Tag: Van Dijk

The Road to Qatar: Jurrien Timber (and bro)

It’s virtually impossible to do a story on Jurrien Timber without also covering twin bro Quinten. If the expression “two peas in a pod” had a face, it would be theirs. Even their brothers have had trouble identifying who is who. Brother Chris: “It happened often in a game where I would say “wow top pass by Quinten” and then mum would say “it’s Jurrien!”… Now, their heads are a bit different and their hairdo as well but back in the day, when they played together it was hard. Thanks God for squad numbers.”

Mum Timber came to the Netherlands as a professional dancer and ended up staying in Holland after she met the dad of the boys. She raised her 5 sons alone though and has done a marvelous job indeed! The oldest apparently had the most talent, according to Quinten. He lacked the ambition though and plays at amateur level now. The second oldest is the manager of his pro brothers. The youngest of the brothers is in the FC Utrecht academy.

The two Timbers in the youth system

Jurrien and Quinten, true identical twins, were selected in their first amateur team at 4 years old! Their youth coach at amateur club DVSU: “It is not really possible to have 4 year olds as club members, but their two brothers were members and playing together in a team. Jurrien and Quinten were always around and they were so gifted, we couldn’t refuse them. We allowed them both to play in the same team as their brothers but I always made use two of them were on the bench. Unless for games which really mattered, hahaha. If we could win the title, I did play them all four. I always told the boys to pass the ball, but when we were behind in a title deciding game, I did say to them: whatever you can do, win this game for us. And there they’d go, taking on and passing 4 or 5 players and scoring. Jurrien was more the organiser, the thinker. Quinten was the artist. Dribbling past 5 players and lobbing the ball over the goalie. Typical Quinten.”

“They looked adorable and they were so small. I heard many parents from visiting clubs comment on how cute they were but within 10 minutes all of the Timbers would be on the score sheet and the parents didn’t think they were so cute, hahaha.”

Brother Chris: “Justin and Quinten are indeed adorable and cute. Off the pitch. When mum was busy she’d put on the Lion King for us. My younger brother Dylan would walk off within 30 minutes, bored. Justin and Quinten were so easy, if the movie had ended, they would just sit there. Waiting for mum to spot them and offer them something else.”

When they turned 7, Feyenoord scouted them and brother Dylan. The contrast was enormous. The twins would be sitting close to the bus driver, polite and quiet, whereas Dylan was always getting in trouble.

Timber bros with mum

On a typical day in their amateur club, the Feyenoord, Ajax and Utrecht scout were watching together. Ajax offered the twins a move to Amsterdam, but Feyenoord also wanted Dylan. When Ajax told the family that they wouldn’t be able to pick up the boys for training and matches, while Feyenoord offered a bus service, it became Feyenoord for the three brothers.

The twins had to let their social life go. It was sleep, school, travel, train, travel, sleep. Dylan couldn’t do it, he missed the social life. “But they had each other. They were a unit, they ate the same, they would sleep in the same room (and still do!!) and they’d watch the same stuff. They were both Messi fans and this would have helped them to enjoy their life at Feyenoord.”

At a young age, the two were disciplined. If there was a movie on but the clock said 9.30 pm, they’d get up to go to bed.

Life was good and Feyenoord did ever so well with the Timbers, who played in a team with Wouter Burger (Basel) and Summerville (Leeds United). But when Feyenoord claimed they wanted to turn Quinten into a central defender, the family started to have doubts. “We saw players like Sergio Ramos, John Terry and Vince Kompany as central defenders but Quinten was of a different build. When Feyenoord also couldn’t assist us financially with transport costs when the boys went to high school we decided to have a look around. Ajax had the best pitch, so the boys decided to move to Amsterdam,” says their mum.

Timber family with their first trophy

The move to Ajax was highly publicized. As if the family had gone for the money. And Timber Traitors and all that jazz. But mum is adamant: “Ajax was always the first club to come around for them and every season I got a call from the Ajax youth academy. They were truly interested in the development of the boys and money was never a reason for us to switch.”

In the first seasons, the Timbers had it tough in Amsterdam. Not in terms of football. They were simply the best of their generation, but mostly due to their growth spurts and injuries. Eventually, they managed to learn to deal with the physical side of the game and they even were able to organise a gym at their home.

When Jurrien broke through into the first team, coach Ten Hag suggested a loan for Quinten, as it would be key for him too to play under pressure, week in week out. FC Utrecht was the candidate, but they were also keen to simply sign the midfielder. Ajax allowed Quinten to go and the rest is history. The midfielder is now back at Feyenoord as one of the key players in Arne Slot’s set up.

Jurrien Timber developed into a fine central defender who already had to brush off interest from Italy, Spain and England and seems to have taken the RCB spot from De Ligt and De Vrij. Quite an achievement. Not the top defenders of Bayern or Inter but that kid from Ajax will most likely take that spot.

His team mate Nathan Ake: “It’s amazing right? He is a super talent. He plays with a maturity I haven’t seen in a kid his age. I mean, it took me a while. And he’s also that type of guy off the pitch. A quiet guy, with focus on getting better and living like a pro. I can also see him deal with all the media stuff and he’s simply unfazed.”

Last summer, the Eredivisie Ltd and ESPN picked him as Holland’s Best Player AND Greatest Talent. Quite unique. Even Van Dijk was surprised: “When I look back at where I was at that age, wow… I only have good things to say about him. His potential is just mindboggling. I am sure he will not get derailed. He won’t allow it.”

Frank de Boer used Timber as a stand in for De Ligt, when he suffered a groin injury, but used the Bayern man when he was fit. Not Van Gaal. The veteran coach recognised the quality of Timber and placed both De Ligt and De Vrij solidly on the bench. Timber solidified his spot in the Nations League matches.

Daley Blind: “Wow, it goes so fast with Jurrien. We saw him develop last year in our CL campaign and he keeps on going. He works hard and truly a sponge, with his ears and eyes open to learn. He is always himself, a very steady guy.”

Skipper Van Dijk: “Everyone knows his role in this squad. When you play, you play and the ones who don’t play will be the support act, so to speak. I know it’s not easy for Mathijs and Stefan, but they deal so well with it. They will always be ready to help Jurrien or any other player. They are key too and it’s great to see these dynamics in the team.”

Lewandowski defeated

Jurrien Timber himself: “Yes, it’s true, we are a tight unit and I feel supported, also by my direct rivals, so to speak. It’s not easy to get into this team, everyone gives 100% to get in and we all deal with this professionally.”

His faith is important for him. On match days, he will post Bible verses. “Faith is my grounding. I study the Bible every day and it strengthens and grounds me. I notice that people respond to the posts I make on the Bible verses and I love that I can bring that message across.”

Against Poland away, he played against arguably one of the best strikers of the world. Lewandowski got 1 touch in the Dutch box and had zero shots on target. Timber had the most contacts of all Dutch players (97) and the most passes (82) and the highest pass accuracy ( 96%). He had the most interceptions (3) and the least number of possession losses (3).

When he was complimented on this after the game, he was very cool about it: “I don’t do this by myself. It’s a team performance. I love the challenge to play against Lewandowski, but he wasn’t the only one with quality. We dealt with Zielinski, who knows how to play and later Milik also came on. Also a monster of a striker.”

Hazard defeated

He also dealt with Eden Hazard and is looking forward to the World Cup. “When I played my matches at the Euros, I really noticed the difference in intensity. I remember thinking “Pfff this is tough”. It was a surprise that I played there and it was amazing. This World Cup will even be bigger. I will do what I can to be part of it.”

Time to reflect is not available yet. “I don’t have time, I need to go on. Another match soon! I am not ready yet.”

And Nathan Ake summarised it all very well: “He is a top talent and a great guy. He deserves everything coming his way.”

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Annoyed Van Gaal’s quest for perfection

The press conference before the last get together before the World Cup was heavy with agitation. The team manager loves controversy, as we know, and enjoys playing his games with certain members of the press.

