National coach Koeman finds it hard to ignore De Ligt, ‘The Wall’ is at home at Bayern
Matthijs de Ligt feels at home at Bayern Munich, defending a 1-0 lead against Paris Saint-Germain tonight (9 p.m.) in the Champions League eighth finals. The defender went to work on himself after his reserve role at the World Cup in Qatar, as watching another final tournament from the sidelines was not an option for the 40-time international.
That is paying off; the defender is reigning this season like in his heyday at Ajax. And so national coach Ronald Koeman seems hard to get around him. “Matthijs is a wall, a real machine,” Frenchman Dayot Upamecano said recently about his comrade in defense.
Playing style Bayern suits him better
Defending forward at the Rekordmeister seemingly suits De Ligt better than the more defensive style of play he was used to at Juventus. With space at his back, his speed and power come into their own better.
“I would rather lose a duel seventy meters from my goal than five meters from my goal,” he said Monday on the soccer talk show Rondo. “If you lose the ball five meters from your goal the ball is often already in it and the other way around it is not. That’s a big difference I think.”
De Ligt’s numbers at Bayern Munich speak for themselves in that regard.
Whether it is the percentage of tackles won (72 percent to 60 percent), ball possession won (6.14 to 4.94) or the number of times he is dribbled past (0.13 to 0.27) in a match; almost in all the statistics that matter for a defender, De Ligt scores better in Germany than in Italy, statistics agency Opta calculated.
The soccer philosophy was therefore the reason for De Ligt’s switch from Juventus to Bayern last summer for some seventy million euros. “Bayern Munich is closer to the style of play the national coach wants to see on the pitch,” he said in September.
But Louis van Gaal decided otherwise. De Ligt did start in the first group game with Senegal, but after that he had to make do with a reserve role. Under the now sacked coach, De Ligt was thirteenth in the ranking of most playing minutes in Oranje, just above Teun Koopmeiners.
View De Ligt’s playing minutes under Koeman and Van Gaal here:
De Ligt, self-critical as he is, looked at himself. How could it be that a defender with his qualities was not in the starting lineup of the Dutch national team?
With a new nutritional diet and training program, De Ligt found his way up and, also helped by the injury to his rival Lucas Hernández, grew into an undisputed base force in Bavaria.
Last weekend he underlined his form once again with a long-range shot against Stuttgart. Two minutes before, he had cleverly cleared a ball off the line. His club’s performance after the winter break has been erratic, but that certainly did not apply to De Ligt, who played more and more consistently.
Tonight with Bayern he faces superstars like Kylian Mbappé and Lionel Messi, but the 23-year-old player has already been through too much to worry about that.
De Ligt also doesn’t seem to have to worry about a starting place in the Dutch national team. Not only is he one of the few Oranje players to reach a high level every week, his past also speaks in his favor. After all, De Ligt was the player with the most playing minutes under national coach Koeman.