20 becomes 21: Why it’s good news for the Netherlands

Euro 2020 is dead. Long live Euro 2021. The year-long delay is a disappointment for many. For the Netherlands though, it may just be a blessing in disguise.

It’s been a hugely successful year for the Oranje. They made it to the Nations League final, beating France, Germany and England on the way, and qualified for their first major tournament in six years.

However, there are still various issues that made it difficult to see the side winning Euro 2020 this summer. The thought of them prevailing in a year though is a much more feasible one, and these are the reasons why…

Injury recoveries

The biggest issue that the Netherlands faced heading into this summer’s tournament was their ever-developing injury crisis. Not only were multiple players struggling for fitness, but some of them were integral to Koeman’s plans.

The most important of these was Memphis Depay. The Lyon man has been the spearhead of the side’s attack since Koeman took over, scoring and creating a number of goals, so news of his ACL rupture in December was a huge blow. Even if he did manage to recover in time, he would have been severely lacking match fitness.

To make matters worse, two men who could have replaced him also got injured. First, Donyell Malen suffered a knee injury a week after Depay, ruling him out until around September. More recently, Steven Bergwijn became a doubt himself, picking up a knock after a good start to life in the Premier League.

These injuries depleted the side’s frontline and made it hard to believe they’d have enough firepower to be successful. There’s, of course, no guarantee that this time next year every key player will be fit and ready to go. However, given the extent of the crisis this year, it’s a chance Koeman will be happy to take.

Finding form 

Memphis Depay wasn’t the only key player not in prime condition to lead his nation to glory this summer. While Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong aren’t facing any fitness issues, their form is another matter entirely.

De Ligt was expected to take Italy by storm when he signed for Juventus. However, he struggled for game time early on with the long-standing partnership of Leonardo Bonucci and Giorgio Chiellini being favoured. An injury to the latter presented the Dutchman with an opportunity, but poor performances led to Merih Demiral being selected instead.

De Jong’s struggles haven’t been quite as extreme, but he still hasn’t reached the level he was displaying at Ajax. This is largely due to the fact that he hasn’t been played in his strongest position, often ending up out wide or further forward.

While they’ve continued to play well for Oranje, Koeman would prefer it if they were excelling for their clubs too. Both began to look far more settled prior to the season’s hiatus. If they continue this progress now that football is returning, they’ll be in far better form heading into the Euros next year.

Youth Development

In recent times, various youngsters have impressed enough to be included in the Netherlands squad. While they’re huge talents now, they should be even better this time next year after another season of development.

Calvin Stengs, Myron Boadu and Donyell Malen have already been handed their debuts with the former getting an assist and the two strikers scoring. They all look good enough for the first team now, and that will be the case even more so by 2021.

For others, such as Teun Koopmeiners, Mohamed Ihattaren and Joshua Zirkzee, this summer’s tournament would have come too soon for them. Now though, they have a year more to impress at club level, earn their debuts and force their way into Koeman’s plans. All three are huge talents, and will undoubtedly improve the team if they continue to develop.

If Euro 2020 took place this year, the likes of Kevin Strootman and Ryan Babel would have gone. Calling them deadwood may be harsh, but there’s little argument that the Dutch have more exciting prospects waiting in the wings. Thanks to the delay, we may well see them instead.

Tactical tweaks 

Despite the Netherlands’ success in the last year, it’s fair to say Koeman hasn’t yet found the perfect XI. We imagine he’s rather relieved that he now has another year to do so.

For example, in goal Jasper Cillessen has been far from perfect. Improvements could potentially be found in both full-back positions. Further forward, the side has often looked toothless and is far too reliant on Memphis Depay scoring and creating goals. He needs some help.

With nothing but friendlies, Nations League matches and two World Cup qualifiers prior to the Euros, the bondscoach can experiment to find solutions. They may come in the form of the aforementioned youngsters. They may come in the form of those who have yet to be given much of a chance such as Tim Krul and Hans Hateboer. Perhaps even in the form of a formation change.

Either way, the fact is that the side had many areas it needed to improve in prior to Euro 2020. Now, with a years delay, the team have the time to try and do so. If next summer’s championship ends with Virgil van Dijk lifting the trophy, I think we’ll all agree that it was worth the wait.

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