I couldn’t resist, people….
As per our customs, we like to present a new team manager via a “Big Interview”. In this case, the manager isn’t new. The interview is still big.
Ronald Koeman, the new team manager for Oranje. Welcome…
Koeman: “I am so blessed, happy and priviliged to be the….
Yes, you can stop the cliches and the asskissing Ronald, we know your drill by now, ladidadida I am so proud, yadda yadda… is there another clause in your agreement? Will you forsake Oranje again?? Maybe when Spurs come calling?
“Oops, no. I get what you’re saying. No clause this time.”
Yes, because you were so keen to coach Oranje but you left at a key time and you left us with Frank de Boer and Louis van Gaal. Two major tournaments wasted opportunities. What do you have to say for yourself?
“Like I said, there is no clause now and I am happy and blessed and….”
Enough! What can we expect?
“Well, like I said before. I am a 4-3-3 man. I will not proceed with the LVG style of 5 at the back, whatever Louis called it. We’re going back to the system with which I had success, before I …”
Yes, shut up. How did you enjoy the World Cup?
“I think it was an exciting World Cup. The Qatar location wasn’t a success, neither was the winter time, for me at least, but we saw some exciting games. The Dutch could and should have done better, I feel, but I think everyone feels this way.”
What was the reason? Van Gaal?
“It’s tempting to say yes to that. But in all fairness, our top forwards were not in good shape. Gakpo did ok, but Memphis and Bergwijn were the go-to guys for Louis and I think he betted on the wrong horses. Overall, we didn’t have the quality we needed to have.”
How do you think you can overcome this?
“I hope I will make better decisions. But I won’t go back into the World Cup or stuff that happened before me. It’s not fair on Louis and not fair on the lads. I wasn’t there. I want to focus on the games ahead and the tournaments where I can have an impact. I do believe 4-3-3 will be a better option for us. Playing three at the back because you have top defenders is not good enough for me. I mean, we won’t play 5 strikers when we have 5 top goal scorers, would we?”
You came up with the definitive squad for these two Euro Qualification matches. It seemed the goalies and the strikers were a problem but now that is overshadowed by the loss of Frenkie de Jong. Can we cope without him?
“Of course! We will field 11 players, don’t worry. And we do not have a “second Frenkie” in the sense that Frenkie is quite unique. But even with Koopmeiners injured we have alternatives. They will play their part in a different way, but they can definitely play in that role. Wijnaldum played there, De Roon did, Berghuis even, Taylor plays in his role at Ajax and Blind played there a couple of games as well. And I have Wieffer and also Joey Veerman in the squad. Geertruida can play there even!”
Daley Blind? People will wonder why he is even in the squad?
“Really? He played 99 matches for Oranje! A player like him will always get his exit through the front door! He has been a good and loyal soldier of orange and although I did tell him that he shouldn’t count on a starting spot at LB, he can still be very important for us. He can play on 3 different spots and he brings a lot of know how and experience in the dressing room. I want to be able to give him his 100st international game, he deserves it. But whether I will keep on selecting him will hinge on his game time, moving forward.”
Ok, so no LB role for him anymore?
“No, listen when we play 4 at the back, Nathan Ake and Malacia are two excellent candidates and we have the likes of Bakker and Hartman coming through too. Daley is vulnerable defensively, that is no secret, but he can definitely play in the central midfield role, when we play with two pivots.”
Exactly what Van Basten and Gullit said in the Rondo talkshow.
“Yes but I don’t need them to tell me. Everyone knows this. But I have options. I can play De Roon if I want to build in more defensive strength. Or Berghuis, Taylor or even Wieffer if I want to play more offensive.”
Would you risk it with Wieffer in his debut match? Against France?
“Sure, why not? When you’re part of the squad, you’re part of the squad. He will have to show me, of course, during practice here, but I saw him play against Ajax, and Shaktar and those are games at a high level and he was great. I also added Veerman to the mix, we’re not in bad shape at all and Frenkie is a player who – like any player – can get injured or suspended so we need to find ways to cope.”
How bad was the news for you, that Luuk de Jong and Vincent Janssen withdrew from international football?
“Bad bad…. it was a surprise. I would never expect a player to say thanks to Oranje but hey, times change. I mean, Luuk is getting on and his body might need the rest at times. I respect that. He’s 32 and started his pro life at 17 or so? 15 years of knocks and pushes and battles. It’s a shame because he is definitely one of the best headers in the game in Europe, but like Janssen, he wouldn’t be a starter. Vincent has a young family and I think the pace of today’s game forces him to slow down. I think we demand too much of our players. All these matches, it’s nuts.”
Do we now have a strikers problem?
“Nah. I don’t think so. Gakpo plays striker for Liverpool. Memphis at Atleti. We have Danjuma who will hope that Kane moves on, we have Brobbey, Dallinga, Malen, Lang and even Simons can play there. Oh and Weghorst. I think we will manage.”
And the goalies?
“I understand there was a highly scientific approach re: the goalies. I’m a simple man and the father of a goalkeeper and I think a goalie needs to stop balls from going into the net. With Cillesen, Flekken, Bijlow and now also Verbruggen we have good goalies. Cillesen has years in him still, and the others obviously too. Noppert is top as well, but injured now and I can see more good goalies in the Eredivisie, like Olij and Vaessen. We – again – should be ok.”
There was some surprise re: Frimpong versus Geertruida and Tete?
“I can understand this, but I have a simple answer. Geertruida can play RB in a 4-3-3, he can also play central defender really well, and he can play also in the defensive mid role in midfield. Frimpong for me is more a wingback or even a right winger! He is excellent in Van Gaal’s system, so to speak. I think Geertruida is a better defender, Frimpong excellent in attack. But defenders need to be able to defend.”
Dumfries is suspended of course, for the France game. Tete was quite annoyed with the snub, he made some public comments about it. It felt like you were playing with his balls?
“I didn’t hear him say it, and he might have used this as a metaphor. I’m not impressed but I will call him after these matches and suss him out. I don’t think he has anything to complain. I got him into the squad again and I have gotten him into this prelim squad. I think Geertruida has been impressing way longer than Tete, who is only back at full form since this season. But I will call him up and see how he is.”
So Geertruida versus Mbappe?
“Yes why not. Or Timber.”
How do you see this qualifications group?
“I think we’ll need to be at our best versus all opponents. The onus is onus is on us and France. Two nations qualify and that should be us. But you can easily get into trouble against one of the others. Maybe not Gibraltar but even that match will not be an easy one. They never are. But if we don’t qualify, I will have failed.”
Are you positive about our future? Talent development?
“I am very positive. Look at the level of the Dutch clubs these days. Sure, Feyenoord is top, Ajax is always top, PSV will be there, but now AZ and FC Twente are joining in, Sparta, NEC and RKC are performing ever so well, our overall level is going up. And there is excellent talent, all over the place. Xavi Simons, Summerville at Leeds, Struijk at Leeds, Huissen at Juventus, we have Wieffer now, I still believe in Rensch and Teze, I can see talent at Ajax and Feyenoord, like Hartman. And it’s great to see a player like Malen getting back into shape, Lang and Danjuma are still young. We develop some great central defenders too, there is Botman, Struijk, Schuurs and Micky van de Ven, Bjorn Meijer, I mean truly… The future is bright.”
