Tag: Van Gaal

Oranje press masterclass v USA

Louis van Gaal has been talking about his “provocative press” quite often. This works well against teams that are expansive, want the ball and want to attack. It’s not a high press, so much, but a press around the midfield. They make the opponent think they are on top, they have possession but once they come 5 yards or so before the midline, the Dutch press starts. The pitch becomes small and the more intense and more neat ball players will turn the game around.

A couple of things are important: 1) recognising the moment, 2) neat and tidy in the passing, 3) some courage to play the ball one time forward and move forward to offer an option again and 4) understanding of one anothers movements.

Van Gaal also analyses the opponent of course, and the USA do not have the best central defenders, not in terms of defending and not in terms of build up. Adams is their holding mid/playmaker and Van Gaal made Memphis, Klaassen and Gakpo or to Adams. The other two would block the passing lines from the defenders to the wide players, as that is how the USA builds up usually.

This is what LVG wanted: crisp fast passing forward, this is the run up to the 1-0. Amazing team goal.

When you can stop these passes, the danger man – in this case Pulisic – will not get much to play with and will not be able to stamp his authority on the game.

The defensive organisation was superb, and a nice bonus of this way of playing is that the USA is allowing the field to become stretched. The two defenders will not dribble into midfield, so whenever there is a turn-around, the smart players (Frenkie, Koopmeiners, Blind, Ake) will find the space to attack the opponent.

Central defender with the ball, pass lines are closed off. Next step: loss of possession

Look at that first goal we scored. It’s Frenkie probing, turning, trying to find the space. Once he has it, it’s accelerating, it’s one-touch football and Gakpo carrying the ball into the danger area. And Memphis has learned from Messi: don’t run into the box but pause a couple of beats and arrive in the box right in time: 1-0.

And this:

What was quite remarkable too, was the presence of both Klaassen and De Roon in the box ahead of Memphis, which allowed the Barca man to drift to the edge of the box, unmarked, Lionel Messi style.

The second goal was the result of a nice overload, late in the first half. I think it was a second phase attack on the right, with an overload of Oranje players, playing short combinations.

Smart Memphis went to search out Dest, the US right back to keep him busy and distracted, allowing Daley Blind to move into space undetected. It might have been a blessing that Blind had to finish with his weak foot. Sometimes players try to hit the ball too hard with their favourite foot, while they kick a controlled shot with their weak foot.

After his goal, Blind ran to the bench to celebrate with Weghorst (I have yet to find out why) and to have moment with dad.

Yes, it all worked out well but we can’t ignore that Pulisic chance in the 3rd minute, when that same Daley Blind was too lethargic coming out of defence to stay in line with Van Dijk. That almost cost us dearly but goal stopper Noppert saved the day.

I have to say, I was quite suspect of using Noppert but he has completely convinced me. What a story.

This would be the wingbacks game, finally the two wide players got the chance to shine.

Van Gaal assumes Oranje would get more space in the second half, with the USA needing to attack and he brings Koopmeiners and his passing skills and Bergwijn, with his speed. The Atalanta midfielder had a good turn and was close to scoring. Bergwijn had a couple of opportunities but wasn’t sharp enough to turn them into goal chances. It seems Bergwijn needs to shake something off still.

Oranje fails to convert the chances and kill the game, despite more opportunities for Memphis and Blind but when it remains 2-0, USA can still get back into the game and does so through a fluke goal.

The disciplined Dutch do get their third goal, as mentioned, another wingback to wingback opportunity, with Dumfries unmarked at the far post. Typical for a team defending with four at the back, they simply didn’t have enough bodies at the back and looked a mess.

Xavi Simons is the youngst debutant in Oranje, at a World Cup knock out stage. 19 years and something. In the 83rd minute he replaced Memphis. “This is a dream come true!”.

Denzel Dumfries was the Man of the Match, unchallenged. Two assists, one goal and those trade mark marauding runs. It was all rosy after three weak performances in the group. Dumfries: “I can tell you, the criticism hurt. It was not easy for me, mentally. I do have a great team of people around me and they helped me. Since my Sparta days I am working with a sports psychologist. I have had contact with her twice via Zoom during the World Cup. Sometimes this is a taboo but I don’t care. I am super critical on myself, even more so that others. And it affects me But I am super happy with played well and won, even though we can and need to do better. We had to kill the game before they scored. Their goal made things a bit harder.”

Frenkie de Jong is usually one of the best Oranje players, but this time he played a so-so match. “We did allow them the ball and allowed them to move up a bit. This way, there would be more space in their third, which we could penetrate and exploit. I think that worked well. But, we can do better in possession. I was not good today, I was actually quite bad. Not sure, I was flat, missed the energy and was sloppy. I think it might have been that cold I had. But it’s ok, we now have 6 days until the Argentina game, that should be enough.” When talking about the strengths of this team: “We are good in exploiting the spaces, that is a weapon. And that 1-0 move, that was us good in possession. We need more of that.” When asked about playing with Marten de Roon: “I like playing with him, but I can play with others too. You know with Marten, that he will always guard the space, when I roam, he is a certainty for me.”

Louis van Gaal couldn’t help but emphasize that his plan worked: “We were going to allow their two central defenders to build up and just pin their key players further up the field. This allowed us to play our provocative press. And those goals were fantastic, as it all worked out as we planned. That second and third goal: one wingback assisting the other wingback. Amazing. But we need to improve when we are in possession. Without the ball, we can dominate and we are very good, but with the ball, we need to grow. And if you don’t, you won’t win this tournament. Now, I will give my players a day off. I think they will be pretty sick of me by now.”

