The Netherlands are through to the second-round with a game to spare – what were the key talking points from their latest win against Austria?
Well, that wasn’t too bad was it?
Two games, two wins and despite all of the pre-tournament discussion about the prospects for the Netherlands at Euro 2020 under Frank de Boer, they are through as Group C winners with a game still to spare, with a mouth-watering potential match against Germany, Portugal or France in the second round looming on the horizon.
The controlled and measured 2-0 victory over Austria, courtesy of a first-half Memphis Depay penalty and another goal for Denzel Dumfries, was a complete contrast to the frantic edge-of-your-seat encounter with Ukraine. It showed that this side can affect intelligent game management, as well as gung-ho attacking. They are now in an ideal position of being able to rest and rotate for the final group game against North Macedonia.
Fans of the Oranje will naturally now be getting just a little bit excited. So ahead of their final group game, what were the main talking points from match two?
The midfield maestros
Football is all about partnerships and the Netherlands surely have one of the best in the tournament in central midfield. Against Austria, Frenkie de Jong and Georginio Wijnaldum were brilliant individually and collectively, a double heartbeat driving the Oranje forwards.
The Barcelona and PSG men were everywhere – one minute putting in vital challenges in front of the defence, the next driving forward with the ball or starting an attack with a positive and incisive forward pass, then making lung-busting runs to offer a threat in the final third and even at times leading the intense Dutch press from the front. The two of them ooze class and what’s more they work very well together – every time one breaks forward into a number 10 position, the other hangs back to patrol the middle of the pitch. It’s also worth pointing out the benefit of the third player in the Dutch midfield triumvirate Marten de Roon. The Atalanta midfielder has the job of screening the back four and that offers more freedom to De Jong and Wijnaldum.
If this double-act can stay fit, the Netherlands have a real chance of progressing deep into the tournament.
Profligacy in front of goal
Now, first a caveat – the Netherlands have scored five goals in two games. They haven’t exactly been blunt in attack and have so far comfortably outscored France, England and Spain. Nevertheless, you could do a pretty lengthy highlight reel from both of their games so far of the abundance of missed chances. And these missed opportunities aren’t just half-chances but guilt-edge, bad misses.
With no disrespect to Austria and Ukraine, the Netherlands cannot afford to be so profligate against the better teams in this tournament, where goal scoring opportunities will be few and far between and games will swing on just one or two key moments. Across the two games so far they have had 29 attempts on goal with just 11 (37%) on target. Two notable examples include Memphis Depay of all people providing an early contender for miss of the tournament with an open goal at his mercy against Austria, whilst Denzel Dumfries headed a glorious chance wide against Ukraine when it seemed easier to score. As the tournament progresses games will only get tighter and more tense, meaning the composure that has so far been lacking will be needed.
A flying Dumfries
Could Denzel Dumfries end up being the unlikely hero for the Oranje at this tournament? Few would have penned the PSV Eindhoven full-back as a key player for Frank de Boer but he has been their standout performer, receiving the UEFA Star of the Match for both of their matches. Two goals in two games for a wing-back is extremely impressive and he is the first Dutchman to do so at a European Championship since Ruud van Nistelrooy.
Yet it has been his all-round game in these two fixtures that has really stood out. The fact he was the one free at the back post for Donyell Malen to square the ball to make it 2-0 late in the game reflected his supreme athleticism and fitness. In a similar way to Italy’s flying left back Leonardo Spinazzola, Dumfries is turning into one of his side’s main attacking outlets. He stretches the play, makes important runs in behind and has shown more than once his excellent crossing ability. What’s more he hasn’t been exposed defensively, effectively executing his duties at the back. Having the right personnel at wingback can be the difference between a back three working well or being a disaster. Fortunately for De Boer he has an ideal player for the role in Dumfries.
Made for Malen?
To date we have rarely seen teams making the most of the five substitutes they have available but the Netherlands manager Frank de Boer has used his full allotment in both matches so far. One would therefore expect him to make several changes against North Macedonia, with top place in the group secured. A change that must surely happen is a first start for Donyell Malen, who has come off the bench twice and is a player we stated pre-tournament was one to watch out for.
His pace in behind was clear against Austria, leading to him selflessly turning down a goal when clear to pass to Dumfries. We spoke after the Ukraine game of the effectiveness of Wout Weghorst playing alongside Depay, but he struggled in this match and de Boer surely needs to trial an alternative attacking option. With Malen as the centre forward, or alongside Depay, the Dutch can move the ball quicker in tight-spaces and look to stretch defences in a way that isn’t as easy with Weghorst. If the PSV striker who scored 19 league goals last season puts in a strong performance then de Boer will be under real pressure to start him in the second-round, rather than simply introducing him as an impact player off the bench.
High and wide centre-backs
In the lead up to the Depay penalty, something bizarre happened – the gangly and not exactly pacey centre-half Stefan de Vrij went on a charging run with the ball down the right wing and into the Austrian penalty area. And whilst this was a little extreme, when the Netherlands had possession you would often see him and Daley Blind pushing high and wide from their respective starting positions on the right and left of the defensive back three. This had the added effect of offering cover to the two wing-backs in case they were suddenly caught out of position.
It was an interesting and unexpected tactic from de Boer and emphasised just how integral Matthijs de Ligt is to the team. Not just in terms of his quality in the tackle, in the air and on the ball, but his positional play and speed in covering the wide areas to each of his sides when Blind and de Vrij push on. Having such an assured figure in the middle of the back three is invaluable. This might be a risky play against the top teams but if the Oranje are chasing a game it is a good option to have in their tactical arsenal. Watch out for it in the game against North Macedonia.