Tag: Nederland

Oranje gets 3 points and some valuable lessons!

After some solid performances by our lads in their club teams (PSV, Liverpool, RB Leipzig, Atalanta, Man City), it felt that we could have a good go at this Euros. The last friendly results were also pretty hopeful. Despite the absence of Frenkie de Jong, Luuk de Jong, Marten de Roon and Noa Lang, I believe we all felt that this could be our tournament. And… it still can be.

But the Poland game did put our noses on the some of the facts (Dutch expression).

If have to summarize the game, I’d say:

  • good start
  • some good chances
  • one moment of lack of concentration and Poland scores
  • we keep on going and get a bit of luck on the Gakpo goal
  • Oranje’s energy drops after 60 minutes or so
  • Koeman needs to make a change in the second half as Veerman and Simons (and others) are less effective
  • Wijnaldum comes on but isn’t found in between the lines
  • with 10 minutes to go, Koeman brings two secret weapons ( Weghorst and Frimpong)
  • Weghorst scores

We can be happy with the 3 points and we can be very happy with the performances of Ake, De Vrij, Schouten, Reijnders, Verbruggen and Gakpo.

We need to be critical on Van Dijk, Veerman, Memphis, Simons and Wijnaldum.

Van Dijk wasn’t terrible but showed some weakness in positioning. Veerman had to deal with a man marker (Szymanski) and had no answer to this. We saw this in earlier matches where Frenkie was manmarked and had to work hard to get away from his man. Veerman is a passer. Not a dribbler. And he doesn’t have the explosive runs Frenkie or Reijnders has. The switch with Reijnders back to the 6 position worked well, as he has more legs and can take a man on. We have seen Veerman struggle with this before and it’s been my ongoing criticism of him.

Simons started fresh but ran out of steam. Memphis tried hard and potentially too hard. That shot he hit hard over the bar was a 100% chance for a player like him and it didn’t need that power. Relax, Memphis!

Wijnaldum, finally, was told by Koeman to not drop deep to get the ball but to stay close to Memphis and find space between the lines, where the midfielders/defenders were supposed to find him. Sadly, they didn’t.

Btw, we did get to 21 shots. The highest number since that dreadful first game against Denmark in 2012. When we had 32 attempts on goal and scored zero goals.

Another fascinating stat: in the 90 minutes of play, Oranje didn’t use a single Ajax player. This is the first time in 95 matches!!

Some conclusions:

Joey Veerman struggles with man-marking

Szymanski wants to hold Veerman’s hand

You need to be dynamic to lose your man. Frenkie would move to left wing or right back or wherever he had to go to make the man marker uncomfortable. Joey is too static. Plays too much in one pace and lacks the dribble and speed to bypass an opponent and create a man over situation. Yes, against Iceland he played well. Why? He didn’t encounter man-marking. This needs to be taken care of.

I wonder if Koeman will use Veerman versus France. Their midfield – no, their whole team – consists of top athletes. My fave line up below.

We defend set-pieces terribly

A free run towards the ball for Buksa

Again, we have to mention Veerman. He was one of the blockers in that situation but he didn’t get a grip on Buksa, who could out-jump Dumfries and head the ball home. Veerman did try to pull Buksa’s jersey, only briefly, but Memphis was totally ball watching. Van Dijk: “We’re sick of that goal. In a dead ball situation, this has to improve. The goal scorer had a free run towards the ball. That needs to improve!” was his opinion. One comment in defence of the Memphis and Veerman (and Schouten). They were facing a number of tall lads in that box.

Nathan Ake is our playmaker

When Frenkie is absent and his replacement Veerman can’t get a foothold in the game, it’s good to know that one of our centre backs can play playmaker. The City player started so many great moves and basically had two assists. The second one for Weghorst doesn’t officially count as the ball got a slight deflection.  Frankowski decided to press on Ake, who was seen as the danger man at Oranje’s side, but that resulted in the Polish wingback to be drowning and offered Gakpo the time and space to shine. The result: Bednarek had to deal with Gakpo. Who is a very agile and elegant player, whereas Bednarek has trouble turning even without an opponent in sight.

Oranje has a strong bench

With Memphis upfront, we actually have Bergwijn, Frimpong, Malen, Brobbey, Zirkzee and Weghorst who can come in to change things around. Weghorst has made the difference already at the World Cup, some friendlies and now also at the Euros. Holland lost its grip slowly in the second half and Koeman has a nice menu of options available to him. Wijnaldum didn’t impress, but his little run was key for the Weghorst goal. In a way, that was an assist. Frimpong and Malen add speed and depth to the team while the strong Brobbey could well be a key player for us versus France.

Bart Verbruggen does his job

The youngest Oranje goalie ever at a final tournament had no nerves. He had 6 more than decent saves, which is the highest number for any Oranje goalie in 5 years. His footwork is also lauded and De Zerbi taught him well. Keep your foot on the ball and pull the opponent in, to create space elsewhere. It seems like the ongoing musical chairs of the keepers is well over.

My musings for the France game

I know it’s early days as the France game isn’t until Friday and lots can happen in between. But, I think the midfield we played versus Poland won’t be good enough versus France. I hope Veerman can accept it, but I would use a different line up versus France.

I’d opt for Memphis on the left. Against two big, strong centre backs, Memphis – who is not 100% – would probably drown. On the left, he will get a chance to roam and get touches. I’d play Frimpong on the right. Allow Simons a rest but don’t write him off! I’d play Brobbey as a 9. Strong, grit, fight, speed. Let him deal with these two monsters and let them deal with Brobbey.

I’d use Gakpo as a 10, with Reijnders and Schouten in the engine room. Gakpo learned to play midfield at Liverpool and will be key to give a 75 minute “give it your all” game. I would also opt for Geertruida as he can play into midfield. There won’t be overly much space for Dumfries, I don’t think and I find him still a dissonant in possession and not necessarily that good a defender.

If Giroud plays, I’d use De Ligt.

 

 

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Why I think Oranje will be the next Euro champs!

There are several responses. 1. because I always think we win the next tournament. 2. Because it will be fun for us and the blog. And 3. because we have a great group of players who – even without Frenkie – can dazzle and win games.

