It’s been an excellent international break for the Dutch national team, who beat France and drew in Germany to top their Nations League group. Michael Bell takes you through his main observations about Oranje. 

The Netherlands recovery has been swift

Who would have guessed a year ago when the Nations League draw was made that Netherlands would top a group with Germany and France? Certainly not me.

After just scraping into the top division ahead of Austria, Netherlands, who missed out on two major tournaments and were deemed to be in a crisis were massive underdogs in the group. However, Oranje’s recovery has been swift and the national team is once again among the best in Europe.

Watching Netherlands completely dominate France was a delight and the best Oranje performance since the 2014 World Cup, while the fight that was missing over the last few years, was back in the draw at Germany. It’s a very exciting time to be an Oranje fan.

Koeman deserves huge credit

How would the national team have done if Koeman was appointed as Van Gaal’s successor in 2014 instead of Guus Hiddink? Hindsight is a great thing but Netherlands are now enjoying a successful period thanks to the coach.

As soon as Koeman was appointed he started making big calls. The team was moved to Zeist and the new football complex, Sneijder was dropped and after a brief period of 5-3-2, a 4-3-3 formation was brought back.

Koeman has brought back the belief and more importantly moulded a side that is strong all over the pitch. Memphis is excelling up front, while the days of a Strootman-Wijnaldum midfield are gone. Thankfully, he has noticed what Hiddink, Blind and Advocaat before him couldn’t.

Koeman wanted the job four years ago, but it may be to Netherlands gain that he is now in charge to oversee a team packed full of young talents.

Memphis is king

Netherlands no longer have a striker problem and that is mainly down to Memphis Depay’s excellent performances through the middle.

Memphis is a star at Lyon but when he pulls on an Oranje jersey the passion is clear to see. He is taking the attack to another level with his pace, dribbling ability and unpredictability. He has also proved to be an excellent target man with his strength allowing him to hold off defenders and link the play.

The Panenka penalty against France was the sign of a player playing with extreme confidence in his own ability and he is Netherlands main man heading into next year.

Believe the hype. Frenkie is the real deal

One of the main reasons behind a switch to 5-3-2 was that Netherlands no longer had a player capable of taking the midfield by the scruff of the neck and instead, packing the defence and playing on the counter was needed.

That is no longer the case for Netherlands because of Frenkie de Jong. The Ajax sensation is a generational talent and the play’s a brand of football that I have not seen in Oranje. He plays freely, full of risk but also full of reward.

De Jong comes deep to pick up the ball but is always looking to move forward. If a pass isn’t on he will dribble forward with ease. Players such as Pogba, Kante and Kroos have tried to control him but failed to stop him breezing forward. His rise is so swift that coaches have tried to stop him by sticking two markers on him, but the more players focus on Frenkie, space opens up for the likes of Wijnaldum or Memphis. This worked a treat against France and after the game, Wijnaldum spoke about his love of playing with the 21-year-old.

Bringing De Jong into the team has been a huge reason for the upturn in fortunes. He has totally changed Netherlands style of play for the better.

Denzel Dumfries is first choice right-back

PSV’s Denzel Dumfries put in a dominant right-back performance in the 2-0 win over France. He was excellent at the back but also burst forward at every opportunity and proved to be an attacking outlet. The 22-year-old was not daunted about coming up against the likes of Mbappe or Griezmann and totally shut down the threat from the French left.

For some reason, Koeman decided to switch Dumfries for Kenny Tete in Germany. The former Ajax talent’s inclusion in the squad is baffling for some given his lack of playing time for Lyon, but Koeman has called Tete and all round right-back, who excels at defending. Watching the match in Germany, though, Tete was awful! He was given a torrid time from the start and played a role in Germany’s second goal. He couldn’t do anything to stop Germany’s attacks and didn’t provide much going forward.

Going forward into the Euro 2020 qualifiers it is clear that Dumfries should nail down the spot and be given the chance to make it his own. For Tete he needs more playing time before he gets back into the squad, let alone the XI.

Netherlands have a world-class centre-back partnership

Defending has been the weak point of Oranje for years but with Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt as a centre-back partnership, Netherlands have a pairing that most nations can only dream of.

Van Dijk’s has had a year to remember at club level and the world’s most expensive player is probably Netherlands one world class player at the moment. Since taking on the armband for Oranje he has excelled and his two goals in the Nations League have proved to be crucial.

19-year-old De Ligt had a tough start to his international career with the defeat in Bulgaria, but he has developed massively since then. The captain of Ajax was outstanding up against Mbappe and Giroud last Friday and has formed a great understanding with Van Dijk.

The duo will get the chance to play together for years to come and their understanding together will only get better.

De Roon the water carrier of Oranje

“Every team should have a player like me.” De Roon told the Dutch media after the draw in Germany.

The Atlanta star doesn’t stand out on the pitch like De Jong or Wijnaldum, but he was crucial in both of Netherlands games over the last week. Netherlands have been crying out for a defensive midfielder since Nigel de Jong’s decline and with De Roon they have found one.

He wins the ball back and keeps the play simple, can read the game well and always seems to be there to pick up second balls. His passing ability is also excellent and he set up Promes to net against Germany.

The 27-year-old only has eight caps for the national team but if he keeps playing like this then he is undroppable for me.

Koeman has options

The XI that beat France may be Netherlands strongest eleven at the moment, but Koeman also has plenty of other options to change games.

Tonny Vilhena is a talented midfielder but he has had an indifferent start to the season for Feyenoord and there seemed to be some eyebrows raised when Koeman turned to him against Germany. However, Vilhena is a fighter and his energy helped Netherlands get a grip on the midfield. He also showed great tenacity to win the ball back and swing in the cross for Van Dijk’s equaliser. Luuk de Jong was also thrown up front and his excellent linking ability helped Netherlands keep the ball at the end of the game.

These two are interesting options for Netherlands heading into next year and can change the way Netherlands play. Then you have the players that didn’t even feature in this international break. PSV number one Jeroen Zoet, centre-back’s Stefan de Vrij and Nathan Ake, and midfielders such as Donny van de Beek and Pablo Rosario. Koeman will also have Arnaut Groeneveld and Davy Propper back in the new year, while Justin Kluivert is getting good reviews for his performances in Rome.

The future is bright

While Netherlands were excelling, the Oranje youth teams were also in action over the past week. Netherlands U19’s packed with talents such as Ryan Gravenberch, Daishawn Redan and Cheick Toure, won a four nations tournament in Armenia, beating the hosts, Germany and Portugal.

Netherlands U20’s beat Switzerland and Italy with PSV winger Cody Gakpo netting four goals, while Feyenoord striker Dylan Vente also impressed.

The U18’s didn’t have a great week and lost 1-0 to the Republic of Ireland, but draws with Belgium and England were positive.

After a few years of wondering where all the talent is, it appears that Netherlands are once again producing players capable of playing in the world’s biggest sides.

Bring on the Euro 2020 qualifiers

International periods have been painful for Netherlands fans over the past three years but the excitement around the national team is back and the Euro 2020 qualifiers can’t come quick enough.

The draw is made in December and Netherlands should fear no nation they come up against. Ronald Koeman has brought back the national confidence and a major tournament is once again in sight!




Michael Bell (63 Posts)