Tag: Daley Blind

Strong Ajax kicked out of Champions League

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.

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Daley Blind mystery finally solved!

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….

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Frugal Oranje does the bizznizz: WC ticket secured!

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.

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Playful Oranje dazzles in De Kuip

Evening matches in De Kuip are a joy. The stadium is big but cosy. The fans love it there and usually, so do the players. It has a real football vibe and usually the pitch is perfect. This season, not so much, but still, the atmosphere is amazing.

Louis van Gaal was not happy with the 0-1 versus Latvia, in the sense that he feels the second goal needs to come swift and as we play at home vs minions Gibraltar, we needed to entertain the fans.

For this, he went with almost the same eleven as used versus Latvia, with the addition of Lang on his fave left winger spot in place of the injured Gakpo and Wijnaldum back in place of Guus Til.

Gibraltar coach protested the use of Lang and Danjuma AND two balls!

Before the match, Louis explained how he expects Gibraltar also to have 1 or 2 chances, how he wants the forward pass quicker and demand more courage and creativity of his players.

He didn’t choose to hussle the team up. It would have been nice to see Malacia in action, with De Ligt and maybe Koopmeiners or Gravenberch, but Lous decided to build on his fave eleven, with the eyes firmly on next month’s key matches.

He also decided not to use a real #9, as was suggested by some experts in the Netherlands. “If you want goals against smaller nations, use a target man like De Jong or Weghorst”. Louis acknowledged the idea as a possible option but decided against it, by explaining the tremendous stats and workrate of Memphis as his key reason.

And the Barca man didn’t let his coach down: 2 goals and a missed pen plus 2 assists for the record breaker. He took Kluivert’s record of most goals scored in the NT in  calendar year (was 12, now 13).

At this rate, the often criticised artist will become the NT’s top goal scorer, top assister and most capped international.

Van Gaal will have been pleased to see how his forwards again were the key players in the 6-0 win over Gibraltar. We did what we needed to do: a quick goal by the captain, and the chance on a quick second goal. The penalty was justified, but Memphis was stopped by the debutant in goal for Gibraltar. Memphis’ 0-2 was a beauty with a tremendous pre-assist by Noa Lang.

And with Lang, we have another one of the top performers. The cheeky and gifted left winger was a constant threat with his dancing feet in the first half, impressing with his skill, his combination play, his dribbles and his through passes. With Danjuma nocking on the door with a sledgehammer, Lang could well play as a #10 as well. That makes me lick my lips. Great player.

So, Louis wanted to see Noa play and boy did he see him.

It must be said, there were no duds against Gibraltar although some players could shine a bit more (Memphis, Noa, Danjuma) than others (Frenkie de Jong, Bijlow).

Skipper leads the way

Van Gaal wanted goals, he wanted a clean sheet, he wanted his players to remain healthy and he wanted to entertain the public.

And he got all he wanted.

After the match, there was a positive vibe at the presser, with Denzel Dumfries and Arnaut Danjuma being feted and Van Gaal allowed the platform to gloat and shower praise over his lads. “This is a very very tight and good group!”.

I think it is clear that the quality will be there for us, right when we need it.

With Gakpo, Danjuma, Bergwijn, Lang and Malen, we have multiple options for the left winger role.

Lang and Gakpo can play #10 as well. Malen is actually a #9 (for me) and Lang and Danjuma can also play right winger, giving Louis options besides Berghuis.

Assist Weghorst, goal Danjuma!

With our central defenders, our goalkeeper, central midfielder and leader of the line Memphis, I think we’re in pretty good shape.

And yes, I know it was against Gibraltar, but I have seen so many matches of big name national teams (yes, our Oranje as well) struggling against the Cyprus/Malta/Andorra/San Marino/Gibraltar type opponents. Usually, you do win, but at times with limited score lines and lots of frustration.

This time, the team kept at it. Kept playing within the shape, disciplined, with frills and trickery.

Weghorst could have had a goal, Danjuma could have had a couple of assists. Danjuma: “I was waiting to come on with Wout and I said to him: where do you want them? He said: near post. I said, ok… Hard and low, near post. Make sure you are there!”.

Memphis Depay led the line like a real world class player that he can be. He fought, he made dummy runs, he assisted, created and scored. And even missed a pen!

Now, fans also want the tie of the coach!!

Lang and Danjuma will not leave the squad any time soon and De Vrij seems to have won the RCB spot from his best friend De Ligt.

For me, the midfield combination and the right back spot are still question marks. I’m a fan of Dumfries’ personality, his energy and mentality, but he is not good enough to play along in these type of tight games (tight as in “spaces are tight”).

Van Gaal will now focus on the last two matches: an away win v Montenegro means we only need a draw at home against Norway.

My player ratings:

Bijlow – 7

Didn’t do much wrong. Didn’t do much. Stopped a shot on goal from an off side Gibraltar player. Showing off.

Daley Blind – 7.5

Was active. Good passing range. Had several ventures in the box as a midfield-type runner. His team tried to reach him with passes over the top but it didn’t fall for him.

Virgil van Dijk – 7.5

Playing very high and was rewarded with a goal, the first one. A captain’s goal.

Stefan de Vrij – 7.5

Playing high up the pitch. Suffocating anything he could. Attacking prowess leading to (missed) penalty. Great long range passing.

Denzel Dumfries – 6.5

Doesn’t do much wrong but lack of technique and touch makes him a stumbling block in the velvety moves on the right. As always: great energy.

Frenkie de Jong – 6.5

Did his thing, let things ticking over. His long passing game was not 100% and he seemed not needed in this game.

Gini Wijnaldum – 7

Working hard as per usual. Made some great defensive sprints, when needed. Always available and close to a super goal after a great move involving Berghuis and Memphis.

Davy Klaassen – 7,5

Great understanding with Memphis. Wonderful timed runs, great energy and a top assist for Memphis.

Noa Lang – 8,5

First start. Dominant from first minute on. Played with discipline but also with a boldness not seen often, playing through balls with the outside foot, wandering across the whole pitch and setting the pace for the attacks.

Memphis – 9

Constantly hassling, probing, threatening. Allowing his team mates to shine with some good assists and demonstrating his skills in the small spaces. Got two goals, two assists, but should have had a hattrick. Passed some great names on the topscoring list and setting record after record.

Steven Berghuis – 7.5

Good performance, but never outstanding. Combination play was sumptuous, his crossing and shooting was thwarted. Great set piece deliveries too. He was booed by a small part of the (Feyenoord) Oranje fans whenever he had the ball. It didn’t seem to bother him much, but Van Gaal was dumbfounded by these “fans'” reactions.

Arnaut Danjuma – 8.5

Very lively play by the football professor. He’s fast, explosive, strong, direct to goal kinda guy. Took on opponents, had some potential assists, demonstrated a great rapport with his team mates and got his goal too. The golden wonder boy is back.

Wout Weghorst – 7.5

Wout does what Wout does and got an assist too. Should have scored with his head, but the ball should have gone 1mm further over the line. So unlucky.

