Louis van Gaal has been talking about his “provocative press” quite often. This works well against teams that are expansive, want the ball and want to attack. It’s not a high press, so much, but a press around the midfield. They make the opponent think they are on top, they have possession but once they come 5 yards or so before the midline, the Dutch press starts. The pitch becomes small and the more intense and more neat ball players will turn the game around.
A couple of things are important: 1) recognising the moment, 2) neat and tidy in the passing, 3) some courage to play the ball one time forward and move forward to offer an option again and 4) understanding of one anothers movements.
Van Gaal also analyses the opponent of course, and the USA do not have the best central defenders, not in terms of defending and not in terms of build up. Adams is their holding mid/playmaker and Van Gaal made Memphis, Klaassen and Gakpo or to Adams. The other two would block the passing lines from the defenders to the wide players, as that is how the USA builds up usually.
This is what LVG wanted: crisp fast passing forward, this is the run up to the 1-0. Amazing team goal.
When you can stop these passes, the danger man – in this case Pulisic – will not get much to play with and will not be able to stamp his authority on the game.
The defensive organisation was superb, and a nice bonus of this way of playing is that the USA is allowing the field to become stretched. The two defenders will not dribble into midfield, so whenever there is a turn-around, the smart players (Frenkie, Koopmeiners, Blind, Ake) will find the space to attack the opponent.
Central defender with the ball, pass lines are closed off. Next step: loss of possession
Look at that first goal we scored. It’s Frenkie probing, turning, trying to find the space. Once he has it, it’s accelerating, it’s one-touch football and Gakpo carrying the ball into the danger area. And Memphis has learned from Messi: don’t run into the box but pause a couple of beats and arrive in the box right in time: 1-0.
One of the goals of the tournament… 💫
Total football, you say? 🔥#NED #FIFAWorldCup pic.twitter.com/Z88h9ZmPRs
— BBC Sport (@BBCSport) December 3, 2022
20 – Memphis Depay's goal ended a sequence of 20 uninterrupted passes, the most on record for a Netherlands goal at the World Cup (1966 onwards). Total. pic.twitter.com/fQU2N0EDxy
— OptaJoe (@OptaJoe) December 3, 2022
What was quite remarkable too, was the presence of both Klaassen and De Roon in the box ahead of Memphis, which allowed the Barca man to drift to the edge of the box, unmarked, Lionel Messi style.
The second goal was the result of a nice overload, late in the first half. I think it was a second phase attack on the right, with an overload of Oranje players, playing short combinations.
Smart Memphis went to search out Dest, the US right back to keep him busy and distracted, allowing Daley Blind to move into space undetected. It might have been a blessing that Blind had to finish with his weak foot. Sometimes players try to hit the ball too hard with their favourite foot, while they kick a controlled shot with their weak foot.
After his goal, Blind ran to the bench to celebrate with Weghorst (I have yet to find out why) and to have moment with dad.
What a moment for Danny & Daley Blind 🇳🇱❤️ pic.twitter.com/guoUSDNc3J
— FIFA World Cup (@FIFAWorldCup) December 3, 2022
Yes, it all worked out well but we can’t ignore that Pulisic chance in the 3rd minute, when that same Daley Blind was too lethargic coming out of defence to stay in line with Van Dijk. That almost cost us dearly but goal stopper Noppert saved the day.
I have to say, I was quite suspect of using Noppert but he has completely convinced me. What a story.
This would be the wingbacks game, finally the two wide players got the chance to shine.
Van Gaal assumes Oranje would get more space in the second half, with the USA needing to attack and he brings Koopmeiners and his passing skills and Bergwijn, with his speed. The Atalanta midfielder had a good turn and was close to scoring. Bergwijn had a couple of opportunities but wasn’t sharp enough to turn them into goal chances. It seems Bergwijn needs to shake something off still.
Oranje fails to convert the chances and kill the game, despite more opportunities for Memphis and Blind but when it remains 2-0, USA can still get back into the game and does so through a fluke goal.
The disciplined Dutch do get their third goal, as mentioned, another wingback to wingback opportunity, with Dumfries unmarked at the far post. Typical for a team defending with four at the back, they simply didn’t have enough bodies at the back and looked a mess.
19y 226d – Xavi Simons (19 years and 226 days) is the youngest player to ever feature for @OnsOranje in the knockout stages of the World Cup. Blossoming. pic.twitter.com/kxVcg1rWXq
— OptaJohan (@OptaJohan) December 3, 2022
Xavi Simons is the youngst debutant in Oranje, at a World Cup knock out stage. 19 years and something. In the 83rd minute he replaced Memphis. “This is a dream come true!”.
