Tag: Gakpo

Prelim Squad announced for Oranje

Almost a month to go and we’re starting to leave the club competitions behind us.

You will have seen the squad selection by now? I don’t think too many surprises.

For some, the absence of Bizot was a surprise, as he was called up for the last international games. He was most likely part of the prelim squad, if not for some domestic family issues. Marco decided to forfeit the Euros as his family circumstances have not been resolved and he prefers to be with the family during the summer.

The list of injured players ( Hartman, Wieffer, Lang) might become longer with question marks for Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Memphis Depay and Zirkzee, while Luuk de Jong definitely retired from the NT.

Calvin Stengs, Thijs Dallinga and Steven Berghuis will have had idle hope and should something happen to Malen or Bergwijn or Xavi Simons, these three might still get a look in.

If Frenkie and Memphis can join the squad, I do believe we’ll be in good shape.

We simply need our key players to be in form and Koeman to pick a logical starting eleven for the games at the Euros.

I mean, our goalkeepers are fine. Our central defenders are top. Maatsen and Ake can cover the left side, even Blind might be able to play against opponents parking the bus. Frimpong and Dumfries will cover the right with Geertruida also on hand.

Our midfield options are pretty good, with Veerman, Schouten, Reijnders and Koopmeiners and when fit, we can expect some fire upfront from Malen, Gakpo, Simons and Brobbey.

As mentioned, we need Koeman to make the right decisions and allow the players to play to their strengths.

It may sound simplistic, but we need two teams: 1 that can dominate possession against the minions and 1 that can play on the transition when playing the strong countries who themselves want to dominate.

I will suggest three at the back in both scenarios and I would personally use Bijlow as first goalie.

My two teams:

 

 

Tell me your fave line up in the comments….

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The State of Orange (Oranje)

As a national team coach, you want to be able to mould your best team, tactics, approach and squad by now, some 3 months before the tournament.

The two friendlies, against serious opponents, should have told us many things. And it did. But not sure if it was what Koeman wanted.

Not sure what the plan was versus Scotland, with the new 3-5-2 set up (or 3-2-3-2).

Disappointingly for Koeman, we won’t know for sure as the execution was not great. Some players didn’t reach their usual level (Wieffer, Simons, Frimpong) while Memphis is clearly not 100% fit.

Add to that the absence – again – of Frenkie and it’s hard to ascertain where we stand.

Versus Scotland, we played under par for an hour or so but still won 4-0. Against Germany , we played well at stages but lost 1-2.

Two corner kicks: two goals. Fixable, sure, but not something Koeman will be happy with.

Koeman was able to use his subs and shift form shape to shape, so the flexibility of the team and the adaptability of the team seems to be getting better.

I think, when all the players will be fit, we do have a very good squad. But I also think that France, England, Spain and Italy are a bit further than us, in terms of solid game play, patterns and key players.

Sadly, as it happens with every tournament, we won’t have all players available at the Euros.

Some conclusions:

Stop the silly systems debate

As always, people spend hours debating which system Holland should play. This is an irrational discussion. We played 4-3-3 versus Scotland, or so it seemed. But it was actually a 3-5-2. Against Germany, we played 3-2-3-2 but again, in the practice it was. four man defence as one of the midfielders dropped back to start the build up. Daley Blind was hardly ever in defence, but played as an extra midfielder and at times as a number 10 even. Joey Veerman dropped back to assist the defenders in their build up. Ake moves to the left back space.

In the second half, Blind kept the pitch wide, allowing Memphis to explore the half spaces on the left hand side.

Ake as left centre back, Blind playing wide wingback in a 4 men midfield.

What system is this? Never mind. It’s about space and how to use the space. Not about numbers on a playing field, when the ref whistles to start the match.

Creating the free man

Koeman is keen to use his midfielders and front men to create a free man in our team. He put Reijnders one v one on Kroos and instructed Memphis to harass Andrich, the Germany holding mid. This forced Germany to build up via Tah. This way Koeman could stack the centre of the pitch with two holding mids (Veerman, Schouten) and always kept three defenders to deal with the mercurial Germany forwards.

Blind playing central midfielder

This chess face-off meant that Germany was still in control on their own half, but were not able to be a threat against us, in terms of goal scoring opportunities.

Here Blind is playing as second 10

Donyell Malen is like a panther

We have quite a number of top forwards or top potentials in the attacking line, with Lang (now injured), Gakpo, Simons, Brobbey, Zirkzee, Stengs and Bergwijn but Malen offers something the others players don’t have. Malen is explosive, fast and very willing to make runs deep. The other players all want the ball to feet. Lang and Simons do tend to go deep, as does Bergwijn, but not as their first instict. Malen is like a panther, lurking and watching for his change to spring into action.

This makes him a unique player in the squad and should cement his spot in the squad if not the team. In the first half, Malen was instrumental in our first goal, even though he never touched the ball. He had two more breaks and in the second half he presented both Memphis and Reijnders with 2 100% chances. Both players mishit the ball and aimed too high.

Yes, Malen played well but goes to sleep here and allows Musiala some touches in the box

Still, he has his moments of snoozing off (like big cats do) and he was at fault, partly, with the first German goal. He didn’t cut off the pass and was a bit late in reacting to their short corner allowing Musiala to be a threat ( who assisted the ball to the goalscorer).

Jerdy Schouten is a keeper

Schouten played against Germany like he does for PSV, all season long. Very tight on the ball, always in control, always with great care. Van Gaal didn’t think he was good enough after half a game for Holland but Peter Bosz and Ronald Koeman are convinced. On top of that, Schouten plays a lot of forward passes as well, in true Frenkie de Jong style, starting a number of threatening moves. When he got subbed, at the 75th minute, he had most interceptions to his name as well. I don’t want to be over the top here, but he would be a top replacement for Toni Kroos at Real Madrid.

I think Schouten passed his exams and will battle it out with Koopmeiners, Wieffer, Reijnders, De Roon and Veerman for the next-to-Frenkie spot.

Our goalies are fine

We don’t need to worry about our goalies anymore. Flekken and Verbruggen both impressed. Bijlow will return. Nick Olij is a fine shotstopper and Bizot has impressed in France.

So, it seems we might be in good shape this summer.

But if we go through to the last 4, I believe it will be partly due to luck and a favourable draw.

I don’t think Oranje deserves to be seen as a top contender but with the right mix and the key players available and in form, we can surprise.