And you also seem to be keen to bring Wijnaldum back?
“For me, Wijnaldum always needs to be part of Oranje, as long as he’s fit. He always delivered under me. I am not saying it was Van Gaal’s problem, as Gini could indeed have a lesser period, it happens, but I can only refer to his many goals, his partnership with Memphis, his work ethics, I mean… Gini is top class. It’s not for nothing that the Liverpool midfield struggled without him.”
How do you rate Xavi Simons?
“He is a tremendous talent. From a footballing perspective, he’s a top class and his mentality is even better. He is not here to do tricks or to make pannas, he wants to win matches. Whenever he plays, something happens. That is really good to see.”
What do you expect from France?
“I think they will play their usual compact game. They want to create space for MBappe and they won’t press high. The pitch will be small when we have the ball and we need to be neat in possession and create options for triangles. And our rest defence needs to be top notch. We will need some training sessions for this, still.”
My eleven for the France game:
Geertruida – Timber – Van Dijk – Ake
Marten de Roon – Daley Blind – Wijnaldum
Xavi Simons – Weghorst – Memphis
Result: 2-2 (goals Memphis and Wijnaldum and two own goals by Daley)
The future of Oranje looks bright. How often have I typed these words. Most likely after most tournaments we covered here on the blog. Starting in 2004, in Portugal, with Robben and Advocaat dominating the headlines, via the Battle of Nuremberg to the Russian drama in 2008, the Spanish toe in 2010 and the miracle of 2014…
But, the future of Oranje always looks bright, which is part of the problem actually. We want the present to be bright. But time and time again, we put a lot of weight on the multiple talents we recognise, but which somehow don’t come to fruition.
In 2006, Maduro, Kromkamp, Jaliens, Vennegoor, Hesselink (never know which one), Babel… In 2008, Engelaar, De Zeeuw, Melchiot, Bouma, Afellay. In 2010, Elia, Braafheid. And the list goes on.
We do have the players. We always develop players. From Cruyff, Rep, Rensenbrink and Neeskens, to Bergkamp, Van Basten and Van Tiggelen. Or Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben now to Memphis, Gakpo and Frenkie de Jong.
It’s not the players. I said this before: Greece won the Euros in 2004 without any real world class names. We have enough players to fill a national team.
My key issue with Dutch football is the lack of real competence at the Federation level (the KNVB). Somehow, mediocre managers are pulled towards the jobs. It’s a cushion job, nicely paid, making nice trips to FIFA and UEFA events, you get your face on tv and you get to hang with famous people… But the Dutch officials lack the gravitas, experience and commitment of – say – the German or English officials. It’s all a bit cottage-industry in the Netherlands.
I mean, allowing assistant coach Dick Advocaat a contract clause allowing him to leave his job after 2 months, after coach Danny Blind had said no to other candidates. And then to allow Ronald Koeman a clause in his contract, so he could abandon the NT mid campaign (which gave us Frank de Boer and then Louis van Gaal). And then inviting Koeman back in!!!
What messages do you give to the players? How will Koeman get back into the dressing room? Its like leaving your wife for a younger model and then after a year of failed love-making, you return to your ex?
Or calling Peter Bosz to ask him about his contract and then telling the media Bosz turned the gig down?
Or having joke Hans van Breukelen sign both Ten Cate AND Advocaat and then lying to the media, the supporters and the players while Ten Cate had audio recordings unmasking the glib former goalie.
Top sport mentality? In the dressing room yes. On the pitch, sometimes. In the board room? No.
The KNVB management seems to be fishing in the same old pond: ex players, older than 50, successful as club coach, popular amongst the people, Dutch, experience within the Federation a preference.
Louis van Gaal had 3 stints. Hiddink had 2 stints. Advocaat at least 2. Now Ronald “this train might not come by again” Koeman twice. People like Grim or Lodeweges or further back Van Lingen, were part of the KNVB coaching staff before, at the youth level. There is no real vision. Coaches seem to be selected along the “IBM” mantra. In the past, corporations went for IBM because “no IT manager gets sacked for chosing IBM as a partner”. In Dutch football, no KNVB official will get sacked for selecting Hiddink/Van Gaal/Advocaat.
We don’t see rebels like Cruyff, Ten Cate or Bosz as team manager. They are too high maintenance. They will say things the KNVB doesn’t want to hear. They will have an opinion about the KNVB staff, protocols or methods. They play risky football.
Back in 1994, Cruyff dropped out of the negotiations to lead Oranje in the USA World Cup because he was forced to use the KNVB coaches as assistants, while JC wanted Tonny Bruins Slot and his own staff. Just like someone in KNVB management blocked the signing of Henk ten Cate.
Next up, our Academy philosophy needs a kick up the behind. Our focus has been very much a cookie cutter “pass and move” format, where players like Danjuma, Frenkie de Jong and potentially even Xavi Simons were told to “stick to the program”, i.e. stop dribbling and pass the ball more.
It’s vital to develop programs for specific roles in the team and it’s vital to organise more resistance for our talents. Every player leaving the Dutch competition to go to Italy (in particular), England or Germany will tell you soon after their move how they now train really hard and how it took them months to get up to par with the other players in terms of fitness.
Our talents, at Ajax, AZ, Feyenoord and PSV, win most of their matches with two hands tied to their backs. Send them out to play more international tournaments. Develop ways to make it hard for them. Let them play 10 v 11 for instance, to build more resilience and grit.
Talents will always come through in Holland but talent alone is not enough.
But enough with the stern criticism. Lets look at the interview with Peter Bosz, the World Cup winning team manager in 2026.
Congrats, Peter. You finally got us a World Cup. When did you start thinking it was all possible?
PB: “I always knew it was possible. We were close so often but we regularly missed a detail. We were able to get all ingredients right, this time. The foundation being the mental and physical levels of the squad. And then it was mainly the typical Dutch football spirit which got us the win.”
“It started when Ronald Koeman left after losing the Nations League final versus Spain, 1-8. The new 6 at the back system failed miserably. Koeman wanted to use all good central defenders in his line up and having Daley Blind as a striker was not a good call for some reason. So he left for Dundee United, which was one of his dream clubs apparently. I went back to the usual 4-3-3 and tried to get some clarity in to the squad.”
Was it hard to make the transition?
“The main thing was to get all these petty Van Gaal v Koeman things out of the consciousness of the lads. We just went back to the basis. 4-3-3 is ideal for the triangles and the positioning on the pitch. We were mostly play 3-4-3 whenever we had control which was often as we do have great ball players.”
How did you approach this World Cup?
“We decided to use the principles engrained in us by the glorious 1970s generation of players and we modernised it. We didn’t even do this to be honest, others have done it before us. I mean, Van Gaal in the 90s, Sacchi at Milan, Guardiola and of course the input from Wilson and Emanuel on the Dutch Soccer Blog was priceless.”
You decided to use a lot of playful, creative, adventurous players.