Donyell Malen – 7.5

I feel for Donny. He is not the best left winger nor the best striker in our NT. But he’s an awesome player: fast, also direct to goal in his approach and a good ball player. He played right winger and looked better there now than he did under Frank de Boer. Scored his goal and is a great super sub to have.

Louis van Gaal – 8

He motivated and inspired the troops. He picked the right eleven. He got the tactics right. He used his subs well. If he does this with Oranje versus France, Italy, Germany and Brazil, he will get a higher mark.

Your views?

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Dutch devour Turkish Delight

What a night. We had early goals before (WC finals 1974 anyone?) and it hasn’t always resulted in greatness. This time, things seem different. An early goal. Another goal in the first 15 minutes and a very energetic and focused performance.

Things are taking a turn for the better in LVG’s third spell at the helm.

And what a quality goals they all were! Amazing to see how “question marks” like Berghuis, Klaassen, Dumfries and Bergwijn stepped up to the plate and played their key parts in this wonderful win.

The line up was logical. Van Gaal only put experienced Blind back in for Malacia and used Bergwijn in place of Gakpo on the left. He is clearly cementing his favourite eleven (or fifteen, rather) and slowly but surely his go-to guys are making their mark.

Justin Bijlow will be the new #1, hopefully for years to come. Stefan de Vrij was picked ahead of De Ligt and again he was one of the Men of the Match. De Vrij was solid on the ball, focused in his defending and overall Mr Cool at the back.

Frenkie showed his class as did Memphis again and the Oranje right flank, wanting versus Norway, impressed from the start with Dumfries and Berghuis demonstrating their connection.

But it helps, a goal in the first minute of course. And a quick second – also a beauty – helps even more. Oranje demonstrated their swagger without becoming arrogant.

The pace was good, the creativity was visible more and more and the workrate was just outstanding. If the Dutch can keep this mentality up, we are definitely back!

The criticasters on this blog will probably point out Dumfries “hard feet”, or Berghuis’ risky passing, or Blind’s one moment of lack of concentration (letting the ball slip), but overall, I think we can be happy with the step up Oranje made.

There was one moment in the 65th minute which will have made Van Gaal pissed off. Berghuis has the ball in midfield, there is no movement whatsoever. Dumfries is walking, no runs or options. The ball stays there in that zone. Koopmeiners comes to help, Van Dijk comes to help but between the three they suddenly lose the ball for no reason. We tidied it up, without a problem but that little moment must have angered the gaffer.

Being 4-0 up against 10 men, and then exchanging key players (Frenkie, Wijnaldum) never helps the flow of the game of course but these are little moments that need to be ruled out.

Two more goals (subs Til and Malen) and a horrific scare in the last seconds, when goalie Bijlow makes his only mistake in selling Van Dijk short, allowing Under to score a consolation goal, and an annoying knock for Captain Van Dijk. Van Gaal will not be happy (and neither will Klopp be).

The attacking play was excellent. False striker Memphis was everywhere again, Berghuis and Bergwijn played disciplined on the wings. Dumfries was marauding as per usual and Frenkie and Gini kept ticking things over.

A solid performance allround with some incredible moves and exciting play.

Captain Virgil was happy with the performance. It all seemed to fall into place: “This is what we wanted, and the early goal helps a lot of course. We played with intensity, with focus and it’s wonderful when it all clicks.”

Hattrick hero Memphis was less positive. “I think we did well but I think we have room to grow. And I am talking about myself more than anything. My first touches were poor and I feel there is more in us than we showed. And even though we score 6 and I score 3, we need to keep on focusing on improving because we want to do this against the top nations as well.”

Coach Louis van Gaal was beaming from ear to ear: “We have seen an outstanding performance. This group is so good and so great to work with. They have an opinion, they operate as a group, they welcome new players, it’s quite impressive. This is the best group I’ve ever worked with. And sure, I can see room for improvement. We lost the ball too often and we also didn’t play in a very high pace. Against 10 men you need to up the pace and find the free man, but overall we did play some good football and we scored some amazing goals!”

Van Gaal deserves the Man of the Match award, he clearly did everything right. But of the players on field, for me, Klaassen, De Vrij and Memphis (again) were the pick of the bunch.

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Van Gaal focuses on Turkey

Today was the presser pre-Turkey. The fact that Gakpo and Nathan Ake had to leave the trainings camp. Gakpo due to injury, Ake for ‘personal reasons’.

Van Gaal was disappointed, as “we don’t have a lot of wingers in the first place”. Gakpo would probably have played against Turkey. Van Gaal didn’t want to make the Turkey coach smarter, but he did say that Daley Blind returns into the team.

Memphis Depay was Van Gaal’s colleague representing the Dutch, explaining how playing against a compact shaped opponent works. Less space, lots of physical challenges. But Memphis demonstrated his usual swagger and confidence in his response: “We are confident, we know what we need to do. We will get our chances.”

Van Gaal furthermore lauded the Turkish coach, for his smart and his ability to turn the Turkish egos into the team. Van Gaal expects a counter-attacking Turkey and will analyse the way Turkey find their space moving forward.

Furthermore, Van Gaal expressed his belief that the Turkey match is not “a finals” but it is a key game for us. We play at home, and should have that extra to make a difference against Turkey. Van Gaal thinks the Turkey match will be the toughest match for the Dutch.

The question how Van Gaal and Depay were able to mend their relationship was answered in a balanced way by Memphis. “I think I was a different player and a different human being back then. We didn’t have a lot of success together but that doesn’t mean there was a lot of drama. That was magnified by the media.” Van Gaal added: “I can’t say it better than him. I recognised his talent when he was 20 years old and took him to the World Cup. I also took him with me to Manchester United, but that didn’t work too well. But that was partly also the team. I positioned Memphis on the #10 position! Not as winger. I think he, as an intuitive player, is at his best on that position, like he plays with us. As a false striker. The team couldn’t carry him and when I placed him as left winger, he started to get blockages. And my analysis, he didn’t have the orientation qualities he has now. He had trouble with the activities around him, to scan it fast enough. Now, he has developed and he is now as good as I knew he would be. He has unbelievable qualities.”

“Team work is super important. That was the case for Memphis at Man United but also for instance, Berghuis and Dumfries. By playing Dumfries, Berghuis will be able to play better. When I play Klaassen as a box to box player, this will help Memphis.”

Speaking of Memphis: he always cops a lot of criticism. Is it his rapping? His fashion style? His tattoos, or his swagger? No matter, because he just scored goal #29 and 30, getting close to the top 10 of top scorers in Orange. And only one player was younger than Memphis in that top 10.

After the Norway game: “I expected more from myself. I wasn’t able to make a difference, but I do need that ball quicker. I only have half a second of freedom and that is when the ball needs to be played in. Otherwise I have a big defender on my heels and I can’t turn that easily.”

Against Montenegro, this worked better. Although Memphis did start as a striker, but was everywhere on the pitch, except for…the striker position. That was the area where Klaassen and Wijnaldum ended up. The partnership between Gakpo and Memphis is developing rapidly and they both were involved in several goals. The penalty kick Memphis converted is his sixth and he now only had Koeman (8), Van Persie (7) and Neeskens (7) ahead of him. More coming, I’m sure.

