Should the Netherlands switch to a 5-3-2?

Since Ronald Koeman took over, the Netherlands have rarely veered away from his preferred 4-2-3-1 formation. However, given various recent circumstances, many believe this should change.

With some of the squad picking up injuries, some struggling with club form and others thriving, 5-3-2 is beginning to look like a more suitable setup.

The change to the system in 2014, inspired by Koeman himself deploying it at Feyenoord, got Oranje to a World Cup semi-final. Can it work wonders again? Let’s take a look…

How they could lineup

The change of system would mean dropping one winger for a third centre-back and moving the other to a central position. Due to the extra defender and to compensate for the lack of width, the full-backs would then be pushed forward.

Stefan de Vrij would most likely be the man to join Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt at the back, while Quincy Promes could well be deployed at right-wing-back.

Further forward, Steven Bergwijn would surely get the nod, probably alongside Koeman-favourite Ryan Babel, unless Memphis Depay recovers in time of course.

The setup of the midfield three would probably remain the same with few changes in terms of style or personnel.

The Pros

A place for Stefan de Vrij 

Stefan de Vrij has arguably been the best defender in Italy this season. Playing in the centre of a back three for Inter Milan, he’s been imperious and will almost certainly make it into the league’s team of the season.

This form and De Ligt’s struggles at Juventus have led many to call for De Vrij to partner Van Dijk this summer, but why not have both? Given he already plays in a similar system for his club, he’d slot seamlessly into a role between Van Dijk and De Ligt.

Having three defenders of that quality would make the Dutch incredibly solid at the back, and with the trio scoring eight goals between them this season, they’d also be a huge attacking threat from set-pieces.

It solves the full-back problem

The full-back positions are undoubtedly a weakness for the Netherlands. On the right, Denzel Dumfries usually starts but is by no means in good form, while on the left Daley Blind is a better option but quick wingers can expose his lack of pace.

Three world-class central defenders would provide more defensive security and thus allow Koeman to deploy wing-backs instead. Therefore, Quincy Promes could play on the right, as could Hans Hateboer, who does so excellently for his club.

On the other side, Blind’s lack of pace would be far less of an issue with Van Dijk closer to him. Instead, he’d have more creative freedom and could thrive as he did in Brazil in 2014.

No need for a lone striker

Since Memphis Depay picked up an injury that could rule him out of Euro 2020, there’s been a huge question mark over who can fill his role for the tournament. With no stand-out option, perhaps two players shouldering the responsibility is a better solution.

Bergwijn is arguably the side’s best attacker but has seldom played as a lone striker. If he had a more conventional striker alongside him such as Weghorst, Babel or Boadu, he’d have a more free role and they could form a partnership like Robben and Van Persie’s in 2014.

Depay is ahead of schedule with his recovery and his return would make the need for a change of system less necessary, but Koeman must have a plan for if the Lyon man isn’t fit in time.

The cons

A lack of attacking threat

When the Netherlands played 5-3-2 in 2014, the attacking threat often solely came from the front three. Given that that front three was Van Persie, Robben and Sneijder, it wasn’t a huge problem. This time round, it may be.

Gini Wijnaldum is an excellent attacking midfielder, as good as Sneijder was in Brazil, but in front of him, this side lacks a clinical finisher like Van Persie and, most importantly, a world-class match-winner like Robben.

In a 4-2-3-1, Oranje have an extra attacking slot that could be filled by Calvin Stengs or Mohamed Ihattaren. Without it, there is huge pressure on the wing-backs to contribute going forward instead.


Ultimately, the biggest issue is that the side has never played this formation before. With just four games before Euro 2020 gets underway, there’s also limited time for them to get familiar with playing it and various players to get used to new roles.

Furthermore, the fact is that playing their usual 4-2-3-1, the Netherlands have been hugely successful. They reached the Nations League final, prevailing over France and Germany, and comfortably qualified for their major tournament in six years.

Given the success, Koeman has seen no need to change his system, and you can see why. Never change a winning team, right?

What we think

There’s undoubtedly a strong case to be made for switching to 5-3-2. It would allow the inclusion of in-form players, provide far more suitable roles for many in the squad and, on paper, solves many of the team’s problems. Football isn’t played on paper, however. The only real way to know if it’s the best option is to test it.

Four friendlies may not be many, but it’s better than nothing. Those games, along with train sessions, would provide Koeman with some insight into how his team functioned and given there’s nothing to play for in them, it seems a no-brainer for him to at least try it out.

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