Tag: De Ligt

On the Road to Qatar: Steven Berghuis

Whether he going the long way from the amateurs to the pros or whether its through a headline grabbing transfer from Feyenoord to Ajax, Steven Berghuis will always go his own way, dreaming of a pro career and dreaming to reach Oranje, like his dad Frank “Pico” (ex PSV, ex-Galatasaray) did.

He made his debut in pro football in 2011, for FC Twente in a game versus Heracles. It’s no surprise that Steven got into the National Team, as that whole team consisted or would consist of internationals. A couple of names: Mihaylov (46 caps for Bulgaria), Rosales (91 caps for Venezuela), Onyewu (69 for the USA), Landzaat (39 caps), Luuk de Jong (38 caps), Nacer Chadli (66 for Belgium) and Marc Janko (70 for Austria) to name a few.

Ironically, defender Douglas didn’t get any. But he was the one Louis van Gaal pushed to get a Dutch passport and after a prolonged visa process, he did get two call ups for qualification matches with Oranje but never played a single minute for the Dutch NT.

Berghuis’ debut in Oranje

12 years later, it’s the longhaired youngster with the shiny boots who would become the most prolific international for Oranje from this particular squad. He made his debut in 2011 but there is only 4 seconds of footage of him, in which he is recognisable due to his typical little spring in his step. Assistant coach Alfred Schreuder (!) told him to go out and enjoy himself but he might not even had touched the ball, against Heracles with a young Remko Pasveer on goal.

A couple of years before his debut, he has had a sniff of pro football when WSV from his home city Apeldoorn selected him as 15 year old to play with the first team against Feyenoord in a friendly. The amateurs lost 4-1 but Berghuis gets his goal and celebrates it as if he just won the Champions League. When he made it to skipper at Feyenoord, many years later, he posted a photo from that match, standing in between Gini Wijnaldum and Slory, with goalie Henk Timmer on the right.

15 year old Berghuis against Wijnaldum

His dream to become a pro player like his dad Frank seems shattered when the Vitesse/AGOVV academy decides to cancel his spot there. He tells his coaches that he will find another way to become a pro player and goes back to his amateur club, where he would play for 2 years, until several pro clubs come knocking. He gets into the Twente first team squad via the Go Ahead Eagles academy and the rest is history. He doesn’t get much chances at Twente, where Co Adriaanse feels he is too feeble and vulnerable for the top. He makes a move on loan to VVV Venlo where he shines and gets picked up by AZ Alkmaar scouts.

Watford recognises his talent and pays good money to lure him and dad Frank (as scout) to Watford, after having impressed at AZ. He doesn’t fit in the system of Quique Sanchez Flores though, and only gets a couple of sub turns, before he is relegated to the B team, from October to April. Late in the season he gets two games and partly due to two Berghuis assists is Watford able to stay up. Flores praises Berghuis’ tenacity but the technician feels English football is probably not for him. When Feyenoord decides to get him in, on loan first, he grabs the opportunity with both hands and becomes a regular at De Kuip.

Danny Blind also recognises his talent and selects him for Oranje. Berghuis would finally eclipse dad Frank, who played 1 cap for Oranje, and gets his hare against Ireland in a friendly.

At Feyenoord, he is important in his first season, when Feyenoord wins the title. Striker Jorgensen and Dirk Kuyt are the key men but Berghuis still gets seven goals and five assists. He will grow out to Feyenoord’s main man and skipper in the seasons after. In four seasons, he will become the most valuable player with a role in 106 goals in 119 matches.

In a 2020 interview, he is asked about his stats in relation to his role as winger: “I don’t see myself as a winger. I don’t have that speed or particular dribble like Robben had. I am more a 10 playing wide. Something you see more often. Ziyech plays like that, Mahrez, Tadic. I could also play as a real 10 I think. But in modern football, a lot of the 10s are now more box to box players, with lots of movement, like Guus Til or Davy Klaassen.”

Steven and Frank Berghuis

Interestingly enough, at Ajax, Berghuis is used a lot as midfielder, and actually, a midfielder who can play at any position. Under Ten Hag he plays mostly as a 10 but under Schreuder and recently in Oranje as well, he is used as an 8 or even a 6.

This means he gets involved sooner, and has more impact on the game. His stats demonstrate this. This season, he had 91 touches in a match and 68 passes! That is the highest he had ever since returning to the Eredivisie.

In Oranje, Van Gaal used him as controlling mid and in that role he had 4 key interceptions defensively and three shots on goal and a wonderful assist.

In the National Team, he can play in any role in midfield and in a 4-3-3 he could also play as right winger. Wonderful for any coach to have such a versatile player, with a wand of a left foot. When he played his first U-19 match, he wondered if he could do better than dad Frank. With 39 caps now and a World Cup on the horizon, it seems like he has definitely made his dad proud.

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On the Road to Qatar: Virgil van Dijk

The 31st year old has never played on a big tournament. The World Cup would be the realisation of his boyhood dream. And as skipper of Oranje, he will lead the team out. He discovered himself at Liverpool. A heavy knee injury might have delayed his debut at a Tournament with capital T, but he came back as if nothing happened.

Virgil can come across lacklustre. Lazy even. That was the comment on scouting reports from Ajax scouts, some 12 years ago. Complacent. This was the case then and it’s still the case now. His biggest strength is also his biggest pitfall. When he does make a mistake, he will hear that he was trying to solve the problem without getting his jersey dirty. Van Dijk does not throw his energy around but tries to solve problems by positioning smarter and making the right choices. Nothing arrogant about that.

Take that goal Man United scored. Sancho chopped inside. Milner slides past, while Becker dove to the wrong corner of the goal. Sancho simply passed the ball in the other corner. All this time, Van Dijk was ball watching with his arms behind his back. Milner was seen in close up after the goal was scored, scolding Virgil for not throwing his body on the line. But Virgil did what he always does. He’s always trying to organise so that flying tackles aren’t needed. He is like the CEO amongst defenders. He makes sure others do their job, so he doesn’t need to do it.

When Klopp was asked about the contributions of Van Dijk, in his first season, he answered: “Influential. Very very very influential”.  On December 27, there is a sort of public holiday in Liverpool. The Virgil’s Arrival Day. When he finally came over from Southampton, for 85 million euros. Where the amount is constantly dug up when Maguire makes another mistake, this Virgil transfer fee is simply a foot note.

As Klopp put it: “Thanks to Virgil, we can defend differently. Higher up the pitch. We can make the playing field smaller now.”

When he returned after his injury, the Daily Mail asked him if he was back to normal and he nodded yes. What people didn’t realise, and Virgil was a bit taken aback with that fact, is that he had to literally learn how to walk again! While his team mates were playing football and had their summer break or the Euros, Virgil was working like a beast, all by himself. He didn’t want to hurry his recovery by focusing on the Euros, knowing how tough it is to get back from this crucial injury.

“Everyone seemed to think it was normal that I got back at my level. As if nothing had happened. Based on my research, being able to get back at your normal level is not something that can be expected. And I’m not a spring chicken anymore either, so I felt that I could have received a bit more positive feedback than I did, as I started to play in every single game again…” His colleagues in England did give him the kudos he deserved, by picking him as the only non creative player in the list of nominees for Player of the Year (along side Salah , Mane, C Ronaldo, Kane and De Bruyne).

Check the personal duels won by Big Virgil. 

Virgil was asked during a presser with Oranje and Van Gaal whether he was able to hear any of the commands from the side-line, usually given by Danny Blind at Oranje or Klopp at Liverpool. “No, I am too loud myself, so I can’t hear the coaches yell at me, hahaha”. And it’s true, Pep Lijnders once said he sits more comfortable if he can hear Van Dijk’s bassoon in the stadium. He is the command centre of the Liverpool build up.

As the CEO of the Liverpool defence, he has ample tasks. After he went from Groningen to Celtic, he was described as a big unit (a wardrobe is the literal translation) with imposing physical qualities. And yes he is tall and yes he can head a ball.  Lijnders always says you need to really run around him if you want to get past him. But he’s not a very physical defender. He’s not like Man United’s Martinez or Mathijs de Ligt who love some Greek Romanian wrestling. With all the space in Virgil’s back, he needs to conduct the defence. And make sure it’s all fine tuned and in sync. It’s a balancing act, as he himself is usually situation on the halfway line. In the Big Five competitions, there is no team that was able to play the offside as much as Liverpool, last season.

It does fail at times and when it does fail, it looks really amateuristic. But, Klopp wants it like this and if there are mistakes made, it’s just par for the course. Because overall, it will work often very well and it allows every Liverpool player to be part of the attacking flow.

Van Dijk is a mind reader. He plays mainly with his brains. He tries to get into the head of the forward and he slows their attack. He won’t “bite” immediately, he will simply slow things down so his mates can track back. He basically pushes the pause button. He delays his decisions and actions, he pushes the opponent to the sides, with his running pattern and he hardly ever needs a foul or a tackle, even. He’s strong, very good in the air, relatively fast, technically solid and he oozes confidence.