Memphis played 70 internationals and was involved in 53 goals. That is superb. Only eleven Oranje platers scored more than 30 goals. Memphis is part of that list now. Only Kluivert was younger than Memphis. Kluivert did need less games though, as did Huntelaar and Bergkamp.

Faas Wilkes in the late ’50s needed 33 matches. Cruyff only 38. Of the modern era, Huntelaar needed 48 matches. Record holder Robin van Persie need 69 matches, just one less than Memphis.

It seems clear that Memphis will topple Van Persie and grab the record. He’s only 27 years old, so should he score 5 goals per season and has another 5 years on the clock, he’ll add 25 goals to his tally, reaching 55 goals for his country. Robin van Persie has 50 goals from 102 matches.

In terms of assists, Memphis is the #5 on the all time assist list behind Sneijder, Robben, Van der Vaart and Bergkamp and #6 on the combined list behind Van Persie, Robben, Sneijder, Bergkamp, Huntelaar. Great company to be in.

I think it is time for all of us to realise that Memphis Depay is becoming another Oranje legend, in the same way Cruyff, Van Hanegem, Neeskens, Gullit, Van Basten, Bergkamp, Van der Vaart, Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder are Oranje legends…

This is my line up (well, the line up I think Van Gaal will use) for the Turkey game.
I expect a 3-0 win (again) with Berghuis, Memphis and Bergwijn to score.

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Oranje World Cup qualifiers: Bring it on!

After what can only be seen as the most electrifying transfer window ( Messi, Lukaku, C Ronaldo, Dumfries, Koopmeiners, Berghuis, Memphis, Luuk de Jong), the Dutch NT will commence their qualification journey for the World Cup 2022.

Louis van Gaal has only 1,5 days to prep the crucial match versus Norway, away, and had a pleasant training session with the squad (see video below). The only player missing from the group training was Memphis, who did an individual training inside. Van Gaal is convinced he will be ready for Norway.

Van Gaal was keeping the cards to his chest, not yet ready to share who will be the first goalie and what approach he will be taking for the Norway game. He did disclose the skipper (Virgil) and the two vice-captains (Wijnaldum and Daley Blind).

Van Gaal explained on the presser that he is grateful for the openness of the players in what they want, how they prefer to play and what their ambitions are. As he doesn’t have a lot of time, he needs to use what the players think, feel and want and he was pleased to see that the Dutch players have an opinion and a vision.

Van Gaal also emphasized that for him, the individual quality is always secondary to the team quality. Which is why he believes Norway is a dangerous opponent.

Asked about how to stop Haaland: “We need to stop and block the pass to Haaland. We also have pretty decent defenders, by the way, but making sure Haaland doesn’t get good service is key.”

Captain Virgil van Dijk was happy to be back and explained that he wasn’t feeling weaker or insecure due to his heavy injury. “I just need matches to get more rhythm.”

Gini Wijnaldum was asked about the Euro defeat: “We were devastated and we analysed what happened. I think looking back that we missed the team element against the Czechs. We wanted to solve the problem individually, but that wasn’t working. We forgot to play as a team. But we also need to be reasonable, we only had 10 days to get a masterclass in 5-3-2 and we did ok, but it’s only normal that we haven’t executed the system perfectly.”

Louis knows exactly how he wants to play versus Norway, but won’t divulge anything: “I am not going to make my colleague of Norway smarter than he is, already.” The players who play know it already. “I believe in clarity, I want the starters to be able to visualise the game, this will help them. And I want the non-players to be in a position to support the eleven starters.”

Asked about how this squad is different from the 2014 squad: “Not much different. These players are joyful, they enjoy what they do, they are very serious and ambitious and they are not shy to share their ideas. That is what every coach wants.”

I believe Oranje will win the game but only just: 1-2. Goals by Berghuis and Wijnaldum.

I expect a cagey and nervous match with lots of battling in midfield.

This is the line up I expect:

 

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Dutch NT Managers – pt 2

And as the KNVB is closing in on a deal with a certain Louis van Gaal for his third stint as NT manager, the time seems right to focus on Part 2 of Dutch NT Managers… 

And on we go, into the era that most of us you will remember more vividly…

European Championships 2000 – Frank Rijkaard

The tournament was in our own country (and Belgium) and as a result, we needn’t play any qualification games. Only friendlies, with the 5-5 vs Belgium a truly fun one (with an outstanding Davids). The Euros themselves were fine. We grew into the tournament. We got lucky vs the Czechs but demonstrated our great form later on in the tournament. Playing Italy in the semi finals was something to look out for. The team in form got Italy a red card early in the game and with the tremendous domination we had, it seemed only a matter of time, before…. but no. We missed all the chances, including two penalties and also went on to miss more of those in the shoot out. A crying Rijkaard was seen sitting in the bus after the tournament. He immediately resigned from his duties and disappeared to Spain via Sparta Rotterdam.

Frank may not have won anything as a coach with Oranje, but the dynamics in the group were great and we did play some exciting football. Once can only imagine what would have happened if he stayed on…

World Cup 2002 – Louis van Gaal

It wasn’t easy for Louis, to pick up the disappointed and somewhat ageing squad after the Euro2000 debacle, also with heaps of injuries and absent players, but the experienced coach should have done better. He failed to qualify with a top notch squad and really overplayed his hand in the Portugal away game, where he ruined our chances. The press antics of the man are a disgrace too, with his pathos and drama and crocodile tears. He’d go back to Barca and would eventually leave there with a lot of commedia dell’ arte as well. 

Based on this tournament alone, Louis would be the worst NT coach ever.

Euros 2004 – Dick Advocaat

Someone felt it was best to pick an experienced coach to pick up the team and work with it towards the Euros in Portugal in 2004. As we did have older players retiring and a bunch of new kids (Sneijder, Robben) getting into the limelight, an innovative and young coach would have made more sense.

There was a lot of push back in the media: why pick another former NT? Why not a younger coach? Dick reluctantly took the job and immediately picked Willem van Hanegem, his good friend, as assistant coach. The idea was to use the highly popular legend to deflect criticism away from Advocaat, who is famously suspicious of criticasters and media.

We ended up going with an impressive squad: Sar, Stam, Cocu, Davids, Kluivert, Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart, Makaay, Sneijder, Overmars, Robben, to name a few. And Paul Bosvelt, yes.

Advocaat didn’t want to use too many new talents. Robben (returning from injury, of course) and Sneijder were benchwarmers. Van der Meyde and Zenden, to name two lesser players, started. We ended up losing the semis against the host country Portugal. That didn’t hurt that much. We had just beaten the Swedes on penalties (finally!!) which was great, but the main damage was done in our second group match vs the Czechs.

The story is famous by now. We drew against the Germans and the second match vs the Czechs, we had a recovered young Robben on fire. He was unstoppable by the opponent. But Advocaat decided to stop him. He took Robben off after an hour of play, at 2-1. The Dutch, incl Robben, were dumbfounded. A controlling mid (Bosvelt) for an attacker in fine form. 30 minutes later, Oranje had lost the match. Everyone wondered why Dick made that change.

