Tag: De Ligt

The State of Orange (Oranje)

As a national team coach, you want to be able to mould your best team, tactics, approach and squad by now, some 3 months before the tournament.

The two friendlies, against serious opponents, should have told us many things. And it did. But not sure if it was what Koeman wanted.

Not sure what the plan was versus Scotland, with the new 3-5-2 set up (or 3-2-3-2).

Disappointingly for Koeman, we won’t know for sure as the execution was not great. Some players didn’t reach their usual level (Wieffer, Simons, Frimpong) while Memphis is clearly not 100% fit.

Add to that the absence – again – of Frenkie and it’s hard to ascertain where we stand.

Versus Scotland, we played under par for an hour or so but still won 4-0. Against Germany , we played well at stages but lost 1-2.

Two corner kicks: two goals. Fixable, sure, but not something Koeman will be happy with.

Koeman was able to use his subs and shift form shape to shape, so the flexibility of the team and the adaptability of the team seems to be getting better.

I think, when all the players will be fit, we do have a very good squad. But I also think that France, England, Spain and Italy are a bit further than us, in terms of solid game play, patterns and key players.

Sadly, as it happens with every tournament, we won’t have all players available at the Euros.

Some conclusions:

Stop the silly systems debate

As always, people spend hours debating which system Holland should play. This is an irrational discussion. We played 4-3-3 versus Scotland, or so it seemed. But it was actually a 3-5-2. Against Germany, we played 3-2-3-2 but again, in the practice it was. four man defence as one of the midfielders dropped back to start the build up. Daley Blind was hardly ever in defence, but played as an extra midfielder and at times as a number 10 even. Joey Veerman dropped back to assist the defenders in their build up. Ake moves to the left back space.

In the second half, Blind kept the pitch wide, allowing Memphis to explore the half spaces on the left hand side.

Ake as left centre back, Blind playing wide wingback in a 4 men midfield.

What system is this? Never mind. It’s about space and how to use the space. Not about numbers on a playing field, when the ref whistles to start the match.

Creating the free man

Koeman is keen to use his midfielders and front men to create a free man in our team. He put Reijnders one v one on Kroos and instructed Memphis to harass Andrich, the Germany holding mid. This forced Germany to build up via Tah. This way Koeman could stack the centre of the pitch with two holding mids (Veerman, Schouten) and always kept three defenders to deal with the mercurial Germany forwards.

Blind playing central midfielder

This chess face-off meant that Germany was still in control on their own half, but were not able to be a threat against us, in terms of goal scoring opportunities.

Here Blind is playing as second 10

Donyell Malen is like a panther

We have quite a number of top forwards or top potentials in the attacking line, with Lang (now injured), Gakpo, Simons, Brobbey, Zirkzee, Stengs and Bergwijn but Malen offers something the others players don’t have. Malen is explosive, fast and very willing to make runs deep. The other players all want the ball to feet. Lang and Simons do tend to go deep, as does Bergwijn, but not as their first instict. Malen is like a panther, lurking and watching for his change to spring into action.

This makes him a unique player in the squad and should cement his spot in the squad if not the team. In the first half, Malen was instrumental in our first goal, even though he never touched the ball. He had two more breaks and in the second half he presented both Memphis and Reijnders with 2 100% chances. Both players mishit the ball and aimed too high.

Yes, Malen played well but goes to sleep here and allows Musiala some touches in the box

Still, he has his moments of snoozing off (like big cats do) and he was at fault, partly, with the first German goal. He didn’t cut off the pass and was a bit late in reacting to their short corner allowing Musiala to be a threat ( who assisted the ball to the goalscorer).

Jerdy Schouten is a keeper

Schouten played against Germany like he does for PSV, all season long. Very tight on the ball, always in control, always with great care. Van Gaal didn’t think he was good enough after half a game for Holland but Peter Bosz and Ronald Koeman are convinced. On top of that, Schouten plays a lot of forward passes as well, in true Frenkie de Jong style, starting a number of threatening moves. When he got subbed, at the 75th minute, he had most interceptions to his name as well. I don’t want to be over the top here, but he would be a top replacement for Toni Kroos at Real Madrid.

I think Schouten passed his exams and will battle it out with Koopmeiners, Wieffer, Reijnders, De Roon and Veerman for the next-to-Frenkie spot.

Our goalies are fine

We don’t need to worry about our goalies anymore. Flekken and Verbruggen both impressed. Bijlow will return. Nick Olij is a fine shotstopper and Bizot has impressed in France.

So, it seems we might be in good shape this summer.

But if we go through to the last 4, I believe it will be partly due to luck and a favourable draw.

I don’t think Oranje deserves to be seen as a top contender but with the right mix and the key players available and in form, we can surprise.

Koeman called this international break “the final exams”. The jigsaw pieces have not all been in place to show the big picture and the former Barca coach is still playing with them.

Verbruggen impressed

His own conclusion: “I have not been able to find the right combinations, and I fear it’s the result of this injury ridden campaign. And as the calendar keeps getting fuller, I don’t understand why we are now being limited to take 23 players instead of 26. We know already from experience that from the date we have to send in our list of names and the first match, players will drop off. That is always the case.”

Koeman said he already knows who his Euros goalie is, and it seems to be Bart Verbruggen. Only Bijlow is fit and plays a series of impressive matches will he be able to replace Bizot as third goalie.

In defence, it is clear that Virgil, Ake, De Ligt, Dumfries and Geertruida are certain of their spot. Frimpong didn’t impress this time around, but used properly, the speedy right wing back will make the squad, as will multi-functional brainiac Daley Blind.

In midfield, a fit Frenkie is on the bus as well, as will Reijnders be. He didn’t disappoint in his Oranje matches and impresses with his legs, lungs, intelligence and technique.

Wijnaldum seems a shoe in as well. Why select him now otherwise. Koeman has loyalty to Gini and knows the former Feyenoord talent gels well with Memphis. Mats Wieffer has mixed results but Koeman rates the midfielder high and he does have some credit. But he’ll need to show it to the coach in the coming matches.

Schouten is in the same boat as Wieffer. Very promising but a thin foundation as yet. Koeman will be focusing on their performances in the coming months.

Marten de Roon will most likely be in the squad as the only enforcer we have. He never complaints and is one of the leaders off the pitch. Koopmeiners however, who had to leave the camp with an injury, is exceptional in the Serie A, but never really impressed in the orange jersey.

Joey Veerman is not for everyone. Very good on the ball, vulnerable without. He played well in the past Oranje matches but was exposed in several CL matches for PSV. Koeman will throw a dice regarding Veerman and Koopmeiners.

Quinten Timber might nog have been able to show enough in this break and might need to focus on a spot after the Euros, to replace Wijnaldum on the road to 2026.

