Euro 2024 is just over a year away, and Ronald Koeman has plenty of problems to solve if he wants to lead his nation to glory in Germany.
He inherits a squad that’s generally in good shape, full of talent, experience and real team spirit, but it’s not yet the complete package.
Here are the things the new manager most needs to do to get it to that point in the next 15 months.
End the goalkeepers’ game of Musical Chairs
Since Koeman last took over in 2017, key players have established themselves in defence, midfield and attack, but no goalkeeper has been able to make the spot between the posts his own.
Jasper Cillessen was Koeman’s first choice but was dropped by Frank de Boer just before Euro 2020 with Maarten Stelekenburg coming out of nowhere to take his place. A similar thing happened at the World Cup when the uncapped Andries Noppert leapt ahead of Cillessen, Justin Bijlow, Mark Flekken and Remko Pasveer on the eve of the tournament.
This isn’t an ideal situation. A team needs an established number one that can develop a strong connection with his defenders and a strong understanding of how he needs to play in terms of positioning and distribution. Koeman knows this, sticking with Cillessen throughout his previous spell as manager, so expect him to bring an end to the chopping and changing.
Who exactly will be his goalkeeper this time around is unclear with the NEC player performing well for his club, Noppert impressing at the World Cup, Bijlow getting back to his best for Feyenoord and Bart Verbruggen emerging as quite the talent at Anderlecht. The boss needs to figure out which of them is best and stick with them throughout Euro 2024 qualifying.
Replace Daley Blind
Daley Blind was one of Koeman’s most important players during the manager’s previous spell in charge of Oranje, being one of the team’s primary ball-progressors and creators from left-back.
However, time has taken its toll on the Bayern Munich man and his on-the-ball abilities are now arguably outweighed by his physical deficiencies, which leave him hugely vulnerable defensively. Add in the fact that those issues will only become bigger in the next year and that he’s hardly playing at club level and it becomes clear that a replacement is needed.
That replacement could be Nathan Ake, who – while more comfortable at centre-back – was excellent at the World Cup and has been excellent for Manchester City since, or it could be Tyrell Malacia, who is enjoying a solid first season at Manchester United and will only get better. Both could be big improvements on Blind.
Give Frenkie de Jong the perfect partner
The Netherlands couldn’t wish for a better player to take one of the spots in the double pivot of Koeman’s 4-2-3-1 formation, but finding the perfect partner for Frenkie de Jong has been something he, De Boer and Van Gaal have all struggled to do since the Barcelona man emerged in 2018.
Marten de Roon was Koeman’s go-to man but his inability to create much with the ball at his feet is a problem against sides that sit deep or when De Jong is neutralised, while Steven Berghuis isn’t good enough defensively – Frenkie is best with a holding midfielder beside him – and Teun Koopmeiners hasn’t really impressed when given the chance.
The 25-year-old could well improve if given more games to get used to the role, while youngster Mats Wieffer is impressing at Feyenoord and veteran Jordy Clasie – who has done well on Koeman’s teams in the past – is at AZ. Figuring out which of them is the best partner for De Jong is absolutely vital, because when he plays well, the team usually plays well.
Thankfully, if anyone can do so, it’s Koeman. After initially struggling at Barcelona, the midfielder played some of his best football when played just ahead of Sergio Busquets by his compatriot, so there’s reason to believe the manager will know how to get the best out of him again.
Find a right-winger
Since Arjen Robben left the scene in 2017, the right-winger situation has been pretty dire. Javairo Dilrosun hasn’t developed as well as was hoped, Steven Berghuis has generally done well but is better as a number 10 these days and pretty much every other Dutch winger around prefers to play on the left.
This is largely why De Boer and Van Gaal both switched to a 5-3-2 formation at the Euros and World Cup respectively, but that switch didn’t work out too well on either occasion and Koeman has decided he wants to play a 4-2-3-1 again, so he’ll need to find a solution.
Last time, that solution was to play left-winger Steven Bergwin on the right, but while that worked out okay and could again, the Ajax man has been poor there for his club this season. Being left-footed, Berghuis is a better fit and probably the best option for the time being, but it’s not his best position anymore either, so the team could really do with an upgrade.
That upgrade could be Noa Lang or Xavi Simons, both of whom are performing well for their clubs but don’t usually play on the right; it could be Dilrosun, who is better suited to the role and is starting to get back on track at Feyenoord; it could Million Manhoef, who is emerging as one of the Eredivisie’s most exciting talents at Vitesse.
Get an alternative to Memphis Depay
Memphis Depay was unstoppable under Koeman before and hopefully will be again, but the manager needs a backup plan in case the Atletico Madrid forward doesn’t turn things around at club level – he’s barely played for the past year – and get back to his best.
Wout Weghorst, performing well at Man Utd even if he isn’t scoring much, is the most obvious alternative and has earned a chance as the first-choice striker in the upcoming matches with Memphis lacking match fitness. 22-year-old Thijs Dallinga is impressing in France and should also be looked at.
Other possibilities include Brian Brobbey, Vincent Janssen and playing Lang, Simons or Cody Gakpo as a false 9, and all should be considered given how things are going for Memphis at the moment.