Koeman called this international break “the final exams”. The jigsaw pieces have not all been in place to show the big picture and the former Barca coach is still playing with them.

Verbruggen impressed

His own conclusion: “I have not been able to find the right combinations, and I fear it’s the result of this injury ridden campaign. And as the calendar keeps getting fuller, I don’t understand why we are now being limited to take 23 players instead of 26. We know already from experience that from the date we have to send in our list of names and the first match, players will drop off. That is always the case.”

Koeman said he already knows who his Euros goalie is, and it seems to be Bart Verbruggen. Only Bijlow is fit and plays a series of impressive matches will he be able to replace Bizot as third goalie.

In defence, it is clear that Virgil, Ake, De Ligt, Dumfries and Geertruida are certain of their spot. Frimpong didn’t impress this time around, but used properly, the speedy right wing back will make the squad, as will multi-functional brainiac Daley Blind.

In midfield, a fit Frenkie is on the bus as well, as will Reijnders be. He didn’t disappoint in his Oranje matches and impresses with his legs, lungs, intelligence and technique.

Wijnaldum seems a shoe in as well. Why select him now otherwise. Koeman has loyalty to Gini and knows the former Feyenoord talent gels well with Memphis. Mats Wieffer has mixed results but Koeman rates the midfielder high and he does have some credit. But he’ll need to show it to the coach in the coming matches.

Schouten is in the same boat as Wieffer. Very promising but a thin foundation as yet. Koeman will be focusing on their performances in the coming months.

Marten de Roon will most likely be in the squad as the only enforcer we have. He never complaints and is one of the leaders off the pitch. Koopmeiners however, who had to leave the camp with an injury, is exceptional in the Serie A, but never really impressed in the orange jersey.

Joey Veerman is not for everyone. Very good on the ball, vulnerable without. He played well in the past Oranje matches but was exposed in several CL matches for PSV. Koeman will throw a dice regarding Veerman and Koopmeiners.

Quinten Timber might nog have been able to show enough in this break and might need to focus on a spot after the Euros, to replace Wijnaldum on the road to 2026.

Xavi Simons is one of the few creative sparks in the team and despite a disappointing series, he will be on the bus as well.

Upfront, it seems Memphis, Gakpo, Malen and Weghorst are certain of their ticket. The question marks will be stalwarts Berghuis and Bergwijn, who both need a super strong finish of the season. Koeman mentioned before that he finds Berghuis to be a unique player and therefore potentially a part of the squad. This gives Koeman another option on the right wing.

Calvin Stengs might have a super end to the campaign and also be in the running for the right wing position. Brobbey and Zirkzee will also be right in Koeman’s radar for the coming games and Brobbey will be part of the squad when fit, it feels.

Micky van der Ven, the left footed centre back of Spurs could also make the squad as his speed and ability to play on any spot in defence makes him an ideal squad player.

Some more question marks: Q Hartman, Stefan de Vrij, Nick Olij, Ian Maatsen and Noa Lang.

And what to do with Summerville… He’s on fire for Leeds and is close to a senior call up, in particular when one or more attacking options (Gakpo, Malen, Simons) fall away with injuries…

Strap yourselfs in, we’re heading to an exciting finish of the season.

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Oranje making up numbers at Euros

Well, we made it. We qualified. But the performance quality – or lack thereof – doesn’t instil a lot of confidence in me.

I don’t think I have seen one match after the World Cup that gave me a good feeling. And sure, we miss a couple of big players, but I can’t see how Frenkie or Memphis would have improved the play much, all by themselves. I mean, there were games with Frenkie in the side post-WC which also didn’t dazzle us.

I do think Koeman is doing the right thing in his squad selection and today’s line up, for me, was quite logical.

I personally would have doubted to put Weghorst in, but he did score the winner so people will probably laugh at me.

But i just don’t like him. And I think that another player would have scored if we had Malen as right winger and Xavi as false 9.

I probably also would have played Wieffer instead of Schouten. I’m a big Schouten fan but to put him in in his second game after being shoved aside by Van Gaal quite rudely, I would have used him versus Gibraltar. I think Wieffer is settled more in Oranje and is known to be quite stoic.

I also need to add: I think Schouten played a very decent match and will only improve.

Lastly, I think I would have picked Bijlow over Verbruggen. The latter is a great talent but still so inexperienced. He had to field two shots on goal and one went in through his legs. Ouch. Luckily for him, the Irish attacker was off side.

But overall, I think Koeman’s decisions re: line up and squad are fine.

It’s the execution (and maybe the prep by Koeman) that leaves a lot to be desired.

The excuse that we miss so many players is not a real excuse for me. We missed a lot of central defenders ( Botman, De Ligt, Timber, Ake, Van der Ven) but that area was not where the issues were today. I thought Blind and De Vrij did well. De Vrij was probably one of the best. His passing, some of his footwork, obviously his defending too. No worries at all.

The issues were in build up and the speed of play. We played walking football. Every time there was a chance to accelerate the game, we seemed to not want to take it. Where Frenkie naturally turns “open” when getting the ball and pass through a line or two, the two “6”s were too cautious. Schouten did it a couple of times, but it still was a bit timid. The pass backwards was found too easily. A simple acceleration on the ball, either with the man or by the ball in terms of a pass, was constantly an option and mostly not taken.

Up front, Weghorst seems to “block” forward motion. Every time he comes into the ball, Simons and Gakpo would move forward for the flick, and every time Weghorst would simply bounce the ball back to the midfielders. No flow.

And most annoyingly, none of the players had the urge to make runs in behind. The corner triangles you see so fluidly at Man City, Feyenoord and Arsenal were not there. The only player at times to recognise the space was Reijnders who’d run into it, but the pass never came. It was sterile and flat. There were options enough ( for Hartman, for Xavi, for Weghorst or Dumfries) to make the dart into that space, even to just stretch the Irish. But no.

My biggest disappointment was the post match interview with Weghorst, who was angry at the reporter asking him a question about the lack of flow in the game. As if the great man is above critical questions after doing his heroics for king and country. Pathetic!

There is a lot of work to do. The good thing is: we do have the players. But we need these players to realise they need to up their game two levels if they want to compete with Spain, England and France at the Euros.

 

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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The Arne Slot Miracle

Feyenoord won it’s 16th title, only 6 years after a complete different team (under Van Bronckhorst) won it. And they won it about 19 years later after the trophy in 1999.