I’m sure that the work of Ten Hag, Slot, Pep, Klopp, Xavi, Xabi Alonso and Peter Bosz will rub off on Koeman and after meddling with 4-3-3 and 5-3-2 and 3-4-3 he finally landed on the best system for Oranje, the 1-4-2-2-2.

Where he used to have the inclination to leave the right flank open (so Dumfries could bomb into space left available by Wijnaldum or Xavi or Lang or whoever played there) today he has the option to do the same at the left side and play with a more contained option (Geertruida) on the right. In this way he can utitlise a proper right winger (Frimpong) and leaving the left flank open for a player like Van de Ven or Maatsen to dominate the left flank.

Koeman would stack the left with ball players (Blind or Ake, Frenkie, Gakpo) and the right with legs and speed. Now we can do this on the right, with Geertruida,

We can play the compact game against dominating teams (Spain, Germany) and play high up the pitch against transition teams parking the bus.

Our goalies are very decent if not more than that.

Our defence is world class.

Our midfield is talented and eager.

Our forwards are getting in the groove. Memphis is hungry (playing for a new deal, remember?), Xavi and Frimpong are exciting, Gakpo has class and with the addition of Zirkzee, we do have a bit of everything. We have a real 9 in Brobbey, a roaming mercurial forward in Memphis, a class act like Zirkzee and of course pinchhitter Wout Weghorst.

It feels like the team has finally realised that 1. winning is everything and 2. we have the goods to be the winner.

So I say, we will probably beat Poland 3-0. I think we’ll have a shock win over France as well ( 0-1 Frimpong) and Austria will end up being our toughest opponent in the group.

I have a good feeling people! Hup Holland Hup!

 

 

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Ajax’ nightmare season

In typical Dutch form, people will immediately say: “Who is to blame?”. The answer is not very straightforward. Lets first look at the problem.

Ajax was having a decent run in the past seasons. Frank de Boer did ever so well winning titles and turning the poor Ajax into a cash rich club, with some amazing outgoing transfers putting some fat on the bone. Peter Bosz came in and turned De Boer’s boring Ajax into a free-flowing attacking machine, but Bosz ended his 1 season spell with Ajax when Van der Sar refused to work with Bosz on a reshuffling of the backroom staff.

Marc Overmars was acting as technical director, but mainly with a focus on contracts and signing and selling players. The Ajax Technical Triangle was supposed to take care of the football (De Boer, Bergkamp, Ouaali).

The two friends, Dirty Marc and “I haven’t seen anything untoward” Van der Sar

Overmars was kept out of the decision to block Bosz’ plans and allowed Bergkamp his spot in the sun.

Bosz left and not much later, Dennis Bergkamp – Bosz antagonist – also had to leave.

But Bergkamp was fully in control when he was at Ajax and ushered in Marcel Keizer as the replacement for Bosz. Not a bad decision, mind you. Keizer was successful as a coach on the second tier level at Cambuur and as a real Ajax man (his uncle was Piet Keizer), he also coached Ajax 2 and impressed with that team (which had the likes of Van de Beek, De Ligt, Frenkie and Appie Nouri).

Keizer is also a close friend of Bergkamp, so the two set out to lead Ajax. The Nouri situation – the brilliant ballplayer had heart failure in a friendly in the pre-season and due to the late response, he survived the ordeal but that is about it….the poor lad is confined to his bed for the rest of his life – made matters tough for the young coach and the whole team or even club suffered through trauma that season.

Overmars decided to take the reins back from Bergkamp and organised a coup, in which both Keizer and Bergkamp had to make way. Keizer was on title course and would later impress in the Portuguese competition and in the sandpit. Bergkamp never pursued his career elsewhere and became a bit of a football recluse.

Now Overmars was in charge and he quickly lured his friend Erik ten Hag away from FC Utrecht. Ten Hag had had success with Overmars’ first love Go Ahead Eagles and Mark had always planned to get Ten Hag to Amsterdam.

The duo was quite successful, as we know. Overmars dealing with transfers and contracts, Ten Hag dealing with the first team and the results and Van der Sar safely away from the front, dealing with the Amsterdam Stock Exchange, the sponsors, the board of directors and any other non-football topic.

At that time, Danny Blind was the football man in the Board and he would be an intrinsic part of Overmars little cabal.

And boy, what was Overmars good at his job. And how horrible did he behave when it wasn’t about football.

Overmars telling inappropriate jokes to Sar?

Despite being married to a former Miss Universe (or Miss Holland, not sure), he couldn’t resist using his powerful position at Ajax to bother and hassle the young ladies working at the social media/marketing department of Ajax. And it went further than texting them invites for dinner. The diminutive former winger enjoyed taking pictures of his …less diminutive mini-me and sent them to the ladies in question, who apparently were to scared to report him to the general manager. One key reason: the general manager (yes Edwin van der Sar) knew this was happening and was part of the sexist cabal at Ajax, enjoying inappropriate humor.

Van der Sar protected his powerful friend but when the news broke in the media, it was clear that the former Arsenal and Barca man had to leave.

So, many things had gone wrong already by that time. But Van der Sar took it a bit further. Instead of trying to replace Overmars with a heavyweight – but with manners – he decided to give newcomer Huntelaar and scout Hamstra the joint role of technical director (not in name though).

Oops. Exposed. But a bit too much exposed.

And obviously, both were too lightweight, inexperienced and unconnected to step into Overmars boots. And what people do forget: he is a very good negotiator. He made money playing football and but multiplied his money by dealing in property and classic cars. Huntelaar and Hamstra are definitely people with expertise and added value but they’re no Overmars.

And it showed, this season. Lisandro Martinez left for Man United. Bassey was brought in. Gravenberch left for Bayern, Austrian midfielder Grillisch is his replacement. And so on.

I believe Sar never replaced Overmars, because he hoped (planned?) to get the speedy ex-winger back after a couple of months of “distance from the club”. But it didn’t happen. And when Alfred Schreuder, assisted by his agent, started to “help” Ajax to more new signings, things turned for the worst.