Some people call this Oranje a counter attacking team, a bit condescendingly (you know who you are Pierre van Hooijdonk) but Davy Klaassen is not ashamed: “Yes, it is one of our strengths. It always sounds so negative, but we have speedy and capable forwards. The 1-0 was amazing and that is how we like to play football. This is how we discuss our game. And today you saw the power of the system we use. But, we do want to play higher up. When players drop in, you need to decide whether you press forward or not. And that needs to be finetuned between the other players as well. But, all in all, the USA didn’t create too many chances. Still, I think we needed to press more aggressive even, we could have done better.”

Blind was asked how it came to be that it worked so well against USA and not in the group games. “When teams play deep and compact, Denzel and I simply don’t get the space we need. It’s hard to go past them. Now, there was space. And when our strikers can hold on to the ball, we can move up and support. And there was space behind their backs, as they also tried to move forward. That is all relevant. In the past group matches we pressed higher up. Which limits our space as well whereas against USA we decided to let them come higher before we pressed. I do think we can improve in that but we got some good results. When you play this system you know you might see less of the ball. But it is effective.”

Blind had to cop some criticism before this match. “I personally believe we tend to focus on the negative too much in Holland. You can do 20 things right, but when you make a mistake, all the focus is on that. It’s a Dutch thing, I think. But we are super critical ourselves as well. We know what needs to improve but you cannot just flick your fingers and there it is. It’s like a jigsaw, you need to find the right pieces that fit together. And when we do what we agree on, we can come a long way.” When the interviewer kept on coming back to the criticism, Blind cut him off: “Lets not make a big thing of it. We won, lets talk about that. I can see many nations trying to find their top level. We are the only country without a loss. I am not claiming we are playing perfect football, I know we need to do better. But if we can’t, we need to stick to the plan and do our job. The criticism is justified at times, but not always.”

This team had some outstanding performers. Noppert needs a mention, because of his saves (playing sweeper at one point), Dumfries as Man of the Match of course, and Daley with a goal and assist. Memphis is clearly getting better and better but the defence deserves a separate mention as well. Van Dijk and Timber played sober, but did everything right, while Nathan Ake is Holland’s most consistent performer this tournament. He is slowly but surely becoming one of the world’s best defenders if he keeps on developing like this. Great player. The modern defender.

All in all, after 90 minutes of play, the USA has had more possession, a higher passing accuracy and more attempts on goal, but the most important statistic – goals – is in for the Dutch.

 

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Oranje taking on the US

My friends, I am moving house this weekend so no long stories. Just some fun tidbits. First some fun news on Pulisic, who is declared fit to play vs The Netherlands.

US coach Gregg Berhalter and players Sergino Dest and Luca de la Torre have well publicised histories in the Netherlands. Dest was born in the Netherlands and almost played for the Oranje, but the Milan star decided to go for the land of his parents. De La Torre played very recently for Heracles Almelo and coach Berhalter spent 6 seasons in Holland as a player. He played for Cambuur and Sparta and with the latter, he beat Louis van Gaal’s Ajax, 1-0 in 1997.

Not a lot of people know that Christian Pulisic played for PSV in 2013. For 2 weeks only. But as you can see below in the same team as Cody Gakpo, his opponent tonight. Pulisic was on trial and impressed PSV mightily. But when Borussia Dortmund offered Pulisic Sr. a job as youth coach on top, the youngster went for the German club.

Van Gaal didn’t give much away in the press conference. It’s everyone’s guess what he’ll do with the line up but I think he’ll use the usual players (no Xavi, no Lang) as he is hoping/working on getting his preferred eleven (13?) to start clicking into gear. He did joke that he heard the Belgium job was available after the World Cup and that his wife, the by know infamous Truus, wouldn’t mind living in Belgium for a spell.

Berhalter too had some fun moments in his presser. He said Van Gaal claimed not to remember losing against Sparta with Berhalter in 1997, but the USA coach thinks Louis was lying. “A guy like him remembers those sorts of things, trust me.” Berhalter has generated heaps of inspiration from his time in Holland. “It was great. What struck me was the after training and matches, players would debate tactics with the coach and everyone in Holland has an opinion. I learned a lot. We had a good striker in Remco Boere, he instructed me exactly how he wanted to crosses. I hit the ball with a lot of effect. He hated that. So I had to adjust.” Berhalter became good friends with current Feyenoord coach Arne Slot. “He was young still, 16 years old when I met him, but it was clear he could become a top coach. He is intelligent, calm and has a great view on football. Passion and intelligence.” He also laughed when asked about the criticism of the fans on Oranje. “That is normal in Holland. They are so critical and vocal. We once were 1-0 down against Ajax away, and the Ajax fans booed their team! You have 16 million national team coaches, right?”

Aaron Johansson and Steven Berghuis at AZ

Former USA international Aaron Johansson remembers his time in Holland as well, the part Icelandic, part American forward played with Steven Berghuis and Davy Klaassen. Injuries made an end to Johansson’s career. “I am not surprised to see Berghuis in Oranje. In fact, I expected him way earlier. He did have a tough time in England I guess, but has the most gifted left foot I ever came across. I am not surprised he is World Cup material. I played with Klaassen at Werder Bremen. Again, not surprised he is in the team. He is so good, his movements and the easy with which he plays. Always simple but always the right pass. Sometimes you don’t realise how good he is. He can make tough things look easy. It’s logical that he is in the line up.”

Johansson ended his statements saying he hopes USA wins 3-2, with a goal by Berghuis and Klaassen.

Why does Virgil van Dijk play as a goalie for Cameroon??

The betting analysts now moved Oranje up to fifth spot to win the World Cup, behind Brazil, Argentina, France, Spain, England and Portugal.