Unbeaten record at home. Cool to see two other Dutchies and one former Dutch Eredivisie player (Alex) in the mix. Virgil NEVER lost a home game in the PL.

It’s probably his intelligence that makes the real difference. He can organise his defence in such a way that the opponent’s forwards think they’re always a step too late. The magic is in his timing. He developed a masterful sense of timing, when to press up, when to drop back. How to offer cover, when to mark and how to push a forward to the sides. He has the highest winning % in personal duels in the Premier League and it’s not a coincidence. He’s like Mr Charisma, the ability to foresee the moves of the opponent and to almost attract them to do what Virgil wants.

Lijnders: “We knew he would be a direct contributor as an individual player, but he also contributes indirectly, by making other players better.”

We all know Virgil’s story. A lazy right back at Willem II when he was 16 years old. Nothing special . When he turned 17, he suddenly grew another 18 centimerers. And his life changed. Grads Fuhler, scout of Groningen (now at FC Emmen), saw him play by coincidence. Fuhler was on his way to a game in Belgium and realised Willem II A1 played PSV A1 so he took the Tilburg exit. A week later, Virgil and mum were on their way to Groningen to sign for the local FC.

At Groningen 2, he spent a lot of time on the bench. His coach, Dick Lukkien (now head coach at FC Emmen) spent a lot of time on Virgil, who was still complacent. Lukkien desired more from the player and slowly but surely, Van Dijk started to change his mentality. The Top 3 didn’t see it in him, although Ronald Koeman was keen to sign him for Feyenoord. There was no money though. Ajax decided to get Mike van der Hoorn from FC Utrecht. At Celtic, he made some crucial steps but it was when Koeman was able to sign him for Southampton that the Oranje captain started to thrive. Both Lukkien and Koeman are mentioned by Virgil when asked which coaches were instrumental in his career.

If you ask English fans who were or are the best defenders ever in the PL, his name is mentioned, alongside players like Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams and Nemanja Vidic. Not bad for a player who never played a big Tournie.

Ironically, Virgil is now the captain of the WC squad under a coach who in 2014 decided to leave him home. Van Gaal said he saw the same mistakes being made over and over again and decided to take Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar. Willem Vissers interviewed Van Gaal who said more negative things about Van Dijk. After the interview, Van Gaal instructed Vissers to delete these comments. Vissers can not remember exactly what the current team manager said, but it was something like “he doesn’t press forward enough, and he doesn’t see players running in behind, he is simply not good enough…”. Van Gaal did say in 2019 that Van Dijk has the personality to instil fear in his opponents.

Van Dijk says something interesting in the book “Thou Shall Not Pass: The Anatomy of Football’s Centre-Half”: “I want my opponents to think everything I do is easy for me. Look at Roger Federer. He doesn’t even break a sweat, or so it seems. Mentally, that will be tough for the opponents. They think Federer doesn’t even need to work hard. I try to do this too.”

The Liverpudlians call him VVD. Superman on Anfield. Mr Cook. With Van Dijk in the team, they hardly ever lose at home.

When Virgil made his first entrance in the Oranje squad, he was in awe of Robben and Kuyt. He was observing them. How they acted, what they ate, how they behaved. As kid, he wanted to be Ronaldinho and he thought Jaap Stam was two meters tall. The World Cup was millions of miles away from the kid in Breda. Virgil became his version of Ronaldinho.  Now, kids in England and Holland dream of being Virgil van Dijk.  In Liverpool, he’s a demi God.

Virgil’s debut.

It was a different time. Oranje at a historic trough. The Euros of 2016 are out of sight. In the final away game versus Kazachstan, coach Danny Blind gives Virgil a chance, alongside debutant Kenny Tete. The game is won, 1-2 but three days later, the Czechs are too strong in the JC Arena. Oranje ends 4th behind the Czechs, Iceland and Turkey. Blind played: Krul, Riedewald, Bruma, Van Dijk, Tete; Wijnaldum, Blind, Sneijder; Depay, El Ghazi, Huntelaar.

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How Van Gaal rejuvenated Oranje. Again.

With his 2014 experience, Van Gaal i making this Oranje “World Cup proof”. It will be tough to beat this system.

We won’t have a festive farewell game for Oranje, as per usual and the last match in Holland – the 1-0 win over Belgium – was not a festive one as such. It was tactical, shrewd and a bit like chess. Van Gaal wanted this. He prepped his team as such.

He wanted Oranje to play versus a strong side and keep a clean sheet. The focus now, was possession by the opponent, a strong one at that. Frenkie and Memphis were not there to take the team by the hand, so Louis wanted to build a fortress. Oranje succeeded and Van Gaal was realistic: “We defended well, we play less than acceptable with the ball.”

From the tactical cam up in the stadium, the hand of Van Gaal was visible. The team moved organically, as one being. They pressed where the ball was and dominated without the ball. When the spaces opened up in the second half and the opponent started to get more fatigued, Oranje pounced.

Van Gaal’s philosophy is simple: not the best players will win, but the best team will. He learned this when he missed the 2002 World Cup with experienced world class stars and won bronze in 2014 with three top talents and the rest in service.

Compared to Brazil, when Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben were the key men, our current top players are more behind the ball: Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie de Jong. Van Gaal thinks this squad is stronger but any coach would always favour their current squad over a past squad. In the 2014 campaign, our top players were surrounded by Eredivisie players (Wijnaldum, Blind, Janmaat, De Vrij, Martins Indi) whereas most of our lads now are playing at a higher level. Yes, lots of Ajax players, but Ajax has also stepped up a notch or two since 2014. According to Van Gaal, this squad show more responsibility and are self-sustainable in a way. Players like Van Dijk, Frenkie and Memphis will regulate behaviour in the dressing room, without the gaffer being there.

There is another differentiator: time. In 2014, Van Gaal had a month to prep his team, tactically, mentally and physically. For Qatar, he has 1 week. This is why he worked with the squad as he did during the last outings together. Focusing on moulding the starting line up and working on a winning mentality. Van Gaal used every minute he could. In one session, there was no more time to add another training session, so he took the lads in to the conference space and used 22 chairs to explain his vision. Another advantage: most players have similarly focused coaches at their club ( Pep, Klopp, Ten Hag, Gasperini).

Tactics is yet another aspect. In 2014, Van Gaal played a 5-3-2, with a passer in midfield and speed/guile upfront. That happened after our 4-3-3 was played off the pitch by France. Van Gaal immediately spoke to Robben about it, who supported the plan. He called Van Persie, who also saw this as a plus for himself individually. When Oranje would be able to cement the defence as a wall, we would have a fighting chance. When LVG started with his third tenure, he fell back to 4-3-3 because “it’s the easiest for the players”, but he already laid his plans for a 3-2-1-2 down. He only needed to convince his players, and he did.

Van Gaal solves a couple of issues, using this system. For starters, we have strong centre backs, so three in the backline should be enough to stop the opponent’s forwards. Secondly, we  add more bodies in midfield, using the full backs as midfielders. This creates an overload and he who controls midfield controls the game. Thirdly, we don’t have real classic wingers at the moment, so this role will be taken by the full backs. The number of assists they had (Blind and Dumfries, but also Malacia), demonstrates this point. And lastly, our free roaming forwards will have the freedom to play according to their intuition.

There are some issues too. LVG wants his players to be in position once build up starts. They work with certain meters between the players and different lines. It takes time to get in position which slows the build up down a bit. When they are in position, they need to have either a full back or a pivot in midfield to make themselves available. This tends to happen slow at times.

Also, what do we do when the opponent doesn’t press? And just sits in position – zonal – to wait for us to create something?

In that case, we need to create. Play fast, move fast and find the space for the combination or the dribble. We are very good when having to press the opponent, regain possession and pounce.

Van Gaal is not happy with the game play in possession. Against Belgium and Poland, it was sloppy. “I do think we will find this again in a short time. It has to do with the form of the day, with fitness and with the quality and resistance of the opponent. For this, we depend on the club and the way the player is built up. Against Belgium, both Koopmeiners and Frenkie were missed. But still, we had more chances than Belgium, strangely enough… that is football for you.”

Skipper Virgil van Dijk: “We didn’t play well but we did win. We were not good in possession which means we need to work harder and run more. But we did. And we responded well to their positioning changes. Try and beat this Dutch team, it is not easy.”

Van Gaal also said most players have gained their “plusses” on the score card and if all goes well – fitness- these players can organise their suitcases already. Timber, Van Dijk, Ake are players who dare to press high. With De Vrij and De Ligt, Van Gaal has tremendous stand-ins.

Van Gaal trusts the power and run of Dumfries on the right and the vision, timing and footballing skills of Daley Blind on the left, with Malacia as a super stand in.

