Oranje to bridge the gap?
Germany, still smarting from their torrid World Cup showing, make the short trip to the Amsterdam Arena seeking a win to kick-start their UEFA Nations League campaign. This may not be easy though against a Netherlands team steadily improving under Ronald Koeman.
Having been a familiar face in major competitions for some time, The Oranje watched the World Cup from afar this summer, just as they did the Euros two years earlier. The demise of a footballing nation famous for churning out a number of the most graceful players to ever play the game – Cruyff, van Basten, Bergkamp, to name just a few - has been there for all to see for some time now.
Yet, while the Netherlands aren’t producing anywhere near the same level of player they once used to, there’s a feeling that manager Ronald Koeman - not a bad player once himself while we’re at it – is slowly building the Netherlands into a competitive force once again.
Before being beaten late on by World Champions France in Paris in their Nations League opener last month, Koeman had overseen a spell of four games unbeaten having identified a 4-3-3 formation best suited to the players at his disposal.
Pivotal to making this system work is the strong spine of Virgil van Dijk, Georgi Wijnaldum and Memphis Depay, the latter almost unrecognizable to the player who flopped quite emphatically at Man United. The 24 year-old appears to be back to the form which alerted many of the big European sides to his talent in the first place; 19 club goals last season and 3 in the last 5 for country, proof of a player now coming into his own.
No such problems in terms of qualifying for Germany and Joachim Löw but finishing bottom of a World Cup group they should have wiped the floor with AND in the manner they did, has left both the players and manager with plenty to prove.
From looking at the squad though, perhaps it’s no surprise Die Mannschaft are in the position they are. The calibre of player once available to Löw isn’t what it was once was and it’s a squad which smacks of transition, trying to blood promising youngsters whilst still having to use the experience of senior players, some of which have seen their best days come and go at this level.
Holding the World Champions to a draw in most high profile game of the first round of matches was by no means a bad result and was probably expected. However, the pressure will be on for Germany to take all three points against the Netherlands and gain their first win in this competition, not least to rule out the risk of relegation and a second humiliation in under six months.
In trying to respond to the debacle that was World Cup 2018 for Germany, Löw will begin to discover the players who he can rely on going forwards into next European Championships. But there may be a few more hiccups before then and despite how the bookies have them priced, this match has all the makings for another slip-up.
With both sides looking to prove themselves, as well as needing the points, I’m expecting a highly competitive match and plenty of attacking intent.