It seems to be quite a curse. The cover photo of the Dutch VI magazine. Every player who graced the cover since Xmas has either been injured or suspended. With Kevin Strootman as the latest one in the series.
And how. The poor 24 year old Caesar in midfield at Roma had a horrific week. One knee refused action after 24 minutes vs France with Oranje and a couple of days later, poor Strootman was carried of the pitch- crying – with his other knee horrifically injured.
No Strootman for nine months, is the prognosis. No Strootman for Oranje at the World Cup. And most likely, a career in jeopardy. The MRI after the game showed he has damaged his anterior cruciate ligament and most likely his meniscus as well. Strootman has been operated on already and faces a long and frustrating recovery journey.
Van Gaal was devastated: “Kevin must be gutted. He had such a good season with Roma which is very difficult when you make a move from Holland to the Serie A. He was key for us in the qualification and he was one of my firm starters….”
Kevin Strootman will most likely lose a little bit of speed and flexibility, the experts say. The player himself tweeted to the world that he was convinced to come back with a vengeance. “I will focus 100% on my recovery and pledge that I will come back stronger!”.
Louis van Gaal spends his mondays in his office with his staff. Danny Blind, Patrick Kluivert, Ron Spelbos, Frans Hoek and the boss get together to talk about the development of the Oranje players (a group of 5o apparently). One question they always answer is: if Oranje should play a match today, who would start?
Well, this week, Van Gaal’s question is: who will replace the midfielder whom – with Robben and Robin – is the only one with a certain starting berth when fit. The profile description is quite straightforward. Physically strong, good lungs and legs, defensive capabilities, penetrating skills. goal scoring abilities, leadership, tactical smarts. And this particularly lad plays in the top of one of the Serie A.
Do we have a midfielder between 23 and 28 years old playing in one of the top 4 competitions in Europe? Not one. Not a midfielder, not a defender and not an attacker. Hmmmm…
Daley Blind’s name will be mentioned. Great skills. Good tactical smarts. Left footed as well, like Kevin. But lacking the penetrative skills, the lungs and the physical strength. Davey Klaassen? Very young and inexperienced. And he does have the penetration and speed, but lacks the physical skills. Tonny Vilhena might be an option. But the 19 year old hasn’t had a full season in the Eredivisie, so it seems. Stijn Schaars does not have the box-to-box profile either. Jonathan de Guzman has the football skills and the smarts, but lacks the physical power as well.
It seems like no one fits the package and the fact that Strootman also worked incredibly hard for Sneijder might be really bad news for the Galatasaray midfielder….
It seems that Leroy Fer fits the bill best. The tall former Feyenoord man has the legs and lungs to put in a similar shift as Strootman. He might lack leadership skills and tactical smarts of Strootman but at least he compensates this with aerial power and his ability to score goals.
I have to say that this Strootman injury in itself doesn’t inspire me to write the following statement, but it did contribute a lot.
I believe it might be best to abandon the static 4-3-3 LVG loves so much. It could work with a strong midfield. Meaning: a very strong defensive mid (we have that player in De Jong), a strong box-t0-box runner ( Strootman in the Neeskens role) and a strong number 10 (Wes or Raf).
It seems we only have Nigel. Strootman is out and any alternative is less. And none of our number 10s are doing really well. Sneijder impresses with Gala in Turkey, but that is not a strong competition. Sneijder is not as good as in 2010 and will be a player of moments, rather than continuous class. I’m afraid Raf will not be much better this season. While Maher, Siem de Jong, Wijnaldum and co. are not yet there.
With this, my suggestion is: go 4-5-1.
Use Huntelaar (in great form) as centre striker. Use Van Persie as the man behind the striker with the number 10.
Put Robben on the left flank, Lens on the right – both wide midfield and two strong holders in the centre: Anita and De Jong? Fer and De Jong? De Guzman and Fer? Depends all on the form of the day, I guess.
A compact midfield, with Robben and Lens using the space created as a result of playing compact and tight. Lots of bodies around the ball and simply not trying to dominate the pitch Bayern/Barca style as we simply do not have the quality to do so against the likes of Spain, Chile, Germany and Italy.
We will not dazzle the world, I think, this World Cup. But we do have the option to go far, if LVG can create a team that can play in service of Robben, Van Persie and Huntelaar.