A year on from their World Cup exploits, England find themselves in another semi-final but they face a very big obstacle in the shape of a rejuvenated Dutch side in the second Nations League semi-final.
Gareth Southgate’s men have, to their credit, kicked on since their run to the World Cup semi-finals, with wins over Croatia and also a fine 3-2 success in Spain. Those performances came with a new formation, as Southgate switched from 3-5-2 to a 4-3-3, getting the most out of the pace in the side and releasing a front three of Raheem Sterling, Harry Kane and Marcus Rashford.
That approach also proved effective in their first two games of Euro 2020 qualifying, when putting five past Czech Republic and Montenegro, with Sterling scoring four times, but they might not be as effective on this occasion. England’s improvement has coincided with the Premier League supplying all four European finalists, but that could leave them less than fresh here.
Seven members of the squad were involved in the Champions League final, which was played in sweltering heat, and it’s entirely possible that if there isn’t a physical hangover there could well be a mental one too for both the winners and losers – indeed Jordan Henderson missed England’s final training session.
The Dutch are also an improving force. They might have missed the last two tournaments but Ronald Koeman has used that chance to find a whole host of new talent and in the last year they’ve beaten both France and Germany on home soil.
Virgil Van Dijk has had a sensational season, playing a huge part in Liverpool’s Champions League success, and his centre-back partnership with Ajax’s Matthijs De Ligt provides an excellent platform for the Dutch. Daley Blind provided much needed experience for Ajax’s run to the Champions League.
In midfield, Barcelona bound Frenkie De Jong, Champions League winner Gini Wijnaldum and Donny van de Beek provide huge amounts of energy and go forward in midfield.
Upfront they might not have as much quality on paper as England do but Memphis Depay has been rejuvenated for Lyon, and has had great success playing as the leading forward for the Dutch, who scored eight goals in four games when qualifying for the Nations League. Depay has eight international goals in 11 games since making the switch from the wing along with 12 goals and 16 assists for Lyon this season. England’s Harry Kane is unlikely to be fit if starting, whilst Marcus Rashford has failed to quite maintain his excellent form from earlier in the season and Southgate will need Sterling to provide an awful lot going forward – not forgetting that Jadon Sancho could come off the bench to provide an x-factor.
Netherlands v England
UEFA Nations League Semi-Final
19:45 Sky Sports Football HD / Sky Sports Main Event HD
HEAD TO HEAD RECORD
(Maximum 10 matches)
MAR 2018 FRIENDLY Holland 0-1 England
MAR 2016 FRIENDLY England 1-2 Holland
FEB 2012 FRIENDLY England 2-3 Holland
AUG 2009 FRIENDLY Holland 2-2 England
NOV 2006 FRIENDLY Holland 1-1 England
FEB 2005 FRIENDLY England 0-0 Holland
These are two teams going the right way, whatever happens, but the Netherlands might be better placed to show their best form here and they can shade what should be an exciting game, with both teams capable of getting on the scoresheet.
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