Before the World Cup, all the smart football experts felt that Holland would breeze through the group, winning three games and ending on top of the group. No one expected the chagrin we all feel now.
Van Gaal built a reputation of being a daring, modern, attacking football promoting wizard, who can be viewed as a success coach. We all know better of course. Yes successes at Ajax, at Munich, at AZ but also mixed results at Barca and Man United and a huge disgrace in 2002 with Oranje. Of course, he sort of made amends in 2014, but this time he wants to go all the way. Or as he famously said: We can go an end. Which is the literal translation of the Dutch version of We can go a long way.
The Qatar match is going to be an interesting one. For starters we want and need to win it. But the Senegal and Ecuador matches have not demonstrated that Van Gaal’s complicated 1-3-4-1-2 system works. It may have worked, although in the different matches for the qualification and in the Nations League, he did switch around a bit. So to say that the LVG system is proven and water tight… no.
And now we are at a crossroads. Will Van Gaal use the same core players in his same system? Which is likely to do because 1) his ego doesn’t want to admit he was wrong, 2) he wants to have his core line up use this game as a practice run for when we play the top teams later on. Or will he use the young turks to prove themselves, give them game time and see if there is a new Marco van Basten or Memphis Depay amongst the second tier who could turn this disappointing journey around?
I would play this (if I was the coach) but I think Van Gaal will stick to this tactical guns and only add Xavi Simons to the mix. The country screams for him (87% of the respondents of a VI Pro poll want him to play) and LVG is smart enough to go with that if this means he keeps his dignity. But I don’t believe he’ll use 4-3-3.
As everyone who watched the games will concur that the “without-the-ball” play is decent but the “in-possession” play is dreadful. The players acknowledge that it has to improve, the analysts plug Simons, Lang and Malacia while the foreign press witness a struggling Oranje. The 2 attempts on goal v Ecuador is a new record. Since 1966 no nation was this toothless. The last “low number of attempts” was in 2014, the semi final against Argentina. Seven attempts.
How is it that a country renowned for their attacking creativity be so bad a creating? VI Pro asked Foppe de Haan, successcoach with Jong Oranje, Aad de Mos – master analyst, Hedwiges Maduro – ex international, Marcel Lukassen ex director football development at the KNVB and Jelle Goes, ex technical director of the KNVB.
Foppe de Haan
“We play with 5 defenders. And yes, you can play attacking football with 5 at the back, but you automatically have to start one forward less. So it’s actually a bit more defensive. You will have less options on the ball. And this system works well if you have top class wingbacks and… we don’t have them. I think Dumfries is positioned way too high. He is great if he goes into the space. Not if he’s there, with a man in his back. He lacks the skill for that. I don’t like to see Frenkie going all the way back to pick up the ball. He is the least threatening when he plays there. Van Dijk needs to do more in building up. More courage, more balls. Now, the balls go from left to right and back, it annoys the crap out of me. I don’t see any spectacle. We don’t offer enough bodies in the box, for instance. There is not enough threat, only Gakpo is in decent form up front. I don’t see any wing play with an action to take an opponent on. I see a lot of reality and not a lot of ideals. I think Team USA, Canada and Japan play with more forward thrust than we do.”
“The defensive game play has developed enormously, internationally. The result of all the data and stats. It’s now easier to train in defence. How to organise, how to keep your distances in check. Even countries like Saudi Arabia can defend compact and grind out results. And because of this, attacking has become harder. I don’t think Van Gaal is thinking defensively, per se, but he simply doesn’t have world class forwards. We have three creative attackers in the centre of the pitch and the width has to come from the backs: Blind and Dumfries. But Ecuador had those avenues blocked off. They constantly had a man more in midfield and in defence. Then it’s tough to break them down. And they had one striker, Valencia, against three of our best defenders. But we don’t benefit from that man more.”
