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Report: Netherlands defender Matthijs de Ligt didn’t expect to play at all at the World Cup

Lost in translation? Some curious comments from Bayern Munich’s big-time center-back as he rides the bench under Louis van Gaal.

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Netherlands v USA: Round of 16 - FIFA World Cup Qatar 2022 Photo by Patrick Smith - FIFA/FIFA via Getty Images

It’s always good to see a role player on a squad accept his position with grace and humility. Is there such a thing as being too relaxed about it, however? Bayern Munich’s Matthijs de Ligt has been frozen out of the starting lineup for the Netherlands ever since his poor outing in their first group stage game, but if he’s simmering on the inside, he’s not letting it show.

“It’s not so frustrating, honestly. Every player wants to play but we are a group of 26 players,” De Ligt told The Athletic. “Honestly, I have played more than I expected to play at this World Cup. I expected to play nothing. I’m quite okay. We won together and we are in a quarter-final.”

The Netherlands have been having a fine World Cup so far, and beat the USMNT in the Round of 16 to reach the quarter-finals.

De Ligt strikes the right tone here completely, but might raise a few eyebrows with his suggestion that he didn’t expect to play at all. While Liverpool FC’s Virgil van Dijk, Manchester City’s Nathan Aké, and Ajax’s Jurrien Timber are all available to coach Louis van Gaal, the Juventus-to-Bayern man is no slouch himself. And anyone who has seen his performances this season for the Bavarians in the Bundesliga or the Champions League know his elite qualities.

In the Netherlands’ first group stage game against Senegal, De Ligt featured at the right-sided center-back position in Van Gaal’s back three and had a shaky time. At Bayern, De Ligt plays in the middle in a back four, and the player suggested the difference of systems had something to do with his expectations.

“No [it’s not fitness problems], it’s just the way of playing,” De Ligt went on to explain. “Maybe the coach doesn’t put me in the team and I am okay with that. I expected it. So for me it’s fine. I know my role and I train hard every day to be important for the team.”

De Ligt has been rock-solid at the back whenever called upon by Julian Nagelsmann for Bayern, however. But perhaps for him to find a spot in the Dutch side’s top XI, it’s Van Dijk that he would have to replace — and that’s a tall, tall order even for one of the world’s top center-backs.

And De Ligt is simply delighted enough with his Bavarian experience so far. “It’s amazing, I’m having a really nice time there. I feel already at home...I didn’t speak to [Chelsea FC], I’m just really happy Bayern went through,” he said.

And in case you haven’t listened to it yet, here’s a special edition postgame + weekend warm up podcast to get you ready for the weekend! We look at Germany’s shortcomings, Hansi Flick’s approach, Japan’s wonderful run...and close out with some classical music talk! Listen below or on Spotify.

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