With less than a year to go until Euro 2020, The Netherlands’ starting XI is looking strong and largely settled, but there is still room for improvement…
Virgil Van Dijk and Matthijs De Ligt have formed a formidable partnership in defence, Frenkie De Jong makes the team tick in midfield and Memphis Depay is undroppable up front.
However, there are still some notable weaknesses in the side; specifically, the midfield spot alongside De Jong and the entire right hand side of the team.
Thankfully for Ronald Koeman though, there are three players waiting in the wings who are more than capable of solving these issues.
Frenkie De Jong is the heartbeat of the team, but Koeman has yet to find the perfect partner for the Barcelona man.
Marten De Roon has filled the spot most often, and he has proved to be an effective defensive midfielder, shielding the backline and doing the dirty work, allowing De Jong complete freedom. However, when The Netherlands dominate possession against weaker sides, he doesn’t offer enough going forward to improve the team and make an impact.
In such games, Donny Van De Beek is now being chosen, but as the recent game against Belarus showed, having a more attack-minded player alongside De Jong not only prevents him from going forward as much himself, but also makes the team far more fragile at the back. In that game, the issue became so serious that De Roon was brought on in the closing stages.
Teun Koopmeiners is a player that could offer Koeman the best of both worlds, being better on the ball than De Roon but more defensively solid than Van De Beek.
The 21-year old has been a revelation in midfield this season for AZ, making a considerable impact at both ends of the pitch. After often being deployed as centre-back last season, he is more than capable of shielding the back four, averaging two tackles and two clearances per game, comfortably more than Van De Beek.
He also boasts an 87% pass success percentage, while Van de Beek’s is just 75%, and has been dispossessed less, so is undoubtedly better at keeping things safe and simple, a crucial quality for a team’s most defensive-minded midfielder.
Koopmeiners also offers far more than De Roon going forward, taking more shots and attempting more dribbles than the 28-year-old each game. Furthermore, he attempts more long balls and yet still has a better pass success rate, showing he’s willing to be more creative and penetrative with his passing, but doesn’t often lose the ball because of it.
If that hasn’t convinced you enough, just take a look at the more obvious statistics. Koopmeiners has seven goals and three assists to his name this season for club and country (Jong Oranje), while De Roon has just one goal and two assists. Granted, the former’s goals have all been penalties but hey, with how the Oranje fare in penalty shoot-outs, they could sure use a specialist.
In short, Koopmeiners could be the midfielder that the Dutch have been yearning for. He’s defensively solid enough to protect the defence and allow De Jong complete freedom, but offers enough going forward to make an impact against weaker sides. Give him a call, Ronald.
Memphis Depay largely carries The Netherlands’ front-line, being directly involved in 12 of the 19 goals the side have scored in Euro 2020 qualifying. Behind him, Georginio Wijnaldum has proved more than capable of making an impact in the final third himself, scoring five goals in six matches, but the same can’t be said of the team’s wingers.
The left of the attack is less of an issue, with the resurgent Ryan Babel proving valuable to the team’s balance, while the rise of Donyell Malen means that moving Depay out wide is also an option for Koeman.
On the right, however, Quincy Promes and Steven Bergwijn have struggled. Both usually play central or on the left for their respective clubs, and it shows. They have started four games each in this qualifying campaign, managing no goals and two assists between them. Once again, Koeman’s solution may well be found at AZ.
Many expected Calvin Stengs’ big break to come over two years ago, but a torn ACL in his first start for the club ruled him out for 15 months. Now that he’s fully recovered though, he’s beginning to display his immense talent.
In his first 15 games of the season for AZ, Stengs has scored six, including a crucial last gasp equalizer against Partizan, and assisted a further five, becoming one the Eredivisie’s biggest attacking threats. He also has two goals and two assists in two games for the Netherlands U21s.
Starting on the right of a front three, He drifts inside and tries to get the ball onto his left foot before getting a shot away in true Arjen Robben fashion or terrifying defenders with his scintillating pace and dribbling.
This style of play is why he’s exactly what the Oranje need. As right footers playing on the right, Bergwijn and Promes are often reluctant to come inside onto their weaker foot and thus become isolated out wide. Stengs’ willingness to cut inside both with and without the ball will not only increase the team’s central threat but will also create space for the overlapping full-back.
Being only 20 years of age, Stengs can be a key player for the national team for years to come, and with the current options in his position struggling, it may well happen sooner rather than later.
The right-back position is arguably the Oranje’s biggest weakness, and the one that could see the biggest upgrade.
Denzel Dumfries has been Koeman’s first choice for the past year but has often struggled with the defensive side of things. Both England and Germany identified the PSV man as a weakness and got considerable joy in their aims to target him – he’s probably still having nightmares about Leroy Sane.
In an effort to shore up the back-line, Koeman has given Joel Veltman a few games in the starting XI, but he has the opposite issue to Dumfries, struggling to make an impact going forward. Given he’s naturally a centre-back and plays there for Ajax, this doesn’t come as a surprise. The man who does play right-back for the Amsterdam side though, could be the answer the Koeman’s problem.
Sergino Dest has enjoyed an excellent start to the season, displacing Noussair Mazraoui as Erik Ten Hag’s first choice on the right side of the defence, starting 15 games in all competitions.
He’s certainly not poor when it comes to the defensive side of the game. He excels when in one on one situations with opponents, thanks to his positioning and patience, and has the pace and stamina to quickly recover after bombing forward. The fact that he started his career as a winger makes his capabilities at the back all the more impressive.
It’s his skill and composure on the ball, picked up in his days playing further forward, that has marked him out as a helluva talent, though. He may not possess the raw pace and power and Dumfries, but his technique on the ball is vastly superior.
Boasting a first touch and dribbling typical of a true Ajacied, Dest seldom loses possession, and he’s beginning to develop his end product too, assisting both goals in Ajax’s recent 2-1 win against RKC Waalwijk.
The star spangled elephant in the room is of course that he has yet to decide whether he actually wants to play for The Netherlands or not. With his father being American, Dest has played for the USMNT throughout his youth, and made his real breakthrough into senior football after a hugely impressive U20 Concacaf Championship performance.
This led to him being called up by the senior side, but he’s yet to play a competitive match for them, meaning he can still play for the Dutch national team if he wishes too. This is something he’s yet to decide, despite the best efforts of Koeman and the KNVB, but he’s expected to do so imminently.
Given that he was born and raised in the Netherlands and would most likely have a starting spot at Euro 2020, you could be forgiven for expecting him to shun USA and opt for the Oranje. All Koeman, the KNVB and every Dutch fan can do is cross their fingers and hope…