Well, we learned Italy coach Roberto Mancini needs his glasses, before he puts Donnarumma in the striker role or something. Italy underestimated Bosnia & Herzegovina and dropped two points. Or won 1 point even.
Oranje, on the other hand, snatched the leader position, even after a long spell of no play, an empty stadium, three starting defenders injured or otherwise disposed and a new coach.
Playing in an empty stadium sucks. The Dutch starters asked their substitutes and training staff to cheer the lads on. They were so used to the passionate and loyal Oranje fans that they hoped to get some form of substitution via there peers. Lodeweges: “The players really valued it and they thought it was great. It really helped. At a certain point, Hateboer was running past and he must have felt like he was Leo Messi, that was how much we cheered him on, hahaha.”
I will never get used to it. Only a limited number of press and some officials were allowed in. Not even the family of the players. There was a questionnaire, a temperature gauge, masks. There were checks of bags and personal items and the majority of seats were blocked by an alarming red banner.
In this atmosphere, the players need to find the motivation somewhere. This is not a big issue for this generation of players. We had a very gloomy couple of years with Oranje and the players are very focused on making history. Steven Bergwijn: “It is not easy without the fans. But you do have to remember that millions are watching infront of the telly, and it’s them who we want to give joy and make proud.”
Virgil van Dijk sounds like the boss. The advantage of playing in an empty stadium, is that one can hear everything that is said (or yelled more). It was interesting to see/hear how Virgil grew into that leadership role. His charisma is known. But in the Poland match, he was very audible with his coaching. Him and Jasper Cillisen are constantly coaching. But Van Dijk stands out with his bassoon voice and he guides the team through the match. He is the one deciding when to apply pressure, and when pacing is more important. He will give the start sign for the press (Yeah Yeah!!), he points the way in possession (Forward!!) and coaches players who are played in (Turn! or Time!) and he gives compliments when something worked out (That is it!!).
Players taking charge is wonderful for a coach. Lodeweges: “I lost my voice already, and I am not even Antonio Conte! I tried to analyse, observe, think. And I usually sit quiet on the bench. Having a player or players doing this is vital.” Steven Bergwijn: “This is Virgil! I don’t know better. He is the man, our leader. And he has that voice, hahahaha.”
Lodeweges follows the Koeman doctrine. Not a lot changed, with Koeman leaving. The former Oranje captain organised the whole new Oranje protocol and Lodeweges has zero reasons to change this. Lodeweges impact as a coach was already huge. “Ronald was not a dominant leader. He delegated a lot. He would let me analyse opponents or prep training sessions and two weeks before the game, he’d ask me: so, what is your plan? And we would tell him what we believed we should do. He would listen and would decide which parts he agreed with, and which parts he didn’t. And he was always right, you know. 95% of the time, he knew exactly what would happen.”
The players’ council is very content with this way of working, and they (Babel, Van Dijk, Strootman, Blind, De Ligt) have informed the KNVB that they want to keep on traveling on this road.
If there is one thing that Lodeweges wants to streamline, is the press. “I think there is room for better choices to be made, by the players. I noticed that pressure sometimes gets translated to “running, hassling, sweating and panting. Putting forward pressure on was such hard work. So much energy used up. I think we need more control, we need to position ourselves better and be more selective in the moments to put pressure on. There are better chances to repossess the ball and it will cost less energy. We are working on that. Against Poland, that went well. Considering the circumstances, I do believe we actually played really well.”
Lodeweges is known to be a serious and passionate coach, but also very down to Earth. He likes to use language to put things in perspective. Asked about his new role, he calls it “a fun job”, when asked about the group, he says “it’s a hungry bunch of players”. He described debutant Owen Wijndal as “a good little lad, with a nice left foot”. And after the 1-0 win over Poland, he ended his presser with “we had a pretty decent evening, all in all….”
Some automatisms between players never fade. Memphis was scanning his options, ball at his feet. His peripheral vision was looking for runners and he was on the prowl for Frenkie. Vice versa, Frenkie knew an opportunity was coming if he timed his run right. Memphis eyes see, Memphis minds races, and Memphis feet execute. Their dance was unrehearsed but perfect. The run was made, Memphis chipped the ball his way, Frenkie controlled on the chest, turned and half-volleyed. That one deserved a goal. The dynamics between Memphis and Frenkie hasn’t suffered from 9 months no game. Their connection was clear from the first minutes they played together. Frenkie is always looking deep, for his passing, Memphis is always looking to get the ball. They have this telepathic understanding, like Jonk and Bergkamp, or Sneijder and Robben. Frenkie, Memphis and leader Virgil ended up being the best players on the night.
Lodeweges used 4 practices to show the players what he wanted, in terms of variance. “You don’t always have to play intricate and short passing. You can play long, you have to vary your approach. I like to see quick, deep balls over the defence.” The players enjoyed the intense training sessions, as both Bergwijn and Wijnaldum commented how hard it is to not play together for 9 months, and then suddenly needed to be a team again.
Lodeweges declared every one in the squad fit and ready to play Italy. Daddy Dumfries also returned to the squad.
It is not easy to look into the head of the coach, but I think he won’t change much for the Italy game. I think he’ll keep Hateboer in the side, as he knows his opponents well and has that tandem with De Roon happening. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Babel start on the left and maybe Van de Beek instead of Wijnaldum.
I was asked for player ratings, for the Poland game. Here they are :-).
Cillesen – 7 – he was there when he needed him and he had some good long balls too.
Hateboer – 8 – he wasn’t too successful in the first half, but his second half was fine, and the assist gave him an extra point
Veltman – 7 – played an invisible game, which is good for a centre back. Solid on the ball.
Van Dijk – 8 – Virgil is always focused, always leading. Good interceptions and overall leadership.
Ake – 7 – Played well, understands his role, great on the ball and an aerial threat too.
Frenkie – 7 – Played a tough first half, came into the role in second half. Created the goal but has way more in him.
De Roon – 7 – played faultless, was there to take Hateboer’s position, was dogged and good on the ball too.
Wijnaldum -6 – A bit invisible. Doing his work, making runs, and being a threat by his shere presence, but not effective.
Promes – 6 – Missing rhythm, his crosses didn’t connect, his dribbles were a bit off, but he played his role and had this one chance on a goal in the first half
Bergwijn 8- Played well, drifting into space, coming centrally to wreak havoc and worked hard. Scored his first goal, giving him an extra point.
Memphis – 8 – Still not in 100% shape/form but working his ass off, trying to dazzle, to entertain, to find openings. Everything he does is focused on creating something. Any opponent will use 2 players to stop him.
Van de Beek – 7 – showed glimpses of his qualities.
Luuk de Jong – not enough time on the pitch for a rating
Lodeweges – 8 – I can’t fault him for anything
I think Italy will be another scalp for us.
They are also not in 100% shape of course, but they will have to try and take something from the game.
Italy plays a bit like Holland does, and the game will be more open. Confidence is high in Oranje, which might be our biggest threat, actually. I think 3-1 for Holland. Own goal by Van Dijk. Memphis, Promes and Van de Beek on the score sheet for us.