We have seen a very buoyant and generous Van Gaal at pressers, we have seen him funny even. This time, the first interviewer (the indeed very annoying Stekelenburg of the NOS) got on Louis’ bad side and the whole press conference was influenced by this. Any other pointy question was answered with “Ah, you must be a friend of Stekelenburg? You should sit together from now on” and more of those sarcastic quips.

His mood will also have to do with the work he can see in front of him. After this period, he only has 1 week in November, which he’ll need to “fine tuning”. This week is an important one for Van Gaal, the perfectionist, but the week is pretty full. We have two nations league games, we have all sorts of of PR and content related tasks for the players, among them, the intro of the new Nike jerseys. Van Gaal also added a former volley ball coach to the mix who will help Van Gaal with the selection of the penalty killer! There is this scientific method – according to Louis – to help analyse which goalie has the best chance to stop penalties.

Keepers

Most countries (England, Belgium, Germany, Spain, France) have their goalie or goalies for the World Cup. Not us. We still don’t know who is the #1. This time, the former #1 Justin Bijlow, isn’t even selected (although he will join the Oranje camp for the goalie analysis as mentioned, same as Kjell Scherpen) and with Andries Noppert a new name is added. Trusted goalies Pasveer and Cillesen are part of the club, but Flekken, Noppert and apparently Bijlow are question marks. Keepers trainer Frans Hoek will work with the goalies and will present his findings to Van Gaal, who is happy to meet the Ajax and Heerenveen goalie for the first time. But, all in all, Van Gaal doesn’t seem worried about this goal keepers conundrum.

Squad

Van Gaal has had several principles in his rich career. Players who wanted to be part of the squad needed to play and play on the position where he wants them in Oranje as well. But these principles have already been abandoned. Today, it’s about “performing”. Players need to deliver. All well and good but have players like Davy Klaasen, Devyne Rensch and Stefan de Vrij delivered, recently? And when questions like these are asked, Van Gaal gets annoyed and claims the reporters are asking mean questions…. It seems this squad might well be the World Cup squad, although Van Gaal leaves the door open for players who are currently injured and used to be part of the squad, such as Lang, Danjuma and Luuk de Jong. For new names, such as Joey Veerman, Xavi Simons or Bryan Brobbey it will be harder. Only when others get injured or lose form will new players be added and only if these new players really deliver.

Science

Van Gaal has decided to invest in scientific methods and included Peter Murphy, former Volleyball coach, to his staff for this week. Action typing is what Murphy studied and he will use his methods to determine which keeper is best equipped for the penalty killer role. Length is a factor, yes (Noppert!) but speed of reaction is as important. A tall goalie who reacts slow is still not a good goalie. They will also work on methods to “distract” the opponent when the opponent is about to take a spot kick. Okay. In 2014, it was “the eye of the maestro” which determined that Cillesen needed to make way for Krul which helped Oranje reach the semis. But Argentina took their spot kicks better and Van Gaal wants to rule out a similar scenario.

Commerce

The players will also need to spend time on what Van Gaal calls “content creation”. There will simply not be enough time for this later, so Van Gaal wants this to happen now. He doesn’t want this to interfere right before the tournament. This content creation is basically: doing the sponsor thing. Getting photos made with the new kit, or any other sponsor related action.

Football

There is even time for football! Van Gaal will talk a lot this week. He will have group sessions and individual sessions, in which he (and Danny Blind) will focus on video analysis and more instructions to perfect the tactics he wants to see on the pitch. Van Gaal was moderately happy with the way it is going, but it can be executed much better. For now, the second half versus Germany in the last friendly was the best half Van Gaal has seen and now the focus is on doing this for more than one half. The only downside: that second half was not played in Van Gaal’s fave 3-4-3 set up. Work to be done. Van Gaal did say that he will not experiment or allow players playing time. He wants to work towards his firm first team. Don’t expect much chances between now and November. On this topic, when asked if new players were to be expected, Van Gaal let slip that he doesn’t only look at player’s footballing qualities but also how the player deals with…. Van Gaal. The coach is a keen talker and has long tactical talks. In his words, “if a player starts to nod off during my talks, I know I can’t use him.” This probably happened and might well be the reason why a player like Karsdorp or in the past Seedorf were ignored by him.

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Winners and Losers of Oranje

He who studied Louis van Gaal knows he is a true fan and follower of his role model Rinus Michels. As a young player, he would bike to the Ajax training ground, not to watch the Ajax players, but to watch Michels. When a young adult Van Gaal needed to pick a profession, he decided to become a teacher, phys ed, like Michels was.

He tries to copy Michels career (Ajax, Barca, Oranje) but wants to do one better: winning the World Cup. He will have noticed how Michels abandoned the Dutch 4-3-3 in 1988, in order to win the first and only trophy for Holland. He shored up the midfield and took a forward off, making sure his two stars Gullit and Van Basten wouldn’t need to do too much work and could focus on scoring goals. Realist Michels ignored all the idealists and won the big prize.

As a young coach, Van Gaal played uber attacking football, which has inspired many a coach, like Guardiola, Bielsa and Flick. But on 19 January 1989, something happened. Barca led Valencia, 3-0. In 20 minutes, Valencia scored four goals and Van Gaal lost that match.

His next big trophy, he won with AZ Alkmaar, playing counter football in a 4-4-1-1 set up.

During the years, he realised he was naive and started to focus on a way to win games with exciting football. He got more and more convinced, that the strongest team with the tightest bonds would win tournaments. And when one has mediocre players, reactive football will pay off, using tactical smarts, to cover your own weaknesses and to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent.

At the 2014 World Cup, he knew he had some world class forwards, but mediocre defenders. The players back then were on the pay roll of Ajax, Feyenoord, Aston Villa, Norwich, Swansea City, Galatasaray… He created a platform for Robben and Van Persie and disciplined the lesser heroes into a tight system. When he needed speed and pizzazz, he brought Memphis. When he needed legs in midfield, he had PSV player Wijnaldum.

We got to the semis, and a failed penalty shoot out blocked us from beating the Germs in the finals.

This time around, our back line has players who are at Man City, Liverpool, Inter, Juventus, Ajax and midfielders who play at Barcelona, PSG, Man United or Bayern Munich. Our forwards might not (yet) be of Robben status, but they know how to unsettle defenders and score!

Van Gaal believes he has a real chance of lifting the trophy.

He studied the way Tuchel at Chelsea works with his three at the back. Chelsea is able to put pressure on the ball and does this by using the wing backs in a tactical way. They need to see the moment to push forward and put pressure on the wingers of the opponent. Van Gaal noticed that Daley Blind has the tactical intelligence to recognise these moments. Something Dumfries needs to improve on, as he got it wrong recently versus Germany (and initially versus Belgium as well).

Van Gaal speaks of the 10 yard rule. When the opponent has the ball, the Oranje players cannot be further apart than 10 yards. In this way, players can put pressure and know that their spot will be covered. This was what didn’t go well at the Euros, recently, when the Czechs didn’t find it hard to play in between the lines.

Another aspect Van Gaal has been hammering on: coaching. All players need to be vocal, you need to inform your mates and create a better awareness or orientation. Van Gaal uses video analysis software to monitor this. The video software constantly calculates and visualises the distances. Based on this, Van Dijk is named the General of Pressing and he is the key man in coaching the team. Stefan de Vrij is his capable 2CO in this task. Interestingly enough, when Oranje is able to keep these distances, the opponent finds it hard to score. Once we are unable to fill in the gaps, the opponent will get chances. We were able to do it right for 70 minutes versus Belgium. Once we started slipping and getting more fatigued, we become vulnerable.

The lesson? If we can keep this up for 90 minutes, it will be hard for any opponent to score against us.

By using two forwards and no real wingers, LVG opens up the flanks for his wide wingbacks. This means Oranje has always an extra man in midfield. Vanaken and Witsel of Belgium were constantly facing three Oranje midfielders. When you control the midfield, you control the game.

Players like Memphis, Bergwijn, Lang, Malen and Danjuma do love the space on the wing to be available for them to run into. The experiment with Weghorst as deepest striker against Wales didn’t work out. As Wales didn’t press up, we were a man short in midfield, also because the two “half 10s” weren’t able to play the spaces too well. Van Gaal changed it back, by making Lang a midfielder again and this way we regained control.