At the last Presser, Van Gaal responded to the criticism his team is receiving.  “Its not new.  I am used to it. I got it in 2014 as well. The players are used to it too. We just do our thing.” On the comments Memphis made, that he prefers to play with Bergwijn next to him and Gakpo behind him. “It’s his right to give his opinion. I don’t mind. It is something we do in The Netherlands. Particularly, in the Netherlands. Is it smart? No, I don’t think so but I can’t blame him for speaking his mind.”

And: “We are now all match fit, for the first time this tournament. We had players like Klaassen, De Roon, Berghuis, De Vrij and of course Memphis not totally 100% but we were able to bring them all to this point.”

I say: 3-1 for Holland. Memphis, Bergwijn and Gakpo scoring.

Interview Frenkie: with English subtitle option

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The Road to Qatar: Memphis believes!

We have seen many posts here on Memphis. About his rise to the top. About his tough childhood. His amazing skills, goals and stats and his incredible outfits. Yes, the latter has been a big thing in Dutch media, because… we have an opinion about literally everything.

The 28 year old is LVG’s hope in fearful days, but since his return after a 2 months absence, he has not been firing on all cylinders yet. Could we actually expect him to? But, Memphis believes he will improve and be ready to step up. “I have proven that I don’t need rhythm or even form, to play well in the next match.”

Oranje had a lot of possession against Qatar, but the ball pace was still too low. This is what made Oranje so wonderful to watch: good pace, lots of positioning chances, adventure, pressure… We didn’t see one decent attack – well maybe we saw a couple but not enough. But, Oranje qualified for the last 16 and is facing Team USA.

“I am very bad at watching a game from the bench. I’m even more nervous than. I don’t get nervous when I play. You have more control. Against Senegal and Ecuador, you see thinks that need to improve, but you can’t improve them. Medically speaking, it was unwise for me to start in those matches, but I always want to start and I can get a bit agitated when I don’t, hahaha.”

He did come on to the pitch, Louis van Gaal adamant to bring Memphis with some caution. “Getting onto the pitch after an hour or so is tough. Really is. The game has a flow, a pace and you need to quickly adapt. And in my role, I am a bit dependent on the balls I get, the way the others can play. Against Senegal, I had 3 touches in 15 minutes. That is debilitating for me. And then in the last stage, the ball comes into space, I can run with it and we end up scoring. Sometimes it works out, sometimes it doesn’t. You simply have less influence when you come onto the pitch in the second half.”

Against Qatar, he started. Finally. After 65 minutes he was rested but had a strong role in both goals. Overall, Van Gaal was high in his praise for Memphis, but the match was again quite disappointing.

Is it possible to play good football and to win?

Memphis: “Oh for sure, but it also depends on …what is good football? Some people love a team that dominates like Barcelona plays. Others like swift counter attacking teams, or teams that really do physical battle. But yes, I think we can all agree our match v Ecuador was below standards. We are all football fans ourselves and we are not satisfied.”

What is the solution?

“That is in the details, it’s subtle. The moments in which you can get away from your marker. Offering yourself as an option at the right moment. Passing lines, blocking them or opening them up. I am a forward, it is not my job to pick up the ball, like Frenkie does. And we need to have all the parts clicking. From the goalie to Virgil, via Frenkie and other players to me or Cody or whoever is up front. We all play our role. And we have lads on the bench who can make a difference still, with weapons we haven’t used yet. I think of Luuk or Noa or Xavi.”

Do you hear the criticism from Holland?

“Nope, I am not on social media during the World Cup. This all goes beyond me. I do that on purpose, to protect myself. I don’t need that info to perform. It’s all noise. I focus on what makes me better. I will hear from our coaches what I need to hear. All that is said and written by others, I try to ignore. I live in a tunnel at the moment.”

Is that easy to do?

“I had to learn that. When I played in England, for Man United, i heard all those things about me and it didn’t help me. At all. I was checking everything and I realised it is not something that works for me. It’s distracting and most of the stuff you read is not even true! The other day, they read that Noa was sent away from training. He came to me and said “why do they write this?” There was no issue, the physio wanted to see his foot and he had to go inside. Noa needs to close himself off from that, it’s a discipline thing. Once we are done in Qatar, I hope after the finals, I will turn my insta back on.”

How is your fitness?

“Well, there is fit and there is match fit. The muscle injury i had after Poland is gone. That happened two months ago and it’s all good now. But that doesn’t mean I am fit to play 90 minutes. You cannot emulate matches at training. As a sub, you do need to train the next day with the lads that didn’t play and that is pretty tough. I need it all to become fit as soon as possible.”

Did you ever doubt you’d be ready?

“Never. We didn’t need to rush anything in my recovery. There was a slight set back early on, and that has somewhat slowed me down, but not much. It is what it is. I never panicked. We had it all under control.”

There is being fit and being in form?

“Yes, but…what is form? You can have a nice period in your career, a flow, things go by themselves. But i can still be decisive for the team even if I am not in good form. I can decide a game in the 90st minute even if I play bad all match. It’s about moments. And I need to be there when my moment comes. That is tournament football. Is there one team that plays consistently good football? No, there are not that many amazing matches, but there are many amazing moments.”

Louis van Gaal basically said “we don’t have a chance without Memphis”. Does that give you additional pressure?

“No not at all. That pressure, I put on myself. Always. I want to be the key man, I want to be decisive for the team. I created those expectations myself. I have 42 goals for Oranje, well… people can expect something from me. And other players will step up too. When Frenkie and I were not there for the Nations League games, we still beat Belgium, right? We won against Senegal and drew versus Ecuador and Cody does the business for us. We will come far, as long as players remain fit.”

You created that level of expectation and if you’re honest, the whole team has done this, as has Louis van Gaal. Shouldn’t we be playing way better?