Denzel Dumfries was the Man of the Match, unchallenged. Two assists, one goal and those trade mark marauding runs. It was all rosy after three weak performances in the group. Dumfries: “I can tell you, the criticism hurt. It was not easy for me, mentally. I do have a great team of people around me and they helped me. Since my Sparta days I am working with a sports psychologist. I have had contact with her twice via Zoom during the World Cup. Sometimes this is a taboo but I don’t care. I am super critical on myself, even more so that others. And it affects me But I am super happy with played well and won, even though we can and need to do better. We had to kill the game before they scored. Their goal made things a bit harder.”
Frenkie de Jong is usually one of the best Oranje players, but this time he played a so-so match. “We did allow them the ball and allowed them to move up a bit. This way, there would be more space in their third, which we could penetrate and exploit. I think that worked well. But, we can do better in possession. I was not good today, I was actually quite bad. Not sure, I was flat, missed the energy and was sloppy. I think it might have been that cold I had. But it’s ok, we now have 6 days until the Argentina game, that should be enough.” When talking about the strengths of this team: “We are good in exploiting the spaces, that is a weapon. And that 1-0 move, that was us good in possession. We need more of that.” When asked about playing with Marten de Roon: “I like playing with him, but I can play with others too. You know with Marten, that he will always guard the space, when I roam, he is a certainty for me.”
Louis van Gaal couldn’t help but emphasize that his plan worked: “We were going to allow their two central defenders to build up and just pin their key players further up the field. This allowed us to play our provocative press. And those goals were fantastic, as it all worked out as we planned. That second and third goal: one wingback assisting the other wingback. Amazing. But we need to improve when we are in possession. Without the ball, we can dominate and we are very good, but with the ball, we need to grow. And if you don’t, you won’t win this tournament. Now, I will give my players a day off. I think they will be pretty sick of me by now.”
Some people call this Oranje a counter attacking team, a bit condescendingly (you know who you are Pierre van Hooijdonk) but Davy Klaassen is not ashamed: “Yes, it is one of our strengths. It always sounds so negative, but we have speedy and capable forwards. The 1-0 was amazing and that is how we like to play football. This is how we discuss our game. And today you saw the power of the system we use. But, we do want to play higher up. When players drop in, you need to decide whether you press forward or not. And that needs to be finetuned between the other players as well. But, all in all, the USA didn’t create too many chances. Still, I think we needed to press more aggressive even, we could have done better.”
Blind was asked how it came to be that it worked so well against USA and not in the group games. “When teams play deep and compact, Denzel and I simply don’t get the space we need. It’s hard to go past them. Now, there was space. And when our strikers can hold on to the ball, we can move up and support. And there was space behind their backs, as they also tried to move forward. That is all relevant. In the past group matches we pressed higher up. Which limits our space as well whereas against USA we decided to let them come higher before we pressed. I do think we can improve in that but we got some good results. When you play this system you know you might see less of the ball. But it is effective.”
Blind had to cop some criticism before this match. “I personally believe we tend to focus on the negative too much in Holland. You can do 20 things right, but when you make a mistake, all the focus is on that. It’s a Dutch thing, I think. But we are super critical ourselves as well. We know what needs to improve but you cannot just flick your fingers and there it is. It’s like a jigsaw, you need to find the right pieces that fit together. And when we do what we agree on, we can come a long way.” When the interviewer kept on coming back to the criticism, Blind cut him off: “Lets not make a big thing of it. We won, lets talk about that. I can see many nations trying to find their top level. We are the only country without a loss. I am not claiming we are playing perfect football, I know we need to do better. But if we can’t, we need to stick to the plan and do our job. The criticism is justified at times, but not always.”
This team had some outstanding performers. Noppert needs a mention, because of his saves (playing sweeper at one point), Dumfries as Man of the Match of course, and Daley with a goal and assist. Memphis is clearly getting better and better but the defence deserves a separate mention as well. Van Dijk and Timber played sober, but did everything right, while Nathan Ake is Holland’s most consistent performer this tournament. He is slowly but surely becoming one of the world’s best defenders if he keeps on developing like this. Great player. The modern defender.
All in all, after 90 minutes of play, the USA has had more possession, a higher passing accuracy and more attempts on goal, but the most important statistic – goals – is in for the Dutch.