We saw our beloved Oranje in the doldrums for a couple of years, and we had to sit out two major tournaments. Our newly found confidence, the string of new players, Ronald Koeman as the new NT Manager, the sun started to shine again.
We played “Dutch football” again, we won vs France, Germany, England and we reached the finals of the Nations League.
And right at the time when Frenkie claims “there is a lot of growth still in the team” our Oranje crashes through the floor in terms of quality level.
Of course, a team can never be an “8” every match. There will be games where we are an “9” in one half and a “6” in another half. But yesterday vs a very average Northern Ireland, we dropped below the level that I would call acceptable. I’d say every single player from the starting line up except for Virgil van Dijk deserved a bad mark on their report card.
And yes, Mathijs de Ligt, Daley Blind and Jasper Cillesen all had a howler in a comedy caper sequence leading up to the goal. But it was the whole team that disappointed. From Dumfries, to Wijnaldum, from Memphis to Babel. But the biggest disappointment for me, was Frenkie de Jong.
I would like to start by saying that Northern Ireland is completely entitled to play the way they do. They cheat for seconds, they don’t play to score but they play to destroy. And why wouldn’t they. They play Klopp-Liverpool style football but without the amazing forwards.
It’s annoying, it’s negative, it’s anti-football but…it’s their prerogative to do this and it’s up to us to break them down.
I believe it all started to go wrong with the starting eleven. This is typical a game where you need Donny van de Beek and you don’t need Martin de Roon. De Roon is our destroyer, but we didn’t need to destroy. We needed to create. And move. And stretch the opponent. Something Donny does in spades.
So why didn’t Koeman start with Donny? Unclear. “So he could bring him in when the team needs him”. BS.
Also Dumfries. A great athlete, good runner. But hard feet. Doesn’t have the subtlety in his game to play along in this pass and move game we needed. We could have used Veltman better in this match, I feel. A good cross, solid passing and experience and physical strength.
I can imagine Koeman didn’t want to start with Malen as you do want to be able to bring an explosive attacker in from the bench, and Babel did have some good games before, but Van de Beek vs De Roon… I can’t understand it. When you play a strong opponent, maybe De Roon is better, allowing Frenkie some support, but against this type of opponent, you do need a runner like Van de Beek.
But lets not kid ourselves. Koeman made mistakes but the eleven on the pitch simply were terrible. Touches, passing, understanding, pace, moving without the ball, it was all sub par.
In these type of matches, you need to pass and move. At pace. One or two touches. Don’t play backheels or funny shimmies or don’t try and dribble. They won most one on one duels and most second balls. Stay out of the duels and pass the fricking ball!
You also need to keep the pitch wide, and use the half spaces to reach the byline and cross the ball in low and hard (like Malen did!).
Northern Ireland wanted to suck the oxygen out of the game and sadly, our playmaker Frenkie de Jong helped them but taking so many touches of the ball. Trying to dribble, trying to turn, left, back to right, back to left again. And all to no avail. There wasn’t enough movement up front, yes, I’ll give him that, but when you are being man-marked (as he was) you know another player gets some freedom. Pass the fricking ball!
This is where Ronald Koeman could and should have changed his team, even 10 mins in. Take De Roon out and bring a player with ball skills. Even Steven Berghuis on that right midfield position would have done better than De Roon as Berghuis can pass a ball and take on a player.
And our wing play? In the first half you could see ever so clearly that Dumfries isn’t trusted by his team mates. Frenkie de Jong, Bergwijn, Van Dijk, they all prefer to open on the left – to Babel – instead of using Dumfries, no matter how open Dumfries was. Reason why? They don’t trust him to do the right thing! And they were right!
Can’t wait for Karsdorp to be 100% fit!
Second half, it all started to get a bit better. Northern Ireland was getting more fatigues and there was more pace and more grit in our team in the second half. When Van de Beek was introduced he received a thundering ovation.
But for the first time in 19 years, Oranje faced a 0-1 score line in De Kuip, when the first and only attempt on goal by the Northern Irish got promoted to a goal thanks to the 3 Stooges: De Ligt, Blind, Cillesen.
The first time we reached Malen in the half space on the left resulted in his low cross and a magical Memphis touch resulted in the 1-1.
Another freak goal got Luuk de Jong the hero status in the dying minutes, when a deflected defensive header got onto his stretched out leg and the ball went high up, only to land just in front of the goal line. L de Jong quickly grabbed the post and was able to flick the ball over the line.
And finally, when the game was played, Frenkie got his chance to dribble forward and that immediately resulted in Memphis’ 3-1.
They crucial game in our group was won. And after the game, a lot of relief and optimism about the future, but it was merely the result that we should be happy about.
Lots and lots of things to think about. For Koeman and his staff, yes. But also for Frenkie, Mathijs, Daley, Gini and the rest.
As the whole team, including technical staff, failed. Despite the win.