts found a route back into the game via a header from BATE’s Stanislav Dragun, but ultimately the Dutch were able to get over the line and leave Minsk with all three points.
Ronald Koeman made four changes to the side that beat Northern Ireland 3-1 in Rotterdam in their previous qualifying match; Denzel Dumfries made way at right-back for Joël Veltman, while Quincy Promes replaced Ryan Babel and Donyell Malen replaced Memphis as the central striker and in midfield Marten de Roon was left out and Donny van de Beek slotted in. Koeman went for a fluid version of 4-3-3.
For the hosts, Mikhail Markhel rung the changes following their previous match, which ended 0-0 against Estonia. Four changes, in fact. However, the coach set his team out to be hard to beat in their rigid 4-4-1-1 system.
During this tactical analysis, we will look at the way both teams set up and how each sides tactics played off against each other, and how it impacted the result.
Netherlands’ build-up play – Veltman’s poor display
It’s natural that in a game such as this with the talent gap so vast that the Netherlands will control the game. This match wasn’t any different. The Dutch had 74% of the ball and the hosts had just 26%.
This was evident during Netherland’s build-up play. At times, Koeman’s side would change shape. Daley Blind would tuck in beside Matthias De Ligt and Virgil van Dijk, making it a back three. Joel Veltman would go high and wide, while the midfield three would narrow up and the two wingers, who were more like inside forwards, would also narrow up in order to try and find space and break the Belarusian lines.
In the image above, Blind pings a diagonal ball wide for Veltman. As you can see the quick pass to the wide area gives the Netherlands an advantage. Veltman is in acres of space and he can attack the hosts’ left flank and this has allowed the Dutch attacking players behind the striker to find space in behind the Belarus midfield. The midfield is too narrow and it leaves their left-hand side far too open. However, on this occasion, the Dutch’s switch didn’t hurt the Belarusian’s due to Veltman poor use of the ball and slowing down the attack, which allowed the hosts to snuff out any danger. Better use of the ball from Veltman would have led to a goalscoring chance.
In the above image of Netherlands’ build-up play, again the final outcome is getting Veltman in behind down the right. However, the rotation of the front six helps create gaps. As you can see Steven Bergwijn is narrow – he attracts two players towards him, and Van De Beek loses his man, but the ball to Veltman is slow and is easily cut out by Belarus. It seemed to be a sense of frustration for the Dutch, as they were making good openings down that side, and they only managed to get one goal from it, with the other coming from the inside-left position.
In the above images, they are showing the Netherlands attacking heavily down the right-hand side. Unfortunately for them, they didn’t get the quality that their play deserved. As the image shows above, the Dutch had more attacks down the right flank but only giving them 0.44xG while their 20 attacks from central areas were more dangerous, giving them 0.75xG – this was down to the poor attacking quality of Veltman and his failure to use the space effectively. Perhaps that was down to the selection of Veltman at right-back over the more attack-minded Denzel Dumfries was a factor in the poor output from the right side.
Belarus compact and tight in the block but poor in transition
One tactic that will have pleased Markhel was his side’s ability to restrict the Netherlands to only seven shots on target from a possible 21 and two of which found the net. While he will have been pleased with how his overall tactics worked, one aspect that will have disappointed him was how poor his side were during transition.
In the image above Belarus have a back six. They force the Dutch to go wide and subsequently they are able to crowd out Wijnaldum and win the ball back. However, the transition from defence to attack was difficult for them to execute. The above image illustrates just how difficult it was. Frenkie de Jong, the deepest of the Dutch midfielders, follows the runner and dispossesses him before he can reach the half-way line.
It helped keep the pressure on for the Dutch side but it gave us an indication of just how deep Belarus were. No one was in a position for the hosts to help the runner retain possession.
In the above image, Belarus have nine men behind the ball. And have created a number of 2vs1s in their favour. Bergwijn has to then go wide to Veltman who is spare because Promes and Donyall cannot receive the ball. However, when the cross eventually comes in it’s easy for Belarus to clear from the right-back area. But given they have nine men behind the ball, and how high both Blind and Veltman are, the long ball to Laptev gets easily mopped up by De Ligt and he can recycle the ball. This was a recurring theme throughout the match as the Netherlands were able to recover the ball 82 times from Belarus’ turnovers. From a Belarus perspective that is far too high a number against opposition who possess the quality of the Netherlands.
The below image sums up the Belarusians in transition – the black arrow indicates where the actual pass went to and the white arrows give an indication of the two other options available to the player in possession. The pass to the far right would have given them the option to find the opposite wide player making his way into the back post and potentially given the team a goalscoring chance, but again, their use of the ball was not good at all.
Steven Bergwijn’s use of the half-space
As outlined previously when explaining the Dutch’s build-up play, Steven Bergwijn’s use of the half-space had a bearing on the Netherlands winning the match.
The image above shows the rotation of the Netherland’s forward players. Steven Berwijn is able to give the man on the ball an option – and the defender in his zone problems by occupying the half-space. Wijnaldum has two options – Van De Beek and Berwijn. Given the defender is already on the back foot, either pass will suffice for the Netherlands to create. However, Bergwijn can drop deep or spin in behind and because he’s in the 10 position; it creates an issue for the defender whether to hold his position or follow Bergwijn.
Furthermore, it was the front three’s movement and Bergwijn’s, in particular, that helped in the build-up to the opening goal.
The image below shows Promes and Bergwijn on the same side following a Netherlands throw. Bergwijn is on the half-turn and that forces the defenders to make a decision: go with him or stay with Promes. They follow the ball and switch off. This allows Promes the space to cross. Wijnaldum is in a position to take advantage and take up the position in the circled area in between the centre-backs, allowing him to score a header. Both Belarus centre-backs are unaware of his movement and the position he’s occupying. It’s a simple goal. But without the movement of Bergwijn and his ability to take players away, the goal is not possible.
Bergwijn picking up those no 10 positions within the match helped the Netherlands pick holes in the Belarus backline. The heatmap below illustrates the inside-forward role played by the PSV man and it certainly gave the Netherlands the upper hand during attacking situations.
This analysis showed how the Netherlands were able to use their wingers as inside forwards to help them break down a stubborn Belarus side. However, if they had better delivery from their right-hand side they would have won the match by a larger scoreline.
It leaves Ronald Koeman’s side in a great position to qualify for Euro 2020. Belarus, on the other hand, have shown themselves to be no mugs. They fell down during transition and if they can improve on that going forward they are sure to gain better results.
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