“Well yes, football is about scoring goals. You cannot score if you don’t have the ball. So players who have full control over the ball have more chance of keeping possession and finding solutions. All the rest, we can teach players. The massive overhaul we have seen in our academy has pushed the overall quality up. We’re just delighted with how it went.”
How did the selection process go?
“Simple. Which players are vital to have in the team, based on control, mentality, fitness and pure quality? Frenkie, Nathan, Tyrell, Cody, Xavi and Ryan. Right? So we built a team around them. Nathan Ake our captain, and leader and most experienced player. With Sven Botman regularly standing in for Nathan. Frimpong and Malacia are no-brainers of course and with De Ligt we have a true tank next to Nathan. A midfield of Frenkie, Gravenberch and Xavi Simons can play any opponent to smithereens and with Gakpo, Danjuma and Lang we have smashing forward line. I’m also happy Memphis as a supersub still works. It almost doesn’t matter who I put in goal, but Bijlow did really well doing nothing.”
Seven matches, no goals conceded, and scored an average of 5 goals per match. Wow.
“Yes, we could have done better I suppose. Your criticism is understandable. It usually takes about 20 seconds from start to the move, to the end: the ball in the net. We could and should have score more.”
“Overall, my assistants Daley Blind and Dirk Kuyt have been instrumental in this and I hope we can now win a couple more tournaments. Football is coming home!!!”
Eh no Peter, that slogan has nothing to do with….
“Am I so smart, or are you so stupid??”
Well folks, I promised you my World Cup Squad. I will try to get into the head of LVG but my personal preferences will shine through.
Yes, Blind was hooked by Schreuder for two matches now (apparently they had a bit of a fight) but Blind will obviously be part of the squad. There is no way in hell LVG will drop him. There will be very limited new blood in the squad, knowing Louis, as he won’t want to many new faces to “educate” about the Van Gaal method. So don’t get yourself all worked up. No Bakker, no Struijk, No Botman. He will probably add Xavi Simons for good reasons, but Van Gaal is a hard head and he could even completely ignore what we all want.
Below is the scene from Ajax – PSV that stuck with me most. Not the goals, not the silly hand bag battles, or moves by Kudus. Not the shot on target from Berghuis or the workrate of Xavi Simons. This:
— Tjeerd (@tjeerd95) November 6, 2022
As for the comments on Ajax – PSV. I think the match was pretty even between the boxes. Ajax had the better of the ball there. But when it started to become serious – in the boxes – it was PSV that was sharper and more willing to battle. For both PSV goals, Ajax simply didn’t want to defend. As if they didn’t want to get their shorts muddy. Before the 1-0, Bergwijn is worked to the ground and he stays there, as a spoiled child, watching the ref. Kudus and Brobbey decided to jog a little bit. As a result, the right hand side of Ajax was overrun and the right back couldn’t or didn’t want to pressure Gakpo too much: result? A pin point cross to Luuk de Jong: 0-1. For the second goal, it was a corner by PSV (or a free kick, not sure) and the ball was cleared half, Ajax started to push up, while Tadic lost possession on the edge of the box to Veerman. 5 (!) Ajax players stood still and watched. De Jong went into a duel for the ball, these Ajax players still stood there, watching. As a result, Guti was completely free to pick up the ball and score.
Simply lack of work ethics. Nothing to do with tactics or experience or quality. Everything to do with willingness to fight for every ball.
This is so pathetic… I’m ashamed to be Dutch…
Ok, now my 26 for the World Cup. Some comments: usually a coach picks two players per position. When you play 5-3-2, however, you would pick 10 defenders instead of 8 (in a 4-3-3) so that won’t work. You don’t even need 8 defenders usually, as historical data show that you usually only sub a defender if he’s injured or has a yellow. To change the game, you usually bring a forward, not a defender.
You will find my group of 26 in this image below.
I have to be frank, I thought I’d have a surprise for you, but I don’t. I was thinking to put Clasie in. Why? Because Clasie has 1) experience, 2) is a Van Gaal favorite and 3) brings the passing quality we might need if a player like Frenkie and/or Koopmeiners is out. Clasie is a good organiser, a very decent dueller for the ball and a cool head. Good set piece taker as well.
But right before posting this, I realised that it’s probably overkill. With Koopmeiners, Frenkie and Berghuis we should have enough players who can play in that role. You can even add Blind to that if need be while Ake or Timber could even play in that position.
I realised that there is no alternative if Luuk gets injured or suspended. Yes, you can send De Ligt up top or De Vrij but I decided to pick Weghorst as the joker’s joker behind Luuk.
Simons has to come, and I added Klaassen as well (positioned as LCB but that is only to make the picture symmetric I guess. Klaassen is the only real box to box player and with his goal scoring instinct I felt it was good to bring him along. Klaassen is also a player who will not complain if LVG makes him polish all the boots.
This my preferred start up eleven, based on the fitness of the players today:
Ok, let the insults, criticism and sarcasm begin!!
You know where to put your comments… ( pun intended).
Here we go guys. Rip into it.
This time, not so much a profile but an analysis. Daley has been covered a lot on this blog. Yes, your friendly blogger is a fan of the left footer (he was a left footed slow player himself) and Blind is a veteran by now and much talked about, so logically he featured here a lot.
Schreuder benched Blind for the first time in a long while versus Rangers FC. Is this the moment the 32 year old will have to face the fact he is not good enough anymore? Who listens to Schreuder will hear that Blind still has a lot of credit with the coach. Whenever the results are bad, Blind is the first to cop criticism, but Schreuder simply points to the number of games Blind played and the fact that Wijndal needs minutes, as explanation for the benching of the left back.
Rafael van der Vaart – himself a left footer with limited speed – was vocal with his criticism: “The problem with Blind is, he can play on many positions on the pitch, but he is not the best option on any of those spots. Malacia the better left back, Ake the better left central defender and Frenkie the better holding mid. It feels like coaching always want to create a spot for him in the team. He seems beyond criticism.”
The problem for Blind is, his flaws are easier to spot than his strengths. His biggest problem is his lack of agility. He is dependent on a good organisation around him. This was the problem recently versus RKC Waalwijk.
Not quick and agile enough to put pressure on
Here in the pic above, Blind’s direct opponent Bel Hassani lures Blind into midfield. He needs to press high, but he is too slow and lacking agility to really follow Bel Hassani, and the result in this particular move is two chances for RKC as a result of Blind’s lack of explosivity. As a result, Blind is swimming (drowning) in areas where his flaws are very visible and most direct opponents will beat him at these aspects of the game.
The second issue is his lack of speed. Ajax always plays with lots of space behind the last line and he lacks the speed to compensate this. He usually compensates this well with his intelligence and his reading of the game. He is able to steup up at the right time or to close the space by dropping back. When he fails to do so successfully, it really looks clumsy.
This below is from the Volendam game, in which the attacker would score from this move. Pasveer makes a big error and cops the criticism, although Ajax would win this with ease.