Ocampos was on the wishlist and Ajax would have signed him for 30+ million euros, if the Board of Directors hadn’t intervened. They forced Ajax to take him on a loan basis. And less than 6 months later, the winger was sent back to Spain as he was never able to convince anyone in Amsterdam.

Ocampos failure

But it went further downhill, as Schreuder lost the dressing room due to several bad decisions. His treatment of Daley Blind (who left after the World Cup), his decision to protect Tadic and never sub him, his decision to not use newcomer Wijndal but try Blind, Bassey and Rensch on that spot, the list goes on.

Daley Blind’s exit had another consequence for the club: highly rated Danny Blind – sounding board for coaches and technical management – could not continue his director’s role what with Daley being pushed out unceremoniously. And again, it appeared that Van der Sar and the Board did not have a shadow list waiting in the drawer.

They didn’t have one for Overmars. Not for Danny Blind and when stalwarts like Michael Reiziger and Academy director Said Ouaali announced their exits too, it was quite clear things are a bit fishy in Amsterdam.

John Heitinga was pushed forward when Schreuder was sacked. Much like his old team mate Van Nistelrooy at PSV, Heitinga planned to build up his career with care and consideration. The former Everton defender managed Ajax 2 and was about to start as Schreuder’s assistant but was propelled into the hot seat immediately.

So now, Ajax is re-building. They were able to get former midfielder Jan van Halst in as new football director in the board of directors. They installed Heitinga for this season, with Dwight Lodeweges as he new assistant and they finally signed a technical director – Sven Mislintat –  to replace Overmars, who seems to be enjoying his time at FC Antwerp, with Mark van Bommel. I personally believe Mislintat could well be the right choice, as he has quite a strong resume and clearly adores Ajax.

So, in conclusion, I think its fair to say that after the mismatch of Bosz-Bergkamp-Overmars-Van der Sar, the combination of Ten Hag-Overmars (without Sar) worked amazingly well. There is no need for me to list the achievements of Ten Hag at Ajax.

But when Overmars had to take his leave, Van der Sar needed more than 12 months (!) to replace him. Imagine that, your key guy in the organisation. And it’s not like Van der Sar was ambushed by the dick-pics, he knew about it. So his lack of taking action resulted in a head coach (Schreuder) who was drowning from day 1. And in hindsight, Schreuder also didn’t do himself many favours with his headstrong attitude within the club.

Heitinga with new technical director Sven Mislintat

The combi Ten Hag – Overmars was replaced by Schreuder-Huntelaar-Hamstra and that combination had no chance!

Ajax’ terrible season – in my view – is another nudge of the keepers gloves of Van der Sar. His list of failings is becoming very long.

And if things turn really sour for Ajax this coming weekend – away versus in form Twente – they might end up playing conference league football next season.

The only bonus: last year, when Van der Sar was asked about having to play in the conference league potentially in the future, his answer was: I will not be with the club when that happens. And the fans will now clutch that claim to their chest. The only silver lining in case Ajax finishes 4th this season.

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Epic win Oranje

This is not a long post, people. I am still reeling behind my computer, not capable of creating a well balanced review, as the adrenaline is racing through my body. We needed a win, in this Group of Death we’re in.

Beaten 4-0 versus France was tough earlier on and having to play heavyweights Gibraltar after only 4 days of rest and recuperation is tough.

When you do win the Gibraltar game, with the vintage 3-0 scoreline, it’s cause for celebrations!

3-0 is that heroic end result we all know and remember from our game versus Peru in 1972 or Poland in 1975. People still talk about that 3-0 versus Iran in 1978 or the 0-3 versus Greece in 1987. Oh, and who doesn’t remember the 3-0 versus Canada in 1994.

The Football Gods must have interfered.

The stress in the Dutch camp was high, of course, having to face up against defending behemoths Gibraltar. Luckily, Holland had the home advantage.

We saw the team fight, battle, dazzle and being unlucky too. With Weghorst pushing the ball past the wrong side of the post, as we see him do so often for Man United. We saw Wijnaldum playing the ball back mostly and Berghuis zipping balls blindly into the box, to no one in particular.

Veteran Mats Wieffer was the best man on the pitch, as per usual and a big header by Memphis got us on the score sheet in the first half, finally beating Man of the Match [name of Gibraltar goal keeper].

But it took until Daley Blind finally came on to the pitch to make a difference that Holland put it’s stamp on the match with some brilliant individual performances. Blind and Klaassen led the Dutch to an epic history, which will no doubt result in mad parties in the street and fire works till dawn.

If you can keep France at 4-0 AND beat Gibraltar at home 3-0, it’s clear that a new generation of football geniuses is prepping to win maybe another friendly game later this year as well.

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Oranje steps up v Qatar

The mood after Ecuador was so low and the performance on the ball was so bad that Louis van Gaal wanted to use the game versus Qatar to go back to the basis foundation of our football.

He also wanted to use the match to start Memphis for the first time and change the personnel in midfield.

As you all know Louis by now, he would never change more than 3 players in his line up, understandably.

And our game was better. Our performance on the ball was neat. We offered options, we passed and moved so we could play forward. The ball circulation was better, the pace and intensity were better and we scored two nice goals too. We got a third one chalked off, but I believe that was a bit petty. The arm was next to the body and the ball was hit against it. If Gakpo had one arm amputated he’d still control that ball but with his side. I will count it as a 3-0, assist Janssen, goal Berghuis.

Van Gaal: “This was a match of two teams playing the same system, leading into a chess match of some sort as they covered our forwards with 5 defenders and the battle was in midfield. Which we won and were expected to win. In those sorts of games, it’s the forwards who need to make the difference and Memphis is the kind of player who can be that difference. You can say what you want about him but he is super important in the team and involved in both goals. I want him to take risks and I want him to keep on trying his actions. This guy, he didn’t play for 2 months and he has played 65 minutes today, meaning he is now getting close to playing a full match.”

Van Gaal is focusing on two things and two things only: winning the game and making sure his team gets a bit better for the next game.