“Yes, for sure. I think so too and we are confident. No one will be able to convince us we are not good enough. Yes it was not good enough against Senegal and Ecuador, we know. But we did win the group and we are in the last 16 of the tournament. We will grow into this tournament.”

Even in a bad game, we don’t lose. This Oranje refuses to lose?

“Well yes, that is a quality, but it’s not something we want to lean on. We want to attack and win and we want to play better. The thing is, you also have to deal with the strength of the opponent.”

Did we underestimate Senegal and Ecuador?

“Maybe, these nations play different than we do, or than European nations. I remember we played Ecuador in the run up to the WC2014. We played 1-1, as well. I think the current Ecuador is even better. You never win easily against South American teams. We had a hard time beating Mexico in 2014 remember? We were watching Argentina – Mexico  the other day. And we were looking at each other. They were going at it, but the players are all cool with it. It’s there culture. They know they’re going to get kicked, but that is how they play and think: You’ll feel me today!”

is it possible to enjoy a World Cup as a player?

“Oh yes, we watch the games when we can. We follow the big names of course. We love watching Argentina, Brazil, Spain. I could watch football every night, but we also have our meetings and obligations. We have sessions per line, or individual. What is going well, what needs to improve, that sortathing. Discussing it is as vital as practicing it. It takes time but the talks are key. We need them and sometimes we miss a game as a result. A World Cup for us is more than just playing matches.”

In 2014 you were the Xavi Simons. Young, fearless, impatient. Now you are the leader.

“That is the fun thing of a career, all the different stages, the emotion, the pressure, the learning and now the responsibility. I have always wanted the responsibility. And it makes it extra tough when you can’t play due to injury.”

Do you find opponents play differently when you play or don’t play?

“When Frenkie and I are in sync, there is definitely more fear in the opponent and we can tell by how they talk and coach each other on the pitch. But, I don’t see myself as a real striker. I am more a creator and not a finisher. Like Lewandowski is a really killer. That is not me. By the way, super for him to score his WC goal. He is always leading his country and cool for him to go through.”

Do you learn from other strikers?

“For sure. I am not really a killer but I do watch him and learn from his movement and his positioning. The way he takes a ball first time, yes of course.”

For someone who is not a striker, you are close to being Oranje’s all time top scorer, with 42 goals you’re close to Robin van Persie

“That would be history wouldn’t it, a record like that. I have that ambition yes. And I missed the Euro 2016 and the WC in 2018, imagine that. I started to score a lot of goals under Koeman, before that I didn’t even score that much. Records are there to be broken, but let me stop talking and let me reach that number first. It’s not about me, at the end of the day. We want to achieve something special here and for me, it’s just a matter of doing my bit.”

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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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Oranje does what it needs to do

We didn’t expect a glorious performance after the Ecuador game. Just a decent performance, some urgency and no goals conceded and at least one goal scored, is what we wanted. That should be enough.

At half time, the glass is half full for me. De Roon does what he is asked to do. Break up their attack and shield Frenkie. De Roon will not leave the starting line up anymore. Memphis. We need him, a good Memphis. He seemed lethargic v Ecuador but in this first half, Memphis showed an appetite. He played ok but lacks rhythm. Playing him regularly now is smart to get him in form. Gakpo sustains his good form and will be Oranje’s breakout star this tournament.

Blind, Timber and Frenkie play at a decent level. Timber drifted more into miidfield and allowed De Jong to move up a bit more, with the protection of Timber and De Roon in midfield. Klaassen had another assist and that is top, but also had some sloppy touches. Dumfries had a lot of options to make his usual darts but is not making the right choices always and tends to be a bit clumsy.

The intensity is ok, the ball pace is good, the movement is way better, all compared to Ecuador of course.

We’re looking better now, we might improve even more. This is a weaker opponent of course, so it’s important to start playing really well. We’re not there yet.

2-0. Clean sheet. Leader of the group. Bouncing back from a dreadful performance v Ecuador. I will take it. We need to do better but we’re on that upward trajectory. Memphis was better, Frenkie and De Roon as a good couple and Gakpo is on fire.

I think Van Gaal had to bring Koopmeiners and Berghuis to keep them “on board” mentally. If they would be passed they might have become totally deflated after the heavy criticism in Holland after Ecuador. Van Gaal said in the presser that the time for Simons is near but he needs to be a bit more patient.

Lets see who you would like as our next opponent?

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On the road to Qatar to… Qatar

Before the World Cup, all the smart football experts felt that Holland would breeze through the group, winning three games and ending on top of the group. No one expected the chagrin we all feel now.

Van Gaal built a reputation of being a daring, modern, attacking football promoting wizard, who can be viewed as a success coach. We all know better of course. Yes successes at Ajax, at Munich, at AZ but also mixed results at Barca and Man United and a huge disgrace in 2002 with Oranje. Of course, he sort of made amends in 2014, but this time he wants to go all the way. Or as he famously said: We can go an end. Which is the literal translation of the Dutch version of We can go a long way.

The Qatar match is going to be an interesting one. For starters we want and need to win it. But the Senegal and Ecuador matches have not demonstrated that Van Gaal’s complicated 1-3-4-1-2 system works. It may have worked, although in the different matches for the qualification and in the Nations League, he did switch around a bit. So to say that the LVG system is proven and water tight… no.

And now we are at a crossroads. Will Van Gaal use the same core players in his same system? Which is likely to do because 1) his ego doesn’t want to admit he was wrong, 2) he wants to have his core line up use this game as a practice run for when we play the top teams later on. Or will he use the young turks to prove themselves, give them game time and see if there is a new Marco van Basten or Memphis Depay amongst the second tier who could turn this disappointing journey around?