Xavi Simons is one of the few creative sparks in the team and despite a disappointing series, he will be on the bus as well.

Upfront, it seems Memphis, Gakpo, Malen and Weghorst are certain of their ticket. The question marks will be stalwarts Berghuis and Bergwijn, who both need a super strong finish of the season. Koeman mentioned before that he finds Berghuis to be a unique player and therefore potentially a part of the squad. This gives Koeman another option on the right wing.

Calvin Stengs might have a super end to the campaign and also be in the running for the right wing position. Brobbey and Zirkzee will also be right in Koeman’s radar for the coming games and Brobbey will be part of the squad when fit, it feels.

Micky van der Ven, the left footed centre back of Spurs could also make the squad as his speed and ability to play on any spot in defence makes him an ideal squad player.

Some more question marks: Q Hartman, Stefan de Vrij, Nick Olij, Ian Maatsen and Noa Lang.

And what to do with Summerville… He’s on fire for Leeds and is close to a senior call up, in particular when one or more attacking options (Gakpo, Malen, Simons) fall away with injuries…

Strap yourselfs in, we’re heading to an exciting finish of the season.

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Memphis’ injury a blessing?

This is not a sentence I expected to write. Ever. Memphis has been super important for the Dutch NT, ever since his appearance at the World Cup in 2014. Under coach Koeman, the explosive and talented forward led the team, scored a record number of goals and is well on his way to become Oranje’s all time goalscorer and most likely most capped player. Or so it seemed.

But, the former Sparta youngster hasn’t been able to shine for more than a year now. His Euros was lacklustre and his World Cup a big question mark. He went from injury to injury and was absent more than present, both at Barcelona and more recently at Atletico.

But, as we established here, as the Dutch have trouble to thank their heroes and force them out to make way for new stars, it was a real question whether coach Koeman would make wholesale changes or whether he would rely on the old guard. Virgil, Cillesen, Memphis, Daley Blind, Wijnaldum…

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like many coaches before ( Zwartkruis in 1980, Beenhakker in 1990, Van Marwijk in 2012, Van Gaal recently), it seemed Koeman was falling back on the old hands, but reality has reared up it’s not so ugly head and helped the former snow flake a bit.

Cillesen had a couple of howlers at the end of the season and couldn’t dig a hole big enough to hide in.

Daley Blind hardly played and has already been told he’s out of the squad.

Wijnaldum is stil with the squad but with his recent lacklustre performances and with Koopmeiners’ classy run as a #10, I don’t think Gini will feature much.

Virgil was able to claw back to a decent form, after a season of mishits and stumbles and will most likely lead the team out versus Croatia.

And Memphis? Well, he pulled out himself. Not fit enough to play and prefers – smartly – to prep for the new season in Madrid.

And it’s a blessing.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Arie Haan in 1974

And don’t forget: we know how coach sometime end up with their success formulas just by sheer luck, coincidence or as the result of setbacks. Michels lost all his centre backs in 1974 (Israel, Laseroms, Drost, Mansveld, Hulshof) and decided to put midfielder Arie Haan in the back with young stopper Wim Rijsbergen.

Or in 1988, when the same Michels started the Euros with 4-3-3, with Marco van Basten on the bench. A player who almost didn’t make the cut. After one match – losing versus USSR – Michels went to a 4-4-2 with Van Basten and Gullit up front. The rest is history.

Van Gaal and his three at the back in 2014? This came about due to an injury for defensive mid Kevin Strootman and an experiment of Koeman with Feyenoord away at PSV.

The Memphis injury could well be a key break for Koeman. Or, as Cruyff would say it, this could be an advantage resulting from a disadvantage.

Koeman and Van Gaal both were tempted to to use two wingbacks and three defenders, to build a solid foundation and create space for his mercurial forward. Memphis needed freedom.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Johnny Bosman versus USSR in 1988

But the 3 at the back system didn’t work for Koeman as he saw that his team had issues dominating the game. At the same time, Ten Hag showed how you can do it, with a 4-2-3-1 system. When Frenkie de Jong came into view, Koeman switched to the Ajax system, with two central defenders, at times augmented by the deep lying De Jong, who’d drop in between, pushing the full backs further up the field.

Frenkie made his entrance in Sneijder’s farewell match versus Peru and the new Oranje system was settled. In 2018, Koeman built his team around Virgil, Wijnaldum and Memphis. The latter two do not have the status or form they had back then and it’s time for a change.

The only two Dutch forwards who perform at a high level in big competitions are Cody Gakpo and Donyell Malen. Therefore, it seems only logical to build the team around a new #9: Gakpo.

At Liverpool, he plays like a false 9, with two offensive midfielders in his back. Fabinho, the defensive lock, will be paired with Trent Alexander-Arnold who joins the midfield from the back, a role Geertruida plays at Feyenoord. At Liverpool, Andy Robertson is the third centre back, which is the role Ake plays at Man City. Both Van Dijk and De Ligt are accustomed to this system.

It seems Oranje could well play in this same form, although Dumfries might be at odds in this role. It’s not very likely that Koeman will drop the Inter right back though, but this Liverpool/Man City system could well work for Holland.

For me, I don’t think we can go beyond Ake as left back. He can fill the job the way Blind did, as Ake too is a great passer of the ball.

This leaves space for Frenkie to explore the left side a bit and in my midfield, I would have Mats Wieffer playing the defensive mid, with Frenkie next to him but with freedom to roam on that left flank.

My number 10 in this system is Teun Koopmeiners. I don’t like him much as a six, but in the #10 role he is killing it at Atalanta. I’d pick Xavi Simons as the left winger and Malen on the right, of course.

Noppert should not start, in my view, and if it’s a toss up between Flekken and Bijlow, I’d go for the latter.

As for the RCB, I would pick De Ligt versus a static #9 and Timber versus the more diminutive forwards (like David Silva or Alexander Isak). Not sure what Croatia will bring.

This is my line up.

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Epic win Oranje

This is not a long post, people. I am still reeling behind my computer, not capable of creating a well balanced review, as the adrenaline is racing through my body. We needed a win, in this Group of Death we’re in.

Beaten 4-0 versus France was tough earlier on and having to play heavyweights Gibraltar after only 4 days of rest and recuperation is tough.

When you do win the Gibraltar game, with the vintage 3-0 scoreline, it’s cause for celebrations!

3-0 is that heroic end result we all know and remember from our game versus Peru in 1972 or Poland in 1975. People still talk about that 3-0 versus Iran in 1978 or the 0-3 versus Greece in 1987. Oh, and who doesn’t remember the 3-0 versus Canada in 1994.

The Football Gods must have interfered.

The stress in the Dutch camp was high, of course, having to face up against defending behemoths Gibraltar. Luckily, Holland had the home advantage.