Frenkie is beyond reproach in midfield, while Bergwijn and Memphis are shoe ins as well. Gakpo is also clearly in the LVG good books.

So the remaining questions are: who partners De Jong in midfield? Berghuis, De Roon, Koopmeiners, Taylor and De Roon are options, depending on the quality of the opponent. Gravenberch can dream, as can Simons. The goalies are also not 100% certain. It seems LVG will bring four, so Noppert, Bijlow or Flekken will have to sit on the sofa at home, as Pasveer and Cillesen seem to be the logical choices for now.

Then there is the target man: Brobbey or Janssen? And the pinch hitter: Luuk de Jong or Wout Weghorst? Van Gaal: “And there is always the potential of a talent suddenly manifesting itself. Look at Taylor. if they’re good, I’ll pick them.”

It seems Frimpong can still dream. More on him in the next post!

Lastly, there are some former internationals who had to abandon the orange jersey due to injuries, such as Karsdorp, Danjuma, Malen and Lang. One or two of these could make the cut if they perform really well in the coming 7 weeks.

Is Oranje now a title fave? No, more of a dark horse. But when the stars align (form, draw, off-day opponent) then anything can happen…. Just like in 2014.

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Winners and Losers of Oranje

He who studied Louis van Gaal knows he is a true fan and follower of his role model Rinus Michels. As a young player, he would bike to the Ajax training ground, not to watch the Ajax players, but to watch Michels. When a young adult Van Gaal needed to pick a profession, he decided to become a teacher, phys ed, like Michels was.

He tries to copy Michels career (Ajax, Barca, Oranje) but wants to do one better: winning the World Cup. He will have noticed how Michels abandoned the Dutch 4-3-3 in 1988, in order to win the first and only trophy for Holland. He shored up the midfield and took a forward off, making sure his two stars Gullit and Van Basten wouldn’t need to do too much work and could focus on scoring goals. Realist Michels ignored all the idealists and won the big prize.

As a young coach, Van Gaal played uber attacking football, which has inspired many a coach, like Guardiola, Bielsa and Flick. But on 19 January 1989, something happened. Barca led Valencia, 3-0. In 20 minutes, Valencia scored four goals and Van Gaal lost that match.

His next big trophy, he won with AZ Alkmaar, playing counter football in a 4-4-1-1 set up.

During the years, he realised he was naive and started to focus on a way to win games with exciting football. He got more and more convinced, that the strongest team with the tightest bonds would win tournaments. And when one has mediocre players, reactive football will pay off, using tactical smarts, to cover your own weaknesses and to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent.

At the 2014 World Cup, he knew he had some world class forwards, but mediocre defenders. The players back then were on the pay roll of Ajax, Feyenoord, Aston Villa, Norwich, Swansea City, Galatasaray… He created a platform for Robben and Van Persie and disciplined the lesser heroes into a tight system. When he needed speed and pizzazz, he brought Memphis. When he needed legs in midfield, he had PSV player Wijnaldum.

We got to the semis, and a failed penalty shoot out blocked us from beating the Germs in the finals.

This time around, our back line has players who are at Man City, Liverpool, Inter, Juventus, Ajax and midfielders who play at Barcelona, PSG, Man United or Bayern Munich. Our forwards might not (yet) be of Robben status, but they know how to unsettle defenders and score!

Van Gaal believes he has a real chance of lifting the trophy.

He studied the way Tuchel at Chelsea works with his three at the back. Chelsea is able to put pressure on the ball and does this by using the wing backs in a tactical way. They need to see the moment to push forward and put pressure on the wingers of the opponent. Van Gaal noticed that Daley Blind has the tactical intelligence to recognise these moments. Something Dumfries needs to improve on, as he got it wrong recently versus Germany (and initially versus Belgium as well).

Van Gaal speaks of the 10 yard rule. When the opponent has the ball, the Oranje players cannot be further apart than 10 yards. In this way, players can put pressure and know that their spot will be covered. This was what didn’t go well at the Euros, recently, when the Czechs didn’t find it hard to play in between the lines.

Another aspect Van Gaal has been hammering on: coaching. All players need to be vocal, you need to inform your mates and create a better awareness or orientation. Van Gaal uses video analysis software to monitor this. The video software constantly calculates and visualises the distances. Based on this, Van Dijk is named the General of Pressing and he is the key man in coaching the team. Stefan de Vrij is his capable 2CO in this task. Interestingly enough, when Oranje is able to keep these distances, the opponent finds it hard to score. Once we are unable to fill in the gaps, the opponent will get chances. We were able to do it right for 70 minutes versus Belgium. Once we started slipping and getting more fatigued, we become vulnerable.

The lesson? If we can keep this up for 90 minutes, it will be hard for any opponent to score against us.

By using two forwards and no real wingers, LVG opens up the flanks for his wide wingbacks. This means Oranje has always an extra man in midfield. Vanaken and Witsel of Belgium were constantly facing three Oranje midfielders. When you control the midfield, you control the game.

Players like Memphis, Bergwijn, Lang, Malen and Danjuma do love the space on the wing to be available for them to run into. The experiment with Weghorst as deepest striker against Wales didn’t work out. As Wales didn’t press up, we were a man short in midfield, also because the two “half 10s” weren’t able to play the spaces too well. Van Gaal changed it back, by making Lang a midfielder again and this way we regained control.

Against Poland, Van Gaal went back to his 3 midfielder game plan (Klaassen, Frenkie, Berghuis) and we should have and could have won that too, if Memphis had scored the pen. The two Polish goals can be (and should have been) avoided.

The new Oranje system works well against stronger nations, who want to attack as well. It will allow for space, for Frenkie and Memphis in particular to create havoc.

Against team parking the bus – and they usually also sacrifice a player to mark Frenkie de Jong – this team needs to improve. Van Gaal had to instruct Frenkie to not try and dribble into cul de sacs, but to move away from the action. Find space on the wings, or in areas where nothing is happening. If the marker follows, it means other players will be able to get more space and take over Frenkie’s role.

The fact that it still takes the coach to point this out, as he had to do versus Denmark when Eriksen became the free man after he had come onto the pitch, there is still a lot of work to do. You want that tactical intelligence on the pitch, you want players like Blind, Van Dijk, Frenkie and Memphis to “see” these things and take care of it.

This new Van Gaal system has a couple of winners.

Steven Bergwijn – Van Gaal called him a Gift of the Gods, literally. Strong on the ball, a good partnership with Memphis, scoring ability, depth, speed. But… not able to play more than 70 minutes at high intensity.

Steven Berghuis – Van Gaal calls him the “passer” as opposed to the “runners” Klaassen, Wijnaldum, Van de Beek and Til. Berghuis is unique in this role, with Teun Koopmeiners as more defensive alternative. As there are no real alternatives, it seems the Ajax man is certain of his spot.

Jurrien Timber – He may have gotten the wrath of the coach against Poland but Timber has been impressing as right CB in Ajax and in Oranje. He is the complete package: speed, ability to play right wing back if needed, strong in challenges and very good on the ball. His off day v Poland was due to fatigue, Van Gaal concluded.

Nathan Ake – Van Gaal prefers a left footed left centre back. He seems to prefer Blind as wing back so Ake is the only left footed defender in the squad. Martins Indi was called up for this reason and we’ll see Sven Botman most likely too. Ake doesn’t play much at City, but he keeps impressing in Oranje.

The Losers

Stefan de Vrij – Van Gaal is a super fan of the Inter defender as he also used him successfully in 2014. “Everything Van Dijk can do, De Vrij can do as well.” It seems he is the ideal stand in for captain Virgil van Dijk.

Mathijs de Ligt – The young and solid Juve defender was tested as left CB but that was not an overall success. It seems De Ligt needs to focus on a spot in the centre or right CB. For these positions he’s competing with De Vrij, Van Dijk and Timber. Tough test for Mathijs.

Gini Wijnaldum – One of the key players for Oranje in the past years, but Van Gaal is not impressed with his performances in Oranje. “Gini has to deliver. We cannot bring players in to help them find their feet. He will need to do this at his club.”

Arnaut Danjuma – Scores for fun in Spain (and everywhere else) but hasn’t impressed Van Gaal too much. “He is still injured. He’s not my #1 player and when you’re not fit, you move further down the hierarchy. Danjuma needs to get fit and he needs to perform. Only then can I select him again.”

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Oranje finishes campaign on a high!

Another match played in the “old rubbish stadium” of De Kuip. The final match of these series, after two wins and one draw. Oranje had to play in Rotterdam, much to LVG’s chagrin, as the Stones were supposed to play in the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam, but due to a positive Covid test, Jagger had to cancel. How Rock & Roll is that? They performed for years in a state of drugged up drunkenness but Covid positive? No rock, no roll.

Van Gaal re-iterated before the game, that yes the pitch is amazing and yes, the fans and the vibe in De Kuip are brilliant, but he has no place to put his 50 odd staff members. WHAT?