I would play this (if I was the coach) but I think Van Gaal will stick to this tactical guns and only add Xavi Simons to the mix. The country screams for him (87% of the respondents of a VI Pro poll want him to play) and LVG is smart enough to go with that if this means he keeps his dignity. But I don’t believe he’ll use  4-3-3.

As everyone who watched the games will concur that the “without-the-ball” play is decent but the “in-possession” play is dreadful. The players acknowledge that it has to improve, the analysts plug Simons, Lang and Malacia while the foreign press witness a struggling Oranje. The 2 attempts on goal v Ecuador is a new record. Since 1966 no nation was this toothless. The last “low number of attempts” was in 2014, the semi final against Argentina. Seven attempts.

How is it that a country renowned for their attacking creativity be so bad a creating? VI Pro asked Foppe de Haan, successcoach with Jong Oranje, Aad de Mos – master analyst, Hedwiges Maduro – ex international, Marcel Lukassen ex director football development at the KNVB and Jelle Goes, ex technical director of the KNVB.

Foppe de Haan

“We play with 5 defenders. And yes, you can play attacking football with 5 at the back, but you automatically have to start one forward less. So it’s actually a bit more defensive. You will have less options on the ball. And this system works well if you have top class wingbacks and… we don’t have them. I think Dumfries is positioned way too high. He is great if he goes into the space. Not if he’s there, with a man in his back. He lacks the skill for that. I don’t like to see Frenkie going all the way back to pick up the ball. He is the least threatening when he plays there. Van Dijk needs to do more in building up. More courage, more balls. Now, the balls go from left to right and back, it annoys the crap out of me. I don’t see any spectacle. We don’t offer enough bodies in the box, for instance. There is not enough threat, only Gakpo is in decent form up front. I don’t see any wing play with an action to take an opponent on. I see a lot of reality and not a lot of ideals. I think Team USA, Canada and Japan play with more forward thrust than we do.”

Hedwiges Maduro

“The defensive game play has developed enormously, internationally. The result of all the data and stats. It’s now easier to train in defence. How to organise, how to keep your distances in check. Even countries like Saudi Arabia can defend compact and grind out results. And because of this, attacking has become harder. I don’t think Van Gaal is thinking defensively, per se, but he simply doesn’t have world class forwards. We have three creative attackers in the centre of the pitch and the width has to come from the backs: Blind and Dumfries. But Ecuador had those avenues blocked off. They constantly had a man more in midfield and in defence. Then it’s tough to break them down. And they had one striker, Valencia, against three of our best defenders. But we don’t benefit from that man more.”

Marcel Lukassen

“All nations have improved mainly in terms of organisation. They all play more compact and defend and attack with 10. Due to it being so compact, it’s becoming harder and harder for attackers. A lot of our defenders used to be attackers. From Malacia to Karsdorp, from Dumfries to De Ligt. Which means that our defenders can all play, they can all play a good forward pass, like Blind and Ake. But this trend also shifts a lot of the defending requirements to the midfield and even the attack. German development academies focus on winning matches. Don’t concede goals and win! In The Netherlands, our emphasis is on scoring, on attacking. That is a cultural thing. Do we now create better defenders? I don’t believe so. Take Virgil van Dijk. Our captain. Considered on of the best. He should have blocked that Ecuador attack that resulted in a goal. He was running with the attacker. You need to defend. You need to block the attackers progress. Win the ball or force the opponent wide. And don’t wait and run along with him to shield the centre of the pitch. In a 1 v 1 situation, your first task is to intercept the ball when it’s passed. If you can’t, you need to make sure the opponent can not run in a straight line to the goal. You need to put pressure on him. And take De Ligt, versus Senegal. Why did he make all these fouls. Because he is not good at recognising when to pressure high and at what cost. We are not so good as we thing we are. Our attackers grow up with way less resistance. When you play for Ajax or Feyenoord or AZ you will win most of your games easily. As you can see, we know how to dazzle in the Eredivisie, but at this level? In Germany, the under 14s already play in compact systems and they look at things like distances, horizontal and vertical. They create unpredictable situations. In Holland, it’s more about the structure and shape and about individual skills. We need to overhaul our development methods. By focusing on better defending, you also train the attackers in becoming better and you challenge them. And we need to limit the spaces and play more compact. Look at the development of a Xavi Simons, at PSG and Barca, compared to a player like Hartjes or Bannis or Vente of Feyenoord.”

Aad de Mos

“I would not draw too many conclusions. This is a moment in time. Every tournament, you will have a bad game. We played Sweden in 1974 0-0. Was a terrible match. The spaces are more confined, it seems like defending is done better, but it’s not. Some nations do benefit from this, like Ecuador. Once we play better teams, who play more open, we will get more space, I suppose. Our forwards lack form though. Memphis, Bergwijn…maybe it’s time to give Simons or Lang a go. I do hope the players will be real and honest to each other. I think being a good friends group is not always good. I heard from some players from Belgium that they talk a lot about cars and watches, but now it seems De Bruyne is finally confronting his team mates, as is Alderweireld. We need less good vibes and more assholes. I think the Belgians resemble us more, and we are becoming more like them. It’s a good time for a little war in the camp.”

Jelle Goes

“In my view, we play reaction football. When you play 5 at the back, you actually leave the initiative with the opponent. It worked well in 2014. Every chance and a half ended up in goal, with hot shots like Van Persie and Robben and Memphis hot off the bench. But today, we have more quality, we have midfielders playing at top clubs in Europe and I think players need to play on the position they’re used to at their club. It’s not easy to make that switch. Look at Van Dijk, Timber, De Ligt and Ake. Do they play in a 3 at the back? No, not at their club. Are they the key men in build up? No, they’re not. They’re great defenders. And is it not ok to ask from Blind to reach the box of the opponent? Gakpo played his best games as a left winger and I believe Berghuis should play as right winger, in the Ziyech role, with Dumfries bombing forth. I do believe in success for Oranje, but don’t make it too complicated. Make it logical. I will probably take one or two subtle changes and we can win games comfortably.”