Not quick enough to close down
A third problem with Daley is his lack of heading power. Put next to Timber, who is also not the tallest, this is a problem. Blind is pretty good with long balls, as he judges the flight of the ball well and has time to position himself. But when he can’t use his smarts, he lacks the jumping power to really compete. In Oranje, he has the likes of Ake and Van Dijk to assist him with this.
This is another example from the Volendam game.
Not strong enough aerially
This doesn’t mean Blind is a terrible defender. Jose Mourinho wouldn’t play him as a defender in a European finals if he was. In terms of minutes in the Eredivisie, Blind has the most interceptions and in terms of successful tackles and repossessions, he scores higher than Owen Wijndal. There are also not many successful dribbles against him. It’s not easy to beat him in a one v one. Only Jurrien Timber has better stats than Blind.
In the Dutch league, his intelligence and positioning help him to remain one of the best defenders, but at a higher level – Champions League – his stats become really weak.
This is the dilemma for Alfred Schreuder at Ajax and Van Gaal at Oranje. Is it not time now to pick and choose the games where you can use Blind and his strengths versus games where he will be a liability.
Both coaches need to make the decision to see if the risk of playing Blind weighs up to the added value of the defender in possession.
This stat is key for most coached: Blind reaches the forwards almost twice as easy and often as his competition in an Ajax jersey.
# of successful passes into the final third
Daley Blind is the only defender n this list of players and their total passes to the final third. And as a defender, he is even the #1. A strong stat. In Europe, only Alexander-Arnold, Kimmich and Cancelo shine with this statistic. This is usually the domain of the playmaker, such as Kroos, Modric, Verrati or Pedri. The fact that defender Blind is amongst those players tells you something about his crucial role in the Ajax build up.
Only defender amongst attacking mids and forwards
The specialty of the house for Blind is his passing and in particular the fast low pass, which he plays fairly late so he draws in an opponent and plays the free man in.
This again v Volendam. He holds the pass until 5 (!) players of the opponent can be shoved aside with one deep pass. And Blind’s passes usually find a team mate.
Pulling people in to open up the space
How do you like them apples? See below, with Blind – top left – passing into Bergwijn and took 4 players out with the one pass, hard and low and with precision.
Crisp passing to take players out
Another problem the coach will have at Ajax, is that with Blind you can play Alvarez and Klaassen in midfield, who usually don’t really contribute to the build up. Once you lose Blind, you’ll need to bring in a playmaker type player next to Alvarez (Taylor?) to assist with the build up, which will have an impact on the balance of the team.
This is less of a problem in Oranje, where Ake and Van Dijk also have a strong forward build up pass.
So, it seems simple as a football supporter to yell “Blind needs to be benched” but as he is the key man in the build up for Ajax, any coach will want to think twice before they shove that type of quality into the bin.
A little hint from me on my fave starting eleven: I would always take Blind to Qatar as he will be the ideal player to allow Malacia or Ake some rest when they need it.
The video below will explain why Blind was not a failure at Man United :-).
With his 2014 experience, Van Gaal i making this Oranje “World Cup proof”. It will be tough to beat this system.
We won’t have a festive farewell game for Oranje, as per usual and the last match in Holland – the 1-0 win over Belgium – was not a festive one as such. It was tactical, shrewd and a bit like chess. Van Gaal wanted this. He prepped his team as such.
He wanted Oranje to play versus a strong side and keep a clean sheet. The focus now, was possession by the opponent, a strong one at that. Frenkie and Memphis were not there to take the team by the hand, so Louis wanted to build a fortress. Oranje succeeded and Van Gaal was realistic: “We defended well, we play less than acceptable with the ball.”
From the tactical cam up in the stadium, the hand of Van Gaal was visible. The team moved organically, as one being. They pressed where the ball was and dominated without the ball. When the spaces opened up in the second half and the opponent started to get more fatigued, Oranje pounced.
Van Gaal’s philosophy is simple: not the best players will win, but the best team will. He learned this when he missed the 2002 World Cup with experienced world class stars and won bronze in 2014 with three top talents and the rest in service.
Compared to Brazil, when Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben were the key men, our current top players are more behind the ball: Virgil van Dijk and Frenkie de Jong. Van Gaal thinks this squad is stronger but any coach would always favour their current squad over a past squad. In the 2014 campaign, our top players were surrounded by Eredivisie players (Wijnaldum, Blind, Janmaat, De Vrij, Martins Indi) whereas most of our lads now are playing at a higher level. Yes, lots of Ajax players, but Ajax has also stepped up a notch or two since 2014. According to Van Gaal, this squad show more responsibility and are self-sustainable in a way. Players like Van Dijk, Frenkie and Memphis will regulate behaviour in the dressing room, without the gaffer being there.
There is another differentiator: time. In 2014, Van Gaal had a month to prep his team, tactically, mentally and physically. For Qatar, he has 1 week. This is why he worked with the squad as he did during the last outings together. Focusing on moulding the starting line up and working on a winning mentality. Van Gaal used every minute he could. In one session, there was no more time to add another training session, so he took the lads in to the conference space and used 22 chairs to explain his vision. Another advantage: most players have similarly focused coaches at their club ( Pep, Klopp, Ten Hag, Gasperini).
Tactics is yet another aspect. In 2014, Van Gaal played a 5-3-2, with a passer in midfield and speed/guile upfront. That happened after our 4-3-3 was played off the pitch by France. Van Gaal immediately spoke to Robben about it, who supported the plan. He called Van Persie, who also saw this as a plus for himself individually. When Oranje would be able to cement the defence as a wall, we would have a fighting chance. When LVG started with his third tenure, he fell back to 4-3-3 because “it’s the easiest for the players”, but he already laid his plans for a 3-2-1-2 down. He only needed to convince his players, and he did.
Van Gaal solves a couple of issues, using this system. For starters, we have strong centre backs, so three in the backline should be enough to stop the opponent’s forwards. Secondly, we add more bodies in midfield, using the full backs as midfielders. This creates an overload and he who controls midfield controls the game. Thirdly, we don’t have real classic wingers at the moment, so this role will be taken by the full backs. The number of assists they had (Blind and Dumfries, but also Malacia), demonstrates this point. And lastly, our free roaming forwards will have the freedom to play according to their intuition.
There are some issues too. LVG wants his players to be in position once build up starts. They work with certain meters between the players and different lines. It takes time to get in position which slows the build up down a bit. When they are in position, they need to have either a full back or a pivot in midfield to make themselves available. This tends to happen slow at times.
Also, what do we do when the opponent doesn’t press? And just sits in position – zonal – to wait for us to create something?
In that case, we need to create. Play fast, move fast and find the space for the combination or the dribble. We are very good when having to press the opponent, regain possession and pounce.
Van Gaal is not happy with the game play in possession. Against Belgium and Poland, it was sloppy. “I do think we will find this again in a short time. It has to do with the form of the day, with fitness and with the quality and resistance of the opponent. For this, we depend on the club and the way the player is built up. Against Belgium, both Koopmeiners and Frenkie were missed. But still, we had more chances than Belgium, strangely enough… that is football for you.”
Skipper Virgil van Dijk: “We didn’t play well but we did win. We were not good in possession which means we need to work harder and run more. But we did. And we responded well to their positioning changes. Try and beat this Dutch team, it is not easy.”