Against Poland, Van Gaal went back to his 3 midfielder game plan (Klaassen, Frenkie, Berghuis) and we should have and could have won that too, if Memphis had scored the pen. The two Polish goals can be (and should have been) avoided.

The new Oranje system works well against stronger nations, who want to attack as well. It will allow for space, for Frenkie and Memphis in particular to create havoc.

Against team parking the bus – and they usually also sacrifice a player to mark Frenkie de Jong – this team needs to improve. Van Gaal had to instruct Frenkie to not try and dribble into cul de sacs, but to move away from the action. Find space on the wings, or in areas where nothing is happening. If the marker follows, it means other players will be able to get more space and take over Frenkie’s role.

The fact that it still takes the coach to point this out, as he had to do versus Denmark when Eriksen became the free man after he had come onto the pitch, there is still a lot of work to do. You want that tactical intelligence on the pitch, you want players like Blind, Van Dijk, Frenkie and Memphis to “see” these things and take care of it.

This new Van Gaal system has a couple of winners.

Steven Bergwijn – Van Gaal called him a Gift of the Gods, literally. Strong on the ball, a good partnership with Memphis, scoring ability, depth, speed. But… not able to play more than 70 minutes at high intensity.

Steven Berghuis – Van Gaal calls him the “passer” as opposed to the “runners” Klaassen, Wijnaldum, Van de Beek and Til. Berghuis is unique in this role, with Teun Koopmeiners as more defensive alternative. As there are no real alternatives, it seems the Ajax man is certain of his spot.

Jurrien Timber – He may have gotten the wrath of the coach against Poland but Timber has been impressing as right CB in Ajax and in Oranje. He is the complete package: speed, ability to play right wing back if needed, strong in challenges and very good on the ball. His off day v Poland was due to fatigue, Van Gaal concluded.

Nathan Ake – Van Gaal prefers a left footed left centre back. He seems to prefer Blind as wing back so Ake is the only left footed defender in the squad. Martins Indi was called up for this reason and we’ll see Sven Botman most likely too. Ake doesn’t play much at City, but he keeps impressing in Oranje.

The Losers

Stefan de Vrij – Van Gaal is a super fan of the Inter defender as he also used him successfully in 2014. “Everything Van Dijk can do, De Vrij can do as well.” It seems he is the ideal stand in for captain Virgil van Dijk.

Mathijs de Ligt – The young and solid Juve defender was tested as left CB but that was not an overall success. It seems De Ligt needs to focus on a spot in the centre or right CB. For these positions he’s competing with De Vrij, Van Dijk and Timber. Tough test for Mathijs.

Gini Wijnaldum – One of the key players for Oranje in the past years, but Van Gaal is not impressed with his performances in Oranje. “Gini has to deliver. We cannot bring players in to help them find their feet. He will need to do this at his club.”

Arnaut Danjuma – Scores for fun in Spain (and everywhere else) but hasn’t impressed Van Gaal too much. “He is still injured. He’s not my #1 player and when you’re not fit, you move further down the hierarchy. Danjuma needs to get fit and he needs to perform. Only then can I select him again.”

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Why Berghuis was the free man v Belgium

Our lively discussions on the forum sometimes show quite a gap in understanding and appreciation of the Oranje games and players.

Just like Daley Blind now (and players like Memphis, Kuyt, Nigel de Jong before them), it seems Steven Berghuis’ contributions are not truly appreciated.

Louis van Gaal said after the Belgium match up that with this 3-4-3 and with a solid execution of that system, Holland will always have a man-more situation anywhere on the pitch. “Whatever the Belgium did or could do, we were always outnumbering them.”

Frenkie de Jong and Steven Berghuis were the key players in this.

Months ago, Van Gaal lamented that “he didn’t have any real classic wingers”. At that point. Berghuis was still a right winger for Oranje (and Ajax) but with the break-through of Antony at Ajax, Berghuis was moved to the spine of the Ajax team. A signal for LVG to consider the same: “Berghuis is not the type of winger that takes on his direct opponent. So I decided to use him in the central part of the pitch.”

Belgium plays in a 3-4-3, like LVG wants. But Van Gaal also has a strong principle, to never play the same system as the opponent. “I don’t want to make it easy for them to make duos on the pitch, I want the opponent to have to think, to have to decide what to do. So I switched the roles in our midfield.” Where Belgium plays with one attacking mid and two holding midfielders, LVG decided to use one holding mid (Frenkie) and have Berghuis and Klaassen free in their movements.

1-5-1-2-2

In this way, he presented Belgium coach Martinez with some additional decision making. Now it was up to Kevin de Bruyne to defend against Frenkie, something the brilliant Citizen only did sparsely.

Defensively, it became easier for Oranje: Berghuis kept an eye on Witsel and Klaassen covered Vanaken. Frenkie only had to pick up De Bruyne, whenever he dropped back into midfield. Due to Berghuis’ smart positioning, we never got a man-more situation against us. We were always in control in midfield. As Van Gaal said in the post match presser: “Our midfield won the game for us.”

Berghuis dropping next to Frenkie to offer another option

Berghuis: “What the coach predicted was exactly what happened. We trained like this and we saw it happening exactly this way in the match. I played a bit deeper, at times close to Frenkie. This allowed us control in midfield and with Davy and his movements, we always had an option in midfield and were never outnumbered. I think we executed the plans really well.”

Frenkie moving up and creating man more situation

The 4th minute shows exactly how it all worked. The three Dutch central defenders (Timber, Van Dijk, Ake) are in position at the back, while Dumfries and Blind have moved up along the touch line. Frenkie drops back to assist with the build up, so now Holland has 4 players opposite 3 Belgium forwards. Once the forward pass is played, Berghuis drops back closer to Frenkie who can play in the Ajax midfielder. With Witsel pulled into that zone, Frenkie can come up – leaving De Bruyne behind – and again creating a man more situation. Holland kept on playing this cat and mouse game, luring the Belgium forwards to try and take the ball, without success.

In this situation, Frenkie dropped all the way back to a central defender’s role, luring De Bruyne with him. Berghuis and Klaassen are behind the Belgium controllers, who feel to be in … well… control. But when Berghuis drops deep to receive the ball, he has the freedom of midfield, allowing him to turn and pick his pass. Memphis was already on his bike. As Van Gaal said: “We always have the free man.”

Making Belgium believe they’re in control

Berghuis finding the space….

…and the pass

In the final third, Oranje did similar things: Blind and Dumfries kept the pitch wide and their movements kept at least two opponents busy. The four attacking players (Bergwijn, Depay, Berghuis, Klaassen) kept on changing positions, making the central defenders of Belgium nauseous.

Berghuis as right winger…

Berghuis’ heat map covered practically the whole pitch, as you can see in the following screen shots. Due to his movement, he always found time and space for the forward pass. The yield of his passing was a tad disappointing, with the only success the assist for the 0-2.

Berghuis as #10

Berghuis as left midfielder

Most of the stats show that Berghuis and De Jong were the two key players in Van Gaal’s plan to win the Battle of Midfield, versus Belgium. Only Blind and De Jong created more chances (4 vs 3 for Berghuis). Memphis had more shots (3) on target than Berghuis (2). Frenkie, Virgil and Daley Blind played more passes than Berghuis (44), who was subbed after 82 minutes.

Wednesday, Oranje plays Wales, in Cardiff. The Welshmen has just qualified for the World Cup by beating Ukraine 1-0. The Welsh Dragons will have some celebrations in the legs and might not play their best eleven. Good outlook for Oranje, in other words.

Tough to predict our line up. I think Cillesen will play 2 matches and Flekken will play 2.

I think we will see:

Flekken

Hateboer – De Ligt – De Vrij – Ake – Malacia

Koopmeiners – Berghuis

Lang

Memphis – Bergwijn

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Strong Oranje beats weak Belgium

We need to be honest. Before this Derby Of the Lowlands, the stories coming from both camps already seemed to predict what was going to happen.

