Louis van Gaal said it before the World Cup: we are going to need every single player if we want to have a chance to win it. 23 players will do it. Maybe the reserve goalies will not get a chance to play but most definitely we will see all field players get time.
With Nigel de Jong, the constable in midfield, gone the question arises, who will Van Gaal deploy.
Firstly, I suppose it is fair to assume that after 4 wins, Van Gaal will not alter his system. We will not suddenly play 4-3-3. We will most likely meet Argentina if we beat Costa Rica and a 4-3-3- against Argentina is probably not what LVG will choose.
So this means, a 5-3-2 against Costa Rica. And Van Gaal has to replace the man who is seen as the engine in midfield, the man who gave the signal when the team needed to step up and find some more fuel in the tank. The man with the Thou Shalt Not Pass voice in his studs. As Louis said: the man of the match(es).
Who can best be picked? After losing Strootman, Van Ginkel and Van der Vaart and now also Fer, it will be impossible for Van Gaal to literally replace De Jong.
The candidates (Clasie, Kuyt, Blind, De Guzman) all have different skills.
Clasie has a similar venom in his game, but lacks the pure strength of concrete Nigel. A plus with Clasie is his quality in build up. A minus is the fact that he hasn’t played at all yet and has a tendency to be homesick. Playing Clasie gives LVG the option to use Kuyt left or right if he wants.
Kuyt is an option because Kuyt can do anything his coach requires. He is tactically very intelligent and highly coachable. Like De Jong he will not step aside and he is a good enough football player to be able to build up. With Kuyt you know he gives everything. The downside is that he has never played there before and he might be more needed elsewhere.
Blind is the logical option for LVG, I believe. He has played most of the season with Ajax on that spot and became Ajax’ best player. He is the most all round player, tactically highly intelligent and with a good passing game. He tends to be a bit complacent at times and that will be punished at this level. This will most likely mean that LVG needs to use Martins Indi or Kongolo. Not sure how BMI’s fitness currently is.
De Guzman can play there too, and has played there for Oranje, but prior to the World Cup Van Gaal stated that he didn’t see De Guzman as a DM candidate but more as a Strootman replacement. However, De Guzman offers experience, is solid in the challenges and is overall a good player. Downside is that his first two games were not really a success and he might be lacking form.
Some analysts in Holland actually believe Holland is in big trouble. Jan van Halst, former Ajax midfielder: “I think it is over, red rover. I think De Jong kept the team together. He was the real captain. Robben and De Jong, assisted by Kuyt. And with De Jong gone, the team will lack the bite it really needs. Maybe not against Costa Rica, but the semis will be the end of it, I fear.”
Van Halst goes on: “Take that goal Dos Santos scored against us…. With De Jong, that would not have happened. He would have used his whole body to block the shot and Dos Santos would be on the ground. Blind was doing what I call quasi-defending. Running alongside to act as if you defend, but is of no use. That goal could and would have been blocked.”
Willem van Hanegem uses a different argument. He praises De Jong too. “De Jong for me was the man of the group stages. He took the team by the hand when it became hard. He’s the type of player that makes players around him perform better while letting the opponent play worse. A great asset. I think Van Gaal will use Blind there, but I don’t get that. I honestly don’t think Blind is that great a midfielder. And why do you have to do so complicated. If the first choice is out, you pick the second player for that spot. Clasie in this case. Why not ? That’s why you have him. And Costa Rica… we are not talking Germany or France or Brazil. I don’t get why Van Persie is subbed and Van Gaal brings Lens instead of Huntelaar? I think it is time for Van Gaal to take the initiative. Every match, we started on the backfoot. We had less possession, we allowed them to create and mostly score first. And then we go to 4-3-3 and beat them… So, why not start with 4-3-3. If you play Depay – RVP – Robben, with Clasie and Sneijder in midfield, the opponent will keep 6 players back. They will not dare to put pressure on.”
Daley Blind is quite lacklustre about it. ” I will play where the coach needs me. I don’t have a preference. I know we have many players who can play there and I guess the coach will pick the one who will fit the team best. There has been some discussion about why he uses certain players for certain spots but with Van Gaal it is all about the team. So I will not make this about me.”
Blind finds it hard to enjoy the World Cup. “It’s weird, you look forward to this for a long time. But now we are here, it goes so quick. And we are so focused on our performance, you hardly notice you are actually in Brazil. Only at night, when I’m alone I think about it and think “Oh my God, we’re actually at the World Cup”, hahaha.” Blind went and visited a favela with some team mates and was impressed with what he saw and learned. “I enjoy learning about new cultures. It is quite enriching.” He realises that it goes really quick now for some Eredivisie players. “It’s interesting because people tend to look down on it, but I think we have now shown that the Eredivisie is a pretty good level and Dutch clubs are very good at youth development. And we have a good team dynamics going. Nigel de Jong, for instance, will remain with the group. He is very committed and will do what he can to support us.”
A player who will hopefully return is Daryl Janmaat. The popular Feyenoord right full back, with whom Oranje hasn’t lost a game and who is seen as the lucky charm of the team, lost his spot quite unforeseen to Paul Verhaegh. “I was quite shocked when I heard. Honestly, I didn’t see this coming. The coach told me and I took some time at my room to process it. It was a bit of a shock. The coach said I didn’t play that bad or anything. He did wanted to see better football in general, but he subbed me because I am more of a running full back and he wanted to use a more passing full back and felt Paul was better suited.” The Augsburg defender did not impress and the question arises whether Janmaat will regain his spot. ” I don’t know. But whatever the team requires, you know. Paul is a good player too and if it works with him than sure. It is harder for me to attack because we simply play a bit more deep but if the coach needs me I will be 100% ready. The goal is to win this and my personal agenda is not relevant.”
Lastly this, Brazilian legend Zico picked his best eleven so far and two Dutch players made it in the Team Zico: Daley Blind and Arjen Robben. Zico: “I am highly impressed with Blind’s kicking techique. His passing helped Oranje on the horse against Spain. He made it possible. And Robben, because clearly Robben is unstoppable.”