Oranje’s problems for Koeman to fix

This Euros is turning into a really fun tournament. Fans of Belgium, Holland and England might beg to differ but the neutral is enjoying him/herself immensely. It’s not a surprise that some teams (include Italy, France) are not at their best.

Most of the players in those squads have played 45+ games this season at the highest levels. It’s not a surprise that the bow will bend and break at some stage. The international calendar is a joke, really.

I’m sure England has more problems on top of that, with a coach who can’t gel a top team from top players and bemoans the absence of Kalvin Phillips as if he is Frenkie de Jong.

Belgium seems to play with fear. France seems tired. And Oranje… is a bit lost.

But… we do have Ronald Koeman. Not for his tactical skills, but for his luck! He was criticised at Valencia but still won the cup. He had to go at PSV, but still won the title. He’s got a golden d**k as his dad always said.

And his former assistant Gio van Bronckhorst once quipped: “If Ronald Koeman trips, it’s over a golden Rolex, that much luck does he have…”.

We need more of it. Normally, we ended up in the left side of the draw (Germany, Spain, France) but finishing third brings us Romania, Austria, England and who knows…

I will not be the one claiming “Romania is easy” because it isn’t. Remember the Euros under Frank de Boer? We got into the “easy side of the draw”. We only had to beat the Czechs and then Denmark and we could touch the cup. Right. Well, we lost in the first knock-out match. So lets treat Romania with respect.

We all know that we traveled to this Euros with 8 players remaining at home who normally would be in the squad. That is 30%. Frenkie, Quinten Timber, Jurrien Timber, Koopmeiners, Luuk de Jong, Noa Lang, Mats Wieffer, Marten de Roon, 5 midfielders. A pinch hitter and top header of the ball. And a mercurial winger.

So, we need to make do with an older sandpit midfielder and some untested players (at this level) in Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Gravenberch. Typically for the fans…they yell for years for coaches to bring new blood in the team and now Koeman finally does so because he has to, and the fans now want to bring more experience in the team. And I wonder… who? Clasie? Adam Maher? Kevin Strootman? Vilhena? Til? Donny van de Beek?

We need to do it with these lads.

So lets focus on where we go wrong tactically. Because we all know the individual skills of these players are there. The lowliest club team we have is probably Burnley ( Weghorst). All the others play for Inter, Man City, Spurs or RB Leipig or the likes.

So it’s tactics. What are the problems?

Against Austria Geertruida was gesticulating and yelling to his mates in the first 60 seconds!

Schouten, Veerman and Reijnders are too far away from the zone where Austria wants to attack and when De Vrij can’t step in due to the presence of Arnautovic, Geertruida is alone in the zone with three opponents coming at him.

Whatever Geertruida does – stay or attack the ball – he is in trouble.

Problem 1. Being a Little Bit Pregnant

These are the words of Ralf Rangnick: you can’t be a little bit pregnant. You’re pregnant, or you’re not.

It’s the same with pressing. You press, or you don’t. You can’t press a little. Rangnick is clear in his idea: three elements are important: ball, team mates and opponents. First you focus on the ball. Then on your team mates and then on your opponents. Against Austria, Holland was a little bit pregnant. Koeman: “We lacked aggression and allowed too much space We are way too focused on the man and defended like headless chooks, one might say. We were terrible and had no control whatsoever. We instructed the players: block the pass line to the sides which means the backs need to remain in their position. But we didn’t and then this is what happens. Malen let his man go, yes, but I didn’t want him to backtrack all the time. When their outside man comes inside, one of the central defenders needed to step in. Because I don’t want my wingers to play as full backs.”

Geertruida yelling at his team mates for someone to pick up Wimmer

And Austria found a quick solution. The central defenders and the backs stretched the pitch so much that Malen and Gakpo couldn’t close the gaps. But the main issue was Oranje being outnumbered in midfield.’

