As per usual, the expectations of the Dutch fans were high. We all want to cheer away the Czech and recent Norwegian blues, while clearly the Covid-restrictions also add to the level of expecations of the crowd. While the race fanatics get to enjoy the first F1 race in Zandvoort with idol Verstappen in 36 years or so on Sunday, the football crowd was desperate to cheer the Oranje players again.
Three matches in 7 days, a new coaching staff, differences in fitness levels and hardly any preparation time. That is what was on the table and like in Norway, Oranje started the match slow, deliberate, a bit cautious and lacking a bit of confidence too, maybe?
Van Gaal had been outspoken in his criticism of the team in the Norway game and will have used that criticism to push a couple of the key players in his plans (Memphis, Gakpo, Berghuis). Van Gaal also had to deal with some forced changes, as Van Dijk’s fitness levels (and hand injury) stopped him from playing, just like Daley Blind was ruled out due to suspension.
So two new players in the back four. Nathan Ake the logical choice at LCB and Malacia the logical choice for LB. The Feyenoord talent did make his debut but Van Gaal opted for De Ligt as LCB next to De Vrij.
Van Gaal decided to give Berghuis another chance (as the coach – like me- analysed that it was Timber who impeded Berghuis in playing his best football), this time with Dumfries behind him. Gakpo started again on the left with Memphis in the centre.
The first 20 minutes or so were dramatic, so much so that I feared for another debacle. Berghuis tripping over the ball, Wijnaldum invisible, Memphis wasteful, and hardly any zip or pace on the ball. The only players seemingly escaping that slow start were De Vrij, Frenkie de Jong and Klaassen.
It was the Ajax midfielder’s header on the cross bar that changed things, and got some confidence and some oomph in the team. Van Gaal needed to get vocal making sure Berghuis and Gakpo would not drop too deep and it was up to vice-captain Memphis to make the difference with his incredible work rate.
So after 20 minutes of slowly passing the ball square, Oranje found its spring in its step, and the answer was: Memphis and his runs.
Like Norway, Montenegro tried to keep the field compact with a 4-5-1 when Oranje had the ball. An easy defensive tactics, but usually not something teams can sustain over 90 minutes. Van Gaal knew his team needed to be patient and play the opponent dizzy over a longer period. A bit like handball: defenders around the circle and the attackers passing the ball around to find a gap.
Memphis played the perfect #9 role, by coming into midfield when possible to become an extra midfielder and to make runs in behind, stretching the opponent. He wouldn’t get great service in the first half, but his movement created space for Klaassen, Frenkie and Gakpo.
Look at this moment here (see above). Frenkie has possession and Montenegro moves into their shape. Memphis darts away, deep, and stretches the opponent. Both central defenders have to react.
You can see below how that opened up spaces in the midfield and via Malacia, the ball does end up with Memphis who plays in Gakpo, who in turn see Klaassen using the space created by Depay, who binds three opponents!
This is the task Frenkie, Wijnaldum and Memphis have against these types of opponents. It’s important to pull the opponent in, as these three will be seen as the danger men in orange, but by their movement, others will get more freedom.
Klaassen and Wijnaldum both switch up their play, from ball in feet to ball deep in behind. Van Gaal was adamant about this: “Find the right timing for your sprints!”. Below two situations, where he comes deep first, pulls a midfielder out of position. Then he moves deeper and forces the defenders to choose.
In the second photo, you can see Berghuis again launching Wijnaldum in the half space, which resulted in a goal against Norway. This time, Gakpo gets an opportunity to shoot.
These moments are typical for the attacking play we need. Runs in behind by the big players, to create space for themselves or for their mates. Look at the first goal here.
Memphis starts his run in midfield and gets the through pass from Gakpo. Klaassen has forced the defence back so the Barca striker is never off side. Gakpo’s pass is perfect and Memphis has the skill to trick the defender: penalty! And Memphis then gives a master class in penalty-taking.
The 2-0 was also the creation of the three attackers. Both Berghuis and Gakpo are instructed to stay wide and stretch the opponent. Memphis lures the right back by being active in the half space. De Jong uses his short passes to suffocate the space and allow room for Gakpo. That results in an attempt on goal by Berghuis, which gets blocked, and in the rebound a great goal by Memphis, who can’t stop scoring it seems.
The third goal also started with Memphis. Gakpo and Berghuis keep their width, Wijnaldum makes his run into the box and after some short passing, Memphis finds Berghuis, who finds skipper Gini with a nifty little through-ball and the 3-0 was there.
The more Montenegro got tired (and the more stalwarts they lost), the more space for Oranje. Look at the 4-0. It’s Memphis and Malacia who now dominate that space on the left and Gakpo makes his way to the striker position. Malacia got his assist, Gakpo demonstrating his glorious kicking technique and it’s 4-0.
Earlier in the second half, Malacia almost also had an assist for Montenegro. It ended well though for the debutant, who saw experienced De Vrij do the same almost, allowing Bijlow to claim the headlines with his highly composed control of that situation. Don’t go to ground, just wait what the player wants to do and deal with it.
