Van Der Vaart Blinded By His Dumb Brain-Fart As Reds Beat Ajax
Arrogant Ajax Alum is a Chump
I know that players get misquoted and things get lost in translation, but it appears that Rafael Van der Vaart has collided with his own brain fart when passing his unusually-located cerebrum, in the process of disappearing right up his own arse.
His preview of the general lack of threat Liverpool would pose Ajax, outside of two players, was farcical. I started writing this before the match after reading his comments, and can gleefully wallow in his idiocy after a deserved, if not fluent win.
Am I only wise after the event?
In an interview I did last week for a Dutch website, VoetbalPrimeur, to preview the game, my assessment was:
"Normally Liverpool would match a side like Ajax quite evenly for energy and skill, and then overpower them in other ways – including set-pieces. A full week to prepare now means Liverpool should have more energy than in recent games.
To me, Ajax look like a team that would be vulnerable at set-pieces, if Liverpool play well enough to win enough of them. And Núñez easily out-jumped Jurriën Timber to score last season for Benfica, if memory serves. Players like van Dijk and Joël Matip will likely pose problems in the air."
My only mistake was in not thinking that Liverpool were going to have as many as TEN attempts at goal from set-pieces (with no direct free-kick shots). And the Reds "only" won ten corners.
Van Der Vaart, by contrast, spent the time insulting Liverpool's players, and singled out three who, bizarrely, wouldn't even play when everyone is fit (as proved the case last night).
This is a player who, outside the children's football of the Eredivisie, won the UEFA Intertoto Cup (twice) with Hamburg, just the Supercopa de España in his stay at Real Madrid, and the Danish Superliga with ... who actually knows? - it's the Danish Superliga.
Meaningful trophies vanished whenever Van der Vaart turned up. Even Spurs had just won a trophy when he went there, and haven't since.
Praising Virgil van Dijk and the full-backs he didn't feel bothered to name, the ex-Spurs journeyman said of the Reds:
"If ... those attackers [Mo Salah and Luis Díaz] don’t have their day, then I think it’s just a very mediocre team.”
Well, Salah did, of course. He wasn’t at his electric best, but did score a nice goal.
But yes, Alisson Becker, Fabinho, Roberto Firmino, Thiago Alcantara, Joël Matip, Harvey Elliott, Kostas Tsimikas, Diogo Jota, Ibrahima Konaté, Naby Keïta, Arthur Melo, Fabio Carvalho. All mediocre. At best. Darwin Núñez, destroyer of Ajax last season – medicore, at best.
Trent Alexander-Arnold and Van Dijk were both still included in the mediocre bracket, too, in terms of the team as a whole.
The fact that the deluded Dutchman was talking about Jordan Henderson (injured) shows that he's not even really talking about this season or who is available. I hope he wasn't paid to talk about Liverpool, as he's apparently stolen that money.
Liverpool, ranked the best in the world just six weeks ago on the back of the final months of last season, are now apparently mediocre bar a couple of players, unless Sadio Mané (whose form was questioned during long spells in the last couple of seasons) was the key to it all? Form is one thing; but class is permanent (at least until you get too old).
“We suddenly think Jordan Henderson is a crazy player," he said. "That’s just a very normal player ... James Milner is also a very normal player. Joe Gomez is also a very normal player."
Well, it seems that Ajax sent 11 very normal players to Anfield last night, including some donkey from Rangers who spent the game kicking the ball into Row Z.
(Gomez has had three shocking knee injuries, but is still not a normal player. He was exceptional in 2019/20.)
I mean, if Steven Bergwijn can look like Fabio Borini in the Premier League and Diego Maradona in the Eredivisie, then the issue is the gulf in qualities of league, with Ajax playing against such poor teams most weeks.
If Van der Vaart didn't think Ajax would be troubled by Liverpool's set-pieces, then what’s he doing giving an opinion? I could scout Ajax and see a problem simply via looking up their heights. I didn't have to look at one bit of footage – the gulf in heights was so vast that it had to matter.
Every season I see Liverpool play the occasional game against a defence with really small defenders (by modern standards) and absolutely batter them at set-pieces.
The only prerequisite is to play good enough football to win them. (Liverpool scored from a corner against Man United, with their tiny defenders, but didn't play well enough overall at Old Trafford. The re-match at Anfield will be interesting.)
I said before Liverpool played Benfica that the Portuguese team's centre-backs were too small, at 6' and 6'2". I said the same about Nathan Aké at City in the cup semi-final, and in that same small period, Ibrahima Konaté absolutely demolished them all in the air, to score three goals, to lead Liverpool to major finals.
