Trio key to new Dutch formation success
Some said the Netherlands' new and unusual 5-3-2 formation wasn't attacking enough. Others said it didn't suit the Dutch mentality, and that it was never going to be effective. But if there's one thing Oranje's 1-0 victory against Ghana on Saturday made clear, it's that the new formation is here to stay, and that it has a lot of potential when the right players are there.
The new formation's power became especially clear during the opening 20 minutes of the match. Robin van Persie, who played as Netherlands' deepest striker, combined freely with roaming winger Arjen Robben and playmaker Wesley Sneijder, who were constantly near the Manchester United man, ready to play or receive the pass and offering a constant attacking threat.
The effectiveness of van Persie, Robben and Sneijder in the final third suggested that, after the Netherlands' previous friendly against Ecuador, in which the 5-3-2 was first tried out, the new formation hinges on the form of this all-important trio. Where van Persie had to rely on instances of individual genius against Ecuador -- like the Jordy Clasie pass from which he scored -- in the match against Ghana, the striker was provided with the freedom and opportunity he needed to thrive.
Against Ecuador, Netherlands perhaps suffered from a lack of experience. With young PSV midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum playing instead of Sneijder, and Memphis Depay instead of Robben, the newfound 5-3-2 formation did not succeed in providing enough attacking threat on the counter -- where pace and intelligent positioning are often required.
Jeremain Lens, who played a major role in Netherlands' qualifying campaign as one of the three up top in Louis van Gaal's previous 4-3-3 formation, was introduced late in the second half, and together with Depay and Robben he managed to add even more pace and mobility.
Then there was the tweak made at the back. Daley Blind, who partnered with Clasie in the centre of midfield against Ecuador, was positioned as a left wing-back, which meant that Swansea's Jonathan de Guzman could partner with tough tackler Nigel de Jong in the centre of midfield. Because of the 5-3-2's dependency on wing-backs for width, Blind's excellent performance meant that Oranje had a lot more to offer in attack.
Slowly but surely, van Gaal's new formation is starting to take shape. With Sneijder playing as the playmaker, operating from a central position between the midfield and the attack, and Robben allowed to run at the opposition's defence from whatever angle he chooses, its potential is starting to show. More than the meagre 1-0 victory, then, it's this assertion that the fans in Holland are getting excited about.
The question is: Will the Dutch be ready to cash in on this potential once the likes of Spain and Chile arrive as opposition during the first round of the World Cup?