Van Gaal fielded a team with players who 1) hadn’t played much yet and 2) players he wanted to test (in partnership and by themselves).

Cillesen was back from a slight knee injury (hit his knee to the post at practice) and De Ligt got the nod to play skipper and centrally in defence. Jordan Teze got a chance on the right hand side with right back Hateboer next to him. Martins Indi was our left centre back.

More importantly, Vincent Janssen got the chance to show himself. An “exam” is how Van Gaal put it.

Sadly, no Schouten next to Frenkie, I would have liked to see that combination.

The away game versus Wales was slow and boring to watch, at times. This time around, the pace was way better and the intent was clearly there. As was Wales’, who didn’t park the bus like the Polish, but who wanted to be adventurous.

This resulted in a fun match.

Vincent Janssen needed some time to settle and his hard feet did indeed show themselves early in the game. But as the game went on, the former Feyenoord prospect did better and better, resulting the assist for the first goal, by Noa Lang. Lang is a player who will always try something. Playing “normal” is not good enough for the cheeky fan favorite. He too needed some time to settle but demonstrated his talent at numerous times. None more so with the goal. A swivel, a chop, a turn and a shot: 1-0. In that move, Jordan Teze needs to be mentioned too. His forward press resulted in turnover of possession and got the ball to Janssen for his assist.

Not much later, Vincent also won two headers in a row, getting the ball into the feet of our #10 Cody Gakpo who scored the second time of asking: 2-0. Earlier versus Wales, it seemed the orange jersey was too heavy for the PSV star but this time around he played a great game. Demanding the ball, finding spaces and basically hardly losing possession. He’d end the game with a 90% pass accuracy rate!

We expected Oranje to push through and we did get chances. Vincent Janssen was close too after stealing the ball after another good pressing moment but the shot sailed wide.

It took a series of Oranje mistakes to gift Wales their goal. Teze, playing in Timber’s place, did exactly what Van Gaal didn’t like about Timber! He dribbled into midfield, without knowing what the plan was. He didn’t see an option, he doodled a bit and lost possession against Dan James. Still, there were 5 players (!) in the rest defence and a goalie. And they all failed to help Teze out: Hateboer could have squeezed, De Ligt should have stepped in, instead of dropping back and Martins Indi made a strange diagonal run which didn’t help. Last but not least, our goalie Cillesen made a little jump up right at the moment the shot came in. As a result, he was not able to be in time with his dive sideways and block the shot: 2-1.

Cillesen and his little “hop” right when the ball is shot on goal… costing him seconds…

Van Gaal would have been pretty peeved with these series of mistakes.

For the second half, Van Gaal made some statements. De Ligt was punished for his lack of leadership with the Wales goal and was moved to the right, in place of Teze. De Vrij came in to take care of the leader role centrally in defence. Hateboer was also subbed, for him came Dumfries, who’d play a key role in Oranje’s final minutes.

Both Hateboer and Teze couldn’t impress. Hateboer is not Oranje material. No idea in possession, wild and reckless in defence, positioning is awkward. He seems out of place and he seems to know it. Teze will be Oranje material in the future, but the Oranje right hand side was so impotent, even the Oranje players in midfield and on the left seemed to hesitate to pass the ball wide to the right.

Oranje got more control, with an outstanding Frenkie de Jong in midfield and a very busy Vincent Janssen up top. We’re waiting for that third goal, really and after a bit more than an hour, Van Gaal brings fresh legs for Noa Lang and Vincent Janssen, who both leave the pitch with an ovation from the fans. Both these lads are popular amongst the fans. Despite his arrogance and obvious skills, Lang also works very hard, something the fans appreciate.

Memphis and Bergwijn, the dynamic duo, came on and Van Gaal wanted to make sure we’d win the game. Memphis in particular had something to set straight with the fans, after his penalty miss versus Poland.

But the next goal was a Welsh one. With Bale and Aaron Ramsey on the pitch, Wales went for a late thrust. The cross came in and Roberts jumped backwards to head the ball on to Bale, while Tyrell Malacia jumped a bit towards the ball. No clash of heads, but a clash of elbow and head, with the Welshman coming off worst. Not a foul, in my book. A mere collision. Stopping the play for the physios to come onto the pitch, yes, but a foul? Not for me, and thus not a penalty either.

But the ref gave it, the VAR supported it and Bale converted the penalty.

Cillesen again demonstrated he’s not the penalty killer we need. His reach is limited and when you wait that long to react, you can only stop a penalty which is through the middle or chipped Panenka style. But we won’t be too harsh on Cillesen.

It seemed Wales did it again: a late equaliser.

And surely, Oranje would never again manage to score a winner in the next seconds.

The players thought differently. They huddled together quickly, and without interference or help from the coach, they came up with a plan. First ball back to Martins Indi, four players chasing forward to the right hand corner (Gakpo, Memphis, Bergwijn and Dumfries). The Inter man is strong in the air and he headed the Martins Indi hail Mary into the box, where Memphis was right on time to slot the ball under goalie Henderson: 3-2.

De Kuip exploded!

After the game, Van Gaal was – again – proud of his team and the spirit they showed. “Never give up!”.  Van Gaal explained his subs (see above) and he confirmed that Vincent Janssen did everything he hoped for (“Except score, but he was very close and we know he can score”).

Ratings

Jasper Cillesen – 6

Did most things right. Took his time when played in by the defenders, resulting in some nervy moments. He doesn’t look very confident, but that can be deceiving of course. Didn’t do too well with the first Wales goal (the hop) and was powerless against Bale’s spot kick.

Hans Hateboer – 4

Doesn’t add much to the game. No comparison to Dumfries, really. Good club footballer but not Oranje material.

Jordan Teze – 6

Teze did well with his forward press this time and was key for the first goal. He did loose the ball clumsily which got Wales on the board, but he wasn’t the only one at fault. Subbed to make way for De Ligt.

Mathijs de Ligt – 6

Another player for whom the band might be a tad heavy. De Ligt wins most of his duels and is ruthless and strong. Good on the ball too, confident and collected. But still making some errors. LVG moved him to his preferred position in the second half.

Bruno Martins Indi – 6,5

Started weak and off the beat. Handling speed needed improving, and he did. The game went on and Martins Indi grew into his role. The elbow attack which gave him a yellow was a high risk. Could have been a red. Played a solid second half and played the long ball to Dumfries, resulting in the winner.

Tyrell Malacia – 6,5

Show much promise. Confident on the ball, Davids-like mentality, had some good defensive tackles and plays along well in possession. His final pass needs work but he will make it hard for Daley Blind, I think.

Frenkie de Jong – 7,5

Strong on the ball, always on the move, always prowling and scouting for options. Some nice interplay with Janssen, Lang, Koopmeiners and Gakpo. I think he can still do better.

Teun Koopmeiners – 6

Didn’t do much wrong but isn’t playing to his usual strengths. Plays at one pace, square passes and dwindles a bit on the ball. Quite anonymous and he should fear for his spot, when the likes of Gravenberch or Van de Beek return.

Cody Gakpo – 8

Played a smashing match. Confident, demanding the ball, finding space and mixing up his passes, from short play to long passes. Great stats, high pass accuracy and creating good opportunities. Gakpo is close to a starting role.

Noa Lang – 7

Hardworking, always “on”, always trying to create. Showing some nifty touches and highly unpredictable. The type of player you want in the squad, to bring on to the pitch when things don’t flow.

Vincent Janssen – 7

Janssen needed some time to find his feet, but was key in the two goals and was close to scoring himself. Worked hard as per usual but could have played a bit higher up the pitch, in the #9 role. He did have some good sliding tackles to regain possession. Popular amongst the fans.

Denzel Dumfries – 7

We all know his weaknesses in the pass and move game, but compensating this with his great energy, work rate and explosive runs on the flank. Always keeping two opponents busy. Was instrumental in the 3-2.

Stefan de Vrij – 7

Came in to organise and lead the defence. Did a good job in replacing De Ligt who failed for his test in the first half. De Vrij is never “remarkable” but does everything business like and solid.

Steven Bergwijn – 6.5

Demonstrated his skills and speed. Always a threat. Clearly enjoying his time with Oranje and based on his recent games, he’ll be in the team.

Memphis Depay – 7

Needed to fix the miss versus Poland and was immediately in the thick of things, trying to make a difference. Typical strikers’ goal in the dying minutes, with a sense of timing and place. Oranje’s talisman.

Van Gaal – 7,5

Solid coaching at half time, taking Hateboer and Teze off and injecting some experience and quality later in the half by subbing Lang and Janssen for Memphis and Bergwijn.

Next up, the LVG’s Oranje Squad and an analysis of Louis van Gaal The Coach…

Watch this space….

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Oranje keen to polish tactics

Louis van Gaal is leading the way in our Nations League Group but for him, it’s not about the Nations League. It’s all about prepping for the World Cup. And with difficulties, as the playing calendar means he has to shuffle the pack in order to keep players healthy.