The Belgium camp (Kevin de Bruyne) clearly wasn’t keen to play these 4 Nation League games after the long season most players had. Questions about the playing calendar, comments about the lack of real necessity of these matches…. And understandable. Belgium as a National Team stands firm. Martinez has been around for years. Our Southern neighbours are a settled team. It’s clear how they play and they already have several tactical systems in their backpack.

Louis van Gaal himself sang the Dutch anthem before the match

So different from the Dutch camp, which has been infused with a sense of urgency by Coach van Gaal who blew up the importance of these games for the Dutch. Not because of the Nations League trophy, but because Van Gaal sees it as the first prep period for the World Cup. And with Van Gaal as a relatively new coach this time, with his ideas of implementing a different system ( 3-4-3 instead of 4-3-3) and the fact that not all positions are certain yet, these 4 Nations League games will be considered as really necessary.

It was noticeable in the match. Yes, Belgium started spritely, they had some threatening attacks, culminating in the rocket smashing onto the upright by left wingback Castagne who repeatedly benefitted from Dumfries swashbuckling runs.

But one they lost Lukaku (Ake fell on his ankle after a Lukaku push… karma is a bitch) and saw a couple of great chances for Oranje, the Belgiums seems to give up. The shoulders dropped, the midfield couldn’t get close to our players and the veteran defenders started to make error after error.

Berghuis should have scored after 15 minutes, facing Mignolet. Memphis got a sweet volley chance, which just missed the goal, while Daley Blind had a good effort on goal after a brilliant Berghuis pass to Memphis who found his former Mancunian team mate on the edge of the box.

Holland could have been 0-3 up by then and all Belgium could do was a De Bruyne free kick on target after a rash Timber foul. Cillesen could easily collect the ball.

Oranje could smell blood. For sure, players like Van Dijk, Blind, De Jong and Memphis will have sensed that this Belgium was second-best in everything. Led by a Frenkie on overdrive, Oranje hunted for that goal.

It was no coincidence that Spurs man Stevie Bergwijn scored the opener. Always moving between the lines, always available, he was found by Frenkie with a short forward pass. The ex PSV forward took a touch to turn and found the goal without looking up: 0-1.

Oranje was almost able to score a second soon after, when the ref pointed to the spot for an alleged handball, but the VAR was able to dispel that notion: the ball hit the defender in the face, not on the arm: no penalty.

The usual question arose: was Holland playing so well, or was Belgium playing so weak. Probably a bit of both. The Dutch tactics Van Gaal came up with for this match worked wonders. Initially, it was Castagne on the left who had the better of Dumfries and after 20 mins or so, Van Gaal instructed the Inter wing back to be less adventurous to quiet the Leicester City man.

With Davy Klaassen on the #10 position, Van Gaal wanted him to make it hard for De Bruyne to dominate the game. The result was a less attacking Klaassen. Instead we got the fighting, duelling, battling and hoovering Klaassen. Never shining brightly, but oh so very important.

Berghuis played next to Frenkie. A bit deeper. But with the freedom to roam and support the attack. As Van Gaal said before the match: “Berghuis is my creative player. He can go wherever he wants.” And thus, we saw a deep lying Berghuis pass some great balls to the forwards – he created Memphis’ 0-2 for instance – or he himself came into scorings positions. The first one, I mentioned. He also had a shooting opportunity which sailed over the bar. His third attempt ended up at the feet of Blind who found his wing back partner Dumfries for the 0-3.

At that point, The Netherlands ruled the roost. Van Dijk and Ake were solid as a rock. Blind played his usual strong passing game, Timber might have put his hat in the ring for the right CB spot, while Frenkie de Jong payed at his regal best.

Memphis and Bergwijn upfront were unplayable for the older Belgium defence. They were constantly on the move, threatening and playing in between the lines. Memphis started slow, but grew into the game and ended up scoring one more in Oranje than a certain Patrick Kluivert. “Robin van Persie, here I come” was the message of the Barca forward.

Van Gaal didn’t see the need to change much. Ake was subbed after 75 minutes due to rhythm issues (the Feyenoord developed talent was informed by Man City that he is allowed to look for a new club… Newcastle United is a strong candidate).

Oranje could have gone further than 0-4. As said, the first half chances could have made it 0-7 and if Holland pushed really hard, they might have gotten more goals in the second half too. But, the friendly vibe between the players probably resulted in Van Dijk putting the foot on the brake, but not before he himself launched a long ball towards the sprinting Blind, who smartly took a position in between right back Meunier and centre back Aldeirwereld. The latter didn’t even see the Ajax man and his smart header was perfectly controlled by Memphis who didn’t hesitate: 0-4.

The Belgium team fought for a consolation goal and after a chalked off attempt for off side, it was Batshuayi who knicked one for Belgium: 1-4.

Obviously, the home fans booed their players off the pitch, whereas the Dutch were glowing with pride. After 25 years, Holland won a Derby of the Low Lands in Belgium. About time.

Van Gaal was particularly happy with the way they played and he was overly positive and complimented his players. “It was a joy to watch. Everything we discussed, everything we worked on and practiced worked out. The midfield positions, the movement of the forwards, the organisation at the back. Every single player was outstanding.” Asked about the key players, he smiled broadly and said: “Stevie Bergwijn! It’s unbelievable. He scored 5 out of the last 8 goals for us. He is so good in what he does. And Frenkie. But Frenkie… he is always good. I also thought Berghuis played a great game. But… they all did.”

Berghuis was not surprised with the way Oranje played: “I am not surprised no, because I know how good we can be. On a day like this, when it all clicks, we can reach this level. I know this. We need to find ways to always get to this level, which is the hard bit. I am not unhappy, far from it, but I do think I should have scored. That is a blemish on this match for me.”

Stevie Bergwijn was asked why he can perform like this in Oranje and not in London. “This coach believes in me. He has a role for me that works for me, I can play my game and I know what I can do. I feel really good here.”

Daley Blind had two assists in this game and created four chances for the team. He was key to Oranje’s attacking game. He opened his press talk by saying: “See? You don’t need to be fast to go deep!” This resulted in some belly laughs among the press. It was not a coincidence that both Dumfries and Blind were present for that third goal. When Berghuis shot on goal, both wing backs were already on the same level as the midfielder, ready to pick up a loose ball.

Daley Blind: “There is always that debate, whether this is a more defensive or offensive system. With Denzel playing higher on the right side, we can mix it up. He can go deep with his speed, I tend to play to the level of the box and try to get on the ball there. We sometimes slow the game down and try to just pass the ball around. This is not because we don’t want to attack. It’s the other way around: we do this, so we can explode into attack. We try to lure the opponent, we maybe put them to sleep a bit only to recognise where the space opens up and then an acceleration of the play gives us the attacking option.”

With the assist on the second Memphis goal, Blind demonstrated that speed is not always key. The moment you leave is key, the direction of the run is key (in between two defenders) and some spacial awareness to know where your team mates are is helpful too. Daley Blind running deep and heading an assist to the striker, is not a footballing situation you’d relate to the 32 year old. With Blind, it’s not about speed, but all about football intelligence.

Louis van Gaal is a happy man. He always speaks of Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben as the three key players he had for the 2014 World Cup. In this Nations League game, it seems the trio of Berghuis, Bergwijn and Depay have taken over these roles. Long may it last.

Jasper Cillesen – 7,5

First half build up passing could have been better. Second half, the Valencia goalie had one horrific build up pass but he also stopped some decent attempts on goal. His distribution improved. It seems Flekken, Bijlow and Cillesen will be slugging it out.

Nathan Ake – 7,5

He had one slip up in the first half, but played strong on the ball and very tight defensively. His starting berth in the team is not far away as a left CB.

Virgil Van Dijk – 7.5

Played like a rock. Supreme in the air. With a nice long pass to pre-assist Memphis’ second goal.

Jurrien Timber – 7

Played good, dribbles easily into midfield. Reads the game well but still has the odd rash challenge, in this match allowing Kevin de Bruyne a free kick from a dangerous spot.

