With the undisputed Virgil van Dijk and also Stefan de Vrij, Jurriën Timber and Nathan Aké as main competitors, Matthijs de Ligt is waiting for a tough battle for a base place with the Orange squad at the end of this year at the World Cup in Qatar. The 36-time international is happy that national coach Louis van Gaal now sees him as a possible left central defender.
Of course he would have preferred to be in the starting line-up against Belgium (1-4) on Friday, but he did have a nice evening. “I was sitting on the couch enjoying the way we consumed the Belgians. In such a match you see that at Orange we have a group that meets the requirements of modern football. A lot of physicality, a lot of power and intensity”, said De Ligt in conversation with NU.nl.
The Juventus defender eventually got playing time in Brussels. He took part in the last fifteen minutes as a substitute for Aké, who was preferred to the left center in the back. Timber stood to the right of captain Van Dijk. “Timber and Ake have done a fantastic job,” continues De Ligt. “Now it’s up to me to show that I also fit into the team.”
De Ligt already took into account that he would not start against Belgium. “I played against Denmark and Germany in March. So the national coach has already seen me twice in this system, but Timber and De Vrij have not yet. My calculation was therefore that I will play a little less this international period. Whether that is difficult ? I always want to play. But competition is part of it.”
Smiling faces at Orange after the win over Belgium. Left: Matthijs de Ligt, who came on in the 74th minute for Brussels.
“Apparently Van Gaal thinks: he can do it”
The contrast with De Ligt’s years under national coaches Ronald Koeman and Frank de Boer is significant. “Then I came in at the Orange squad and I knew I was going to play. Now I have to fight for my place, but that only makes me sharper. I also experienced it at Juventus with Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini as competitors.”
Under Van Gaal, 22-year-old De Ligt has been dropped several times in the 4-3-3 system, because he chose Van Dijk and De Vrij. The switch to a 3-4-3 formation seemed to offer a solution for the former Ajax player, but with the competition from Aké and Timber, there seems to be little certainty in the three places in the back. Van Gaal has repeatedly stated that he prefers to see a left leg as a left central defender and that speaks in favor of Aké, but right leg De Ligt is now an option for the national coach in that place.
“Van Gaal first said that I couldn’t play on the left. Now I can. Apparently something positive has happened, which makes the national coach think: he can do it. At Juventus I also played on the left several times. It’s funny, in the past I was just a central defender, now I’m suddenly a multifunctional defender.”
Matthijs de Ligt poses with children for the open training of the Orange squad last Saturday.
‘Virgil and De Vrij have an advantage’
De Ligt emphasizes that the choice is up to the national coach and that he can play in all three defensive positions. “Do I have a preference? If you look at my qualities, I think I am the most suitable of the three positions as a middle defender.”
“Only Virgil is there and otherwise De Vrij, who plays in that position at Internazionale. They have an edge over me in that place and so I will not focus on that so quickly. Then it will be right or left and that makes I don’t really care. We’ll see, in any case it’s a compliment for Dutch football that we have so many good central defenders.”
Incidentally, there is a good chance that De Ligt will start on Wednesday in the Nations League match in Cardiff against Wales. Van Dijk has now left the Orange training camp, because he gets vacation earlier and Van Gaal invariably says that he will change frequently in his base during this international match.
Nations League program Orange in June
- June 3 in Brussels: Belgium-Netherlands 1-4
- June 8 in Cardiff: Wales-Netherlands
- June 11 in Rotterdam: Netherlands-Poland
- June 14 in Rotterdam: Netherlands-Wales