The gaps between titles becomes smaller and if Arne Slot has any say on it, the next gap will be even smaller…

At the start of the season (when Gakpo was still at PSV), many pundits and analysts were convinced that PSV and Ajax would be slugging it out for the title and Feyenoord and AZ would battle for 3rd place.

Yes, PSV had to sell their two most prolific attackers in the winter, but Ajax had a complete meltdown while Slot’s Feyenoord transformed into a winning machine. Where Feyenoord won the title in 2017 with 1 point difference on Ajax, today Feyenoord is 13 points adrift from the Sons of Gods after 32 matches. Two more to go.

A very unlikely title, in other words but thoroughly deserved.

When Idrissi scored the 1-0 in the championship match versus the Eagles, the whole city erupted, but Arne Slot was stoic on the sidelines, hands in pockets. When Gimenez scored the second goals, the coach showed some emotion. Understandably, as the second goal was a training ground goal: Feyenoord played in towards the right wing, luring the Eagles’ players to that side. A quick combination brought the ball back into the centre of the pitch, where Eagles now were short handed. Mats Wieffer accelerated the play when he say Paixao popping up in the axis and the Brazilian was able to lob the ball in the path of the explosive Mexican: 2-0.

The 3-0 came when Feyenoord lost the ball close to the Eagles’ box. Three Feyenoord players, led by Polish international Szymanski, immediately put pressure on the defenders. The ball was blindly played out, Wieffer picked the ball up and he got his assist by finding the shrewd Paixao who came in between the lines: 3-0.

Slot has been able to mould this Feyenoord based on four particular pillars.

The Turnaround when possession is lost

In interviews Slot usually says: “What is attacking football? For me, it means hunting for the ball if you don’t have it.” His players can now dream the wise cracks of the coach. Time again he asks his players: can you deliver? Do you have the intensity to play like this? For Slot, how a players reacts when losing the ball is key. When he started at AZ, he showed his players footage of lacklustre players jogging back after losing possession. He clearly hates it. Spicy detail: Slot him self was a bit of a lazy #10 who played elegant and skilled football but wasn’t known for his running and tackling.

In Rotterdam, Slot started with the attackers. They were ones who had to suddenly work their socks off as first defenders. “If you can up the pace of the game and if you can play at a higher pace than the opponent, you will force them into mistakes and you can win the game. Simple.” The opponents were driving to complete breakdown, broken by the energy of the Feyenoord players.

Playing at Ajax in the Cruyff Arena, all these components came together in one particular moment. See the images. The match is only 4 minutes old or Alvarez intercepts a pass to Gimenez. But there is no mourning phase or disappointment. It’s Symanski who runs like a maniac onto Alvarez and got his foot on the ball. Berwijn got the ball but was circled by 5 opponents. Kokcu got possession and and a couple of seconds later it’s 0-1 Feyenoord, goal Gimenez. This goal was made by seven (!) Feyenoord players who immediately went into 5th gear when the opportunity arose. This intensity seemed to much for most opponents, this season.

Alvarez intercepts pass and wants to dribble forward

Szymanski is immediately on Alvarez’ toes and makes it hard for Ajax to play out

Bergwijn collects and is harassed with 5 opponents around him

Feyenoord wins the ball and plays the forward pass. Via Idrissi, Hartman can cross to Gimenez

The Ajax defense is complete overrun

And Gimenez has a tap in, basically….

Defending

Slot: “We need to create a man more situation everywhere on the pitch!”

When Slot was signed by Arnesen, two years ago, many people doubted that the high octane game Slot likes to play would work in Rotterdam. He laughed it off: “I don’t believe it. This can work, because we have 6 non-defenders who need to chip in and help.” He used the World Cup break to work on his team, 6 days a week. And what he did was basically getting into the players’ heads and convince them of his vision. And he did. By repeating the positives and positive examples. He used books and documentaries, such as the Michael Jordan Doco and the book Intensity by Liverpool assistant Pepijn Lijnders to make his case. The core message: make sure we always have more players around the ball when defending. Dick Advocaat used man marking, Slot went to zonal marking. He wants the team to collectively move with the ball, ensuring there is always players close to the ball.

Four attackers all involved in the initial press

The former Sparta playmaker appeared quite flexible in his execution of his ideas. He started last season with his high press of two forwards: the striker and the 10. He started this season with three attackers pressing, the left and right winger and the striker. In the World Cup break, he worked with the team to place a fourth pressure point in the mix: playmaker Kokcu was going to be the 4th presser, behind the striker. But when Gimenez got the role at the expense of Danilo, Slot changed it back. Gimenez feels best with a 10 next to him, so Slot adepted again. And the striker paid Slot back with important goals.

Turnaround when winning the ball

Slot: “If you are well organised in your press, then opponents make mistakes. And their mistakes will immediately provide opportunities for us.”

Gimenez is Feyenoord’s top scorer this season with 15 goals. The high press helped him tremendously, as 12 goals came straight from a turn around high up the pitch. Under Advocaat, in his last season, this only happened 4 times. Only Celtic in Europe scored more often than Feyenoord from a position of high press.

Always a man more around the ball

These statistics were already in Slot’s thinking when he was an assistant at Cambuur. There, he said: “We can be more lethal when the opponent has the ball on their half, as opposed to us having the ball on our half.” And it worked for Feyenoord, as the Rotterdam club was at their most lethal when opponents decided to build up from the back.

Attacking

Slot: “When you have the ball, you need to create a man-more situation immediately and use it.”

His principles aren’t much different in the attacking sense of the game. He was able to increase the % possession from 54% to 60% and when the Feyenoord attackers were totally trained up during the World Cup break, he was able to execute his preferred playing style.

Slowly suffocating the opponent

Slot: “I don’t have the illusion I can make players play better. But I can make the team play in a way that makes the individual seem to be better. So they can play in their strength.”

It’s also good to see that Slot doesn’t force his players into a style of play. He does look at the skill set he has available to him. Good example: the right back position. Geertruida is a very intelligent player, who can play the inverted right back/midfielder role (like Trent Alexander Arnold, John Stones and Joshua Kimmich can play). In that case, the right winger takes the right wing. Pedersen however, doesn’t feel comfortable playing in that role, so whenever he plays, Slot uses him as a wingback marauding down the line and the right winger will come more inside to fill in the extra midfielder role.