The Oranje tactics work. For LVG. The two training sessions of the past days were defined as “fantastic” by the 70 year old. He is quite happy with the Oranje progress.

It seems the questions are being answered. Not necessarily in a positive way, but still.

De Ligt as left centre back is not something we’ll see Van Gaal do again.

I believe Hateboer and Teze will have to be concerned by competition from Rick Karsdorp and who knows, Devyne Rensch should he make that spot his at Ajax.

Koopmeiners is put on notice by Van Gaal: “I want to see the dominant Koopmeiners I know from Atalanta. He hasn’t played like that in the orange jersey yet and Van Gaal needs to see more.

When asked about the system change in the Wales match (when the 3 forwards changed positions in the 20-something minute): “That also hinges on how the opponent plays. The way we started versus Wales can work, but Wales didn’t play the way we expected them. So in that case, it made sense to switch it. We played Noa Lang on the #10 role and our game improved as a result.”

LVG now calls the system, the 3-4-3 and the wingbacks/midfielders are key in creating triangles everywhere on the pitch. And thus it’s possible that forward Bergwijn is playing deeper than wingback Malacia, who was on hand in the final seconds to cross the ball to the striker.

Van Gaal kept his cards close to his chest re: the starting line up versus Poland. It’s certain that either Ake or Blind will play on the left centre back spot. I think we’ll see Cillesen again and as Lang and Vincent Janssen will be on the stands, it seems Klaassen or Berghuis will start, as will Memphis, who will captain the team. This might indicate that De Vrij will start on the bench, and De Ligt will be the central defender, with Timber to his right.

I hope LVG gives Gakpo another go, as the youngster drowned a bit versus Wales, amidst a team of fortune-seekers. With the more settled players around him (Frenkie, Memphis), we can expect a better Gakpo. He was voted the best player of the Eredivisie last season and I’m convinced he can do better than he did last Wednesday.

Janssen made an impression at training, becoming the top scorer at practice in the 5 v 5 matches, scoring some beauties with his left and right foot. Still, Van Gaal will treat him like he did Schouten and Martins Indi. “He is part of the group, so he is with us pre-match, in the dressing room and he can experience how we do things and what he can expect. Once he has that experience, he will be part of the squad. Vincent will play versus Wales, coming Wednesday.”

Vincent Janssen, standing on the right, celebrating his goals at practice

The Polish counterpart of Van Gaal has used his top players versus Belgium and some – like Lewandowski – might be rested for the Oranje game. It seems the coach wants to use his big guns in their home game next week against Belgium.

There is quite a lot of murmur re: the players from Young Oranje and the wish of many to see players like Brobbey and Geertruida in Oranje. Geertruida has indeed made amazing progress under Arne Slot and deserves a call up. He can play central as well and he can play as a defensive midfielder even. Geertruida is definitely a better option than Hateboer.

Brobbey is a real fan favorite. He scores goals, he has an impressive physique and he’s a funny guy in interviews. But is he ready to solve our #9 issues? Is he the killer in the box? According to the experts, Brobbey is not ready yet to play the full 90 minutes at top level and simply needs to play, week in week out first.

It seems Brobbey might be a better “Oranje striker” than Vincent Janssen, but it feels right that LVG tests Janssen now and allows Brobbey to hone his skills at a lower level. Should Brobbey get playing time in the coming season and if he keeps on finding the net, he’s most likely in the WC squad.

Poland is not a bad opponent to have for Holland. We played them in the previous Nations League and beat them twice. The last time we lost against them was in 1980, some 42 years ago! Dennis Bergkamp is Holland’s top scorer versus the Polish, with 3 goals.

Memphis can make further steps up on the Oranje all-time topscorers list. One goal vs Poland and Memphis equals the tally of one Klaas Jan Huntelaar. The Van Persie record of 50 goals might be crushed by Memphis before the World Cup starts.

Brobbey, lamenting a missed chance

The Poland match is in De Kuip, in Rotterdam. Traditionally, Oranje’s bunker. Since 2007, Oranje won all their games in Rotterdam. The players love playing there because of the vibe and the perfect pitch. The only thing is: the VIPs have to use dirty old toilets….

Turkish ref Halil Meler is officiating the match. Feyenoord knows him well. He was the referee in the Slavia Prague game, where he showed eight yellow cards, of which five for the Feyenoord players.

The line up I expect:

Cillesen

Dumfries – Timber – De Ligt – Blind – Malacia

Frenkie – Berghuis

Klaassen

Bergwijn – Memphis

With sub turns for Gakpo, Schouten and Weghorst.

Oranje will win 3-0: Memphis, Klaassen and Berghuis scoring.

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Sloppy Oranje does just enough

“I want to see how these guys do under pressure. When they’re playing a match for real. To see how they cope with the Oranje Stress”. The words of Louis van Gaal when he announced to play 11 new lads for the Wales game.

The so-called “Black Team” as he calls them. This is the team of subs, dressed in black jerseys during practice, who won against the A Team twice at training. “This never happened to me before. The Black Team was better at the high press than the so-called A-Team. Although, I don’t call them A or B Team. They’re all Oranje internationals.”

Van Gaal had decided weeks ago already, with an eye on the schedule (4 games in 8 days) that he was going to use a completely different team versus Wales. What worked in Louis’ favour, was the win over Ukraine by Wales, getting them their first World Cup ticket in centuries (…). The Welsh coach also played a lot of new names and their super star Gareth Bale started on the bench.

The result? A sluggish game. Two teams well versed in tactics and the Wales coach copied the system LVG played, which resulted in a bit of a stalemate first half, from a tactical perspective.

Add to that the sluggish start by Oranje and the sloppiness on the ball and we were looking at a below-par first half.

Van Gaal started with De Ligt on the left hand side of the central defenders. Very much against his own philosophy. And it showed. The build up from the left was slow and with his right, De Ligt constantly “forgot” to play in Malacia.

The Dutch Tactical Maestro and next to him, Louis van Gaal

De Vrij wasn’t able to shine in this department either, as Gakpo and Weghorst were not able to find any space. Lang drifted in true Memphis style, but the tactical set up of Wales blocked any potential move through their ranks, also because the ball circulation pace was too slow.

After 25 minutes or so, Van Gaal instructed Blind to make some changes. Van Gaal had started with a 3-4-2-1 system, but as Gakpo and Lang were struggling, he decided to get Lang back to midfield proper, and push Gakpo next to Weghorst.

Slowly, Holland got more grip on the midfield and controlled the game, without creating serious chances in the first half.

Koopmeiners played a poor first half, not able to accelerate the game with his passing, as he tends to play in one pace, when he’s in Oranje. Schouten, on the other hand, impressed more. He showed some typical Frenkie-turns and is keen to find the forward pass. He takes risks, and is constantly available for a give and go. His only “weakness” is that he seems to refuse to use his left foot.

Jordan Teze impressed Van Gaal as a PSV player, but the youngster got a yellow card early in the game – the Swedish ref needs to find a nice music band to join so he can whistle all day long – and that seemed to be a heavy burden. Teze played insecure, his forward press was at times too slow and his passing was sub-par. He will get more chances in Oranje but he will have to deal with De Vrij, De Ligt, Timber and maybe even Veltman or Schuurs before he gets the nod again, me thinks. We’ll see him again now, I think, but moving forward, he will need to improve.

Another player who will struggle to wear the orange again is Hans Hateboer. The sympatico Atalanta players is simply lacking speed in handling. He dwells on the ball, his positioning at times is poor and without his killer sliding tackle he would have had egg on his face a couple of times. Time for Karsdorp!

Oranje got some half chances, but late in the first half, Cody Gakpo should a bit of his magic when he wriggled his way past a defender in the box and almost slotted the ball home. A late block had the ball richoche’d behind the goal.

Noa Lang would end up being the key player in the second half to turn things Oranje’s way. Van Gaal wanted more pace, more intensity and more simple one/two touch football. Enter Noa Lang.

Started as a forward but pushed back into midfield, where the roaming AC Milan target was strong in possession and was constantly looking to create something. His heat map will be interesting.

The Koopmeiners 0-1 came from the movement of Lang. Picking up the ball around the middle line, a couple of give and goes, then a move to the left and when Malacia played in Schouten, Lang made a forward run which gave Koopmeiners the space to take on the ball with his right (he’s a natural southpaw) and place the ball perfectly for his right (again). A dry, low shot was too much for the Wales shot stopper.

Koopmeiners’ first Oranje goal. Assist Schouten.

Despite being up, Holland still played sloppy and was not that good in retaining possession. For this reason, LVG brought Frenkie and Bergwijn, two players who can hold the ball well. Schouten came off, with a big high five and Gakpo, disappointing, made way for the Spurs man.

Still, Wales was able to play va banque and pushed hard to create something. Gareth Bale joined in and with some crosses and attempts from distance, Wales got closer to scoring.

