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Sympathy for Dick Advocaat

Marcotti's Musings
 By Elko Born

Endangered species?

There doesn't seem to be an obvious place for Huntelaar in Netherlands' first 11.

When manager Louis van Gaal first announced his intention to line his team up in an unusual 5-3-2 formation, fans and pundits alike immediately thought of Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. The super-striker, who has never got a real chance to play in Oranje, has struggled to impose himself at international level because his direct competitor is one of the best attackers in the game: Robin van Persie.

- Born: Trio key to success
- Van Gaal: We're here to win

While 4-3-3, the formation Netherlands usually go for, allows for only one real striker up front, 5-3-2 allows for a strike partnership. Consequently, the new formation could, in theory, accommodate both van Persie and Huntelaar. Could it be that Van Gaal is finally trying to fit the nation's two best strikers into one team?

After seeing the new system in action, however, it quickly transpired this was not the case. Against Ecuador, van Persie was partnered by young PSV attacker Memphis Depay and against Ghana, Arjen Robben -- who had recently joined the squad after a prolonged season with Bayern Munich -- received the nod.

At the tip of midfield, Wesley Sneijder got to play right behind van Persie and Robben, operating as a true No. 10 -- a playmaker relieved of his defensive duties. Against Ecuador, before Sneijder had joined the squad, youngster Georginio Wijnaldum played in this position.

Even when making substitutions, van Gaal showed a reluctance to bring in Huntelaar. Although the Schalke striker was given some playing time against Ecuador, Oranje's friendlies made it clear van Gaal has a preference for the pace and agility of players like Depay and Jeremain Lens.

Why, then, does van Gaal seem so reluctant to use Huntelaar, even in his new system with two strikers? This question can perhaps be answered by considering the 5-3-2 formation's inherent counter-attacking functionality.

Using three centre-backs, two wing-backs and two holding midfielders, 5-3-2 can be seen as defensive. It relies on its ability to soak up the pressure as the opposition tries to create chances. As they need pace when trying to catch direct opponents on the break, the attacking players used in a 5-3-2 formation are usually quick and agile.

In this regard, van Gaal's inclination towards players like Robben, Depay and Lens makes a lot of sense. All of these attackers are strong and good at running at the opposition's defence from deep, with or without the ball. For these reasons, both Depay and Lens are often regarded to be wingers, rather than strikers.

Huntelaar, however, is a very different type of player. In a 5-3-2 formation, where the rest of the team sits much deeper than he usually does, Huntelaar would run the risk of being isolated. Skillful as he is, Huntelaar is not a very good runner and not as good at dropping to a deeper position to assist in the build-ups in attacks as van Persie.

Much to the disappointment of those who dreamed of the ultimate duo up front, it now seems as if there isn't much space for Huntelaar in Van Gaal's new-found first 11. Contrary to what was hoped initially, the 5-3-2 formation simply doesn't accommodate The Hunter.