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.”
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.