And Ajax had the gall to turn up with centre-backs 6'1" and 5'10", shortish full-backs, an unimposing old keeper, and one other outfield starter who was taller than 6ft.
If you are tall, and can jump, you will get on the end of things. No 5'10" defender – even if he's an olympic high-jumper – is going to stop you, because of the biological reality of taller players who can also jump. The NBA isn’t full of talented blokes who are 5’1”. Football is played mostly on the ground, but with key moments in the air. Height matters.
And Ajax lost to Benfica last season due to Núñez's header up against 5'10" Timber. He's the same player who lost a header to 5'10" Díaz on the opening goal last night, and it was 6'1" Calvin Bassey who was blown away by Matip. If you can't even out-jump Díaz (who is a greater header of the ball, but not an aerial beast), then what chance do these defences stand against van Dijk and Matip?
Matip can't even really jump. But he's 6'5". Both van Dijk and Konaté are 6'4", and so powerful that they will often out-jump others the same size. As I noted last night, Liverpool didn't use any fancy corners – just curled first-time into the danger zone, time and again. One had to go in; maybe four should have.
All that lovely football, and by having tiny defenders, you crash to defeats.
Look at this image from just before the goal:
It’s like prime-years Mike Tyson taking on Barry McGuigan. It’s a mismatch. They don’t allow that in boxing, even if both are elite boxers.
It has goal written all over it. I don’t care what system you use and how much you practice defending corners (or not), this is like an U21 side taking on an U9 side.
And then Bassey, the no.3 who is marking zonally ready to engage the biggest Liverpool player (he appears to already be watching Matip in the shot above), being battered (below). He might as well have been Shirley Bassey.
The idea that Ajax, beating teams in the kiddies’ league that it essentially is, and beating Rangers at home, are now some remarkable side was itself ludicrous. They do a good job overall given the way they are feasted upon (but of course, they do that to other Dutch clubs), but the idea that Liverpool only had two players who could trouble them was psychotic.
At least their manager Alfred Schreuder was realistic:
“Liverpool is a completely different team than Rangers. The way they are able to press the opponent ... you barely see this anywhere.”
But this wasn't even Liverpool at their pressing best. This was Liverpool with Fabinho still not at the races (the referee literally out-ran him on the Ajax goal), and various rusty players coming back from injury; and without some of the best pressing players. At least he wasn't disrespecting Liverpool, but Van Der Vaart was.
So yes, three players who wouldn't be part of Liverpool's best XI if everyone is fit are "normal", yet all are Champions of Europe, and Champions of a major European league, and in Milner's case, champion multiple times.
No one expects opponents to be scared of Milner, aged 87, but over the years has deserved respect for what he's done and what he's won, while Henderson, now on the downslope aged 32, was the country's Player of the Year a couple of seasons ago. All have won far more than Van der Vaart, who spent just two years at a truly big club, while these guys have spent 7-11 years Liverpool (or at Liverpool and Manchester City).
Did the Dutchman simply watch the Napoli game, and assume that it was Liverpool's best team? Was he smoking crack cocaine? If he's singling out Henderson, then he will have seen no Henderson in Italy.
Liverpool were abject in Naples, but had still won 31 of 40 games in 2022, or over 75%, including cup-final shootout victories, going into the Ajax game.
Also, the three "medicore" players were key components in winning:
– Premier League: 2019–20
– FA Cup: 2021–22
– Football League Cup/EFL Cup: 2021–22
– FA Community Shield: 2022
– UEFA Champions League: 2018–19
– UEFA Super Cup: 2019
– FIFA Club World Cup: 2019
Still, Van der Vaart won the Intertoto Cup. Not once.
Clearly he knows what he's talking about.
And what about Thiago, not named as one of the few Liverpool players deemed better than mediocre? Trophies won are not everything, as great players sometimes play for outsider clubs.
La Liga: 2008–09, 2009–10, 2010–11, 2012–13
Copa del Rey: 2011–12
Supercopa de España: 2010, 2011
UEFA Champions League: 2010–11
UEFA Super Cup: 2011
FIFA Club World Cup: 2011
Bundesliga: 2013–14, 2014–15, 2015–16, 2016–17, 2017–18, 2018–19, 2019–20
DFB-Pokal: 2013–14, 2015–16, 2018–19, 2019–20
DFL-Supercup: 2016, 2017, 2018
UEFA Champions League: 2019–20
FIFA Club World Cup: 2013
FA Cup: 2021–22
FA Community Shield: 2022
UEFA Champions League runner-up: 2021–22
Very normal, huh?
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