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When you consider the greater scope of European soccer history, the Netherlands have been one of the more influential national teams around. In recent years, though, the Oranje have fallen down the pecking order. After missing both the 2016 Euros and 2020 World Cup, the Dutch returned to the top stage during the Euro 2020, only to crash out of the tournament in the Round of 16. The trip to Qatar, however, could be a chance to set things right.

With that goal in mind, let’s look over Louis van Gaal’s squad and see what he’ll be working with. Can the Oranje rejoin the European elite?

The Netherlands’ 2022 World Cup squad

As with every nation’s roster, the Dutch squad is largely what we expected, with a few interesting choices. The group going to Qatar breaks down as follows:

Goalkeepers: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Andries Noppert (Heerenveen), Remko Pasveer (Ajax)

Defenders: Nathan Ake (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Inter), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Matthijs de Ligt (Bayern Munich), Tyrell Malacia (Manchester United), Jurrien Timber (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Inter Milan)

Midfielders: Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Xavi Simons (PSV Eindhoven), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax)

Forwards: Steven Bergwijn (Ajax), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Vincent Janssen (Antwerp), Luuk de Jong (PSV), Noah Lang (Club Brugge), Wout Weghorst (Besiktas)

Now, let’s consider how those pieces fit together into a squad and, in turn, the starting 11.

The Netherlands head to the World Cup without a clear first-choice goaltender

While it’s easy to overlook a goaltender, having a strong shot-stopper in net can make all the difference during a tournament. The Dutch, at least on paper, might be lacking in that department.

Van Gaal made the call to leave Jasper Cillessen and Mark Flekken at home, which seems to open up a race for the top job. The manager also threw further fuel on the fire by suggesting that Andries Noppert is the only goaltender who’s currently in good form.

At this point, I’d probably give Justin Bijlow the slight edge — Remko Pasveer doesn’t exactly inspire confidence, and Noppert is new to the Netherlands senior set-up — but there’s no clear leader in the clubhouse. That could work out, assuming one goalie steps up and seizes the job, or it could look foolish if the defense crumbles in Qatar.

Virgil van Dijk headlines a sturdy Dutch defense

While I was tempted to make a reference to the Dutch being experts at erecting walls, dams, and other barriers to keep the forces of nature at bay and connecting that to a strong defense, I’ll skip that and just say that there are some talented players in the back line.

With van Gaal at the helm, the Oranje have preferred to play with three center-backs. Virgil van Dijk, even with somewhat of a wobble at Liverpool, will certainly figure into that trio. Nathan Ake will probably earn a starting spot due to his versatility and comfort on the ball, and the third spot could belong to Matthijs de Ligt, Jurrien Timber, and Stefan de Vrij.

I’ll also count wing-backs as defenders here, even though they’ll nominally be part of the midfield 5, at least as far as the formal formation definitions go. Expect Denzel Dumfries on the right and Daley Blind on the left. Jeremie Frimpong and Tyrell Malacia have done well and earned a place in the squad, but I suspect that the World Cup will be too much, too soon for them.

The Netherlands’ midfield begins and ends with Frenkie de Jong

Due to formations, nailing down a midfield is a bit tricky. So, for the purposes of this breakdown, I’m only looking at the holding two players, with the most advanced midfielder being lumped in with the attack.

The main man in the center of the park will be Frenkie de Jong. While he can sometimes be a bit too much of a jack of all trades and suffer (at least at Barca) from bouncing between different midfield roles, he does possess the ability to do just about anything. With the national team, he’ll probably be playing as more of a deep-lying playmaker, helping progress the ball from back to front. Ideally, that would mean he’s paired with a more-defensive partner. If the Nations League campaign is any indication, it could be Teun Koopmeiners joining de Jong in the starting 11.

It’s unlikely that both Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons both start, but both exciting youngsters are part of a dangerous Dutch attack

At the risk of invoking a soccer stereotype, Dutch teams excel at developing young talent before selling them to Europe’s bigger leagues. Two of the nation’s most exciting prospects — Cody Gakpo and Xavi Simons — will potentially get the chance to shine at the World Cup.

Gapko is the more likely of the two to make a legitimate impact. While he can play as a left-winger or a striker, van Gaal has been using him as something of an attacking midfielder behind a front two. That might seem like an unusual choice, but it allows the 23-year-old to get on the ball, use his size and skill, and almost play as a second striker (just ignore the fact that there are already two strikers on the pitch).

Xavi Simons is younger and has never played for the senior Dutch squad, meaning he probably won’t receive that much playing time. Should he see the pitch, though, he’s certainly one to watch. I’d even consider playing him as the most withdrawn of the front three, with Gakpo moving up to the striker spot, but that’s probably too big of a gamble during a World Cup.

Through that lens, expect to see Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn start up front. They’re both smaller, quicker forwards, but the Oranje do have some target men — Luuk de Jong and Wout Weghorst — on the bench if needed.

What will the Netherlands’ lineup look like in Qatar?

A graphic showing a potential Netherlands lineup for the 2022 World Cup.
Is this lineup strong enough to get the Netherlands over the hump?

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While there is always room for some last-minute tweaks, I’m expecting the Netherlands to start the World Cup with something akin to the above lineup. Beyond that, though, I do have some general takes:

  • As I’ve already noted, the Oranje could have a real weakness in goal. While there’s certainly room for one player to get hot and steal the show, it’s certainly a gamble to leave some of the nation’s bigger names at home.
  • If you include the midfield and wing-backs as part of an overall defensive unit, the Netherlands should be pretty solid at the back. That should help, especially in the context of Group A. I wouldn’t expect Qatar and Ecuador to cause the Dutch backline too many issues. That same could be said of Senegal, provided that Sadio Mane can’t play.
  • I’m a bit less sold on the attack, though. Cody Gakpo is an exciting talent, but I don’t think he’s the finished article just yet. Memphis Depay and Steven Bergwijn have been around the block, but neither of them would be my first choice to convert a single chance with the game on the line. I do wonder, though, if Louis van Gaal makes an in-tournament switch and inserts one of his larger strikers into the lineup to play off of Memphis.

With all of that being said, though, we’ll just have to see what happens. The Dutch have some exciting players, but they’ll also land in Qatar with some clear question marks hanging over their collective heads. They should make it out of Group A without many issues, but the knockout rounds will be the true measure of success.