Van Gaal also said most players have gained their “plusses” on the score card and if all goes well – fitness- these players can organise their suitcases already. Timber, Van Dijk, Ake are players who dare to press high. With De Vrij and De Ligt, Van Gaal has tremendous stand-ins.
Van Gaal trusts the power and run of Dumfries on the right and the vision, timing and footballing skills of Daley Blind on the left, with Malacia as a super stand in.
Frenkie is beyond reproach in midfield, while Bergwijn and Memphis are shoe ins as well. Gakpo is also clearly in the LVG good books.
So the remaining questions are: who partners De Jong in midfield? Berghuis, De Roon, Koopmeiners, Taylor and De Roon are options, depending on the quality of the opponent. Gravenberch can dream, as can Simons. The goalies are also not 100% certain. It seems LVG will bring four, so Noppert, Bijlow or Flekken will have to sit on the sofa at home, as Pasveer and Cillesen seem to be the logical choices for now.
Then there is the target man: Brobbey or Janssen? And the pinch hitter: Luuk de Jong or Wout Weghorst? Van Gaal: “And there is always the potential of a talent suddenly manifesting itself. Look at Taylor. if they’re good, I’ll pick them.”
It seems Frimpong can still dream. More on him in the next post!
Lastly, there are some former internationals who had to abandon the orange jersey due to injuries, such as Karsdorp, Danjuma, Malen and Lang. One or two of these could make the cut if they perform really well in the coming 7 weeks.
Is Oranje now a title fave? No, more of a dark horse. But when the stars align (form, draw, off-day opponent) then anything can happen…. Just like in 2014.
We need to be honest. Before this Derby Of the Lowlands, the stories coming from both camps already seemed to predict what was going to happen.
The Belgium camp (Kevin de Bruyne) clearly wasn’t keen to play these 4 Nation League games after the long season most players had. Questions about the playing calendar, comments about the lack of real necessity of these matches…. And understandable. Belgium as a National Team stands firm. Martinez has been around for years. Our Southern neighbours are a settled team. It’s clear how they play and they already have several tactical systems in their backpack.
Louis van Gaal himself sang the Dutch anthem before the match
So different from the Dutch camp, which has been infused with a sense of urgency by Coach van Gaal who blew up the importance of these games for the Dutch. Not because of the Nations League trophy, but because Van Gaal sees it as the first prep period for the World Cup. And with Van Gaal as a relatively new coach this time, with his ideas of implementing a different system ( 3-4-3 instead of 4-3-3) and the fact that not all positions are certain yet, these 4 Nations League games will be considered as really necessary.
It was noticeable in the match. Yes, Belgium started spritely, they had some threatening attacks, culminating in the rocket smashing onto the upright by left wingback Castagne who repeatedly benefitted from Dumfries swashbuckling runs.
But one they lost Lukaku (Ake fell on his ankle after a Lukaku push… karma is a bitch) and saw a couple of great chances for Oranje, the Belgiums seems to give up. The shoulders dropped, the midfield couldn’t get close to our players and the veteran defenders started to make error after error.
Berghuis should have scored after 15 minutes, facing Mignolet. Memphis got a sweet volley chance, which just missed the goal, while Daley Blind had a good effort on goal after a brilliant Berghuis pass to Memphis who found his former Mancunian team mate on the edge of the box.
Holland could have been 0-3 up by then and all Belgium could do was a De Bruyne free kick on target after a rash Timber foul. Cillesen could easily collect the ball.
Oranje could smell blood. For sure, players like Van Dijk, Blind, De Jong and Memphis will have sensed that this Belgium was second-best in everything. Led by a Frenkie on overdrive, Oranje hunted for that goal.
It was no coincidence that Spurs man Stevie Bergwijn scored the opener. Always moving between the lines, always available, he was found by Frenkie with a short forward pass. The ex PSV forward took a touch to turn and found the goal without looking up: 0-1.
Oranje was almost able to score a second soon after, when the ref pointed to the spot for an alleged handball, but the VAR was able to dispel that notion: the ball hit the defender in the face, not on the arm: no penalty.
The usual question arose: was Holland playing so well, or was Belgium playing so weak. Probably a bit of both. The Dutch tactics Van Gaal came up with for this match worked wonders. Initially, it was Castagne on the left who had the better of Dumfries and after 20 mins or so, Van Gaal instructed the Inter wing back to be less adventurous to quiet the Leicester City man.
With Davy Klaassen on the #10 position, Van Gaal wanted him to make it hard for De Bruyne to dominate the game. The result was a less attacking Klaassen. Instead we got the fighting, duelling, battling and hoovering Klaassen. Never shining brightly, but oh so very important.
Berghuis played next to Frenkie. A bit deeper. But with the freedom to roam and support the attack. As Van Gaal said before the match: “Berghuis is my creative player. He can go wherever he wants.” And thus, we saw a deep lying Berghuis pass some great balls to the forwards – he created Memphis’ 0-2 for instance – or he himself came into scorings positions. The first one, I mentioned. He also had a shooting opportunity which sailed over the bar. His third attempt ended up at the feet of Blind who found his wing back partner Dumfries for the 0-3.
At that point, The Netherlands ruled the roost. Van Dijk and Ake were solid as a rock. Blind played his usual strong passing game, Timber might have put his hat in the ring for the right CB spot, while Frenkie de Jong payed at his regal best.
Memphis and Bergwijn upfront were unplayable for the older Belgium defence. They were constantly on the move, threatening and playing in between the lines. Memphis started slow, but grew into the game and ended up scoring one more in Oranje than a certain Patrick Kluivert. “Robin van Persie, here I come” was the message of the Barca forward.
Van Gaal didn’t see the need to change much. Ake was subbed after 75 minutes due to rhythm issues (the Feyenoord developed talent was informed by Man City that he is allowed to look for a new club… Newcastle United is a strong candidate).
Oranje could have gone further than 0-4. As said, the first half chances could have made it 0-7 and if Holland pushed really hard, they might have gotten more goals in the second half too. But, the friendly vibe between the players probably resulted in Van Dijk putting the foot on the brake, but not before he himself launched a long ball towards the sprinting Blind, who smartly took a position in between right back Meunier and centre back Aldeirwereld. The latter didn’t even see the Ajax man and his smart header was perfectly controlled by Memphis who didn’t hesitate: 0-4.
The Belgium team fought for a consolation goal and after a chalked off attempt for off side, it was Batshuayi who knicked one for Belgium: 1-4.
Obviously, the home fans booed their players off the pitch, whereas the Dutch were glowing with pride. After 25 years, Holland won a Derby of the Low Lands in Belgium. About time.
Van Gaal was particularly happy with the way they played and he was overly positive and complimented his players. “It was a joy to watch. Everything we discussed, everything we worked on and practiced worked out. The midfield positions, the movement of the forwards, the organisation at the back. Every single player was outstanding.” Asked about the key players, he smiled broadly and said: “Stevie Bergwijn! It’s unbelievable. He scored 5 out of the last 8 goals for us. He is so good in what he does. And Frenkie. But Frenkie… he is always good. I also thought Berghuis played a great game. But… they all did.”