In the first minute of the extra time, a cross from the right was defended poorly by Hateboer (again) and the Welsh dragons made it 1-1.

The Dutch decided to not give up and it was a masterful move by Barca man De Jong which resulted in a glorious winning goal. Under pressure, Frenkie chipped the ball out of harms way. Steven Bergwijn read the situation and played Frenkie in, who made a dart across the length of the pitch. Two Wales players tried to hack him down, to no avail and left back Malacia was on hand as left winger for the out ball. He didn’t dilly-dally and crossed the ball towards the penalty spot where a wounded Wout Weghorst warrior headed the ball in the top corner: 1-2.

Late goal for Oranje, Frenkie can’t stop running…

By then, Martins Indi was in the team for a tired De Ligt who got a case of the cramps.

LVG was quite realistic after the game. He praised the team for keeping on fighting. Schouten got the praise he deserved but LVG did make a point about him needing to use his left foot more. When asked about the Oranje team with or without Frenkie de Jong, he quipped: “He is valued at 110 million euros. Not for nothing.”

In my view, Cody Gakpo is a nice prospect for the future. He’s clearly dealing with his transfer. He seems out of sorts and a bit too timid.

Weghorst is useful as a super sub. But Luuk de Jong might be better suited. Luuk is a better header of the ball (sounds odd right after Wout’s winner).

Noa Lang is a type of player you need in the squad. Confidence, ballsy, difficult and unpredictable. His work rate in this game was amazing. He clearly wanted to be important for the team.

Teun Koopmeiners needs to step up in Oranje. Show leadership and accelerate the game more. Playing too safe too often and too much in one pace. We all know how good he can be.

Jerdy Schouten is a stayer. He will make the cut, I think. He’s a quick thinker, he’s aware and tactically smart. Overall good skills.

Hans Hateboer is too lightweight for Oranje I feel. Malacia on the other side was fine. Wasn’t used too well in the first half, but was key in the second half with a role in both goals.

De Ligt is world class. But not on the left. De Vrij was fine, no drama. Jordan Teze is also too lightweight for me, at this stage. I rather see De Vrij there, if Van Dijk is available, than Teze. Good prospect though.

Mark Flekken was a bit insecure. Couldn’t help the goal, but flapped a number of times. I also believe that Wilson free kick, he could have and should have held on to the ball. I don’t like all these keepers stomping the ball away. I think Bijlow will be #1, Cillesen #2 and Flekken #3.

Next up, Poland in Rotterdam. I expect a mix up of the teams.

Cillesen

Dumfries – Timber – De Vrij – Ake – Malacia

Schouten – Frenkie

Memphis

Lang – Berghuis

Something like this….

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Strong Oranje beats weak Belgium

We need to be honest. Before this Derby Of the Lowlands, the stories coming from both camps already seemed to predict what was going to happen.

The Belgium camp (Kevin de Bruyne) clearly wasn’t keen to play these 4 Nation League games after the long season most players had. Questions about the playing calendar, comments about the lack of real necessity of these matches…. And understandable. Belgium as a National Team stands firm. Martinez has been around for years. Our Southern neighbours are a settled team. It’s clear how they play and they already have several tactical systems in their backpack.

Louis van Gaal himself sang the Dutch anthem before the match

So different from the Dutch camp, which has been infused with a sense of urgency by Coach van Gaal who blew up the importance of these games for the Dutch. Not because of the Nations League trophy, but because Van Gaal sees it as the first prep period for the World Cup. And with Van Gaal as a relatively new coach this time, with his ideas of implementing a different system ( 3-4-3 instead of 4-3-3) and the fact that not all positions are certain yet, these 4 Nations League games will be considered as really necessary.

It was noticeable in the match. Yes, Belgium started spritely, they had some threatening attacks, culminating in the rocket smashing onto the upright by left wingback Castagne who repeatedly benefitted from Dumfries swashbuckling runs.

But one they lost Lukaku (Ake fell on his ankle after a Lukaku push… karma is a bitch) and saw a couple of great chances for Oranje, the Belgiums seems to give up. The shoulders dropped, the midfield couldn’t get close to our players and the veteran defenders started to make error after error.

Berghuis should have scored after 15 minutes, facing Mignolet. Memphis got a sweet volley chance, which just missed the goal, while Daley Blind had a good effort on goal after a brilliant Berghuis pass to Memphis who found his former Mancunian team mate on the edge of the box.

Holland could have been 0-3 up by then and all Belgium could do was a De Bruyne free kick on target after a rash Timber foul. Cillesen could easily collect the ball.

Oranje could smell blood. For sure, players like Van Dijk, Blind, De Jong and Memphis will have sensed that this Belgium was second-best in everything. Led by a Frenkie on overdrive, Oranje hunted for that goal.

It was no coincidence that Spurs man Stevie Bergwijn scored the opener. Always moving between the lines, always available, he was found by Frenkie with a short forward pass. The ex PSV forward took a touch to turn and found the goal without looking up: 0-1.

Oranje was almost able to score a second soon after, when the ref pointed to the spot for an alleged handball, but the VAR was able to dispel that notion: the ball hit the defender in the face, not on the arm: no penalty.

The usual question arose: was Holland playing so well, or was Belgium playing so weak. Probably a bit of both. The Dutch tactics Van Gaal came up with for this match worked wonders. Initially, it was Castagne on the left who had the better of Dumfries and after 20 mins or so, Van Gaal instructed the Inter wing back to be less adventurous to quiet the Leicester City man.

With Davy Klaassen on the #10 position, Van Gaal wanted him to make it hard for De Bruyne to dominate the game. The result was a less attacking Klaassen. Instead we got the fighting, duelling, battling and hoovering Klaassen. Never shining brightly, but oh so very important.

Berghuis played next to Frenkie. A bit deeper. But with the freedom to roam and support the attack. As Van Gaal said before the match: “Berghuis is my creative player. He can go wherever he wants.” And thus, we saw a deep lying Berghuis pass some great balls to the forwards – he created Memphis’ 0-2 for instance – or he himself came into scorings positions. The first one, I mentioned. He also had a shooting opportunity which sailed over the bar. His third attempt ended up at the feet of Blind who found his wing back partner Dumfries for the 0-3.

At that point, The Netherlands ruled the roost. Van Dijk and Ake were solid as a rock. Blind played his usual strong passing game, Timber might have put his hat in the ring for the right CB spot, while Frenkie de Jong payed at his regal best.

Memphis and Bergwijn upfront were unplayable for the older Belgium defence. They were constantly on the move, threatening and playing in between the lines. Memphis started slow, but grew into the game and ended up scoring one more in Oranje than a certain Patrick Kluivert. “Robin van Persie, here I come” was the message of the Barca forward.

Van Gaal didn’t see the need to change much. Ake was subbed after 75 minutes due to rhythm issues (the Feyenoord developed talent was informed by Man City that he is allowed to look for a new club… Newcastle United is a strong candidate).

Oranje could have gone further than 0-4. As said, the first half chances could have made it 0-7 and if Holland pushed really hard, they might have gotten more goals in the second half too. But, the friendly vibe between the players probably resulted in Van Dijk putting the foot on the brake, but not before he himself launched a long ball towards the sprinting Blind, who smartly took a position in between right back Meunier and centre back Aldeirwereld. The latter didn’t even see the Ajax man and his smart header was perfectly controlled by Memphis who didn’t hesitate: 0-4.

The Belgium team fought for a consolation goal and after a chalked off attempt for off side, it was Batshuayi who knicked one for Belgium: 1-4.

Obviously, the home fans booed their players off the pitch, whereas the Dutch were glowing with pride. After 25 years, Holland won a Derby of the Low Lands in Belgium. About time.

Van Gaal was particularly happy with the way they played and he was overly positive and complimented his players. “It was a joy to watch. Everything we discussed, everything we worked on and practiced worked out. The midfield positions, the movement of the forwards, the organisation at the back. Every single player was outstanding.” Asked about the key players, he smiled broadly and said: “Stevie Bergwijn! It’s unbelievable. He scored 5 out of the last 8 goals for us. He is so good in what he does. And Frenkie. But Frenkie… he is always good. I also thought Berghuis played a great game. But… they all did.”

Berghuis was not surprised with the way Oranje played: “I am not surprised no, because I know how good we can be. On a day like this, when it all clicks, we can reach this level. I know this. We need to find ways to always get to this level, which is the hard bit. I am not unhappy, far from it, but I do think I should have scored. That is a blemish on this match for me.”

Stevie Bergwijn was asked why he can perform like this in Oranje and not in London. “This coach believes in me. He has a role for me that works for me, I can play my game and I know what I can do. I feel really good here.”

