Van Gaal’s plans for Oranje

In the seven international games under Van Gaal since his return, the former school teacher played the usual 4-3-3 with one holding mid and two attacking midfielders. This, because the players asked him to play this way. The coach realised he wasn’t going to drill a new system in, in the limited time available. Now, the coach claims to have the time and he announced to go into an intense week, in which he would practice the 5 at the back concept. A practice week disturbed by a positive Covid test by the coach himself.

Three experts on the system change.

Pierre van Hooijdonk ( formally of NAC, Celtic, Nottingham Forest, Vitesse, Feyenoord and Fener. Played 46 international games for Oranje): “We don’t need to stick to that so-called Dutch School. It’s naive to think the 4-3-3 is the only way to win. We won the 1988 Euros with a 4-4-2 system. I think 5-3-2 is a very good system too, and we might have the players for that. We don’t have top wingers anymore, but we do have good wingbacks, good central defenders. And 3-4-3 is also an option, with three forwards.”

Ronald de Boer *(formally of Ajax, Barca and Rangers, played 67 international games for Oranje): “I think we should stop thinking we need to dominate matches. You do need your identity and a system you can fall back on, but coaches like Pep Guardiola also adapt their system to what the opponent can do. Man City at times plays with 3 at the back or an extra midfielder. With Oranje, there is less time to work on a system. so it’s useful to zoom in on where the weakness of the opponent is. Is this with two strikers and wingbacks, sure, do that. Why not? I always look at “how can I win this match?”. The way Benfica beat Ajax, that is something we should learn from!”

Hans Kraay JR (ex defender of De Graafschap, Den Bosch, Telstar, Brighton and Hove Albion): “If playing 4-3-3 works for the team, why change? I do get that we have great central defenders and no real right winger but I would simply play 4-3-3. Keep it simple.”

This is the way Oranje beat Norway in the key match securing the World Cup ticket. Bijlow, De Vrij and Berghuis weren’t available, so Van Gaal played with Cillesen, De Ligt and Bergwijn.

At the last presser, Van Gaal started to talk about the reversed triangle. He talks about the forward line of the 3-5-2 which he used in Brazil 2014. In the image below we can see how that worked in the match versus Spain. Of that squad, only Daley Blind, Stefan de Vrij, Jasper Cillesen, Clasie, Wijnaldum and Depay are still squad members.

We had two oldies up front, Van Persie and Robben and oldie Sneijder right behind them for his passing. Van Persie was the shrewd distractor for Robben’s runs. Blind and Janmaat were the wingers.

Another option is the square, which Chelsea uses. Van Gaal is clearly a Tuchel fan and mentioned them a number of times in his press conference as an example. Below is the line up Tuchel used in the CL finals versus Man City. In Oranje, Memphis could be the striker, with Wijnaldum and Danjuma or Lang or Berghuis or Gakpo behind him. Malacia on the left, Dumfries on the right and Frenkie and Koopmeiners in the engine room, for instance.

As we have seen at Atalanta and Barcelona, both Koopmeiners and Frenkie can also play in a more forward role.

Lets check the Tuchel way and how he inspires Van Gaal. Van Gaal: “I don’t want to play with 5 defenders at the back. Many teams play like this and you invite the attack of the opponent. The way I want to execute it is more like Chelsea does it. Pressure on the ball. Sometimes, provocative pressing.”

Van Gaal has three reasons to zoom in on the Chelsea way of playing.

1 Circle Pressing

Van Gaal uses the Norway match as example. “Against Norway, we decided to press around the mid circle which gave us space behind their back line to use our speed.”

This is what Van Gaal calls the provocative press. With total high press, the pressure starts at the edge of the box of the opponent. With circle pressing, you start the press around the mid circle. Hence the name.

With three central defenders it is easy to cover the central axis of the pitch. In a 4-3-3 you’d have six players in the axis ( two central defenders, three midfielders and a striker), whereas in a 3-4-3 it’s eight players ( three defenders, two controlling mids, two attacking mids and a striker).

