We didn’t qualify for two big tournaments, we burned through some very decent coaches in a short time (Advocaat, Blind, Hiddink), we produced thigh thick reports about how dreadful our football has become, bowed our heads in shame when Vincent Janssen failed at Spurs, Memphis failed at ManU and Bazoer failed at… I don’t even know where he failed… and we all need to learn how to play football again, from the Germans! That is only a year or so ago…
Today, Europe has taken notice. There is a new sheriff in town and he brought some exciting deputies. Koeman’s Kids is the phrase. And the mix of the squad seems to be quite good. From old hands Babel, Cillesen, Wijnaldum and Strootman, to team players Blind, De Vrij and Propper to stars in the making De Ligt, Bergwijn and Dumfries… We are excited again!
And with reason.
Some interesting little symptoms that bode well. Just randomly. A 70 mio euro offer for Frenkie, from Man City. Or, on the other end of the spectrum: a distraught and highly critical Pablo Rosario beating himself up after his below average debut. Or Denzel Dumfries who humbly admits his ball technique needs a lot of work (“I have hard feet”). This squad exudes joy, comradery, ambition and above all: exceptional quality!
The win over Germany and the draw against Belgium is another big step forward in Koeman’s mission to bring Oranje back to the top. And the signs are positive: the interception of Donny van de Beek, snakelike. The turnover and high quality counter. Within a nano second the ball goes from Promes to Memphis and his pinpoint pass has the angle and the weight, perfect for Danjuma to finish. All this, within 15 seconds of retrieving the ball.
Sure, Belgium had pressure, dominated and created chances, but Oranje fought and countered and could have won it.
And Ronald Koeman can take the credit. He brings balance, structure and maturity to the picture. Realism. The joy was big after the Germany win, but immediately after the match Koeman put his foot on the brakes. He saw some tactical mistakes in the second half. He saw the spaces becoming bigger, with the team on the fence between pushing up or sitting deep. “We keep on stressing the points we need to improve. We’re going ok, but there is much much more potential, things to improve. But give these kids three more years, all the Champions League experience and what not, and check again in 2021 where we will be.”
The players are happy with Koeman’s directness, with his clarity. His team selections and squad selections are logical, with a strong fixed core of players and players who get the chance to show themselves. Patterns and “automatisms” are showing more and more.
Jasper Cillesen is the number 1 goalie. Without debate. Even with him being a bench warmer in the Nou Camp. The central defenders duo will be De Ligt van Van Dijk. A top defender from the EPL with a top talent with a tremendous future in front of him.
In midfield, it seems Frenkie de Jong and Gini Wijnaldum will be the usual suspects. Gini’s qualities will become more apparent with a player like De Jong behind him. Marten de Roon was excellent vs Germany, but surely Propper and Van de Beek can fill the third man’s shoes as well. With Carel Eijting and Pablo Rosario making big steps, it seems Strootman’s role will become smaller and smaller.
Up top, Memphis is the key man, with Ryan Babel currently his side man. Bergwijn, Danjuma, Promes, but also AZ’s Stengs or Roma’s Kluivert can come in to complete the forward 3.
This Oranje does know how to deal with space. And with prospects like Fosu-Mensah, Van Aanholt, Dumfries, Karsdorp, Janmaat and even Ake and Vilhena for the wide back roles, the mix of talent and experience is really good.
In the international break before this last one, we got some colour back on our cheeks. Now, we can even muster a smile…
A tpyical weapon Koeman is putting a lot of time and effort in, is the dead ball. Every team works on that, of course, but Koeman made it clear he sees the free kick / dead ball situation as an extraordinary opportunity. “When you dominate, you will have opportunities galore to find a gap and create a chance. When you play more compact and will have less possession, against the stronger teams, the dead ball situation can make all the difference. For this reason, we put more emphasis on it. We even train and practice and talk through these situations on the match day. When you have players who can deliver, like we do (Memphis, Dumfries, Janmaat, Blind) and players who can win aerial battles (Van Dijk, De Ligt, Dumfries, Strootman, Ake) you’d be silly not to use their qualities.” And it shows: Van Dijk scored vs Portugal like this, Nathan Ake vs Italy and now Van Dijk again from a Memphis corner kick.
Memphis playing in between the lines, pulling away from the defenders and coming into the zone vs statically being there…
Another weapon we use with flair, is the false #9. Most central defenders like to play against static strikers. Lets make it an even battle, between strength, length, timing… Defenders like Ramos, Hummels, Skertl, Thiago and Ottamendi to name a few, will love to play against Luuk de Jong. But when Tadic plays #9 for Ajax vs Bayern or Memphis vs Germany their weaknesses show. It’s not new of course, one Johan Cruyff started it maybe, in the 70s. Every nation back then had a Gerd Muller like #9. Holland didn’t even play with a player wearing the 9 on his jersey :-). Messi perfected that with Barca and Memphis Depay is quickly becoming the new standard. The alternative to Benteke, Lukaku, Lewandowski and Giroud.
After the first weeks with Oranje, Koeman criticised Memphis for being to static. Playing like a pedestrian. “Move Memphis, run!”. And Memphis picked it up. He makes himself available in between the lines, he knows when to dribble, when to go deep without the ball, when to hold up play…. Against Germany, he had 5 attempts on goal and created 3 chances.
Holland doesn’t need to dominate anymore, to win. Based on our compact organisation, the effectiveness on dead balls and the world class qualities of Van Dijk/De Ligt/F De Jong/ Memphis we can kills opponents off without seeing much of the ball. A luxury Holland never had.