THE Netherlands do not need reminding they have never won the World Cup but recent history suggests they are more focused on just being there.
Louis van Gaal is the man in the dugout once again and this is a squad blessed with young exciting talent alongside wise experienced heads.
Let’s have a look at how they will play.
Predicted starting XI
Van Gaal has implemented a mobile, dynamic 3-4-1-2 system which gets the best out of the squad.
In goal, we expect Remko Pasveer to start – he’s good on the ball which Louis loves.
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In the 10, expect to see the much-talked-about Cody Gakpo.
Surprisingly, Matthijs de Ligt isn’t expected to be a starter in the back three.
Jurien Timber is crucial to this system and we will explain why.
Old head Daley Blind will be on the left and we expect the magnificently named Denzel Dumfries on the right.
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Frenkie de Jong in the middle, of course with Man United wondering what might have been, no doubt.
We believe the mobile duo of Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn could well be the first-choice strike pairing.
Their high press and back three allows the Dutch to employ the power of their rotations, particularly from centre-back and the much-wanted Ajax defender Timber is actually key to their game.
Timber does this a lot for Ajax, so is perfectly comfortable moving into different areas on the pitch.
Below we can see a sequence that explains Timber’s role perfectly.
Jurien Timber moves inside to provide more passing options
He starts as a right back, comes inside to form a double-pivot with de Roon and then moves wide to create another passing option – and the Dutch are able to move up the field.
Opponents don’t know whether to go and press or to defend the space and this often allows the Dutch defenders to carry the ball higher up the field – it is often Nathan Ake who does this.
Man City star Nathan Ake carries the ball high up the pitch
Van Gaal likes his goalkeeper to play – no shock there.
It’s his ability on the ball that has Pasveer in control of the No1 shirt.
We will see rotations in every part of the pitch .
You’ll see the relationship between Steven Berghuis and Cody Gakpo used a lot, moving into different areas of the pitch, swapping positions and appearing where you least expect them to create confusion.
Here we can see Gakpo moving into the space De Jong has created.
The Barca midfielder has dropped even deeper to create space for them to get out from the press.
Gakpo drops into the space De Jong has created
In the middle of the park, Van Gaal wants the team to be fast and direct.
One move we will see is Bergwijn dropping into get the ball off the backline, turning and looking for Gakpo or Berghuis quickly.
Another midfield rotation they use is Blind coming narrow from full-back, creating another number in the midfield.
Here we see a classic Dutch move – Bergwijn comes short to receive, but he can’t turn and run.
Bergwijn comes short, and creates space for Vincent Janssen
So he plays it to Ake who is able to pick out Vincent Janssen’s third man run into the space created by Bergwijn.
One issue Van Gaal’s side have is turning dominance into goals.
They try and create chances with through-balls into their mobile strikers who like to come in from wider starting positions.
The full backs also help, either pinning defenders to create space for others or arriving into space that has opened up – and we can see examples of this in the pictures below.
Nathan Ake becomes an attacking threat in this system
Ake is free to roam forward, which gives Janssen the option of running in behind as his markers have to make a decision on whether to stop Ake or not.
Below, we see Berghuis hit an outswinger to Blind on the far side – he is able to attack the space behind the defender and score.
Bergwijn is a goal threat as he is picked out by Blind
In recent games, Jurrien Timber has been key to how the Netherlands defend – he goes where the trouble might be knowing he is well covered behind him.
He has interesting defensive freedom – he can go and press or defend space depending on the situation.
Jurien Timber has licence to press or defend space
They want to press high with two attackers marking the central defenders and the wing backs going very high to stop the full backs getting out.
Gakpo tends to shadow the opposition 6 and then sprints forward to close down the keeper.
The Dutch do have a weakness though.
When they are in a lower block, Daley Blind has a habit of getting too close to a winger who is often faster than him – and they can get round the side and into the box.
Ake can also be guilty of this but has pace to get him out of trouble (and Van Dijk on the cover, of course).
In the attacking transition, Van Gaal likes to see the man who won the ball travel with it into the final third before picking out a pass.
They have many players capable of driving runs and then you will see quick combinations as they try to create a shooting chance.
In defensive transition, like many the Dutch high-press and want to win the ball back as high as possible.
If they don’t achieve that, they are happy to sit in a block and make themselves hard to play through – which helps when you remember who they have at the back.
The Dutch are built on a formidable defence on paper – three from Virgil van Dijk, Nathan Ake, Jurrien Timber and Matthijs de Ligt will start in the middle with options like United’s Malacia, Denzel Dumfries and Daley Blind playing on the sides of them.
It’s no great surprise that Van Gaal has quality in midfield. Marten de Roon, Frenkie de Jong, Kenneth Taylor, Davy Klaasen, Steven Berghuis or Ryan Gravenberch – it’s like a European elite club shopping list and this make the Dutch dangerous in the middle of the park.
The Dutch forward line has a nice combination of pace and power. Depay and Bergwijn are slippery dribblers and dangerous finishers and then you have the contrast of Wout Weghorst, (who is good Burnley fans, he really is) or Vincent Janssen (not even going to attempt to talk the Spurs fans around).
Plus, they have a player everybody wants right now – PSV’s Cody Gakpo.
Going into his first major tournament with the Dutch, Virgil van Dijk has the platform to show the world he is still the best defender out there.
He is involved in every phase of the game for Van Gaal’s side – long passes from the back, short passes breaking the lines, leadership and command of their compact defensive line and, of course, he’s alright in the air at set-pieces too.
The Netherlands have been runners-up at three World Cups, coming close to being crowned world champions but missing out on each occasion, in 1974, 1978 and 2010.
After finishing third in Brazil in 2014, they did not qualify for the last tournament in Russia.
How they qualified
The qualification campaign began bleakly with a 4-2 loss in Turkey but Louis van Gaal returned as coach in August last year to turn it around.
It all came down to their last game at home against Norway which they won 2-0.
The Netherlands are unbeaten under veteran coach Van Gaal, with 11 victories in 15 matches with four draws, scoring 41 goals in the process.
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They finished top of their World Cup qualifying group and then also their Nations League group.
Given that a lot of the other European powerhouses are not firing on all cylinders, the Dutch are definitely in the conversation of potential winners.
Could it be a glorious farewell for Van Gaal? We think that he could well take the Netherlands to at least the last four.
For even more detailed analysis of all 32 teams in the FIFA World Cup 2022, download your copy of the November Total Football Analysis magazine here