Chelsea demonstrates how they use their systems in a flexible way. Around the mid circle, the team is organised from a 3-4-2-1 system (See above) but once they end up on their own half, they go 5-4-1. This system allows the defenders to press forward. Playing against Chelsea “between the lines” is hard, as there will always be a defender ready and able to pick you up.

Chelsea’s 5-4-1 on their own half….

2 Central Defenders.

Van Gaal thinks this system was made for the current Oranje squad. “I try to use players in their strength, not their weakness. With the qualities we have, it screams for a 5-3-2 variant. My players weren’t ready for it, but now they will be.” Van Gaal sees it well, with Van Dijk, De Vrij and De Ligt we have world class defenders. Nathan Ake is a valued defender at Man City, while Joel Veltman plays everything for Brighton. Sven Botman won the French title last season and Pascal Struijk is impressive at Leeds. In the Eredivisie, players like Timber, Schuurs, Blind, Teze and Geertruida are options. And even Koopmeiners and Frenkie de Jong can play at the back. The reason to go for 5-3-2 now is different than it was in 2014. Back then, Van Gaal did mention he used the system to have less defensive duties for this (older) forwards while shoring up the relatively inexperienced defence.

Now, it would be a system of luxury for us.

Keeping the width and the designated areas to be populated…

Van Gaal is not sure about the actual execution. “I think we will play with three defenders and four “flat” midfielders, which allows for the ideal press. Up top, we might play with one 10 and two strikers or one striker and two half 10s behind the striker. The coming games will demonstrate what works best.” Van Gaal wants six or seven “loyal” players, supporting the creative ones like Memphis and Gakpo.

Important to note: Van Gaal always wants a left footed central defender in the line up, so its seems he is not thinking about Van Dijk – De Vrij – De Ligt. In his view, Ake or Blind will be playing that left central position.

3. Wingers

Ever since his return to Oranje, Van Gaal laments the lack of real wingers. And he’s referring to the types of Van ‘t Schip, Overmars or Andy van der Meyde. Players who take on their man and go to the byline to cross a ball into the box.

Van Gaal hails this generation of players for their professionalism and focus but also sees he misses attacking power. In the five big competitions, it’s not easy to find Dutchies. Weghorst, Malen, Memphis and Danjuma are all starters or close to being starters and they all play central striker or in a two striker system. Bergwijn is benchwarming at Spurs, while right winger Berghuis plays on 10 for Ajax. Gakpo hammers on the door as a left winger and Noa Lang is also more comfortable on the wing, but they are all players with a tendency to come centrally. Which is exactly how Van Gaal wants it in his 3-4-3.

Tuchel plays according to the Dutch School at Chelsea, creating the free man in midfield. He uses his wingbacks as the only players on the wing, to keep the pitch wide and long. Chelsea has four midfielders close together on the pitch. Together with three defenders, they play with seven players close to each other, players who are all very good in confined spaces.

Pep Guardiola and his analysis: “Why does Chelsea play so good? They have three central defenders and two holding mids close to one another. Really close. And they keep the pitch wide with their wingbacks. And they have depth, with the speed of Werner or Lukaku in behind. You can’t keep the pitch small against Chelsea. They will push you both in width and in depth. And they have amazing players in the engine room. It’s so hard to play against them.”

Up top, Van Gaal keeps his options open but the 3 at the back and the 4 in midfield seem to be settled on.

Chelsea uses the reverse triangle against teams that want to build up from the back. Against teams like Liverpool, Brighton or Man City, they use this to put pressure on, as you can see below. The opponent uses two central defenders and a holding mid to find the way forward. By using this pressure system, the opponent is forced to open up and build up on the wings.

Chelsea can change system without a problem. From 3-4-3 to 3-5-2 or 4-3-3 and 4-4-2. Depending on how the opponent want to play. Tuchel has response for them all. It’s very likely that Van Gaal will copy this for Oranje.

These two friendlies, we will see the first glimpses of this system. I think we won’t bother with the results, so much, although I do think we’ll beat England and draw against Denmark. Will be good to see Eriksen play again ( if he does).

Expect a line up like this for Denmark. Flekken is a cert, I also believe Koopmeiners will play. Van Gaal is a fan of the Atalanta midfielder. Danjuma and Memphis up top.

