Ignore Ten Hag blueprint and Netherlands can go far: Man Utd flop Weghorst rescues Koeman

Jason Soutar
The man, the myth, the legend, Wout Weghorst
The man, the myth, the legend, Wout Weghorst

None other than Wout Weghorst rescued a wasteful Netherlands side to secure three vital points against Poland. Ronald Koeman needs him…if he uses him properly and not like Erik ten Hag.

The Netherlands missed chance after chance against a defensive Poland side that couldn’t really defend. They almost got away with it against an attacking team that couldn’t really finish.

Poland played a little bit into the Netherlands’ hands in their Euro 2024 opener. In the rare chances they got to attack the Dutch backline, there were frailties on show. Virgil van Dijk didn’t particularly impress and Ronald Koeman’s side were there for the taking. The Polish gameplan was clear but far from watertight.

Nathan Ake did impress with his defending but also his ability on the ball. He expertly recovered a poor clearance as his interception assisted Cody Gakpo’s equaliser in the 29th minute.

Gakpo had his chances to score, failing with an Olivier Giroud-esque outside-of-the-foot flick at the front post in what was his best chance of the day. Tijjani Reijnders had the Netherlands’ first big chance but struck just past the post early on. He also failed with an attempted assist to Memphis Depay – who was sporting a white headband – when he could have taken the shot on himself.

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A headbanded Depay would try to entertain the crowd with a clever flick over Piotr Zielinski but for all of the Netherlands’ early chances and fast-paced play, they were outdone by a Poland set-piece, with Zielinski delivering flawlessly for Adam Buksa, who took advantage of some slack Dutch zonal marking.

Koeman’s shoot-on-sight approach certainly made for a good game but such a high-octane showing expressed how much they missed the calming presence of Frenkie de Jong in the middle of the park. There was a lack of composure throughout the Dutch team – snatching at chances and blazing the ball over the bar and past the post on too many occasions.

That was until, cometh the hour, cometh the man: Wout Weghorst. Two minutes after coming on, the Manchester United flop showed some instinctive finishing to put the Dutch 2-1 up with eight minutes remaining.

Memphis Depay and Cody Gakpo are the two players Koeman will rely on for goals but neither are necessarily goalscorers. That’s not ideal and exactly how far from being ideal was on display all afternoon, until an actual striker entered proceedings.

Weghorst has been a prolific goalscorer his whole career pre-Premier League. He joined Burnley for around £14million in January 2022 and could not help the Clarets avoid relegation in 22/23. He would then go out on loan to Besiktas for the first half of the following season, finishing the campaign at Man Utd. Last season, the big striker was in Germany with Hoffenheim.

His best form has always been in Germany. For Wolfsburg between 2018 and 2022, he scored 70 goals in 144 matches. This was after netting 51 in 124 in the Eredivisie. Weghorst was a reliable goalscorer until he went to Burnley. Seven goals in 30 for Hoffenheim was a sign that he is past his best, though some of that has come from being misused in England.

Weghorst was back playing through the middle for Hoffenheim after Erik ten Hag at Man Utd decided to utilise the big man as an attacking midfielder or second striker on occasion, and sometimes as a No. 9. You wouldn’t put Peter Crouch anywhere but up top, so why would you do the same with poor Wout?

The stage is now set for Koeman to make Weghorst his focal point up top, someone to find the back of the net, because that is what his team needs more than anything.

Defensively, the Netherlands are far from great but personnel-wise, they are at a high level. Their midfield is lacking due to injuries to the aforementioned De Jong, Martin de Roon and Teun Koopmeiners, but it is still a handy trio of Joey Veerman, Jerdy Schouten and Tijjani Reijnders. Of course, anyone would miss someone of De Jong’s quality.

Depay is a lovely footballer but far from ruthless. Again, Gakpo can be easy on the eye despite his gangly limbs but he is not a striker. This Dutch side needs a striker and their match-winner against Poland, the man who did nothing at Man Utd, has shown with his clutch left-footed strike that this frantic Koeman system needs a mature man to lead the line and be in the right place at the right time.

Despite what we saw from Big Weg at Old Trafford, he can be that guy. He is a born goalscorer and if he can catch fire, this offensive Netherlands team has a chance. Bring on France vs. Netherlands. That’ll be a cracker.