Daley Blind had two assists in this game and created four chances for the team. He was key to Oranje’s attacking game. He opened his press talk by saying: “See? You don’t need to be fast to go deep!” This resulted in some belly laughs among the press. It was not a coincidence that both Dumfries and Blind were present for that third goal. When Berghuis shot on goal, both wing backs were already on the same level as the midfielder, ready to pick up a loose ball.

Daley Blind: “There is always that debate, whether this is a more defensive or offensive system. With Denzel playing higher on the right side, we can mix it up. He can go deep with his speed, I tend to play to the level of the box and try to get on the ball there. We sometimes slow the game down and try to just pass the ball around. This is not because we don’t want to attack. It’s the other way around: we do this, so we can explode into attack. We try to lure the opponent, we maybe put them to sleep a bit only to recognise where the space opens up and then an acceleration of the play gives us the attacking option.”

With the assist on the second Memphis goal, Blind demonstrated that speed is not always key. The moment you leave is key, the direction of the run is key (in between two defenders) and some spacial awareness to know where your team mates are is helpful too. Daley Blind running deep and heading an assist to the striker, is not a footballing situation you’d relate to the 32 year old. With Blind, it’s not about speed, but all about football intelligence.

Louis van Gaal is a happy man. He always speaks of Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben as the three key players he had for the 2014 World Cup. In this Nations League game, it seems the trio of Berghuis, Bergwijn and Depay have taken over these roles. Long may it last.

Jasper Cillesen – 7,5

First half build up passing could have been better. Second half, the Valencia goalie had one horrific build up pass but he also stopped some decent attempts on goal. His distribution improved. It seems Flekken, Bijlow and Cillesen will be slugging it out.

Nathan Ake – 7,5

He had one slip up in the first half, but played strong on the ball and very tight defensively. His starting berth in the team is not far away as a left CB.

Virgil Van Dijk – 7.5

Played like a rock. Supreme in the air. With a nice long pass to pre-assist Memphis’ second goal.

Jurrien Timber – 7

Played good, dribbles easily into midfield. Reads the game well but still has the odd rash challenge, in this match allowing Kevin de Bruyne a free kick from a dangerous spot.

Denzel Dumfries – 6,5

Had to slow his marauding runs a bit to keep track of Castagne. His hard feet resulted in some mediocre crosses from the right (one ball hit hard to Bergwijn at hip height) but always alert and on the front foot to score a goal.

Daley Blind – 8

Faultless game by Blind. Strong in possession, alert without the ball. Excellent distribution and two assists for the Ajax man.

Frenkie de Jong – 8,5

Played like a Roman emperor. Everything was his. Glided past players as if they didn’t exist. Always on the front foot, always driving forward.

Steven Berghuis – 7,5

Had some key passes (for the 0-2 for instance) and some great attempts, although he should have scored at least one. His distance strike resulted in Dumfries 0-3. Was available always, recycled the ball well and was alive constantly. With a goal, he would have scored an 8.

Steven Bergwijn – 8

Constantly on the move, constantly a threat. Always finding pockets of space and the most likely to open the score, which he did with a glorious goal. Ajax’ mission to sign him just got harder.

Memphis Depay – 8

Like Bergwijn, always a threat. Strong on the ball, aware of his team mates. Cool as a cucumber face to face with Mignolet and adding two more to his total tally.

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The World According to LVG

Louis van Gaal always had a good sense of “entertainment”. People in Holland have compared him with certain dictatorial leaders from the past. His booming voice, his use of his own name in the third person when speaking about himself, his condescending approach of journalists, his domineering style of dealing with players.

And now, LVG decided to have a daily Van Gaal Show press conference to entertain the masses.

It was all about his choices. And he didn’t mince words.

About Wijnaldum.

“I am a big Georginio fan. I love the guy, I love how he can play. But…. he hasn’t delivered. In the time I am coach, I have subbed him three times! And Louis van Gaal doesn’t sub players for nothing. He didn’t deliver. He also doesn’t deliver at his club. He is playing in a team where he doesn’t seem to fit. So it is up to him. Once he starts to deliver, he will find himself back in Oranje, because I know how important he can be.”

“Yes, other players played even less minutes than Wijnaldum, like Bergwijn. I know that. But, when he was called up, whether at Spurs or in Oranje, he delivered. That is the difference.”

About Martins Indi

“I was not overall happy with the way our left central defenders played, particularly in the press. We need to do better. I have limited options and when I am confronted with two or three major injuries in November, who knows, I need to be prepared. Martins Indi has grown significantly, particularly in his forward passing and his pressing. Exactly what I need. Sure, Mathijs de Ligt played there for us and Juve and he can do it. It’s not that we don’t have options in the squad. But I need to know what we have available further down the line. And for me, it is important to see Martins Indi at work, up close.”

About Vincent Janssen

“It is simple. Danny Blind has had a lot of joy from Janssen. Yes, he has limitations. He’s not the most explosive, he can have hard feet, all true. But he also does a lot of things right. He uses his body well, he can play with his back to goal and he has eye for the movement around him. Danny pointed this out, and we both watched some of his recent games and I saw it: That is what I want from a Van Gaal striker. Can he do it in Oranje again? That is what we will find out.”

About his wedding

“Yes, he had a wedding planned. It happens. Do I need to tell him to cancel it? Of course not. He is a human being. He has a right to get married and I want him to have a nice wedding night with his lovely little woman. And then he’ll fly in. Simple.”

About Edgar Davids, the new Oranje assistant

“I am thrilled to have him with us. He was unique as a player. I called him my pitbull, because he was the only one with that fierce mentality. I see this in two of my current players too, in Dumfries and in Malacia. Davids was tactically stronger, a better defender, but all my players can learn this from him.”

Leaving players out of the squad

“Yes I am coach of the National Team but I also a guardian of Dutch football. And Young Oranje is also on the verge of doing big things and it is in everyone’s interest that Young Oranje performs well. So players like Brobbey, Gravenberch, Rensch, Geertruida, Botman and Bakker need to be there for Young Oranje. I know what they can bring and their time will come. But I have to juggle all the interests of Dutch football. Clasie wasn’t left out by me. Clasie called me to say he’s been playing with a bad knee for months. After a match, he can’t drive, he can’t train. He needs to get that operation and he’ll get back in the mix once he’s playing again.”

It will be an exciting summer for some Oranje players. The window is opening and there is a lot of interest in the Dutchies.

And overview:

Steven Bergwijn was not allowed to leave Spurs during the season, to return to Ajax. The Amsterdam club has tried three times now, and will probably try again this window. Conte proclaimed he needed Bergwijn, but he never ended up using him for more than 10 mins per sub turn. Time to leave.

Jasper Cillesen is not the 100% numero uno at Valencia and PSV is keen to sign the 33 year old. Cillesen’s agent happens to be the son of the former PSV general manager Ploegsma so 1 and 1 can be 2, quite easily. But Cillesen doesn’t come cheap and Valencia will want their pound of flesh too.

Memphis Depay is 28 years old, in the peak of his career. Despite a somewhat disappointing season at Barca, his stats are still pretty good. He’s versatile, and quite unique in his style, with clubs like Arsenal, Spurs, Newcastle and Juventus sniffing him out. Xavi has said he doesn’t want him to leave, as his versatility is a strength, but in Barcelona money talks.

Mark Flekken put his name on many lists by getting a spot in the LVG squad. Ajax is the club with the biggest goalie issue, with Pasveer (38 ) and Stekelenburg (39) as main goalies. It seems a matter of time before Flekken lands in Amsterdam.

Cody Gakpo is the hottest talent for the Dutch and every big club is keeping tabs. PSV is doing what they can to keep him one more year, like they did with Memphis and Wijnaldum. They hope Gakpo will bring them the title next season and they’ll limit his transfer fee.

Frenkie de Jong is one of the players Xavi doesn’t want to lose, but he simply might have to. He is one of the few Barca players for whom other clubs are willing to sign a big check. Ten Hag’s Manchester United is mentioned a lot. Xavi calls it “the economical aspect” in his press conferences.

Teun Koopmeiners has had a good season at Atalanta and doesn’t need to leave there. But Ajax have been a big fan of the player ever since they saw him and with Gravenberch out to Munich, Teun could be their ideal left midfielder.

Noa Lang is on his way to AC Milan, so say the Italian football experts. The former Feyenoord product is ready for a next step after Club Brugge. The price tag is firm though: 22 million euros.

The question is not: will Malacia make a big move but when. The left back is on many a scouting list but Feyenoord has not received an offer yet. It is said that Man United is also on the prowl but Ten Hag’s priorities are a striker and midfielder. Malacia’s price tag is 20 million euros.

Guus Til is officially a Spartak Moscow player but he will most likely not play in Russia next season. His financial wishes are steep though and Feyenoord is cash poor so the chance that Til will play in Germany or Spain next season are significant.

Jurrien Timber’s management team was spotted at 5 Stratton Street in London. The international HQ of Man United. Timber is one of the key signings for Ten Hag who believes he can only play his style of football with the proper centre backs in the team. Bye Maguire, Hello Timber. The transfer fee will be north of 40 million euros.

