Coming Monday, Young Oranje plays their quarter finals vs France in the Euros under 21. Coach van de Looi will have to make due without his top performers Cody Gakpo, Noa Lang and Teun Koopmeiners.
If Van de Looi could pick any player that fit the prerequisite, he would be able to field a team wih Gakpo, Lang, Gravenberch, Koopmeiners, Timber, Wijndal, Geertruida, Mo Ihattaren, Zeefuik, Ludo Reis, Donyell Malen and Mathijs de Ligt. Van de Looi would be licking his lips. But this is the fate of a coach at the Young Oranje level. You’re not the priority.
Team manager De Boer and injuries are spanner in the works and the former Groningen coach will have to make do with what he has got. He will stick to his 4-2-2-2 system, with which he played against teams that appear as strong as us, or even stronger. This week he will be finalising his jigsaw for the France game, coming up.
In the group phase, Ajax goalie Scherpen was the number 1 between the sticks, although Paes and Bijlow were the choice goalies during the qualifications. Bijlow suffered some injuries but he will most likely take the #1 spot as he has been without mistakes at Feyenoord, while Paes is still the second goalie at Utrecht. Scherpen was one of the men of the match in the group stages but his outing in Ajax 1, in the EL, didn’t go as planned. Scherpen needs more playing time and with a move to Brighton, this might well be on the cards. Or not.
In defence, I don’t think Van de Looi will change much. Never change a winning team, although the coach has some good options. Jordan Teze at PSV had a top season and Doekhi was one of the key performers at Vitesse. Van de Looi likes to play with the two towering centre backs Schuurs and Botman. No one will complain about Botman, as he just won the title in France with Lille. But Schuurs seems to have dropped in the Ajax hierarchy recently. Still, they used to play together at Young Ajax and both have been goal scorers for Young Oranje as well, so I can understand Van de Looi’s choices.
Left wing was usually Mitchel Bakker’s spot but he’s been quite vulnerable lately and hasn’t impressed with PSG either. Tyrell Malacia is in great form all season and deserves a look in. On the right side, Zeefuik is usually the first choice, but he’s injured. Teze might be the man for the job, as he will most likely replace Dumfries at PSV, should the skipper get his transfer this summer. I wouldn’t be surprised if the coach picks Devyne Rensch for the role. The 18 year old Ajax defender has been raising eyebrows in the past months, with his runs, his defending and his goals!
Van de Looi has been sticking to his firm squad, which also resulted in Jay Gorter (Go Ahead) and Pascal Struijk (Leeds United) not getting a spot, but he might now change his ways and allow for players in form to come into the team.
“We’re at the end of a tough season, and some lads have been playing a lot of games for the first time in their career. We need to see how everyone is, in terms of fitness and energy. Intensity will be key against an opponent like France.”
In the 4-2-2-2 the crucial roles are in that holding position. The engine room. In an ideal world, Erwin would play Gravenberch and Koopmeiners there. Now, the coach needs to pick his B options, although it’s not a fair label to push onto Abdou Harroui. The Sparta midfielder had his break out season and is on his way to a big transfer. He’s a light footed tackler, with lots of feeling in both feet. With Harroui, you get football and you get security.
Other options are Ekkelenkamp (Ajax), Matusiwa (ex Ajax, now Groningen) or Kadioglu. Dani de Wit can play there too but the coach expects to need him up front. Kadioglu is highly praised by Van de Looi and Ekkelenkamp is also a player who is able to squeeze good performances from the 4 forwards, thanks to his passing range.
Up front, there is two blocks of two. Two so-called half-10s and two strikers. Calvin Stengs is a cert for one of the half 10 roles. Noa Lang would probably be a shoe in for the other part. Up front, Justin Kluivert seems to be the firm choice with either Boadu or Dani de Wit next to him.
The former Groningen defender copped criticism for using De Wit as number 9. “He might not be a typical striker, but Dani has these penetrating runs, and you don’t see these enough. We missed that in our games vs Romania and Germany. Due to Noa Lang’s injury, the solution offers itself: Stengs and De Wit as half 10s and Boadu and Kluivert leading the line. Kadioglu and Dilrosun could also play in the half 10 role and if need be, Van de Looi also has Kaj Sierhuis at his disposal. This is a physically strong typical #9, which can work against a physical side that is France. The draw back is that the former Ajax striker hasn’t played much for Reims and when he did, he hardly scored.