“I think we did really well, looking back, in terms of squad management. I wanted the players who lack rhythm to play. De Roon has been out and I have given him time. Same with Frenkie and Gakpo whom we could spare a bit by giving them a rest by taking them off. The last 10 or 15 minutes of a game is where players start to dig into their reserves, which can have an impact for the next match. Gakpo is on fire, this is why I subbed him. Klaassen and Berghuis haven’t played all matches for Ajax, so I wanted to get them to full match fitness too. Simons is fully fit, I wanted to spare him for when we truly need him. Lang took a knock on training and I also wanted to spare him for now.”

The analysts in the studio were gobsmacked that Lang or Simons didn’t get a chance. Van Hooijdonk, Van der Vaart, Van Basten… They all felt this was the ideal match to bring the youngsters. “Janssen is not in great form, Koopmeiners didn’t play well v Ecuador… If you don’t play him now, when will you??”

Davy Klaassen was selected as Man of the Match, by FIFA. They use some weird algorithm to do this and Klaassen was also confused: “Me? Oh? Why… well, I’ll take it but…. I dunno, it’s not something you think about during the match. But we did ok, we played closer together, we were able to combine better this way. You want to create 10 chances every match but it’s not that easy. These group games are hard, you can see it in other groups as well.”

Klaassen must feel like he’s at an In and Out Burger. Than he starts, than he is passed over. “Oh, that is how Van Gaal works. He has different types of players and he uses us like chess board pieces, hahaha. He will analyse what he needs per match. The good thing is, he will tell you exactly why you play or why you don’t play. We all know his thinking, and that helps.”

Van der Vaart was positive about Memphis: “He is not in top shape, that is clear. But he is always busy, always threatening, he will always work even if he is not playing well. He is improving and that is logical if you were out 2 months. He was important with that second goal so he needs to keep on working and it will come back. Hopefully in time.”

Xavi Simons did not make his debut. Many people thought Van Gaal would use him after his positive words for Simons in the presser. “People think that when I say “he is making good progress”, that he needs to start in the Oranje line up immediately. Sorry, that is not how it works. Ken Taylor is also making steps and he has had three sub turns for us and he has done very well. Players need to be patient. I judge them on their profile and specific contributions and on their form. When these two match and I need to solve a problem I will use that player. Xavi knows this.”

Daley Blind had another important match for Oranje. The wingbacks are supposed to be the key players in this system, and where Dumfries was key for us in the group at the Euros, he’s pretty quiet up until now. He has no shots on goals, he has had no chances created and he has had no successful cross into the box! Blind only had one attempt on goal against Senegal.

Van Gaal: “The wingbacks need to play with the space they get and we need to use them as high as possible but only if we have dominance in the game. Otherwise, you are at too much risk. When we play against a team with 5 defenders, like we did versus Ecuador and Qatar, it’s harder because you only have limited moments to play them in.”

Blind played an important part in the Oranje build up versus Qatar, but this due to the different tactics of Qatar. Qatar does not press the Oranje wingbacks as Ecuador did.

Qatar wants the midfielders to put pressure on our wingbacks so they can keep their 5 defenders all the way at the back. This is perfect for Blind. Qatar gives him all the time and space to come up with solutions.

Here is an example. Blind has the ball on the left flank and can wait for the movement of Memphis or Gakpo. Gakpo and Klaassen run deep making space for Memphis and Blind is the ideal player to play these passes in between the lines.

This is what happens for the 1-0. Blind plays in Memphis in between the lines. Gakpo makes a dart deep and than we get the quick fire combination of Memphis, Gakpo, Klaassen, Gakpo and 1-0.

The second goal is a bit similar. Noppert opens to Blind. You can see the huge distances Qatar has to deal with. Blind can move up the pitch and when Ake plays the ball to the in-between the lines Memphis, he finds Blind who is now close to the final third.

Blind has time again, and when he makes a dummy pass for Memphis and his run, the space opens up for Frenkie, to receive the ball.

Here you also see the value of Marten de Roon, who covers the space behind Frenkie. Frenkie opens up to the right, via Klaassen and Dumfries cross is converted into a goal, eventually by Frenkie de Jong.

De Roon covering for Frenkie

Blind has the most successful passes in the Qatar match, towards the final third (36 passes) and he finds Memphis and Frenkie – our danger men – most: De Jong 20 times and Memphis 10 times. Blind can really benefit from the Qatar style of defending and is the starting point of most of our successful attacks.

What this means for the future. Not much… As it is not likely that Blind will get this much time and space versus Team USA or any other opponent.

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More Oranje Stats

Football has done a long time without the plethora of stats that seem to dominate other sports, particularly American sports like American Football and Baseball. But stats have crept into the game and are getting more and more important to see patterns and understand how teams play.

It’s relevant to use stats alongside the usual insights, useful to look at your own team and players, and useful to analyse the opponent.

I don’t think Van Gaal and Co (or me for that matter) will go overboard on stats, but it’s a fact that most of our younger players (Danjuma, Malacia, Noa Lang, Frenkie) are all known to be very involved in analysing their own game using the numbers.

These are the stats that FIFA came out with recently from the Senegal game. Interesting indeed.

Two key results: our forwards do not play well together and Daley Blind is the key man for the press.

Steven Bergwijn was on the pitch for 79 minutes and only played the ball to a fellow attacher once! The Ajax forward himself never received the leather once, from a striking partner!! In the fourth minute, Gakpo almost assisted a tap-in for Bergwijn, but the ball was intercepted. There were only four passes between the forwards during the whole game.

From \ To Bergwijn Janssen Gakpo Depay
Bergwijn 1 0 0
Janssen 0 1
Gakpo 0 1 1
Depay 0 0

Another remarkable statistic: Gakpo made 59 runs in order to receive the ball and was only found four times!  One of these four times was the cross by Frenkie, resulting in the 1-0. 30 of the 59 “offers to receive the ball” were runs in behind the Senegal defence and he was more than not ignored, because the team mate with the ball didn’t see the run or didn’t dare to play the ball. The only good thing is that these runs usually result in space for an opponent.

Steven Bergwijn was the quickest Oranje player, with a top speed of 34,6 kilometers/hour.

Player top speed (km/hr)
Steven Bergwijn 34,6
Virgil van Dijk 32,8
Cody Gakpo 32,8
Vincent Janssen 32,7
Matthijs de Ligt 32,7

Yes, Daley Blind was the slowest of the team, but he did have the most sprints of all (59), just behind Denzel Dumfries (60).