The Austrians played 3 midfielders as well but their wingers joined in. Koeman instructed his wingers, Gakpo and Malen to remain wide. And thus, Austria had two players in the pockets, available to be passed into. And this is why Geertruida’s first contributions to the team was his vocal warnings about the mismatch. It took 20 minutes for Koeman to respond.

Koeman used the 4-1-4-1 same as he did in the second half versus France. This is tough to do against a strong opponent as there is too much space to defend for the 1 holding defender. This is why most teams use two players in the engine room. Morocco used this system with great success at the World Cup. Whenever an attacking mid puts pressure on, another attacking mid needs to drop back to keep the balance.

Koeman and Lodeweges call this “the box” in midfield. Sadly, we hardly saw the box. And instead of defending the space, our midfielders kept on tracking their direct opponent, leaving all this space for the free man from Austria.

Interestingly, Koeman blamed Geertruida for the first goal, claiming he should communicate with De Vrij and force the central defender to take over, so the Feyenoord right back can stay in this zone. But Geertruida tried this. And De Vrij was covered by Arnautovic and simply couldn’t take over.

Geertruida pulled in to cover Wimmer and Prass is about to leave Malen for dead

It seems Koeman saw a different game and I have to say: this match clearly demonstrated that Koeman is out of his depth and should retire and leave coaching in modern football to the younger generation ( Van der Gaag, Slot, Pastoor, Buijs).

End conclusion: Oranje failed to defend the zones and allowed Austria to constantly find the free man in space. The reparations from the coach came way too late.

Problem 2: Plan B without safety net

Plan B was started after 20 minutes. Man marking across the pitch. Austria has great runners but their players are less comfortable in possession. Holland starts to get more control and started to win duels, with the long balls. However, Plan B doesn’t offer a safety net. When a player gets passed or loses his man, the opponent has a man-more situation. And players can be stretched. In both Austrian goals in the second half, the space between Van Dijk and De Vrij is wide open. Both goals were the result of Dutch players losing their man or not going with their man.

Koeman is again being unclear. Initially he blames the players for going too much with their man. And in Plan B, they have to stay with their man First blame, then accountability. No wonder players were confused.

We saw top players (Ake, De Vrij, Van Dijk, Reijnders, Gakpo, Malen) who play for top teams ( Liverpool, Man City, AC Milan, Borussia Dortmund, Inter Milan) completely lost.

Like in the juniors, all Dutch players focus on the left side, with 3 Austrians completely open on their left

And yes Gakpo and Schouten lost their marks, but those actually weren’t their marks! The second Austrian goal sees Gakpo spring 50 meters back and he’s covering for a team mate here.

And the winning goal late in the game was anothe example of bad communication. Schouten steps forward to put Sabitzer in off side but Van Dijk had drifted two yards back and gave the man of the tournament so far the opportunity to hurt Oranje.

Problem 3: build up by the full backs

Rangnick pushed the opponent – Oranje – towards the flanks. We were allowed our buildup there, instead of through the centre. And we did, and in principle, we should be doing ok with this. But the positioning of our full backs was not good enough. Koeman: “The full backs can’t stay at the same level as the midfielder, you need to create triangles. If they were higher or deeper, it would have worked.”

Problem 4: Where is the box?

Koeman talks about his plan of attack, using three midfielders, as this would give Oranje a dominant position, although… it didn’t. Because Austria moves with the ball. If the central defenders of Holland have the ball, their forwards drop back to stop the pass line to the midfield. If the ball goes to the full back, Austria pivots to that side and even the winger on the other flank will move inside. We needed a 4th option in midfield, to get control and Koeman’s “box” would offer this, but the box is non existent. Only after half time does Geertruida move into midfield to become Oranje’s fourth midfielder.

The box restored. When moving properly, we always have at least two options, if not more

Everytime we let go of the box (France, Austria) we lose control. Moving forward, it’s clear we need to get back to that principle.