We saw the team fight, battle, dazzle and being unlucky too. With Weghorst pushing the ball past the wrong side of the post, as we see him do so often for Man United. We saw Wijnaldum playing the ball back mostly and Berghuis zipping balls blindly into the box, to no one in particular.

Veteran Mats Wieffer was the best man on the pitch, as per usual and a big header by Memphis got us on the score sheet in the first half, finally beating Man of the Match [name of Gibraltar goal keeper].

But it took until Daley Blind finally came on to the pitch to make a difference that Holland put it’s stamp on the match with some brilliant individual performances. Blind and Klaassen led the Dutch to an epic history, which will no doubt result in mad parties in the street and fire works till dawn.

If you can keep France at 4-0 AND beat Gibraltar at home 3-0, it’s clear that a new generation of football geniuses is prepping to win maybe another friendly game later this year as well.

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More Oranje Stats

Football has done a long time without the plethora of stats that seem to dominate other sports, particularly American sports like American Football and Baseball. But stats have crept into the game and are getting more and more important to see patterns and understand how teams play.

It’s relevant to use stats alongside the usual insights, useful to look at your own team and players, and useful to analyse the opponent.

I don’t think Van Gaal and Co (or me for that matter) will go overboard on stats, but it’s a fact that most of our younger players (Danjuma, Malacia, Noa Lang, Frenkie) are all known to be very involved in analysing their own game using the numbers.

These are the stats that FIFA came out with recently from the Senegal game. Interesting indeed.

Two key results: our forwards do not play well together and Daley Blind is the key man for the press.

Steven Bergwijn was on the pitch for 79 minutes and only played the ball to a fellow attacher once! The Ajax forward himself never received the leather once, from a striking partner!! In the fourth minute, Gakpo almost assisted a tap-in for Bergwijn, but the ball was intercepted. There were only four passes between the forwards during the whole game.

From \ To Bergwijn Janssen Gakpo Depay
Bergwijn 1 0 0
Janssen 0 1
Gakpo 0 1 1
Depay 0 0

Another remarkable statistic: Gakpo made 59 runs in order to receive the ball and was only found four times!  One of these four times was the cross by Frenkie, resulting in the 1-0. 30 of the 59 “offers to receive the ball” were runs in behind the Senegal defence and he was more than not ignored, because the team mate with the ball didn’t see the run or didn’t dare to play the ball. The only good thing is that these runs usually result in space for an opponent.

Steven Bergwijn was the quickest Oranje player, with a top speed of 34,6 kilometers/hour.

Player top speed (km/hr)
Steven Bergwijn 34,6
Virgil van Dijk 32,8
Cody Gakpo 32,8
Vincent Janssen 32,7
Matthijs de Ligt 32,7

Yes, Daley Blind was the slowest of the team, but he did have the most sprints of all (59), just behind Denzel Dumfries (60).

Frenkie de Jong had the most kilometers with 11,4 kms with Daley Blind second (11,2 km) and Cody Gakpo third (10,7 km).

Daley Blind was the press king, with 39 press moments and he had the most tackles (5). Frenkie had the most interceptions (2) and re-possessions of the ball (9). Frenkie also had the most passes and the highest pass accuracy and was able to break through an opponent line the most too (16 times).

What does this mean for Van Gaal? Who knows :-).

I think he will use the same eleven vs Equador, with the exception of De Ligt, who will make way for Timber. There is a chance that he rests Daley Blind and will use Malacia against the physically strong South Americans.

Equador is a tough team to beat. In the last 7 matches, they didn’t concede. They’re strong, athletic and resilient. Their coach has a simple philosophy: football is played in blocks. There is High, Midline and Low. Equador will put compact blocks against the way the opponent wants to play and with lots of positional changes and hard work, they will want to wear the opponent down.

Coach Alfaro likes to talk his team up. He plans to defend like Spain does: high up the pitch. And he is proud that he has the youngest squad of the World Cup. Alfaro uses zonal defence, where ever on the pitch and the distance between the players is always very small. There is not much known otherwise, as all public training sessions were cancelled and there is rumour of some key players (among them Valencia) being injured. I think these guys can all play though.

Here you see the aggressive press by the team in yellow vs Qatar

Key for Holland will be the running in behind. Their stern defence likes to push up and the way to deal with it, is by dirty runs. Gakpo did this constantly and I believe Bergwijn and Dumfries will need to do the same. Van Gaal might even consider bringing Klaassen on #10 for this and use Gakpo as forward in place of Janssen.

The offensive strength of Equador is limited. Their forwards play in mediocre teams, Valencia in Turkey, Ibarra in Mexico and Plata at Valladolid, mid tier in Spain. The left side of Equador has the most threats and we might need a more defensive option for Berghuis as the communication between full back and midfielders will be key, for Oranje.

Another aspect is their behaviour when they lose possession. They aggressively want to get the ball back asap and they will use physical strength and duel power to get the ball.

This is the option to run in behind for Bergwijn and Gakpo, as shown by Argentina

As they already have 3 points, I don’t think this will be a game where Equador will want to take the game to us, and play open. I think this Equador will play a bit more compact and deeper than against Qatar and use their counter strength to take us on.

For the Dutch, we need to make sure our passing is crisp and accurate, as we can pass our way through their system, but if we are sloppy, we might get hammered on the counter.

I’d like to see this line up. I think Equador will want to absorb pressure and counter against us. So Janssen can play a role up front. I’d play Koopmeiners for Berghuis and Malacia for Blind. Timber for De Ligt is a non-issue I think.

Do I believe LVG will play like this? I think he’ll probably use Blind instead of Malacia.

Either way, I can see another 2-0 win for us. I hope Bergwijn will score, which will lift him up a bit and who ever scores the other one, I don’t care :-). I hope Memphis, who will get another 30 mins I think.

Tell me your predictions!

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Sluggish Oranje win over African champs

After the WC draw, people felt this was going to be easy. Even last week, some football pundits felt Senegal would be a walk-over. A bit arrogant maybe? I don’t think the players and coaches felt the same.

Senegal – even sans Mane – is a strong nation. This is the champion of Africa. This is not Equador or Greece or Finland. This is a team full of top players, who make their living in England, France or Italy.

Add to that the stress of playing your first World Cup match and it’s not without reason that Oranje didn’t play amazingly well. I even think it is better to grow into the tournament, then it is to start phenomenally well. I remember 2008 and 2006, two times we were in the Group of Death, only to be eliminated in the first knock-out stages.

There are many aspects we can complain about. Is Janssen the ideal replacement for Memphis, over – say – Danjuma? Is the choice for De Ligt over Timber the right one? Should Berghuis play next to Frenkie or Koopmeiners?

I think we’ll see changes in the course of the tournament, but for now I think Van Gaal’s choices are reasonable.

