Football Features

Netherlands Euro 2020: Best players, manager, tactics, form and chance of winning

By Mohamed Moallim

Published: 16:49, 8 June 2021

Despite a long and rich history in the competition, the Netherlands head into the summer looking for their first win in a European Championship game since 2008.

The Oranje lost all three of their group games at the 2012 edition in Poland and Ukraine before they failed to qualify at all for France 2016 — they subsequently missed out on the 2018 World Cup in Russia, too.

But the Dutch have been resurgent recently, finishing as runners-up to Portugal in the inaugural Uefa Nations League, while qualifying for this summer’s festival of football with just one defeat from eight games.

So, what can we expect from the Netherlands at Euro 2020?

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Euro 2020 players to watch: Netherlands

Frenkie de Jong

While Marten de Roon screens the defence and Wijnaldum puts in the hard yards, Frenkie de Jong is very much the metronome that keeps this Dutch side ticking. Since debuting against Peru in September 2018, he’s become a regular presence on the international stage, winning 25 caps to date, and is arguably Oranje’s most important player due to his press resistance. De Jong’s ability to recycle possession cannot be understated and recently under De Boer, he’s taken on a more creative role.

De Jong’s dream move to Barcelona — following an incredible final season with Ajax — has not been wholly straightforward, but no one can accuse him of not putting in the work. More often than not he is the one wearing Blaugrana colours that’s complemented by supporters and media alike. Recently celebrating his 24th birthday, the Arkel-born midfielder is already considered the best in his position. And there’s no question he holds the key to Oranje’s chances this summer.

Memphis Depay

No one shone more in Oranje’s qualifying campaign than Memphis Depay, who reinvented himself under Ronald Koeman to devastating effect. Having emerged at PSV Eindhoven as a modern wide forward, Depay followed then Dutch national team boss Louis van Gaal to Manchester United, but his time at Old Trafford was disappointing, to say the least. After resurrecting his career at Lyon, the former Sparta Rotterdam youth prospect, now converted into a ‘false nine’, brought that newfound swag to the international stage. Across six Euro 2020 qualification games, he bagged six goals and created a further eight making him the Netherlands’ undisputed ‘MVP’.

Depay’s second wind naturally led to speculation linking him with a move away from southern France, most notably last summer after Koeman inherited the Camp Nou dugout, but a switch to Barcelona never transpired. Understandably disappointed, Depay has been nothing but professional since in trying to push Lyon towards Champions League qualification (albeit without success). The former United man netted 20 times, making 2020/21 his most prolific league campaign.

Virgil van Dijk rules himself out of Euro 2020

Before the Netherlands squad was announced, the Oranje were rocked by Liverpool defender Virgil van Dijk ruled himself out of participation, following his protracted spell on the sidelines due to an anterior cruciate ligament injury.

The Dutch defender has missed the majority of Liverpool’s season after sustaining the injury in October’s Merseyside derby, in which Jordan Pickford’s wayward challenge forced the 29-year-old off in the 11th minute at Goodison Park.

Van Dijk told Liverpool’s official website that he is confident of returning to pre-season training with the Reds in a huge boost to Jurgen Klopp’s preparations for 2021/22, but he went on to offer dispiriting international news, ruling himself out of Euro 2020.

He said: “In this latest stage for myself, I have come to a decision that I had to make: would I be involved in the Euros, yes or no?

“With everything that is going on, I feel physically it is the right decision that I’ve decided not to go to the Euros and to go into my last phase of rehab during the off-season. So, the full focus will be on pre-season with the club and that’s a realistic goal, so I am looking forward to that.

“Obviously I am very gutted to miss the Euros, to miss the European Championship and leading out my own country there, but things have been like they have and I have to accept it – we all have to accept it. I think the decision to not go is the right decision in the grand scheme of things. It’s tough, but I’m at peace with it.”

Van Dijk was later joined on the sidelines by Donny van de Beek, with the United midfielder withdrawing from the squad due to a groin injury.

“Donny van de Beek has to let the European Championship pass by,” said a statement from the Dutch Football Association. “The Manchester United midfielder is struggling with an injury.”

Completing a trio of damaging absences, goalkeeper Jasper Cillessen will also miss Euro 2020 due to illness.

The manager: Frank de Boer

After guiding boyhood club Ajax to a fourth consecutive Eredivisie title in 2014 it seemed Frank de Boer could do no wrong. As his stint was drawing to a close, several clubs across Europe were being linked with the Dutch tactician, but he remained loyal, before ultimately departing for Inter Milan where things ended before they had really started. De Boer’s time in Lombardy lasted for 14 matches, which included five wins, and just when it seemed his managerial career was ruined, Crystal Palace gave him a reprieve. However, this stay was a lot shorter and even more disappointing. De Boer was dismissed after four Premier League outings, each one ending in defeat, by now those Amsterdam glory days were a distant memory.

