We always approach these analyses from the Dutch perspective, of course, but it is also fair to say that Norway played really really well. But, we are not going to play the victim: Norway was good because we couldn’t find the solutions.
Louis van Gaal must have been free of stress and game jitters. When you only have 1,5 day to prep your first match, well… what to expect. He did have his zoom calls with the players individually, and I also think his video analysts will have sent clips to the players with specifics and instructions, but what do you do when you only have 1,5 days to prep?
You don’t pick players without rhythm. Ergo: Dumfries, Malen and De Roon didn’t start. You also don’t want to mix up the existing core team too much. So you offer a debut to Bijlow and a starting berth to Gakpo, but you don’t want to bring Malacia as well.
You don’t start with 5-3-2 because the ghost of Frank de Boer will be hovering over the team and result, which is something Van Gaal would want to avoid.
The line up was quite logical. I had Dumfries and Malen in my starting eleven ( I simply think Dumfries without rhythm brings a bit more than Timber, more on that later) and I’m a big fan of Malen, who offers depth. Gakpo, Memphis, Berghuis…they all want the ball to feet.
I was excited with the line up though. I like the 4-3-3 (although Oranje started with 4-1-4-1) and I was looking forward to seeing Bijlow play.
Van Gaal wanted Frenkie in the centre of midfield in a holding role, knowing he would have the ball a lot and would be able to dominate the game. Memphis got Klaassen and Wijnaldum as his assistants behind him, as Memphis gets the best results with dynamic players around him.
The first phase of the game, Oranje dominated possession. Norway was hesitant and was keen to play on the counter and Haaland proved to be a threat. We wanted to stop the pass into him but in the first state of the game, we weren’t so good at it. A first attack was a warning for Oranje. Haaland slipped past the offside (Timber played him on) but Bijlow earned his Heineken. The second time Haaland got a sniff, he scored. Gakpo was slow to get back up on the pitch but Timber also kept Haaland onside, the ball was brought back in and Haaland had a sensational tough to push the ball past a helpless goalie. Despite Van Dijk’s lunge.
Oranje lost it for a while and needed a shape/pattern that was practiced during training (and you can see this in the clip I posted in the previous post). A ball via midfield towards the winger (Berghuis), who found the running Wijnaldum in the half space (excellent pass), who pulled the ball back, low and fast. Davy Klaassen as per usual entered the box and had an easy goal to score: 1-1.
The second half saw Oranje start in a 4-2-3-1, with Wijnaldum next to Frenkie. This was needed, as Norway found space on the counter everytime Frenkie was pulled out of position. With Gini covering that space in the De Roon role, Norway had less options to counter (but still did).
The biggest chance in the second half was for Haaland again, after a nice break led by Odegaard. The Arsenal #10 was second-best most of the times vs Frenkie but this particular move was great: the little run by Haaland (towards De Vrij and then suddenly away from De Vrij) was pure class and his shot ended on the post.
We only had some lame attempts. Two headers in the first half (Gakpo), a soft header in the second half (Van Dijk) and a last-second option for Dumfries who couldn’t sort his feet you.
Louis van Gaal was not super disappointed after the match. He too praised Norway. “The opponent played it very well and despite we wanted to win this, we need to be happy with the draw. Considering we had only 1,5 days to prep and not all players at the same level in terms of fitness and rhythm… I think we need to take this. We still have it all in hand and we will need to win the next two matches.”
Asked where Oranje went wrong: “We were sloppy. We had some issues with the flow of the game on this slow and dry pitch, but we let ourselves down. We were not too precise with our passing and we made the wrong decisions at the wrong times. Norway is very good in compact defending, so the space was limited, which means two things: you need to be creative against these opponents and you need to be in good form. We weren’t able to do either. This needs to improve, but I’m confident we will. In order to play them to pieces is by showing courage, by stepping into midfield and creating a man-more situation but we lacked the confidence, I think. Another thing, our set pieces and corners were not good enough. This is all trainable and we will improve on this. See, we can think we are world class, but in all honesty, we are not. We can beat any team, but any team can beat us too.”
Captain Van Dijk was disappointed. Just like all the other players. “It was really depressing how that goal came to be. We all went up the pitch, but Cody was slack. It happens. But we were restless after that. We had enough chances or options to go for the winner but it didn’t happen.” Playing against Haaland was chore for Big Virg: “He’s amazing. He is strong and fast, so you need to be really ready for him. But we had to win here, I think we could have. But hey, we’ll need to do in the next matches now.”
The man who usually gets us the goals, Memphis Depay, was also a bit down after the match. “This is a bummer! We didn’t create enough. We lacked creativity, something we do have. But it didn’t work, we lacked confidence or courage it seemed. And that also applies t me, and the lads in midfield. Frenkie tried to play between the lines, but we need more players to do this. But we worked hard and kept on trying. I can create goals from nothing, I know this, so even when I’m not super good I can have my value for the team. We almost got it even, but we lacked the luck for that last second goal.”
Justin Bijlow is now the new #1 for Oranje. “The coach told me on Monday. I was super happy, and I had some butterflies in my stomach the day before the game, but on match day, it was all focus. I felt good on the pitch, just like other times. I’m sad we didn’t win, but I am proud and happy with by debut.”
Justin Bijlow: 7
He showed confidence, his distribution was good, he saved the first attempt by Haaland and had the much needed luck when he was beaten in the second half.
Daley Blind: 5
Daley played a decent first half and saw the danger of a particular counter, taking a yellow for the team. In the second half, he had a period where nothing worked. Balls slipped under his feet and passes went astray. Uncommon for him.
Stefan de Vrij: 7.5
Best Dutch player. Strong on the ball, always alert and tough in the duels. Once, Haaland beat him in a typical striker’s move which is very hard to defend.
Virgil van Dijk: 5.5
Virgil is still struggling a bit with his rhythm and was too complacent and times. His powerful cross balls also lacked precision. Understandable after his heavy injury.
Justin Timber: 6
He worked like a monster and was focused. He could have done more in possession but that is not why he is in the team. More a central defender though. I prefer Karsdorp.
Gini Wijnaldum: 6
Was in the wars with a tough hit on his ankle. He had the assist for the Oranje goal and had snippets of brilliance but lacked his usual sharpness
Frenkie de Jong: 7
Frenkie ruled the midfield and demoted Odegaard to a supporting role for Norway. Everything started with him but he wasn’t able to find that one opening.
Davy Klaassen: 6,5
The dynamic and hard working Klaassen played strong in the first half and got his goal. Faded a bit in the second half.
Cody Gakpo: 6
Cody had 6 attempts on goal and showed his class. He also made some bad decisions (the attempt after Memphis’ backheel for instance) and couldn’t use his speed and guile. Still, offering some aerial threat as well.
Memphis Depay: 5
Memphis was constantly busy, trying to link up, worked for the team but his set pieces were wanting and he simply didn’t reach his potential.
Steven Berghuis: 5,5
He did what Van Gaal instructed him to do but the dynamics on the right were not as good as on the left. Berghuis did have the pre-assist and tried to put a stamp on the match but couldn’t.
Donyell Malen: 5,5
Always available, always threatening but lacking service and only an attempt missing the goal for all his troubles.
Denzel Dumfries: –
Didn’t play long enough for a rating, but he could have won it for us in the dying seconds.
Louis van Gaal: 6,5
Lots of possession using the 4-3-3, logical line-up, logical tactics but not a lot of chances and no win. It can only get better.