Wout Weghorst wanted to play EPL football and signed a 3,5 year deal with Burnley. After half a season, the former AZ striker will play Championship football next season, if Burnley will keep the expensive forward. He couldn’t make the difference for Burnley and new coach Kompany might not need the tall Dutchman.

Gini Wijnaldum finds himself in a tough situation. The 31 year old is on a super salary in Paris but doesn’t get playing time. Leaving the club will not be easy. For starters, PSG will want a transfer fee. And what club will offer Gini what he gets in Paris? The midfielder doesn’t want to be forced to sign elsewhere and will have to make sure his season start will be great for him to get his spot in Oranje back.

Virgil van Dijk is allowed to take an early break. Van Gaal wants the Liverpool CB to join at the start of the campaign, so he can join in the post Germany debriefing (” we didn’t press in the right way and Virgil was co responsible for this, so I want him to be there for it”) but is allowed to leave after the Belgium game and take a break from football. LVG: “Virgil has had a massive injury in 2021 and came back to play 60 matches in a row, at full intensity. I think he deserves some time off. He is the type of guy that wants to play everything, it’s not him. It’s me.”

Your views on the views of LVG?

Most of the Dutch pundits believe LVG made an error with the way he treated Gini Wijnaldum. They believe the PSG midfielder deserve more credit and they fear the backlash it might cause in the squad.

Other voices say that Wijnaldum is not a “positive force” on the bench and does not support the ones who do play (unlike De Roon for instance, who is considered positive factor even if he doesn’t play)…. Your views?

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Applause for Oranje and Eriksen…

The first match of Oranje using Van Gaal’s new system was impressive at times. The coach subtle tricks have added more dynamics to the Dutch gameplay.

The Euros were disappointing for the Dutch and many people blamed Frank de Boer’s decision to move to a 5-3-2. Van Gaal and his current squad have demonstrated that it wasn’t the system as such ( 3 central defenders) but the execution there of that makes the difference.

Oranje played a good first half, scoring three goals but having at least 6 good opportunities to score and could have had a monster score after 45 minutes. Defensive frailty and a hesitating debut goalie resulted in the Danish goal.

Eriksen is back!

Van Gaal was not displeased but said he saw a lot of things that could be improved. In particular in the second half, the team didn’t respond well enough to Denmark’s tactical change, which encompassed the return of Christian Eriksen. The fans loved it, also the Dutch ones of course and even the players seemed keen on offering the former Ajax man a star turn by letting him enter the box unmarked to score the 3-2. Not much later, he had the best action of the game, turning away from two midfielders and curling the ball onto the frame of the goal. What a player!

Oranje lost their shape more and more in the second half, partly due to the Danes, partly due to fatigue, particularly with players who lack rhythm ( Depay after injuries and Ake and Bergwijn due to lack of playing time).

Smiling faces…

Van Gaal had three interesting and subtle variances in his tactics.

  1. Dynamic Build up Patterns

One of the negatives of “3 at the back” is the predictable build up patterns. When the three defenders stick to their back line, the opponent basically have a free man. Building up via the wings is also predictable and easy to defend as the wingback is usually alone on the flank and has the line behind him: limited options therefore.

Van Gaal has analysed the tactical solutions well, as he found the ideal way of building up using Chris Wilder’s innovation at Sheffield United. Sheffield let their wingbacks move into the half space and push one of the central backs wide to force the opponent to decide. Even football professor Marcelo Bielsa was surprised by this tactics. Wilder’s trick was followed by many coaches and is even part of the new version of Football Manager.

Strong performance by Teun Koopmeiners

Another team doing this, is Atalanta Bergamo. One of the three defenders will push to the flank, allowing space at the back for one of the holding mids, to drop back and start the build up. Teun Koopmeiners is obviously well up to speed with this dynamic build up pattern. He and Mathijs de Ligt had a key role on the right, in using this in key situations.

Koopmeiners playing right centre back, De Ligt hugging the line. Denmark confused.

Every time Oranje has withstand the first pressure, De Ligt goes to the far right of the pitch. It’s not his natural style of play, it seems Timber or Teze are more suited for that role, but it does offer tactical benefits. Remember the game we lost vs the Czechs? They pressed our three defenders with three  forwards, making our build up slow and predictable.

Space in midfield for the opening to the left.

In this case, the left winger needs to decide. Will he go with De Ligt? In that case Koopmeiners can drop into that space. Or does the midfielder of Denmark, marking the former AZ skipper, follow him? This will give Dumfries or Frenkie an option in the gap. These decisions will need confuse Denmark and create space for the Dutch. Our first goal is the perfect example.

De Ligt almost right winger, Dumfries coming inside, so Bergwijn has space and time

Opening to the left, Denmark loses Bergwijn

Before the 1-0, Oranje builds up in a 4-4-2. With De Ligt as right back, Dumfries as right winger and Blind as left back. Depay is playing like a left winger moving intside. This confuses Denmark. As a result of De Ligt’s and Dumfries’ positioning, Bergwijn becomes the free man. After a good take, he passes the ball to Berghuis who changes flanks and Blind’s perfect cross is bread and butter for Bergwijn, unmarked: 1-0.

In some instances, De Ligt and Koopmeiners can be seen gesticulating to one another. Their cooperation is still a bit rusty but one can see why this tactics can work well for Oranje, in particular with the likes of Teze and Timber available. This results in Dumfries being able to forget about defence and completely focus on stretching the game.

Ex Ajax striker Dolberg versus Blind

In the second half, the Danes make a tactical switch but Oranje scores the 4th goal from a similar situation. This time it’s Frenkie with space to turn in midfield and his burst of speed brings him in a position to launch Bergwijn, this time coming from the left. The Spurs man cuts inside and curls the ball past the Danish goalie, Schmeichel.

2. The Atalanta Trick

In the build up to the second goal, another attacking trick is used, also from Bergamo. Atalanta coach Gasperini wants to have four players around the ball on the flank, in a diamond shape. This creates a man more situation around the ball. If the opponent bites, there will be space in the centre of the pitch. If they don’t, Oranje can move up field using short combination play. Should Oranje lose possession, there are enough players around to hunt the ball like a pack of wolves.

Focusing on the flank

The Atalanta trick. The player combine centrally to open up to the flank where a the goal is to eventually move back to the centre of the pitch. Inside out, to outside in. This tactics work as it fits the Atalanta skill set wonderfully. Where teams like Ajax or Man City have enough skilled players to find space in a crowded centre, Atalanta has players who are more of the physical, running type. It’s wiser to use the flanks as most teams will allow the opponent to use the flank freely. See Atletico Madrid, for instance. Van Gaal seems to want to take the liberty and use the flanks as “his” as well.

Finding space in the centre of the pitch and a run in behind by Berghuis

Before Ake’s goal, we have four Oranje players on the left flank. Frenkie, Bergwijn, Berghuis all squeeze to the left where Blind is hugging the touch line. Denmark brings their players to the flank and it’s a quick pass by De Jong to the more centrally moving Berghuis. This is a frequent occurrence also due to Memphis, who has a natural tendency to move to the left.

3. Circle Pressing

The third variant was already mentioned by the coach. “We don’t need to press every opponent on their box. At times it’s wiser to allow them to come forward and press around the mid circle. This gives us space to attack once we win the ball.” Oranje organises this in their 5-2-3 positioning with the three forwards pushing onto the Danish back three. Not unlike Chelsea’s tactics.

Circle press

De Jong and Koopmeiners push up, Virgil follows into midfield

Hunting in packs

The turn over follows and Denmark is at sea

The 3-1, penalty Memphis after challenge on Berghuis, is created out of that circle press situation. Koopmeiners and Frenkie de Jong both press forward, which opens up space behind them. Virgil van Dijk pushes forward and finds himself in midfield. Holland has a man more situation again and repossesses the ball. Denmark is puled apart and Berghuis and Bergwijn combine in the box: foul on Berghuis, penalty Memphis: 3-1.

Conclusion:

The 4-2 can be shelved as not so relevant, as applies to the system debate. The 1-3-4-1-2 can be set up in such a variable manner that the differences to the 4-3-3 classic system are only subtle. This time, the players will come into a position where they’re harder to stop, as opposed to players already being in that position. The priciples of the Dutch School have been re-packaged by Van Gaal, with a hint of Sheffield United, a touch of Atalanta Bergamo and a pinch of Chelsea.

Van Gaal is happy with his team selection

Let’s hope we can see some other players in the match v Germany.

Flekken will definitely start. I hope we’ll see Malacia from the start, with Wijnaldum on the Berghuis spot, Danjuma for Memphis and Malen for Bergwijn, There is no Gravenberch, so maybe Clasie can come in for Frenkie or Teun as the Germany match progresses. I do think Louis will leave the back three and the two holders intact for the Germany game.

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