De Ligt was put in the team to counter the height threat of Senegal. They do have quite a number of strong, tall headers of the ball. This is why De Ligt was in the team and on that aspect, he delivered.

But he was quite weak in other situations. Too physical and weak in build up too. He seems to think that defending means wrestling, while Nathan Ake demonstrated that you can defend in a different way. Patient, on your feet, focus on the ball and keep it simple. Ake was one of the best last night, I believe. I expect Timber back in the team soon.

De Ligt plays more on the left side of the centre for Bayern and was pushed in a right back role vs Senegal in Van Gaal’s set up. Not a role he really is comfortable in.

Noppert is another surprise starter of course and we can only guess why Van Gaal and Hoek selected him as the #1 goalie. It seemed very risky, but Noppert did well. He stopped a couple of shots you expect him to stop and had one great save, low in the corner in the 85th minute. His build up play with his feet was risky in the first half, giving the ball away eventually, but his long kick in the 98th minute did allow three subs to combine for the 2-0. Headed on by Koopmeiners, run and shot by Memphis and typically, Klaassen who made the run to help out and pick up the pieces for 2-0.

Would any other midfielder have made that run? Taylor? Berghuis? Koopmeiners? I wonder.

Overall, no one stood out. Frenkie played a good first half, but was wasteful in the second half, trying to keep on playing like he does at Barca, but Senegal had a good tactical solution constantly closing the space with two players whenever Frenkie started to make a run.

Frenkie would be instrumental in the 1-0 of course, with a very “sensitive” cross with his right, offering Gakpo a goal. Normally, it’s Gakpo crossing the ball like this to Luuk de Jong, at PSV.

But Frenkie, despite his loss of possession, intended to play like he normally does. This can not be said of Bergwijn and Van Dijk, particularly. Bergwijn seems to be out of form and Van Dijk’s long passing and build up play was meagre, to say the least. He can be of more importance.

Janssen was not overly great but had some great touches. He was the one to flick Gakpo into the box in the first half, allowing a square pass which Bergwijn could have finished if the pass was better.

There was some more of these Janssen lay-offs, one that allowed Berghuis a shot on goal, which sailed over the bar.

Berghuis played a more controlling role and did well off the ball. He did have some good moves and passes, one was a potential assist on Frenkie, who for some reason didn’t want to finish on goal, but wanted to chop the ball to his right foot. Wasteful. But we do want more from Berghuis.

Daley Blind played ok. No big issues to report. He played with discipline and helped out in attack and he had a role to play in the 1-0, keeping the field wide and offering a option to Memphis and Frenkie, before he assisted the first goal.

Denzel Dumfries too played his usual game. Marauding runs, tough in the duels but his delivery again was left wanting. He had too many crossing options that ended up as waste, at one time hitting the defender in front of him. He will always be good value in the team, but his pure football skills are limited and I think Frimpong might eclipse him in the years to come.

Virgil was solid in defence, but as mentioned: I want him to be more regal in the build up. I see Virgil, I see Beckenbauer, but only in charisma. Not yet in his playing style. I want to see him up the level a bit.

Gakpo was important for the team and has some excellent moves, but there were too many stages in the game where he was invisible. He needs to be more dominant in the #10 role. That is the difference with his role at PSV from the wing. As a #10 you need to demand the ball and find the spots and spaces. The fact he only had 7 passes in the first half tells you the story. Great goal for him of course, but needs to up his game. When Memphis came on, Gakpo played from the right and made a crucial run into the box, when he noticed Dumfries and Klaassen were the focus of the defenders and he was the free man.

Because Senegal used two defending mids, Gakpo couldn’t be found in the centre of the park so he decided to look for space on the wings.

The main story should also be the subs. Koopmeiners made a statement when he came on and might well start the next game. He showed his work rate, his smarts, his leadership and had the pre-assist for the 2-0. When Memphis came on you couldn’t tell he hadn’t played for 2,5 months. He was a threat, he was confident in his touches, he was clearly enjoying being on a football pitch again and had an assist and a pre-assist this game. Klaassen, well, what can you say. The least popular Oranje player maybe, and probably also the least skilled player, but his nose for the position is just amazing. He is always right there where the ball drops.

A word on Senegal, they do seem to be a hard to beat side, with threats going forward. I can see them finish second in the group and potentially make life hard for other higher ranked nations.

Their coach Aliou Cisse, changed his tactics dramatically to counter the Dutch threat. Where he usually defends in a 4-4-2 (two blocks of 4) he now used Gueye as a higher playing holding mid. Why you say? Frenkie is the answer. They decided to block the centre axis of the pitch and not use their full backs too high up. So this opened up the space for Daley and Denzel to be utilised but we didn’t manage to get these two going. The Timber speciality, dribbling into midfield to lure a midfielder or forward to bite, didn’t happen because…. Timber didn’t play. Van Dijk and De Ligt didn’t do this well enough.

In the second half, Van Gaal uses Berghuis higher up the pitch, next to Gakpo and the result is two teams who cancel each other out.

One of the key players without the ball in this situation was Vincent Janssen who managed to break up the passing line to Diallo, who usually is important in Senegal’s build up, but in this match more than half of his passes ended up with an orange jersey. This is the result of the work of Janssen. I’m sure people here will criticise the Antwerp striker but he served his purpose.

For a first WC match, we should be happy. We got the point. We didn’t give a lot away. We suffered no big injuries, so the mood will be good in the Oranje camp. Qatar and Equador should not give us much trouble and if LVG is capable to get this team to play better, we will prove to be that Dark Horse we love to be.

Marten de Roon scored as well, by the way. After the game.

 

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The Road to Qatar: Jurrien Timber (and bro)

It’s virtually impossible to do a story on Jurrien Timber without also covering twin bro Quinten. If the expression “two peas in a pod” had a face, it would be theirs. Even their brothers have had trouble identifying who is who. Brother Chris: “It happened often in a game where I would say “wow top pass by Quinten” and then mum would say “it’s Jurrien!”… Now, their heads are a bit different and their hairdo as well but back in the day, when they played together it was hard. Thanks God for squad numbers.”

Mum Timber came to the Netherlands as a professional dancer and ended up staying in Holland after she met the dad of the boys. She raised her 5 sons alone though and has done a marvelous job indeed! The oldest apparently had the most talent, according to Quinten. He lacked the ambition though and plays at amateur level now. The second oldest is the manager of his pro brothers. The youngest of the brothers is in the FC Utrecht academy.