Advocaat decided to let Van Hanegem do the press conference, fearful as Dickie was for criticism. When Van Hanegem was asked about the change, he also expressed bewilderment as to why Advocaat would have done it. Asked what Willem would do next time Dick attempts to do something like this, Willem responded: “I will knock him unconscious!”.

That caused a rift between Dick and Willem and a rift between players (who all favoured Willem) and Dick. The game vs Latvia was won and because Germany beat the Czechs, Holland went through. The loss against Portugal was not necessary but on the day, it was justified. The biggest talking point was and still is: Robben’s substitution.

Dick again demonstrated to be less “Dutch” in his coaching than his players or assistant. Lack of courage, lack of tactical insights. He will never really do something overly stupid (like Van Gaal did in the 2002 campaign vs Portugal) but he will also never dazzle. This can be seen even today, as he currently is Feyenoord’s coach.

World Cup 2006 – Marco van Basten / John van ‘t Schip

When another experienced coach disappointed, the KNVB this time did go to see Cruyff for advice. By then, JC had retired and suffered a heart attack before, so he wasn’t going to pick up the baton. But he did have some advice. Like he presented Rijkaard as a candidate to the Barca board, he now opted to have his other protegees (Van Basten/Van ‘t Schip) to take the job at the KNVB. Quite interesting, as both never coached a first time at that stage. Van ‘t Schip and Van Basten, in that order, were head and assistant coach at Young Ajax, and were impressing there. So JC decided that these two could manage Oranje. Based on San Marco’s name and image, it was decided that the roles would be reversed: Marco was to be head coach and Johnny was going to assist him.

Initially, the duo impressed. We won the qualification (12 matches), only dropping four points. We drew vs Macedonia in the last game, when we were already qualified and we drew against them early on away from home too.

The player selection was typical Van Basten: he basically didn’t select Clarence Seedorf because “he didn’t like him”. That was not the official reason of course, but Marco did mention many times – with a wink – that Clarence was “too much work”.

The Group stages went well. Bolstered by youngsters like Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie, the NT won their first two games vs Serbia and Ivory Coast, leaving the final game in the group of Death as a non-decider: losing or winning vs Argentina, it didn’t really matter. We ended up drawing which meant we finished second. And suddenly we realised it did matter: now we had to face angstgegner Portugal! And we got ousted after what was called the Worst Game Ever in a World Cup! Refereer Ivanov (retired after this game) couldn’t handle the battle of Nuremberg and ended up showing 16 yellow cards and four red ones! Overall, the opinion was that 1) shenanigans in the Dutch squad between Van Nistelrooy/Van Bommel and the coaches had brought an edge to the Dutch players and 2) the referee made some early mistakes which allowed for this game to explode even further. Boulahrouz had an early kick onto C Ronaldo’s knee and should have been red-carded immediately. The ref didn’t pick up on it and his yellow fuelled the anger of the Portuguese. Portugal won 1-0, while Cocu and Kuyt had huge opportunities to score, but missed. The rift between Ruud van Nistelrooy, Mark van Bommel and Van Basten overshadowed most of this World Cup for us, and we were tarred and feathered by the international media.

Van Basten did come up with some positives, besides the afore mentioned clashes. His relationship with Van Persie, Van der Vaart, Sneijder, Robben and other young talents was very good and during the qualification matches for the Euros 2008, he patched things up with Van Nistelrooy (not with Van Bommel though). The qualification matches didn’t go that smooth this time and we placed second after Romania, having lost points versus Belarus, Bulgaria and Romania…

We ended up in another Group of Death, with France, Italy and Romania. The latter was stronger than us in the qualifications, while France and Italy were the recent World Cup finalists. We tend to do well under pressure.

We impressed with stunning wins over Italy and France, with the usual suspects delivering big time (Robben, Van Persie, Sneijder, Kuyt, Van Nistelrooy). Van Basten played a compact, fast counter attacking game with the speed, guile and technical skills as main weapons.

Khalid Boulahrouz played an interesting part, this Euros. He wasn’t part of the pre-prelim squad. But while Maduro, Emanuelson, Jaliens and Koevermans were axed from the pre-lim squad (and Seedorf decided not want to be selected), Van Basten did select Boulahrouz in his pre-lim squad. He would be the last player to be dropped from the group. However, when Ryan Babel got injured and had to miss the Euros, Van Basten didn’t call another attacker but picked Boulahrouz again.

His wife, pregnant in her sixth month, would deliver a still born baby, only a couple of days before the quarter finals vs Guus Hiddink’s Russia. The bond between the players (Boulah was close to Van der Sar, to Van Nistelrooy, Van der Vaart and others) was hurt, as the players spent hours with Khalid at the hospital and were in mourning. The game against Russia was a heavy-legged affair. Oranje lost its spark and the shrewd Hiddink was able to bamboozle Holland with his tactics. We lost in strange circumstances, as the ref decided to red card a Russian player for a foul, but he decided to cancel the red card and allow the player on the pitch. After 1-1 in normal time, the Russians were fitter than the Dutch in the extra time and beat us: 1-3.

Van Basten / Van’t Schip gave us memorable games. Some of them for good reasons ( WC 2006 vs Serbia, and Ivory Coast, all group games in the Euros) and some of them for bad reasons (Portugal 2006, Russia 2008). But overall, the experience was good. Van Basten decided he wasn’t a head coach, many years later. He blamed the pressure and media stuff. Part of the problem was Marco’s lack of man-management skills. He could act and communicate as a cynical player does, calling out players who make mistakes publically. His relationship with Van Bommel never really recuperated (as it did with Van Nistelrooy).

World Cup 2010 – Bert van Marwijk

Van Bommel’s future in Oranje suddenly looked positive when his father in law Bert van Marwijk was the shoe in for the NT coach job.

Van Marwijk had impressed as coach of Fortuna Sittard, a lowly club usually at the lower ranks of pro football but with the likes of Bert at the helm and young talents like Wilfred Bouma, Kevin Hofland and in particular Mark van Bommel, they did ever so well. Bert was a talented left winger whose career got stalled due to a terrible knee injury. He made his way from the local amateurs, to Fortuna, than Feyenoord at a certain point the Dutch NT. Bert is a no nonsense manager. He loves creative football but he absolutely adores winning. He further perfected Van Basten’s 4-2-3-1 and with Nigel de Jong and Mark van Bommel as partners in the engine room, Oranje did lose some magic but they gained grit. And after a record breaking qualification series with some amazing football, Oranje went to the World Cup in South Africa. That generation was at its peak but for some reason, the tournament started for Oranje with some figthing games more than actual creative, dazzling play. The Denmark game was a typical example of how we had to battle for results and somehow we forgot to play good football but turned into a street fighting team, almost. Rafael van de Vaart and Eljero Elia were subbed for gritty players like Kuyt and De Jong, but hey…we kept on winning. The low point being the finals vs Spain. We never got into our groove and disgusted the world with our aggro play, symbolised by Nigel’s flying kick on Xabi’s chest. Yes, it was an accident, but it looked terrible. Robben could have turned it into a victory story though, but Casillas’ toe had other plans.