Problem 5: We have no patterns or “automatisms”

The toughest job of any national team coach is creating patterns. For Spain, Real Madrid and Barcelona have dominated the national teams, so automatisms came natural. Same with Bayern dominated Germany. In the olden days, with many Ajax players in the team, Oranje had a similar advantage (Overmars, Kluivert, Bergkamp, Ronald de Boer, Reiziger, Davids, Seedorf, Frank de Boer, Edwin van de Sar, Bogarde).

Take Geertruida now. He is a certainty at Feyenoord (and will make a big money move this summer). But he lacks the options he is used to at Feyenoord which makes him slower and a bit more uncertain. At Feyenoord, he gets the ball on the half space and he knows: I have a player to my right and and midfielder ahead of me for the forward pass. These triangles are what players need.

Geertruida at Feyenoord, always two forward passing options

But in Oranje, Geertruida only has one option (against Austria): the forward pass to a marked midfielder. And as a result, Geertruida disappoints. And Austria gets the time to press him. This can be said of many players at Oranje. When the box is not used, there are less options and that results in issues.

Geertruida in Oranje: can only go square and opponent is ready to pounce


There are still positive things to say. We created a number of good chances, despite all this ( Malen, Reijnders). We scored twice and we created more shots on goal and got more expected goals than Austria. So even with a less than mediocre performance, we still create. This says something about the quality of our players.

As Koeman said in the presser: “I am responsible for this result” and he is right. He made errors in the starting line up. He made mistakes in judging the Austrian plan of attack and he was not able to instruct his players properly re: their positioning. You could say that Rangnick beat Koeman as a coach. In a big way.

I won’t jump to the same conclusion as journaist Valentijn Driessen who implied Koeman should resign (yet). But in Koeman’s own words: we’re not knock-out. We are still in the fight And Koeman needs to show the world now, that he is capable of getting up.

Sources: VI, AD.nl


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  1. Thanks for this in-depth analysis, Jan! I have a few thoughts / reactions:

    As you note, Geertruida saw the numbers problem right away, because he was the one directly confronted with it. But if he sees it, how does Koeman not? And how do the players on the field not take action to address it themselves?

    I saw something similar happen in my daughter’s first college game. Their opponent was overloading one flank and having consistent success down that side. The obvious solution to me was to instruct the central midfielders as a unit to slide over when they saw that action commencing to take away that advantage. There wasn’t a need to radically change formation or to alter our own team’s game plan. It just required a subtle adjustment in positioning to address the numerical advantage and to remind the nearest players of their responsibility to deal with that situation. But my daughter’s teammates and coaches did nothing to address it, and so the same advantage persisted until halftime. The coach then made a formation change, which, of course the players were not fully comfortable with, and it created further turmoil for the team.

    For me, this goes back to the conversation I was having with Vikram the other day. The modern game is so dictated and structured, that the players are either no longer capable of (or are actively discouraged from) thinking for themselves, and if and when they do improvise to deal with something, they’re criticized for disrupting the “system”.

    The dilemma that you described in the Austria match actually seems very straightforward. It was just a numbers battle in the midfield, which is probably one of the most basic tactical concepts that a coach can consider — if you’re outnumbered in an area, you’re going to have great difficulty controlling that area. So it’s almost self-evident that you should try — whether through positioning, combination play, manipulation of space, or off-the-ball movement — to create areas where you have a numerical advantage and to simultaneously work to prevent your opponent from doing so.

    Again, I didn’t wasn’t able to watch the match live, but it doesn’t seem like Austria did anything particularly innovative or out of character here. So, to me it seems like either we didn’t take them seriously, or we just didn’t bother to prepare for how they were likely to play.

