Friday, May 2, 2014

Have the Oranje Gone Mad (Men)?

"People tell you who they are, but we ignore it because we want them to be who we want them to be."

Who knew Don Draper was an Oranje fan?

The titular Mad Men protagonist and the Netherlands national team are actually quite similar. Both are equal parts inspiring and infuriating. One minute, they leave you in awe with how they can turn one of those annoying family slide show projectors into a roller coaster of feels; the next, they're recounting how they grew up in a brothel, and if they collected more than a dollar from their caregiver's johns, they'd get a Hershey's bar.

Thursday, March 13, 2014

Road to 2014: Netherlands 4-0 Romania

Since this is a new year and the national team won't have a competitive fixture before the World Cup, it seems a good time to look back on the Netherlands' performances of 2013 and determine whether Brazil will be more 2010 or 2012. So I looked back on every match that's available on ESPN3, and here are my initial impressions throughout the 2014 qualification process. We pick things back up in Amsterdam against Romania.


Brief Summary
The Netherlands played much better here than they did against Romania. They got out to a 1-0 lead in the first half after a well-placed shot by Rafael van der Vaart into the bottom left corner in the 12th minute. Robin van Persie doubled the lead in the 56th minute and scored from the penalty spot nine minutes later. Jeremain Lens finished it off in the 90th minute, poking it home from close range after Adam Maher's shot was saved by Costel Pantilimon.

Unlike Estonia, Romania actually tried to get a result out of this match. They were a little more open, which allowed the Dutch more space on the counter.

Still, it's hard to be too encouraged by what you saw. The Netherlands met expectations, but considering how far they need to go, it wasn't a massive step forward.

Random Notes
-Few benefited from the more open match that Arjen Robben.

The way in which Estonia bunkered in left him little space to run down the flank. He's obviously talented enough to weave his way through a compact defense, but he was unable to use his blistering pace to get in behind the back four.

That wasn't the case against Romania. Two defenders were shading Robben for most of the match, yet he found a way to make an impact.

The assist Robben picked up on the Netherlands' second goal was a bit lucky, as his cross looked to be coming in a little too hot for Robin van Persie, but RVP used his head well to simply redirect the ball into the far post.

I'm not the biggest fan of Robben, but he played very well on Tuesday.

-Jeremain Lens had another good match. His goal was down to being in the right place at the right time, but it demonstrated how well he was moving around the pitch and getting into attacking positions.

Lens probably should've had an assist in the ninth minute, but Van Persie's effort was way high of the goal. He did create what was the Netherlands' first goal of the match, as he picked the ball off the feet of Romanian right-back Razvan Rat before giving it off to RVP, who set up Van der Vaart for the goal.

-The defense was rarely tested, but you did see some possible warning signs, mostly because of Daley Blind.

As a left-back, Blind is great for Ajax's system because his centre-backs know how and when to shift over and cover his forward runs, which happen quite often.

With the Netherlands, it's not working as much. Bruno Martins Indi is an athletic centre-back, but even he sometimes can't move over fast enough to cover the flank. Then, you sometimes get Martins Indi going out left, and Stefan de Vrij stays in position, leaving the center exposed.

You have often seen the same problem with Brazil and Dani Alves. Gerard Pique, Sergio Busquets and Carles Puyol know to move out wide when Alves makes one of his many lung-bursting runs up the pitch. With Brazil, Alves has left his defense exposed because he doesn't have that same chemistry with his teammates.

If Louis van Gaal takes Blind to Brazil as his starting LB, it could be even worse than Jetro Willems at Euro 2012.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Road to 2014: Netherlands 3-0 Estonia

Netherlands 3-0 Estonia

Since this is a new year and the national team won't have a competitive fixture before the World Cup, it seems a good time to look back on the Netherlands' performances of 2013 and determine whether Brazil will be more 2010 or 2012. So I looked back on every match that's available on ESPN3, and here are my initial impressions throughout the 2014 qualification process. If you want to read my thoughts on the qualifiers from 2012, you can read them here and here.
We pick things up at home against Estonia on March 22nd.


Brief Summary
The Netherlands walked away with a comfortable, yet uninspiring 3-0 win. Rafael van der Vaart scored the opener in the 47th minute, Robin van Persie doubled the lead in the 72nd minute and Ruben Schaken added another in the 84th.

Estonia only managed four shots the entire game, two of which were on target. The Netherlands, on the other hand, had 14 and seven, respectively. Rarely were the Dutch not in the Estonian half. They were often constricted to a 20-yard patch in front of the the 18-yard box, though, and couldn't break down the defense. It made for a rather drab match, especially in the first half, before Louis van Gaal made his halftime adjustments that opened up the game.