The two Timbers in the youth system

Jurrien and Quinten, true identical twins, were selected in their first amateur team at 4 years old! Their youth coach at amateur club DVSU: “It is not really possible to have 4 year olds as club members, but their two brothers were members and playing together in a team. Jurrien and Quinten were always around and they were so gifted, we couldn’t refuse them. We allowed them both to play in the same team as their brothers but I always made use two of them were on the bench. Unless for games which really mattered, hahaha. If we could win the title, I did play them all four. I always told the boys to pass the ball, but when we were behind in a title deciding game, I did say to them: whatever you can do, win this game for us. And there they’d go, taking on and passing 4 or 5 players and scoring. Jurrien was more the organiser, the thinker. Quinten was the artist. Dribbling past 5 players and lobbing the ball over the goalie. Typical Quinten.”

“They looked adorable and they were so small. I heard many parents from visiting clubs comment on how cute they were but within 10 minutes all of the Timbers would be on the score sheet and the parents didn’t think they were so cute, hahaha.”

Brother Chris: “Justin and Quinten are indeed adorable and cute. Off the pitch. When mum was busy she’d put on the Lion King for us. My younger brother Dylan would walk off within 30 minutes, bored. Justin and Quinten were so easy, if the movie had ended, they would just sit there. Waiting for mum to spot them and offer them something else.”

When they turned 7, Feyenoord scouted them and brother Dylan. The contrast was enormous. The twins would be sitting close to the bus driver, polite and quiet, whereas Dylan was always getting in trouble.

Timber bros with mum

On a typical day in their amateur club, the Feyenoord, Ajax and Utrecht scout were watching together. Ajax offered the twins a move to Amsterdam, but Feyenoord also wanted Dylan. When Ajax told the family that they wouldn’t be able to pick up the boys for training and matches, while Feyenoord offered a bus service, it became Feyenoord for the three brothers.

The twins had to let their social life go. It was sleep, school, travel, train, travel, sleep. Dylan couldn’t do it, he missed the social life. “But they had each other. They were a unit, they ate the same, they would sleep in the same room (and still do!!) and they’d watch the same stuff. They were both Messi fans and this would have helped them to enjoy their life at Feyenoord.”

At a young age, the two were disciplined. If there was a movie on but the clock said 9.30 pm, they’d get up to go to bed.

Life was good and Feyenoord did ever so well with the Timbers, who played in a team with Wouter Burger (Basel) and Summerville (Leeds United). But when Feyenoord claimed they wanted to turn Quinten into a central defender, the family started to have doubts. “We saw players like Sergio Ramos, John Terry and Vince Kompany as central defenders but Quinten was of a different build. When Feyenoord also couldn’t assist us financially with transport costs when the boys went to high school we decided to have a look around. Ajax had the best pitch, so the boys decided to move to Amsterdam,” says their mum.

Timber family with their first trophy

The move to Ajax was highly publicized. As if the family had gone for the money. And Timber Traitors and all that jazz. But mum is adamant: “Ajax was always the first club to come around for them and every season I got a call from the Ajax youth academy. They were truly interested in the development of the boys and money was never a reason for us to switch.”

In the first seasons, the Timbers had it tough in Amsterdam. Not in terms of football. They were simply the best of their generation, but mostly due to their growth spurts and injuries. Eventually, they managed to learn to deal with the physical side of the game and they even were able to organise a gym at their home.

When Jurrien broke through into the first team, coach Ten Hag suggested a loan for Quinten, as it would be key for him too to play under pressure, week in week out. FC Utrecht was the candidate, but they were also keen to simply sign the midfielder. Ajax allowed Quinten to go and the rest is history. The midfielder is now back at Feyenoord as one of the key players in Arne Slot’s set up.

Jurrien Timber developed into a fine central defender who already had to brush off interest from Italy, Spain and England and seems to have taken the RCB spot from De Ligt and De Vrij. Quite an achievement. Not the top defenders of Bayern or Inter but that kid from Ajax will most likely take that spot.

His team mate Nathan Ake: “It’s amazing right? He is a super talent. He plays with a maturity I haven’t seen in a kid his age. I mean, it took me a while. And he’s also that type of guy off the pitch. A quiet guy, with focus on getting better and living like a pro. I can also see him deal with all the media stuff and he’s simply unfazed.”

Last summer, the Eredivisie Ltd and ESPN picked him as Holland’s Best Player AND Greatest Talent. Quite unique. Even Van Dijk was surprised: “When I look back at where I was at that age, wow… I only have good things to say about him. His potential is just mindboggling. I am sure he will not get derailed. He won’t allow it.”

Frank de Boer used Timber as a stand in for De Ligt, when he suffered a groin injury, but used the Bayern man when he was fit. Not Van Gaal. The veteran coach recognised the quality of Timber and placed both De Ligt and De Vrij solidly on the bench. Timber solidified his spot in the Nations League matches.

Daley Blind: “Wow, it goes so fast with Jurrien. We saw him develop last year in our CL campaign and he keeps on going. He works hard and truly a sponge, with his ears and eyes open to learn. He is always himself, a very steady guy.”

Skipper Van Dijk: “Everyone knows his role in this squad. When you play, you play and the ones who don’t play will be the support act, so to speak. I know it’s not easy for Mathijs and Stefan, but they deal so well with it. They will always be ready to help Jurrien or any other player. They are key too and it’s great to see these dynamics in the team.”

Lewandowski defeated

Jurrien Timber himself: “Yes, it’s true, we are a tight unit and I feel supported, also by my direct rivals, so to speak. It’s not easy to get into this team, everyone gives 100% to get in and we all deal with this professionally.”

His faith is important for him. On match days, he will post Bible verses. “Faith is my grounding. I study the Bible every day and it strengthens and grounds me. I notice that people respond to the posts I make on the Bible verses and I love that I can bring that message across.”

Against Poland away, he played against arguably one of the best strikers of the world. Lewandowski got 1 touch in the Dutch box and had zero shots on target. Timber had the most contacts of all Dutch players (97) and the most passes (82) and the highest pass accuracy ( 96%). He had the most interceptions (3) and the least number of possession losses (3).

When he was complimented on this after the game, he was very cool about it: “I don’t do this by myself. It’s a team performance. I love the challenge to play against Lewandowski, but he wasn’t the only one with quality. We dealt with Zielinski, who knows how to play and later Milik also came on. Also a monster of a striker.”

Hazard defeated

He also dealt with Eden Hazard and is looking forward to the World Cup. “When I played my matches at the Euros, I really noticed the difference in intensity. I remember thinking “Pfff this is tough”. It was a surprise that I played there and it was amazing. This World Cup will even be bigger. I will do what I can to be part of it.”

Time to reflect is not available yet. “I don’t have time, I need to go on. Another match soon! I am not ready yet.”

And Nathan Ake summarised it all very well: “He is a top talent and a great guy. He deserves everything coming his way.”