Denzel Dumfries – 6,5

Had to slow his marauding runs a bit to keep track of Castagne. His hard feet resulted in some mediocre crosses from the right (one ball hit hard to Bergwijn at hip height) but always alert and on the front foot to score a goal.

Daley Blind – 8

Faultless game by Blind. Strong in possession, alert without the ball. Excellent distribution and two assists for the Ajax man.

Frenkie de Jong – 8,5

Played like a Roman emperor. Everything was his. Glided past players as if they didn’t exist. Always on the front foot, always driving forward.

Steven Berghuis – 7,5

Had some key passes (for the 0-2 for instance) and some great attempts, although he should have scored at least one. His distance strike resulted in Dumfries 0-3. Was available always, recycled the ball well and was alive constantly. With a goal, he would have scored an 8.

Steven Bergwijn – 8

Constantly on the move, constantly a threat. Always finding pockets of space and the most likely to open the score, which he did with a glorious goal. Ajax’ mission to sign him just got harder.

Memphis Depay – 8

Like Bergwijn, always a threat. Strong on the ball, aware of his team mates. Cool as a cucumber face to face with Mignolet and adding two more to his total tally.

Your views?

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Van Gaal’s plans for Oranje

In the seven international games under Van Gaal since his return, the former school teacher played the usual 4-3-3 with one holding mid and two attacking midfielders. This, because the players asked him to play this way. The coach realised he wasn’t going to drill a new system in, in the limited time available. Now, the coach claims to have the time and he announced to go into an intense week, in which he would practice the 5 at the back concept. A practice week disturbed by a positive Covid test by the coach himself.

Three experts on the system change.

Pierre van Hooijdonk ( formally of NAC, Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Vitesse, Feyenoord and Fener. Played 46 international games for Oranje): “We don’t need to stick to that so-called Dutch School. It’s naive to think the 4-3-3 is the only way to win. We won the 1988 Euros with a 4-4-2 system. I think 5-3-2 is a very good system too, and we might have the players for that. We don’t have top wingers anymore, but we do have good wingbacks, good central defenders. And 3-4-3 is also an option, with three forwards.”

Ronald de Boer *(formally of Ajax, Barca and Rangers, played 67 international games for Oranje): “I think we should stop thinking we need to dominate matches. You do need your identity and a system you can fall back on, but coaches like Pep Guardiola also adapt their system to what the opponent can do. Man City at times plays with 3 at the back or an extra midfielder. With Oranje, there is less time to work on a system. so it’s useful to zoom in on where the weakness of the opponent is. Is this with two strikers and wingbacks, sure, do that. Why not? I always look at “how can I win this match?”. The way Benfica beat Ajax, that is something we should learn from!”

Hans Kraay JR (ex defender of De Graafschap, Den Bosch, Telstar, Brighton and Hove Albion): “If playing 4-3-3 works for the team, why change? I do get that we have great central defenders and no real right winger but I would simply play 4-3-3. Keep it simple.”

This is the way Oranje beat Norway in the key match securing the World Cup ticket. Bijlow, De Vrij and Berghuis weren’t available, so Van Gaal played with Cillesen, De Ligt and Bergwijn.

At the last presser, Van Gaal started to talk about the reversed triangle. He talks about the forward line of the 3-5-2 which he used in Brazil 2014. In the image below we can see how that worked in the match versus Spain. Of that squad, only Daley Blind, Stefan de Vrij, Jasper Cillesen, Clasie, Wijnaldum and Depay are still squad members.

We had two oldies up front, Van Persie and Robben and oldie Sneijder right behind them for his passing. Van Persie was the shrewd distractor for Robben’s runs. Blind and Janmaat were the wingers.

Another option is the square, which Chelsea uses. Van Gaal is clearly a Tuchel fan and mentioned them a number of times in his press conference as an example. Below is the line up Tuchel used in the CL finals versus Man City. In Oranje, Memphis could be the striker, with Wijnaldum and Danjuma or Lang or Berghuis or Gakpo behind him. Malacia on the left, Dumfries on the right and Frenkie and Koopmeiners in the engine room, for instance.

As we have seen at Atalanta and Barcelona, both Koopmeiners and Frenkie can also play in a more forward role.

Lets check the Tuchel way and how he inspires Van Gaal. Van Gaal: “I don’t want to play with 5 defenders at the back. Many teams play like this and you invite the attack of the opponent. The way I want to execute it is more like Chelsea does it. Pressure on the ball. Sometimes, provocative pressing.”

Van Gaal has three reasons to zoom in on the Chelsea way of playing.

1 Circle Pressing

Van Gaal uses the Norway match as example. “Against Norway, we decided to press around the mid circle which gave us space behind their back line to use our speed.”

This is what Van Gaal calls the provocative press. With total high press, the pressure starts at the edge of the box of the opponent. With circle pressing, you start the press around the mid circle. Hence the name.

With three central defenders it is easy to cover the central axis of the pitch. In a 4-3-3 you’d have six players in the axis ( two central defenders, three midfielders and a striker), whereas in a 3-4-3 it’s eight players ( three defenders, two controlling mids, two attacking mids and a striker).

Chelsea demonstrates how they use their systems in a flexible way. Around the mid circle, the team is organised from a 3-4-2-1 system (See above) but once they end up on their own half, they go 5-4-1. This system allows the defenders to press forward. Playing against Chelsea “between the lines” is hard, as there will always be a defender ready and able to pick you up.

Chelsea’s 5-4-1 on their own half….

2 Central Defenders.

Van Gaal thinks this system was made for the current Oranje squad. “I try to use players in their strength, not their weakness. With the qualities we have, it screams for a 5-3-2 variant. My players weren’t ready for it, but now they will be.” Van Gaal sees it well, with Van Dijk, De Vrij and De Ligt we have world class defenders. Nathan Ake is a valued defender at Man City, while Joel Veltman plays everything for Brighton. Sven Botman won the French title last season and Pascal Struijk is impressive at Leeds. In the Eredivisie, players like Timber, Schuurs, Blind, Teze and Geertruida are options. And even Koopmeiners and Frenkie de Jong can play at the back. The reason to go for 5-3-2 now is different than it was in 2014. Back then, Van Gaal did mention he used the system to have less defensive duties for this (older) forwards while shoring up the relatively inexperienced defence.

Now, it would be a system of luxury for us.

Keeping the width and the designated areas to be populated…

Van Gaal is not sure about the actual execution. “I think we will play with three defenders and four “flat” midfielders, which allows for the ideal press. Up top, we might play with one 10 and two strikers or one striker and two half 10s behind the striker. The coming games will demonstrate what works best.” Van Gaal wants six or seven “loyal” players, supporting the creative ones like Memphis and Gakpo.

Important to note: Van Gaal always wants a left footed central defender in the line up, so its seems he is not thinking about Van Dijk – De Vrij – De Ligt. In his view, Ake or Blind will be playing that left central position.

3. Wingers

Ever since his return to Oranje, Van Gaal laments the lack of real wingers. And he’s referring to the types of Van ‘t Schip, Overmars or Andy van der Meyde. Players who take on their man and go to the byline to cross a ball into the box.

Van Gaal hails this generation of players for their professionalism and focus but also sees he misses attacking power. In the five big competitions, it’s not easy to find Dutchies. Weghorst, Malen, Memphis and Danjuma are all starters or close to being starters and they all play central striker or in a two striker system. Bergwijn is benchwarming at Spurs, while right winger Berghuis plays on 10 for Ajax. Gakpo hammers on the door as a left winger and Noa Lang is also more comfortable on the wing, but they are all players with a tendency to come centrally. Which is exactly how Van Gaal wants it in his 3-4-3.

Tuchel plays according to the Dutch School at Chelsea, creating the free man in midfield. He uses his wingbacks as the only players on the wing, to keep the pitch wide and long. Chelsea has four midfielders close together on the pitch. Together with three defenders, they play with seven players close to each other, players who are all very good in confined spaces.