Berghuis was not surprised with the way Oranje played: “I am not surprised no, because I know how good we can be. On a day like this, when it all clicks, we can reach this level. I know this. We need to find ways to always get to this level, which is the hard bit. I am not unhappy, far from it, but I do think I should have scored. That is a blemish on this match for me.”
Stevie Bergwijn was asked why he can perform like this in Oranje and not in London. “This coach believes in me. He has a role for me that works for me, I can play my game and I know what I can do. I feel really good here.”
Daley Blind had two assists in this game and created four chances for the team. He was key to Oranje’s attacking game. He opened his press talk by saying: “See? You don’t need to be fast to go deep!” This resulted in some belly laughs among the press. It was not a coincidence that both Dumfries and Blind were present for that third goal. When Berghuis shot on goal, both wing backs were already on the same level as the midfielder, ready to pick up a loose ball.
Daley Blind: “There is always that debate, whether this is a more defensive or offensive system. With Denzel playing higher on the right side, we can mix it up. He can go deep with his speed, I tend to play to the level of the box and try to get on the ball there. We sometimes slow the game down and try to just pass the ball around. This is not because we don’t want to attack. It’s the other way around: we do this, so we can explode into attack. We try to lure the opponent, we maybe put them to sleep a bit only to recognise where the space opens up and then an acceleration of the play gives us the attacking option.”
With the assist on the second Memphis goal, Blind demonstrated that speed is not always key. The moment you leave is key, the direction of the run is key (in between two defenders) and some spacial awareness to know where your team mates are is helpful too. Daley Blind running deep and heading an assist to the striker, is not a footballing situation you’d relate to the 32 year old. With Blind, it’s not about speed, but all about football intelligence.
Louis van Gaal is a happy man. He always speaks of Van Persie, Sneijder and Robben as the three key players he had for the 2014 World Cup. In this Nations League game, it seems the trio of Berghuis, Bergwijn and Depay have taken over these roles. Long may it last.
Jasper Cillesen – 7,5
First half build up passing could have been better. Second half, the Valencia goalie had one horrific build up pass but he also stopped some decent attempts on goal. His distribution improved. It seems Flekken, Bijlow and Cillesen will be slugging it out.
Nathan Ake – 7,5
He had one slip up in the first half, but played strong on the ball and very tight defensively. His starting berth in the team is not far away as a left CB.
Virgil Van Dijk – 7.5
Played like a rock. Supreme in the air. With a nice long pass to pre-assist Memphis’ second goal.
Jurrien Timber – 7
Played good, dribbles easily into midfield. Reads the game well but still has the odd rash challenge, in this match allowing Kevin de Bruyne a free kick from a dangerous spot.
Denzel Dumfries – 6,5
Had to slow his marauding runs a bit to keep track of Castagne. His hard feet resulted in some mediocre crosses from the right (one ball hit hard to Bergwijn at hip height) but always alert and on the front foot to score a goal.
Daley Blind – 8
Faultless game by Blind. Strong in possession, alert without the ball. Excellent distribution and two assists for the Ajax man.
Frenkie de Jong – 8,5
Played like a Roman emperor. Everything was his. Glided past players as if they didn’t exist. Always on the front foot, always driving forward.
Steven Berghuis – 7,5
Had some key passes (for the 0-2 for instance) and some great attempts, although he should have scored at least one. His distance strike resulted in Dumfries 0-3. Was available always, recycled the ball well and was alive constantly. With a goal, he would have scored an 8.
Steven Bergwijn – 8
Constantly on the move, constantly a threat. Always finding pockets of space and the most likely to open the score, which he did with a glorious goal. Ajax’ mission to sign him just got harder.
Memphis Depay – 8
Like Bergwijn, always a threat. Strong on the ball, aware of his team mates. Cool as a cucumber face to face with Mignolet and adding two more to his total tally.
The visitors were played off the pitch in the first half of the game but were silenced in the second half.
“Being better in possession” was Ten Hag’s mantra after the disappointing draw in Portugal. In order to not fall into the counter-knife of Benfica, Ten Hag made some subtle changes to his system. The left flank, where Ajax suffered most in Lisbon, was set up differently this time, with a leading role for Ryan Gravenberch.
Tactically, this is a different match altogether. In Portugal, supported by the crazy Benfica fans, they pressed high at times.This time around, the Benfica coach used a 4-2-3-1 with a strong defensive block. Ramos played more like a midfielder than an attacker. while Silva and Everton also played more like wingbacks than winger. Benfica’s most important mission: do not concede, hoping Ajax will somehow stumble in the second half.
In order to stop the opponent from being dangerous, Ten Hag has used some more certainties. Daley Blind was out of position a number of times in the away game, when Benfica countered. This time around, he played more like a third centre back.
In the build up, Blind constantly joins Timber and Martinez at the back, which usually means that Ajax has 3 defenders around striker Nunez. Ten Hag before the match: “We need to bring our style to the pitch. Which is cool and collected on the ball and recognising the moment to accelerate. When we do this, it usually means our rest defence is top. In this way, we can manage the game and pounce when there is space.”
Blind as third central defender does indeed offer more on two aspects of the Ajax game: there is more composure on the ball at the back and Ajax’ rest defence is already there when needed. To keep a threat on the left hand side, it’s Gravenberch who is playing wide on the left, with Tadic.
The Benfica defenders have difficulty with this. Their defence is zonal based. Ajax will lure the right winger Silva in the direction of Blind, which means right back Gilbero is faced with Tadic and Gravenberch, at times.
This image above demonstrates the confusion at Benfica. Taarabt and Weigl are both pointing and coaching team mates. Taarabt doesn’t want to pulled away from the centre of the pitch, by Gravenberch, while Weigl is dealing with two opponents: Berghuis and Mazraoui. Taarabt ends up the man to cover for Gilbero in some cases.
Ajax’ most threatening attacks do all come from their left flank.
In the 36th minute, Blind also joins into the attack. But the defensive organisation doesn’t change, as Mazraoui will drop back, and Ajax still has three at the back. Blind’s presence confuses Benfica and Gravenberch finds the space to dribble inside and release a good attempt on goal.
Three minutes later, Gravenberch starts a move that results in a big chance for Berghuis. This time, the attack starts on the right. Martinez with a good cross pass to Gravenberch, who is in a 2 v 1 situation with Tadic. Gravenberch waits till Gilbero bites and plays Tadic in. His pull back into the box offers Berghuis a golden opportunity, but the south paw wants the ball on his left foot and fumbles the chance.
This attack is exactly what Ten Hag wants. Be patient, push the opponent back, create a man more situation and pounce!
Benfica coach Verissimo is not happy with the first half and hooks Taarabt at half time. The playmaker is replaced by a defensive mid, as direct opponent for Gravenberch.
In situations where Gravenberch would have been free on the left, now Meité comes with him. Benfica is able to neutralise the Ajax threat. With 19 minutes to go, Benfica thinks they have enough control to bring more heading capabilities in Yaremchuk, he’ll take the central role and Nunez will move to the left.
