This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.
But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.
But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…
Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.
Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.
Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.
Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.
Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.
And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.
And it’s a blessing.
Arie Haan in 1974
And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.
Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.
Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.
The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.
Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.
Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988
But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.
Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.
The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.
At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.
It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.
For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.
This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.
My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.
Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.
As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.
This is my line up.