“All nations have improved mainly in terms of organisation. They all play more compact and defend and attack with 10. Due to it being so compact, it’s becoming harder and harder for attackers. A lot of our defenders used to be attackers. From Malacia to Karsdorp, from Dumfries to De Ligt. Which means that our defenders can all play, they can all play a good forward pass, like Blind and Ake. But this trend also shifts a lot of the defending requirements to the midfield and even the attack. German development academies focus on winning matches. Don’t concede goals and win! In The Netherlands, our emphasis is on scoring, on attacking. That is a cultural thing. Do we now create better defenders? I don’t believe so. Take Virgil van Dijk. Our captain. Considered on of the best. He should have blocked that Ecuador attack that resulted in a goal. He was running with the attacker. You need to defend. You need to block the attackers progress. Win the ball or force the opponent wide. And don’t wait and run along with him to shield the centre of the pitch. In a 1 v 1 situation, your first task is to intercept the ball when it’s passed. If you can’t, you need to make sure the opponent can not run in a straight line to the goal. You need to put pressure on him. And take De Ligt, versus Senegal. Why did he make all these fouls. Because he is not good at recognising when to pressure high and at what cost. We are not so good as we thing we are. Our attackers grow up with way less resistance. When you play for Ajax or Feyenoord or AZ you will win most of your games easily. As you can see, we know how to dazzle in the Eredivisie, but at this level? In Germany, the under 14s already play in compact systems and they look at things like distances, horizontal and vertical. They create unpredictable situations. In Holland, it’s more about the structure and shape and about individual skills. We need to overhaul our development methods. By focusing on better defending, you also train the attackers in becoming better and you challenge them. And we need to limit the spaces and play more compact. Look at the development of a Xavi Simons, at PSG and Barca, compared to a player like Hartjes or Bannis or Vente of Feyenoord.”
Aad de Mos
“I would not draw too many conclusions. This is a moment in time. Every tournament, you will have a bad game. We played Sweden in 1974 0-0. Was a terrible match. The spaces are more confined, it seems like defending is done better, but it’s not. Some nations do benefit from this, like Ecuador. Once we play better teams, who play more open, we will get more space, I suppose. Our forwards lack form though. Memphis, Bergwijn…maybe it’s time to give Simons or Lang a go. I do hope the players will be real and honest to each other. I think being a good friends group is not always good. I heard from some players from Belgium that they talk a lot about cars and watches, but now it seems De Bruyne is finally confronting his team mates, as is Alderweireld. We need less good vibes and more assholes. I think the Belgians resemble us more, and we are becoming more like them. It’s a good time for a little war in the camp.”
“In my view, we play reaction football. When you play 5 at the back, you actually leave the initiative with the opponent. It worked well in 2014. Every chance and a half ended up in goal, with hot shots like Van Persie and Robben and Memphis hot off the bench. But today, we have more quality, we have midfielders playing at top clubs in Europe and I think players need to play on the position they’re used to at their club. It’s not easy to make that switch. Look at Van Dijk, Timber, De Ligt and Ake. Do they play in a 3 at the back? No, not at their club. Are they the key men in build up? No, they’re not. They’re great defenders. And is it not ok to ask from Blind to reach the box of the opponent? Gakpo played his best games as a left winger and I believe Berghuis should play as right winger, in the Ziyech role, with Dumfries bombing forth. I do believe in success for Oranje, but don’t make it too complicated. Make it logical. I will probably take one or two subtle changes and we can win games comfortably.”
I think Ronald Koeman will need to do some restoration work.
I think under Koeman we will say our goodbyes to Noppert (as #1 goalie) and Blind. He might stay on in the squad but its time to bring Malacia. And if Wijndal or Bakker start to perform consistently, move on from Blind.
And go back to a 4-2-3-1. Preferably with Frimpong as well :-).
What do you expect from the Holland v Qatar game? I say 5-0. Brace for Xavi, a goal for Memphis and hopefully a World Cup goal for Virgil and Berghuis. Good for their confidence :-). Although Gakpo is on fire and every goal is another 5 million euros for PSV hahaha….