Germany U-21 2-3 Netherlands U-21
Thursday 6th June, Match One, Group B, UEFA Under-21 Championship, HaMoshava Stadium
PSV Eindhoven midfielder Kevin Strootman captained Netherlands in their Group B opener against Germany.
Strootman played the whole 90 minutes in central midfield. Initially, he was the deepest of the trio, with Maher more adventurous than van Ginkel. In the second half, the shape changed, with van Ginkel dropping deep to sit alongside Strootman, while Maher was able to roam in front. This matched up with Germany’s midfield formation.
In the first half, the movement between the Dutch midfield trio was fairly fluid. Maher always had the greater licence to break forward, but van Ginkel and Strootman also showed a willingness to support the attack, when an opportunity presented itself. Out of three, Strootman held his position – deep and slightly to the left, most frequently. When he broke forward, he was covered by van Ginkel. In the second half, Cor Pot, the Dutch Coach, mirrored Germany’s midfield shape. Strootman and van Ginkel held, with Maher given increased freedom ahead of them.
Deep, defensive responsibilities
Strootman wasn’t a holding midfielder, but he was the deepest and most willing to engage the opposition. His role in breaking up the play and protecting the Dutch back four was key. He made more tackles (4) and interceptions (3) than any other Jong Oranje player, while committing just one foul. Strootman’s positioning and understanding of when to press was largely very good, but his lack of mobility was exposed on two occasions by Patrick Herrmann. Perhaps, knowing that the German winger was quicker than him, Strootman chose to tackle sharply. Hermann was able to beat him both times. Strootman also had some struggles with Sebastian Rode, when he pushed forward in the second half.
Strootman may have been well disciplined with his positioning, but he was also willing to push forward when the opportunity presented itself. His timing was very good. In the first half, Netherlands were firmly in control of the contest and Germany’s midfield shape was poor. This left space for both Strootman and van Ginkel to support the attack. At times, Strootman was completely untracked. With Maher occupying Sebastian Rudy and Rode struggling to find a balance between pressing and sitting, he got into some good positions on the inside left. On one occasion, with Rode out of position, he broke forward and linked with Maher, who set up a chance for Luuk de Jong.
In the second half, with Pot’s change of shape and the better cohesion between the German midfield trio, Strootman was pinned back more and rarely pushed too high. When Germany levelled the match at 2-2, they sat back. Strootman then, with van Ginkel holding, was able to be more adventurous.
Matching up with Germany
Netherlands controlled the first half, but Germany responded in the second. Rudy’s 47th minute penalty immediately swung the momentum of the contest. The German midfield shape was better. Rudy remained the holder, perhaps sitting even deeper. Holtby had greater freedom to roam, while Rode was also more ambitious with his forward runs. Pot responded by matching up. Strootman sat deeper, while van Ginkel dropped to play alongside him. Maher was more central and mirrored Holtby’s role.
Strootman held this position for the whole second half. With the introduction of Leroy Fer – on 89 minutes, he had increased licence to push forward, as Fer was more disciplined than Maher.
Role in possession
Strootman’s use of the ball was unadventurous, but always well calculated. He completed 35 passes at an accuracy of 86% – the best of the three Dutch central midfielders. Neither of trio operated as a play-maker. The Netherlands build up was measured, with the defenders patient on the ball. They moved forward by using the width, either through the full-backs, or with longer passes out to John and Wijnaldum. It is no coincidence that the four defenders completed the most passes for the Netherlands. They also attempted the most long balls.
As a result of this, Strootman was often quite passive when the Dutch had possession. His role on the ball was simply to keep it moving and get the more creative players – Maher, John and Wijnaldum, involved at the earliest opportunity. He did this competently. As mentioned above, when the opportunity presented itself, Strootman showed a willingness to push forward. When in the final third, he had the composure and awareness to pick the right option. He made two key passes in all. Only van Ginkel, with three, made more.
Rode and Holtby
Of the three German central midfielders, Strootman came into contact with Rode and Holtby most frequently. In the first half, as previously mentioned, Germany’s midfield shape was poor. They neither held possession effectively, nor were a cohesive unit when the Dutch broke forward. In that first period, Strootman was designated to track Holtby. With Rode and particularly Rudy sitting deep, he was fairly easy to stifle. Germany struggles on the ball also meant that Holtby rarely found himself in positions where he could cause problems.
In the second half, as Germany improved and with the Dutch change of shape, Strootman was now frequently opposed by Rode. The Eintracht Frankfurt midfielder was not as restrained and more willing to break forward. Holtby roamed with greater freedom and was now closed by the more defensive van Ginkel. Rode, at times, was able to expose Strootman’s lack of pace. Physically, it was a fairly even duel, but Rode had the better acceleration. He was able to get beyond Strootman on a couple of occasions and into good advanced positions.