With 13 minutes to go, the ref gives a soft free kick to Benfica. Nunez beats Timber in the air and Onana’s timing mistake results in Ajax conceding a goal in a game in which they hardly gave anything away.
Ten Hag responds by bring Brobbey and midfielder Klaassen. Blind first move to left central defender but shifts back to the wing, while Timber takes a more midfield role. Benfica’s speciality is to kill time and Ajax’ final thrust never really takes place.
Ajax played a double ticket against an opponent who rolled out the red carpet in the first leg. In Portugal, Ajax lost the tie, by opening themselves up needlessly. The draw in Portugal was what Benfica needed to completely disrupt Ajax’ game in Amsterdam. A better organisation did help Ajax to stop Benfica from countering but shooting blanks up top and making mistakes with a dead ball was all it needed for Ajax to disappoint in Europe yet again.
Sunday, arch enemy Feyenoord awaits.
For some, this has been a mystery. For others, it was always crystal clear.
Everyone can see Daley Blind’s weaknesses. You don’t need to be a football expert for this. He lacks pace. He can’t head the ball. He hardly scores or assists. He’s actually too slow for a left back and lacks the duelling power for midfield.
Why is it that all coaches he worked with, all football analysts and ex-players rate him so high? Why won’t Van Gaal or Ten Hag bench him for quicker players? Younger players?
Finally, there is a new statistical model being used which clearly shows in stats why Daley Blind is one of the best players in Europe. (Thanks to VI Pro)
The opening goal of Ajax vs FC Utrecht demonstrates Blind’s value vis a vis this new statistical model. And Blind’s role is key. The Ajax left back gets the ball after a turnaround of possession and his action allows for the pass to Steven Berghuis. He dribbles forward and passes to Tadic. The Serb finds Gravenberch who finds Antony. The little Brazilian scores. In traditional statistics, this goal will be summarized as “assist Gravenberch and goal Antony”. Expected goals and Expected Assists do add some context. These stats show you how likely that Antony goal was. But the role of Blind and Tadic in this move can’t be found in the traditional stats. There would not be a pre-assist even for Daley Blind.
This has “Final third” on the Y and “half opponent” on the X -axis. Name of graph: Successful passes
Daley launches his team mates forward like this an absurd number of times, allowing them to penetrate the box. This visualisation above demonstrates the combi of passes on the opponent’s half into the final third. Blind is a category in itself! Only Feyenoord playmaker Orkun Kökçü comes close.
The traditional stats say something alright, but they miss any context. For instance, a through ball getting a player face to face with the goalie is in these stats comparable with a horizontal pass at the middle line. Expected Assists helps to show which player actually create opportunities. The pass before the final pass was also not really on the radar, until the Expected Threat comes into play.
The aim of the Expected Threat is to add value to players who actually start the attacking move. This idea was launched by Sarah Rudd, who worked for Arsenal in 2011. Karun Singh took this model later and created a popular blog post to demonstrate this and the Athletic took the idea and popularised it.
The Expect Threat Zones. The lighter the block, the better the odds to score.
The idea behind Expected Threat is simple. The closer to the goal of the opponent, the high the chance that a goal is scored in the next 5 moves. Historical data helps to give values to these areas. So they divided the pitch into 192 zones (12 in the width and 16 length-wise). The players who get the ball in those high-value zones are scoring the most points, obviously.
Expected Threat identifies the players who are the most successful in finding the quickest route to a goal. And the scores are basically a compounded score of progression made on the pitch, through passing and dribbling (carry). Crosses are not part of this analysis, because the odds to score from a cross are way lower than playing the ball via pass and move into the box.
This sounds like higher math to some, but this video below will show what is meant. The Blind pass which results in the first Ajax goal.
Expected Threat will compare the starting point of possession, with Blind, to the final stage of this move, which is Tadic taking the ball in the box.
Statistically, the chance that a team scores within 5 moves at the spot where Blind gets the ball first, is 1,4%. This means, that only once in 67 times that the ball gets to that starting point, a goal will follow within 5 moves.
However, when Tadic takes the ball in box, the chance of Ajax scoring went up to 12.6%, which means that when a team gets the ball here, 1 out of 8 times, a team scores within the next 5 moves.
So, Blind’s pass has increased Ajax’ scoring changes with 11,1% points. And this gives Blind a value in the Expected Threat stat: 0,111 points.
Another example: the first Ajax goal against PSV. Again, Blind starts the move. This time he has a pass in the left channel towards Gravenberch. He brings the ball from a 0,5% zone to a 3,7% zone. With this pass, Blind collects another set of points to his name in the Expected Threat score. The score is lower than in the Utrecht example, because the zone where Gravenberch gets the ball has a lesser value (as it is further from the opponent’s goal).
The winning goal Ajax scored versus PSV also has Daley as a key component. With two trademark passes: he first plays Tadic in, hard and low. Then another pass towards Danilo. These types of passes demonstrate his value for Ajax.
Analysis the matches vs Utrecht and PSV show that Blind has numerous passes with which he accelerates the play. “I want to make every single pass count. In the match, at practice, always. I try to send a message with my pass, to the player I play the ball too. My pass should inform him what my idea is for his next move. When I play in to Dusan Tadic’s right, I want him to turn that way. It doesn’t always work out, but it’s always my intention.”
Recently, Blind spoke in the Cor Podcast about this: “Delaying the pass is the most important thing. When I get the ball, or anyone gets the ball, the opponent is usually in a particular position. They usually are comfortable. When I pass too quick, I am not doing anything about that positioning. But when I delay my pass, I force the opponent to do something. If they don’t come to block me, I can dribble forward. But if a players steps in, another one of my team mates will become free. I actually force the opponent to tell me what my best next move is.”
The facts show that Blind’s words are more than theory. He usually gets the ball in areas where he is not going to be a threat. Usually, on the left flank. The next step is for him to bring the ball there where a threat can develop. His hard, low pass to Tadic is his trademark, these days. Blind plays a cat and mouse game with his opponent. You act as if you don’t know where to go, you look around, maybe turn towards a less risky team mate in midfield, only to suddenly play the fast ball, skipping midfield, into Tadic or Berghuis.
Animation of Ajax’ build up patterns
Erik Ten Hag actually amended his tactics to fully benefit from Blind’s qualities. He is the first build up station. He usually drops back next to central defenders Martinez and Timber, or he moves way to the left, allowing Gravenberch to confuse the opponent by him dropping back. In both situations, the aim is to trick the opponent into making a press on one of these two. When they do start the press, the space around Tadic becomes wider and this is when Blind will play the ball.
Expected Threat captures this quality in statistics. Blind is the leader of this stat in the Eredivisie, as he was last season too. Last season, in the big competition, the stat leads were Neymar in France, Messi in Spain, Jaden Sancho in Germany and Jack Grealish in England. It’s no surprise that these four players are considered the top and three of the four made a big money move last summer.
This year, Blind shares the #1 position with Leo Messi again (France), Vinicius Junior for La Liga and Trent Alexander-Arnold in England.