Bert won silver with Oranje which puts him right next Michels and Happel.

Euros 2012 – Bert van Marwijk

This tournament ended up being a footnote in our history. Van Marwijk declined several offers from clubs to move on with Oranje with the aim to win this trophy. Gio van Bronckhorst retired after the World Cup and Mark van Bommel got the armband (he was skipper at Bayern at the time as well). The qualifications were a dream again, with wins over San Marino, Finland, Moldavia, Hungary and Sweden. We did lose the last qualification game but that was without any consequence. The home game vs Sweden (4-1) is considered one of the best matches Oranje played under Van Marwijk. 

That team had Rafa van der Vaart as one of the holding mids, a spot he should have had at the World Cup and at the Euros. Afellay was also impressing in these qualification matches as was Erik Pieters as left back. Some other names used by Van Marwijk: Hedwiges Maduro, Vernon Anita, Emanuelson, Stijn Schaars and Edson Braafheid.

We won that qualification tournament easily. But at the Euros, we came crashing down. The reasons were quite simple. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar felt they belonged in the team. Huntelaar had scored 12 in the series and Van der Vaart was amazing as holding mid. But at the Euros, Bert went back to his trusted engine rooms with two defending mids, while the more talented Van Persie was giving the #9 role. 

Erik Pieters got injured before the tournament and Van Marwijk opted to take the 17 year old Jetro Willems. The young PSV player who joined the club from Sparta only a year before would become the youngest player ever at a Euros. Vlaar played for the injured Mathijsen and Huntelaar and Van der Vaart started on the bench vs Denmark.

The crazy thing: we played Denmark off the pitch, but we didn’t score. RvP specifically seemed to have the boxes still around his boots and when the Danes scored, we couldn’t turn it around. 

For the second game, Bert started with the same eleven but had to sub his captain in favour for Rafael van de Vaart who couldn’t hide his disgust for being left out again. Same as Hunter. The rifts were becoming clearer, the second match was lost as well, vs Germany and we have one more game in which we could salvage our tournament. Both Van der Vaart and Huntelaar started and it was the former part Spanish, part Dutch midfielder man who scored the first goal, but C Ronaldo on fire turned the game around. Holland went home, with zero points on the tally. Forgettable.

Bert didn’t manage this team well enough, overall. After the World Cup, the team needed something different. But how, what and when is a different matter.

Bert deserves a statue in the Zeist statue park of Oranje, he got us silver, but he was also responsible for one of the worst Euros we ever played…

World Cup 2014 – Louis van Gaal

After Bert, in 2012, a number of players were slowly losing their spot in the team. Louis van Gaal got the job as a more disciplinarian was needed, the KNVB felt. Louis introduced some new players, such as Martins Indi, Luciano Narsingh, Jeremain Lens, Ruben Schaken all along the players who did remain, such as Sneijder, Van der Vaart, Robben and Van Persie.

Louis coached us through the qualifications without a worry. One draw, the rest wins. With Robin van Persie as top scorer in the qualifications, with Rafa van der Vaart and Jeremain Lens as runners up. Daryl Janmaat, Stefan de Vrij, Jonathan de Guzman and Stijn Schaars were other names that made their way into the squad.

After a friendly, Louis realises that the traditional 4-3-3 or 4-2-3-1 wouldn’t work with the issues we were facing. Robben, Sneijder, Van der Vaart and Van Persie were still super key, but lacked the legs to play a modern game of football in a swelty Brazil. Our back line was futhermore quite inexperienced and had a certain Daley Blind as key build up man, but as well know, Daley also lacks speed.

So Van Gaal introduced the 5-3-2. The Dutch purists, still recovering from Van Marwijk’s “anti-football” in South Africa, got their panties in a knot but Louis used the pre-World Cup period to perfect the 5-3-2. Overall, it wasn’t always successful but beating Spain the opening game 1-5 resulted in the silencing of the criticasters.

Not without luck (Australia, Mexico), Oranje sailed through the tournament and Van Gaal further made name for himself with the smart goal keeper change in the Costa Rica match, when penalties needed to decide the winner. Krul came on for Cillesen, not because Krul was a recognised penalty killer so much (Krul has more reach than Cillesen) but as a psychological move. The Costa Ricans immediately thought that Krul was brought in as a cert to stop penalties and guess what: he did stop two, and Oranje went on to play Argentina in the semis.

Van Gaal ended up bringing the bronze back to Holland, after a good win over hosts Brazil but the 5-3-2 criticism did prompt the KNVB to bring a more fatherly coach back who was instructed to bring the Dutch school back in to play.

Louis didn’t qualify for the 2002 World Cup, which was a huge embarrassment. But he did win us the bronze medal, so he’s now on even keel with… the other 15 million NT managers in Holland. He will need to win something now, in order to top this list!

Euros 2016  / World Cup 2018 – Guus Hiddink / Danny Blind / Dick Advocaat

Well, this must well be the worst period in Oranje’s existence. Worse than the drought in the early 80s and the miss of 2002… Because those misses were all related to lack of quality, motivation and emotional intelligence of the players and coaching staff. Back then, the KNVB was a hands-off kinda admin office. But after the bronze medal in Brazil and the tremendous criticism on Oranje’s playing style by icons like Van Hanegem and Cruyff, the KNVB decided to step in firmly with some strong directives! 

The KNCB Ceo was on top of the world and made some “technical” decisions he should have left for others to make: 1. Guus Hiddink was to return to the NT because “the players needed a soft touch, after dictatorial Louis”, 2. Danny Blind would be his assistant and his replacement after Hiddink would retire, 3. the NT was told to return to 4-3-3 and 4. the KNVB would install a technical director and work on a strategy moving forward (the “Winners of Tomorrow” report).

Well, we are six years later, that KNVB Ceo has been promoted away to some vague job somewhere. Hiddink was fired, just like Blind after him. TD Hans van Breukelen was tarred and feathered after his abysmal handling of the selection of the coach to follow Blind and the Dutch missed two major tournaments.

Yes, we lacked quality maybe in that post WC 2014 period, but I still believe that even with a younger squad with Janssen, Blind, Wijnaldum, Dost, Strootman and De Vrij we should have qualified for both the Euros 2016 and the 2018 World Cup.

The World Cup Blues set in, right after the successes in Brazil which cost us points in the first qualification games. The injury woes and aging of Robben, Sneijder and Van Persie didn’t help. Strootman’s post injury form was pretty bad and some of the decisions made by both Blind (De Ligt v Bulgaria) and Advocaat ( Sneijder and Van Persie vs France) were atrocious. As was the decision by the ref in the Sweden away game, to cancel Dost’s header, which would have seen us go to the World Cup 2018. A horrific time.

Guus’ wonderful 1998 campaign got tainted by this. Danny Blind was already a question mark as he does have limited head coaching experience and resorting back to Advocaat was also a debacle as everyone knows Dick doesn’t deal well with stress and is a defensive coach. 