Pep Guardiola and his analysis: “Why does Chelsea play so good? They have three central defenders and two holding mids close to one another. Really close. And they keep the pitch wide with their wingbacks. And they have depth, with the speed of Werner or Lukaku in behind. You can’t keep the pitch small against Chelsea. They will push you both in width and in depth. And they have amazing players in the engine room. It’s so hard to play against them.”

Up top, Van Gaal keeps his options open but the 3 at the back and the 4 in midfield seem to be settled on.

Chelsea uses the reverse triangle against teams that want to build up from the back. Against teams like Liverpool, Brighton or Man City, they use this to put pressure on, as you can see below. The opponent uses two central defenders and a holding mid to find the way forward. By using this pressure system, the opponent is forced to open up and build up on the wings.

Chelsea can change system without a problem. From 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. Depending on how the opponent want to play. Tuchel has response for them all. It’s very likely that Van Gaal will copy this for Oranje.

These two friendlies, we will see the first glimpses of this system. I think we won’t bother with the results, so much, although I do think we’ll beat England and draw against Denmark. Will be good to see Eriksen play again ( if he does).

Expect a line up like this for Denmark. Flekken is a cert, I also believe Koopmeiners will play. Van Gaal is a fan of the Atalanta midfielder. Danjuma and Memphis up top.

NOTE: Jordan Teze, Cody Gakpo and Jurrien Timber will not play due to fitness issues.

If this line up works well versus Denmark, expect Flekken to keep his spot and expect Malacia and  Klaassen to come in versus England. I also expect Malen to get playing time probably in place of Memphis, who just returned to fitness.

 

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Van Gaal: stronger dan ever…

He was retired. But can football animals like him ever retire? “I had my fill of club coaching. It’s very intense. And when you coached Ajax, Barcelona, Bayern and Man United, what is left? I never seriously considered Italian or French clubs, as I strongly believe one needs to be able to communicate in detail and I don’t speak Italian or French. But I had a list. Whenever a national team on my list would become available, I would consider it. Truus (Louis’ wife) knew this.”

And The Netherlands was on the list. “Well, initially not. Because I had coached Oranje twice already and it felt like they were on a roll under Koeman. When he left for Barca, the KNVB came to talk to me but I felt it wasn’t the right time. Some players expressed their doubts about me, so I decided not to meet with the KNVB. When Frank de Boer quit and the team was already 2 points down in the World Cup qualifiers, well… I decided I’d do it, if the players would accept me.”

That was a key point for Van Gaal. The former AZ title winner wanted to speak to the key players before he’d come to the table for formal negotiations. “Everyone knows I can be rigid and stern, when it comes to rules. Off the pitch, but also on the pitch. Can they handle me. Do they want this?”

Louis van Gaal looked forward to doing his trick one more time. Despite having to come back from behind in the campaign, Van Gaal managed to win the group with Oranje, even though it had to come in the final match vs Norway.

He had done it so often. Riding the bike after practice, and then swinging his leg over the saddle, to dismount while still moving. The classic way Dutch people are learned to dismount their bike. “But this time, it was slippery. The path was wet, there were wet leaves. I did my usual swing, only to slip dramatically on the surface and I fell. Hard. And I couldn’t get up. There was some panic and two people were needed to lift me up. A small hip fracture, directing the practice sessions from a golf buggy and coaching the final game from a wheel chair. No matter, Oranje qualified.

Looking back, Louis doesn’t want pity. “I fell off my bike. It happens. There are millions of people with way more severe issues. It’s part of life. Like dying is also part of it. The older you get, the more issues you will have, physically. And you need to learn how to deal with it. And if you can’t deal with it anymore, you take the exit. Euthanasia, yes. I have organised that for myself already. I don’t think I fear death, at least… not now. But I might, once it comes closer, I guess.”

Van Gaal’s death is probably still a way ahead in time. He feels fit. Top fit, despite the hip issue. “I am so looking forward to the World Cup. It will be amazing. Despite the fact it is in Qatar, which is a problem. All these deaths and accidents with the labourers there, it’s terrible. But despite this, I still look forward to it. I don’t think player and coaches should be used to make waves about this. That is lazy. I think the FIFA, the suits, the media need to address this.” But the former Bayern meister-macher realises that his name and face are more impactful than that of Gijs de Jong (who? Gijs de Jong). “What is happening and has happened there cannot be justified. It’s terribe. But I am not the man to start a movement. We might participate in a social project in Qatar, yes, but not more. It’s sad, because there are way more countries where one couldn’t play if the human rights are taken seriously. I mean, China? Turkey? Even the United States!”

The Dutch team in Qatar. We have a hungry squad, but we also lack top quality. “Maybe individually, but we need to find the solution in becoming the strongest team. Just like we did in 2014. That is a really cool process to manage and I know how to do it.” He did say he was the ideal candidate, after De Boer quit the job. Megalomaniac? “Apparently, it’s not done to say this. But I say it. You know why? Because it’s the truth!”

Ever since he started, he is enjoying himself immensely. “It’s quite simple: this is a very professional squad. I don’t think I ever worked with a group this self motivated and professional. I applaud them regularly. In 2000 and before, football was a hobby turned serious. Now, the players see it as their craft. They focus on statistics, on nutrition, on mental aspects. I am deeply impressed and being their coach is way easier than I expected. They also manage that group feel, themselves. They plan stuff, activities and are very inclusive. They have a large lounge, with multiple tv screens, they talk, they play games, they watch sports. In the olden days, I noticed some players would always find the solace of their private room. That is happening less and less.”

“Normally, I would be too old for this job. But I am fit, which is a gift. Then I see the fact I was asked back as a the second gift, but the biggest gift of them all is the mentality of this squad. Their accountability, their openness and professionalism.”

“They” say that Van Gaal has mellowed. Maybe gotten a tad more emotional. “I was always emotional. I was better at hiding it, in the past. I would focus my attention elsewhere. You could see some wet eyes, but no tears. Now, I am less focused on covering it up. I am also less agitated by the media. I mean, I still see and hear things that make me cross, but I tend to let more go. But in my vision, I am still super sharp and edgy.”

Enjoying the B-squad before Montenegro

After the unfortunate 2-2 vs Montenegro, he wasn’t angry or negative about this team. That seems like Van Gaal has indeed softened. “Well, you need to look at the circumstances. Does it work in my benefit when I scold the players publicly? And blame them? The players were all gutted. Do you want me to add to their woes? I wouldn’t have done that in my first year at Ajax, back in the early 90s. That would be bad management.”

The Norway game, the final one, was supposed to make it abundantly clear: Oranje is the best in the group. But the first half was a chore to watch. “Tactically phenomenal! That is what I told them in the break. We played ever so well in controlling the match. The only problem: we couldn’t score. The goals came in the second half, though and thus we qualified. I came in and the rules and ideas of Frank de Boer were still implemented. I wanted more clarity. The players asked for this as well. And not just the principles for on the pitch, also off the pitch. I grew up in the 1950s and 60s with tough love and discipline. For me, these values and norms are normal.”

How can you monitor that? “You can see it in all their behaviours. Will they be on time, for a session with the physio or the doctor. Or with me. My approach is and has always been the total human. I have my vision but I also look at the impact I have on players. My vision is unchanged but it has evolved, like me. I think I have become softer towards the outside world, and yes, also the media. And in real life, I hear this a lot… “Oh, I thought you were bossy and arrogant, but you’re a nice man”, hahaha. You see?”

You never cared much about what the media said… “But I do, and did. I always hear I am arrogant and dictatorial. But I’m not actually. I’m the opposite. But I do have an opinion, and I’m not stupid. In some cases, with some media, yes, I have thought “how on Earth do they come up with this drivel” but I won’t change who I am for that. I just put it aside and get on with it.”

With second wife Truus…

What are your thoughts now, regarding the Oranje system? “I will make some changes. One thing I always get, when I mentioned the 1-5-3-2 is that it is defensive. I don’t agree. But to make it easier on the media, I will from now on call it 1-3-4-3 which is the same, depending on the emphasis. It sounds more attacking.”

