The last time the Dutch faced the Czech's in the European Championships was in 2004 and it was arguably the greatest International football match of all time. Pavel Nedved was in his prime and put in a barnstorming performance, outshining the likes of Davids, Seedorf, Van Nistelrooy and a young Arjen Robben. It was football from the gods and end to end football, without ever falling into the trap of being a 'playground' match.
This time around the Czech's have no stand out world class performer. Schick their 'star' striker has the potential to break out into an elite performer at club level but outside of him, the side is rather limited and quite frankly it has taken observers by surprise that they have managed to qualify for the Round of 16. Without wishing to denigrate the side too much, they have been admirably dogged, well-organised and capable of putting together neat passages of play.
As for the Dutch, they have been one of my favourite sides to watch in this tournament. Wonderful construction play in the deeper areas combined with common-sense play in the final third, not to mention athleticism and flair in the wing back positions - take note England! There are question marks as to how many shots they concede as a defence, but they rank the best in terms of expected goals against - which suggests where it counts, they are difficult to break through.
In this preview we will address the tactics each side will utilise against each other in and out of possession. We will focus on the build up phase, in their attacking thirds and transitional play. We will also assess their respective set piece threats and any key battles which are worth taking a closer look at. Fasten your seatbelt and lets dive in!
The Dutch are very remiscient of the England side from 2018 in terms of their build up play if we are looking exclusively at their defenders positioning. The RCB and LCB occupy a half space and provide an easy out ball for the goalkeeper and if they are closed off, their is the option to either pass to the 'libero' or the wing backs who are pushed high for the longer diagonal.
Where the Dutch differ to England is the influence and capabilities of their midfielders in the build up. In Frenkie De Jong, they possess arguably the finest build up progressor in the modern game. His xG Chain 90 is 0.75 and xG Build up 90 is 0.58, only matched by veterans such as Busquets, Modric and Verratti. He combines the qualities of a 6, 8 and at times 10 - a complete midfielder whose press resistance always seems to give the Dutch defenders a solution when faced with a high press.
His partner in crime Marten De Roon possesses a 1/50th of the talent as his illustrious compatriot but he makes up for it with sound positioning, solid work rate and immaculate decision-making. He helps keep that midfield ticking by providing easy options if De Jong needs to pop off a pass, or the defenders need an easy wall pass to help circulate the ball.
The Czech's have a PPDA of 13, so they are no mugs when it comes to exerting pressure on the opposition build up. England after a strong start really struggled to get going and one of the key factors was that the Czech implemented a high press, blocking any passing lanes into the English CDM's. The likes of Phillips and Rice lacked the spatial awareness and confidence to demand the ball to feet and take on the press. As a consequence, England were unable to put together sustained passages of dominance for the rest of the game.
I expect the Dutch to be better equipped to deal with this. Aside from the aforementioned midfield pairing, their full backs are more comfortable 1 v 1 and more courageous under the press than the English and in Gini Wijnaldum - they possess an additional midfielder who is experienced at bringing the ball out of the defensive third under pressure. So expect to see him drop deep to help facilitate the build up if required.
A final point to note is the hold up strength of the likes of Wijnaldum, Weghorst and Depay. This gives the Dutch the option of being direct, passing between the lines and bypassing the midfield. Usually this is done along the ground, but it is very difficult to stop as this trio stands their ground very well and as they hold on to the ball, it gives time for their colleagues to push up higher and initiate their attacking phases of play.
In attack, Netherland's 3-5-2 shifts into a 1-3-5-1, with the sweeper the furthest player back, De Roon holding and alongside him - the right and left centre back just inside the opposition's half, almost operating as full backs. Daley Blind is a classic example of this, almost hugging the touchline and acting as a backboard for the players trying to combine down that side of the pitch. At times even these wide centre backs are given licence to bomb forward as long as their team mates adjust accordingly and cover for any abrupt losses of possession.
Weghorst is the spearhead up top against a low block and Depay tends to drift out to the left wing or left half space, with Wijnaldum occupying a similar position but more to the right. This gives the Dutch short passing options and long range shooting options outside of the box. In order to give the side more penalty area presence, their wing backs - especially Dumfries have been encouraged to make late runs into the box and attack the far post.
The Czech's are vulnerable down their right flank. Perisic exposed Coufal on several occasions and Robertson was also very dangerous down that flank in their opening game. With Depay, Blind and Van Aanholt operating in tandem down this flank, this seems a strong route to goal for the Dutch.
The Dutch looked very dangerous on the counter attack against North Macedonia but an integral factor behind this was the inclusion of Malen. His ball carrying ability on the run and general ability to eat up yards in conjunction with Depay gave the Dutch the ability to turn defence into attack in the blink of an eye. He is unlikely to start in this game and with Weghorst and Wijnaldum not really possessing that same level of speed... it is difficult to picture the Dutch being as effective in transitional play.