Nations League 2017 and Euros 2020 – Ronald Koeman

Koeman did something that should have pushed him straight to the top of our list. He brought swagger back. He relocated the Dutch back to the private forests of Zeist in stead of the beach promenade in Noordwijk. He tested the 5-3-2 and abandoned it swiftly and most importantly, he let the team win games again. Sure, the entrance on the big stage of Frenkie de Jong did a lot for the team as his confidence and skill pushed the Dutch forward, as did the leadership of Van Dijk. We almost won a trophy (Nations League) and qualified without too much issues for the Euros. Well done Ronald.

And then he decided to jump another train. He left PSV for the Valencia train (and that train crashed) and he did the same now for Barcelona. Do we sympathise with him? I guess we do. But surely, if he won the Euros with Oranje, Barca would still have been an option for him. But him running to the exit a mere 9 months before the Euros has tainted his name (for me) and Koeman will not make it to the top spot. 

Euros 2020 – Frank de Boer

He cut a sad figure. Imagine, you’re a winner. You won a lot as a player. You were a leader. A warrior. Gifted with a magical left and a strong header of the ball. You played for Ajax, Barcelona, Oranje… You are a legend. Then you become the Ajax head coach. And in tough times you win the domestic title 4 times, almost 5 times… 

You go to a big Italian club. And you fail. Then you got to the EPL. And you fail again. And sure, he was lured in with the request to bring “Ajax style continental football” to those clubs, but he wasn’t able to persevere. It took Inter three coaches before they got it. Atlanta was a better choice for him, at least he won trophies and stayed long enough to unpack a fresh pair of socks. His return to Oranje was not a good one. He was not candidate #1 (he was #5 or so). He was also told to be “like Koeman” and he was told that he had to work with the existing backroom staff. Louis van Gaal would have declined.

He decided to place all his chips on zero (meaning: 5-3-2) and go down in flames or up in a blaze of glory. After a series of guffahs and mistakes (Cillesen, Donny’s statistics, El Ghazi’s sms message) and underwhelming friendlies, Oranje did manage to win the group games and end up as group leader. The road to the semis seemed relatively easy for the Dutch, but they tripped dramatically in the first knock-out game against a sturdy and tough Czech Republic. Did we lose that match as a result of wrong tactics, or the wrong players? I don’t think so. We lost due to lack of quality, lack of execution of the tactics, sluggish players and personal misses/mistakes. But the overall picture was clear: Frank failed to ignite this Dutch team. He failed to imbed that new playing style and didn’t find the solution in the squad he needed. The role of Memphis, his striking partner, the use of the left wing back, the choice of goal keeper… too many questions. Before the KNVB was able to do a proper evaluation with De Boer, he resigned.

Conclusion:

Well, it seems every coach we had has either failed or has succeeded AND failed. 

Hiddink, Advocaat, Michels, Van Marwijk…they all had glorious days, followed or preceded by debacle. Yes, Michels won us a trophy and a World Cup silver medal and a Euros bronze medal (?) but he also stopped us from getting Cruyff as national coach – twice- and he was responsible for the atrocious 1990 World Cup. So no, Michels is not my all time best NT Coach.

Frank Rijkaard is the man. He coached Holland to what seemed to be a sure fire Trophy in 2000, only to be outfoxed by….. Frank de Boer (missing two spot kicks).

The football under his leadership was pretty good fun and open and deserving of applause and kudos. Frank is my main man!

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Oranje needs more oomph!

Talent? Check. Energy? Check. Balance of experience and young exuberance? Check. Goals? Check.

But still, despite all of this, we still look like a team of juniors, the way we play. In particular compared to the likes of France and Italy.

Austria shouldn’t be a problem for us, but despite an early 1-0 after a foul in the box on Dumfries, the Orange were not able to get more light between the teams, despite some good chances!

I can see a couple of reasons.

For starters, yes Weghorst is a work horse and a handful but he simply is not good enough in open play. His lay offs and passes never come off, he’s lacking speed and guile and really doesn’t belong in this team. With the space behind the Austrian backline, I started shouting for Malen from the 15th minute onwards.

Another problem we have, is the lack of ruthlessness up front. Again, we saw opportunities for Memphis and for Wijnaldum but the finishing is just not good enough. Too weak. We seem to have a team with talented players but not enough real hunger and desire.

You see this in the physical duels as well. Not when De Ligt or De Vrij are involved. These “Italian defenders” understand what is needed in the duels, but Dumfries, De Jong, Memphis, it’s regularly too soft.

The third problem, as has been mentioned here a couple of times by others, our key players are our wingbacks and Dumfries and Van Aanholt are simply not good enough.

That last problem is not resolved in this tournament. We’d need Karsdorp on the right and a player like Malacia or Willems as left wingback. Or Vilhena even.

The intensity and hunger is a typical Dutch problem, I fear. Compared to the Portuguese or Argentines or even the South Koreans, our youngsters are spoiled and lack the grit some of the youngsters from other countries possess.

The most simple solution to the issues we have is: Malen! With De Ligt and De Vrij and Dumfries, we have enough header strength. But we lack players with depth. Memphis wants it in his feet, and so do Wijnaldum, Weghorst… Malen has everything to be our “Mbappe”.

In the second half we see similar situations. Lots of possession, lots of passes but in the final third it becomes weak. Undecisive. Hesitant. Lacking quality.

After 63 minutes, it’s Malen on the pitch. Lets see…

Well, he’s 2 minutes on and he does exactly what I want to see. Use his speed and run in behind. Well done Memphis, with your pass and well done Denzel Dumfries in running along with Malen: 2-0.

The number of times the Dutch were able to break but then stop playing, start walking, looking around, and then playing back. They just were able to get back from right wing position to the left back position where Ake simply pays the ball out of bounds… That really needs to improve!

Statistically, we probably played an amazing game. Austria literally had zero chance. I don’t think Stekelenburg needed to flex his gloves during the whole game. But against the tougher teams, we will not be able to play this sloppy.

We did see some quality moves, the individual class of Wijnaldum, Frenkie and the two central defenders were on display and even though Memphis played a mediocre game, he still scored a fantastic penalty and is always threatening.

As it stands, we’ll win the group and I hope Frank will mix it up a bit and use some other players. I’d love to see Timber as right back, Gravenberch and Malen from the start and Koopmeiners instead of De Roon…

85th minute in… Ake, whom I really like, dribbles into the midfield with some nice long strides and then he passes the ball square into the feet of…an Austrian player… This is just maddening.

So, in terms of results, nice work Oranje. But looking at the quality of the performances (Ukraine and Austria), I think we need to man up a bit more if we want to get into the quarter finals.

We need to have way longer spells of intensity and pace and directness. Not vs North Macedonia or Austria, but against the big guns.

By the way, a big fat congrats to Mempis Depay for his big transfer: he is now formally a Barca player!