Frenkie de Jong had the most kilometers with 11,4 kms with Daley Blind second (11,2 km) and Cody Gakpo third (10,7 km).

Daley Blind was the press king, with 39 press moments and he had the most tackles (5). Frenkie had the most interceptions (2) and re-possessions of the ball (9). Frenkie also had the most passes and the highest pass accuracy and was able to break through an opponent line the most too (16 times).

What does this mean for Van Gaal? Who knows :-).

I think he will use the same eleven vs Equador, with the exception of De Ligt, who will make way for Timber. There is a chance that he rests Daley Blind and will use Malacia against the physically strong South Americans.

Equador is a tough team to beat. In the last 7 matches, they didn’t concede. They’re strong, athletic and resilient. Their coach has a simple philosophy: football is played in blocks. There is High, Midline and Low. Equador will put compact blocks against the way the opponent wants to play and with lots of positional changes and hard work, they will want to wear the opponent down.

Coach Alfaro likes to talk his team up. He plans to defend like Spain does: high up the pitch. And he is proud that he has the youngest squad of the World Cup. Alfaro uses zonal defence, where ever on the pitch and the distance between the players is always very small. There is not much known otherwise, as all public training sessions were cancelled and there is rumour of some key players (among them Valencia) being injured. I think these guys can all play though.

Here you see the aggressive press by the team in yellow vs Qatar

Key for Holland will be the running in behind. Their stern defence likes to push up and the way to deal with it, is by dirty runs. Gakpo did this constantly and I believe Bergwijn and Dumfries will need to do the same. Van Gaal might even consider bringing Klaassen on #10 for this and use Gakpo as forward in place of Janssen.

The offensive strength of Equador is limited. Their forwards play in mediocre teams, Valencia in Turkey, Ibarra in Mexico and Plata at Valladolid, mid tier in Spain. The left side of Equador has the most threats and we might need a more defensive option for Berghuis as the communication between full back and midfielders will be key, for Oranje.

Another aspect is their behaviour when they lose possession. They aggressively want to get the ball back asap and they will use physical strength and duel power to get the ball.

This is the option to run in behind for Bergwijn and Gakpo, as shown by Argentina

As they already have 3 points, I don’t think this will be a game where Equador will want to take the game to us, and play open. I think this Equador will play a bit more compact and deeper than against Qatar and use their counter strength to take us on.

For the Dutch, we need to make sure our passing is crisp and accurate, as we can pass our way through their system, but if we are sloppy, we might get hammered on the counter.

I’d like to see this line up. I think Equador will want to absorb pressure and counter against us. So Janssen can play a role up front. I’d play Koopmeiners for Berghuis and Malacia for Blind. Timber for De Ligt is a non-issue I think.

Do I believe LVG will play like this? I think he’ll probably use Blind instead of Malacia.

Either way, I can see another 2-0 win for us. I hope Bergwijn will score, which will lift him up a bit and who ever scores the other one, I don’t care :-). I hope Memphis, who will get another 30 mins I think.

Tell me your predictions!

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Sluggish Oranje win over African champs

After the WC draw, people felt this was going to be easy. Even last week, some football pundits felt Senegal would be a walk-over. A bit arrogant maybe? I don’t think the players and coaches felt the same.

Senegal – even sans Mane – is a strong nation. This is the champion of Africa. This is not Equador or Greece or Finland. This is a team full of top players, who make their living in England, France or Italy.

Add to that the stress of playing your first World Cup match and it’s not without reason that Oranje didn’t play amazingly well. I even think it is better to grow into the tournament, then it is to start phenomenally well. I remember 2008 and 2006, two times we were in the Group of Death, only to be eliminated in the first knock-out stages.

There are many aspects we can complain about. Is Janssen the ideal replacement for Memphis, over – say – Danjuma? Is the choice for De Ligt over Timber the right one? Should Berghuis play next to Frenkie or Koopmeiners?

I think we’ll see changes in the course of the tournament, but for now I think Van Gaal’s choices are reasonable.

De Ligt was put in the team to counter the height threat of Senegal. They do have quite a number of strong, tall headers of the ball. This is why De Ligt was in the team and on that aspect, he delivered.

But he was quite weak in other situations. Too physical and weak in build up too. He seems to think that defending means wrestling, while Nathan Ake demonstrated that you can defend in a different way. Patient, on your feet, focus on the ball and keep it simple. Ake was one of the best last night, I believe. I expect Timber back in the team soon.

De Ligt plays more on the left side of the centre for Bayern and was pushed in a right back role vs Senegal in Van Gaal’s set up. Not a role he really is comfortable in.

Noppert is another surprise starter of course and we can only guess why Van Gaal and Hoek selected him as the #1 goalie. It seemed very risky, but Noppert did well. He stopped a couple of shots you expect him to stop and had one great save, low in the corner in the 85th minute. His build up play with his feet was risky in the first half, giving the ball away eventually, but his long kick in the 98th minute did allow three subs to combine for the 2-0. Headed on by Koopmeiners, run and shot by Memphis and typically, Klaassen who made the run to help out and pick up the pieces for 2-0.

Would any other midfielder have made that run? Taylor? Berghuis? Koopmeiners? I wonder.

Overall, no one stood out. Frenkie played a good first half, but was wasteful in the second half, trying to keep on playing like he does at Barca, but Senegal had a good tactical solution constantly closing the space with two players whenever Frenkie started to make a run.

Frenkie would be instrumental in the 1-0 of course, with a very “sensitive” cross with his right, offering Gakpo a goal. Normally, it’s Gakpo crossing the ball like this to Luuk de Jong, at PSV.

But Frenkie, despite his loss of possession, intended to play like he normally does. This can not be said of Bergwijn and Van Dijk, particularly. Bergwijn seems to be out of form and Van Dijk’s long passing and build up play was meagre, to say the least. He can be of more importance.

Janssen was not overly great but had some great touches. He was the one to flick Gakpo into the box in the first half, allowing a square pass which Bergwijn could have finished if the pass was better.