The 4-0 was a symbolic goal. It showed the class of this new Oranje. Leader Memphis working his butt off, youngster Malacia and Gakpo with quick feet and a high work rate of all involved.
This is the Oranje Van Gaal wants to see: build up patiently, use the width of the park, and have a high intensity off the ball with lots of runs and movement.
This seems to be the right step up to that next game (Turkey). All that went well can be improved upon, while all we gave away were the result of lazy defending. Something Van Gaal will most definitely stamp out of this squad.
Wijnaldum: “We needed this. The Euro exit is still fresh and we couldn’t really dazzle versus Norway, so the pressure was on. We had to do it tonight and after a slow start, we managed to do it.”
Van Gaal: “I don’t like standing at the touchline to yell commands to my players. I believe you haven’t done your job if you need to do this all the time. But I did step up to instruct Gakpo and Berghuis to push up more, stay wide and high and allow space for others to use. I think that went well. Our first 20 minutes were abysmal, but our last 70 minutes were pretty good.”
My player ratings:
Justin Bijlow – 7.5
Calm and collected. Bijlow’s distribution was fine and when he was needed he did what he had to do. Plays with the swagger of a 28 year old. I think we have our new goalie for the next 10 years.
Tyrell Malacia – 7
Played as if he has been playing in the NT for years. Needing too many fouls in the beginning, but smart in his positioning and using his low centre of gravity in any aerial duels. Showed his quick feet and more than decent cross and worked tirelessly. Good for him to get an assist. He will battle it out with Wijndal and maybe Jetro Willems on the left.
Mathijs de Ligt – 6
Strong enough and good enough, but showing some rust in his passing and did time wrong a number of times, almost repeating his clumsy defending versus the Czechs at one point. But he did play in a role that he doesn’t prefer, and the future is obviously his.
Stefan de Vrij – 6
Played strong, was focused and alert. Tried to dribble in and support midfield where possible but also had a weak moment at the back with a short back pass putting Bijlow into trouble.
Denzel Dumfries – 6,5
Played great for a player who just had Covid and hasn’t played since the Euros. Defensively tricked once, in the first 20 minutes, otherwise a solid performance, although would be wise to play more simple and cross the ball in when he can. Got his usual chance at the far post again but needed a bigger shoe size.
Davy Klaassen – 7
Played to his strength and thanks to Memphis runs in behind, he was able to use his typical qualities more than against Norway. He did have a header on the bar and some close moments in the box but no cigar. A fine performance.
Frenkie de Jong – 7.5
Constantly prowling and hunting and scouting for openings. Strong on the ball, and in my view the player who added some oomph and pace to the game when after 20 minutes or so it was clear that the way Oranje was going was not going to cut it.
Gini Wijnaldum – 7
Added the runs to his game, made dirty yards and connected well with Berghuis on the right flank this time. Got his usual goal and was subbed by Van Gaal to keep him fresh for Turkey.
Cody Gakpo – 7.5
Cody needed some coaching initially re: his positioning but grew into the game and demonstrated his class at various times, whether it’s crossing, dribbling, pass and move or finishing. A glorious goal for him and boy did he enjoy it.
Memphis Depay – 8
Memphis led the line, Memphis gave the right example. He overcame a weak start and pushed himself to glory in this game. His penalty was a masterpiece and the Barca striker ran more than 11 kilometers for the team. Smart passing, some nice trickery for the fans and even an on-pitch selfie with a young fan. A mature performance.
Steven Berghuis – 7
Berghuis too needed some attention from the coach and after a horrid start grew into the game. He will always play his own game: passing with risk, trying to find the opening. I still feel he plays with the handbrake on as he had a couple of options to shoot himself. He created the Wijnaldum goal with a nifty flick and was involved in many attacks.
Steven Bergwijn – 7
Usually, a sub who has 20 minutes or so to play will not be able to impress much but Bergwijn had some amazing runs and great footwork (and a panna) to show the coach he truly is back. An amazing all round athlete, who can most likely play in the Memphis role, if need be.
Louis van Gaal – 7
Louis did what he needed to do. Logical tactics, logical player choices, logical substitutions.
It seems this will be Van Gaal’s system of choice, until he has more time to really work on the 5-3-2 or 3-4-3 system.
Wide wingers, a false #9, a dynamic runner on #10 and creative but ball-sure midfielders. He is right, we don’t have many wingers, but when you have Bergwijn, Malen, Gakpo, Berghuis, El Ghazi and Danjuma, you’re not in bad shape.
Memphis, Malen and Bergwijn can play the false 9. Luuk de Jong and Weghorst can act as pinch hitters when needed.
The dynamic #10 (as opposed to the playmaker #10 such as Bruno Fernandez) is also available in Klaassen, Van de Beek, Van Ginkel and Til, while Frenkie, Koopmeiners, Gravenberch and Propper can play in the creative deep playmaker role.
Tell my your thoughts!