For about an hour, the German team is the better team against the Netherlands, but then makes mistakes. The match provides the national coach with answers. And it reveals a trump card.
First it was Hansi Flick’s turn, then Louis van Gaal. Even though they were not in the press room of the Johan Cruijff Arena at the same time, both coaches’ brief analyses of the game were similar. What van Gaal summed up as “what a game”, Flick formulated with the words: “The spectators in the stadium and at home can be happy that they saw such a game”.
Pacey, intense, tactically demanding: the prestige duel in Amsterdam was more than just the 1-1 that was on the scoreboard at the end. It was a game after which both coaches could have been happy or angry about a point. Flick’s face revealed that he was in the first category.
For him, joy prevailed. The 57-year-old managed to hold his own against one of the best teams in the world without several key players. In Joshua Kimmich and Leon Goretzka he was missing his regular centre in midfield, in defence Niklas Süle and Robin Gosens would probably have been in the starting eleven and he would also have liked to avoid Serge Gnabry’s absence. When asked about the absences, he continued: “Flo Wirtz was also absent, Marco Reus was absent, Karim Adeyemi was absent. These are interesting players who were not there.”
Apart from Wirtz, these names will in all likelihood be back in June when the Nations League begins. He will have missed these names in particular after the 1-1 draw, when the arena became a cauldron and the German team looked unsure. He wanted to provide new impetus with changes, but on the bench there were mainly substitutes and doubtful candidates for the World Cup. Flick initially opted for Florian Neuhaus and Julian Brandt in the 69th minute, who did not have much of an impact on the game. Only the introduction of Benjamin Henrichs and Lukas Nmecha ten minutes before the end led to several scoring chances.
Van Dijk means ball loss
It was noticeable that tactical discipline was somewhat lost with the equaliser. The gaps between attack and defence became wider. While Antonio Rüdiger and Nico Schlotterbeck tended to play the long balls to the outside in the first half, they increasingly ended up in the centre in the second half. A flat build-up of the game was hardly possible due to the higher Dutch pressing combined with the sometimes wrong positioning of the players in front of them. So they tended to hit the balls where Timo Werner – or later Lukas Nmecha – had to deal with Virgil van Dijk in the air. The result: ball loss.
In the first half, the long passes were still alternatives to the flat combination through the centre, in the second half they were sometimes the only option. In general, the German team lost the ball far too often. Inaccuracies in passing and a lack of coordination gave the Dutch the opportunity to counterattack. With fast strikers like Memphis or Steven Bergwijn, they were well prepared for this.
Hansi Flick will have to address this tactical discipline in combination with the ball losses in the coming international breaks if he wants to be successful with the team at the World Cup.
Where to put the “all-rounders”?
Another task for Flick is to find answers for his “all-rounders”. Thilo Kehrer, for example, has already played on the left, in the centre and on the right. The Paris Saint-Germain player did not miss a single game under the new national coach. He filled in where others were missing due to injury. Sometimes he was the Gosens substitute on the left, against Israel and the Netherlands he replaced Hofmann on the right. But whether he will have a place in the starting eleven when both are fit again is still unclear.
What Thilo Kehrer is to defence, Jamal Musiala is to midfield. The 19-year-old can play all three positions in attacking midfield and the role on the “six”. He proved that again on Tuesday. In his Bayern days, Flick saw Musiala more as a man for the offensive, which is probably where he will see him again with the return of the Kimmich/Goretzka duo. The option of Musiala in defensive midfield, however, definitely remains an interesting one for the back of the mind.
Flick’s conclusion after the games against Israel and the Netherlands will be a positive one. The team understood and implemented his idea of football. “Newer” internationals like David Raum and Nico Schlotterbeck have quickly found their feet and fit into the team. For the coaching team, the task now is to gradually reduce the number of candidates and to reintroduce the players who have been missing recently in June. If that succeeds, Flick will enter the press room with a happy face in the future.