Eight games into his third spell in charge of the Netherlands and Louis van Gaal switched to a back three – which Virgil van Dijk admits is not his favourite system.
Van Gaal was reappointed Netherlands manager back in August, coming out of retirement to lead his country for the third time after spells in the early 2000s and 2010s.
Following the dismal reigns of Ronald Koeman and Frank de Boer, Van Gaal has resembled something of a saviour for the Dutch side, and so far, he is unbeaten in eight games.
Last week brought the sixth victory of that run so far, a 4-2 friendly win over Denmark, with Van Dijk captain for the eighth consecutive game under his new manager.
But speaking after that triumph in Amsterdam, Liverpool’s No. 4 reflected on the move to a 3-4-3 system and told NOS that he was “still in favour of 4-3-3.”
“Of course, we are playing in a new system, different things are required of the players. But I think we showed a lot of good things,” Van Dijk was quoted by the Mail.
“Do I like the system? Well, I’m still in favour of 4-3-3, but I’m not the national coach and the national coach has a very strong opinion about it.”
Van Gaal is certainly a man of strong opinions, and the 70-year-old quickly responded to the words of his captain, revealing that they “already had this debate” when he was brought back in.
“I know he has that preference, he always said this publicly,” he said of Van Dijk.
“We already had this debate when I came here. The manager decides the tactics.”
It is notable that, after four clean sheets and four goals conceded in the previous seven games in a 4-3-3, the Netherlands shipped twice in one game on Saturday – including a comeback goal for Christian Eriksen.
Van Dijk added that there were “things to improve,” but it will be interesting to see if the 3-4-3 will be retained for the visit of Germany on Tuesday night.
Of course, the public debate over the system – and Van Gaal’s defence of his formation switch – may make the decision over tactics a trickier one for the manager.