If all goes well, we only have one more month to wait before we can celebrate our WC ticket for 2022.
NT manager Louis van Gaal worked his magic. As he always says of himself: I am direct and I only speak the truth. Although, he also said he lacked wingers. Danjuma and Noa Lang: “Hold my beer!”.
Lets look at some LVG changes, per line.
Only 30 minutes after Bijlow’s key save in the dying minutes vs Latvia, Van Gaal proclaimed: “The goalie situation is still an open question.” And in the same sentence, he hailed he absent Jasper Cillesen, who seems to be back in the starting line up at Valencia.
Mark Flekken’s sudden entry into the squad (and Drommel’s subsequent banishment to the stands) clearly shows that Van Gaal is stirring the pot. Bijlow has played 5 steady internationals for us, but next month we will get more clarity whom Van Gaal picks as his goalie for the time to come.
Van Gaal spent a lot of time talking to Mathijs de Ligt, during practices. Sitting on the dug out bench, which is symbolical and fitting, as the Juve defender has to accept a benchwarming position. This happened to him at Juventus too, at the start of the season. He did make an impression on Van Gaal: “Mathijs is returning from the darkness. He is clearly getting to the point where I can assess him as a first team player. But he has an extraordinary rival in De Vrij who was my Man of the Match twice now.”
In his ideal system, Van Gaal would play three central defenders. Louis prefers the 5-3-2 but his players asked for 4-3-3. Van Gaal might tweak it once we secured our ticket. He will have time in the coming calendar year to try out new things. Should we fail to qualify, the time to experiment is way less. Louis expects the central defenders to play an active part in the build up. Versus Latvia, Van Dijk and De Vrij played the ball square a walloping 73 times! That is a record for 230 international games! While Van Gaal’s principle is: first ball deep. De Vrij did demonstrate his cross pass just like Van Dijk can. Daley Blind is a a player with the vision and passing skill to accelerate the game and since Pat van Aanholt and Owen Wijndal have not secured a spot under the former Man United coach, it’s Malacia who is Blind’s understudy.
Davy Klaassen was in the sticks for 3 years and made his return to the NT under Frank de Boer. But he didn’t get a second of playing time at the Euros. With Louis, Klaassen is a key player. Van Gaal wants to play with two “number 10s” to further support Memphis. And Klaassen ticks all the boxes: he has forward thrust, legs and lungs of a horse, a nose for the position and he can score a goal. And just like colleague Wijnaldum, Klaassen has a good sharp radar for the turn around. He can play all roles in midfield, including the holding position. Against Latvia, he scored and made a crucial goal saving block.
Marten de Roon seems to be the big loser. The Atalanta midfielder was first choice, mostly under Koeman and also under De Boer. He played a mere 17 minutes under Van Gaal. Teun Koopmeiners has passed the former Sparta player in the hierarchy, as De Roon had to take to the stands against Gibraltar.
Frenkie is the only controlling mid now and Van Gaal was highly critical on the Barca player. “The coach wants me to play in the Busquets role but he doesn’t want me to drift too much. As a central mid, you need to always protect the axes. Should I dribble now, I will leave a huge gap. The coach wants me to pass the ball quicker and not be too much of a post delivery man.” Van Gaal: “Frenkie plays on the position where I played and you really don’t need to run much on that position. I also think he can improve his game, someone with that talent needs to have a higher yield.”
From the start, Van Gaal lamented the lack of real wingers, so he couldn’t play his beloved 4-3-3. Since Robben retired, the coaches used 17 (!) players on the wings up front. “It’s not that we don’t develop right wingers, but the difference is the way we play today, with players and their contra foot on the wing. In my time, I had Roy or Overmars on the left and Van ‘t Schip or Finidi on the right. Today, we use the wingback to fly past and cross the ball in,” said Van Gaal.
He also points to the development trends in football. “We play 4-3-3 in Holland so we do develop wingers, but in some countries, the wingers are players who dribble inside and go for goal. In Holland, when players turn 16 years old, that is when we start introducing other systems.” Van Gaal only considers Berghuis as a real right winger. Bergwijn told the coach he doesn’t want to play there. Gakpo and Malen have not impressed on that flank. Noa Lang told Van Gaal he could play there and was happy to play there but 10 minutes into the Latvia game, the cheeky Brugge player switched flanks with Gakpo.
Under De Boer, Oranje played with Memphis on the left flank and a real #9 as striker (Weghorst, Luuk de Jong). This has immediately been rectified by Van Gaal: Memphis is the central striker and Weghorst and De Jong are Plan B players. And how it worked. In 5 internationals under Van Gaal, Memphis scored 7 goals and had 4 assists. Van Gaal: “When I see the data and the stats of Memphis, wow… I never had a striker like him. The work rate, the miles he runs. He does so much work for the team, he is constantly on the prowl. He is amazing.”
Asked where Oranje now is, he said: “We don’t know. We don’t have really top nations in our group, so it’s unclear. Should we qualify this November, I can organise friendlies against top nations and then we will see. On paper our midfield is European Top but… are they really? We can only tell when confronting European Top and that will have to come, still.”
For now, the winners are Justin Bijlow, Stefan de Vrij, Cody Gakpo, Mark Flekken, Davy Klaassen.
Louis van Gaal is also a winner, for getting Danjuma and Lang as white elephants.
Losers: Mathijs de Ligt, Marten de Roon, Joel Drommel.
Re: the Euros squad: there will be a way back for Owen Wijndal, Donny van de Beek, Joel Veltman and Quincy Promes. I am not sure about Pat van Aanholt and Marco Bizot, while Maarten Stekelenburg already retired from international football (and is currently seriously injured anyway).
I’m quite happy with LvG’s choices up until now. All logical and thought-through. The only big omission for me, is Rick Karsdorp as right wing back but he will get in the squad if he keeps on playing like this for Roma.
Another positive trend that deserves mentioning is the corner kick, under Louis van Gaal.
We would have won vs Gibraltar without corners, of course. But we scored the first from a corner like we did against Latvia. This is remarkable, as the yield from corners in Oranje was typically very low before Van Gaal. We took 20 corners at the Euros and only 8 reached a Dutch player and only 2 ended up as a chance to score.
The only nations worse than us in corner kicks: Sweden, Hungary and Finland.
Against Turkey away, we even conceded two goals (!) from corner kicks. Our corner kicks!!!
Van Gaal started work on the dead ball situations immediately. During his first spell, when Covid was a serious member of the squad, he even practiced this inside, in a conference hall, with chairs, tables and without a ball!!
The first corner versus Latvia was a success. The coaches had seen that Latvia doesn’t really have an overload at the far post, so the plan was to have the air force go to the near post, attracting all the defenders, while Memphis would curl the ball towards Klaassen at the far upright: 0-1.
This is by now means a magical trick, but a very effective, simple way to use a corner.
Against Gibraltar, same story. But the Gibs used man marking, so Oranje executed it differently. This time, our four strongest headers were around the penalty spot and using De Vrij’s block, Virgil came in front of his man at the near post and had a tap in (with his head).
From the other side, similar concept. This time, it’s Dumfries attracking the attention, allowing De Vrij a clear header, which was blocked by an arm. Penalty. Missed by our top scorer for 2021, but hey… He would get another chance.
During Koeman’s reign, considered successful, Oranje scored 7 goals from a corner in 20 matches. Under De Boer, it’s 3 goals in 15 matches and under Van Gaal, 2 goals in 5.