With teams of this group getting closer to each other, both for the first place and for relegation to the second group of the UEFA Nations League, Netherlands faced Bosnia-Herzegovina to come back after their last unconvincing performances. Their hope of getting a place for the Final Four was still alive.
Bosnia-Herzegovina, without their leader Džeko, played for their last chances to stay in the first bracket. In a match full of chances and with excellent rhythm, Netherlands came out, climbing to second place in the group thanks to a convincing 3-1 result, condemning Bosnia-Herzegovina to mathematical relegation with only one game to play.
Netherlands lined-up with their classic 4-2-3-1 formation, with Tim Krul on goal; a four-man defence formed by Denzel Dumfries, Stefan De Vrij, Daley Blind, and Owen Wijndal in front of him; Frenkie De Jong and Davy Klaassen as pivots; and a trio of Steven Berghuis, Georginio Wijnaldum, and Memphis Depay supporting Luuk De Jong.
Bosnia-Herzegovina were forced to play without their star Edin Džeko who was hit by Covid-19, and they started the game with a more defensive 4-1-4-1 formation. Ibrahim Šehić was the goalkeeper; Darko Todorović, Amir Hadžiahmetović, Siniša Saničanin, and Sead Kolašinac in defence; Gojko Cimirot as a defensive midfielder; Edin Višća, Miralem Pjanić, Rade Krunić, and Amer Gojak started in midfield; and Armin Hodžić was the lone striker.
Netherlands’ build-up phase
As has often been the case in football in recent decades, especially since the advent of “Total Football” in the famous Cruyff’s Netherlands, understanding Oranje’s tactics is very difficult. With the players constantly moving and occupying all zones of the pitch in the build-up phase, almost all actions passed through Blind’s feet.
Ajax‘s centre-back acted as a true defensive playmaker, having much more freedom than someone who, at least in terms of characteristics, should be the real playmaker – Frenkie De Jong.
In most of the occasions, Blind looked for a direct pass to the players in the attacking third, skipping the first pressing of the opposing midfielders as we can see from this image.
With the very low pressing brought by Bosnia-Herzegovina, more players committed to trying to close the spaces in the defensive third, and already in the build-up phase, Netherlands brought many men in the opposing half. The full-backs were tasked with almost only offensive tasks throughout the game, and they acted on the line of attacking midfielders, forming a five-man line able to occupy the pitch in all its width.
As we can see from this image, to always follow this principle but create more unpredictability, the full-backs themselves often went to occupy the attacking third in the central area, to leave more freedom to the wingers and open the opposing lines, which were always very tight.
Once they passed the first pressing, the main offensive source of play throughout the match was undoubtedly Memphis Depay. The Olympique Lyonnais player with his mobility and technique has often tried to take advantage of the freer areas of the pitch. But with opponents often man-marking him, in some situations he dropped to the defensive line to contribute to the build-up phase, as we can see from this image.
In these situations, Frenkie De Jong’s ductility was fundamental. Despite his predisposition to play in the middle of the field, he has often been good at advancing to the opponent’s attacking third without the ball, attracting his direct midfield opponent and freeing up a lot of space for Depay also to be able to start the action.
Netherlands’ offensive unpredictability
As mentioned earlier, in the offensive phase of the Netherlands’ game was strongly aimed at unpredictability. The work between the lines of their attacking midfielders created huge problems for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defence, which sometimes seemed in total confusion.
In particular, as we saw in the first two goals, the Dutch team’s speed of manoeuvre was their real strength. Frequent cross-field passes have contributed to unhinging the opposing defence, often too attracted by the ball and unable to manage off-the-ball movements in the box.
And it is from these cross-field passes and these off-the-ball movements, in which Liverpool‘s midfielder Wijnaldum is undoubtedly one of the best players in the world, the first two goals were born, as we can see from the images below.
In the first case, it was the full-back Dumfries, who took advantage of Depay’s penetrative pass and served Wijnaldum, who scored. However, in the second one, it was the winger Berghuis who served the assist, in an almost identical action to the previous one. And this once again proved how well all the Dutch players can make offensive moves and take advantage of the free spaces given by the opposing defence.
A fundamental role in the attacking phase was played in particular by the full-backs in this match. As mentioned earlier in this analysis, their very high position on the pitch forced the opponents’ defence to open up. So even the penetrative passes became an option for the Netherlands, taking advantage of full-backs’ work without the ball, with a very thick offensive line thanks to the three men between the lines plus the striker, as we can see from this image.
With so many offensive options and the speed at which Netherlands’ actions were executed, this match was not exactly a night to remember for Bosnia-Herzegovina’s defence, and the match could have ended even worse than it went.
Bosnia-Herzegovina’s offensive solutions
But playing such an offensive game obviously brings problems. Although Bosnia-Herzegovina has had many problems when controlling the number of men brought in the offensive half by their Dutch opponents, they often had the opportunity to create chances when they were able to recover the ball.
In particular, the previously mentioned position of the full-backs was a kind of a “cross and delight” for the Netherlands.
Despite their speed, the ability of Bosnia-Herzegovina’s midfielders (Pjanić in particular) to make a quick offensive transition, was the main offensive weapon of Bajević’s team. And as we can see in the image below, Bosnia-Herzegovina’s goal was born from one of those quick counter-attacks.
But even when the full-backs managed to get back to defend inside the box, it was noted how much the Bosnia-Herzegovinan team depended almost completely on their star, Pjanić, in the absence of Džeko.
Although he is more used to play as a defensive playmaker, his work as a more offensive midfielder has often been potentially dangerous.
However, Barcelona‘s player was not able to take advantage of the opportunities created from the outside with effective cut-backs, due to Netherlands’ lack of defensive support of their attacking midfielders, as we can see in this image.
In a game played at a very high rhythm, despite the fact that the players were forced to play many games in this period, the technical difference between the two teams played a decisive role. The absence of the star Džeko weighed too much on Bosnia-Herzegovina’s performance, who were too often without ideas in attack. The Netherlands have once again shown their offensive potential and their ability to play the legendary Dutch “Total football”.
However, with the absence of their defensive leader Virgil Van Dijk, all the difficulties of this team emerged. And for this reason, they are not yet at the level of the best European and World national teams.