And always keeping track of the distances between players

Arne Slot sticks to his guns, but is always looking to finetune his vision to allow the players to play to their strength. This resulted in the miraculous title for Feyenoord.

His next mission: keep as many players on board as possible and try to make a name in the Champions League.

Thanks to Pieter Zwart VI

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Epic win Oranje

This is not a long post, people. I am still reeling behind my computer, not capable of creating a well balanced review, as the adrenaline is racing through my body. We needed a win, in this Group of Death we’re in.

Beaten 4-0 versus France was tough earlier on and having to play heavyweights Gibraltar after only 4 days of rest and recuperation is tough.

When you do win the Gibraltar game, with the vintage 3-0 scoreline, it’s cause for celebrations!

3-0 is that heroic end result we all know and remember from our game versus Peru in 1972 or Poland in 1975. People still talk about that 3-0 versus Iran in 1978 or the 0-3 versus Greece in 1987. Oh, and who doesn’t remember the 3-0 versus Canada in 1994.

The Football Gods must have interfered.

The stress in the Dutch camp was high, of course, having to face up against defending behemoths Gibraltar. Luckily, Holland had the home advantage.

We saw the team fight, battle, dazzle and being unlucky too. With Weghorst pushing the ball past the wrong side of the post, as we see him do so often for Man United. We saw Wijnaldum playing the ball back mostly and Berghuis zipping balls blindly into the box, to no one in particular.

Veteran Mats Wieffer was the best man on the pitch, as per usual and a big header by Memphis got us on the score sheet in the first half, finally beating Man of the Match [name of Gibraltar goal keeper].

But it took until Daley Blind finally came on to the pitch to make a difference that Holland put it’s stamp on the match with some brilliant individual performances. Blind and Klaassen led the Dutch to an epic history, which will no doubt result in mad parties in the street and fire works till dawn.

If you can keep France at 4-0 AND beat Gibraltar at home 3-0, it’s clear that a new generation of football geniuses is prepping to win maybe another friendly game later this year as well.

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Ronald Koeman interview

As per our customs, we like to present a new team manager via a “Big Interview”. In this case, the manager isn’t new. The interview is still big.

Ronald Koeman, the new team manager for Oranje. Welcome…

Koeman: “I am so blessed, happy and priviliged to be the….

Yes, you can stop the cliches and the asskissing Ronald, we know your drill by now, ladidadida I am so proud, yadda yadda… is there another clause in your agreement? Will you forsake Oranje again?? Maybe when Spurs come calling?

“Oops, no. I get what you’re saying. No clause this time.”

Yes, because you were so keen to coach Oranje but you left at a key time and you left us with Frank de Boer and Louis van Gaal. Two major tournaments wasted opportunities. What do you have to say for yourself?

“Like I said, there is no clause now and I am happy and blessed and….”

Enough! What can we expect?

“Well, like I said before. I am a 4-3-3 man. I will not proceed with the LVG style of 5 at the back, whatever Louis called it. We’re going back to the system with which I had success, before I …”

Yes, shut up. How did you enjoy the World Cup?

“I think it was an exciting World Cup. The Qatar location wasn’t a success, neither was the winter time, for me at least, but we saw some exciting games. The Dutch could and should have done better, I feel, but I think everyone feels this way.”

What was the reason? Van Gaal?

“It’s tempting to say yes to that. But in all fairness, our top forwards were not in good shape. Gakpo did ok, but Memphis and Bergwijn were the go-to guys for Louis and I think he betted on the wrong horses. Overall, we didn’t have the quality we needed to have.”

How do you think you can overcome this?

“I hope I will make better decisions. But I won’t go back into the World Cup or stuff that happened before me. It’s not fair on Louis and not fair on the lads. I wasn’t there. I want to focus on the games ahead and the tournaments where I can have an impact. I do believe 4-3-3 will be a better option for us. Playing three at the back because you have top defenders is not good enough for me. I mean, we won’t play 5 strikers when we have 5 top goal scorers, would we?”

You came up with the definitive squad for these two Euro Qualification matches. It seemed the goalies and the strikers were a problem but now that is overshadowed by the loss of Frenkie de Jong. Can we cope without him?

“Of course! We will field 11 players, don’t worry. And we do not have a “second Frenkie” in the sense that Frenkie is quite unique. But even with Koopmeiners injured we have alternatives. They will play their part in a different way, but they can definitely play in that role. Wijnaldum played there, De Roon did, Berghuis even, Taylor plays in his role at Ajax and Blind played there a couple of games as well. And I have Wieffer and also Joey Veerman in the squad. Geertruida can play there even!”

Daley Blind? People will wonder why he is even in the squad?

“Really? He played 99 matches for Oranje! A player like him will always get his exit through the front door! He has been a good and loyal soldier of orange and although I did tell him that he shouldn’t count on a starting spot at LB, he can still be very important for us. He can play on 3 different spots and he brings a lot of know how and experience in the dressing room. I want to be able to give him his 100st international game, he deserves it. But whether I will keep on selecting him will hinge on his game time, moving forward.”

Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?

“No, listen when we play 4 at the back, Nathan Ake and Malacia are two excellent candidates and we have the likes of Bakker and Hartman coming through too. Daley is vulnerable defensively, that is no secret, but he can definitely play in the central midfield role, when we play with two pivots.”

Exactly what Van Basten and Gullit said in the Rondo talkshow.

“Yes but I don’t need them to tell me. Everyone knows this. But I have options. I can play De Roon if I want to build in more defensive strength. Or Berghuis, Taylor or even Wieffer if I want to play more offensive.”

Would you risk it with Wieffer in his debut match? Against France?

“Sure, why not? When you’re part of the squad, you’re part of the squad. He will have to show me, of course, during practice here, but I saw him play against Ajax, and Shaktar and those are games at a high level and he was great. I also added Veerman to the mix, we’re not in bad shape at all and Frenkie is a player who – like any player – can get injured or suspended so we need to find ways to cope.”

How bad was the news for you, that Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen withdrew from international football?

“Bad bad…. it was a surprise. I would never expect a player to say thanks to Oranje but hey, times change. I mean, Luuk is getting on and his body might need the rest at times. I respect that. He’s 32 and started his pro life at 17 or so? 15 years of knocks and pushes and battles. It’s a shame because he is definitely one of the best headers in the game in Europe, but like Janssen, he wouldn’t be a starter. Vincent has a young family and I think the pace of today’s game forces him to slow down. I think we demand too much of our players. All these matches, it’s nuts.”

