Dutch football is on the rise. Ajax’ campaign in Europe last season was unheard of. And the resulting interest in some of the Dutch top players a logical next step, with big moves for De Ligt and De Jong, Champions League football for De Roon and Babel, a new adventure for Cillesen in Spain… In the usually so challenging August month, 4 Dutch clubs impressively reached the group stages of the European competitions and Virgil van Dijk was awarded the European Footballer of the Year award… ahead of Messi and C Ronaldo.
All wonderful news. And on top of that, Ajax managed to keep Onana, Mazraoui, Ziyech, Van de Beek, Tadic, Neres and Blind on board with disappointing striker Kasper Dolberg leaving for Nice. Lasse Schone, for years a loyal key part of the different Ajax teams was allowed a final money move to Genua. Ajax’ investments in new players will definitely prove to be a gift for the Eredivisie, with Dutch international Quincy Promes amongst the new signings.
PSV is looking sharp (and young) with Malen, Gakpo, Ihatarren, Dumfries and Bergwijn as regular starters while Feyenoord seems to take shape too, slowly but surely, under Jaap Stam with Steven Berghuis in the leader role and former Oranje players Karsdorp, Narsingh and Leroy Fer back in Holland to revitalise their careers.
And the Dutch flag ship team, the Lions, are set to start their season as well. And why not against Germany? A good opponent to kick the season off with….
It’s the fourth meeting in eleven months. The games were all considered “tactical matches” by Ronald Koeman and in the third edition (2-3 loss), it was Joachim Low who outsmarted his Dutch counterpart.
Koeman is not all too relaxed when faced with Germany again. “They are problably one of the strongest teams around. Forget their abysmal World Cup campaign and forget the victories we had over them in the Nations League. This Germany oozes quality.” Their strength is, their flexibility and ability to change their style mid-game. They have speed and guile upfront, a couple of killer strikers and a lot of movement.
In the last meeting, Koeman went for a 4-2-3-1 system, with Babel and Promes on as striker partners for Memphis.
Holland doesn’t get a grip on the game, though, as Gozetzka is successful in shielding Frenkie de Jong. The movement is too much for Holland’s midfield and Koeman goes back to the 5-4-1 he used in the first victory over Germany.
Quincy Promes played on the wing back spot (as did Babel) and the former generates to opportunities for Babel at the start of the second half. The Germans seem rattled but soon find out that now the space is to found in the axis of the field.
Koeman brings Bergwijn for Promes and changes again: this time to a 5-3-2 and the two striking partners (Memphis and Bergwijn) keep pressure on the German defence and allow the midfield to take more control. Wijnaldum takes on the job to cover Kroos from De Roon and the Liverpool midfielder manages to contain the Real Madrid playmaker. The result is that Germany starts to play the long ball to bypass midfield and as a result, Virgil and Matthijs can play to their strength, winning the aerial battles.
Oranje fights back from 0-2 to 2-2 and it seems another draw is on the cards. A series of communication errors after a number of subs results in players being unmarked allowing the Germans one more attempt at goal: 2-3.
The infamous note of assistant Dwight Lodeweges for coach Koeman
Koeman is fuming after the match: why didn’t he make a final change to make sure the 2-2 wasn’t further endangered. He concluded that the number of players in defensive roles wasn’t the issue, but more the series of wrong decisions made….
A key conclusion after that game is: Holland isn’t as good as we hope / think we are. We still have steps to take. The coach is still important in the changes he makes. When the team gets stuck, it needs the changes from the bench to repair the problem. The next step is that this team (De Jong, Propper, Van Dijk, Memphis) will see what needs to be done for themselves.
For the match coming Friday, Leroy Sane – one of the trouble makers in the last match – is missing with injury. But on the other hand, Germany has multiple options to deal with this omission as Low is able to use Reus, Brandt, Havertz and Werner he could use to good effect coming from the flanks. We’ll know it 30 mins before the match…
Eight internationals made a move this summer. Lets zoom in and see how they faired.
Ryan Babel – Galatasaray
Babel went from Fulham in the EPL back to Turkey, to play for Galatasaray. After 6 years without a call up, he made his way back into the orange jersey under Koeman. On the left, Babel covers the whole flank, doing his defensive duties and supporting Memphis in attack. Babel played central striker in the first competitive matches and has his first goal already too.
