De Boer was convinced that his team could play the 5-3-2 system. Most players have played it, some still play it. And it’s not hocus pocus, he said. And of course he is right. Coaches are always right, before the game. But, like JC once said that he never saw a bag of money score a goal, I like to say that I never saw a system score a goal.
It’s all about how the players execute it. And against Scotland – which is not a bad side, people – we saw how a number of our players were not yet ready for Frank’s brain child.
Before the game, Frank said that Frenkie and Gini would not play more than 30 mins. They have had an intense season and are needed in the Euros, so they both got the full warming up and 30 mins game time, to be replaced by Gravenberch and Klaassen. And Jurrien Timber would make his debut vs Scotland, as both Blind and Ake, the left footed options, aren’t match ready yet. So the former Feyenoord talent played his first cap on the right hand side of a 3 man defence, with Dumfries as right wing back.
Krul played between the sticks but the pre-match info gave the name Stekelenburg. De Boer: “I think someone pushed the wrong button and they got the name wrong. Krul plays now, Stekelenburg plays Saturday and I will then decide who will be our goalie. I will probably have to trust my intuition on this one, as they’re both top notch.”
So, De Boer used a similar set up in his 5-3-2 as Van Gaal did in Brazil. Van Gaal used Robben and Van Persie as deep strikers. With Sneijder between them, hanging back a bit. The three central defenders and the two holding mids would press aggressively forcing the opponent to the sides, where the full back would spring the trap.
But, unfortunately, De Boer’s 5-3-2 worked out differently. More later, on that.
Pressure by the Scots resulted in their first goal. For me, Wijndal starts the problems for us. He tends to drop back way too much, allowing the Scots to push up. He basically draws the opponent in. When De Ligt hardly has any options, he tries to play in Memphis, who is dropping back to help out and offer an option. And in this Oranje, there are two players you think you can pass the ball to even when they’re marked: Frenkie and Memphis. But Depay loses out and the next ball is towards Hendry whose shot is too tough for Krul. So we have 4 players making mistakes: Wijndal, De Ligt, Memphis and Krul (the shot was stoppable… Maybe not by Stekelenburg but Edison or Becker or De Gea or Neuer would have stopped it…).
This is less a 5-3-2 problem, but more an individual execution issue.
Wijndal would do this time and time in the first half, but in the second half, De Boer clearly instructed him to stay higher and allow De Ligt space and time to build up.
It wouldn’t take long for Oranje to pounce back. Timber, playing as if he is playing his 30st game in orange, plays a ball with feeling into Wijnaldum who heads it back to Memphis. The former PSV man hits it volley with the left boot and scores a fine goal: 1-1.
The second half is better, as a result of some tweaks in at half time. Weghorst seems to be positioning better and as stated before, Wijndal is playing higher. After an hour, the Scots sub four players and one of the new lads – Nisbet – is found by Robertson, who crosses in from the left. It’s too easy for the Liverpool left back to cross and why De Ligt decides to let his man go is anyone’s guess… He puts his hand up for off-side but it’s never ever off-side. De Ligt tired? Or lazy? Complacent? Wow….
Van Aanholt gets a decent chance on his left, which results in a corner but Oranje is not creating much. With a couple of minutes to go, Depay is pushed to the ground. He takes the free kick himself and curls it with venom around the wall and scores in the corner where the keeper is. But the goalie doesn’t even move: 2-2.
I don’t think we deserved more.
The man with the brace, who saved De Boer’s bacon, said the following after the match: “These are not games we need to win, these are games we need to practice, to learn from.”
So what did we learn?
In individual performances, I think we can be positive about Jurrien Timber and Ryan Gravenberch. The youngsters didn’t seem out of place and never looked like they were young talents struggling to catch on. Sub Steven Berghuis demonstrated his good form and had some threat, at least. And Memphis demonstrated his individual class and worth for the team.
Otherwise, De Roon, De Ligt, De Vrij, not playing at their best. Hopefully keeping their gun powder dry. Dumfries is still a player with great energy and a strong will but limited footbal qualities. Weghorst tried hard, had some moments but also looked lost at times. Like the Turkey away game, Krul looked vulnerable and Owen Wijndal demonstrated he still has a lot to learn in a tactical sense.
From a tactical perspective, I tend to agree with Frank de Boer: the 5-3-2 is a must have system to have under your belt. And it can’t be so different. We still have 2 weeks and 1 friendly to go and I would certainly suggest they keep on working at it. Although, some people think it is not worth it. And sure, it’s tough to play quick and build up fast when playing against a compact playing team. So normally, versus Scotland I would always play 4-3-3 as Frank did in the second part of the second half. De Ligt: “I am not a fan of the 5-3-2. At Juve we play with 4 at the back now and it’s more my style. This time I played on the left and I needed time to get used to it.” Stefan de Vrij was also realistic about the 5-3-2, a system he knows really well and plays week in week out with Inter. “It is not an easy task, in this case we play a new system for the team, but also with players who never played before. Even De Ligt and Timber, both Ajax talents, never played together. It took time and we need to be realistic and assess if we have time enough. It’s up to the coach, of course…”
Skipper Memphis: “This was not our best match, we were sloppy at times. I’m happy we didn’t lose, this is a team we usually should win against, with all due respect. But, we played a new system, I played with Weghorst for the first time like this, so we need some time. When we execute it well, we create space. But yes, we played this game to practice and we want to be able to play like this in the future, so we need to prepare for that.”
it was good to see Virgil van Dijk in de stands, by the way, and at half time he was instructing the Oranje subs…
Ok back to the analysis. This time the tactical side of things.
Like I said, Van Gaal’s 5-3-2 looked quite logical. Two strikers, one central mid and backed by two holding mids and 5 defenders. This is what it looks like.
Frank de Boer’s 5-3-2 looked different. This Oranje plays more like this:
And as a result, De Boer’s 5-3-2 with one holding mid, looks like this on the pitch:
Differences in approach.
Mentioned already above: the position of Owen Wijndal. He comes really deep, as he is used to at AZ but as a result he draws the opponents in and forces Gravenberch and even Depay further back. This makes problems for De Ligt who has to play from under that pressure. This is where the first Scottish goal came from.
In the second half, Wijndal is clearly told to move up higher, allowing space for the defenders, as the Scots are not keen on allowing Wijndal free reign.
Another point of difference is a central defender moving up into midfield. This is the second difference, De Boer wants one of his central defenders to dribble in where possible. We know Daley Blind is very capable doing this and this Scotland game, Timber and De Ligt kept on doing that. The way to cover defensively, is to always keep 2 central defenders back and have the two holding mids guard the space. For the Scottish second goal, this principle was abandoned, as Timber was up in midfield and De Ligt had moved away to the left flank, leaving heaps of space.
The third point of difference is the role of the wide midfielders. In Van Gaal’s Oranje, the wing backs would spring the trap. In De Boer’s system, the wide midfielders (Wijnaldum and De Jong) are the ones putting pressure on their wide defender. This means both Frenkie and Gini will have to run a marathon in order to put pressure on and the distance between our players – our 5 man defence – is way to much for the others to press. And now, we have 5 Oranje defenders, marking two Scottish forwards?
De Boer went back to the trusted 4-3-3 in order to regain dominance and after this failed experiment, it might well be that “the system” gets the blame, but I think it has everything to do with how the system was used.