The biggest news, for me, this week wasn’t this useless friendly vs Mexico, but the signing of Mario Gotze by PSV Eindhoven. What a great move. This does show ambition and courage. When there is blood on the street, you have to buy, is what investment guru Warren Buffet says. And he should know.
The 28 year old was touted as the next Messi when he made his debut at 18 and despite of some great performances for Dortmund and later Bayern and of course, that winning goal in 2014, the wunderkind got into trouble physically. The diminutive playmaker wasn’t built for the power football of Borussia Dortmund and Bayern and got injury after injury and saw stronger and fitter midfielders (Muller, Goretzka, Draxler) take his spot. His relationship with Roger Schmidt resulted in a 2 year deal with PSV.
I think the Eredivisie is the perfect platform for him and the domestic league will be way more interesting with him in it. We have Robben, Klaassen, Gotze, Berghuis, Stengs and more on display in the Eredivisie and we’re loving it.
What we don’t love, is tedious friendlies. I’m sure coaches can get insights and benefits from it, but for me, it’s not that interesting.
If you play bad, or lose, one can say: “ah so what, it’s a friendly after all. It doesn’t matter now, it matters in the real game”. And if you play great and win, you think “hmmm I hope they can do this when it’s for real, because this is a friendly after all”.
Well, we were not disappointed. It was meagre. Weak. At times awkward. And it’s too easy to blame Frank de Boer. For starters, he was offered this friendly, only 5 days before a real Nations League match. What to do? Play the starting eleven? Too much risk. There is also a second Nations League game 3 days later and you don’t want your big guns to play 3 matches in 8 days. Insane.
So Frank did what he had to do. Play the lads that most likely won’t start for 90 minutes, test the partnership of De Vrij and Van Dijk – as I predicted – and give Memphis playing time to get him in rhythm for Italy (Memphis missed some matches for Lyon).
He also offered a debut to Koopmeiners and Wijndal. The latter made a name for himself as an attacking full back. With the emphasis on “attacking”. The youngster got in trouble a couple of times defensively, and Frank de Boer will probably decide to go with the more solid option of Blind vs Bosnia and Italy. When Van Aanholt is fit, Wijndal might move back to 3rd option.
Koopmeiners, on the other hand, impressed. Cool under pressure. Excellent passing. Good vision. He too made some errors (as they all did!) but overall, he played as if he was playing his 23rd international. A mature midfielder and awesome alternative to De Roon for the spot next to Frenkie.
Another noteworthy mention need to go to Steven Berghuis, who started slow (lots went via the left flank in Oranje….) but grew into the game and almost reached his Feyenoord level. Frank de Boer hinted in the post-match presser that one or two of the “Mexico” players might find themselves in the line up for Bosnia. Could be Berghuis, and could be Krul too.
Tim played his first cap in 5 years and did relatively well. It’s a fact that Cillesen is a better player with his feet, and Krul passing was not full proof, but his shot stopping was excellent. The penalty was unstoppable.
Frank de Boer: “In principle, Cillesen is my number 1 goalie, but I will wait the results of his fitness test. If he isn’t fit, he won’t play.”
Another reason why Berghuis got into the game later, was the lack of forward thrust by Hateboer. I think by now we can all see that Hateboer is a good option in a 3-5-2 set up, where he can play the wide right back, with a central defender close by. He is excellent moving forward and scores his occassional goal for Atalanta but in a 4 man defence he is vulnerable. He lacks the smooth touch we expect from players these days (Ake, Blind), he is defensively vulnerable and he lacks the football vision to play that forward pass (again, Blind, Ake, Van Dijk, De Vrij, De Ligt)…
Dumfries is not much better in terms of pure football skills, but Denzel is strong, tough in the duels, good header of the ball and like Hateboer, great going forward. Denzel is a leader. Hateboer comes across as a “nice weather player”. Better right backs are needed (Karsdorp, Fosu Mensah, Klaiber, Zeefuik).
A remarkable move by De Boer: he decided to tweak the tactics. He says he is still following “Koeman’s line” as we call it, but he did go from two holding mids (Frenkie and De Roon usually) to one (Koopmeiners) with two attacking midfielders in Gini and Donny. So the 4-2-3-1 (actually a 4-3-2-1 in Oranje’s case, not to make it more complicated…) became a 4-3-3.
He did indicate that it probably won’t be used in the coming Nations League matches, as Frenkie will play of course and he needs a holding mid next to him, so he has the freedom to create the play. “I just think it is good to have options to play differently and have some more subtle options at your disposal.” Frank also played with a false 9, with Memphis dropping into midfield as the creator for runners like Babel and Berghuis. Both had an opportunity by finding that space. Babel had some good runs in behind, but wasn’t found often enough for it to register.
Remarkable, that the Mexicans didn’t see this as a friendly. They didn’t come to “try new tactics”, they came to play like they always do. With a lot of little fouls and annoying ways to upset the opponent. Alvarez (Ajax) showed their commitment by fouling Koopmeiners brutally in the first 2 minutes of the game and whenever a Dutch player had sight on goal, they’d nudge him or foul him or take the free kick. The Dutch seemed to want to play a practice match and showed way less resilience and grit.
Ironically, Holland conceded as a result of a subtle foul. Ake did touch Raul’s shoulder/arm when he went for the ball, but that would never been a spot kick in England or in 2010. But rules change, and looking at the opponent with a frown can result in a penalty these days. It also felt Raul was actually off side when the ball was played in but I am not 100% sure about that.
Memphis was his industrious self. It wasn’t good. But he tried. He had lots of loss of possession and tried dribbles that didn’t come of, but still. He did what he had to do in his role. We all know he can do better. The forward saw a transfer to Barca go awry but didn’t seem to be bothered. He took the set pieces, shot from distance, attempted dribbles and one-two combinations and was made captain by De Boer when Van Dijk left the pitch at half time. The big question is: who will replace him?
It seems logical to play Luuk de Jong. Not because he can play like Memphis (he can’t) but because of his form and status. I wouldn’t be surprised if Frank took a tough decision for the Bosnia game. He could replace Memphis by a more explosive player like Malen and use Promes in place of Babel. De Jong could remain to be what he is good at: pinch hitter for more opportunistic play. Because whether you like it or not: De Jong isn’t so quick and doesn’t have the intricate footwork we might need, vs Bosnia.
If indeed De Jong is played, we don’t have a real pinch hitter on the bench (and De Boer will have to use Virgil as the pinch hitter).
De Boer was disappointed. He felt we started rusty, needed some time to get into the game (as the English commentator said: Oranje started sleepy. Again.) but we lost the game due to losing too many duels and making too many personal mistakes. For me, that is part of the story, because we also couldn’t create much.
De Boer made a lot of changes to get an impression from others as well and that never really makes a match better.
Overall, a disappointing, flat performance, with Koopmeiners, Krul and Berghuis as positives.
Now the speculations about the starting line up vs Bosnia and Italy are starting.
Is it sensible to play the same eleven, in principle, against both nations? I think not. Lodeweges tried this too, in the previous match up weekend and the second match is too much for a full fledge performance. Some players will be able to do it (Van Dijk, Wijnaldum, Frenkie) where others (Blind? Malen? ) will probably need a bit more time to recuperate. This is not even taking injuries and knocks into account.
I think Frank will play like this vs Bosnia, who play at home and will need to get a result, with 1 point from 2 matches.