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On the Road to Qatar: Steven Berghuis

Whether he going the long way from the amateurs to the pros or whether its through a headline grabbing transfer from Feyenoord to Ajax, Steven Berghuis will always go his own way, dreaming of a pro career and dreaming to reach Oranje, like his dad Frank “Pico” (ex PSV, ex-Galatasaray) did.

He made his debut in pro football in 2011, for FC Twente in a game versus Heracles. It’s no surprise that Steven got into the National Team, as that whole team consisted or would consist of internationals. A couple of names: Mihaylov (46 caps for Bulgaria), Rosales (91 caps for Venezuela), Onyewu (69 for the USA), Landzaat (39 caps), Luuk de Jong (38 caps), Nacer Chadli (66 for Belgium) and Marc Janko (70 for Austria) to name a few.

Ironically, defender Douglas didn’t get any. But he was the one Louis van Gaal pushed to get a Dutch passport and after a prolonged visa process, he did get two call ups for qualification matches with Oranje but never played a single minute for the Dutch NT.

Berghuis’ debut in Oranje

12 years later, it’s the longhaired youngster with the shiny boots who would become the most prolific international for Oranje from this particular squad. He made his debut in 2011 but there is only 4 seconds of footage of him, in which he is recognisable due to his typical little spring in his step. Assistant coach Alfred Schreuder (!) told him to go out and enjoy himself but he might not even had touched the ball, against Heracles with a young Remko Pasveer on goal.

A couple of years before his debut, he has had a sniff of pro football when WSV from his home city Apeldoorn selected him as 15 year old to play with the first team against Feyenoord in a friendly. The amateurs lost 4-1 but Berghuis gets his goal and celebrates it as if he just won the Champions League. When he made it to skipper at Feyenoord, many years later, he posted a photo from that match, standing in between Gini Wijnaldum and Slory, with goalie Henk Timmer on the right.

15 year old Berghuis against Wijnaldum

His dream to become a pro player like his dad Frank seems shattered when the Vitesse/AGOVV academy decides to cancel his spot there. He tells his coaches that he will find another way to become a pro player and goes back to his amateur club, where he would play for 2 years, until several pro clubs come knocking. He gets into the Twente first team squad via the Go Ahead Eagles academy and the rest is history. He doesn’t get much chances at Twente, where Co Adriaanse feels he is too feeble and vulnerable for the top. He makes a move on loan to VVV Venlo where he shines and gets picked up by AZ Alkmaar scouts.

Watford recognises his talent and pays good money to lure him and dad Frank (as scout) to Watford, after having impressed at AZ. He doesn’t fit in the system of Quique Sanchez Flores though, and only gets a couple of sub turns, before he is relegated to the B team, from October to April. Late in the season he gets two games and partly due to two Berghuis assists is Watford able to stay up. Flores praises Berghuis’ tenacity but the technician feels English football is probably not for him. When Feyenoord decides to get him in, on loan first, he grabs the opportunity with both hands and becomes a regular at De Kuip.

Danny Blind also recognises his talent and selects him for Oranje. Berghuis would finally eclipse dad Frank, who played 1 cap for Oranje, and gets his hare against Ireland in a friendly.

At Feyenoord, he is important in his first season, when Feyenoord wins the title. Striker Jorgensen and Dirk Kuyt are the key men but Berghuis still gets seven goals and five assists. He will grow out to Feyenoord’s main man and skipper in the seasons after. In four seasons, he will become the most valuable player with a role in 106 goals in 119 matches.

In a 2020 interview, he is asked about his stats in relation to his role as winger: “I don’t see myself as a winger. I don’t have that speed or particular dribble like Robben had. I am more a 10 playing wide. Something you see more often. Ziyech plays like that, Mahrez, Tadic. I could also play as a real 10 I think. But in modern football, a lot of the 10s are now more box to box players, with lots of movement, like Guus Til or Davy Klaassen.”

Steven and Frank Berghuis

Interestingly enough, at Ajax, Berghuis is used a lot as midfielder, and actually, a midfielder who can play at any position. Under Ten Hag he plays mostly as a 10 but under Schreuder and recently in Oranje as well, he is used as an 8 or even a 6.

This means he gets involved sooner, and has more impact on the game. His stats demonstrate this. This season, he had 91 touches in a match and 68 passes! That is the highest he had ever since returning to the Eredivisie.

In Oranje, Van Gaal used him as controlling mid and in that role he had 4 key interceptions defensively and three shots on goal and a wonderful assist.

In the National Team, he can play in any role in midfield and in a 4-3-3 he could also play as right winger. Wonderful for any coach to have such a versatile player, with a wand of a left foot. When he played his first U-19 match, he wondered if he could do better than dad Frank. With 39 caps now and a World Cup on the horizon, it seems like he has definitely made his dad proud.

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On the Road to Qatar: Virgil van Dijk

The 31st year old has never played on a big tournament. The World Cup would be the realisation of his boyhood dream. And as skipper of Oranje, he will lead the team out. He discovered himself at Liverpool. A heavy knee injury might have delayed his debut at a Tournament with capital T, but he came back as if nothing happened.

Virgil can come across lacklustre. Lazy even. That was the comment on scouting reports from Ajax scouts, some 12 years ago. Complacent. This was the case then and it’s still the case now. His biggest strength is also his biggest pitfall. When he does make a mistake, he will hear that he was trying to solve the problem without getting his jersey dirty. Van Dijk does not throw his energy around but tries to solve problems by positioning smarter and making the right choices. Nothing arrogant about that.

Take that goal Man United scored. Sancho chopped inside. Milner slides past, while Becker dove to the wrong corner of the goal. Sancho simply passed the ball in the other corner. All this time, Van Dijk was ball watching with his arms behind his back. Milner was seen in close up after the goal was scored, scolding Virgil for not throwing his body on the line. But Virgil did what he always does. He’s always trying to organise so that flying tackles aren’t needed. He is like the CEO amongst defenders. He makes sure others do their job, so he doesn’t need to do it.

When Klopp was asked about the contributions of Van Dijk, in his first season, he answered: “Influential. Very very very influential”.  On December 27, there is a sort of public holiday in Liverpool. The Virgil’s Arrival Day. When he finally came over from Southampton, for 85 million euros. Where the amount is constantly dug up when Maguire makes another mistake, this Virgil transfer fee is simply a foot note.

As Klopp put it: “Thanks to Virgil, we can defend differently. Higher up the pitch. We can make the playing field smaller now.”

When he returned after his injury, the Daily Mail asked him if he was back to normal and he nodded yes. What people didn’t realise, and Virgil was a bit taken aback with that fact, is that he had to literally learn how to walk again! While his team mates were playing football and had their summer break or the Euros, Virgil was working like a beast, all by himself. He didn’t want to hurry his recovery by focusing on the Euros, knowing how tough it is to get back from this crucial injury.