Do we now have a strikers problem?

“Nah. I don’t think so. Gakpo plays striker for Liverpool. Memphis at Atleti. We have Danjuma who will hope that Kane moves on, we have Brobbey, Dallinga, Malen, Lang and even Simons can play there. Oh and Weghorst. I think we will manage.”

And the goalies?

“I understand there was a highly scientific approach re: the goalies. I’m a simple man and the father of a goalkeeper and I think a goalie needs to stop balls from going into the net. With Cillesen, Flekken, Bijlow and now also Verbruggen we have good goalies. Cillesen has years in him still, and the others obviously too. Noppert is top as well, but injured now and I can see more good goalies in the Eredivisie, like Olij and Vaessen. We – again – should be ok.”

There was some surprise re: Frimpong versus Geertruida and Tete?

“I can understand this, but I have a simple answer. Geertruida can play RB in a 4-3-3, he can also play central defender really well, and he can play also in the defensive mid role in midfield. Frimpong for me is more a wingback or even a right winger! He is excellent in Van Gaal’s system, so to speak. I think Geertruida is a better defender, Frimpong excellent in attack. But defenders need to be able to defend.”

Dumfries is suspended of course, for the France game. Tete was quite annoyed with the snub, he made some public comments about it. It felt like you were playing with his balls?

“I didn’t hear him say it, and he might have used this as a metaphor. I’m not impressed but I will call him after these matches and suss him out. I don’t think he has anything to complain. I got him into the squad again and I have gotten him into this prelim squad. I think Geertruida has been impressing way longer than Tete, who is only back at full form since this season. But I will call him up and see how he is.”

So Geertruida versus Mbappe? 

“Yes why not. Or Timber.”

How do you see this qualifications group?

“I think we’ll need to be at our best versus all opponents. The onus is onus is on us and France. Two nations qualify and that should be us. But you can easily get into trouble against one of the others. Maybe not Gibraltar but even that match will not be an easy one. They never are. But if we don’t qualify, I will have failed.”

Are you positive about our future? Talent development?

“I am very positive. Look at the level of the Dutch clubs these days. Sure, Feyenoord is top, Ajax is always top, PSV will be there, but now AZ and FC Twente are joining in, Sparta, NEC and RKC are performing ever so well, our overall level is going up. And there is excellent talent, all over the place. Xavi Simons, Summerville at Leeds, Struijk at Leeds, Huissen at Juventus, we have Wieffer now, I still believe in Rensch and Teze, I can see talent at Ajax and Feyenoord, like Hartman. And it’s great to see a player like Malen getting back into shape, Lang and Danjuma are still young. We develop some great central defenders too, there is Botman, Struijk, Schuurs and Micky van de Ven, Bjorn Meijer, I mean truly… The future is bright.”

And you also seem to be keen to bring Wijnaldum back?

“For me, Wijnaldum always needs to be part of Oranje, as long as he’s fit. He always delivered under me. I am not saying it was Van Gaal’s problem, as Gini could indeed have a lesser period, it happens, but I can only refer to his many goals, his partnership with Memphis, his work ethics, I mean… Gini is top class. It’s not for nothing that the Liverpool midfield struggled without him.”

How do you rate Xavi Simons?

“He is a tremendous talent. From a footballing perspective, he’s a top class and his mentality is even better. He is not here to do tricks or to make pannas, he wants to win matches. Whenever he plays, something happens. That is really good to see.”

What do you expect from France?

“I think they will play their usual compact game. They want to create space for MBappe and they won’t press high. The pitch will be small when we have the ball and we need to be neat in possession and create options for triangles. And our rest defence needs to be top notch. We will need some training sessions for this, still.”

My eleven for the France game:

Cillesen

Geertruida  –  Timber – Van Dijk – Ake

Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum

Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis

Result: 2-2 (goals Memphis and Wijnaldum and two own goals by Daley)

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Oranje: The Future

The future of Oranje looks bright. How often have I typed these words. Most likely after most tournaments we covered here on the blog. Starting in 2004, in Portugal, with Robben and Advocaat dominating the headlines, via the Battle of Nuremberg to the Russian drama in 2008, the Spanish toe in 2010 and the miracle of 2014…

But, the future of Oranje always looks bright, which is part of the problem actually. We want the present to be bright. But time and time again, we put a lot of weight on the multiple talents we recognise, but which somehow don’t come to fruition.

In 2006, Maduro, Kromkamp, Jaliens, Vennegoor, Hesselink (never know which one), Babel… In 2008, Engelaar, De Zeeuw, Melchiot, Bouma, Afellay. In 2010, Elia, Braafheid. And the list goes on.

We do have the players. We always develop players. From Cruyff, Rep, Rensenbrink and Neeskens, to Bergkamp, Van Basten and Van Tiggelen. Or Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben now to Memphis, Gakpo and Frenkie de Jong.

It’s not the players. I said this before: Greece won the Euros in 2004 without any real world class names. We have enough players to fill a national team.

My key issue with Dutch football is the lack of real competence at the Federation level (the KNVB). Somehow, mediocre managers are pulled towards the jobs. It’s a cushion job, nicely paid, making nice trips to FIFA and UEFA events, you get your face on tv and you get to hang with famous people… But the Dutch officials lack the gravitas, experience and commitment of – say – the German or English officials. It’s all a bit cottage-industry in the Netherlands.

I mean, allowing assistant coach Dick Advocaat a contract clause allowing him to leave his job after 2 months, after coach Danny Blind had said no to other candidates. And then to allow Ronald Koeman a clause in his contract, so he could abandon the NT mid campaign (which gave us Frank de Boer and then Louis van Gaal). And then inviting Koeman back in!!!

What messages do you give to the players? How will Koeman get back into the dressing room? Its like leaving your wife for a younger model and then after a year of failed love-making, you return to your ex?

Or calling Peter Bosz to ask him about his contract and then telling the media Bosz turned the gig down?

Or having joke Hans van Breukelen sign both Ten Cate AND Advocaat and then lying to the media, the supporters and the players while Ten Cate had audio recordings unmasking the glib former goalie.

I mean….

Top sport mentality? In the dressing room yes. On the pitch, sometimes. In the board room? No.

The KNVB management seems to be fishing in the same old pond: ex players, older than 50, successful as club coach, popular amongst the people, Dutch, experience within the Federation a preference.