I think Ronald Koeman will need to do some restoration work.

I think under Koeman we will say our goodbyes to Noppert (as #1 goalie) and Blind. He might stay on in the squad but its time to bring Malacia. And if Wijndal or Bakker start to perform consistently, move on from Blind.

And go back to a 4-2-3-1. Preferably with Frimpong as well :-).

What do you expect from the Holland v Qatar game? I say 5-0. Brace for Xavi, a goal for Memphis and hopefully a World Cup goal for Virgil and Berghuis. Good for their confidence :-). Although Gakpo is on fire and every goal is another 5 million euros for PSV hahaha….

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Road to Qatar: Andries Noppert

The 28 year old is born in Joure, Friesland. Pronounced “Jower”, so his nickname is: The Tower of Joure. Yes!

I had prepped Road to Qatar posts for Flekken and Cillesen, considering these two would make the cut. But they didn’t.

This tall, lanky, somewhat lacklustre goalie who played only 51 Eredivisie games for Go Ahead Eagles and SC Heerenveen and never one single match in a rep team for Oranje ended up surpassing the two experienced goalies and made it to Oranje #1.

What a story. If Noppert learned one thing, it is that nothing is impossible.

It’s 2020, and dad Noppert asks his son to come round for a chat. His deal at 2nd tier club FC Dordrecht is coming to an end. Due to injuries, the tall goalie didn’t make an impression. Andries’ dad Fokko suggested that his son probably should start thinking about another career. Police officer maybe? But Andries didn’t want to hear it. He invested in another rehabilitiation session and with his resilience, his patience and a bit of luck, he ended up becoming the most amazing keeper story in the history of Dutch goalkeeping. Because today, Van Gaal decided that Noppert is the best goalkeeper of the Nation.

And Noppert goes from surprise to surprise. He’s now in a hotel room in Qatar so big he needs directions to find the toilet (his words) and had to call reception to find out how he could close the drapes at night. Oh, we do this via a remote control, electronically, Mr Noppert. They don’t have those hotels in Heerenveen, it seems.

In Joure, Noppert started to play football as a outfield player. “He was a rough player, like a tank. So much energy. He would simply go for the ball, no matter what.” This mentality meant that the youth coaches felt he would be great as a keeper. “He was tall already and fearless,” says his dad, who is also 2 meters tall.

When he is 10 years old, SC Heerenveen comes along and the youth coaches saw something interesting. “He was the only kid who wasn’t impressed to be here, or who wasn’t nervours. He came across as a sponge, was keen to learn about everything.”

“He also was active as a gymnast and despite his lengthy frame, he was very agile and lightfooted. Usually, tall guys can have coordination issues, but not Andries. He was very good with his footwork and movement.”

When keepers trainer Van der Sleen moves to Breda to work at NAC, Noppert wants to go too. Heerenveen offers the youngster a contract but Noppert is keen on an adventure with his coach. The goalie would not make a mark in Breda and NAC gets relegated.

In the 2nd tier, Noppert doesn’t make a name for himself as a goalie, but as a practical joker. One of his fave tricks was to park cars of team mates on very tough spots in the surrounding nature. “There was this hill, it was not easy to get your car on there, or off, and we would take someone’s keys and take his car and park it up there. If they came back from the physio or whatever, we would say “hey mate, isn’t that your car up there? How did it get there? Hahahaha”.

More typical football dressing room humor ensues. The worst one: not flushing the toilets. The coach would be driven to madness and Noppert and his mates would be having more than a casual laugh.

It’s 2017 and Italian side Foggia is looking for another goalie. Somehow, Noppert is their man. He’s 23 years old wen he moves to the South of Italy. Breda wasn’t good to him, but Italy was worse. Different coaches, no playing time, a lot of criticism and threats from fans and dealing with the local mafia. At one point, his car was stolen and offered back to him to buy. His dad: “Andries doesn’t speak Italian and didn’t speak English too well and then you end up there. Madness, things happened there you would never see in The Netherlands. But, I think it made him stronger.”

Noppert returns to Holland after two seasons. His girlfriend Sarena is grateful. Life in Foggia wasn’t too good for her. The 24 year old can sign a deal with FC Dordrecht. Coach Claudio Braga offers him a starting berth and he plays a very strong game against NEC, the first match of the season. At training, the goalie gets a heavy knee injury. Another major set back. Due to Covid, Noppert can’t travel to his physio and builds a home gym to deal with his recovery. But his Dordrecht contract expires and the tower is going to have another tough conversation with his dad and wife, who try to convince him to stop dreaming. Noppert refuses to give up.

It would take six months since his recovery for another club to contact him. Go Ahead Eagles just lost two goalies due to injuries and need a back up. Warner Hahn is also brought in and the tall Frysian loses out against the former Feyenoord talent. His Go Ahead coach Van Wonderen: “Lets just say that Andries didn’t make it hard for me to pick Hahn.”

Van Wonderen: “He made mistakes, but he also had the most miraculous saves! I noticed he was at peace with being second keeper. He lacked sharpness and hunger. I made him aware. I triggered him. And when Hahn was going through a bad spell, I gave Andries his chance. He took it.”

He had an impressive half season and now suddenly clubs were queueing up for him. FC Utrecht, Heracles, Cambuur, they all wanted him now, but Andries’ heart went out to his first love, SC Heerenveen.

He wanted to be closer to his family, now Noppert and wife have a child, and he is finally able to play football in front of his old mates, who usually go and watch Heerenveen play.

