It’s now official (in case you didn’t know already): Oranje can impress against top nations, and usually disappoints when the bus is parked.
It’s not a new thing. Bert van Marwijk’s team struggled with it too, getting minimal wins vs the so called minions (1-0, 2-1) and even Louis van Gaal’s and Koeman’s teams struggled against compact playing opponents while picking off Germany, France and England on the turn-around.
So, in other words, qualifying for tournaments will be hell for us, but if we do get there, we can go far… Not a bad spot to be in. Better this than the other way around!
This Oranje team (selection) and performance surprised me, to be honest. I didn’t think Frank would come up with an innovative line up and I also didn’t think that Oranje would bounce back so strong as they did.
So Frank analysed Italy, he analysed our strengths and weaknesses and he came up with a Plan A and Plan B. He presented both to the squad and discussed with them, hearing their input and ideas.
And so it went: Plan A was the outcome. The players felt confident and committed to it. One downside, everyone’s favorite left footer (Steven Berghuis) ended up as the loser in this all. He played well vs Mexico, changed the game for us vs Bosnia Herzegovina and was a sure-fire starter for this Italy match, according to all the punters (including yours truly) but he lost out. The 3-1-3-1-2 system (say whaaatttt???) De Boer conjured up did not have space for an out and out right winger.
Very disappointing for Berghuis, but completely understandable from the tactical point of view. This system wasn’t a good fit for the Feyenoord captain.
We started with Ake, Van Dijk, De Vrij, with Frenkie in front of them, Daley on the left and Hateboer on the right, playing in his home stadium in Bergamo and Gini central. Donny played in front of them as a #10 and Memphis played from the left, with Luuk de Jong centrally. This allowed Hans Hateboer to play his marauding style without getting exposed.
The first 15 minutes were a bit untidy at times. A bit feeling into the game, trying to settle, with a high line that was regularly broken by the Azzurri. The goal after 17 minutes was the result of this high line. Not enough pressure on the ball, a brillian curling ball into Pellegrini and nothing Jasper could do: 1-0.
But Oranje didn’t let the shoulder slump. On the contrary! We seized control of the game and the likes of Ake, De Vrij, Van de Beek and Blind started to make themselves felt in the personal duels while Frenkie demanded the centre stage more and more. A great move, allowing Daley in the opponents box for a low pull back resulted in the fast equaliser. Memphis turn and shot bounced off some legs and ended up at the feet of Van de Beek who didn’t hesitate and finished the ball in the roof of the goal. The Mancunian’s first international goal!
And from that moment on, Holland dictated the game more and grew into the game.
Not much later, a tremendous break-out chance for Gini and Memphis, but the Liverpool marathon man picks the wrong pass. He could have catapulted Memphis alone in front of the goal but his lazy pass went straight to Chiellini. Another opportunity was squandered by Luuk de Jong, the header specialist, when he wasn’t sure if needed to head Memphis’ cross on goal or lay it off to Donny van de Beek. He did something in between. Gone was the chance.
Late in the first half, Cillesen had to act when the Italians took some pot shots on goal, but the Valencia bench warmer did well.
The second half started with a powerful surge of Oranje, winning corner after corner. From one of those, Wijnaldum had a shooting chance, which ricocheted onto the top of the goal. By then, irrate Verrati (Irrati?) was subbed. He had a yellow already and by then, fouling Frenkie was all he could do, as the Barca midfielder was bossing the midfield. Not much later, Memphis has a good chance, curling a low shot to the far corner, which Donnarumma could barely demote to a corner kick.
Hans Hateboer had his usual brain fart and completely got a back pass wrong, allowing Immobile to have a go alone at goal but Cillessen does what he is paid to do. The next opportunity is for Holland again, when Memphis spots the run from Wijnaldum, into the box. Chiellini is just in time to head the ball corner. In the 70est minute, Frenkie dribbles in JC style across the pitch, but his final ball for Blind was wanting and his cross didn’t reach Depay at the far post. Another corner, courtesy of Chiellini.
Holland has a number of break outs in the final 10 minutes, with chances to win the game, but Wijnaldum gets it wrong as he goes for glory, with Hateboer in acres of space who gets ignored.
After Poland’s win over Bosnia Herzegovina, our group is now led by Poland, with Italy one point behind and Oranje one point behind Italy. Italy needs to play Poland and Bosnia still, as do we. We might have to settle for spot 2 in this group…
All in all, a glorious come back by Oranje, which should have gotten more out of this game.
Personally, I like this system when we play strong opponents. I do believe Luuk de Jong might not be the best option for us, although his heading power and physical presence are important.
Frenkie de Jong was the outstanding player for me, but Ake and De Vrij deserve a shout out as well. Memphis was a busy bee again, but lacked his best form. Hateboer was weak, again. And I noticed he doesn’t have a left foot. He has a decent cross with his right, but whenever he had a chance to play the ball in with his left, he’d turn back and play a back pass.
Wijnaldum wasn’t great on the ball but we know he can do better.
I would have liked Frank de Boer to bring some subs sooner. I had the feeling some players were struggling a bit. Donny was pulling on his thigh, Hateboer and Wijnaldum had run miles and Luuk de Jong was moving slower and slower. Babel for De Jong was a logical change, but why so late? And why not use Malen? With his speed, we could have won this game.
Bergwijn, Malen, Ihattaren will offer more attacking options, but lets also hope Sam Lammers develops well at Atalanta. He might well be the #9 we need.
After the game, captain Virgil van Dijk praised Frank de Boer’s tactics and people management. There was relief and pride with the players, after the game. Some colour on the cheeks. Frenkie de Jong was happy with this system and was clear with his words: “This was great for me. Three defenders behind me, means I can take more risks and play a bit more forward.”
Roberto Mancini couldn’t stop praising Oranje and Frenkie. “This Dutch team has quality and they had the guts to take us on, which I respect. And their midfielder, Frenkie, he is probably one of the best on the planet right now. As a football fan, I enjoyed him immensely, but as Italy coach I wanted my team to do more. I do believe we should have won, with Immobile’s big opportunity. But it was a real match up and this is how football at the top is played.”
Frank de Boer was mostly relieved. “This will bring some peace and quiet. We need to talk about football and we were talking a bit too much about other things. I know I would have had lots of criticism if this tactics would have failed, but I was feeling this strongly. I felt we needed this. And sad for Berghuis, but I told him: if I play you as right winger, you’ll need to constantly track back with Spinazzola. And I need to be rational: do I play Berghuis and expect him to perform with his biggest weakness? Defending? Against this opponent, Berghuis was not the obvious choice. I am not happy with the result, mind you. I think we were better and could have won it. They played like wolves and I’m very impressed with this team. We can make it hard for any opponent with this mentality. And the next two games are must win games, so we’ll need that again.”
De Boer was very happy with what he found, in his first week. “I enjoyed this group a lot. They’re amazing. They’re all close and homogenous. They’re playing games together, and ping pong and all this and on the pitch you see the unity as well.” Asked if 3-5-2 was the new norm, he said: “No, I still believe strongly in 4-3-3 but in certain situations, you need to be able to adapt.”