Well, that was a nice and relaxing return to major tournament football for the Netherlands, wasn’t it?
It wasn’t the perfect first match back by any means, but we played some exciting football, looked a lot better than in the warmup games and, most importantly won, so I’m writing this as a very happy man.
I thought the team performance as a whole was quite good, and no player had a really bad game, but for very different reasons, there were three in particular that stood out to me.
Daley Blind, who is ex team-mates with Christian Eriksen and has had heart problems, was very emotional when he came off:
"It made me sleep badly and also really thought about not playing. It was a big mental hurdle to overcome, but I'm proud that I did."
— Clockwork Oranje (@ClockworkOranje) June 13, 2021
What happened to Christian Eriksen in Denmark’s opening match was deeply, deeply distressing, to say the least.
Watching it happen on live TV really affected me, and still is days later, so I can’t imagine what it has been like for those that know the Inter Milan man.
One of those people is Daley Blind, who became close friends with the Dane when they were together at Ajax from when they teenagers to when Eriksen left for Tottenham Hotspurs five years later.
Seeing something like that happen to a friend is a terrible, terrible thing, and the incident would have been made all the more scary for the Dutchman by the fact that he had gone through something similar himself.
In December of 2019, he was diagnosed with heart muscle inflammation after experiencing severe dizziness in a match against Valencia and had an implantable cardioverter defibrillator fitted.
The purpose of the device is to regulate any abnormal heart rhythms to prevent a cardiac arrest, and less than a year later, it did just that, going off during a pre-season friendly, causing him to collapse to the ground.
So, not only had Blind watched his close friend very nearly die, but it was from an issue similar to one that had affected him in the recent past. Given that, nobody would have blamed him if he didn’t feel comfortable playing just a day later.
Amazingly though, he displayed enormous bravery and strength to do so and was absolutely fantastic.
I’ve always been a big fan of Blind. I love his elegance, his intelligence and his vision, and all of those attributes were on display against Ukraine.
On the ball, he made a lot of important forward passes between the lines to move the team forward, being the main supply line for our creative forces, Frenkie de Jong and Memphis Depay.
Off it meanwhile, he positioned himself perfectly to contain the considerable threat of Andriy Yarmolenko, a player much faster than him.
Given that what he contributes to the side is quite subtle, his importance perhaps became clearest when he was subbed off. It’s no coincidence that it was shortly after that both goals were conceded, with both coming from the area of the pitch that he was controlling so well.
All in all, the match showed just how remarkable he is both as a player and as a person, and we should all be very proud and grateful that he plays for our team.
A great visualisation of Blind's importance in possession. He supplies Frenkie who brings the team forward and gets the ball to Memphis. https://t.co/CmPnS7efbQ
— Clockwork Oranje (@ClockworkOranje) June 14, 2021
In terms of footballing matter alone, the player that caught my eye the most was the one that linked up with Blind throughout the night, Frenkie de Jong
After struggling in the warm-up games, he was back to his glorious best and was, in my opinion, the Man of the Match.
Every time the Barcelona man got the ball, he did something with it, whether play an excellent pass or turn and dribble past blue shirts and into space in the blink of an eye.
If he maintains this level, it will be simply huge for the side. Perhaps with the exception of Memphis, he’s the one man in the squad most capable of single-handedly turning a game around for us.
There have been calls for him to play as the deepest of the three midfielders, but that performance showed that there is a lot to be gained by giving him a bit more attacking freedom.
Speaking of attacking freedom…
📸 The average positions from the match tonight
— Clockwork Oranje (@ClockworkOranje) June 13, 2021
To say Denzel Dumfries had an eventful game would be a monumental understatement. He could’ve single-handedly lost us the game with his misses in the first half, and ultimately secured the three points in the second.
He may have missed two absolute sitters, but all things considered, I was pleased with his performance, and not just because of the winning goal, although that was a large factor.
In the two warm-up games, the 5-3-2 formation looked too passive and not particularly threatening but that wasn’t the case at all against Ukraine, and that’s largely because of Dumfries.
He and Patrick van Aanholt got so far up the pitch that the system looked more like a 3-3-4 in possession, and that caused our opponents problems on Dumfries’ side of the pitch in particular.
Thanks to his blistering pace and some excellent movement, he frequently got into dangerous positions and often got the ball in them. While his product wasn’t great, he deserves credit for that, and in the end, he delivered when it mattered.
His performance was representative of a much better deployment of the formation by Franke de Boer as a whole, on the ball at least. We looked far more active, dangerous and exciting.
In terms of other positives, Gini Wijnaldum, for the first time, in a while, looked like the player that was our top scorer in qualifying. His movement was excellent, and on a number of occasions, he somehow kept the ball when he had no right to.
Stefan de Vrij was also great. He won possession 12 times, wasn’t dribbled past once and completed five long passes. Just a great game from him, which was very much needed given Matthijs de Ligt wasn’t playing.
De Ligt’s replacement, Jurrien Timber, also deserves a mention for an excellent game that showed no signs of his vast inexperience, while Marten de Ronn was much improved in midfield and the front line of Wout Weghorst and Memphis Depay posed a lot of threat.
Defensively, there is still a lot of work to do, but for a first match, things went very well, especially when you compare the team to how it was just a few weeks ago.
With De Ligt coming back and the team having more time to practice the system, I’m feeling pretty positive all things considered.
Bring on Austria.