“They will not want to play us”: Why Netherlands coach Mark Parsons’ claim about France may not be entirely correct – tactical analysis
Euro 2022 has been a rocky tournament so far for defending champions the Netherlands, which was expected given that former Portland Thorns boss Mark Parsons is taking charge of the Oranje Leuwinnen at a major tournament for the first time. Whilst the results have been positive, with two wins and one draw in the group stages, the performances have been more of a mixed bag, with elements of high quality alongside moments when they have struggled and not looked themselves.
However, once his side had secured progression from Group C to the knockouts, Parsons claimed that their next opponents, France, would not want to face his side because they are just as strong a team as Corinne Diacre’s. This is a bold statement and one that underlines the belief he has in his players but, with their performances highlighting areas of concern, there is some debate as to whether it is entirely true. In order to see whether it is or not, this tactical analysis will break down the Netherlands’ attacking and defensive tactics and highlight where they can still improve, as well as identify what they can be more pleased about at this stage of the tournament.
In the final third
There aren’t many issues when it comes to the Netherlands’ attacking play, which is an important point to start with. Across their three group games, they scored a total of eight goals, the same number as Sweden, and have plenty of players who are capable of shooting at goal whenever they get into dangerous areas of the field.
However, that can sometimes lead to problems, with this situation showing Wolfsburg Frauen’s Jill Roord and Lyon Féminin’s Daniëlle van de Donk both trying to go for the same ball and getting in each other’s way, squandering the chance to give their team the lead.
The problem here comes down to a slight fault with the roles that both have in the Oranje Leuwinnen’s 4-3-3 formation because Roord is a naturally attacking player who lines up behind former Arsenal Women teammate van de Donk. As neither starts in a wider role and both are attack-minded players, both will always want to get on the end of these deliveries and try to score goals. Therefore, there needs to be some communication or an understanding in place so that the players both know who is going to go for the ball and who will offer support in case of a rebound, or maybe a tactical adjustment in order to switch one to the other side of the field.
This is not a big concern, and certainly doesn’t require major surgery to fix. However, despite netting an average of 2.67 times per game so far, they have only got 39.6% of their shots on target, so tightening up on things like this will be key if they are to fulfil their full tournament potential.
Another reason that they struggled to put their chances away against the Swiss was that they have lacked a commanding focal point in their forward line. A positive Covid test for Arsenal star Vivianne Miedema has kept her out of the team so far, with the striker only featuring in the opening match against Sweden, and her deputy, new Juventus Femminile forward Lineth Beerensteyn, hasn’t been able to carry the same presence or threat.
Therefore, despite having numerous chances, the Netherlands didn’t really look like scoring until forwards Esmee Brugts and Romée Leuchter and midfielder Victoria Pelova were introduced, with all three instantly adding pace and creativity to their final third play. Here, Brugts got into a good position and fired across goal, but her quick movement opened up this opportunity, whilst Leuchter’s brace in the last 10 minutes of the game, aided by Pelova’s clever runs behind the Swiss defensive line, was what sealed their win.
Ultimately, whilst Parsons will be happy that he has players on the bench that he can turn to for an injection of attacking quality, he should be concerned that his more experienced players have appeared a bit lost and down in confidence. A tournament-ending injury to new PSG Féminine winger Lieke Martens might present an opportunity to start either Brugts, Leuchter or Pelova against France and bring that quality from the beginning of the game, but they do need to find a way to play without Miedema and still pose a solid threat.
Defensive areas to improve
Nevertheless, whilst their attacking play is, on the whole, pleasing and promising, they need to address some serious defensive issues, as this is where they have at times looked vulnerable and easy to break down.
A lot of their errors have come down to individual mistakes in and out of possession, which is frustrating but also means that they can be corrected on the training ground. In this case, centre-back Stefanie van der Gragt is looking to move the ball away from her goal area, with Martens in a good position to receive the ball ahead of her.
However, rather than passing at this moment, when Martens would have likely had enough space to turn and move it onwards to another teammate, van der Gragt opts to take the ball forward herself and wait until she is level with Martens before releasing it, meaning that the winger now has less time to control it and plan her next move. As a result, she is quickly closed down by former Barcelona Femení teammate Ana-Maria Crnogorčević and Paris FC Féminines midfielder Coumba Sow, who combine to win back possession and launch another Swiss attack.
It is not certain that the Netherlands would have been able to clear their lines if the ball had been passed quicker here, but what is evident is that van der Gragt overthought what she was going to do and didn’t take the easier option. Therefore, the Dutch players have at times played themselves into trouble, which is something that France will look to take full advantage of on Saturday night.
Individual mistakes have also proven costly when the Oranje Leuwinnen are on the back foot too, with this situation showing former Chelsea Women forward Ramona Bachmann in possession on the edge of the Dutch goal area. Wolfsburg right-back Lynn Wilms, in the orange circle, has come out to try and win the ball, but Switzerland have simply taken it around her and ended her influence. As a result, with her teammate out of the game, van der Gragt has had to come across and close Bachmann down, meaning that Chelsea’s Aniek Nouwen has also had to drift across and protect the space.
