5 things Netherlands must do to beat Argentina in World Cup quarter-finals

Finley Crebolder
Messi remains the main man
Messi remains the main man / ALFREDO ESTRELLA/GettyImages

The Netherlands took a big step forward in terms of performance against USA, but will need to do so again if they want to beat Argentina.

Lionel Messi and co haven't look as good as many expected at the start of the tournament but are showing signs of improvement and still possess an immense amount of talent.

With the Copa America champions not at their best though, the Dutch will very much have their sights set on upsetting the odds and making it to the semi-finals as they have done in the past two World Cups they've competed in.

Last time, it was Argentina that knocked Louis van Gaal and his nation out at that stage, winning on penalties with the scores goalless after 120 minutes.

Here's what the manager needs his team to if he wants to avenge that defeat eight years on.

1. Stop the supply line to Lionel Messi

Nigel De Jong
Van Gaal has stopped Messi before / Amin Mohammad Jamali/GettyImages

Let's get the obvious one out of the way first, shall we?

Messi is a bit good, and entirely capable of winning matches on his own. Stopping him from doing so when he already has the ball in a dangerous area is near impossible, so the Dutch need to ensure he gets it in those areas as little as possible.

Van Gaal was able to do so in 2014 by having Nigel de Jong stick to him like glue, and given how effective it was - the PSG man had one shot in 120 minutes - he'll likely employ a similar approach this time around, with Marten de Roon probably being handed the unenviable task.

It takes more than just marking Messi tightly to stop him though. The Netherlands forwards will need to cut off the passing lanes to him when he drops deep, and defenders will have to be ready for the inevitable occasions when he does break through.

We never thought we'd say this, but Virgil van Dijk could learn a thing or two from Ron Vlaar in that regard; the former Aston Villa man produced the performance of his life in Brazil, making some glorious tackles on the seven-time Ballon d'Or winner.

2. Run at their backline

Nicolas Otamendi
Otamendi is about to turn 35 / Fantasista/GettyImages

Argentina's defence has hardly shipped goals in Qatar, conceding three goals in four games.

However, the South American side have thus far only come against teams who were all too happy to sit back and rarely launch quick counter-attacks, giving 34-year-old Nicolas Otamendi and co a fairly easy time of things.

There's plenty of reason to believe that the Dutch forwards can find some real joy if they attack them more directly.

Otamendi is about to turn 35 and not particularly quick or mobile anymore, while Nahuel Molina and Marcos Acuna are hardly the most defensively sound full-backs given they're both converted wingers.

It's hard to imagine any of them holding up too well if constantly ran at by the likes of Memphis Depay, Cody Gakpo and Steven Bergwijn, and Van Gaal should consider starting the latter over Davy Klaassen for that reason.

With such a quick front three to deal with, the Argentina backline would be forced to sit deep or risk being exposed on the break.

3. Make the most of set-pieces

Virgil Van Dijk
Van Dijk has yet to score / Soccrates Images/GettyImages

Argentina are the shortest team left at the World Cup - we looked it up - so, given their own squad, the Dutch should really be creating chances from set-pieces.

For one, they have some serious aerial threats in their starting XI in the forms of Van Dijk, Nathan Ake and Virgil van Dijk.

What's more, they have one of the penalty crossers of the ball at the tournament in Gakpo, who has racked up a load of assists from corners at club level.

Despite that, the team have yet to score from any in Qatar, with Gakpo's deliveries being dangerous but his team-mates unable to take advantage.

In a game that could be decided by the finest of margins, changing that in the quarter-final could make all the difference.

4. Get Frenkie de Jong on the ball

Timothy Weah, Weston McKennie, Frenkie de Jong
De Jong makes his team tick / Marvin Ibo Guengoer - GES Sportfoto/GettyImages

In the same way that the Netherlands will try to stop Messi getting the ball, one of Argentina's biggest focuses will be silencing Frenkie de Jong.

The Barcelona man starts attack after attack with his passing and dribbling, with his team's brilliant team goal against USA beginning at his feet, inside his own box.

Nobody else in the Dutch team is remotely capable of doing what he does though, meaning they struggle to create much when they can't get him involved.

Argentina will undoubtedly be aware of that and will surely have plans in place to limit his influence.

Given that, Van Gaal needs his own plan for dealing with this, whether it be moving his player or tweaking the entire system.

It may seem a drastic change to make just for one player, but it's worth doing; he could control the midfield on his own if able to get possession.

5. Be ready to bring on the big boys

Wout Weghorst, Luuk De Jong
Van Gaal has some serious height on his bench / BSR Agency/GettyImages

As we've already mentioned, Argentina aren't the tallest of teams, so if in desperate need of a goal, there's one obvious solution for Van Gaal.

Wout Weghorst and Luuk de Jong are both well over 6ft and two of the biggest aerial threats around.

Van Gaal has already said he'd consider bringing them both on and lumping crosses into them in a dire situation, and such a plan would be particularly effective in this match.

If protecting a lead, Argentina will most likely have Lisandro Martinez on the pitch, and while he's far better in the air than some make it out, there's no getting around the fact that he's much, much shorter than Weghorst and De Jong.

Going route one if all else fails would surely create some chances for that reason, and it would do Van Gaal's old nemesis, Big Sam, proud.