Despite finishing third at last summer’s World Cup in Brazil, the Netherlands finds themselves in serious problems in their pursuit of a place at 2016 European Championship next summer in France. The Dutch are currently six points behind second place Czech Republic and eight behind leaders Iceland with just three games remaining. Failure to make it to France next summer will be a devastating blow to Dutch football as the next generation is about to embark on their quest to maintain the legacy of this wonderful football nation on the international stage.
Under former manager Louis van Gaal, the Oranje played their typical scintillating attacking football with great pace, imagination and penetration. However, their honeymoon came to an end with the injury to Roma midfielder Kevin Strootman. Described by van Gaal as a dominant midfielder who provides great stability in his team, the former PSV man was the lynchpin in the heart of midfield that set the platform for the attacking players to express themselves freely.
Since his injury in March 2014, van Gaal changed his beloved 4-3-3 formation to 3-5-2 at the World Cup because in his opinion, there was no other player at his disposal to provide the balance needed in the absence of the former Sparta Rotterdam man. It proved to be a stroke of genius from the current Manchester United manager as he managed to fire his Dutch team to a third place finish in Brazil last summer. However his success in Brazil was criticized by Dutch legend Johan Cruyff for playing anti total football. Van Gaal was slammed for just focusing on getting results instead of staying true to the Dutch philosophy of playing beautiful attacking style.
The cracks may have been covered by the former Bayern Munich boss but his decision to change the system in Strootman’s absence may now be justified. The Oranje now seems very weak in the middle of the park and always gets overrun in midfield. They’re lacking steel and power as well as the exceptional ball-distribution that is synonymous with total football. There seems to be enough strength at the back and going forward however there is a serious lack of quality in central midfield.
With Strootman in the team, the Netherlands has one of the best midfielders around who has exceptional qualities in his game. His dominant figure has been likened to Man United legend Roy Keane who was also a driving force much like the 6ft midfielder. His athleticism, steely nature as well as the vision to pick a pass is of the highest order. He has the natural ability to close down space as he covers every blade of grass from box-to-box. Strootman is always up for a fight and is never afraid to leave his foot in a tackle because he enjoys the physical aspect of the game.
His presence cannot come soon enough for Danny Blind and the rest of his coaching staff as they aim to create the much needed balance in midfield and through the spine of the team. At this present moment, it is evident that the Oranje is struggling to find their rhythm and also to find a bit of form. It may very well be a long and testing time for the Arjen Robben-led team with a lot to work on for the remaining three games. They could progress to Euro 2016 via the play-off route and if they get there they may be able to call upon the services of their talismanic Roma midfielder.