Louis van Gaal had 3 stints. Hiddink had 2 stints. Advocaat at least 2. Now Ronald “this train might not come by again” Koeman twice. People like Grim or Lodeweges or further back Van Lingen, were part of the KNVB coaching staff before, at the youth level. There is no real vision. Coaches seem to be selected along the “IBM” mantra. In the past, corporations went for IBM because “no IT manager gets sacked for chosing IBM as a partner”. In Dutch football, no KNVB official will get sacked for selecting Hiddink/Van Gaal/Advocaat.

We don’t see rebels like Cruyff,  Ten Cate or Bosz as team manager. They are too high maintenance. They will say things the KNVB doesn’t want to hear. They will have an opinion about the KNVB staff, protocols or methods. They play risky football.

Back in 1994, Cruyff dropped out of the negotiations to lead Oranje in the USA World Cup because he was forced to use the KNVB coaches as assistants, while JC wanted Tonny Bruins Slot and his own staff. Just like someone in KNVB management blocked the signing of Henk ten Cate.

Next up, our Academy philosophy needs a kick up the behind. Our focus has been very much a cookie cutter “pass and move” format, where players like Danjuma, Frenkie de Jong and potentially even Xavi Simons were told to “stick to the program”, i.e. stop dribbling and pass the ball more.

It’s vital to develop programs for specific roles in the team and it’s vital to organise more resistance for our talents. Every player leaving the Dutch competition to go to Italy (in particular), England or Germany will tell you soon after their move how they now train really hard and how it took them months to get up to par with the other players in terms of fitness.

Our talents, at Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and PSV, win most of their matches with two hands tied to their backs. Send them out to play more international tournaments. Develop ways to make it hard for them. Let them play 10 v 11 for instance, to build more resilience and grit.

Talents will always come through in Holland but talent alone is not enough.

But enough with the stern criticism. Lets look at the interview with Peter Bosz, the World Cup winning team manager in 2026.

Congrats, Peter. You finally got us a World Cup. When did you start thinking it was all possible?

PB: “I always knew it was possible. We were close so often but we regularly missed a detail. We were able to get all ingredients right, this time. The foundation being the mental and physical levels of the squad. And then it was mainly the typical Dutch football spirit which got us the win.”

Such as?

“It started when Ronald Koeman left after losing the Nations League final versus Spain, 1-8. The new 6 at the back system failed miserably. Koeman wanted to use all good central defenders in his line up and having Daley Blind as a striker was not a good call for some reason. So he left for Dundee United, which was one of his dream clubs apparently. I went back to the usual 4-3-3 and tried to get some clarity in to the squad.”

Was it hard to make the transition?

“The main thing was to get all these petty Van Gaal v Koeman things out of the consciousness of the lads. We just went back to the basis. 4-3-3 is ideal for the triangles and the positioning on the pitch. We were mostly play 3-4-3 whenever we had control which was often as we do have great ball players.”

How did you approach this World Cup?

“We decided to use the principles engrained in us by the glorious 1970s generation of players and we modernised it. We didn’t even do this to be honest, others have done it before us. I mean, Van Gaal in the 90s, Sacchi at Milan, Guardiola and of course the input from Wilson and Emanuel on the Dutch Soccer Blog was priceless.”

You decided to use a lot of playful, creative, adventurous players.

“Well yes, football is about scoring goals. You cannot score if you don’t have the ball. So players who have full control over the ball have more chance of keeping possession and finding solutions. All the rest, we can teach players. The massive overhaul we have seen in our academy has pushed the overall quality up. We’re just delighted with how it went.”

How did the selection process go?

“Simple. Which players are vital to have in the team, based on control, mentality, fitness and pure quality? Frenkie, Nathan, Tyrell, Cody, Xavi and Ryan. Right? So we built a team around them. Nathan Ake our captain, and leader and most experienced player. With Sven Botman regularly standing in for Nathan. Frimpong and Malacia are no-brainers of course and with De Ligt we have a true tank next to Nathan. A midfield of Frenkie, Gravenberch and Xavi Simons can play any opponent to smithereens and with Gakpo, Danjuma and Lang we have smashing forward line. I’m also happy Memphis as a supersub still works. It almost doesn’t matter who I put in goal, but Bijlow did really well doing nothing.”

Seven matches, no goals conceded, and scored an average of 5 goals per match. Wow.

“Yes, we could have done better I suppose. Your criticism is understandable. It usually takes about 20 seconds from start to the move, to the end: the ball in the net. We could and should have score more.”

Eh….

“Overall, my assistants Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt have been instrumental in this and I hope we can now win a couple more tournaments. Football is coming home!!!”

Eh no Peter, that slogan has nothing to do with….

“Am I so smart, or are you so stupid??”

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Oranje back to drawing board

And here is the final result of the little Scorito competition we had going, the competition of course being called Lowievenkaals Armie. Shawn is the absolute GOAT of this competition.

Shawn, congrats! You will have bragging rights till the next World Cup. Robin is France, I am Croatia and Sjaak is Morocco. Ah well….

Despite a heroic comeback versus Argentina, Oranje is home licking their wounds. I am sad Morocco didn’t get a trophy to show for their contributions and with the Atlas Lions out, the real Dutch connection ( Ziyech, Amrabat, Mazraoui, Aboukhlal) to this World Cup is gone. There is no real connection with the French for us, and generally speaking, the Dutch are not big fans of Les Blues. Messi will always be my fave player, even if he gave Weghorst and LVG a piece of his mind. The Argentinian connection is there (Rijkaard / Ten Cate > Messi, Tagliafico and Martinez > Ajax) and I wish them well.

In The Netherlands, it’s back to the drawing board. Van Gaal’s final conclusion seem to have been “We have not wingers of top class”. Despite this, it was the move of Gakpo to the left and Berghuis to the right with two tall towering strikers which got us the equaliser and extra time in the quarter finals. It was warrior Wout Weghorst who got the final free kick which Koopmeiners took in Weghorst’s Wolfburg style, to get us a sniff of hero-ism. But Van Gaal made a bad judgement call for the extra time, counting on penalty success.

The fear of conceding was bigger than the wish to kill the opponent off.

Before the match, he also made a bad call, in thinking Argentina would not adjust to us and he felt the 3-4-1-2 would give us a good chance to win. But, Scaloni surprised by bringing Martinez as an extra defender, nullifying our tactical “advantage”. Argentina forced the ball onto us and this scenario paid out for Scaloni.

