There is a lot of positives to say about this Oranje. A lot of great stuff, good performances, quality talent, etc. So much great stuff to look out for.
We also need to be honest when it was not so good. Or bad.
And the Nations League finals vs Portugal, was bad.
The whole bloody match was pretty bad, from both nations. Portugal does like to play like they did. Their tactical set up is like this. Their DNA is like this. And they do it well. They played better than us, had more shots on goal / target and ended up winning it.
Holland played far below par.
And sure, we will spend a lot of time hailing our boys, talking about the future, the talents, Frenkie, Virgil’s Ballon D’Or, our performance in the Nations League, Weghorst, how tough it was to miss two tournaments, De Ligt’s next club, etc etc but it has to be said.
We didn’t play well. And we need to analyse why.
I normally despise it when after a bad loss or a bad game, players (and coaches) say: “It’s best to quickly forget this game and move on to the next!”.
No, I say. No! It’s important to analyse WHY you lose. Why you played bad.
And I have an idea. I think we lost on three counts.
And two counts are on Ronald Koeman. Our coach.
Yes, he’s excellent. He is experienced. He is well liked by the players, etc.
But he is also old-school. He’s not from the modern generation, like Pep, Tuchel, Ten Hag, Nagelsmann… He’s more like Michels and Hiddink combined.
The three reasons I think we lost.
The Team needed fresh legs after the England game
We had one day less to prep for the finals. We also played an extra 30 minutes in a tough physical game. Some or our lads came out of a tough and long competition. Ajax, Liverpool, Atalanta Bergamo, Lyon…these clubs played a massive number of games and I think Koeman should have allowed some fresh players to play.
And don’t think I come up with this after the match, I said this before the finals already.
Ryan Babel, 32 years old, played tough matches with Fulham in a relegation battle. He should have been left out. I probably would have picked either Promes or Van de Beek in his place (with Van de Beek in Wijnaldum’s role and Gini playing as a false left winger / midfielder).
Marten de Roon had a tough competition and it was great to see how easy a fresh Davy Propper fitted into the team vs England. Propper didn’t play much in the final stage of the EPL season due to an injury. Why not use his qualities in midfield, vs a team that is used to turn games into chess matches…?
We were outplayed tactically
Potugal doesn’t play as open as England. They stack the midfield and tactically astute Portugal would always focus on De Jong, to stop him (and Oranje) playing.
For me, the solution would have been using Davy Propper instead of De Roon. We would always win the midfield battle if we would have had one more player there with build up skills (Propper) and – see above – a more midfield style forward on the left, as opposed to Babel. We allowed Portugal to play us like they wanted to play us and we simply didn’t have the physical strength to take them on. This is where Koeman should have been smarter.
Some Players didn’t reach their level and should have been replaced
It didn’t take long for us all to see that Denzel Dumfries was not in great shape. He had a tough game vs England already, but vs Portugal, they allowed him acres of space and he didn’t do a lot with it. Dutch TV showed a clip of
highlights lowlights with terrible touches and passing by the PSV right back. Now, don’t get me wrong: I think Dumfries will turn into a great full back for us. He’s strong, quick, tall, he has balls and – usually – a good cross. But when he plays like he did, why not replace him? The best option for Koeman to replace him with? Quincy Promes!
He plays wingback for Seville at times and does so very well. He would have been as vulnerable defensively, ok, but offensively he would have done so much better.
We needed some smart and balls by Koeman and I fear he let us down.
Memphis didn’t have “it” either but Memphis will always be a threat. He didn’t play great vs England but was still able to create three goals!
And obviously, we should spend a lot of time here applauding the lads, applauding the team, the coach, the clubs, our revival into the big time! Of course.
Some lessons from the past Nations League Matches…
Who will assist Memphis upfront?
Memphis Depay was the leader upfront, with three goals and five assists, he was involved in 8 of the last 9 Oranje goals. When Memphis is on song, Oranje has a bite. When he’s not, the wingers Babel and Bergwijn need to step up. The framework is there, but once the creativity on the ball in an attacking sense is faltering, we need Plan B or C.
It’s not Memphis Depay who is the symbol of this Oranje rejuvenation.
It’s Daley Blind. He was seen as a top player in the Ajax youth. Once he stepped up to the first team, there were doubts. He was too soft. Too slow. What position is his? A good player on several positions, but on none of the spots was he the absolute star.
Last season Blind played 17 matches for Man United as filler. His career was on a crossroad. Another EPL club? West Ham? Interest from Italy? Ajax swooped in and paid a lofty sum for the introverted Blind but his Ajax season is symbolic for Dutch football. He played 60 odd matches and was one of Ajax’ best players this season. He was also one of the few Oranje players who played really well vs England and Portugal.
“Daley Blind isn’t a talker in the group, he’s not loud. But he is our tactical brain n the pitch. He sees situations quickest of all. He is always positioned well. I use him on the pitch as my assistant coach. I only need to use a few words and he gets it and deals with it,” says Ajax coach Erik ten Hag.
Blind is a top player, not just tactically, also technically, mentally and physically. He only missed on national cup match vs the amateurs of Te Werve.
He was one of the mid 20 players who were supposed to lead Oranje, under Guus Hiddink and Danny Blind. Strootman, Wijnaldum, Blind, De Vrij, Memphis…
But they weren’t up to it. Then.
Now, combined with new Oranje leader Virgil van Dijk and cocky youngsters like Frenkie and Mathijs, the generation Blind/Wijnaldum is stepping up, just like Memphis has re-juvenated his career.
Frenkie’s threatening and penetrating play was stifled successfully by the Portuguese, but he demonstrated many times before (vs England and with Ajax) how capable he is. He is constantly able to glide away from opponents, he has an eye for time and space and is able to dictate the rhythm of the team. But also, when losing possession, De Jong is a force to be reckoned with. He is quick, he reads the game, he can defend and tackle and most importantly, he is able to perform a technically perfect sliding. Frenkie drives the opponent mad.
And with De Ligt also making his way to the European top, one can only assume that our team will improve as a result. Donny van de Beek might follow while Bergwijn and Cillessen are also nominated to make a move up.
Eleven matches ago, Koeman fielded his starting eleven for the England match we lost. Only four players are still in the starting line up: Van Dijk, De Ligt, Wijnaldum en Depay. And none of them playing on the same position now, as Koeman abandoned the 5-3-2 for a 4-2-3-1.
Strootman started as the vice skipper in Oranje and was one of the pantomime villains under Hiddink/Blind. Today, he’s sixth choice, behind De Roon, Propper and Van de Beek. The midfield issues Oranje had are solved. De Roon is playing CL football next season, while Propper is clearly too good for Brighton and on his way to bigger things: Ajax or another EPL club….
This summer will be huge for Oranje. Koeman has rejected any suggestion that he’d go to Barcelona. He’ll stay. Bergwijn, Promes, Berghuis, Propper, Weghorst, De Ligt, Van de Beek, but also Malen, Kluivert and Weghorst…what will they do?
Lots of questions! I can’t wait for the answers….