After the match, skipper Wijnaldum said: “We are happy to qualify and to be the first group winner. That is awesome, but I don’t want to become complacent. We cannot relax. This team needs to work hard for it’s success and we need that intensity to stay up.” The PSG midfielder admitted that there wasn’t as much “flow” in this match, compared to the Ukraine game. “We lost the ball too quickly, our short passing wasn’t up to speed. And then a game goes up and down. And we didn’t score the chances in the first half, which also doesn’t help. But, at least our pressure worked well and we did create chances. That remains key. But this is tournament football. We didn’t give a lot away and we want to grow into the tournament. You know, we finish the group as leaders so we should be happy and focus on improving.”

Daley Blind: “We have a plan for the press and in this match we wanted to use the press to push Austria to one particular side. If you then win the ball you can open up fast on the other flank. The plan was very good, the execution was not that great. Yet. But there were also moments when we were pushed back but we remained compact and I think Stekelenburg had a relatively easy day today.”

Blind continues: “It’s ok to not always have the ball. You can dominate without the ball too. If you saw France vs Germany, I don’t think France really cared not having the ball.” The Ajax defender was surprised to see his number on the substitution board. “We didn’t plan for my substitution and I felt I could go on, but hey, the coach decided. It took me two glances to see it was me, but the coach has his reasons and it’s all good.”

Memphis definitely didn’t play his best game, but he’s again crucial when it counts. The penalty kick was converted with gusto, and it was Memphis’ smart pass in behind which launched Malen into space. The PSV forward decided not to be greedy and allowed Dumfries his second goal of the Euros.

He did get a very good opportunity to score. “That was a superb ball by Wout and I should have scored it. It is that simple. I was a tad late and the ball bounced up and didn’t get my leg behind it, not well enugh. It happens, luckily it didn’t have negative repercussions. Next one will be in the net! Today we were sloppy, yes, it wasn’t top. But we worked hard, we kept to the plan and we pressed well. I think we can be pleased, 6 points, clean sheet today and top of the group. It’s fine.”

Marco van Basten was not happy with Mathijs de Ligt: “He is playing in Italy, but I don’t think he learned a lot. He has been playing football for, what… 15 years? It’s always the same. Eleven v Eleven. And as a central defender, you see the game in front of you. Twice, he allowed himself to be pulled into midfield. Twice, there was a gaping hole. Unbelievable. Austria didn’t know what to with it. Against France, Italy, Spain, England, Portugal, Germany…you’re out.”

 

 

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Is Oranje good enough…?

In the past weeks, we saw some negativity posted here about the team which prompted me to respond. There were so many things said, that I felt a counter-post was warranted. I mean, Wilson and Tiju tend to vent their frustration with certain players and coaches here, but Jean Venette took it to a whole other level.

In general terms: you don’t need a team of world class players to win trophies!

For every France 2018 or Spain 2012, there is a Greece 2004 or a Leicester City 2016.

You need the best team to win trophies! And a bit of luck. I could end this post right here. Point made.

But, below I will quote Venette (and others) and respond:

“Jan is gonna write his opinion tomorrow and trying to convince folks that this team is good. HAHAHA”

I don’t do this. I am usually trying to explain why a coach does what does and why I think it might work. You can say a lot about our coaches from the past, but they all have a good pedigree and considered to be experts in their fields. We did have inexperienced coaches, but I am not 100% sure you can blame Van Basten for our exit in 2008 or Rijkaard for the dreadful misses v Italy in 2000…

What I do do, and what I do believe in: as a fan you need to support your team. You can be critical of your coach (I am), but the players deserve support. Yelling from the stands “Wijndal, you suck, you don’t deserve to be in this team!” is not my type of supporting.

And lets face it: how often did this group of followers here criticised players… Van Bommel, Nigel de Jong, Dirk Kuyt, Daley Blind… Every player less than Cruyff, Van Basten, Bergkamp or Sneijder gets insults, at times (on this blog).

“This Dutch team isn’t going anywhere. The team is suck….. Berghuis is suck and again he is a starter. LOL Most of these players as sucks.”

I don’t know why I would respond to this. Sounds like a spoiled kid criticising his dinner ( “this meatball sucks, this spinach sucks, I don’t want to eat this!”). The team doesn’t suck. This team (with Virgil) beat France, Germany, England and drew Italy away. So…

I think people in Lyon don’t think Memphis sucks. People like Pocchetino and Klopp don’t think Wijnaldum sucks. Apparently, Frenkie de Jong is the highest valued player in Spain now. So no, we don’t suck.

“You have a bunch of players in this squad that are bench players in their clubs or went abroad and could not perform.”

Someone remembers a certain Marco van Basten, in 1988? He didn’t play. He was not considered first team material by Michels.

The reason that Donny van de Beek doesn’t play at Man United is not hard to fathom (if you follow football, you’d know).

“You have to admit that this generation is suck except for a very few.”

We all know that Spain and England and France are stronger in terms of individual quality and options on every position. That is sadly the fate of The Netherlands. Small country. Less options. England has 5 top right backs, we only have 1 (in my opinion: Karsdorp). This is true. But having said that: how often did England win a big trophy in recent decades?

If you understand football, you know it’s not about the individual players. How many big trophies did C Ronaldo win with his country? Only the last Euros. When he was 33 years old. How many World Cups did Leo Messi win again?

Belgium has been playing several tournaments now with a top notch team with “world class players”. How many trophies exactly?

We have two of the top defenders of the Serie A. We have a true class act in Daley Blind. Frenkie de Jong is top notch. Wijnaldum is a world class player, anyone who begs to differ is not paying attention. He won heaps of trophies at Liverpool, played practically everything, scored key goals in the Champions League and at 30 could sign at PSG, Barca, Bayern or stay at Liverpool.

For me, Liverpool is World Class. So any Liverpool Legend must also be world class.

We have Memphis as top attacker and players like Gravenberch, Timber, Malen, Gakpo will surely follow suit. We don’t need a team of super stars. Those teams never win trophies. We need players like Klaassen and Weghorst who will put in a shift and help support the stars.

“Any tactical decision wouldn’t make any difference.”

Tell this to the German coach who won the Euros in 2004. Tactics are there to allow the players to play at their best level. Did you see the tactical change Koeman made at Barca? And the impact his shift to three-at-the-back made?

“If Berghuis was good enough he wouldn’t be in the Eredivisie by now.”

Why wouldn’t a player be able to decide to stay in Holland? Danny Blind never left Holland. He is considered one of the greatest liberos. How well have some players done when moving abroad (your own observation). So some move abroad and get criticism if they don’t break into a big team right away (Bergwijn, Van de Beek, Kluivert). Others stay in Holland and shine every week and then they get criticised for that?? That is not fair. Berghuis made a transfer to Watford. He decided to return to Holland and play weekly. He was offered a massive pay-check at Feyenoord and decided he wanted to be a big fish in a little pond. But don’t worry, there were more than enough suiters for Berghuis and he’ll make a move, for sure.

I compare him with Ziyech. Elegant technicians, with a tremendous left foot and great vision. But Ziyech is wasted in the high octane style of Tuchel (sadly) and Berghuis was wasted at Watford. I think we should be grateful that Berghuis stayed in Holland.

