We were up against an agitated opponent. We humiliated them in Belgium, they wanted revenge. They also wanted to grab their last chance to get into the Final Four. And we lost two of our key players. It didn’t look too good. I tried to find the positive in that event and posted that earlier.
I expected a loss, as you will remember, and with De Roon for Frenkie and Janssen for Memphis, we were definitely weakened.
Before the game Van Gaal wanted a different “version” of his midfield, what with Frenkie absent. De Roon and Berghuis started as the two pivots and Klaassen in the 10 role to pick up the first holding mid of the opponent. Nothing new here.
The positioning of Bergwijn and Janssen was completely new. They were told not to pressure the ball but to move wide. Against Poland, our forwards were instructed to put pressure on the ball. In this match, Van Gaal allowed the central defender to have freedom on the ball. It’s not a bad idea, as in this way the vertical pass to the two playmakers (De Bruyne and Hazard) was blocked off, but the central defender of Belgium was not Boyata, as expected, but Alderweireld. One of the best passers of the game.
When De Bruyne and Hazard started to drift and float, we were getting into trouble with Timber at times pressing all the way to the Belgian box! Ake and Timber ended up in no mans land at times and add to that the slower and limited build up smarts of De Roon and there is your recipe for a weak first half.
Belgium started on the front foot, as was to be expected. Alderweireld was their free man and his passing is quite good so Belgium did take the initiative and created more than we did. Oranje was played a sort of counter football in the turn around but once we had the ball, we seemed a bit hesitant.
The ball circulation pace was low and it seemed only Ake and Berghuis were motivated to speed the game up and create something. Dumfries was minding Castagne, who was found often, while De Roon took care of De Bruyne, who kept on drifting into different areas
Belgium could have scored 3 or more in the first half, with chances for Hazard and Witsel. The Oranje organisation was solid, but the pressure on the ball was not easy, due to Belgium’s roaming midfielders.
in a game like this, Vincent Janssen’s weakness – his lack of speed – comes to light as there was a lot of space in behind but only Bergwijn tended to try and get in there. Klaassen did make some good runs but on the ball he showed a complete lack of match rhythm. De Roon was solid, he played well and interestingly enough, he speeds the game up more than Frenkie, at times. Frenkie loves to turn and chop and turn again, and dribble. De Roon, knowing his own limitations, is more of a short passer.
Van Gaal had to replace the active Berghuis, who still suffered lower back issues. He was keen to make an impression with his work rate and vertical play, and with De Roon, Koopmeiners and Klaassen not overly convincing, the Ajax #10 will probably make the squad for the World Cup. His left foot remains a unique weapon.
Van Gaal wanted more aggression in the second half and brought Malacia for Ake. Malacia had to deal with De Bruyne who pops up on that zone a lot. Van Gaal wanted a pit bull defender there instead of Blind, who is more a tactical defender. The forward press by Malacia went really well.
Gakpo was on the pitch already for Berghuis and he demonstrated again what potential he has. The corner kick which brought us the goal was a peach, and we saw him do this with succcess versus Feyenoord as well. Consider Gakpo a shoe in for Qatar as well. Frans Hoek deserves credit too. De Vrij is then already on the pitch for Timber and he pulls away to defenders by sprinting early across the area. Klaassen positions himself in front of Courtois, who usually plucks corners for fun.
Ken Taylor was brought on to give the team some more solidity in midfield. The kid can do everything a midfielder needs to do. He’s strong on the ball, good passer, positively looking forward, making runs and creating opportunities.
Bergwijn could have scored three goals, he smashed a ball in to the side netting, after a splendid Gakpo turn and the Ajax winger should have shown a bit more composure. Blind also launched Bergwijn in the last phase of the game but he found Courtois in his way.
Pasveer and Timber impressed again. Both demonstrated a cool head in tight situations. Pasveer is calm, in control and constantly on the front foot. Had some good instinctive saves. Timber also is very relaxed under pressure. What a talent he is.
Pasveer had the save of the night on a great pass by De Bruyne and a finish by Onana. A great instinctive save. I think Pasveer can start packing his suitcase.
So much for the individual performances. As for the team game play, it was not good. it was sloppy in possession again, not being able to string too many passes together. As said, the pace was low and the decision making was wanting. Still a lot to work on.
But, if you are second best all night but win the game, that is worth a lot. In every big tournament, you will have at least one game where you’re under pressure. If you can win ugly, well…it’s still a win!
We love the win, we love the clean sheet and we love to be in the Final Four. That is all well and good. The defensive organisation Van Gaal instilled in the squad is superb. Belgium was the better side, but they didn’t create too many chances.
This means we will be a tough team to beat, even if we are not playing amazing.
To be ready for the World Cup, we need to shore things up more. I believe the midfield Berghuis – Klaassen – De Roon is not good enough. I hope Taylor or Koopmeiners or Gravenberch will step up to offer that better option next to (or instead of ) De Jong.
I also hope to see Danjuma fit and ready, as we will need more quality up front. I also hope Brobbey will be on fire for Ajax in the coming months as he will be a better, more explosive and skilful option for Janssen.
Give me your thoughts!