After matches like these, it's much harder to be encouraged than it is to be discouraged. Estonia aren't a good side, so a one-sided win is the expectation.

While the Netherlands earned the three points, it wasn't a win that bolstered your hopes for the World Cup.

Random Notes
I can't say enough about the performances of both Jeremain Lens and Daryl Janmaat. Although Lens would sometimes swap with Arjen Robben and move to the left at times, he spend most of the match in front of Janmaat on the right flank.

Since the Netherlands controlled so much of the game, both full-backs had license to get forward. Lens' movement often opened up the flank for Janmaat. The then-PSV winger was running at goal and dropping into the midfield, which in turned forced the left-back to follow him. This allowed Janmaat a little more space to run down the right.

This wasn't better exemplified than in the Netherlands' first goal of the match.

Here you see Lens (red square) laying the ball off to Janmaat (yellow circle). Just look how much space the right-back has to operate up the pitch.
via ESPN3 broadcast
By the time he has the ball and is making his run, Janmaat has one of two options. He can either continue down the flank and look to cross it on, or he can cut inside.
via ESPN3 broadcast
Janmaat would opt to cut inside, and while he was the beneficiary of some defensive lapses that enable him to continue his run, his pass to van der Vaart helped to set up the goal, and the goal wouldn't even have been possible had it not been for Lens.

Wesley Sneijder was making his return from injury, taking the captain's armband back from Kevin Strootman, and it was a return to forget. He left the game in the 36th minute after picking up a knock, with van der Vaart replacing him.

In general, Sneijder was pretty poor. He tried a couple of long shots that were wasteful, and he should've scored in the 26th minute. Daley Blind delivered a nice cross into the box, which was headed on by Robin van Persie. Sneijder simply mishit the shot, as it went wide of goal. That had been the team's first real scoring chance, and it should've put the Dutch up 1-0.

In matches like these, the defenders can have a tough time. They have so little to do for so long that they can fall asleep at the most inopportune times. You saw that a couple of times with the back four. The most glaring was in the 79th minute. Martin Vunk was played on by Blind, and he had a free run at goal. He should've scored to make it 2-1, but his shot sailed high of the target.

On the whole, Bruno Martins Indi and Stefan de Vrij played well, but they had those moments that gave you pause and reason for concern when the Dutch face tougher competition.

Arjen Robben was held relatively in check. He had a couple of nice runs and cuts inside on goal. For the most part, though, the Bayern Munich winger seemed stuck in his own form of purgatory. With the pitch so compact, Robben didn't have a lot of space to use his speed and beat the defender. He wasn't a complete non-factor, but he could've done more in this match.

The biggest problem in this match was how bereft of ideas the Dutch looked at times. They passed circles around Estonia, but they were unable to get much through the middle of the pitch. It's the same thing you see with Spain when they face sides that bunker in.

There's a fine line between patience and ineffectiveness, and the Netherlands were toeing it. You can only pass laterally and backwards so many times before it becomes way too counterproductive.

One of the adjustments van Gaal made at halftime looked to be an increased width. Most of what the Dutch created were from wide areas, whether it was Robben and Blind down the left or Janmaat and Lens down the right. Give credit where credit is due, as LVG noted the problem and fixed it.

But surely I'm not the only one who was less than impressed with the way the Netherlands performed against Estonia.

Thursday, July 18, 2013

Jozy Altidore and Wilfried Bony: Dollars and Sense

Who said the Eredivisie is dead? This summer has seen clubs nab some of the best young talent in the league for massive bargains. If there's a market in world football to exploit right now, it's in the Netherlands.

The Eredivisie's top scorer, Wilfried Bony, is on the move to Swansea City, with the fourth-leading goalscorer, Jozy Altidore, following him to the Premier League. Altidore is going to a Sunderland side in dire need of attacking players at the moment.

Living in the United States, I've certainly heard more about what Altidore's move to Sunderland means than what Bony going to Swansea does.

The question is, which club made out the best? It's hard to argue that either was a poor move, given the prices and recent form. In order to break down these transfers, you have to look at the players' talent, and what they can bring off the field.

Thursday, June 13, 2013

I Left My Heart in Switzerland: Notes on the Netherlands at U21 Euros Group Stage

It was summer of 2008 and a young whippersnapper named Joseph Zucker was finishing his first year of college, trying to get into this whole ball-kicking thing that had gained some popularity across the world. Figuring Euro 2008 would be a good place to start, he was completely enthralled by Marco van Basten's flying Dutchmen. So began a love affair that would have both tragedy and triumph, but one that will forever stand the test of time.