There was some more of these Janssen lay-offs, one that allowed Berghuis a shot on goal, which sailed over the bar.

Berghuis played a more controlling role and did well off the ball. He did have some good moves and passes, one was a potential assist on Frenkie, who for some reason didn’t want to finish on goal, but wanted to chop the ball to his right foot. Wasteful. But we do want more from Berghuis.

Daley Blind played ok. No big issues to report. He played with discipline and helped out in attack and he had a role to play in the 1-0, keeping the field wide and offering a option to Memphis and Frenkie, before he assisted the first goal.

Denzel Dumfries too played his usual game. Marauding runs, tough in the duels but his delivery again was left wanting. He had too many crossing options that ended up as waste, at one time hitting the defender in front of him. He will always be good value in the team, but his pure football skills are limited and I think Frimpong might eclipse him in the years to come.

Virgil was solid in defence, but as mentioned: I want him to be more regal in the build up. I see Virgil, I see Beckenbauer, but only in charisma. Not yet in his playing style. I want to see him up the level a bit.

Gakpo was important for the team and has some excellent moves, but there were too many stages in the game where he was invisible. He needs to be more dominant in the #10 role. That is the difference with his role at PSV from the wing. As a #10 you need to demand the ball and find the spots and spaces. The fact he only had 7 passes in the first half tells you the story. Great goal for him of course, but needs to up his game. When Memphis came on, Gakpo played from the right and made a crucial run into the box, when he noticed Dumfries and Klaassen were the focus of the defenders and he was the free man.

Because Senegal used two defending mids, Gakpo couldn’t be found in the centre of the park so he decided to look for space on the wings.

The main story should also be the subs. Koopmeiners made a statement when he came on and might well start the next game. He showed his work rate, his smarts, his leadership and had the pre-assist for the 2-0. When Memphis came on you couldn’t tell he hadn’t played for 2,5 months. He was a threat, he was confident in his touches, he was clearly enjoying being on a football pitch again and had an assist and a pre-assist this game. Klaassen, well, what can you say. The least popular Oranje player maybe, and probably also the least skilled player, but his nose for the position is just amazing. He is always right there where the ball drops.

A word on Senegal, they do seem to be a hard to beat side, with threats going forward. I can see them finish second in the group and potentially make life hard for other higher ranked nations.

Their coach Aliou Cisse, changed his tactics dramatically to counter the Dutch threat. Where he usually defends in a 4-4-2 (two blocks of 4) he now used Gueye as a higher playing holding mid. Why you say? Frenkie is the answer. They decided to block the centre axis of the pitch and not use their full backs too high up. So this opened up the space for Daley and Denzel to be utilised but we didn’t manage to get these two going. The Timber speciality, dribbling into midfield to lure a midfielder or forward to bite, didn’t happen because…. Timber didn’t play. Van Dijk and De Ligt didn’t do this well enough.

In the second half, Van Gaal uses Berghuis higher up the pitch, next to Gakpo and the result is two teams who cancel each other out.

One of the key players without the ball in this situation was Vincent Janssen who managed to break up the passing line to Diallo, who usually is important in Senegal’s build up, but in this match more than half of his passes ended up with an orange jersey. This is the result of the work of Janssen. I’m sure people here will criticise the Antwerp striker but he served his purpose.

For a first WC match, we should be happy. We got the point. We didn’t give a lot away. We suffered no big injuries, so the mood will be good in the Oranje camp. Qatar and Equador should not give us much trouble and if LVG is capable to get this team to play better, we will prove to be that Dark Horse we love to be.

Marten de Roon scored as well, by the way. After the game.

 

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Oranje ready for the first match

We will keep on doing more “The Road to” posts in the coming weeks, unless Oranje and the other nations are really impressing up the gazoo, but if not and I have time and space, I will keep on making profiles for the Dutchies.

The team has arrived in Qatar and LVG has given his first presser, the key thing that stuck out: a confrontation with Telegraaf journalist who had one more question on Cillesen. Louis the Sun King was not impressed and had another dummy spit. And the next thing was Louis raving about the amazing infrastructure and fascilities in Qatar. Oh, the irony…

Yesterday, the team was considered “settled in” and they had a public training session with the token workers and labourers, as a bit of a “thank you” for the sacrifices (…). Where the US, England and the Canada teams all did this too, but behind closed doors, Oranje had their joint training session with the media present.

I think it’s great that the players do this, but I think the real solutions need to come from higher up of course.

Frenkie was seen chatting with one of the workers, using gestures and sign language it seems… After the conversation, the media asked Frenkie what this was about. Frenkie: “I actually asked him about his living conditions here, and how he was doing but he didn’t want to talk about it. He only wanted to talk football. He told me that he thought I needed to go to Liverpool….”.

KNVB’s Gijs de Jong: “This is not just a token gift. We have been speaking to the differend delegations of labourers here and this is what they wanted. They had to wishes: pick a hotel that treats its workers well and keep on talking about this topic in the media during the tournament.”

Van Gaal was open to have his players mingle with the labourers present but then went into Dictator Louis mode during the trining. He played 11 v 11 with the B-team copying the way Senegal is supposed to be playing. This was all behind closed door as he would have selected his starting eleven for the Senegal game. Later they played some kicking and passing practices and the Dictator was really cracking the whip.

In the 8 v 8 practices later, it’s again full speed. Memphis is playing the full session and at full throttle. Another interesting point: Noppert is the goalie behind the assumed back three of Ake, Van Dijk and Timber.

Skipper Van Dijk explains: “The KNVB gets requests from the Qatar delegations to do this or that. They then bring it to the players committee. As a skipper, I am in that. We accept the proposition and then bring it to the squad. We have decided that if 1 player is not comfortable doing it, none of us will do it. For now, we all support what we have set out to do.”

So, we saw the team wear a Football Supports Change shirt at the start of World Cup qualfiers, and the One Love captains band for Van Dijk during the World Cup. The KNVB is also pushing for a compensation fund to be set up by the FIFA. Some people think it’s all not enough, although the Dutch seem to do more than most other nations. The KNVB has set up auctions of jerseys for which the revenue is used to assist migrants with legal aid and social activities. The Dutch labour union FNV is also involved with support internationally.

