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The making of Netherlands’ superstar midfield and why England should be worried

Previously understated, Ronald Koeman's engine room now contains globally recognised stars

Even the most dedicated fans may feel fatigued at the thought of more football.

In the wake of Spurs and Liverpool’s uninspired Champions League final comes the Nations League semi-final between Netherlands and England, with many of the same players involved.

Too comfy

Getty - Contributor
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Too comfy

The ease with which Virgil van Dijk handled a rusty Harry Kane in Madrid will have concerned Gareth Southgate.

With Jadon Sancho, Raheem Sterling, Marcus Rashford, Callum Wilson and Dele Alli for company, the Three Lions skipper has able support in attack.

But the fact remains England are reliant on Kane to score goals — the 25-year-old has scored 22 goals in 37 international games, no other player in the current squad has reached double figures.

24 carat

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24 carat

While breaching Van Dijk (and Matthijs de Ligt) feels like England’s most ominous task, perhaps the Oranje’s midfield is more cause for concern.

Not long ago the names would have been relatively unknown to casual fans: Frenkie de Jong, Donny van de Beek, Georginio Wijnaldum, Marten de Roon.

Ajax’s entertaining Champions League campaign turned several inexperienced prospects into Europe’s most-wanted starlets.

De Jong has already been snapped up by Barcelona.

Van de Beek is the subject £60million transfer rumours.

Having just completed his fourth Premier League season, Wijnaldum was already an established name but still his stock has never been higher.

They’re back

afp or licensors
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They’re back

The inexhaustible midfielder capped off his best season yet with a brace in the Champions League semi-final against Barca as part of a memorable victory that ultimately facilitated the Reds’ sixth European Cup.

A midfield three of De Jong-Wijnaldum-Van de Beek contains more than enough dynamism to trouble England, whose midfield remains the most uncertain aspect of Southgate’s plan.

But Koeman may keep the faith with De Roon, a name familiar to Middlesbrough fans.

Not in Marten’s house

Getty - Contributor
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Not in Marten’s house

The 28-year-old started Netherlands’ home games against France and Germany in the Nations League group games — two victories which sparked talk of the country’s footballing rebirth.

De Roon played the second-most minutes for Atalanta in Serie A as La Dea finished third and qualified for the Champions League.

Koeman can also call upon the cultured Kevin Strootman — at 29 years old the Marseille midfielder is the oldest outfield player in the squad.

A more familiar foe

PA:Press Association
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A more familiar foe

In contrast, England’s midfield options appear depleted.

Eric Dier and Dele Alli are triply hindered by demoralisation, fatigue, and poor form.

Jesse Lingard’s form has been similarly unconvincing in recent months.

Jordan Henderson, Champions League winning captain and England’s most reliable midfielder right now, trained on his own today so as not to further aggravate a niggle.

This leaves Declan Rice, Ross Barkley and Fabian Delph.

Southgate could become only the second English coach to win a major trophy

Reuters
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Southgate could become only the second English coach to win a major trophy

The Nations League semi-final in Guinaraes promises to be a close contest.

Southgate has excelled in terms of motivation and promoting team ethic as England coach.

He will need to utilise these strengths if he is to recreate the self-belief that enhanced the Three Lions at the World Cup.

This will not be easy, with seven members of his squad (four Spurs, three Liverpool) having endured the physical and psychological effects of the Champions League final just five days ago.

A rejuvenated Dutch side will be England’s toughest opponents since they travelled to Spain in October, a match they won.

And while nobody is sure of how much importance should be placed on the Nations League, winning it is undoubtedly better than the alternative.


NEXT: Liverpool’s Champions League XI and their most unexpected/pleasing former team-mates