This list shows the Expected Threat in passing. Different types of players can do well with this stat. Another Ajax player (Tadic) is second on the list, as a left winger. Ajax’ Timber is on the list as a central defender, while Veerman (these are his Heerenveen stats) and Kökçü are more playmakers.
There is a separate stat Expected Threats in Dribbles. Cody Gakpo does really well in that overview and that will also play a role regarding the interest from Liverpool, Man City and Bayern Munich in signing the lanky PSV star.
Stats do not tell the full story of course. One aspect that is not taken into account in the Expected Threat stat is the position of the opponent. Only the start and end position of the move are used and not how many opponent players are taken out of the game by the pass. In this way, teams that dominate on the opponent’s half will always score higher in this stat than counter-attacking teams.
But, this does give us a very objective and measurable reason why Daley Blind is revered by the football experts and that he fully deserves the title of the King of the Pass before the Pass….
I’m sure some of you will start to comment like crazy now….
A combination of factors contributed to the abysmal performance and result away versus Montenegro.
And as a result, we saw the worst and the best of this Oranje, in the course of 4 days ( inspired by Louis van Gaal).
The nation was holding its breath, the pressure was on. And as a result of the drunk man’s policies of the Dutch politicians, in an empty Kuip.
So there were lots of questions. Will Louis change the team wholesale? Which goalie would he pick? What tactics will we see? Daley Blind, Wijnaldum, Klaassen underperformed versus Montenegro… Would Louis use Malacia? Or Ake?
With Bijlow injured, was it now Flekken’s turn? Or fall back on Cillesen, the more experienced one? And will Holland go for the win, and try to overwhelm Norway? Or did Louis expect Norway to come blazing on all cylinders?
Well, the answers were actually quite logical (from the Book of Van Gaal): Always rely on experience in big games. He would never throw Malacia before the wolves. Neither would he Flekken. Cillesen has been in pressure cookers before and knows the drill. He also is a tremendous kicker of the ball, so Cillesen in goal was not a surprise.
Van Gaal leaning on the experienced players was also not a biggie for me. He played the same formation as versus Montenegro, but with Bergwijn instead of Malen.
“Malen didn’t perform well. I told my wingers: stay wide and high as much as possible. Danjuma did well. Malen kept on moving out of position which resulted in a very underwhelming right side of the team. Bergwijn did better. So I played him,” was Van Gaal’s explanation.
And no, Louis didn’t force his players to hunt for goals. Keeping a clean sheet was key.
So in other words: dominant, with a provocative press. A Van Gaalism. Which means: invite the other party to attack. Sit a bit deeper and wait for the moment to press. This is 1) when a sloppy ball is played by the opponent, or 2) when a midfielder has his back to our goal when played in or 3) when the ball is played wide to a full back.
In the first half, we hardly got into trouble. And yes, we didn’t create a lot but we still had 3 or 4 chances. Bergwijn impressed on the right. Danjuma was threatening from the left. Blind played his usual decent game, as did Wijnaldum. The midfield was instructed not to run blindly into the opponent’s box and that reluctance made the chances we did create less effective, but hey… we didn’t concede!
And all that mattered was securing that ticket!
Norway didn’t take the game to us. They waited until the second half. Oranje got a bit more space in the second half, when Norway started to push a bit more, but they only managed two shots, of which none on target.
By then, we had seen some headers by Memphis, a Montenegro type flick by Depay as well, a volley from 25 meters from the Barca forward and some good crosses by Danjuma and Bergwijn. Lots of “almost” chances.
In the second half we got more opportunities when Norway went to play with three at the back. Bergwijn and Danjuma were always going to be the danger men, playing from the wide angles.
Oranje was clearly focused on not conceding, more so than scoring. The lack of confidence as a result of the latest draw was palpable. The lack of Oranje support from the stands could well have been a blessing in disguise, as in previous games the home crowd at times yells the team forward in scenarios where that is actually not preferred by the coaches…
Frenkie worked his arse off and probably ran more than 11 kms in this match. Wijnaldum was way more involved in midfield and Memphis was his usual self. Probing, drifting, threatening, while Blind and Dumfries offered good support for the wide men.
Man of the Match Steven Bergwijn made a strong statement with his creative explosive runs and it was befitting for him to be the guy breaking the deadlock. A wonderful little dribble from left back Blind, with a 1-2 combination with his former Man U mate Memphis and Danjuma was able to provide the assist to Bergwijn who found the top corner emphatically.
Norway had some minutes left to get back into it and added more attackers to the mix, prompting Van Gaal to sub Danjuma who was becoming a wing back for us. Nathan Ake was asked to shore up matters. From a Norway corner, a smart little header by Memphis released Bergwijn who ran half the pitch towards the Norwegian goal, with Oranje’s record breaker and future all time topscorer Memphis Depay in his wake. A simple wide pass to the Barca man and he added another goal to his tally, surpassing the likes of Bergkamp and Huntelaar.
And with that, Louis van Gaal – watching the game as an evil conniving Stavros Blofeld from his vip box -saw it was good.
His team qualified as group leaders and demonstrated some grit and effectiveness after a series of interesting matches. We’ve seen them struggle, we have seen them play Turkey off the pitch, we have seen them put to sleep by Montenegro and now we’ve seen them all business-like and efficient.
Congrats to all! We’re back at World Cup Level. Lets discuss what we learned moving forward in future posts.
In terms of player ratings…
Cillesen – 7
He didn’t have to do a lot of shot stopping but his distribution is excellent and it was good to see him confident and relaxed in the Oranje goal again.
Dumfries – 6
Lots of energy and hard work. At times a bit clumsy but always positive and always “on”.
De Ligt – 6.5
Didn’t do much wrong, but also didn’t do much to make us all sit up. Decent.
Van Dijk – 7
Played like a captain. Was the boss in aerial battles and commanded the troops with his booming bariton.
Blind – 7
Some good touches and passing. Not everything worked, but that is ok. His little forward dribble and 1-2 with Memphis broke open the Norway defence.
Klaassen – 5
A bit invisible. Probably working hard, but a tad off the pace at times. Got subbed due to a nasty stamp on his thigh.
Wijnaldum – 6.5
Played in service of the team. Had some good moments and battled like in his best Liverpool days.
Frenkie – 7.5
Frenkie led by example. Covering a lot of space. Always available and snapping like a pitbull at ankles and balls.
Danjuma – 7
Kept the pitch wide. Was threatening always and direct in his actions. A tad unlucky with his crosses and his goal attempts. Had the assist on the 1-0.
Memphis – 7
Scoring, hassling, leading, threatening. Not his best game but in a mediocre performance he will still find the net, he will work his butt off and that volley deserved better.
Bergwijn – 8
Man of the Match. Constantly threatening on the wing, tracking back when needed. Good crosses, and that superb goal. His last minute run to gift Memphis a tap in was excellent too.
De Roon and Ake didn’t have too much time to excel.
Van Gaal – 8
The winning coach. Bringing us back to World Cup finals level. Usually, I’d give him a 7 but his Blofeld impersonation gets him an extra point. If he would have brought a white cat for on his lap, I’d give him a 9.
For now: come back with your comments and insights below.