The Big Match Tactical View: Spain v Netherlands

Could Pedro Rodriguez be Spain's biggest attacking threat?
Could Pedro Rodriguez be Spain's biggest attacking threat?

Friday's evening match is a repeat of the infamous 2010 World Cup final but, in their first preview of the action in Brazil, tactics guru Michael Cox and Betfair trader Alan Thompson aren't expecting 14 cards this time around...

"Pedro has scored 12 Spain goals since Euro 2012."

Back Pedro Rodriguez to score first @ [10.0]

Michael Cox

Michael Cox

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Spain v Netherlands
Friday 20:00 
Live on BBC One

Match Odds: Spain [1.9], Netherlands [5.5], The Draw [3.5].

In the final between these two nations in 2010, Spain just about prevailed thanks to Andres Iniesta's late winner towards the end of extra-time.

But the main story was the physicality of the Dutch in midfield, with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel typifying the highly aggressive tactics. Some suggested that the Netherlands had betrayed their footballing identity - and it was ironic, of course, that they were overcome by a Spanish side that owed so much to the 'Dutch school' of football, through the Barcelona, Rinus Michels and Johan Cruyff connection.

The Netherlands are unlikely to play such an aggressive game this time - although De Jong will continue as their defensive midfielder - because they're now coached by Manchester United-bound Louis van Gaal, who likes good, fast, attacking football.

That said, the former Barcelona manager is also keen for his side to press intensely, and this has been a common feature of the Netherlands' approach in pre-match warm-ups. The midfielders stick tight to opponents, while the full-backs push forward to prevent opposition wingers turning.

Spain are likely to be comfortable with this, however. Their passing is still incredibly patient, and they'll happily weather the storm and wait for opportunities to penetrate the Dutch defence.

The major tactical question is Van Gaal's formation. Throughout the warm-up matches he experimented with both a 3-4-1-2 and a 4-3-1-2, and there's a chance he could even return to the 4-2-3-1 he played throughout qualification.

But the 4-3-1-2 seems the most likely, because it seems he's sticking to the 'spare man' principle - and with Spain likely to have one player upfront (who might not even be a striker) it makes sense for him to field two, rather than three, centre-backs.

The Dutch defence might be relatively unknown to many, with Ron Vlaar the only Premier League-based player, and the rest comprised of young, talented but inexperienced Feyenoord players, with the possibility of Ajax's Daley Blind playing left-back - although he could also start in midfield. The defenders will play reasonably high up the pitch, because they're quick and mobile, and capable of turning to chase balls in behind the defence.

This is Vicente Del Bosque's big decision - how many 'penetrative' players does he use? We know Sergio Busquets, Xabi Alonso and Xavi Hernandez will form the midfield triangle, and Andres Iniesta will drift inside from the left flank.

But the other two positions are up for grabs. Del Bosque could play two midfielders, David Silva from the right and Cesc Fabregas as a false nine. But he could also play two forwards - Pedro Rodriguez on the right, and Diego Costa or Fernando Torres upfront.

The key player is Pedro, because he offers something different to everyone else, with the exception of Costa (who has been working up to full fitness, and isn't accustomed to playing in this Spain side anyway). Pedro is a master of well-timed runs, and just like in the final four years ago, when he was the biggest goal threat in the first half, he's the man the Netherlands must watch carefully.

There's no guarantee Pedro will start, which is incredible considering he's scored twelve Spain goals since Euro 2012 (having previously only scored two), by far the most in the squad. Four years ago Del Bosque had both Jesus Navas and Pedro providing the verticality from wide positions, but Navas isn't in the squad, and therefore Pedro is extremely important.

It's also notable that the Netherlands aren't particularly strong at left-back. Bruno Martins Indi would be favourite to start there, but always seems more like a centre-back and might not be comfortable tracking Pedro's runs. I'll back Pedro to open the scoring at [10.0].

The Netherlands' attacking threat will come from the front three of Wesley Sneijder, Robin van Persie and Arjen Robben, who nearly won the final for the Dutch in 2010. Sneijder plays deeper than four years ago, Van Persie moves towards the ball more, while Robben starts more centrally than at club level, but is always running in behind.

Robben's running into the channels will probably be the biggest threat, but Spain have a fine record of keeping clean sheets in major international tournaments, and I think one goal will ensure the victory.


Recommended Bet
Back Pedro Rodriguez in First Goalscorer at [10.0]


The Betfair Trader's View: Alan Thompson

The opening game for the holders is a rerun of the 2010 final, a final which was very 'physical' shall we say?! The Dutch resorted to trying to kick Spain off the field in South Africa and Howard Webb ended up issuing 14 yellow cards and a red (a record for a World Cup Final) it could easily have been more!

To add a bit more spice to this fixture, both sides will be aware that finishing second in this group will probably see an early meeting with tournament favourites Brazil in the next round. I have a feeling the Dutch might try similar tough tackling tactics again to try and stop Spain controlling the game and Italian referee Nicola Rizzoli (average 4.38 cards per game 2013/14) could have a tough opening game to control.

The Netherlands were impressive in qualification, topping their group and remaining undefeated with nine wins from their 10 fixtures, scoring 35 while only conceding five. Since qualifying they have played six friendlies drawing three (Japan, Colombia & Ecuador), losing one (France) and winning the last two (Ghana and Wales).

Spain will want to start this World Cup campaign better than they did the last time, suffering a 1-0 defeat against Switzerland in their opening game. However, they still went on to top their group, conceding only twice and ultimately won the tournament. In the knockout stages they beat Portugal, Paraguay, Germany and Holland (aet) by the same scoreline - a goal to nil.

The bookings markets interest me but there doesn’t look much opportunity at the time of writing, I will place an order at 1.95 (20/21) in the Booking Odds market at 45pts and over in the hope that I get matched.

I can’t see Spain losing this and I think it will be a tight, low scoring match. Therefore, I will be backing 0-0 @ 7.8, 1-0 to Spain @ 6.2 and 1-1 @ 7.8 in the Correct Score market . Dutching these scores will give approximate odds of 2.4.

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