Oranje qualifies after 6 years again!

It had to happen at some stage. A nation like Holland wouldn’t keep missing out on tournaments. History taught us so much. The tremendous development of players like Virgil, Memphis, Frenkie and Matthijs will have helped enormously, but it was also the changes made by coach Koeman that helped us reach a higher level.

Despite some negative responses after the 0-0 vs Northern Ireland this Saturday (we could have and should have won it and become the group leader, but hey… I won’t be raining on any parade), the overall feeling was joy and pride and relief.

Ronald Koeman’s first big decision when he was appointed as NT Manager, was to skip the training camps in flash and touristy Noordwijk to the boring woods of Zeist, to the KNVB’s sports centre. He didn’t want to turn the internationals into prisoners so much, but he did want them more “in his control”. So instead of individuals and little cliques, Koeman created a whole squad-vibe, supported by his captain and vice-captains (Virgil, Memphis, Daley, Strootman) and introduced group whatsapps and other group initiatives to help turn our talents into a cohesive team.

He did more.

  • Dominate the axis of the pitch

In the run up to the first matches under his management, Koeman was cryptic in his answers. Asked what system he was going to play: “I am not going to tell you. But I won’t call it 4-3-3.” With this comment, he said goodbye to the (Louis van Gaal) mantra, that wingers need to keep the pitch wide and cross balls into the box. Koeman wants a left footed player on the right, and a right footed player on the left. He wants them to come inside and he wants the full backs to keep the width. Koeman knows it’s easier to win games if you dominate the middle of the pitch. He wants his team to keep the ball in the central axis of the field as long as possible. In the EPL, most successful teams stock up their central areas. Pep Guardiola uses the full backs to come centrally to support, while Klopp at Liverpool uses Firmino to drop back and support and two wingers who constantly come to the centre of the park. Ten Hag and Van Bommel play a similar style in the Dutch competition. The number of crosses has diminished significantly as a result. In the EPL we saw 40 crosses per match in the 2008/2009 season, and that has imploded to only 24 on average in last season.

Typical positioning of Oranje in possession. A winger and the #10 (circled) forming a square with the midfielders (in rectangular)

Koeman used to be a fan of the tall #9 striker (Graziano Pelle at Feyenoord and Southampton) but with the mercurial Memphis as an option, Koeman has steered away from aerial attacks and crosses. He uses Depay as striker, with runners Babel, Promes and / or Bergwijn on the wings. All players who can play central striker, winger and #10 in midfield, allowing for maximum flexibility.

In this way, Oranje has more options when playing the minions who come to park the bus and want to force Oranje to the flanks. This was what happened under Hiddink and Blind a lot, when we failed to qualify versus Iceland, Turkey and Bulgaria. They forced us to go wide and use the crosses, which are relatively easy to defend. Under Koeman, we also struggled at times to find the way through, but Oranje always was able to find that solution. The cross is no longer Plan A, but basically Plan B or C when everything else fails…

  • Play Forward!

Not long ago, we had a national debate about the question, why is Wijnaldum a key player at Liverpool and mediocre in Oranje? The midfielder who won the CL with Liverpool was at times unrecognisable in the orange jersey. With Daley Blind, Kevin Strootman and Memphis Depay he became the symbol of player who couldn’t lead Oranje to the big tournaments… With the new playing system under Koeman, we might conclude that it wasn’t him/them. It was how they were used. With Wijnaldum, the discussion has been turned around even. In Liverpool, they’re asking “how can we use Gini like Oranje does, so he can decide more games for us?”. Wijnaldum: “That has to do with my new role in Oranje. I have more freedom now.” With Memphis, Blind and Wijnaldum performing much better in Oranje has to do with the build up. Koeman destroyed the Dutch Disease of playing the ball square constantly. In the run up to the World Cup 2018, more than half of the passes in 9 out of 10 games played by Holland were played between central defenders. In one of this first press conferences, Koeman said: “I don’t like to see players playing back to the keeper. Find space up front. Make it hard for the opponent. Let them deal with the issue. When you want to create something, you need to play the forward pass.”