Czech Republic usually defend with 3 at the back when they are on the attack, and their ploy is to engage the ball carrier and delay before midfield bodies come flooding back. There is one major issue with this, the Czechs have been dribbled past more than 2x as much as they've successfully dribbled themselves which exposes their vulnerabilities 1 v 1. If Depay does not destroy them, should the game wear on and the likes of Malen come on - they will struggle to defend the transition.
The Czech's are not a side which seeks to dominate possession. They can at times play out from the back but do so only to draw in the opposition rather than as a philosophical ideal. When they do choose that option, their centre backs split extremely wide - almost hugging the touchline, and their full backs push up close to the half way line. This makes it hard for the opposition to stop that first pass out to the centre backs but does make it easier to stop the Czech's circulating the ball in their own third.
The Czech's will then seek to bypass the midfield and hit it into their wide men or Schick who usually runs the channels and whom possesses excellent hold up play. They will then collectively push up the pitch with the emphasis on building up play down the right flank and unleashing Coufal on the overlap. One tendency I have noticed from the Czech's is that when faced under pressure they will almost certainly pass back to the keeper who will hit it long into the flanks.
The Dutch are the 7th best pressing team of the Euro's so far with a PPDA of 9.46. They adopt a 5-2-3 structure when pressing, with Wijnaldum occupying the right half space and Depay occupying the left half space. They tend not to engage the opposition in the opponents defensive third and rather similar to Portugal, wait for the opponent to come to them and engage near the half way line.
The majority of the Czech's attacks come down their right flank, with Coufal proving to be a particularly influential figure in attack - driving forward or bombing forward to join the attack at any given opportunity. His link up play with Masopust has been a delight to watch during these Championships and with Schick also drifting over to this side... The Czech's possess a formidable right flank.
We saw against England that the Czech's were able to exert pressure on Walker, with several crosses to the far post. Fortunately for England, he was more than up to the task but the Dutch defence is not as robust on the far post.. Dumfries is much more attacking in nature than Walker. Aerially, he will not be able to provide any assistance so if the Czech's do flood the box - this could be a potential route to goal for them, especially if Soucek drifts towards that side of the box.
The 'Schick' effect ensures that the Czechs must not be underestimated on the counter attack. His ability to run into channels, hold it up and then play in supporting runners makes them a threat. When he drifts out to the right... expect Masopust to vacate his wing and drift inwards as the striker. Expect also the midfield, players like Soucek to make lung busting runs in support. It is very much a collective commitment to the counter attack.
The Dutch concede a lot of shots on goal, which suggests their ability to delay and stop counter attacks in their tracks is not particularly strong. They tend to try and drop back into a 5-3-2 on the counter but the lack of pace at LCB, leaves them particularly vulnerable down that channel and seeing as that is where Schick likes to operate - expect that to be a major battleground.
Schick v Blind
With Schick operating heavily in the right half space and his hold up play at times taking him towards the touchline, Blind will need to be at his defensive best. An important facet of Blind's game is his playmaking ability from the defensive third and his underlapping/overlapping down the left even as a LCB. This may need to be curtailed in this game and it will be interesting to see what side effects occur to the Dutch game in possession as a result.
Coufal v Depay
Coufal got taken to the cleaners against Perisic in their game against Croatia. He is a forward thinking full back who is integral to the Czech attack and thus he is vulnerable in defence, especially in 1 v 1 confrontations. If Depay can isolate him and take him on in and around the box, there will be goal chances created.
The Dutch have looked suspect from corners. Their 3 blockers do not do a good job ahead of the deeper zonal quartet because the blockers are focused on central areas and the deepest line are zonal which means a far post man can run from the blindside. The centre backs tend not to move out but more hold ground or move back corners hit towards the far post could be a danger.
Netherlands:Stekelenburg, Dumfries, De Ligt, De Vrij, Blind, Van Aanholt, De Jong, de Roon, Wijnaldum, Depay, Weghorst
Czech Republic Vaclik, Coufal, Celustka, Kalas, Kaderabak, Holes, Soucek, Masopust, Darida, Jankto, Schick
The Dutch have played similar teams to the Czech's in the group stages and come up trumps each time. This should be a formality but it is a knockout game with more riding on it. With their well-drilled systematic approachand with Malen an interesting option off the bench - they seem to have all bases covered especially if dominating possession is not necessarily yielding to control of the scoreline.
Prediction - The Dutch to win but the Czech's will give the Dutch stiffer opposition than their group opponents.