Frank de Boer decided to change the Netherlands’ system for their Nations League game against Italy after one training session because they looked like “young hyenas”.
Italy won the first meeting of the Group A1 rivals in Amsterdam in September 1-0, with interim boss Dwight Lodeweges deploying a 4-2-3-1 on that occasion.
After beginning his Netherlands tenure with a surprise 1-0 loss to Mexico and a goalless draw with Bosnia-Herzegovina, De Boer switched to a 5-3-2 for the meeting in Bergamo in a bid to limit the impact of Italy’s attacking full-backs.
Oranje fell behind to Lorenzo Pellegrini’s goal in the 16th minute but quickly drew level when Donny van de Beek opened his international account.
Though the Netherlands were unable to find a winner, De Boer knew his team were ready for the new approach after a promising dry run.
“I wanted to play with five at the back so that my forwards didn’t have to keep chasing back with their overlapping players,” De Boer told NOS.
“Basically, it’s just a question of looking very rationally at the opponent and working out what we can offer in return. In this case it meant sacrificing a player like Steven [Berghuis].
“I thought we had the better of the game, say 60 to 40 per cent in our favour, and that was because of our own quality.
“The critics would have been harsh [if the Netherlands lost], but in training I saw how the players chased their prey like young hyenas. I told them: ‘If we show this in the game, it shouldn’t be a problem.’
“But I am not satisfied with the result, because we want to be top of the group. Now we have to make sure we win the last two games.”
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) October 14, 2020
The draw meant Poland moved top of Group A1 following a 3-0 victory over Bosnia-Herzegovina, with Italy a point behind and the Netherlands two adrift.
Oranje captain Virgil van Dijk felt the visitors should have done more with their 14 attempts on goal – twice the amount mustered by Italy.
“The coach handled it well. All credit to him for that,” said Van Dijk of the change in formation.
“We knew we had to do things differently to the first game. We wanted to get a result and I think a draw here is a good performance to build on.
“We did well and worked hard but we should have got more out of the counter-attack in the second half.
“We created a lot of opportunities against a fantastic team. We could have done more.”
16 – Excluding friendlies, Italy have gone unbeaten for 16 successive games – only once in their history have they done better: 17 matches between June 1997 e June 1999. Run.#ITANED #NationsLeague pic.twitter.com/FWE6Y1GmzE
— OptaPaolo (@OptaPaolo) October 14, 2020
Italy extended their unbeaten run in competitive fixtures to 16 – one shy of their all-time record set between June 1997 and June 1999.
Roberto Mancini admitted he was caught off guard by the Netherlands’ tactical shift but still has designs on a place in the Nations League Finals.
“It’s the first time they changed to this system and it was a surprise, but we knew it was going to be a tough game,” Mancini told Rai Sport.
“Opponents are there too, they can create problems and that’s what happened this evening. We attacked and I think we created the most clear-cut opportunities, overall.
“The performance was tough, it was a good game, a real battle. Now we go head-to-head with Poland for the top spot. We’ll win the next two and then qualify.”
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