The KNVB has never hidden their disgust of the Qatar choice for this World Cup. In 2010, we didn’t vote for Qatar and when they got it, KNVB director Van Oostveen said: “It is crap, it was crap and it will always be crap.” Not sure if this was about the FIFA decision or his own role in sacking Hiddink, then Blind, then appointing Van Breukelen who then pissed off Henk ten Cate only to bring Advocaat back into the role…

Louis van Gaal has called the decision to give Qatar the World Cup: ridiculous.

And thus, Oranje played a nice match versus the labourers. There is laughter and taunting. Slidings and tackles are forbidden. Trickery is not. The whole show ends with penalty kicks, which does give the thing a different perspective. The penalty kick debate may have cost Flekken and Cillesen and it’s quite funny to see the Qatar migrants score one penalty after another against the three Oranje goalies.

All nice, fun and games.

Time to focus on the first match!

It’s close now. What to expect from Senegal without Mane?

Coming Monday we play Senegal. They will most likely play with Sarr, Dia and Diatta upfront. Gueye and Kouyate in the midfield and Koulibaly and Diallo centrally at the back, with Mendy on goal. I am telling you: this is not going to be an easy match. Not at all!

The Senegal coach usually plays a 4-3-3.

But in their build up, Senegal will have the centre backs positioning wide, with a midfielder dropping in between while their full backs will move up the pitch. Not unlike Ajax plays. Usually, it’s Mane who drops into midfield a bit to make the numbers work, but with Mane out it remains to be seen if the replacement of Mane will play the same way. In any case, Van Gaal will want his backs to push up high and to take on their full backs, while the rest of the team will pivot towards that side. For instance, if Dumfries needs to put pressure on their left back, Timber will move into Dumfries’ position and all players will squeeze to the right, with Daley Blind ending up on the left centre back position.

When Oranje builds up, Senegal will most likely move into a 4-4-2 shape, to block the spaces. Mane and one of his partners will pressure our defense and the two midfielders will probably press onto the two Dutch holding mids. This will give great opportunities for our #10 (Gakpo or Berghuis) who can use the space behind their midfield to create something.

It could also be that the defensive shape of Senegal changes, due to Mane out. You could also expect a 4-3-2-1, If that happens, there will be chances for Timber or Ake, the free players, to dribble into midfield, to bait one of the Senegal players to bite, allowing Gakpo or Bergwijn to get into space.

My prediction for this match.

I think we’ll have a tough one. This is a good opponent, the conditions are not great and we’ll have the usual tournament stress I can imagine.

I am not sure who will play next to Frenkie. Koopmeiners seems to be the safe bet. He’s a bit in between Berghuis and De Roon.

I believe we will draw 2-2. I hope Janssen will get a World Cup goal and I believe Gakpo or Bergwijn will find the net as well. We’ll need to win our last two matches, which should be doable.

 

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On the road to Qatar: Noa Lang

LVG has made his final decisions. Lots to discuss. I will give my insights here, and will continue with the Road to Qatar series discussing a suprise – for some – inclusion: Club Brugge’s Noa Lang.

But first the 26 squad.

The shock was the omission of Cillesen. Something that would have made the goalie furious and I get why. The argument that Cillesen is not in form is BS. He is as much in form as Pasveer, who had some howlers in the past months. Cillesen is playing really well for NEC Nijmegen, so this was a white lie.

Later in the presser, Van Gaal let slip in between the lines, that Cillesen is poison in the squad when he doesn’t play. I think this is the real reason. Wesley Sneijder opened up about Cillesen’s behaviour at the WC2014: “When Van Gaal subbed him for Krul he got really mad. We all remember the kick against the water bottle, when he walked off. But it went further. He didn’t congratulate Krul afterwards and kept away from the team celebrations. He called his parents and his management and they went back to Van Gaal. I remember the coaches were about to send him home, but decided against it due to the media spectacle that would become. He is not supportive towards his colleagues. When he is #2, he will undermine the #1 goalie. I can understand why he is not part of the squad.”

Ok, so can I. But if this is the case, why wait so long with letting him know? That was unnecessary. When you have good options in Bijlow, Pasveer, Flekken and Noppert, why not let Cillesen know weeks ago that he won’t be in the plane? Strange.

Then for some (me too), the exclusion of Danjuma seems odd. He is fast, explosive, strong in the duels, he makes runs in behind and he has ice in his veins. When you need good penalty kickers, he’s one of your men. But Van Gaal opted for an extra midfielder in Taylor. I would have taken Danjuma as replacement for Memphis who simply is not fit and could well be a huge gamble. It’s a muscle injury. Muscle injuries can look like their gone, and then suddenly return with a vengeance.

Janssen is not a replacement like-for-like for Memphis.

The reasoning to leave Danjuma out: he was not part of Oranje when Van Gaal made his big shift from 3-4-3 to 3-5-2. He said it then: players who were part of that experience – which LVG sees as crucial – have an extra plus behind their names. Danjuma was not there due to injury and will have missed the tactical instructions.

Whereas Noa Lang was part of that squad. Even better, Club Brugge plays in that exact same way! And even betterer: Noa Lang excels at Brugge as a sub, which is exactly what LVG has in mind for Lang. A game changer off the bench.

Janssen v Brobbey is another debate. The Ajax man is more explosive and quicker and a better header of the ball. But… he wasn’t part of Van Gaal’s “masterclasses” and Janssen was. It’s also a known fact that Janssen is a popular lad amongst the players and the coaches: articulate, intelligent and loyal. Brobbey can be a wild card in this respect.

For me, there are not any more surprises. I would have loved to see Clasie but not sure who I would have sacrificed.

Lets look at Noa Lang. The rebel forward who started his career at Feyenoord, made the move to his fave club Ajax, and from there got himself a transfer – sort of forced – to Club Brugge.

Last season, he established himself as a force to be reckoned with, both in Oranje and in Club (remember the PSG games in the Champions League), and he gambled on a transfer. He felt AC Milan would be a nice next step on his way to Real Madrid.

