AKASH ANURAG | 2nd June 2021

After announcing his 34-man provisional squad for the Euros, Frank de Boer has announced his final 26-man squad for the tournament. Veterans like Kevin Strootman, Arjen Robben and Ryan Babel were some of the notable names to have missed out from the Dutch boss’ preliminary squad.

Liverpool defender and skipper Virgil van Dijk had already ruled himself out from consideration on account of the ACL injury he sustained in October which cost him an entire season.

Let’s take a deep dive into what to expect from Oranje as the world watches on.

Solid, if not spectacular in between the sticks

The Dutch have opted for experience in the goalkeeping department. With 37 appearances for Norwich City in the Championship, Tim Krul remains a bankable option, aside from getting swept by the nostalgia of his heroics at the 2014 World Cup.

The seasoned vet has been fundamental to the promotion of the Canaries to the Premier League and presents a safe bet, going into the tournament.

Apart from the former Newcastle shotstopper, Maarten Stekelenburg, who last played for the Netherlands in 2016 has been recalled to the national setup. Jasper Cillessen, who had amassed only 10 appearances this season for Valencia had initially made his way into the squad, but after testing positive for COVID-19, Marco Bizot has replaced him.

Cillessen was de Boer’s No.1 before succumbing to COVID-19

While it’s a shame that the former Barcelona misses out, considering he was set to be the Netherlands’ No.1, in footballing terms, it is a bonus considering Bizot has been a class apart this season.

The 30-year had started 33 out of 34 games for an AZ side which finished 3rd in the Eredivisie. And what’s more impressive is that he has been the saving grace of the joint-worst backline in the top 6 of the Dutch top flight, keeping 10 clean sheets in a side that faces an average of 3.83 shots on target.

The battle for the spot between the sticks should ideally be between Krul and Bizot and going by the entire package, the man who denied Argentina from 22 yards 7 years ago is who you should put your money on.

The defence doesn’t make for good reading

Frank de Boer has confirmed that his preferred formation is 5-3-2 for the Euros. With Matthijs de Ligt being the bedrock of that backline, the Dutch head honcho has also singled out Stefan de Vrij as one of his defensive mainstays, considering he has played in a similar setup at Inter.

But with the best defender on the globe in van Dijk opting out of the tournament, it’s an enormous blow to any damage the Dutch intended to do in the summer.

Other options like Nathan Ake and Jurrien Timber will primarily function as centre- backs while the squad also boasts of the versatility of Daley Blind and Joel Veltman. The latter duo can operate at left-back and right-back respectively, apart from being extremely competent central defenders.

Blind’s selection, in particular gives his gaffer the license to go with his experience in multiple positions- including as a No.6 but there are serious concerns over his playing time in the squad on account of the ankle injury he picked up in March.

However, the exclusion of one name sticks out like a sore thumb- the 21-year old Lille, Ligue 1-winning Sven Botman from even the provisional squad, let alone the 26-man shortlist.

Botman, with 37 league appearances this season for the French champions was the heart of a defence which conceded the least number of goals in and amongst the top 5 leagues (23 goals).

The 21-year old is a cultured centre-half and on the ball, he’s as comfortable on the ball but with 3.4 aerial duel successes per 90, Botman isn’t a soft touch whatsoever.

However, with only an average of 0.8 tackles per game, one must realize that this kid’s decision-making makes him a special talent and he isn’t one to go to ground for no rhyme or reason.

One may argue in favour of Botman’s exclusion, on the grounds that he has not made a single appearance for the national team and it would be a gamble to hand him a cap when the stakes are at their highest but the 19-year old Timber has a solitary appearance for the Dutchmen to his name.

Ake is another one who offers malleability galore but due to his persistent injury woes, he has only made 10 appearances for City and yet again, makes it over Botman which does raise eyebrows.

Central defenders aside, the sensational 21 -year old Owen Wijndal is a dynamite left-back option alongside emerging PSV right-back Denzel Dumfries; options at full-back that are bound to put a smile on the Oranje faithful’s faces.