“For me I think we have to accept the fact that we have failed to produced talented players that we use to and figure out where and how we fell short and look into the future.”

You are behind the times. This process started in 2016 already (actually, after 2012’s debacle) and since, we have started to produce a lot of great talents… De Ligt, Gravenberch, Stengs, Malacia, Lang, Timber, Rensch, Ihattaren, Gakpo, Bijlow, all these names are coming through now and some hav established themselves (De Ligt, Gravenberch, Bijlow), others are on their way after suffering some setbacks (Gakpo, Lang, Malacia) and others struggle a bit with that last step up (Stengs, Ihattaren, Boadu)… The future is quite bright. Wijndal has indeed not progressed enough, I agree with that, but that is normal with young players. That last step is huge.

I pointed out that in The Netherlands (and I was there before the 74 World Cup and the Euros 1988) and before most tournaments, the overall attitude is shifting between “what the F are we going to do there” to “we’ll win this”. And everytime we believe we’ll win it, we go home disappointed (1990, 1996, 2002, 2012) and everytime we believe we have nothing to win, we do exceptionally well (1974, 1978, 2014).

Before the World Cup 1974, the expectations were truly low. We had qualified as a result of a referee blunder (Belgium had an onsite goal ruled out!) and we were missing all our central defenders.

In 1978, we didn’t have Cruyff and Van Hanegem.

And back then, players like Haan, Rijsbergen, Jansen, Jongbloed were not considered World Class.

And like with the criticism poured over Bergwijn, Van de Beek and co: Rep, Jansen, Suurbier, Rijsbergen and others did not have a glorious career abroad. Wim Jansen played in Japan and the US and returned to the Eredivisie, for instance. Rijsbergen made a name for himself at New York Cosmos but that was never taken as a serious team.

Wim Suurbier, party animal

In 1978, we had Poortvliet, Wildschut, Van Kraay, Nanninga, Brands…definitely not world class players.

In 2014, we played with a back 5 of all Eredivisie players. Except for Vlaar, who was playing relegation football with Villa.

In 1988, we had elegant and skilled players galore ( Van ‘t Schip, Vanenburg, Mario Been, Frans van Rooy) but Michels opted for a balanced squad with hard working players (Erwin Koeman, Suvrijn, Bosman, Wim Koevermans, Sjaak Troost) as he understood that these players would not upset the apple cart if they wouldn’t play.

But Van Basten was considered not match fit and Vanenburg was forced to play in service of the team, while 37 year old Muhren was brought in to add some experience and intelligence to the team.

And were we really brilliant? We lost our first game. We won vs England, but with luck.

So why would we now suddenly need 11 world class players??

In 1998, we had a very strong squad. Didn’t win. In 2002, we had one of the best coaches of Dutch history and amazing players. Didn’t even qualify.

“The world will not be talking about these players in 30 years time. Wijnaldum isn’t no Iniesta, nor a Donadoni, Enzo Scifo, Franchescholi, not even an Edgar Davids.”

I think you are wrong. Wijnaldum is on his way to play 100+ caps for Oranje. If you manage that, you will be considered a legend, whether you like it or not :-). He’s been exceptional at Liverpool, much loved there and respected and with a full trophy cabinet.

Memphis is a very colourful player. His foundation work, his clothing line, his funny hats and outfits, and mark my words, he still has his best years in front of him.

Daley Blind will go into history as one of the most gifted left footers we ever had. Frenkie de Jong will become one of our best ever midfielders. I think that in itself is already something to be happy about.

The thing is too: players are considered TOP after winning a big trophy. So, should Holland manage what Greece did in 2004, players like Weghorst and Klaassen and Dumfries will be considered “European top” suddenly.

I think we all have subjective opinions about coaches and players, and we need to accept that there is no such thing as “the truth”. Vincent Janssen is now somewhere in Mexico. Off the radar for most. If he would have picked another club than Spurs, who knows, right? He played 62 games for Monterrey, and scored/assisted 23 times. Which is one goal/assist every third game. Those are way better stats than Luuk de Jong. Janssen could have been on the radar if he would have chosen to play for Gladbach or Mainz or Club Brugge.

Frank de Boer is considered “a loser” but I think that is truly extremely harsh. Sure, his communications is not every enticing. It’s monotonous, he drawls a bit and has a lot of uhs and ohs and ahs… It’s like Emery when he was with Arsenal. He came across as a joker. But despite that, Emery is definitely a top coach, with trophies to prove this. De Boer won the Dutch title 4 times in a row. That is not bad, considering he coached Ajax in a period where they struggled.

He went to Inter, because they wanted to change from a negative, catenaccio style to a more dominant attacking style. The player revolted and the Inter board lost their spine. It took 3 coaches since De Boer and the appointment of Conte to change this. And guess what: Conte is out already, because according to him, the Inter board is constraining him too much.

Same story at Palace: the owners wanted a continental style football. De Boer could have had results in his first four matches but bad luck resulted in a ridiculous loss late in the (fourth) game, which meant the Palace owners shat the bed and chucked him out. They got Yoy Hodgson in and he went back to typical counter football. De Boer was sacrificed to appease the fans and some senior players.

His Atlanta gig can not be seen as a failure. He was there for a good spell and won trophies. What more did they expect?

I remember constant criticism on our teams and players. In 2010, Bert van Marwijk was considered a cautious coach. Our defenders were considered mediocre (Mathijsen, Ooijer, Heitinga). Before the tournament, our two friendlies were considered shambolic. In 2014, no one had any confidence in what Van Gaal was doing. And the story goes on and on.

As for the development of players, look at the 2016 squad and lets look at some names of exciting players who played for Oranje then:

Karsdorp – got seriously injured and missed two whole seasons

Fosu-Mensah – never was able to deliver on that wonderful promise

Hoedt – had a great spell at Lazio but had to re-invent himself after his Southampton move

Jetro Willems – got seriously injured and is now on the prowl for a new club

Bazoer – lost the plot and is now rebuilding his career

Davy Propper – got injured this season and struggled to get back into Brighton, after a solid spell there

Bart Ramselaar – never cut it at PSV, is now back at Utrecht

Van Ginkel – dramatic series of injuries, might return next season (PSV)

Vilhena – great move to Krasnodar where he is one of the key guys, but off the radar a bit

Obviously, Hakim Ziyech should have been on this list too, but his heart decided differently.

As a European football nation expressed in terms of population, we are 8th on the list. Poland and Romania have more people than us. But in terms of football ranking, they are way below us. The top 6 are: England, Germany, France, Italy, Spain and Poland.

It is logical that these countries have more talent to pick from than we do.

Only Portugal is way below us in terms of population, while being able to beat us regularly. All other nations below us (Belgium excepted at the moment) should be considered nations we can beat.

In conclusion:

We don’t need 11 world class players to win a trophy. We don’t need to play well in the pre-season friendlies. Even worse, we don’t even have to play great games in a tournament to win it.

Lets get some comments in on this topic (with respect please).

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