Michels was known to be a burly, surly man. Never a smile. Never a kind word. A disciplinarian. But in his final days as a coach (1988 and 1992) he suddenly emerged as a charmer. An amateur opera singer and a funny guy. He softened up a bit and the world was witness to it.
Louis van Gaal always said Michel was his great example. And like Rinus, Van Gaal is now working on his last (??) trick and guess what: the stern school teacher has become funny, open, generous and warm. What age can do…
The Dutch started their fore-checking – as we called it back then – in the 1970s and it has always been part of the game plan, albeit never continiously. The Germans called it gegenpressing and there are different terms to explain what it is and how it works.
Van Gaal calls it Total Pressing and after the Turkey game he complimented his team: “it is remarkable what they have done. They played total pressing for 90 minutes! And my subs did the same thing. They came into the team and the flow was never paused or anything. I am very proud of my players.”
When asked what Total Pressing is, he was quite brief. “Simple, you play the high press everywhere on the pitch.”
Van Gaal’s Total Press can be seen in two typical situations: when Turkey has the ball or when Oranje looses possession. “The turnaround was managed perfectly,” Van Gaal added.
Look at how the first goal happened. Where the German coaches never seem to care too much about the opponent, when they start the press, Louis is different and ordered his men to play man-to-man in the situation of a press. Three players focus on the ball but the rest of the team (Mempgis, Klaassen, Frenkie) all make sure they cover a Turkish option, making it even harder for the Turks to find a way out.
Van Gaal’s total press concept is more based on the Argentinian school of Bielsa and Pochettino than the German School.
Look at the actions on the other wing.
The Turks are put under pressure on the flank and a bunch of Orange wolves immediately focused on putting all relevant opponents under pressure. This is how Oranje was able to suffocate all potential counter attacks.
Every time Turkey had time on the ball, the options in the centre of the park were covered off, forcing them to go to the wings, where the pack of Orange wolves would immediately force them to turn over the ball.
Optically, the press didn’t appear aggressive. This is because Van Gaal didn’t want to pressure the goalie. This would force him to go long, and Van Gaal wanted him to build up from the back. Interestingly, De Boer played 4-3-3 in the Turkey away game and statistically, it seems our press was more successful in that game. The Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) was only 8,4 in the De Boer managed match, and 13.1 in the Van Gaal led game. This image below explains it somewhat.
De Boer instructed Malen to stay close to the right CB forcing the Turks to build up via their right full back. He became the free man.
And it was left back Wijndal’s task to pick up that right back while left central defender Blind was going to take on the Turkish right winger, which resulted in a one v one situation in our defence.
What you see here, is that Wijndal repeatedly was high up on the pitch, sprinting towards his man. This aggressive variant meant that the Turks couldn’t really use their passing game to build up. Under De Boer the Dutch were more successful breaking up the passing, than the Van Gaal Oranje team. But… this forced the Turkish goalie to go long and both Yilmaz and Karaman won five aerial battles for the ball, and this resulted in danger as Oranje played 3 v 3 at the back. In other words, the Turkish coach found a way to undo De Boer’s battleplan.
And it would immediately be “all hands on deck” as our defensive organisation was immediately shot and our midfield couldn’t track back fast enough. The 3rd and 4th Turkish goal both came from a long ball up the park and with our defenders and midfielders unable to deal with it.
Van Gaal learned the lesson. He took way less risk on the flanks with the press.
This moment above shows Turkey trying to play out of the Dutch pressure. A couple of differences with the De Boer tactics come to mind. In the win over Turkey, we were able to pin their midfielders. Van Gaal didn’t want the Turks to shift the game from left to right. This would give Oranje good opportunities to put pressure on their flank and outnumber them. The second difference is the position of our left winger. Where Malen pushed on the central defender, it is here Bergwijn in that role but he is covering the right back and the right centre back by positioning in between them. The third difference being Memphis’ role. He was positioned in front of Soyuncu and not behind him. Memphis didn’t mark him, but simply stopped the pass into him. Turkey was forced to build up using Demiral, a lesser passer.
And another example of the changes, you can see above. Blind in the left back role stayed in his zone, instead of Wijndal in the away game who abandoned that zone. In combination with Virgil’s aerial strength, the Turkish long balls never really got us in trouble.
Another example. No pressure on the ball, but all passing avenues were shut tight, with Wijnaldum even in front of his man. The only player we wanted to have the ball was right footed left back Muldur.
On that ball was played, the wolf pack would kick into gear. Berghuis covering the forward ball, Memphis covering their libero and Wijnaldum ready to knick the ball away too. There simply was no escape.
At times, the Turks came up with a solution. In the above situation, Demiral drops further deep to make the space between him and the right back to big to cover. Interestingly enough, Davy Klaassen recognises it and points to Bergwijn to drop back. The result: Demiral still can’t build up from the back and is forced to play a risky ball.
Here you can see how fluid we played. Klaassen, Bergwijn and Memphis are now the forward three while Berghuis drops in to support the midfield and Wijnaldum tracks back to support his defenders. Daley Blind has taken over the coaching role from Klaassen and instructs Bergwijn in his movements. Demiral plays the risky ball and Oranje gets possession back because the distances between the players were spot on and the passing lines were interrupted.
Just before the break there was a situation where Blind simply had to step up. Memphis pushed onto Soyuncu and Bergwijn pushed onto Demiral. The midfield was marked so the goalie went for a risky pass to the right wing. Yilmaz had drifted to the left side to give his team options so Blind abandoning his zone was not a highly risky move. Van Dijk moved into the role and allowed Blind to press their right back.
That what was standard under De Boer versus Turkey was just an exception in the Van Gaal tactics.
The important thing for Van Gaal is, making sure the right opponent gets the ball. The goalie, the worst build up player and/or the full backs. The left back of Turkey ended up as the player with the most touches and the lowest pass accuracy. In the away game, he had been the player with the least touches.
Van Gaal didn’t play one v one over the pitch and didn’t let his team hunt for the ball constantly. When the weaker players were on the ball in a particular zone, he would order the press. The players asked for clarity, he said before he started his role in this international break. It seems he gave it to them. That he was able to prep the team according to his principles in a week’s time is quite remarkable.
( data via Opta, images via Instat, thanks to Pieter Zwart of VI Pro)