Atlanta United — a rising force in American soccer — presented him as Tata Martino’s successor, the Argentine coach had won the franchise their first MLS Cup title in just their second year of existence, meaning there was a lot for De Boer to live up to. Unfortunately, despite being in Georgia for a longer period of time, success was once again fleeting. Sure, De Boer won US Open Cup and Campeones Cup titles in 2019, but the standard of football was quickly deteriorating to the point where the Five Stripes were one of the worst teams in MLS last year. His dismissal in July 2020 was no shock.

With another disappointing job under his belt, no one had De Boer in mind when Koeman, after guiding Oranje to Euro 2020, departed for Barcelona, but here we are. It’s been a lukewarm run so far. After his opening eight outings, the Dutch have secured four wins.

What happened next? Oranje‘s last line-up at a major international tournament

Incredibly, it has been seven years since the Netherlands last competed at a major international tournament, finishing with a ‘bronze position’ in the 2014 World Cup after defeating host nation Brazil 3-0 in the third place play-off, with goals from Robin van Persie, Daley Blind and Georginio Wijnaldum.

The likes of Arjen Robben and Dirk Kuyt also featured in Louis van Gaal’s starting XI that afternoon, with the former still going strong in the Eredivisie with boyhood club Groningen, and the latter having retired in 2018 after seeing out his career in his homeland.

Robben has missed the majority of the season through injury, but the 37-year-old recently returned to make his first start against FC Emmen on Sunday, providing two assists in the 4-0 win, and he even broached the possibility of returning to the international set-up if given a call.

When questioned on how he would react if he received a call-up, Robben told ESPN in the Netherlands: “Then I would go. It would be fun, but you must be realistic, very fit, and know you can contribute to the team.

“After all, the Oranje [the Dutch national team] is a step up.

“Going to Euro 2020 is somewhere in my wildest dreams, but you must be very careful because I can already see tomorrow’s headlines.

“Right now I’m not saying I want to go, but if he [De Boer] should call, I’d say yes.”

The tactics

De Boer has predominantly utilised a 4-2-3-1 shape which is uncharacteristic compared to past Dutch teams as they’ve often lined up in a classic 4-3-3 system. But it’s not exactly a new approach as, in the last decade, Oranje have slowly drifted away from that once sacred tactic. That being said, the idea is for his players not to be rigid, as in possession one of the deep-lying midfielders, initially deployed as an extra layer of defence, should link up with the number 10 and three forwards. How they’ll lineup is fascinating, to say the least.

Depay has so far been used on the left flank with Luuk de Jong playing through the middle. Wijnaldum is expected to play off the number nine with the identity of Frenkie de Jong’s central midfield partner still up in the air. Davy Klaassen and Marten de Roon both have a case. As for the backline, Blind seems to have Oranje’s left-back berth on lock while Denzel Dumfries and Joel Veltman are competing for the right-back jersey. De Ligt, now back from injury, should take up his centre-back spot — in front of first-choice goalkeeper Cillessen — and with Van Dijk now out of contention, Inter Milan’s Stefan de Vrij should partner his Serie A compatriot.

Since taking over, and previously touched upon, De Boer is eight games into his Oranje managerial career. Four of those outings came in the Uefa Nations League, with the Netherlands picking up eight points from 12 available, and sandwiched in between was a 1-1 friendly draw against Spain, a result that meant De Boer began with three consecutive stalemates. A desperate 4-2 defeat to Turkey followed, before wins over Latvia and Gibraltar in World Cup qualifying. Going forward, they’ve not been relentless, but the Dutch are not giving too much away, the aforementioned defeat to Turkey aside. They averaged 0.88 goals conceded per game during Euro 2020 qualification. Koeman’s side finished second behind eternal rivals Germany, winning six of their eight matches, with their only loss coming against Joachim Löw’s men at home.

Can Oranje repeat the summer of ’88?

Ever since Marco van Basten’s legendary volley in Munich against the former Soviet Union secured the Dutch their first major international prize over three decades ago, there’s been countless missed opportunities. It’s fair to say the calibre of De Boer’s squad doesn’t match previous Oranje teams but as things stand, they are one of the favourites to reign supreme this summer.

Odds to win Euro 2020 with Sky Bet… 13/1

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