“Everyone seemed to think it was normal that I got back at my level. As if nothing had happened. Based on my research, being able to get back at your normal level is not something that can be expected. And I’m not a spring chicken anymore either, so I felt that I could have received a bit more positive feedback than I did, as I started to play in every single game again…” His colleagues in England did give him the kudos he deserved, by picking him as the only non creative player in the list of nominees for Player of the Year (along side Salah , Mane, C Ronaldo, Kane and De Bruyne).

Check the personal duels won by Big Virgil. 

Virgil was asked during a presser with Oranje and Van Gaal whether he was able to hear any of the commands from the side-line, usually given by Danny Blind at Oranje or Klopp at Liverpool. “No, I am too loud myself, so I can’t hear the coaches yell at me, hahaha”. And it’s true, Pep Lijnders once said he sits more comfortable if he can hear Van Dijk’s bassoon in the stadium. He is the command centre of the Liverpool build up.

As the CEO of the Liverpool defence, he has ample tasks. After he went from Groningen to Celtic, he was described as a big unit (a wardrobe is the literal translation) with imposing physical qualities. And yes he is tall and yes he can head a ball.  Lijnders always says you need to really run around him if you want to get past him. But he’s not a very physical defender. He’s not like Man United’s Martinez or Mathijs de Ligt who love some Greek Romanian wrestling. With all the space in Virgil’s back, he needs to conduct the defence. And make sure it’s all fine tuned and in sync. It’s a balancing act, as he himself is usually situation on the halfway line. In the Big Five competitions, there is no team that was able to play the offside as much as Liverpool, last season.

It does fail at times and when it does fail, it looks really amateuristic. But, Klopp wants it like this and if there are mistakes made, it’s just par for the course. Because overall, it will work often very well and it allows every Liverpool player to be part of the attacking flow.

Van Dijk is a mind reader. He plays mainly with his brains. He tries to get into the head of the forward and he slows their attack. He won’t “bite” immediately, he will simply slow things down so his mates can track back. He basically pushes the pause button. He delays his decisions and actions, he pushes the opponent to the sides, with his running pattern and he hardly ever needs a foul or a tackle, even. He’s strong, very good in the air, relatively fast, technically solid and he oozes confidence.

Unbeaten record at home. Cool to see two other Dutchies and one former Dutch Eredivisie player (Alex) in the mix. Virgil NEVER lost a home game in the PL.

It’s probably his intelligence that makes the real difference. He can organise his defence in such a way that the opponent’s forwards think they’re always a step too late. The magic is in his timing. He developed a masterful sense of timing, when to press up, when to drop back. How to offer cover, when to mark and how to push a forward to the sides. He has the highest winning % in personal duels in the Premier League and it’s not a coincidence. He’s like Mr Charisma, the ability to foresee the moves of the opponent and to almost attract them to do what Virgil wants.

Lijnders: “We knew he would be a direct contributor as an individual player, but he also contributes indirectly, by making other players better.”

We all know Virgil’s story. A lazy right back at Willem II when he was 16 years old. Nothing special . When he turned 17, he suddenly grew another 18 centimerers. And his life changed. Grads Fuhler, scout of Groningen (now at FC Emmen), saw him play by coincidence. Fuhler was on his way to a game in Belgium and realised Willem II A1 played PSV A1 so he took the Tilburg exit. A week later, Virgil and mum were on their way to Groningen to sign for the local FC.

At Groningen 2, he spent a lot of time on the bench. His coach, Dick Lukkien (now head coach at FC Emmen) spent a lot of time on Virgil, who was still complacent. Lukkien desired more from the player and slowly but surely, Van Dijk started to change his mentality. The Top 3 didn’t see it in him, although Ronald Koeman was keen to sign him for Feyenoord. There was no money though. Ajax decided to get Mike van der Hoorn from FC Utrecht. At Celtic, he made some crucial steps but it was when Koeman was able to sign him for Southampton that the Oranje captain started to thrive. Both Lukkien and Koeman are mentioned by Virgil when asked which coaches were instrumental in his career.

If you ask English fans who were or are the best defenders ever in the PL, his name is mentioned, alongside players like Terry, Rio Ferdinand, Tony Adams and Nemanja Vidic. Not bad for a player who never played a big Tournie.

Ironically, Virgil is now the captain of the WC squad under a coach who in 2014 decided to leave him home. Van Gaal said he saw the same mistakes being made over and over again and decided to take Martins Indi, Stefan de Vrij and Ron Vlaar. Willem Vissers interviewed Van Gaal who said more negative things about Van Dijk. After the interview, Van Gaal instructed Vissers to delete these comments. Vissers can not remember exactly what the current team manager said, but it was something like “he doesn’t press forward enough, and he doesn’t see players running in behind, he is simply not good enough…”. Van Gaal did say in 2019 that Van Dijk has the personality to instil fear in his opponents.

Van Dijk says something interesting in the book “Thou Shall Not Pass: The Anatomy of Football’s Centre-Half”: “I want my opponents to think everything I do is easy for me. Look at Roger Federer. He doesn’t even break a sweat, or so it seems. Mentally, that will be tough for the opponents. They think Federer doesn’t even need to work hard. I try to do this too.”

The Liverpudlians call him VVD. Superman on Anfield. Mr Cook. With Van Dijk in the team, they hardly ever lose at home.

When Virgil made his first entrance in the Oranje squad, he was in awe of Robben and Kuyt. He was observing them. How they acted, what they ate, how they behaved. As kid, he wanted to be Ronaldinho and he thought Jaap Stam was two meters tall. The World Cup was millions of miles away from the kid in Breda. Virgil became his version of Ronaldinho.  Now, kids in England and Holland dream of being Virgil van Dijk.  In Liverpool, he’s a demi God.

Virgil’s debut.

It was a different time. Oranje at a historic trough. The Euros of 2016 are out of sight. In the final away game versus Kazachstan, coach Danny Blind gives Virgil a chance, alongside debutant Kenny Tete. The game is won, 1-2 but three days later, the Czechs are too strong in the JC Arena. Oranje ends 4th behind the Czechs, Iceland and Turkey. Blind played: Krul, Riedewald, Bruma, Van Dijk, Tete; Wijnaldum, Blind, Sneijder; Depay, El Ghazi, Huntelaar.

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How Van Gaal rejuvenated Oranje. Again.

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.

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Winners and Losers of Oranje

He who studied Louis van Gaal knows he is a true fan and follower of his role model Rinus Michels. As a young player, he would bike to the Ajax training ground, not to watch the Ajax players, but to watch Michels. When a young adult Van Gaal needed to pick a profession, he decided to become a teacher, phys ed, like Michels was.