When we are faced with two pressing forwards, Frenkie drops next to the centre backs, keeping the full backs higher on the pitch

Koeman has demanded from his players that they see and recognise where to apply pressure. If the opponent has one player pressing, we need to find the second team mate to come and help and create the man more situation. Do they press with two, than we need a defender to join in.

Koeman’s second principle: find the space behind their last defender. With the introduction of Frenkie de Jong, Koeman starts playing the 4-2-3-1 and manages to find the pass behind the last defender. Now Oranje starts to make an impression in an attacking sense as well.

This is a perfect example, vs Germany. Blind gets the second ball after a pressure moment on the left. In the failed qualification matches, he might have played it square to De Jong. Or he would control the ball first and turn back to his central defender to slowly build up again. But not now.

See how deep Promes is playing, as a make shift right back

Without hesitation he plays the ball hard and low into the feet of Memphis. The holding mid of Germany is too late and is played out. Wijnaldum is already dashing forward, Memphis finds him and Malen is on hand to score.

The late, great Johan Cruyff once said: sometimes something needs to happen before something happens… This Oranje does make things happen by playing the forward pass. Possession has become a means again, not the end.

  • Defend Space

Koeman: “We need to build a consistent core of players. I don’t change a lot because we never have a lot of time to build a dynamic. All we do now is just add some details about the opponent and off we go!”.

We conceded a goal against Belarus. Koeman: “We are suddenly faced with a situation of two defenders against three attackers! Maybe the others think Virgil van Dijk can deal with everything!”

And then he sums up the list of errors: Joel Veltman not pressing the ball so the cross can be played in easily. De Jong doesn’t track his runner. Blind doesn’t squeeze in time, and as a result Van Dijk and De Ligt are facing 3 opponents. The Dutch NT doesn’t make couples on the pitch, in a manmarking manner. We defend the spaces. Compactness is a key word for Koeman. The distances between our players should be max 10 t0 12 meters. With this, we can always give backing to team mates and offer options in possession. Everything he wants, was forgotten in that one situation vs Belarus.

  • Do what you can to win!

Wijnaldum: “Koeman explains what we need to do to win the game. And if we can’t make it happen in the first half, he will explain calmly in the break what we need to do to win. This group absorbs all this very well.”

The little note assistant Lodeweges used in the away game vs Germany has reached epic proportions. We were 2-1 down in Germany and in the final stage of the game, Van Dijk is directed forward to operate as second striker for Oranje. Just before time, it’s a cross by Vilhena which reaches Van Dijk and he scores the 2-2 securing our spot in the finals of the Nations League.

Koeman also directed Frenkie de Jong to play as third central defender in that Germany match, allowing or more control.

In the home game vs Germany for the Euro qualification, we see more shots of Lodeweges with notes in his hand. In this match, we play a 4-2-3-1 again, but Koeman adapts defensively. Koeman mirrors the German 3-5-2 by using Promes as a wingback. Oranje fights back from trailing 0-2 to 2-2 but loses in the dying minutes.

The “Germany System” with Promes as wingback

Not that long ago, Dutch NT coached would be heavily criticised for abandoning the Dutch 4-3-3 system. The Dutch NT needed to play to their strengths, people said. Van Gaal got massive complaints from the football world when he played with three centre backs at the World Cup 2014. Koeman didn’t seem to care about all these sentiments, went his own way, and got the results. Koeman is also not the type – as opposed to Van Gaal – to be very open to the press what he is doing. He deflects questions about tactics and uses so-called kitchen tile one-liners to explain things to the media. He always plays tactics down and says those discussions are not so important. His motto: if I don’t start the conversation, I won’t get any hassle from it.

  • Focus on the turn-around

Virgil van Dijk: “At some stage, space opens up and we have lads up front with speed who can benefit from this. And we do.”

A quick look to the stats show us that Oranje is deadly in ball possession. We have dynamic forwards, with legs and lungs and similar players in midfield (Van de Beek, Wijnaldum!) who can bridge any distance to the goal easily. This kind of counter goals were long considered an inferior way to win games. We usually blame Portugal and Germany (in the past century) for using these tactics. Today, victories vs Germany and Portugal (…) have silenced the criticasters.

