EURO 2020: Netherlands vs Czech Republic – Dumfries and De Jong to derail the Czechs’ campaign – tactical preview
The EURO 2020 round of 16 has thrown up some interesting ties, and the game between the Netherlands and the Czech Republic in Budapest is one of them. The Netherlands won all three matches in Group E to advance as group winners, while the Czechs managed a win, draw and loss in Group D to go through as one of the four best third-placed sides. While Frank de Boer’s side are overwhelming favourites, there are some ways in which the Czech Republic could potentially hurt them, and this is likely to an interesting tactical battle. In this tactical preview, we will attempt to predict both sides’ tactics and approach to this match, and point out areas of strength and weakness that could be pivotal to the result.
De Boer is likely to stick with the majority of the side that has played throughout the group stages of EURO 2020 so far, with Wout Weghorst expected to come back into the side despite Donyell Malen’s impressive display against North Macedonia. De Boer did change the Netherlands’ shape to a 4-3-3 at half-time in their last group match against North Macedonia, but he is likely to stick with the 3-4-1-2 that has served the Oranje well so far.
Jaroslav Šilhavý is also unlikely to make too many changes to his XI, although one will be forced upon him, with Jan Bořil, the regular left-back suspended for this match. Pavel Kadeřábek, the Hertha Berlin full-back, is expected to replace him.
Why Weghorst will start over Malen
The strike pairing of Weghorst and Memphis is the one we are likely to see from the Netherlands in this game, even with Malen’s impressive performance when picked from the start in the last group match. The biggest reason for this is that the Netherlands are likely to have the majority of possession against the Czechs, and Malen’s biggest strengths are when he has space to attack into, usually in transition. Weghorst is the better option for matches where opponents are likely to cede possession and territory, since his presence occupies multiple defenders and creates space in front of the defence for the likes of Memphis and Wijnaldum, and also forces the opposition backline to stay narrow, which will give Dumfries the sort of attacking space that he has thrived in already at the tournament.
This is a good example of how Weghorst helps create space for teammates. As Frenkie de Jong moves forward with the ball, Weghorst makes a run in behind the Austrian defence, and his presence forces the backline deeper, which allows Memphis to be in lots of space outside the penalty area. De Jong would pass to Memphis here, with the now-Barcelona man able to take a shot on goal in a lot of space, due to Weghorst’s presence.
Another example of the Wolfsburg man’s tendency to attract defenders towards him can be seen here. As De Jong gets the ball in the box, note how there are three Ukrainian defenders close to Weghorst, and this means that Denzel Dumfries is able to move into the area completely unmarked.
De Jong lays the ball off the Georginio Wijnaldum, and only a poor touch from the Dutch skipper prevents him from playing the ball in to Dumfries here.
This is also a good example of how advanced Dumfries has been getting for the Netherlands, and while his bursts from deeper positions have played a big role in the side’s attacking strategy, a big reason for why he has space in the first place to do so is Weghorst’s presence.
This image is from the build-up to the Netherlands’ second goal against Ukraine which was scored by Weghorst. Memphis and Weghorst force the Ukrainian defence to stay narrow here, which opens up the space for Dumfries to run into out wide. De Jong is able to find him with a simple pass in behind, and the right wing-back drives into the box, with the ball eventually falling for Weghorst to smash home.
With Weghorst as a fixed central presence, this will also give Memphis the license to roam – dropping deep and going out wide, which will pose questions of the Czech defence.
Weghorst has stayed on the shoulder of the Ukrainian defence here, which means that Memphis is able to drop deep and receive the ball from Wijnaldum in acres of space between the lines.
This would not be the case if Malen starts instead – the PSV attacker is quite similar to Memphis in that he also prefers to drop off and roam from the backline, and this would mean that the Netherlands would not have a central presence to attack crosses and force the defensive line deeper.
These images are a good example of what Netherlands lose out on when both Memphis and Malen are on the pitch. Daley Blind steps out and plays a fantastic pass over the top for Memphis, who has moved out to the channel between the North Macedonia centre-back and right-back, with Malen occupying the same space on the left. However, since there is nobody making a run in behind centrally, when Memphis receives the ball, it is up to Wijnaldum to try and make a late run from midfield into the space between the two centre-backs, with Malen much deeper. Memphis therefore does not have an immediate target for a pass, and by the time Wijnaldum gets into the box, the Macedonian defence is able to cover and block the pass to him.
Thus, with the Czechs likely to cede possession and sit deep, Weghorst would be the best option, as he can provide a fixed target for crosses and passes centrally, and can also play quick combinations with the likes of Memphis to open space up.
Memphis has dropped off from the Ukrainian defensive line here, while Weghorst has also moved away, with the defender not tracking him tightly. Wijnaldum plays the ball to Memphis here…
…who is able to turn and run with the ball, before laying it off to Weghorst. Both players are in space in front of the Ukraine defence, and are therefore able to play quick passes to each other in this manner.
Memphis continues his run into the box after laying the ball off to Weghorst, who moves into the space vacated by his teammate and gets a shot on target.
However, Malen would also offer an interesting option, either from the start or off the bench.