One brilliant Messi pass and a cheap penalty gave Argentina the lead: Van Gaal beaten with his own stick.

Since the bronze medal in 2014 we missed out on two major tournaments. We seemed to stick to what we know best, building up from the back, possession based football with wingers. All this in an era in wich the game got quicker and more tactical. Countries like Iceland, Sweden, Turkey and Bulgaria were able to throw sand in the not-so-slick Oranje machine, by defending as a team and playing compact. Waiting for the mistake. The Dutch were the Dodo of International football.

Self professed fans of Dutch football, Guardiola and Klopp were able to introduce concepts like the high press and positioning play by dividing the playing field in particular zones. In this way they found new ways to achieve balance while attacking. In the Eredivisie, coaches like Peter Bosz, Erik ten Hag and Arne Slot followed suit and were able to perform on the European stage with success.

Ronald Koeman copied this blue print after a shaky start. Left back Blind became the third central defender in the build up. Bergwijn would drift inwards, opening up space for Dumfries who covered the full right flank. On the other flank, Koeman used Ryan Babel to keep the width on the left. The yield of the wingers was limited. Bergwijn didn’t score at all in 9 matches, Babel scored 4 in 17 matches. Oranje was very dependent on Memphis Depay and his partnership with Gini Wijnaldum. Under Koeman we beat France, Germany and England, but we also lost against France, Germany and Portugal.

We could beat any team but we could also lose against any team. Under Frank de Boer we lost against Mexico, Turkey and the Czechs using different systems. This was the context when Van Gaal stepped in.

Van Gaal decided to use the learning from the past and introduced the compact playing style to the team, with the aim to build up with short passes and moves in order to combine forward. The execution was poor, to say it nicely. The simple basic things didn’t work. Creating triangles to get players on the ball, for instance. In particular the right flank was weak. No wonder Oranje played its best game against the USA, the only game in which we had less possession than the opponent.

We can debate endlessly about what went wrong, but in essence it comes down to quality, or lack thereof. Phillipp Lahm, the former Germany full back, said it best when comparing Argentina with Holland: “All the players of Argentina have what it takes in modern football: strong in the one versus one, defensively and offensively. These individual skills are what it takes to win matches, not tactics.”

Guardiola says it differently: “When I look at a player to sign for my club, I basically look at one thing only: can he dribble. Does he control the ball? I only want players who have a dribble. All the other things, like a touch, or a pass or a shot, I can teach. I cannot teach players to dribble. It’s impossible to beat a defensive team without players who can dribble.”

These are quite succinct statements explaining the problems we currently have with Oranje.

In five matches, incl extra time vs Argentina, we mustered 17 successful dribbles. That is less than Jamal Musiala of Germany on his own. Only Cody Gakpo managed to do this more often than twice. Gakpo totalled 5 successful dribbles, all in all. Mempis had 2. Denzel Dumfries? Zero. Frenkie had 3, Timber 3 and Berwijn only 1.

Arjen Robben had 5 successful dribbles in one match, in 2014. The lack of form and fitness of Memphis was not present this time, as he usually is the player to create something out of nothing.

We lacked creativity. That is the bottom line. In 2016, the Dutch FA came with a report: Winners of Tomorrow. Their conclusion was that we needed better defenders! While at that time, Ake, De Vrij, Martins Indi, Blind and others were already playing at very decent levels in Europe. While attacking creative talent was scarce.

Our successful generations ( Cruyff, Rensenbrink, Rep, Van Basten, Roy, Witschge, Davids, Kluivert, Bergkamp, Rijkaard, Rob de Wit, Van der Vaart, Robben) were produced not at the club but on the street. Exactly like Brazilians or Moroccans are developed. The youth academies don’t seem to be able to replicate the street, in their youth development plans.

This is the most important lesson for the KNVB. That, and never ever allowing a coach to abandon his post because a dream club is interested in signing him.

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Argentina is easy to beat

Allow me to start with apologising to all of you for the ongoing drivel about Berghuis and Blind. I keep on saying I won’t be baited and still it happens. I will let the opinions be for what they are. I am a fan of both players, as is now well-known and I simply can’t understand why Bergwijn, Taylor, Janssen or Klaassen don’t get the same amount of vomit from some here, it seems a focused attack on these two guys. I know they’re no Roberto Carlos or Fernando Redondo but they are among the best we have and when they wear orange, I support them. Like I support Weghorst, or De Roon. Enough said. I’ll behave from now on.

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot is currently considered the best and most exciting coach in the Eredivisie. His work at Cambuur and AZ has been applauded but his mission to coach a new Feyenoord team to a European finals has definitely put him solidly on the map as the new crown prince of Dutch football (yes, we tend to use that term for new exciting coaches… most of them start to fail once they got that moniker). This year, Slot had to replace 8 starters in his team and despite a short pre-season with shifts in his squad, he ended the first season half ( a third really) on top!

Feyenoord coach Arne Slot

As a guest at the NOS Studio WC 2022, he made some interesting points about Oranje and the chances.

About Van Gaal’s choices.

“It’s normal for a coach not to explain in detail why he does things. Everything van Gaal does or says has a reason behind it, this is how I know him. Even him joking about becoming the new NT manager for Belgium is to deflect attention away from the team and put the spotlight on him. He will always defend his players towards the outside world. Internally, he can be and will be really vocal and direct and super honest. I think he started with the players he started with, partly because some of them came in with fitness issues. All the focus went to Memphis, but De Ligt, De Roon, De Vrij, Lang and even Frenkie had had issues with injuries. Blind, Klaassen and Berghuis missed a number of games at Ajax due to different reasons as well. Van Gaal used the group games to get his full squad match fit. The reason for him to bring De Roon and Klaassen in versus Qatar had to do with this, I believe. He could have left these players out, but that would mean they would even drift further apart from fitness, which could hurt the team in the knock-out stages. Managing squad fitness and squad happiness – as I call it – is a key factor for a coach, but it hardly gets attention. The reason: coaches don’t want to let other teams know that there might be fitness issues and secondly, most people have no idea what it means to train a player “up” as we call it. It’s a science. Talking about the issues of the individual is also something that goes against the privacy codes. Imagine Van Gaal discussing the health of De Vrij while his management is negotiating with Tottenham Hotspur. It’s a tricky thing.”