Opponent Goal scorer Number of Passes
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 5
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 3
Northern Ireland Memphis Depay 3
Northern Ireland Luuk de Jong 8
Northern Ireland Memphis Depay 1
Estonia Ryan Babel 5
Estonia Ryan Babel 3
Estonia Memphis Depay 10
Estonia Georginio Wijnaldum 1
Germany Frenkie de Jong 6
Germany Ryan Babel 1
Germany Donyell Malen 3
Germany Georginio Wijnaldum 4
England Matthijs de Ligt 1
England Quincy Promes 0
England Quincy Promes 1
Germany Matthijs de Ligt 2
Germany Memphis Depay 8
Belarus Memphis Depay 0
Belarus Georginio Wijnaldum 7
Belarus Memphis Depay 0
Belarus Virgil van Dijk 1
Germany Quincy Promes 5
Germany Virgil van Dijk 0
France Memphis Depay 0
France Georginio Wijnaldum 0
Belgium Arnaut Groeneveld 3
Germany Virgil van Dijk 0
Germany Memphis Depay 2
Germany Georginio Wijnaldum 1
France Ryan Babel 4
Peru Memphis Depay 3
Peru Memphis Depay 0
Italy Nathan Aké 5
Slovakia Quincy Promes 3
Portugal Memphis Depay 5
Portugal Ryan Babel 15
Portugal Virgil van Dijk 2

In the run up to the Northern Ireland game, Koeman says this: “We want to score quick and start well. We are even better when we can play compact, with a goal to the good. Our counter attacks are super dangerous.” So, under Koeman we play dominant first, to counter-attack later. Our forwards feel most comfortable when they have space in front of them, and turn-around experts Wijnaldum and De Roon also feel best with space in front. And playing compact doesn’t mean playing defensive. You can press high, and be compact still. But when that doesn’t work, the players will drop back on their own half. And then the team requires patience to wait for the right moment to pounce.

In the small spaces of the modern game, the counter attack is an essential weapon. Even Man City, Barcelona, Bayern and Liverpool play like this, with France winning the World Cup in this style.

The turn around vs Germany, with De Roon playing the forward pass

Like any NT manager before him, Ronald Koeman benefits from the work done by the club coaches. Van Dijk and Wijnaldum feel at home in this style, because Klopp works the exact same way. De Ligt, Blind and De Jong will always try and find the solution by playing forward, because Ten Hag demands this at Ajax. Bergwijn will fortify our midfield and make way for Dumfries, because Van Bommel wants this from them at PSV. Babel, Promes and De Roon will help balance the team because these players learned to be a team player.

Koeman’s biggest strength, is that he has developed a playing style utilising the strength of his players.

So, one more game. A match in which Virgil will not be present due to personal circumstances. Gini Wijnaldum will be the captain and Koeman promised a completely new system / approach…

We’ll see…

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  1. Ok the Estonia match…

    I think we will play

    Dumfries – De Ligt – Blind
    Propper – De Jong – Van de Beek – Wijnaldum
    Stengs – Weghorst – Promes

    And we will win 4-0

    Promes, Weghorst, Van de beek and Wijnaldum scoring.

  2. Thank you Jan on the article.
    Once again you beautified our Day:)

    It is really interesting to watch Koeman using different tactics and I presume tonight game is 5 to Nil.

    Let’s see tonight on Stengs performance.

  3. Fabulous piece, Jan. Things that jumped out to me in particular was tactical flexibility and consistency in selection and deployment of players. I know the latter is somewhat controversial with certain active posters on this board, but with the limited time together as a team makes loads of sense to try to cultivate partnerships on the field. Thanks again for the awesome analysis.

  4. Yes, the final analysis and overall feeling is of joy and nothing/nobody can take that away.
    We have flaws like any other team, I wonder why some people are so obsessed with it.

    Thanks for the article Jan

  5. Jan,
    Although i appreciate these guys going in to the Euro but to be honest since their game with Germany they have not inspired anyone. Their last 3 games does not convinced me at all. If this is they are planning on playing at the Euro next year, forget it. They are just gonna go for the ride. I am sorry!

