So near yet so far: What went wrong for Louis van Gaal and the Netherlands against Argentina?

The Netherlands exited Qatar in rather unfortunate circumstances, but there were plenty of problems leading to the penalty shootout defeat.

A swashbuckling display against the USA in the Round of 16 probably showcased something Louis van Gaal intended to do. The experienced Dutch manager always liked intense attacking football, but there was a rather negative narrative built around him and the Netherlands in the build-up to this game.

Van Gaal used his wing-backs well against the USA as Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind put in a prolific display to down the USMNT. Had he stuck to the same philosophy, the outcome against Argentina might have been slightly different than how the game transpired.

While the Netherlands lost out courtesy of a harsh penalty shootout, van Gaal’s tactics before the game greatly affected his team even reaching that point. Argentina may have the likes of Lionel Messi to change games, but the Oranje did show against the USA they can perform well as a team, something they missed on Friday night.

Wout Weghorst’s surreal cameo offered the Netherlands a chance. In hindsight, the game was already compromised by decisions taken well before the game. Argentina were complacent, and the Netherlands woke up late in the encounter, is what the conclusion will read. However, there is much more to this performance from van Gaal’s side.

Misfit Bergwijn was a costly error

Louis van Gaal has constantly tinkered with Cody Gakpo’s position in his teams. The PSV Eindhoven talisman has played wide or led the line alongside Depay while playing as a No.10. He is best suited to lead the line on his own or with another striker. Still, incidentally, the Netherlands head coach decided on playing him behind Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn.

Bergwijn’s inclusion was a pointless experiment at this stage of the World Cup. The idea might have been to inject pace up front, but the Netherlands were not exactly lacking in that department. Denzel Dumfries, Depay, and Gakpo offered plenty of speed in the attacking third, and that should have been enough.

With Bergwijn’s inclusion, van Gaal deprived the team of a creative presence, as Gakpo clearly is not that player. Davy Klaassen may not be the best no.10 around, but he fits the system like a glove and proves his effectiveness in ways that benefit others.

Then Bergwijn comes in and creates next to nothing and was essentially a passenger. He barely offered anything of note and could not assert himself in ways the Netherlands could use him in the final third. His presence not only pushed Klaassen out of the side but forced van Gaal to accommodate the in-demand Gakpo in a rather ineffective position.

‘Big name’ star Memphis Depay is not a ‘big game’ player

Memphis Depay may have carried himself around as a big-name player over the years, but he certainly is not a big-game player. Be it for Barcelona, Lyon, Manchester United, or the Netherlands, the attacker has remained a shadow of his best version in games of magnitude.

An anonymous performance against Argentina was proof. It contrasts with how he played against the USA in the previous round. Depay is one of the de-facto leaders of this team, and this is now a display worthy of the title.

The understandable importance laid upon Depay should have a control switch. The Netherlands cannot rely on him on occasions like this one. He barely offered anything of note and deprived the team of some chances in the attacking third.

Moreover, there was talk about his chemistry with Steven Bergwijn, but there was nothing to see against Argentina. La Albiceleste have had plenty of problems at the back. Even though Nicolas Otamendi and Cristian Romero have not been exceptionally good all World Cup, they were comfortable facing the Dutch duo.

The Netherlands returned to the game when they reverted to a simpler approach with two hard-working strikers. Weghorst and Luuk de Jong may not be the best bet, but the future teams can have one striker of their calibre and quality.

The Netherlands weren’t bad but rather unfortunate

Clips of Harry Maguire lashing in a penalty in England’s Euro 2020 final loss continue to circulate social media in the aftermath of Virgil van Dijk missing his spot kick. Is there a specific need for the team’s leader to step up and take the first kick?

The Netherlands were better off sending someone with better ball-striking skills than the towering defender. The early miss resulted in losing momentum and confidence at the start of the shootout. Steven Berghuis’s miss was a repercussion of van Dijk’s, which was a probability in the shootout.

In any case, a penalty shootout loss is an unfortunate way to exit any tournament, let alone a World Cup. Argentina had momentum on their side even before they took the first kick. The Oranje lost the contest once van Dijk missed his kick.

Overall with this Dutch side, there is plenty of room for improvement, although they may not need drastic changes. Louis van Gaal has probably retired in the aftermath of their Qatar campaign. The next manager now has to take the lead from here rather than dramatically chopping and changing this system.

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