NOTE: Jordan Teze, Cody Gakpo and Jurrien Timber will not play due to fitness issues.

If this line up works well versus Denmark, expect Flekken to keep his spot and expect Malacia and  Klaassen to come in versus England. I also expect Malen to get playing time probably in place of Memphis, who just returned to fitness.


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  1. Malacia instead of Blind and that team is worth experimenting. Lang to come on at some point and Depay drops back in the centre. Im not really sure of wijnaldum’s form.

    With regards to “Real wingers”. Depay and Malen both have ariel limitations and you will hardly see them commiting to ariel balls in the box unless it drops to their feet and I dont think wingers who are crossing specialists will be able to complement them big. If weghorst would have been the no 1 striker, then yes or if you think of kluivert then players like Overmars, RDBoer, Van Der Meyder were influential around him. 98 Brazil. Not sure now.

    Danjuma though playing has a central striker at Villarreal is the only winger in NT who can go around his marker with his sizzling feet. Lang as well.Bergwijn is pure speed.

    Imo, the change of system is uncalled for especially when 4-3-3 is working well. But I have a growing sucspions why it is been done. Again to cushion somebody.

    I also read van dijk is not a fan of 3-5-2

  2. In my views, instead of changing formation, van gaal should focus more on getting the likes of danjuma,lang,koopmeiners,Malacia, gakpo (injured) to max thrust at NT level and burning all cylinders through regular minutes from now onwards. These are the players who can change the dynamics of the team through their individual capabilities or given off the bench in any circumstances and they need be flourishing with 100% confidence playing at that level.

    Looking at how karsdorp is been blocked, blind over Malacia will only hold back the team from reaching its peak and I’m only saying this after watching Brazil and how the potential of the team keeps thriving with different players breathing on each other neck competing for spots.

    the argument of them having wide range of players, this that is just bullshit when compare the same in context to NT. The players now are certainly there for NT but there is no genuine call from the jury management to enhance the credibility of the team through rotation/ competition. The backup players are always second best and every time there is an injury to a key player or starting 11, the team is in a disarray and can’t cope with it. Dumfries for instance, if he gets injured, no body is there on his par who can replace him. Remember that Norway game and then on the other hand they don’t wanna call up karsdorp who can provide competition to him. Malacia Vs Blind. Nothing new here but again you look at integrity of the management, instead of trying to enhance/strengthen that position they opt to change formation to cushion/accommodate him. I really can’t think of the right word to describe this but this is one of the reasons why I despise No 1&2. Let’s see what happens here with the upcoming friendlys, nation’s League and how long they will keep up to.

    Again this is something that is very critical if NT stands a chance of winning any thing.

  3. Infact LVG struggled with 532 at WC 2014..every halftime he switched back to 433 and we scored and won… That’s the fact… He was forced to hide BMI behnid Vlaar and de vrij… 532 didn’t do a shit at wc 2014… With 532 we need electric pace which we had with Roben, lenz and Depay in 7 games.. To virgil should be our left centered with devrij min middle and deligt on right centred… Not blind… Blind will be troubleled hence we will be in trouble…. And we players with glittering pace berjwin and. Malen up front with depay as snijider role..
    –Malen——Berjwin —
    —==========Cillessen—- should be the starters at WC…

  4. LVG has played our strongest out feild 10 players..this could be the change the dutch history of choking at big stage..This Denmark team is a strong team ,we out played them…what a stunning combinations from berghuis-depay-Berjwin….Ake,De ligt,Virgil excels at back…koopmeiners and frenkie rules mid…yes blind lost his man to concede header…but this sytem suits and covers blind weakness he has aka ,Frenkie and virgil to mcover him and blind is unleashing while going forward..this might change after subing any of these VITAL CORE PLAYERS..

  5. Ake looked rusty and he possibly lost his chance of being a starter. Him and Blind really struggled with their defending. If Van Gaal preferes a left footed CB, Blind might be the better option, perhaps Botman should be given a chance. I personally want to see De Vrij, Van Dijk and De Ligt in the back. Flekken wasn’t as convincing, he may have been nervous playing his first game. Germany will test him a lot more and will show whether he is starting 11 material or not.

