Friends, we did what we had to do. We won all home matches in the group stage. And we didn’t expect anything less. Ukraine, Austria and North Macedonia should be wins with any Dutch generation, really… Scoring 8 is good. Conceding 2 less so. All players fit, that is a good thing and yes, the 5-3-2 seems to be generally accepted now.
The Dutch experts/analysts are still not convinced. Where do we stand now? How good are we really?
The international media, however, seem to push Oranje to a favorite role. And I don’t think that is justified. Sure, Germany, Portugal, Spain, they’re not firing on all cylinders but you wouldn’t want them to, right? Just like with Oranje.
But can we reach a higher level, once we face them? Or even worse: France or Italy? Who knows?
I even doubt if Frank de Boer knows.
And then there are the fans on this blog, who mostly seem to be highly critical of Frank de Boer, Daley Blind and Memphis Depay ;-).
This North Macedonian game further showed why the international football world (players, fans, coaches and analysts) rate Daley Blind. If you saw the game and you still think he is only in the team because of his daddy (huh??), you should probably start supporting another sport.
Overall, the key thing every Dutch fan looked at in this last group game was: how good will Malen and Memphis (and Wijnaldum) gel, in comparison to playing with Weghorst?
The jury is out, as far as I’m concerned. Malen is a better player than Weghorst, he adds something fresh, and explosive to the team. He has depth and runs in behind and he has a daft tough too, as we saw with Oranje’s third goal. But, most importantly, he makes Memphis play better!
And if we want to achieve something here, we need Memphis to be in top form.
It was nice to see Gravenberch, but the young talent demonstrated that he’s not yet mature enough for a role in the starting eleven. In the first half, he was wandering a bit, not sure where to be, what to do. It did improve and he’ll be a top player for us.
Other than that, the other subs didn’t bring us much news. We saw Berghuis, keen to prove his worth, with sloppy moves and a couple of great passes and a top corner kick. The prolific right winger has a limited fee of 4 million euros and both Ajax and PSV are courting him. Gakpo got his debut and demonstrated his skill too in the last 10 minutes.
But what did North Macedonia teach us?
Well, the 5-3-2 might be a fine system but you do need to implement and execute it well. North Macedonia surprised Frank de Boer with a 4-2-3-1 system and their particular tactical move puzzled the Dutch eleven.
When building up, the Macedonians pushed Alioski way up, to keep Dumfries quiet, but Trajkovski would push up left next to Pandev. As De Boer is focused on man marking, not zonal, this resulted in a mess within Oranje. Normally, the player in the zone would pick up the wandering Elmas. Wijnaldum in this case and Frenkie would be available to pick up Trajkovski.
The situation above is how we did it, with man marking. Frenkie is completely out of position because Elmas is his man. There is a gap behind him, which forces De Vrij to move forward, far away from his comfort zone.
Another situation, in which Frenkie and De Vrij are lost in space. The number 62 of the world is capable of playing from under Oranje’s press. And by then, it is not even a surprise that Trajkovski is the man rattling the post next to Stekelenburg with a fine attempt.
Before the break. Oranje ends up in situations in which the distances between the lines are too great. The midfield was all open and bare as our players follow their man and are lured out of position. You can see, there are no holding mids to protect the back four. This will be noted with glee, by the scouts of the remaining nations.
On the other hand, Oranje is constantly threatening on the break. It seems to always find ways to hurt the opponent. And even when the pass and move positioning game breaks down, with Malen, Wijnaldum and Memphis, there is always the chance on a break. And this is how we come to our first goal. A ruthless Blind tackle, a pass through by Gravenberch and Malen on his moped to launch Memphis after two 1-2 combinations: 1-0.
Dumfries gets another chance, to become golden boot candidate, in the 29th minute. Alioski is playing left winger so Dumfries has acres of space. Malen’s ball is fine but the goalie ruins the party of the PSV boys.
After the break, De Boer opts for the 4-2-3-1 as well and brings Timber and Berghuis for De Vrij and Dumfries. This is what De Boer calls the “Italian way”.
In this set up, De Boer does what Koeman did: one penetrating full back and one conservative one.
Under Koeman, Dumfries was the penetrating one and Blind was sitting. In Frank de Boer’s version, it’s Van Aanholt with the penetration and Timber the one staying back.
Now it’s truly a man-to-man battle and North Macedonia can’t find any openings anymore, simply due to the difference in individual qualities. Not because we suddenly defend so well. Because our back line is still vulnerable. The only gain in this system: there is no confusion who marks who.
Before the tournament, Dutch fans and analysts feared that the 5-3-2 wouldn’t be attacking enough. It seems that this is not the real issue. The real problem with the 5-3-2 is the defensive structure. North Macedonia has pointed out that the bigger nations could really hurt us.