On the fourth day of World Cup, South Africa gave to me: a lesson on how to defend against the Dutch
For the first half, the Danish constricted the life out of viewers and the Dutch attack. As tight as the game was, the Danish central defence consisting of Daniel Agger and Simon Kjaer provided a great performance for that half, reducing space and causing the Dutch attack to make mistakes in the attacking third.
From looking at the Dutch average positions on the pitch (highlighted are starters), it was clear to see they were awfully narrow which made the Danish midfield’s job easy. They could close down the space and the intricate triangles that the Sneijder, van der Vaart and van Persie all love to play. Christian Poulson’s heatmap shows just how deep he stayed during the match, putting pressure on Sneijder and van der Vaart in the middle.
As predicted in this post here, Dirk Kuyt spent a long time in-field, requiring van der Wiel to get forward and provide the width. However, he was not as profligate going forward as was seen in warm up games and was a great out-ball for the Dutch in those games. Credit must go to Simon Poulson and Thomas Enevoldsen who had a good understanding on how to defend. Poulson pushed forward and his strength often pushed van der Wiel off the ball.
In the middle, Kjaer and Agger were willing to step out of their high-defensive line and get tight to van Persie, who is a true false-nine in his movement. By having pace to recover, both Agger and Kjaer were confident that if he did manage to bring them out of position, they could recover or the other central defender could cover the space created.
The pace of Poulson, Agger and Kjaer allowed Denmark to play a high-line too and anyone who entered the space between midfield and defence was marked tightly. At one moment in the first half, Simon Kjaer chased Wesley Sneijder back to the Dutch side of the D to restrict the possibility of him having time on the ball. By constantly tracking Dutch forwards running deep, they forced them deeper and deeper where the Danish central midfield could close down all angles for a pass.
The only sight of goal van Persie got in the first half was through a freak-deflection and then Daniel Agger had the ability to get back into a sufficient position to draw van Persie onto putting it onto his right foot and shanking it wide.
Denmark eventually dropped deeper throughout the second half as they looked content to lose 1-0, and the goal came from Daniel Agger’s allowing Wesley Sneijder too much time on the ball, to take several touches and then play in Elia.
In the first half, the defensive line would have been higher and Kjaer would have moved up with Agger, creating lots of space behind Agger. This gives Sneijder time to control the ball and turn with it. Elia runs into the space created by Sneijder moving deep and Agger following him out, he has the pace to beat the slow, lumbering Lacobsen and have a shot that hits the post for Kuyt to tap in (Kjaer could have prevented this by staying alert, but he didn’t.)
The Danish produced a well-drilled defensive display that deteriorated in the second-half, possibility because of fatigue, but it could be used as a blueprint as how to defend against the Dutch. By having a high-line, a packed midfield and central defenders who are willing to step out and follow the fluid movement of van Persie and Sneijder, the Dutch were not able to carve out any clear openings until different kinds of players came on and scored from a lapse in Danish defensive duties.