  6. From what I gather, we can be seeded for the WC draw if we beat Germany.

    I think:

    1: Netherlands beats Germany and we should be the 8th seed.

    2: If Netherlands draw. Then we need Mexico not to win both their remaining games to be the 8th seed.

    3: If Netherlands loses. Then Germany, Mexico or US are the 8th seed. (Mexico, US need to win both games).

    All this goes down the drain if FIFA uses current FIFA ranking. I think they won’t though. They’ll use this end of month ranking.

    1. Qatar will automatically be in Pot 1, so we need to A) Pass Denmark in the rankings, and B) Hope that Portugal don’t qualify or that we potentially pass them as well.

      If we end up in Pot 2 there’s only one good draw from Pot 1, which would be Qatar. But if we ended up in Pot 1, then there’s obviously a few bad draws (Germany, Denmark) but the majority will be fine.

  7. @ Tommy 14

    Re: Ake

    Goodness gracious. Were you even watching the game. He bailed out Blind on handful times and plus like always was continuous threat in air.I would say he has improved under Pep and is no more the same Ake as before .

    Again you drag him in because of Blinds weakness of not able to recover on time. This puts pressure on Ake, what else you expect. I have said this before, he will make the team lag and now that he is in an advanced, Who ever plays in that LCB will have to taken the burden of putting his blashes on their shoulder.

    Then on top that they subbed Ake off to make way for Malacia. What a joke.

    Being said this Germany will be an acid test.

    1. @wilson Apparently i was watching the same game as Van Gaal who took him out having seen how he struggled to keep up with his own man at times. Also what part of rusty didn’t you get?? He lacks rhythm therefore he’s not where he should be. Blind will be an issue with his lack of speed but I feel Ake should have done better on numerous occasions. If Ake doesn’t play regularly with his club (doubt that will happen at City) he can forget about being a starter. Lastly Ake playing like this will be exposed against any top team we face, you heard it here first but I doubt Van Gaal will play him again as a starter if he doesn’t get playing time at his own club.

      1. My opinon on the sub, it was suicidal given blind was already exposed arieally on the 2 second goal and still they prefered to shift him there.should it had been a better side, the tide could have turned. Then you make shift a tired player to a position where he will sustain equal/ more pressure is ???? .atleast Ake was on hand to cover for him when he was on the flanks.

          1. I suggest you rewatch the game and focus only on Ake. He struggled against Skov Olsens pace and him and Blind were not on the same page from the get go, rightfully so Van Gaal took him out.

            You say Ake has improved under Guardiola but I don’t see it. Pep rarely uses him and even when Laporte who’s a leftie as well is not available Pep still decides to use Stones (right foot) next to Ruben Dias as opposed to Ake. A player must play in order to improve and certainly be in top shape to compete for a starting position on a national team that has many options in the back.

            Yes Depay after his injury and Aubamayangs arrival has been a bench player and Bergwijn as well but we don’t have the luxury of many good strikers/forwards in our team therefore Van Gaal has no option but to use them. On the contrary, in defense we certainly have many players that play regularly.

            I have no problem with Ake proving me wrong and makes that LCB position his but he definitely needs to improve. If you think that performance was enough to persuade Van Gaal to give him the spot you are mistaken.

          2. Daley Blind 5.5/10: Blind was given the nod over Wijndal or Malacia as a left wing-back. He showed his ability with an assist for the opening goal. However, Blind’s lack of pace was exposed for both goals. Defensively a liability at times but he plays due to his passing ability.

            Matthijs de Ligt 6/10: A good first-half from the centre-back, but he drifted at times after the break as he struggled to help control the danger that Eriksen posed.

            Virgil van Dijk 6.5/10: A mostly comfortable evening for the captain and he looked strong throughout the game. However, question marks on his position for the first Denmark goal.

            Nathan Ake 7/10: Got his chance as the left-footed centre-back and he put in a decent display at the back and also scored the second goal with a good header. A strong showing for Ake.

          3. Like I said in the very first any CB starting on Blinds flanks will end up soaking more pressure because when commits forwards he wont get back on time.