    I obviously have not coached a team at the international level before, but when I was actively coaching, I really tried to avoid drastically changing formations and instead would continue to play “our game” while adapting our positioning during a match to the circumstances (pushing a defender forward, sliding midfielders laterally, dropping a forward a little deeper). More importantly, as a general matter, I tried to train and empower my players to read the game on their own and make decisions on the fly (e.g, in attack: where is the opponent’s weakness, how do we create space and numbers, who should come to the ball and who should advance into space, and in defense: where is the threat coming from, how do we take away space and time, who should pressure the ball and who should support, etc.). Maybe that is not possible at this level where the tactics become much more complex both for your own team and the opponent. But for me, what Austria was doing did not seem so complex that Koeman and the players couldn’t have worked it out during the course of the match without having radical changes in approach dictated from the sidelines.

    1. You are so right. In the 70s, coaches would say “Go for it lads! Play your football!” And now players are like robots and coaches like Pep and Klopp and Slot and co all put some much info into these lads, they can’t think for themselves anymore.

      Where are the players who can boss the team/game? The Van Hanegems? The Roy Keanes and Patrick Vieiras? The Mark van Bommels, the Lothar Matteusses? The Zidanes?

  2. So, I walked into the room where both kids are watching the Switzerland – Italy match this morning and my son launches into an endless tirade against Italy:

    “Where’s Jorginho? Do they realize they actually have a midfielder who can pass?”

    “Oh I forgot, they’re Italy. They don’t want to play!”

    “They’re playing with a back line of six… against Switzerland…”

    “Do they think it’s still the second half against Spain? Are they confused by the red jerseys?”

    [after the Swiss goal]. “Now they’ll bring another center back on, because the only way they’ll score is on a set piece…”

    “The US had more possession against Panama down a man for 80 minutes!” This is like Man City against Burnley!”


    To be honest, I’m not sure why he’s expecting something different from Italy (other than him recently thrashing me with them against the Netherlands on FIFA).

    I really think so many of these managers go into knockout matches thinking, we’re going to kill time for 70 minutes, maybe take a shot at trying to score in the last 15-20, and if not, we’ll go to extra time and penalties and then I can’t be blamed if we lose.

    I actually think Switzerland is playing very well during the portion I’ve watched and am hoping they advance!

  3. @Jan,

    The picture: “Geertruida in Oranje: can only go square and opponent is ready to pounce” you posted reinforces what I was saying earlier, “To beat the press, play a long(ish) ball behind in the space created. In that picture, look at the open space in front of Schouten. He can make a darting run and Geertruida can simply lift in the spot between the Austria LCB and the LFB. This will either create a 1-1 with Schouten and the LCB or free up Malen on the right for a quick transition through pass.

    The problem is the preference of the lateral or short pass in the build up. Go long against the press, all day long.

  4. Thankfully we have assigned the Germany – Denmark match to the Scottish announcer who aggressively over-pronounces every German name (and Yussuf Poulsen)

  5. What a turn of events for Joachim Andersen! His first international goal disallowed via VAR and then moments later a handball called against him, also via VAR, which leads to a penalty. 1-0 Germany

    1. I really dont understand why spalletti benched Pellegrini,jorginho and frattesi when they had been so instrumental leading to R16. Shot in his own foot. And with Mancini.o dear. This has opened a very very favourable draw for the Dutch if they pounce on it.

      On the other side Swiss

  6. So after venting to you guys all week about all the things that frustrate me most about modern football — especially the over-structuring and over-coaching and the lack of player initiative, invention and creative problem-solving — I then go and vent in person to my son about all the same things. He gets just as tired of my whining and in response sent me this video about Xabi Alonso and his tactics and approach at Leverkusen. My hopes for the future have now been restored! Who knew that I would be in almost complete agreement with the man who so viciously drove his chest into poor Nigel de Jong’s foot!

    I hope you find this as refreshing as I did:


  7. The ball is in koemans busket. If he can pounce on it. Final is guaranteed. A loss to Romania or Austria/turkey winner will be embrassing.as it is.

    Talk abouts upsets. and if the winner is minnows like Greece in 2004. What is it about euros???