Patrick van Aanholt is also on the plane for the Euros under de Boer and his bags of experience will prove valuable.

All in all, there’s not a lot to shout about because the deficiencies in defence are as clear as day.

Frenkie de Jong stars for a Dutch midfield that is worth your time

The middle of the park is where the Dutch have struck gold, which consists of some of the most sought-after young midfielders in Europe such as Frenkie de Jong and Ryan Gravenberch.

After Lionel Messi, there isn’t a player at the Catalan club who’s had the season that the former Ajax conductor has had. And speaking of Amsterdam’s finest, you can’t escape the hype around Gravenberch because it’s real.

The crown prince in the Dutch crown

Frank de Boer has a wealth of talent in the centre of midfield, aside from their two aforementioned golden boys such as Donny van de Beek, Teun Koopmeiners, Martin de Roon, Gini Wijnaldum and Davy Klassen.

While some may question the selection of van de Beek as a part of the final squad on the fact that he has appeared very scantly for United this season, his sheer ability and astute off the ball movement is unquestionable.

One can hardly blame him for the limited opportunities he has got under his belt this season and the more his exclusion drags on, the more the assumptions that he wasn’t a Solskjaer signing seems true.

While they have the perfect blend of steel and silk, de Jong is undoubtedly the reason why you tune in to watch the Netherlands.

The potential is undeniable but the attack is far from competing with the elite

The only notable exclusion from the 26-man squad is that of Tottenham winger Steven Bergwijn. Limited appearances and poor form has seen the Spurs wideman not given a ticket with de Boer picking the uncapped Cody Gakpo of PSV selected over him.

A case can be made for Bergwijn’s inclusion ahead of Quincy Promes who has made a mere 11 appearances this season, apart from being in the news for all the wrong reasons.

The inclusions of the likes of Wout Weghorst and Luuk de Jong in the squad is a clear indication that the manager aims at starting with a target man upfront. Weghorst has been in sensational form, scoring 25 times in a total of 41 appearances across all competitions for Wolfsburg this season. 

On the other end of the spectrum, the 30-year old de Jong has scored 9 times in 48 appearances for Sevilla across all competitions. The less said about that, the better.

Donyell Malen presents himself as not only an upgrade on de Jong who quite blatantly is past his best but as one of the most feared young forwards in Europe. With 19 goals and 8 assists in the league this season, the Arsenal youth product has been breaking ankles and nets in the Eredivisie.

All eyes are on Memphis Depay, unsurprisingly. Inarguably the poster boy up top, his renaissance in France has proven that there was so much more to come from the lad who was yet another unconvincing No.7 post-Ronaldo at Manchester United.

Finishing only behind a certain Kylian Mbappe on the top scorer’s list, Depay has the numbers for Lyon to back the expectations.

The question remains- can he ever become a truly elite forward? If de Boer chooses to play with a more mobile front 3, Memphis’ transformation into a No. 9 bodes extremely well. The Euros provides him the perfect stage to prove that apart from the lion on his back, he can carry the Dutch too this summer.

On the right flank, Steven Berghuis has been sublime for Feyenoord. With 32 goal contributions (18 goals and 14 assists) in the league to his name for the Rotterdam-based outfit, the winger is everything we love about left-footed wingers playing on the right.

On the eye, Berghuis is a dream, leaving players for dead with his fearless dribbling and penchant for making full-backs look like amateurs.

All in all, this attack is one to keep an eye out for, even if it doesn’t raise the roof like its competitors’ arsenal going forward can.

To sum things up…

While there are notable exclusions in the defence and the goalkeeping departments, the squad on paper looks to be a compelling mixture of youth and experience. However, in recent times after the highs of the Koeman era, the management of the Dutch under de Boer has come under rightful criticism due to the plummeting results in the recent months.

The talent at hand is largely inspiring but with the absence of Virgil van Dijk and the Netherlands punching below their weight in terms of the calibre of manager, this won’t be the dream tournament you’d want from a nation that has elevated the game for over decades.

But there’s so much potential in this talent pool to make real inroads with time.

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