At Go Ahead Eagles, the fans started to chant “Noppert in Oranje!!” and it was seen as a silly joke. No one knew that only a year later the injury-prone towering goalie would actually be on Van Gaal’s radar.

When he got the first invite for Oranje, he received a phone call from his old youth coach. In typical Noppert style, he told his old coach: “Can you believe it? They all fell for it!”

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Oranje and Van Gaal outplayed

In what is most likely Oranje’s worst performance for decades (even the 2012 Euro matches were better) the team lost the midfield, Van Gaal lost the tactical battle and everone else lost confidence, but we luckily drew vs Ecuador: 1-1.

We don’t do well when we score early. We have seen it before, most famously in the 1974 World Cup finals when we got a penalty in the first minute, only to lose grip and lose the match.

Where did it go wrong?

Well, it was the perfect storm. Their tactics worked well to unravel our tactics. We did not have an answer. And when the teams play similar in shape, it means the workrate, physical strength and meters ran start to really count. Ecuador were superior in this. But, if you have better ball players and better individual quality, you can still win (Memphis! Bergwijn!) but if the key players play below par, well…you’re bound to lose.

So rejoice! We didn’t lose. We stole a point from Ecuador. How sad they must be.

And what a tremendous after-party LVG and the boys will have had, to be gifted a point.

But seriously, what have we been watching? Was it a case of an over-confident Oranje? Too happy with themselves? Or is this simply a mentally and physically weak team, which needs their confidence to be inflated by a pompous coach?

I think it’s the latter.

Before the game, Van Gaal noticed that Ecuador decided to play the same shape as Oranje. To copy Oranje man for man, meaning it would become a man v man battle in midfield. And this is where we went wrong.

Van Gaal: “We will win this. I know this, because we know how to play this system better than them. And we have the better players.”

Wow.

Frenkie tried to solve the midfield problem by dropping back between our defenders, while Klaassen was instructed to push up to their back line and support the forwards, but he was swimming, leaving Koopmeiners at times as the only midfielder.

Here we see how the pass lines to the midfielders are being obstructed by the two attacking mids of Ecuador

One can remedy all this by crisper and quicker passing or using the wide players, Blind and Dumfries. This was attempted but on our right, Dumfries was wasteful whereas Ake and Blind passed the ball sluggish, allowing the opponent to settle in their roles.

This happened when Ake dribbled into midfield. The opponent needs to choose and Bergwijn and Klaassen find space in between the lines.

Van Gaal tried to remedy this by bringing Berghuis in the second half and later De Roon but Berghuis too was pulled away from the centre of the pitch often, still leaving gaps in midfield.

We didn’t create many chances, but neither did Ecuador. When Frenkie forgot he isn’t playing with Busquets at Barcelona, and played in Timber in a crowded midfield with an unexpected pass, the young Ajax defender was pushed off the ball and the defence was…non existent. Poor Noppert couldn’t do much better.

Here you see their holding mid dropping deep leaving Klaassen swimming without an opponent.

There were not many players who reached their usual level. Noppert plays as well as could be expected, with his footballing / kicking skills highly tested. I think Cillesen would have done better in several occasions. His panic kick forward resulted in the loss of possession leading up to their goal.

This is the mistake: Frenkie playing a risky ball to Timber who is on his heels, not expecting the pass and with a man in his back. Not the right decision.

I completely support the criticism by Marco van Basten on Virgil van Dijk. Big Virge thinks he plays with his voice only. His long passes, he knows how to do at Anfield, were not there. At all. Ake was Holland’s best player and that is not a good thing.

Dumfries and Koopmeiners were wasteful in possession. Memphis and Bergwijn close to invisible, while Klaassen should not have played at all in his match.

This is in the 70st minute. Frenkie as central defender. Where is our midfield??

Another example. Klaassen doesn’t even fit on the photo, he is way up the pitch leaving poor Koopmeiners to fend for himself. Where is our midfield?

And why bring Wout Weghorst?? What is the thinking there? We need guile and speed so we bring Weghorst. Not Lang? Not Xavi? Weghorst lacks the speed and skill for a match like this. You need an individual who can break open matters, when the team and the tactics fail. That is not Weghorst. Baffled.

Van Gaal said after the game that his decision to bring Weghorst and De Roon was not to win the game, but to not lose the game. To put some fight into the team. That, I can see.

From a result perspective, we are still in the top 2 of the group. It comes down to the last match versus minions Qatar. So from this perspective, no worries. Just win or draw your last game and you progress. But from the performance perspective, where do we go from here?

Is Van Gaal going to experiment now, with new players? Now? That would be worrysome. But … will he keep on playing this system and with the same midfield?

After the match, Van Gaal was realistic: “This was not good. I am surprised. I thought we would have the better of them, tactically but I was wrong. The main difference is their aggressive play. We couldn’t cope with it and lacked the form, the quality to deal with it. I am not going to badmouth my players, I need to stay positive and support them. I think we still have it all to play for, we can still win the group. In every World Cup campaign, you can have one of those matches. We played a tough second match in Brazil, after the Spain thrashing, but we were able to win that late in the game. This time we didn’t, but a draw is still a positive.”

Asked about the criticism of Van Basten on Virgil van Dijk, Van Gaal concurred: “I can see what Marco means, but we decided to have Ake play the build up as he was our free man at the back. And he did well.”

Asked about the solution, Van Gaal said: “I think our defense is not the problem. That is playing well, and has adapted well to the system but the creativity in midfield and up front is what we need to fine tune. Luckily we have more options to work with.”

Memphis sat on the bench for half the game and was able to watch the team in trouble. “They were better. It’s that simple. What went wrong with us, is that we didn’t manage to offer enough options to one another. The distances were too great and it was easy for them to interrupt our flow. You need to be there at the right time so you can play on. We didn’t manage this.”