  8. Dear Nicolaas

    If you can spare some time away from your preparations with Curacao, I would be very interested in your views on Oranje’s performances during the group matches. How have you assessed Koeman’s and the team’s performances so far, and how would you approach the game against Romania?

    There are, I suppose, some similarities with your team’s group stage results in 2004 – 4 points (1W, 1D, 1L) including a 1-1 draw with a traditional powerhouse and a 2-3 defeat to a strong-performing Central European country. During that tournament you took us to the semi-finals which we ultimately lost to the host. Do you see this current crop making it that far?

  9. Julian:

    Thanks again for thinking of me. I haven’t seen quite as much day-by-day commentary on this site as usual, but I have still been following along intently. Although I do miss that Tiju / Emmanuel fellow. He always suggested the most interesting lineups!

    In any event, I’m pleased that you recall so fondly our efforts in 2004. And yes I see many parallels as well! But let me alleviate some of the comparisons also:

    1. First off, 2024 Oranje is a far stronger side than the squad I was able to assemble 20 years prior. I mean you can just start in the back. My keeper was Edwin van der Sar who was 34 at the time and playing at Fulham. He conceded 87 goals internationally in his career. 87! But then you look at Koeman’s team — Verbruggen! Very athletic and only 21, and has conceded only 8 goals internationally and already has 6 career clean sheets for Holland, a clear upgrade! Next take a look at our respective back lines. I had walking red card Heitinga, ancient Stam, very average Bouma and converted midfielder van Bronkhorst. But looks the current side — perhaps the greatest collection of center backs and wingbacks the Netherlands has ever assembled, capable of playing any system and under any conditions. In the midfield, I was forced to choose the workmanlike trio of Cocu, Seedorf and Davids. Not a creative bone in their bodies. No wonder I was the one to give Sneijder and van der Vaart their first meaningful action! In comparison, even without Frenkie de Jong and Koopmeiners, what a wealth of options Koeman has at his disposal — the electric Xavi Simons, the up-and-coming trio of Reijnders, Veerman and Schouten, the creativity and athleticism of Gravenberch and the experience, leadership and off ball movement of the ageless Wijnaldum! My goodness.

    Now you might argue that I had the advantage on my frontline, as I was able to play with traditional wingers in van der Meyde and Robben and a true number nine in van Nistelrooy (I don’t know why anyone tried to shift Robben to the right. He was much more effective for me as a runner and crosser of the ball). But the 2024 team still has amazing options and a diversity of skill sets with Gakpo, Weghorst, Malen and Brobbey and of course our second all-time leading scorer Depay (who has already scored 11 more international goals than my striker did in his whole international career). So as you can see, Koeman’s side has an immense talent advantage over my 2004 team.

    2. But now take a look at the results. You say our opponents have been similar. Maybe on paper and geographically, but let’s dig deeper. Ronald got to start his tournament off against mediocre Poland playing without their top goal scorer and still had to rely on a desperate rally to prevail 2-1. Contrast to our “easiest opponent,” Latvia, who was tied against Czechoslovakia 1-1 until the 85 minute and tied Germany 1-1. We of course obliterated them 3-0. Next Koeman’s side played a dull 0-0 draw vs France, and once again the opposition was playing without their best goalscorer, Mbappe. Our 2004 team had to face Germany in our opening match and produced a scintillating display of attacking football, finishing with a 1-1 draw. Unfortunately, our one loss in the opening round came to a dynamic Czech team in yet another tremendously exciting match 2-3. That Czech team (Nedved, Rosicky, Cech, Koller and yes Poborsky) went on to beat Germany as well in the group and reached the semi-finals before finally losing also to our ultimate vanquisher — the host Portugal. Koeman’s team this year faced a hard-working but otherwise middling Austria and rallied twice impressively before conceding again due to some ridiculous errors! So I would again argue that our team tremendously outperformed this current edition, despite having significantly less talent. In other words, it comes down to coaching.

