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.