            Van gaal made the problem the solution.

  8. Good win but I won’t put too much on it. The problems that Oranje have always exhibited are still there for quality opponents to explore.

    Berghuis played an ok game and got better as the game unfold. I still don’t think he is the answer to our creative side. Very easy to shake of the ball and thus can be marked out of a game with little effort. But this performance(an assist, penalty) would have served to convince the jury to keep him in that role(who else have been given a real chance?). He will disappoint in Qatar.

    Flekken takes lot of chances playing the ball out. It’s sort of our game but a goalie should know their limits. Didn’t inspire confidence.

    Like LVG heard my call, he has adopted the double pivot and Koop may just be man for the job alongside FDJ. He is quality and allowed for some free-flowing football. They both have to tighten defensively but there was a marked improvement in the shielding of our defence.

    Blind’s assist is a classic play of how a high functioning full back contributes to a team. But how often have we seen that. The introduction of Ake allows him that freedom but also underlines the fact that a whole system has to be tweaked for him to be effective. Ake bailed him out in a number of occasions and his atrocious aerial marking was once again exploited. And Malacia doesn’t seem to be an upgrade. Oranje’s left wing is going to be the top subject on the drawing board of any sensible opponent in Qatar.

    Overall not bad but vulnerability still remains. This is a team that can be unnerved if control is usurped for any number of minutes. Hope other players get a chance against Germany like Berjwin did.

    Nice to see Eriksen shine. True baller.

  9. The criticism of Flekken isn’t worth anything. He’s not going to be our starter, and this was his debut, he’s likely to be nervous.

    If I were van Gaal I would play van Dijk as LCB because his immense physicality could make up for Blind’s lack thereof, even if he’s not left footed. De Vrij and de Ligt will take up the other two roles. With VVD behind Blind, his weaknesses will be covered, and then he can be free to use his offensive qualities.

    The double pivot looked good, Berghuis looked alright, but this guy needs to find the back of the net. Had a couple good chances and always finds a way to miss.

    Memphis will start no matter what, the second role is up for grabs, and I imagine Danjuma, Bergwijn and Malen will all be in contention for it.

    1. You are trying to run away from the truth. Hiding the problem is not the solution to the problem. To some extent van Dijk could defuse certain situations but not all. I mean you at that second goal when It was man marking and the Danes played that 1-2 and exposed Blind running around him to cross inside. Ake was already committed to his man. Blind simply couldnt cope with the speed of the outside runner who went around him and came in with the cross.

  10. Denmark was marching in their group od WC qualifiers,they were stunning at euro..under FDB we would never beat this Denmark team..i am glad about berjwin, he is proving everyone wrong and game after game he is our man of the match for recent games..Difference between him and Danjuma is work rate..Berjwin is every where..this team would go better when they replace Blind with MAlacia,Dumfries with karsdorp,..
    Ake always had struggle with pace,he is not as pacey as Deligt or Virgil..yes he is faster than Blind…when you on Blind side,you have an extra burden to cover Blind….i would not blame Ake…infact we have higher chance of 2 header goals vs any Top team which would result in winning WC…Ake–Vrigil– a night mare to mark on set peices on opposite end..they would disrupt the opponenet defense..i hope memhis/Berghuis/Blind delivers great corners and the trio will finish teh opponent..

    First goal of denmark…Blind was schooled(Expected)but where was virgil???Virgil should be man marking instead he went up..Silly decision by Virgil..

  11. @ wilson I’m sure Van Gaal doesn’t approve of those ratings. No way Ake deserves a 7 (a big part of that 7 is the goal he scored) certainly he deserves a bit higher than Blind who had a poor game defensively but Ake had some difficulties of his own too. I saw some other ratings on a different website and they had given Blind a 7 which is laughable. That alone shows you how much those people understand the game.

    Yes Blinds lack of speed is a problem defensively and any CB trying to cover him has to do more work but just because Blind was poor defensively on the night doesn’t mean Ake was good. Ake certainly had his own issues something you won’t admit to because you’re obsessed with the narrative of always blaming Blind for everything!

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