Imagine you’re Frank de Boer. New job. Exciting. Oranje has some amazing talents. And you need the job (to restore your reputation).
But then you end up having 1 day to prep your first game. Which is a friendly, 3 days before a “real” match. You lose. You then play the NL game vs Bosnia Herzegovina, and you draw (“We got 5 guild edged opportunities. At this level, you need to score one of them!”).
And suddenly, you’re facing an away match vs Italy, which feels like a finals. Should Oranje lose and not score a goal, we will have set a new record (most matches played in a row without a win or a goal). Not the sort of history Frank was looking to make.
It’s very harsh to blame Frank of all of this. He did admit that in hindsight he should have played Berghuis vs Bosnia. But he was also right not to play the starting eleven vs Mexico and also right to say that, yes, we did play agricultural vs Bosnia but we did create some chances: De Vrij misheading, Luuk de Jong’s header stopped, Frenkie fluffing his lines and Babel…well… that ball ended up in the parking garage of the Bosnian stadium…
People will come out and say “Frank is the king of the square and backpass” but stats don’t lie. The relative number of backpasses was higher under Koeman than under Frank de Boer (in his first two matches, that is). So that criticism is unfounded.
Frank was very feisty and confident during the last press conference, before the Italy game. Italy away, a match we never won since 2008, by the way.
When we go back to the lost Nations League finals vs Portugal, Ronald Koeman said something under his breath that was forgotten in the euphoria of reborn Oranje. He said: “We won’t win trophies if we can’t find top class players upfront…. We are not as strong there as we are elsewhere.”
And he was right: Van Dijk. De Vrij, De Ligt, Blind can all be considered European top players. In midfield, with Frenkie and Donny and Wijnaldum we can say the same. Upfront, the club names behind the attackers’ names are European subtop: Olympique Lyonnaise, Seville, Feyenoord, PSV, Wolfsburg maybe. With Bergwijn moving to Spurs, we do have a bigger club name behind an attacker, but Bergwijn was too injured to join. And at Spurs, Bergwijn is a not a starter.
Malen, Stengs, Boadu, Ihattaren, Gakpo…promising players but surely not top yet.
Holland was top behind the ball. Versus top nations. France, Germany, England, we took them all on. But typically, when we play Bosnia or Poland, we tend to get in trouble. Our build up is too slow, too predictable and we lack the pure class to outperform rugged defenders. Memphis keeps on trying, but just like in the time spent at Man United, he is not very successful in limited spaces. Malen, Promes, Bergwijn, they all need space to run into. And against Bosnia, or Iceland or Romania or Greece, that space is not there.
So it’s telling that our most dangerous attacker – without Memphis in the team – is a Feyenoord player. Who has been impressing for months on end, but even for him, there was no big club with a piggybank of euros, to sign him. Telling signs.
Against Italy, Oranje needs to deal with the marauding left wing back and the roaming left winger. In the home match, Oranje never got grip on these two and all the danger came from them. You can sympathise with Hateboer, as he was left to his own devices, by Veltman, Wijnaldum and De Roon. The former Groningen marathon man hardly ever plays right back at Atalanta in a 4 man’s defence and is actually a mediocre defender.
Frank de Boer: “It will be different against Italy this time. You can expect a different Oranje. At the same time, it’s good for everyone to realise that the Dutch National Team won’t play nations off the pitch that easily. The smaller nations are getting better and better. We had difficulties against Bosnia and so did Italy! And I know there is pressure, but at the same time, we’re #2 with one point behind Italy. So we have it all in hand.”
During the press conference, De Boer made a feisty impression. “I still stand by my decision to play that B-side vs Mexico. I could have been selfish and think about my reputation and play the best eleven, but it would have been foolish. They were not all 100% fit and they have a massive number of games to play still. It’s also my responsibility to protect them. And the Bosnia game… well yes, in hindsight, Berghuis could have been a better option but you never know how it would have gone with him as a starter. And if Babel or Frenkie scored in that last stage, we would be talking quite differently here. Under Koeman, they also scored late goals and got that result late, but that didn’t happen this time. Luck? Well, you make your luck. And we didn’t this time.”
When asked if Berghuis will start vs Italy: “You’ll find out tomorrow.”
And De Boer continued: “Italy wants to have the ball. Bosnia didn’t. So it will be a different game. I think it will be a good game too, nice and open. The first match in Amsterdam, we were lost a bit. We couldn’t get a grip on the game and we were constantly late. We need to change that around. In my view, our decision making was not great in that game. For the game tonight, I decided to train two scenarios and work on two tactical plans. And I have included the players in that discussion. I want to play Plan A. But only if the players support it. If they don’t feel confident, fine. We can play Plan B. We worked on both and we can switch easily. But whatever it will be: you will see a strong and positive Oranje. We trained well and I am pretty buoyant.
And, my friends, so am I. Just because I want them to win. I say 1-3 for Holland.
My line up: Cillesen on goal. Dumfries, De Vrij, Van Dijk, Blind in the back. Wijnaldum and Frenkie in the engine room. Donny van de Beek on #10. Malen, Memphis and Berghuis up front.
Own goal De Vrij. And up front, Memphis, Donny van de Beek and Berghuis on the scoreboard for the orange. Hup Holland Hup.