About Argentina:

“I am a huge Messi fan. In club games, he never disappointed. He will always do something that makes your mouth fall open. And if Messi is in top form, he will be a problem for Holland… For any opponent. But the thing is, the other 10 players are not of his level. Some of them are actually not that good. Most of them have no clue what to do with the time and space around them. When a team press them high, there will be space in their defence for Messi to have a go at. He can hurt you then. He only needs one or two moments to score. But if you stay compact, the other guys won’t have the creativity to find him. If you lock him in, he will not get much joy and their defence has trouble defending bigger spaces. I expect a similar game as against the US. Hopefully with Oranje better in possession of course. Australia at times had the ball for two full minutes in a row. Against Argentina! Because they are not good without the ball. And when they try and press, the pitch becomes big and we can play easily in between the lines. If we play and execute the Van Gaal plan well, we will not have a lot of problems and will win that game. One condition, our rest-defence needs to be solid. Because once you lose the ball in attack, they will look up and spot Messi, who usually has wondered to some area where he is unmarked and he will pounce. If we organise our defence well, and so far we did, we will win. This Argentina is not like the Barcelona of a couple of years back.”

Van Dijk afraid to go into aerial duel 🙂

VI’s Pieter de Zwart – master analyst – on Oranje. “Despite the fact that Van Gaal’s Oranje is performing below par, the defence of the team excels. Even the wingbacks have finally gotten the headlights now, in the USA game. Let’s focus on the last line of defence.

The 2014 Argentina game is a big blot on Van Gaal’s resume. As he sees it: Oranje should have won as we were the better team (according to Louis The Sun King). And this is also why penalties are getting all that focus, with Frans Hoek – keeper trainer and guru and even with scientific approaches. They have developed so-called action types, with very technical terms like horizontal players and vertical players. Some penalty takers go for an angle. Others go for power. Others wait for the keeper to make a move. How to spot the types and what to do against them, was the main topic. By the way, De Ligt and Malacia have leaked who the penalty killer of Oranje is. In a game called 30 seconds, the question Malacia got from De Ligt was: Penalty killer? and Malacia answered: Noppert. And then both: OOPS!!

In 2014, Oranje played with a make-shift defence: an attacker who played in Turkey (Kuyt), two young Eredivisie defenders ( De Vrij, Martins Indi), an older defender playing relegation football in England (Vlaar) and a midfielder (Blind). Today, we have three top central defenders, an experienced left back and a marauding right wing back.

The Three Stooges: Sleepy, Narcy and Grumpy

In Qatar, Oranje is one of six nations who only conceded one goal. Ecuador’s goal was actually the first chance we gave away. The Dutch NT is on par with the strong nations, at this World Cup.

Our defenders all play a specific role.

Denzel Dumfries

Johan Cruyff, Rob Rensenbrink and Denzel Dumfries. A nice list of names. All Dutch players involved with 3 goals in 1 match. When asked about Dumfries’ performance against the US, Van Gaal quipped: “I gave him a kiss, the other day. But as there are cameras present now, I will do it again!” And Van Gaal bent over to the Inter defender, sitting next to him, and smacked a big pucker on Denzel’s cheek. “Thank you sir” was Denzel’s response. In the group games, Dumfries played disappointing matches, because the opponents were waiting for him in the zone, blocking his marauding runs. Then, his weaknesses become apparent. Hard feet and lack of real skills. He is the Dutch international with the most losses of possession. By far. Against the USA, he plays against Pulisic who is not the most driven defender and Denzel can bomb forward. And where the former Sparta player used to blindly hit the ball towards the area, now he picks his head up and sees the free runner.

Jurrien Timber

The only defender who didn’t start every match. Van Gaal calls the position, central back, as the right central defender needs to cover for the missing Dumfries a lot. A role better suited to Timber, as De Ligt also claims. Timber feels fine, in that role. As he also is comfortable in midfield, with or without the ball. With Blind, he repossesses the ball the most times (8 times) and like Ake he has not been dribbled past at all this World Cup. In the attacking sense, Van Gaal is not happy with Timber, as none of his forward passes to the final third ended up at the feet of a team mate. Against Ecuador, it’s partly his doodling on the ball that resulted in the equaliser.”

Virgil van Dijk

The more you don’t notice Van Dijk, the better it is. Van Gaal calls him “the General Forward Press”. When Virgil manages his troops well, he doesn’t have to do much. This is different from his role at Liverpool and it took him some time to get used to. Initially, Virgil was uncertain in the five-at-the-back system but he has grown into it. Against Senegal and Ecuador, he is too static and passive, and he gets quite some criticism from the pundits in Holland. Against Qatar and the USA he has picked it up and plays more forward passes. This is the Fabinho role at Liverpool basically. His heading capabilities are golden for Oranje.

Nathan Ake

Ake is the revelation for Oranje this World Cup, playing consistent, focused and with confidence. Ake always finds a solution and always finds a player in an orange jersey. He seems to be continuously in control of the situation. All the lessons learned from Van Gaal’s former captain at Man City. Guardiola teaches his defenders to keep the ball and dribble in until an opponent bites and makes a move towards the ball. Then Ake passes, as another Oranje player will have time and space. Against the USA, he breaks through the lines with 10 passes! He is top in number of forward passes and he has the least loss of possession. Only twice against the USA, whereas the number two and three on the list lost possession five times (Van Dijk and De Roon). Ake has surpassed De Vrij and De Ligt in this system, quite a feat. In a four man defence, he would only be able to play left back as Van Dijk is beyond reproach for Van Gaal.

Daley Blind

In the run up to the World Cup, Van Gaal says it’s unbelievable that Blind gets so much criticism at Ajax. The team manager doesn’t look at what Blind can not do, but focuses on what he can do. Against the USA, Blind’s strengths are exploited to the max. On paper, you’d expect a mismatch between the leggy Blind and the fast Weah, so Van Gaal instructs Ake to take care of Weah and pushes Blind up to deal with Dest. Blind ends the game with the most tackles (7) and the most duels won (9).

Blind also offers his attacking threat, with a goal and an assist. Against the first opponent who dare to attack Oranje, the wingbacks appear to become our biggest threats moving forward. Van Gaal was proud like a peacock. Blind had 60 forward passes into the opponent’s defensive third, with Frenkie (43) and Gakpo (35) as second and third.

Van Gaal believes Argentina might play the same way as the USA, with Messi in the Pulisic role. If they do, he believes Oranje will have good chances to win.

I say: 3-0, with Memphis, Gakpo and Blind on the score board.

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