He tries to copy Michels career (Ajax, Barca, Oranje) but wants to do one better: winning the World Cup. He will have noticed how Michels abandoned the Dutch 4-3-3 in 1988, in order to win the first and only trophy for Holland. He shored up the midfield and took a forward off, making sure his two stars Gullit and Van Basten wouldn’t need to do too much work and could focus on scoring goals. Realist Michels ignored all the idealists and won the big prize.

As a young coach, Van Gaal played uber attacking football, which has inspired many a coach, like Guardiola, Bielsa and Flick. But on 19 January 1989, something happened. Barca led Valencia, 3-0. In 20 minutes, Valencia scored four goals and Van Gaal lost that match.

His next big trophy, he won with AZ Alkmaar, playing counter football in a 4-4-1-1 set up.

During the years, he realised he was naive and started to focus on a way to win games with exciting football. He got more and more convinced, that the strongest team with the tightest bonds would win tournaments. And when one has mediocre players, reactive football will pay off, using tactical smarts, to cover your own weaknesses and to exploit the weaknesses of the opponent.

At the 2014 World Cup, he knew he had some world class forwards, but mediocre defenders. The players back then were on the pay roll of Ajax, Feyenoord, Aston Villa, Norwich, Swansea City, Galatasaray… He created a platform for Robben and Van Persie and disciplined the lesser heroes into a tight system. When he needed speed and pizzazz, he brought Memphis. When he needed legs in midfield, he had PSV player Wijnaldum.

We got to the semis, and a failed penalty shoot out blocked us from beating the Germs in the finals.

This time around, our back line has players who are at Man City, Liverpool, Inter, Juventus, Ajax and midfielders who play at Barcelona, PSG, Man United or Bayern Munich. Our forwards might not (yet) be of Robben status, but they know how to unsettle defenders and score!

Van Gaal believes he has a real chance of lifting the trophy.

He studied the way Tuchel at Chelsea works with his three at the back. Chelsea is able to put pressure on the ball and does this by using the wing backs in a tactical way. They need to see the moment to push forward and put pressure on the wingers of the opponent. Van Gaal noticed that Daley Blind has the tactical intelligence to recognise these moments. Something Dumfries needs to improve on, as he got it wrong recently versus Germany (and initially versus Belgium as well).

Van Gaal speaks of the 10 yard rule. When the opponent has the ball, the Oranje players cannot be further apart than 10 yards. In this way, players can put pressure and know that their spot will be covered. This was what didn’t go well at the Euros, recently, when the Czechs didn’t find it hard to play in between the lines.

Another aspect Van Gaal has been hammering on: coaching. All players need to be vocal, you need to inform your mates and create a better awareness or orientation. Van Gaal uses video analysis software to monitor this. The video software constantly calculates and visualises the distances. Based on this, Van Dijk is named the General of Pressing and he is the key man in coaching the team. Stefan de Vrij is his capable 2CO in this task. Interestingly enough, when Oranje is able to keep these distances, the opponent finds it hard to score. Once we are unable to fill in the gaps, the opponent will get chances. We were able to do it right for 70 minutes versus Belgium. Once we started slipping and getting more fatigued, we become vulnerable.

The lesson? If we can keep this up for 90 minutes, it will be hard for any opponent to score against us.

By using two forwards and no real wingers, LVG opens up the flanks for his wide wingbacks. This means Oranje has always an extra man in midfield. Vanaken and Witsel of Belgium were constantly facing three Oranje midfielders. When you control the midfield, you control the game.

Players like Memphis, Bergwijn, Lang, Malen and Danjuma do love the space on the wing to be available for them to run into. The experiment with Weghorst as deepest striker against Wales didn’t work out. As Wales didn’t press up, we were a man short in midfield, also because the two “half 10s” weren’t able to play the spaces too well. Van Gaal changed it back, by making Lang a midfielder again and this way we regained control.

Against Poland, Van Gaal went back to his 3 midfielder game plan (Klaassen, Frenkie, Berghuis) and we should have and could have won that too, if Memphis had scored the pen. The two Polish goals can be (and should have been) avoided.

The new Oranje system works well against stronger nations, who want to attack as well. It will allow for space, for Frenkie and Memphis in particular to create havoc.

Against team parking the bus – and they usually also sacrifice a player to mark Frenkie de Jong – this team needs to improve. Van Gaal had to instruct Frenkie to not try and dribble into cul de sacs, but to move away from the action. Find space on the wings, or in areas where nothing is happening. If the marker follows, it means other players will be able to get more space and take over Frenkie’s role.

The fact that it still takes the coach to point this out, as he had to do versus Denmark when Eriksen became the free man after he had come onto the pitch, there is still a lot of work to do. You want that tactical intelligence on the pitch, you want players like Blind, Van Dijk, Frenkie and Memphis to “see” these things and take care of it.

This new Van Gaal system has a couple of winners.

Steven Bergwijn – Van Gaal called him a Gift of the Gods, literally. Strong on the ball, a good partnership with Memphis, scoring ability, depth, speed. But… not able to play more than 70 minutes at high intensity.

Steven Berghuis – Van Gaal calls him the “passer” as opposed to the “runners” Klaassen, Wijnaldum, Van de Beek and Til. Berghuis is unique in this role, with Teun Koopmeiners as more defensive alternative. As there are no real alternatives, it seems the Ajax man is certain of his spot.

Jurrien Timber – He may have gotten the wrath of the coach against Poland but Timber has been impressing as right CB in Ajax and in Oranje. He is the complete package: speed, ability to play right wing back if needed, strong in challenges and very good on the ball. His off day v Poland was due to fatigue, Van Gaal concluded.

Nathan Ake – Van Gaal prefers a left footed left centre back. He seems to prefer Blind as wing back so Ake is the only left footed defender in the squad. Martins Indi was called up for this reason and we’ll see Sven Botman most likely too. Ake doesn’t play much at City, but he keeps impressing in Oranje.

The Losers

Stefan de Vrij – Van Gaal is a super fan of the Inter defender as he also used him successfully in 2014. “Everything Van Dijk can do, De Vrij can do as well.” It seems he is the ideal stand in for captain Virgil van Dijk.

Mathijs de Ligt – The young and solid Juve defender was tested as left CB but that was not an overall success. It seems De Ligt needs to focus on a spot in the centre or right CB. For these positions he’s competing with De Vrij, Van Dijk and Timber. Tough test for Mathijs.

Gini Wijnaldum – One of the key players for Oranje in the past years, but Van Gaal is not impressed with his performances in Oranje. “Gini has to deliver. We cannot bring players in to help them find their feet. He will need to do this at his club.”

Arnaut Danjuma – Scores for fun in Spain (and everywhere else) but hasn’t impressed Van Gaal too much. “He is still injured. He’s not my #1 player and when you’re not fit, you move further down the hierarchy. Danjuma needs to get fit and he needs to perform. Only then can I select him again.”

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