This means that a gap has opened up between Nouwen and Dominique Janssen, which is noticed by Sow and exploited, as the red arrow shows. Once she receives the pass from Bachmann, she is in a position to score, and only a good save by Daphne van Domselaar prevents her from doing so. Going back to Wilms, she is not the only one who has been caught out of position for the Netherlands, but it is misjudgements like this that have led to them not being as defensively robust as they could have been so far, and this is something else that France will exploit if given half a chance.
The other problem that the Netherlands have had, most notably against Sweden, is that they were often too narrow when defending and gave their opponents too much room on the wings. There are eight Dutch players in this situation and none have looked to get out and lessen the wide threat from former Chelsea player Jonna Andersson. A common feature of Sweden’s tactics has been to push their two full-backs, usually Andersson and Bayern Munich Frauen’s Hanna Glas, up the field to support their offensive play, but the Netherlands seemed oblivious to this and gave them so many opportunities to play the ball out to the wings and then deliver it back into the middle.
This is something that has improved as the tournament has gone on, which is a positive in itself and shows that Mark Parsons is identifying where his side can improve. Limiting the threat from the wings will be critical against France, with PSG left-back Sakina Karchaoui so far proving to be one of the best in the tournament at delivering crosses and setting up chances in the middle.
Whilst this scout report has largely looked for negative points in the Netherlands’ performances, it is important to note that there have been plenty of positive aspects to their play too. Therefore, whilst Mark Parsons still has a lot of things to improve on with his players, they do have a good chance of beating France if they can keep these areas going strong.
We have already mentioned that the Netherlands have been known to take too long on the ball and not use the easy option, but, when they do move it around at a good speed, they are a difficult team to win it back from, hence their average possession so far of 53.72%.
One aspect that has been particularly impressive is their ability to get between lines and break opponents down with only a few passes, and this is helped by their opponents leaving space open for them to exploit. As a result, Janssen can find a route through to Manchester United Women midfielder Jackie Groenen, in the yellow circle here, which takes five Swiss players out of the game. Groenen’s spatial awareness, which has been demonstrated so many times for club and country, then comes into play as she turns and picks out the run of Pelova ahead of her, and it is phases of play like this that have made the Dutch an attractive team on the eye.
Whilst Pelova’s shot on goal is saved, the Netherlands’ threat when they can make these transitions is reflected in their passing accuracy, which currently stands at 82%. Therefore, with both France and the Oranje Leuwinnen preferring to play through the thirds and move the ball around at a good tempo, Saturday’s game will likely be an open one and Parsons will hope that his side can settle into it early on, giving them a good chance of progressing to the semi-finals.
It is not always possible to play in that particular style though, and this is where the Netherlands have shown adaptability. This situation shows the build-up to their final goal against Switzerland, with the ball once again in the middle and the Swiss players this time staying compact in the middle to prevent the ball travelling between them. However, the Dutch instead send it over the top and into the path of Pelova, who has made a run outside of the defenders and accessed the open space behind them.
Whilst her effort on goal turns into a good assist for Leuchter, this demonstrates again how the Netherlands had more energy and creativity after bringing on Pelova, Leuchter and Brugts. However, it also shows how they analysed the situation and found a different way to create the opportunity. This is another thing that will come in handy against France, especially if the game is too open and both sides end up cancelling each other out with their similar styles of play.
It has already been mentioned that the Netherlands’ approach to defending in their own third has improved as the group stages have gone on, with their line spreading out more to protect the wide channels from being exploited after their draw with Sweden. Again, this shows adaptability, and their tactical alteration is one reason for them only conceding 1.33 goals per game on average.
It was particularly critical that this improved against Portugal, because Francisco Neto’s side demonstrated in their opening game that they attack with a wide line and create spaces in the middle, which Switzerland struggled to manage in the second half. Therefore, forming a wide defensive line, helped by experienced Ajax Vrouwen midfielder Sherida Spitse dropping back, ensured that the triple threat of Jéssica Silva, Diana Silva and Ana Borges was successfully limited, with Benfica right-back Catarina Amado’s cross here going straight to the waiting van Domselaar.
The statistics back up their defensive strength when they have been set up correctly and maintained this discipline, as they have won 67% of their defensive duels, 56.4% of their aerial duels and made an average of 39 interceptions per game. Therefore, players not leaving gaps open will be key to the Netherlands being harder to beat against France, and this will be a key message that Parsons will drill into his side ahead of their quarter-final meeting.
In conclusion, this tactical analysis has looked at whether Netherlands head coach Mark Parsons’ claims that France will not want to play his side are true, analysing his team’s performances during the three group stage rounds and picking out the positive and negative aspects. What is clear is that their offensive play has so far looked promising, with lots of players capable of scoring goals.
However, the areas where they will need to work hardest before facing France are at the back, as they will simply not get away with players coming out of line and leaving gaps open as they did at times against Sweden, Portugal and Switzerland. Therefore, whilst Parsons is correct that his side are good enough and France will have to work hard against them, France will still know that there are ways that they can break their opponents down, and small mistakes from the Oranje Leuwinnen are possible and can be capitalised on.