    1. *Great to see Strootman have some good minutes, too. His pass to Boadu was sweet.

      *Promes at right back is an inspired move.

      *Steng’s assists made for quite a debut.

      Hup, Holland!

      1. Both Stengs and Malen are classy..they are the closer one to RVP,Vaart.and Roben..
        i hope baudu reaches same level..
        Cannot wait to see fantastic 23 instead of fantastic 4 plus Dejong and others..
        Babel,Promes,Stengs,Malen,Boadu,Depay,Dilorusen..7 Nos
        Frenkie,wijnaldum,Propper,Van de beek,Ake,koopmeiners.
        Gks 3
        Bizot the lion number 1,then Cillessen and Zoet.
        No strootman,Weghorst,Luuk,Berghuis,No Deroon as well.
        On stand bye
        ki jana hoover

  6. Stengs has two assists

    I think he has nailed it and will be a regular for Oranje from now on

    I like the way koeman put Promes as right back and not letting Dumfries playing for a minute . It means he doesn’t trust him anymore

    1. Not true, he’s just experimenting. Promes played wingback when he was with Sevilla, and Koeman was trying to see if it could work, which it did against a team outside the Top 100, but I’d hate to have Serge Gnabry running at Promes.

  7. Team looked excellent today against pretty poor opposition. Ake was a standout, as was Gini. Stengs was ok, needs more composure. Boadu had a very nice goal. Man is this team better with Gini and Memphis, incredible difference. Scoreline could easily have been 8 or 9-0. Wegorst didnt do much, kinda of was that awkward central striker but he didnt get involved. Promes is a bit wasteful with possession at times and Memphis needs to shoot the ball more. Thats all for now. Good win, off we go.

  8. few thing I learned from this match:
    1. Van aanholt is definitely not orange material. his touches, his control, his passing, everything was totally off!!! daley is a class higher!! there is a reason why Daley always starts over him. honestly even as a back up he should not be included!!!

    2. boadu was surprisingly very comfortable and he played an excellent half, his touches were all pure class and his goal was beautiful! stengs was a bit nervous but you can tell this guy oozes class, his passing and his assists are amazing!

    3. this team is still lacking something I dont know what it is!!! only convincing game was in rotterdam against france, the rest were just average games!

    4. I hope for the fina 23 player list for the euros to see all of Malen, boadu, stengs, and no luuk de jong no berghius!!

    1. if Van annholt is bad,We have Regular player at newcastle called Jetro williems,who has amzing ball control and pin point crossess and passes ,then koeman should look at Jetro, and then comes new Boy Owen Winjdal..Winjdal is tactically astute and pretty fast and agile..

      Then you have kongolo who can play as LB and LCB…
      Blind Vs Williems Vs winjadl Vs kongolo there..We have quality there..
      OUR question mark is RB…
      Veltman,Dumfries,Hateboer are jokers as when they go forward….i miss Mazerooi and Dest….
      Karsdorp needs to step up..I trust dumfries as defender as he easily contains Mbhappe as co..
      kars Dorp–Dumfries-Ki jana hoover is the only options we have now…
      Dilorusen is fantastic to watch and its boring to watch Luuk,Weghorst,Berghuis etc..
      Babel-promes-Memphis-Stengs-Boadu-Dilorusen-Malen-Danjuma..8 very good players we have..Malen and stengs are classy..Boadu and Memphis is all most there too..

      1. Van Aanholt is normally not that bad. Don’t write him off. Willems is a good option yes. Wijndal not for this Euros coming up, but the world cup… could well be.

        Berghuis is not boring to watch. He’s a great and gifted player. Didn’t really get his chance in Oranje.

        He should be playing for a better team.

        Memphis is almost there too? As in… Memphis is a talent, almost top class??

    2. Alaa, I agree with you. Van Aanholt is athletic and that’s it about him. Ake on the other hand is athletic and much more. Blind over Aanholt is a no brainer. Stengs and Boadu especially were good, Boadu in fact was impressive how smoothly he integrated in attack. L deJong is such a sorry figure, the guy should not be embarrassed by his coach by playing from start of the game. In fact he shouldn’t even be a 4th reserve, very sterile player. Weghorst was good for the minutes he played.
      In the end I do not share the over excitement that many others feel for just qualifying over NI, Estonia and Belarus. Finland, Wales also qualified. Quality of games has not been great. We sadly end up second to Germany who so coolly dispatched NI both games with a score of 8-1. Things may change but right now Belgium, France, Germany, England, Spain seem a cut above.