    I can provide more tactical analysis later, but just wanted to lay out the facts so to avoid any confusion. Koeman was quite a player, but it may be best just to leave it at that…

    Best personal regards,


    P.S. Yes, I know I once said that Ronald was the “perfect coach” for the Netherlands in advance of one of his prior tenures, but I said that because that was a Dutch team at the peak of their talent. When you have talent, you don’t need much coaching. Which is what you get with Ronald (by that I mean not much coaching — haha!)

  10. Julian:

    I am happy to let you know my thoughts, but it irks me that you continue to reach out to Nicolaas as well as if our insights were somehow of equal value. In case you missed it, I have successfully managed four of the five most important and influential clubs in European football (and also AZ). And against top competition at both the club and international level, I have achieved a greater than 60% winning percentage. In fact, if you eliminate draws, my percentage increases to more than 75%. I am like that American rapper DJ Khaled. All I do is win win win no matter what.

    On the other hand, this other manager you continue to consult – yes, it is true he has managed more matches than me. It may be that he has managed more matches than anyone in history! And possibly more teams as well. Haha! And it is confirmed that he has 36 more career victories than me. But if either the Belgium FA or Bayern would have answered my text messages, I could have by now easily overcome that disparity (it may be that I used too many food-related emojis? Those sometimes have what we call dubbele betekenis). And keep in mind, it took him 213 more matches to achieve those 36 wins, and his career percentage is only 52%. So while your beloved Nicolaas wins slightly more than half the time, every time Aloysius steps up in the building, everybody’s hands go up… And they stay there!

    Now, on to your inquiries…. First of all, I am happy to see Belgium underachieve yet again. Perhaps they should have hired a Dutchman who has had massive success coaching in Germany rather than an Italian whose last name means German in Italian…

    As for Ronald, I repeat my initial assertion that it is must be no less than the semi-finals, and even more so now that the path has been cleared. The problem, contrary to many of your posters’ assumptions, is not that the team is over-coached but instead not coached enough. There is no tactical precision to Ronald’s set-up, and both discipline and organization is lacking. A manager must develop a system that works for the players under your command, and then adapt that system match-to-match to counter the strengths of your opponent. Plus, Ronald gives the young players glimpses but not a true opportunity. He is afraid to take chances. I introduced the world to Kluivert, Davids and Seedorf at Ajax (all fine players who Nicolaas doesn’t seem to appreciate), David Alaba and Thomas Muller at Bayern, and although everyone forgets, Andres Iniesta at Barcelona. And remember 2014, when Memphis, Wijnaldum, Blind and other youngsters were all crucial components of our success (but not more so than me, of course)? Ronald is too conservative in giving the young players chances and developing their belief. I have found that you can use younger players who do not have egos yet and get them to implement your system to great success. They are willing to work for the team because you have given them their spot. They believe in you and your system because you trust them to execute it. Ronald has no system, makes no adjustments and only caters to egos like his own.

    Unfortunately that is the current state of affairs with Oranje. But I would love to hear Nicolaas’ tactical predictions for the Romania match, and then I can separate for you the truth from the fantasy.

    Tot we elkaar weer ontmoeten,


    Manager of the Year (x2)
    Champions League Winner
    Champions League Runner-Up (x2)
    Intercontinental Cup Winner
    UEFA Cup Winner
    Dutch Champion (x4)
    Dutch Super Cup Winner (x3)
    Dutch Cup Winner
    Spanish Champion (x2)
    Spanish Cup Winner
    German Champion
    German Cup Winner
    German Super Cup Winner
    English FA Cup Winner
    UEFA Super Cup Winner (x2)
    World Cup Third Place

    1. I meant no disrespect Aloysius, and value your contribution to Dutch football immensely. In my opinion you were the star of the team in Qatar and with Koeman’s luck you may have even been world champion.

      We on this blog are so lucky to have this direct interaction with some of the greatest minds in Dutch football history. So much so I always wonder what Hendrikus in heaven makes of this tournament and his former neighbour in Barcelona …

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