But the transfer didn’t happen and he got injured in the summer, which cost him his spot in the starting line up. Despite being fit only for a month, he made it in the WC squad.

It may be a surprise for many, but not for me.

His Dribbles

We used to have many players in the past who could take on opponents and dribble their way to success, from Rensenbrink, Cruyff and Van Basten all the way to Robben and Elia. Today, we have a couple of fast paced, direct forwards (Malen, Danjuma, Bergwijn) and a couple of target men (Luuk, Weghorst, Janssen, Brobbey) but we desperately need a guy who can take on an opponent to create a man more situation. We have Gakpo, Memphis and, yes… Lang who can do this. Of all the Oranje potentials for attack, Noa is the number 2 on the list of successful dribbles, just behind Gakpo, and in front of Depay. Bergwijn, Brobbey and Luuk de Jong are quite a way behind.

Van Gaal: “Noa has always delivered in my teams. He is a creative player who doesn’t need a lot of time or opportunities to break open a defence. And at Brugge he now demonstrates he can do it as a sub too, which is exactly what I have in mind for him. He will be my impact player off the bench.” As mentioned before, Lang also is accustomed to the 3-5-2 LVG is planning to use at the World Cup. Definitely a plus.

Running in Behind

It seems LVG sees the trio of Gakpo/Memphis/Bergwijn as his preferred attacking three. With subs like Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst and Vincent Janssen, Oranje has different types of strikers, but still need a player with speed and depth, with the ability to run in behind. Malen is considered not good enough at the moment, so it was between Danjuma and Lang. LVG chose Lang.

Lang has explosiveness also without the ball. Most of his goals come from his runs in behind, from the left flank. When Oranje is pushed back against strong opponents, Lang can definitely be a strong weapon.

Multi-functional

LVG loves multifunctional players. The likes of Blind, Klaassen and Berghuis fall in that category. When Lang was used in his debut v Latvia, Van Gaal put him on the right wing position. He was clear in his pre-match announcements: “I want to see how Noa plays from the right”. Within 5 minutes, the extraverted rebel pushed Gakpo to the right and went to play on his fave left position. Van Gaal was gobsmacked! “Isn’t that incredible? I had to correct that immediately. That was not my plan!”. LVG could laugh about it though, and have him another chance later. Against Wales, LVG changed his system from 3-4-2-1 to 3-4-1-2 and Lang’s introduction was key to that. As Van Gaal has three traditional central strikers in De Jong, Weghorst and Janssen, Lang offers the veteran coach something different, with the various positions Lang can play in. Even a return to 4-3-3 is an option with Lang in the squad.

“Plus”

Van Gaal likes to use the “plus” and “minus” labels when explaining his selection process. He wants the following aspects: form, rhythm, personality and tactical knowledge of the LVG Philosophy (huh?). It seems form, rhythm and personality are quite on par between Lang and Danjuma, but the Brugge forward has an extra plus as he was part of the squad that worked on the 3-5-2 model ( 3-4-1-2) LVG prefers these days.

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Oranje in stats…

The Dutch National Team has reached the Final Four of the Nations League. A view on the stats tells us that the full backs were instrumental in the group stages.

The Mainstay

The only player to play in all Nations League games is Steven Bergwijn. The 24 year old had the most shots of all Dutchies (13 shots, 2 goals) and had the most successful dribbles (9). He also created 8 opportunities for other, but none of these were converted into goals. He is the man who had the most assists, without these ending up as actual assists…

The Topscorer

Memphis Depay only played 46% of all possible Nations League minutes and he missed a penalty versus Poland but he is still the key man, with three goals and one assist. He needed 12 shots for his 3 goals, with a total Expected Goal value of 2,5, the highest xG of all Oranje players.

The Creator

Cody Gakpo created in total 14 chances for his team mates, five more than any other. Twelve were from open play and two came from corners. Despite all this creativity, he only had one assist, the corner which Virgil converted versus Belgium at home. The PSV forward was also the strongest in duel power. Of all internationals with more than 10 personal duels, his win percentage is highest (65%).

The Playmaker

It’s no surprise that Frenkie is the engine of this team, with the most touches (325) and the most successful passes (259). He was also involved with most attacks from open play ( 192). These stats tell us how important he is when Oranje wants to move forward. Once the ball gets there, Frenkie’s work is done. He had zero shots on goal and a low number of touches in the opponent’s box (3).

The Victim and the Perpetrator

Denzel Dumfries was involved with 3 goals, two scored by himself and one assist. The right back had the highest expected assist value of 1,7 and he was the biggest victim (fouls against him 9) and the biggest perpetrator of fouls (11) in the squad. Dumfries has the highest number of personal duels won (33, 10 more than any other player).

The Servicemen

Oranje scored 14 goals, of which 11 were assisted. Daley Blind and Vincent Janssen have the most assists (2 ). Blind had two within 4 minutes versus Belgium away. Janssen had an assist versus Wales at home and in the Poland away game, for Bergwijn.

The Wingbacks

With Blind having the most assists and Dumfries the most expected assists, it clearly shows the hand of Louis 5-3-2 Van Gaal. The impact of the full backs is also visible in the xG Chain stats. This is the sum of the total xG (expected goals) values of all attacks in open play and all players involved, for instance as scorer or as pre-assist giver. Blind leads this table, with Dumfries as #4.

The Visionary

Jurrien Timber has grown to be a firm starter in Van Gaal’s Oranje and will probably start at the World Cup in Qatar. The Ajax defender “saw” the most passes by an opponent and intercepted 8 forward passes.

The Nihilist

Guus Til played one minute versus Wales and was on the pitch when both Wales and Holland scored late in the game. He himself had only one touch. His impact was truly minimal but he still had some share in reaching the final four.

The Creative Goalie

In the list of players who created a chance, Mark Flekken is also present. In the away game versus Wales, he had a long pass to Gakpo who almost scored. Flekken ( 1 in 180 minutes) created just as many chances as Davy Klaassen (1 in 244 minutes).

The Benchwarmer

Kjell Scherpen was with the group 3 times, just as many as Virgil van Dijk. But he didn’t play a single minute for Oranje. He is the player topping the list of players who were present but didn’t play a minute.

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