Is Matt on the verge of winning the league or is he about to do a massive choke job? Find out in the latest edition of Belmondo.
MONDAY March 2nd, 2020
The fans are not too positive about our trip to Amsterdam tomorrow. Considering the result against Ajax a month ago, I find it difficult to blame them. However, heads are high in the locker room after I told the guys we’ve got every chance of winning. At the same meeting, I announced a fine for anyone talking down our chances. That may have also helped.
TUESDAY March 3rd, 2020
Game day. Ajax v N.E.C. Dutch Cup Semifinal.
In lieu of our actual boot room, the brain trust went to a coffee shop this morning before the game. We all had some delicious brownies with our hot drinks and discussed our tactical options. Losing 5-0 was obviously not something we were keen to do again. Considering the stakes, this was actually one of the most relaxed meetings we’d ever had. We floated all sorts of ideas and eventually decided to go all out attack. If they were going to score five again, then we were going to score six. Everyone agreed on the 4-1-5 from my international conquests. We also agreed on coming back to the same coffee shop every time we’re in Amsterdam.
The first half certainly followed the script. We scored, then they scored, then we scored, then they scored, then we scored. 3-2 after 45 minutes. Well, 46 because we scored our third in the 46th.
Just before half time, Wayne Rooney pulled up when chasing a ball. Hamstring. I waited until the break before taking him off. It was at that point that I decided discretion was the better part of valor and went back to the 4-3-3.
Long story short, we won. Douglas Coutinho scored straight after the restart but we managed to go ahead again at the 69th with Thomas Lemar. And that was it. I parked the bus. We won. Into a second consecutive final. With our forward focus, I was pleased to see that 18% of the entire game’s possession was owned by us in the attacking third. We had 61% of the overall possession in front of the Amsterdam ArenA. I bet not many managers can say that.
FRIDAY March 6th, 2020
Game day. Vitesse v N.E.C.
Our bitterest of enemies hosted us once again. The annual Gelderland derby had an interesting twist to it this year. On the opposing bench, I saw none other than Kai Koreniuk. He and I just won qualification for the Olympics together. He gave me a wave. I pretended I didn’t know who he was.
In the 18th minute, Kermit (not a frog) Erasmus scored on his fourth shot of the game. My defenders were not tracking him at all. I made some adjustments after the goal. I know I should have done it after the third shot, but I’m under a lot of stress. What can I say?
The half finished with a missed Vegemite Sandwich goal. The ball went off the post and out of bounds. But it was nice seeing Sekulovski and Fogarty getting their mojo back.
The crowd did get a Vegemite Sandwich in the second half. After lots of bouncing in and around the box, the ball shot out to Fogarty lurking to the right. His cross just cleared a defender’s head and Sekkers toe-poked it home. Tied up and I felt the march was about to begin.
In the 69th, Lemar sent in a free kick that Golla headed on target. It was blocked by the keeper, but Golla got a second chance with the rebound. He booted it in and we went ahead.
Four minutes later, two bad things happened. The first was a rocketed goal from Bel Hassani at the edge of the box. The second was a sub that saw Kai Koreniuk come on.
Koreniuk had twenty minutes of play. He scored two goals (86 and 91) and won the Player of the Match. When accepting his award, he said he’d been inspired by a snub at the start of the game from someone he previously respected. I’m going to find out who that was and mete out some appropriate punishment.
SATURDAY March 14th, 2020
Game day. SC Cambuur v N.E.C.
Cambuur were two points above the relegation zone before today’s game. My full strength team would have been sending shivers down their spines. No spine would have been shiverier (not a word) than Joshua “Jimmy” Smits’. He knew exactly what he was in for.
A misplaced pass from Boveda gave Cambuur an early chance. Calling it a chance is being silly. He had a clearer chance of scoring than Cindy Crawford would have had in my high school locker room. But somehow Ward parried it and we went on our merry way.
Forty-five minutes into the game and those spines were well and truly warmed up. We had a measly two shots. I gave the team my angry face in the away rooms and sent them back out.
Five shots in four minutes suggested they may have listened. Another two minutes passed and we had a goal. Zelalem to Trujillo. Our little Argentinian has really emerged from his cocoon this season. That was his seventeenth goal.
In the 64th minute, Arno Joosten let their striker waltz into the box. Never a good move. The shot beat Daniel Ward inside the post in what is becoming something of a pattern. Maybe I should tie him to the post. Maybe both posts.
I gave the team 5 minutes to get their act together. They failed, so I changed things up by going to the 4-1-5. Olaza came on for the yellow-carded Boveda. I was shocked, shocked I tell you, to see another yellow card and wasn’t going to wait around for a sending off.
Within the next five minutes, we had another goal. A lovely through ball from Trujillo set up Thomas Lemar for an easy goal. Did I stick with the attacking formation? Hell no. I’ve got a league to win – no risky behaviors here. I dropped back to 4-1-4-1 and brought on Vela and Sekulovski.
We coasted to victory. Ajax lost to Fortuna Sittard! Six games to go. Eight points ahead of Utrecht and Ajax.
TUESDAY March 16th, 2020.
It’s just been brought to my attention that we’re playing Heracles in the Dutch Cup final. I think we can safely start planning the celebration party for our retention of this most prestigious trophy.
SATURDAY March 21st, 2020
Game day. N.E.C. v PSV.
It’s possible that I don’t understand the offside rule, but when two opposition players are between my keeper and the nearest defender, clearly interfering with play, and a third runs to the far post to tap in a cross, I feel that the goal should be disqualified. But that’s just me. What would I know? I’m just an internationally successful manager.
That was 37 minutes into the game. We had 67% of the possession. Life is so fair. We made it to the half without any further ridiculous events.
In the 65th minute, PSV scored again. A sprint down the right flank produced a cross and a header. The shot bounced off the cross post and back into play. Naturally, it went straight to the man who made the shot in the first place. Donyell Malen said, “yes please,” to another opportunity and the men from Eindhoven were ahead 2-0.
Cue Mr. Smiley himself, Diego Vela. Today’s captain zoomed into the box to volley home a cross from Halilovic that traveled through about seven players before it arrived. 67 minutes and the comeback was on.
Halilovic lost his after-game hug from me when he missed an open goal at the 79th minute. The whole team lost me entirely a few minutes later. I walked down the tunnel alone before the whistle blew. I got into a taxi and went straight home. Enough of this garbage. I needed a hot dog and some peanut butter.
SATURDAY March 28th, 2020
With the international break spreading the squad all over the globe, I used today for some “me” time. Took a bath, had my green pants dry-cleaned, sipped a coffee in the Grote Markt, ate six packets of stroopwafels. Just the usual stuff. A relaxing day.
The day ended with a call from the U.S.A. physio – Gedion is out for three weeks. It was such a relaxing day.
We travel to Utrecht in five days. They’re five points behind us. Three of my starting eleven are injured. My captain is suspended. Such a relaxing day.