The Big Match Tactical View: Netherlands v Argentina

Can Louis van Gaal's tactics help stop Leo Messi?
Can Louis van Gaal's tactics help stop Leo Messi?
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In a repeat of the 1978 final, Argentina take on Netherlands in a mouthwatering semi-final. Michael Cox looks at the tactical battle, while professional trader Alan Thompson gives you the betting lowdown.

"Arjen Robben got three opposition players booked against Costa Rica."

Back Martins Demichelis to be shown a card at [4.4]

Netherlands v Argentina
Wednesday 21:00, ITV1
Match Odds: Netherlands [3.4], Argentina [2.46], The Draw [3.25].

This semi-final might not be a spectacular game, but it should be a fascinating tactical battle. There are all the ingredients for a thoroughly engaging, intriguing match - both sides' formations are undecided, both sides have a big injury doubt in a key position, and both teams have one particular individual that simply must be stopped. 

Argentina coach Alejandro Sabella is without Angel Di Maria, a huge blow considering the Real Madrid midfielder offers so much - energy, dribbling, and someone who combines very nicely with Leo Messi. There's no obvious replacement for Di Maria in the Argentina squad - in fact, it's difficult to think of a similar player anywhere in the world - and therefore Sabella will probably have to reformat his side.

The obvious approach would be the shape used after Di Maria's departure from the quarter-final win over Belgium, with central midfielder Enzo Perez tucked inside on the right, with Ezequiel Lavezzi left, and Messi behind Gonzalo Higuain.

But the return of Marcos Rojo, who was suspended from the quarter-final and replaced with Jose Basanta, means switching to a 5-3-2 shape could actually be more natural, with Lavezzi making way. This would be a huge gamble from Sabella, who used that system in the first half of Argentina's opener against Bosnia without success, and would risk upsetting Messi, who understandably disliked that formation.

The joker in the pack is the potential return of Sergio Aguero, but that doesn't really solve Argentina's problem with no Di Maria replacement, and would be a huge gamble. For all his quality, Aguero always seems to take a while to reach full fitness after an injury setback.

Louis van Gaal also has selection doubts, because there are rumours Nigel de Jong could return early from injury, which would be a significant boost. Against Costa Rica, Van Gaal played the midfield combination of Georginio Wijnaldum and Wesley Sneijder, which simply isn't an option against Messi. De Jong would be a perfect destroyer to man-mark Messi, and he's probably worth a gamble in that holding position.

Van Gaal will probably revert to the 3-4-1-2 system he used in the group stage. He can afford to play an attack-minded wing-back on the left, which means Dirk Kuyt or Memphis Depay, but on the right against Lavezzi he'll favour a more defensive player, Paul Verhaegh or Daryl Janmaat. Daley Blind is the obvious partner for De Jong.

The most interesting thing about the Netherlands' system is their insistence on man-marking in the midfield zone, which means Wesley Sneijder will press Javier Mascherano, Blind will be on Lucas Biglia, and De Jong against Messi. This will force the Argentine centre-backs to show their passing ability, as easy balls into the midfield zone won't always be on.

They've also had a tendency to man-mark at the back, so expect Higuain to be tracked very tightly. The key is whether Argentina have anyone bursting into that space behind the defence, something that hasn't been obvious in their campaign so far - Lavezzi is the obvious candidate, and he must play a very energetic role in the absence of Di Maria. Nevertheless, Argentina's play might simply be too slow to break down this Dutch defence.

The Netherlands' strategy will be about breaking quickly, primarily through Arjen Robben. Having started wide-right against Costa Rica, where he got three opposition players booked, he's likely to return to a more central position here, drifting wide into the channels.

It's tough to fancy any of the Argentina defenders against Robben in a one-versus-one situation, and it's imperative they get numbers around him. Still, expect some rough tackles, and Martin Demichelis seems an obvious candidate to be shown a card, at around [4.0].

Overall, I think this game is much tighter than the market suggests, and there's a real question about how Argentina will get around the Dutch man-marking system. I'll lay Argentina at [2.46].

Recommended Bets
Back Demichelis to be shown a card at [4.0]
Lay Argentina at [2.46]

The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

Argentina have what the odds compilers perceive to be the easier route to the final facing the current outsiders of four to win the tournament. While they put in an impressive first-half performance to get past Belgium in the quarter-finals, Louis van Gaal’s men had to rely on an inspired late goalkeeping substitution and penalties to get past a spirited Costa Rica.

While there are no new injury or suspension worries for the Netherlands, Argentina have suffered a blow with Angel Di Maria suffering a thigh muscle tear and of course they are still struggling with Sergio Aguero’s hamstring injury. While you could argue that Di Maria’s form in this tournament has been patchy he is a key component to the side and will be missed.

Argentina will no doubt be supported by huge travelling support and the thought of winning a World Cup in the Maracana, must be a huge motivator. You could say that the Dutch have already over-performed in this tournament, not many people expected them to get out of what was a very difficult group let alone reach another World Cup semi-final. No less than Johan Cruyff commented before the tournament “I think their chances are less than normal. They have a good team but it’s very young. It will be good preparation for the next World Cup in four years.”

Five of the last six World Cup semis (not including Brazil v Germany) have produced a result under 1.5 goals and only two of the last six have not been 0-0 at half time. I can see this game following that trend and will take Argentina to make the final by backing them in the Match Odds market at 2.46 and also in the Correct Score market 1-0 @ 7.6.

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