About his own game: “I need to touch the ball often and I need to be able to take the opponent on. I was simply not able to do this. There was no space, I never got into my game. We need to analyse this and we need to show a bit more confidence, a bit more courage in our attacking play.”

Pierre van Hooijdonk was clear in his commentary: “After the first match, it was all about “the pressure” and “the first match” etc but now you see it’s not an incident. This must be alarming. But you don’t create anything. It looked lethargic, without life. The opponent was more aggressive and that can’t be happening if you are really good. Virgil said that this Ecuador was a good team, but it is not a good team. It’s an ok team. So what happens if we play against a truly good team? And I know, we have four points, we might simply go on to the knock-out stages, that is great. But we did the same at the Euros and in the first knock-out game we were done. You will have to get to that level where we can all say ” oh wow, so this is what they can do!” because otherwise you cannot make any claim on the title. You have to be able to hurt the opponent, but we were not able to do anything. Nothing. It was so slow, it was walking football.”

Van Basten: “Incredible that you’re being bullied by the number 44 on the FIFA ranking. It’s crazy that they get those chances while we can’t create anything!”

I’d love to see some major changes. A Hail Mary. Forget this 1-3-4-2-1 system. If you don’t have forwards on fire and wingbacks in form, don’t play this.

Go 4-3-3. Let the youngsters deal with it versus Qatar.

Time to play Bijlow now as well.

You lose versus Qatar with this team: you don’t deserve to progress.

You win against Qatar in a bad game, you progress and can re-group and tell the media you did this to give your key players a rest.

If you win against Qatar in a good game, you have yourself more and new options for the knock out stages.

I usually post the highlights of the match here. But I wanted something uplifting for you, this time.

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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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Why Berghuis is in the team

It is always interesting to see how football fans respond to things going on, versus what experienced (ex-) players or coaches say. We had years of discussion about Kuyt, Daley Blind, Nigel de Jong and Heitinga, to name a few and now recently Berghuis is also on the list.

For me, it’s about how fans watch football and how the pros watch football. Spoiler: the pros use statistics nowadays to support their decisions.

I posted an analysis of Daley Blind some months ago, explaining using stats why Blind is actually in the top 10 of Europe (!) in a certain stat and this makes him quite unique.

Looking at Berghuis, we can do the same. Because surely, coaches like Van Gaal, Danny Blind, Erik ten Hag and Alfred Schreuder would not play Berghuis if they watched football they some of us here do.

Steven Berghuis was not very remarkable in his performance against Senegal. But important, he was.

In the 79th minute, the number 11 sign comes up and #20 is going to replace him. Berghuis was seemingly invisible and made way for Koopmeiners, whom he had beaten for the starting spot next to Frenkie.

Data analysis shows that the criticism on Berghuis is not valid. Berghuis only played 79 minutes, whereas the other starters who were not subbed played 98 minutes. Almost 20 minutes more. But no other Oranje player was able to play more successful passes into the final third of the opponent.

Berghuis (and Daley Blind) both played 14 balls into the attacking zone successfully.

Frenkie de Jong came after them with 11 successful passes. Then Dumfries, with 7, followed by Bergwijn (6), De Ligt and Ake (both 5) and Virgil van Dijk a mere single successful pass.

Senegal plays it smart versus Holland. They used Gueye, their defensive mid, high up the pitch to make life hard for Frenkie. The Dutch build up was made harder due to the fact that behind Gueye, two holding mids played quite narrow.

Oranje analysed the game plan patiently and after 15 minutes of probing, it’s Berghuis who breaks the spell. He’s constantly scanning the pitch and when the ball is played into him in the mid circle, he already knows what is happening behind him and he turns and curls the ball in one time to the left flank where Daley Blind has escaped Senegal’s block.

Just before the break, there were two moves again started by Berghuis, resulting in flowing attacks. First, he floats to the left side of the pitch where he finds space for a pin point pass to Bergwijn.

The Ajax forward drops the ball to Frenkie who immediately plays in to Vincent Janssen, but just too heavy, so it doesn’t result in an actual chance for the Antwerp man.

Next up, there is a one-two combination with Frenkie allowing Berghuis space in between the lines. There will be four orange jerseys in the box but no cigar, as Dumfries doesn’t manage to cross the ball in good enough.

In the second half, Berghuis role is diminished a bit, as these stats show.

First half: 33 touches, 25 successful passes, 92.5% pass accuracy

Second half: 16 touches, 12 successful passes, 80% pass accuracy

This is the result of a tactical change. The invisible Gakpo needs support so Berghuis is moved higher up the pitch, by Van Gaal. The Ajax midfielder becomes a second “10” next to Gakpo in what would become a 4-2-2-2 system. In this way, Gakpo doesn’t need to battle two midfielders, and Berghuis is sacrificed to support the PSV youngster.

Still Berghuis has the best pass in the game which is the result of a wicked mind. He sees right back Sabaly isolated against two players. Berghuis recognises the opportunity and has the skills to execute. Memphis bounces the ball back and the whole left flank opens up for Daley Blind. Berghuis plays a firm ball into space for Blind to pursue. His cross resulted in a half chance for Dumfries who can’t control the ball.

The lanky and lightfooted Berghuis will never be the midfield duel monster that a Pogba or Rodri or Rice is, but with his specific qualities in his left foot, he will always be the go to man, if you want to penetrate an opponent with forward passing. This is why he and Blind are almost beyond criticism with Van Gaal. And the stats simply support this.

This is the dats profile of Berghuis on FBref. Progressive passing and touches are actions in which the ball is played at least 11 yards forward, vis a vis the previous six passes.

Thanks to VI Pro

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