One of the trends he spotted is the more and more defensive tactics from teams playing against Dutch opponents. “Take Ajax in the Eredivisie. If a coach from the opposing team plays attacking and open football, he’ll lose 7-0. If the coach plays compact, Ajax gets into trouble. While Ajax has a top team with top players, but it’s hard, even for a well gelled team like Ajax. At the World Cup, it’s about winning. We will play the tactics that will give us the best odds to win. Look at our defenders! We have 5 or 6 top defenders! I rate Ake, Timber, Blind as top notch defenders too, and you can add Schuurs, Struijk, Botman and more! So why wouldn’t I use three of our top centre backs? I want my squad to play to its strength. We have world class defenders and world class midfielders. We don’t have a true Van Gaal striker (Kluivert, Lewandowski) and we lack wingers who can take on defenders inside and outside. So my choices are logical. And Berghuis, he was a key player for us. At Ajax, he plays on the 10 spot now. If he does this all year long, I might have a problem on the right wing. I don’t think a player should play on a position at a World Cup where he hasn’t played all year. And so on and on….”

Talking about Oranje’s chances at the World Cup. “We will go for the title! Of course we will. We are not going to the World Cup to be happy with a quarter final spot. We want to go all the way. It’s my biggest ambition, after everything I have won in my career. And I have demonstrated I can win trophies. We need to be aware that at the World Cup, the best team will win. Not the best individuals. How many World Cups have Messi and C Ronaldo won? Right. So we need to forge the best team. And then you need a bit of luck with your draw and you need the top guys to be fit and in form. If we can have all that, we can win it. But I am not saying we must win it. You cannot say that. For me, as a coach, it’s about two things: you have to have leadership / managerial skills and you need to understand the game. I think I have both. All the ingredients are there. Now lets hope our key ingredients: our players, will remain fit.”

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Van Gaal makes his own rules…

The Dutch internationals stumble over each other when they need to talk about the “vibe” in the squad. They’re all mates, they play games together, go on holidays together and in these modern times, players of Ajax are best buddies with players of Feyenoord… Gone are the times when Cruyff and Co sabotaged PSV goalie Van Beveren and playmaker Van der Kuylen… This unity doesn’t result in invincibility, as the Montenegronians (??) have experienced, but Norway has noticed that after one slip, the homogene character of the squad can be re-established swiftly.

Everything that went wrong in Podgorica went well in De Kuip. Wijnaldum told of text messages stating that he “should quickly forget about that dreadful match and move on” but Gini didn’t want to know about it. He was very happy with the focused and frugal performance of his team. Mature, he called it. Result before beauty.

Van Gaal made his entry into the squad some three months ago, knowing that the players initially didn’t want him. He decided to listen. To open up to the wishes of the players. What system did the players prefer? What positions do they want to play? That worked in his favour. Players felt heard. And after his first international weekend, Van Gaal did what he always does: he went his own way.

Bergwijn told Van Gaal he didn’t want to play on the right wing. Fine. But Van Gaal used him on the right versus Norway, and the Spurs forward was Man of the Match. Lang told Van Gaal he was able to play right winger but the Brussels star was tested and Van Gaal immediately added him back into the queue for the left wing.

Van Gaal knows that the players want 4-3-3 but the wily coach knows that Oranje isn’t good enough and additional securities are needed. Also, when you do have three top notch central defenders while doubting your forwards, the 5-3-2 is a logical go-to scenario.

Van Gaal introduced a new term (for the Dutch at least): “Provocative Pressing”. Which means: dropping back a little, allowing them a feel of comfort, give them some time on the ball, but when they get into a particular situation (for instance, an opponent gets a hospital ball, or is played in badly, or is isolated), the Dutch pounce on them like a pack of wolves. This as opposed to counter football (…) or the high press (Man City, Ajax, Liverpool).

Van Gaal believes that the result was key, in this qualification campaign. He started with a deficit, as Oranje lost under De Boer away in Turkey. “I will worry about the quality of the performances later, now it is all about results.”

Van Gaal did what he needed to do. Firstly, he got the confidence of the players. Secondly, he brought a bit of vibe back which seemed lost under De Boer. He did so by listening to the players and giving them initially what they wanted. Van Gaal will have seen however, that this Oranje struggles against weaker opponents (limited spaces) and plays well against stronger teams ( Italy in Bergamo, under De Boer or England in the nations league under Koeman). When there is space, we have the goods. We have speed and vision to work with that. But our world class is at the back, with Van Dijk, De Vrij, De Ligt and De Jong.

Van Gaal has a window in March and in June to play and work on his team. In March, it’s friendlies and in June it’s the new Nations League campaign. And before the Qatar WC, there is one week of prep. “I know exactly how I will use that time and I have already informed my players.”

So what to expect? When the Norwegians went looking for a goal at 1-0, Van Gaal switched to a 5-3-2 (bringing Ake) and immediately space opened up for Memphis and Bergwijn. Van Gaal can indeed gel two or three systems in the team. With the arrival of Gakpo and Danjuma, more options open up. We can play with forwards who want the ball to feet (Berghuis, Gakpo) or with forwards who will go deep (Bergwijn, Danjuma). With Memphis as #9 and Weghorst as pinch hitter, there are options.

Towards the World Cup, there are some decisions to be made.

The goalie. It seemed Bijlow was the #1 but with Cillesen becoming available and pinching the spot ahead of Flekken and Krul it is interesting to see how both rivals will fare in their upcoming matches.

Blind seems to be Van Gaal’s pick for the left back position but it seems Malacia and Wijndal will slug it out for the other opening.

On the right Dumfries is the main man, and Van Gaal used “inner circle” subs to replace any other candidates, leaving Rick Karsdorp out in the cold. That might well chance, depending on the development of Rensch.

In midfield, there will be a spot for Van de Beek should he return to weekly football as he does have something special. Klaassen seems to get closest to that particular profile but in my view, Donny is a tad better than Klaassen.

On the wings, as said before, Louis is able to match and mix a bit, with Lang and Malen also still options.

Do we see any other players now that are so remarkable that they should have a shot? Kenneth Taylor? Pascal Struijk? Bakker of Leverkusen? Geertruida as right back? Let me hear your thoughts…

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Pressing Masterclass by Louis van Gaal

Michels was known to be a burly, surly man. Never a smile. Never a kind word. A disciplinarian. But in his final days as a coach (1988 and 1992) he suddenly emerged as a charmer. An amateur opera singer and a funny guy. He softened up a bit and the world was witness to it.

Louis van Gaal always said Michel was his great example. And like Rinus, Van Gaal is now working on his last (??) trick and guess what: the stern school teacher has become funny, open, generous and warm. What age can do…

The Dutch started their fore-checking – as we called it back then – in the 1970s and it has always been part of the game plan, albeit never continiously. The Germans called it gegenpressing and there are different terms to explain what it is and how it works.

Van Gaal calls it Total Pressing and after the Turkey game he complimented his team: “it is remarkable what they have done. They played total pressing for 90 minutes! And my subs did the same thing. They came into the team and the flow was never paused or anything. I am very proud of my players.”

When asked what Total Pressing is, he was quite brief. “Simple, you play the high press everywhere on the pitch.”

Van Gaal’s Total Press can be seen in two typical situations: when Turkey has the ball or when Oranje looses possession. “The turnaround was managed perfectly,” Van Gaal added.

Look at how the first goal happened. Where the German coaches never seem to care too much about the opponent, when they start the press, Louis is different and ordered his men to play man-to-man in the situation of a press. Three players focus on the ball but the rest of the team (Mempgis, Klaassen, Frenkie) all make sure they cover a Turkish option, making it even harder for the Turks to find a way out.

Van Gaal’s total press concept is more based on the Argentinian school of Bielsa and Pochettino than the German School.

Look at the actions on the other wing.

The Turks are put under pressure on the flank and a bunch of Orange wolves immediately focused on putting all relevant opponents under pressure. This is how Oranje was able to suffocate all potential counter attacks.

Every time Turkey had time on the ball, the options in the centre of the park were covered off, forcing them to go to the wings, where the pack of Orange wolves would immediately force them to turn over the ball.