Jesper Cillesen – Valencia
Cillesen was a highly regarded goalie for Barca for 3 seasons but wanted to play every week. And with Valencia, it seems he has that opportunity. His new employer hasn’t started too good but Cillesen was able to stop a spotkick by Denis Suarez and secured the #1 spot (for now).
Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld – Bournemouth
The youngster went from the PSV Academy to NEC in the second tier, because he wanted playing time. After one season, Club Brugge picked him up and now Danjuma made his debut for Oranje and signed a super deal with Bournemouth. Danjuma hasn’t played a minute for Bournemouth as a result of a foot injury. Eddie Howe is frustrated: “We did every single test on him and didn’t find a thing. And now this. We don’t even know how serious it is!”
Frenkie de Jong – Barcelona
The most talked about transfer of the summer. Frenkie had a super pre-season with the club, making an impression. In his first Liga game, Barca loses, partly due to the man marking Bilbao had for Frenkie. He can’t get rid of the marker and needs the help of Rakitic to get some joy on the ball. In the second game Frenkie is the left midfielder in the Betis game where his contributions on midfield resulted in three Barca goals. In his last game for Barca, he plays on the left again but can’t avoid a draw. He had the least contacts of the whole team in that match, a strong indicator that he is not yet firing on all cylinders.
Luuk de Jong – Sevilla
PSV attacking leader and goal scorer Luuk de Jong tried in a bigger competition for the third time. Failed at Borussia Monchengladbach in Germany and Newcastle in England, the Spanish are quite taken with the header specialist. De Jong hasn’t scored yet but was crucial in two instances, and two goals. The Sevilla fans have seen the value Luuk can bring.
Matthijs de Ligt – Juventus
What appeared to be a longwinded transfer soap opera ended with a move to Juventus. Not as predictable as Frenkie’s move, but the young Ajax skipper proclaimed to have been a Juve fan from childhood and a big follower of Italian defenders. Surely, Cristiano whispering in his ear will have helped too. His pre-season wasn’t too great, with some clear adaption issues (and an own goal). He didn’t play in Juve’s first match but got the nod when Chiellini got seriously injured for the top match vs Napoli. His direct opponent scored and according to the ruthless media, De Ligt defended as a girl and was guilty of three goals. Juve did win that match, to soften the blow. Ronald Koeman laughed the criticism away: “I had a horrific start at Barca as well and if you ask the people there today about me, I don’t think anyway will mention my start. Matthijs was at fault of one goal, not three. I am not worried.”
Quincy Promes – Ajax
The young former Ajax talent made his way to the top via FC Twente and Go Ahead Eagles, making his name at Spartak Moscow. His move to Seville wasn’t a success as he was mainly used as stand in for the wing backs. In Amsterdam, they expected the exit of Ziyech, Neres and Van de Beek and they signed the former Russian top scorer early. Now, with the Ajax three signing on for more, Promes started on the bench and even getting a nasty foot injury. He started for Ajax last weekend and managed his first Eredivisie goal vs Sparta.
Tonny Vilhena – Krasnodar
The Feyenoord version of Edgar Davids was named in transfer rumours for years. Bundesliga, Serie A, EPL (Leicester City), they all came and went. For personal reasons (his mom was very ill), Tonny didn’t move away from Rotterdam until this summer and brows were raised when it was Krasnodar. Vilhena scored and assisted one in the shock win over FC Porto in the CL-qualification game. Vilhena plays either left or right midfield for his new club and Koeman knows the youngster can also play left back or left wing back. That versatility is a big plus for Koeman who loves players like him, Ake and Daley Blind who can offer the coach options.
Ronald Koeman claims he has the ideal eleven in his head for the match tomorrow. The full squad is fit as it is and it is expected he won’t change anything in his defence and midfield. The injured Bergwijn needs to be replaced and the experienced Promes is the most logical option.
Oranje is way behind the leaders in the group but this is because of Holland’s Nation League campaign. Winning or drawing vs Germany is not essential but losing does mean Oranje can’t afford a single misstep.
I believe we’ll win this match 1-3, hitting the Germans on the counter, with a key role for playmaker Frenkie and goals for Memphis, Promes and sub Donyell Malen.