Malen and Memphis could cause chaos
Malen was impressive in the win over North Macedonia, with the PSV attacker constantly causing trouble with his positioning and running. While he is a very similar player to Memphis, there was enough evidence in that match of the duo working well together.
These are the sort of positions that Memphis and Malen will take up if played together – between the lines, dropping off from the Czech Republic backline to try and force them to move higher up the pitch and consequently create space to run into behind.
Here, as Ryan Gravenberch is on the ball, Memphis has pulled out to the left, between the Macedonia centre-back and right-back, while Malen stays central. Gravenberch passes to de Jong, in front of Malen…
…who is tackled, but the ball rolls to Malen who can then play in Memphis into the box.
The two attackers, if paired together at any point against the Czech Republic, will float around in this manner, attempting to suck the Czech defenders higher up the pitch and create space for each other or Wijnaldum to run in behind.
Dumfries to once again be key
Another crucial part of the Netherlands’ attacking strategy thus far at EURO 2020 has been Dumfries’ bursts forward from right wing-back. The PSV defender has been far more advanced than Patrick Van Aanholt on the opposite flank, and while we have shown how Weghorst’s presence has helped create space for him, the 25-year-old also deserves credit for his attacking instincts. With the Czech Republic likely to play with a back four, there will once again be space on the flanks for the Dutch wing-backs to exploit, and Dumfries, in particular, could benefit from this.
These images show just how advanced Dumfries can get, particularly when the ball is on the Dutch left flank, creating the chance for a switch of play.
Another example here of how Weghorst and Wijnaldum’s central presence attracts defenders towards them, especially in the penalty area, therefore leaving Dumfries free at the far post.
With De Jong playing on the left of the midfield pivot, he will often be able to receive possession and play an accurate long pass out to the advancing Dumfries on the right – this will be a key attacking strategy for the Netherlands, and the Czech Republic will need to track Dumfries at all times to prevent him from enjoying this sort of space.
Weak Dutch defending could open the door for the Czech Republic
While the Netherlands have been quite good in the group stages so far, there have been signs of weakness, especially defensively. They conceded twice to Ukraine in the first group stage game, and while they kept clean sheets against Austria and North Macedonia, there were multiple occasions where they were caught out, with one trait in particular that the Czech Republic could exploit.
The Dutch defenders are often slow to get out and close down attackers who are dropping off from the backline, and can get caught in no-man’s land, creating the opportunity for a shot or a pass from a dangerous area.
As Stefan Ristovski, the Macedonian right-back, advances on the ball, Goran Pandev drops to receive possession, with Stefan de Vrij not getting tight to him. At the same time, Ivan Trichkovski runs in between Blind and Van Aanholt, with neither player picking him up.
As a result, Pandev is able to play a first-time pass through to Trichovski, who runs through and finishes, but the goal is disallowed for offside. While this may have been a successful attempt to play Trichovski offside, it was a very tight call, and both Blind and De Vrij were slow to react to the Macedonian attackers’ movement. This is a repeated trend throughout the group phase, something that Jankto, Schick and Darida could look to exploit through clever movement and well-timed runs.
Another example of a similar situation here, from the game against Ukraine. Andriy Yarmolenko has the ball on the right, and Roman Yaremchuk drops off centrally to offer a passing option.
Yarmolenko plays the pass to Yaremchuk and moves infield, with Owen Wijndal and Nathan Ake both having retreated into the box anticipating a run in behind and are therefore miles away from him. Yaremchuk is able to lay the ball off for the West Ham United attacker…
…who takes a touch and curls a fantastic shot into the top corner.
Our last example here takes us back to the game against North Macedonia. With North Macedonia building their attack down the left, Arijan Ademi plays a pass to Pandev before running infield. Once again, note how Pandev has managed to create a yard of space between him and De Vrij, while Blind, having moved over with the rest of the Dutch defence as Macedonia attacked down their left, has stepped up to try and cover Aleksandar Trajkovski and is caught horribly out of position here.
Pandev can play a first-time flick towards Trajkovski here, with Blind in no position to cut it out…
…and the 28-year-old crashes a shot off the far post. Note how he could have just as easily played a pass for Ademi, next to him, or even attempted a slightly more difficult pass to Pandev in the box – there is no pressure on him.
The Dutch midfield is to blame here as well as they failed to protect the central spaces adequately, and this was an issue seen in the first match against Ukraine as well on occasion. While the Netherlands have been quite good in possession, their defensive play has not been up to the mark occasionally, and the Czech Republic have a powerful striker in Schick who can quite easily play a similar role – dropping off to link up with the likes of Jankto, Darida or even Tomáš Souček if he advances from midfield. The Netherlands will have to do a much better job of defending the space in front of their defensive line if they are to avoid giving up similar opportunities.
Most observers would expect the Netherlands to come through this match fairly comfortably, and they are the favourites, but as we have shown, there are a few weaknesses here for the Czech Republic to potentially exploit. This is set to be a fascinating encounter, and if the Netherlands do make it through, they will face one of Wales or Denmark, who are again theoretically ‘weaker’ opponents, thus opening up a path to the semi-finals.