Optically, the press didn’t appear aggressive. This is because Van Gaal didn’t want to pressure the goalie. This would force him to go long, and Van Gaal wanted him to build up from the back. Interestingly, De Boer played 4-3-3 in the Turkey away game and statistically, it seems our press was more successful in that game. The Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) was only 8,4 in the De Boer managed match, and 13.1 in the Van Gaal led game. This image below explains it somewhat.

De Boer instructed Malen to stay close to the right CB forcing the Turks to build up via their right full back. He became the free man.

And it was left back Wijndal’s task to pick up that right back while left central defender Blind was going to take on the Turkish right winger, which resulted in a one v one situation in our defence.

What you see here, is that Wijndal repeatedly was high up on the pitch, sprinting towards his man. This aggressive variant meant that the Turks couldn’t really use their passing game to build up. Under De Boer the Dutch were more successful breaking up the passing, than the Van Gaal Oranje team. But… this forced the Turkish goalie to go long and both Yilmaz and Karaman won five aerial battles for the ball, and this resulted in danger as Oranje played 3 v 3 at the back. In other words, the Turkish coach found a way to undo De Boer’s battleplan.

And it would immediately be “all hands on deck” as our defensive organisation was immediately shot and our midfield couldn’t track back fast enough. The 3rd and 4th Turkish goal both came from a long ball up the park and with our defenders and midfielders unable to deal with it.

Van Gaal learned the lesson. He took way less risk on the flanks with the press.

This moment above shows Turkey trying to play out of the Dutch pressure. A couple of differences with the De Boer tactics come to mind. In the win over Turkey, we were able to pin their midfielders. Van Gaal didn’t want the Turks to shift the game from left to right. This would give Oranje good opportunities to put pressure on their flank and outnumber them. The second difference is the position of our left winger. Where Malen pushed on the central defender, it is here Bergwijn in that role but he is covering the right back and the right centre back by positioning in between them. The third difference being Memphis’ role. He was positioned in front of Soyuncu and not behind him. Memphis didn’t mark him, but simply stopped the pass into him. Turkey was forced to build up using Demiral, a lesser passer.

And another example of the changes, you can see above. Blind in the left back role stayed in his zone, instead of Wijndal in the away game who abandoned that zone. In combination with Virgil’s aerial strength, the Turkish long balls never really got us in trouble.

Another example. No pressure on the ball, but all passing avenues were shut tight, with Wijnaldum even in front of his man. The only player we wanted to have the ball was right footed left back Muldur.

On that ball was played, the wolf pack would kick into gear. Berghuis covering the forward ball, Memphis covering their libero and Wijnaldum ready to knick the ball away too. There simply was no escape.

At times, the Turks came up with a solution. In the above situation, Demiral drops further deep to make the space between him and the right back to big to cover. Interestingly enough, Davy Klaassen recognises it and points to Bergwijn to drop back. The result: Demiral still can’t build up from the back and is forced to play a risky ball.

Here you can see how fluid we played. Klaassen, Bergwijn and Memphis are now the forward three while Berghuis drops in to support the midfield and Wijnaldum tracks back to support his defenders. Daley Blind has taken over the coaching role from Klaassen and instructs Bergwijn in his movements. Demiral plays the risky ball and Oranje gets possession back because the distances between the players were spot on and the passing lines were interrupted.

Just before the break there was a situation where Blind simply had to step up. Memphis pushed onto Soyuncu and Bergwijn pushed onto Demiral. The midfield was marked so the goalie went for a risky pass to the right wing. Yilmaz had drifted to the left side to give his team options so Blind abandoning his zone was not a highly risky move. Van Dijk moved into the role and allowed Blind to press their right back.

That what was standard under De Boer versus Turkey was just an exception in the Van Gaal tactics.

The important thing for Van Gaal is, making sure the right opponent gets the ball. The goalie, the worst build up player and/or the full backs. The left back of Turkey ended up as the player with the most touches and the lowest pass accuracy. In the away game, he had been the player with the least touches.

Van Gaal didn’t play one v one over the pitch and didn’t let his team hunt for the ball constantly. When the weaker players were on the ball in a particular zone, he would order the press. The players asked for clarity, he said before he started his role in this international break. It seems he gave it to them. That he was able to prep the team according to his principles in a week’s time is quite remarkable.

( data via Opta, images via Instat, thanks to Pieter Zwart of VI Pro)

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Dutch devour Turkish Delight

What a night. We had early goals before (WC finals 1974 anyone?) and it hasn’t always resulted in greatness. This time, things seem different. An early goal. Another goal in the first 15 minutes and a very energetic and focused performance.

Things are taking a turn for the better in LVG’s third spell at the helm.

And what a quality goals they all were! Amazing to see how “question marks” like Berghuis, Klaassen, Dumfries and Bergwijn stepped up to the plate and played their key parts in this wonderful win.

The line up was logical. Van Gaal only put experienced Blind back in for Malacia and used Bergwijn in place of Gakpo on the left. He is clearly cementing his favourite eleven (or fifteen, rather) and slowly but surely his go-to guys are making their mark.

Justin Bijlow will be the new #1, hopefully for years to come. Stefan de Vrij was picked ahead of De Ligt and again he was one of the Men of the Match. De Vrij was solid on the ball, focused in his defending and overall Mr Cool at the back.

Frenkie showed his class as did Memphis again and the Oranje right flank, wanting versus Norway, impressed from the start with Dumfries and Berghuis demonstrating their connection.

But it helps, a goal in the first minute of course. And a quick second – also a beauty – helps even more. Oranje demonstrated their swagger without becoming arrogant.

The pace was good, the creativity was visible more and more and the workrate was just outstanding. If the Dutch can keep this mentality up, we are definitely back!

The criticasters on this blog will probably point out Dumfries “hard feet”, or Berghuis’ risky passing, or Blind’s one moment of lack of concentration (letting the ball slip), but overall, I think we can be happy with the step up Oranje made.

There was one moment in the 65th minute which will have made Van Gaal pissed off. Berghuis has the ball in midfield, there is no movement whatsoever. Dumfries is walking, no runs or options. The ball stays there in that zone. Koopmeiners comes to help, Van Dijk comes to help but between the three they suddenly lose the ball for no reason. We tidied it up, without a problem but that little moment must have angered the gaffer.

Being 4-0 up against 10 men, and then exchanging key players (Frenkie, Wijnaldum) never helps the flow of the game of course but these are little moments that need to be ruled out.

Two more goals (subs Til and Malen) and a horrific scare in the last seconds, when goalie Bijlow makes his only mistake in selling Van Dijk short, allowing Under to score a consolation goal, and an annoying knock for Captain Van Dijk. Van Gaal will not be happy (and neither will Klopp be).

The attacking play was excellent. False striker Memphis was everywhere again, Berghuis and Bergwijn played disciplined on the wings. Dumfries was marauding as per usual and Frenkie and Gini kept ticking things over.

A solid performance allround with some incredible moves and exciting play.

Captain Virgil was happy with the performance. It all seemed to fall into place: “This is what we wanted, and the early goal helps a lot of course. We played with intensity, with focus and it’s wonderful when it all clicks.”

Hattrick hero Memphis was less positive. “I think we did well but I think we have room to grow. And I am talking about myself more than anything. My first touches were poor and I feel there is more in us than we showed. And even though we score 6 and I score 3, we need to keep on focusing on improving because we want to do this against the top nations as well.”

Coach Louis van Gaal was beaming from ear to ear: “We have seen an outstanding performance. This group is so good and so great to work with. They have an opinion, they operate as a group, they welcome new players, it’s quite impressive. This is the best group I’ve ever worked with. And sure, I can see room for improvement. We lost the ball too often and we also didn’t play in a very high pace. Against 10 men you need to up the pace and find the free man, but overall we did play some good football and we scored some amazing goals!”

Van Gaal deserves the Man of the Match award, he clearly did everything right. But of the players on field, for me, Klaassen, De Vrij and Memphis (again) were the pick of the bunch.

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