      1. “”””’Things may change but right now Belgium, France, Germany, England, Spain seem a cut above.1″”””Ýes agree only when you play Luuk,veltman,Dumfries,Weghorst,strootman,De Roon..””””100 percent agree…
        But thats not the case when you play

        on Bench

        With Frenkei–Gini
        —–De beek–Propper in midfeild,.

        1. Stengs started a tad nervous. You could tell from some touches and he was a tad reluctant to play the risky passes but not long into the game he started to shine. Finds the right spaces to appear in, had a couple of excellent shots from distance. His work rate was excellent and he ended up with two assists! I think a wonderful debut for the lad.

          I foresee big things for him, but like with Frenkie, Ihattaren and him, even Stevie Wonder would see that.

  9. OFF Topic :

    Mourinho back in Premier League with Spurs as Pochettino replacement.

    Here is somebody responses:
    Mourinho is back in Premier League with Spurs and he is bringing his bus along.

  10. I like the idea of playing with Stengs, Depay and Malen up front, because the three of them are very comfortable rotating positions. All of them can play on the wing, as a 9 or a 10.

      1. You got it all derek!

        Stengs depay malen these would be my ideal oranje front force !!!

        Babel will not be on the team anymore after the euros , you can see his legs can’t cope with 90min anymore

        So we have Promes , dilrosun , bergwijn Boadu on the bench.

        I fear koeman would still take Luuk and Danjuma seems having no chance ifs a bit too late for him since he hasn’t perform anything at club level

        1. You forgetting just like boadu and stengs,danjuma also proved himself on his debut. If danjuma is fit he should be in the team. Again he has better skillset to that of promes and bergwijn. Changing of clubs should not be the justification of not selecting a player. How many goals that Depay score at united?.

        1. I dont think so. The midfield trio of Wijnaldum,Herderson and Milner before fabinho arrived were defensively average and this was the very resason why they brought fabinho to balance the midfield. Propper and Van Beek are no specialist in breaking down play,De Roon is but he lacks that cutting edge of a modern day CM.

          You look at the estonia game and the how the estonians were given space from outside of box to launch the long range tropodos. Where were tge CMs? Propper deficiency will eaily be exposed in knock stages especially if it is a high tempo game. De Roon is someone I feel can do the job but will make the team lag on the other hand. but then again there aint much options either for CMs right now.

          Ake is somebody I would like to see along frenkie but it may be too late now.

          Strootman? Can he jump back into contention with regular playing time at Marseille.

  11. There isnt really much to say. Koemans reaction on the face in both games said it all. Again this has been discussed so many times here and in depth and was just waiting to be unfold.danjuma,Malen,Boadu,Stengs.what do/did they have in common? Individual capabilities and once again stengs and boadu have proven like others that its just a matter of recognizing them and giving them a shot. This is also why rotation is best tool to fine tune the credibility of a team.All the big teams have been doing this through out the course of the qualification except for the dutch and it only took some injuries to bring the spotlight on the team. This was always coming as dicussed so many times but then again its good it came other wise koeman would have continued on the same trajectory.

    Koeman also should have done this earlier especially in the first leg vs belarus and estonia. There could still be room for improvement with other potential players but I think koeman will avoid further headaches.

    NT will be a good team but not the best or contenders either but this will defintely lay a good platform for 2022. On other note the youngsters will also get to market themselves on the big stage.

  12. Yes I can finally comment! I’ve been following this blog for years, but the login never worked for me…. Anyway I’m here now. A dutch born New Zealander.

    I can’t believe people are comparing Koeman to Bert! Bert was one of the most boring coaches around! He had a great generation of players, and they still failed to play like they had any plan at all. Koeman has turned a bunch of youngsters into a modern footballing side who can react tactically. Its not even close for me.

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