The key to being successful in ‘The Beautiful Game’ is defense; as the old saying goes “Offense wins games, Defense wins championships”. For ‘Oranje’, the latter seems to always take a back seat, but with defensive clubs such as Chelsea and Juventus having remarkable success, maybe it is time for the Netherlands to change their perspective. With talented young defenders moving up through the ranks of their respective clubs, there could be a new horizon for the Netherlands. So here is a look at a few promising defenders that could take Holland from contender to champions. Thomas Tittley writes…
VIRGIL VAN DIJK
The 23-year-old defender for Celtic has flourished in the Scottish Premiership and is now ready to move on, as he has been linked to both Everton and Southampton. Van Dijk has dominated the Scottish league and while some sceptics will claim it is a rather weak league, he has proven his talents by playing exceptionally well in Europe. Van Dijk is a tall 6-foot-3 (1.93m), and is a bull on defense, using his size and strength and athleticism to overpower attacking players. Capable of muscling strong center forwards off the ball, while having the pace to keep up with quick and shifty wingers, Van Dijk averaged 0.7 tackles a game in Europe. Virgil has also shown his aptitude tactically as well, averaging an outstanding 3.4 interceptions a game in. To put that into perspective, Chelsea, one of the top defensive teams in England, averaged a total of 9.8 per game. Hopefully for Van Dijk, and Dutch fans, he will soon get his first international cap and be a part of a winning culture.
STEFAN DE VRIJ
The young central defender from Lazio has been a part of the Netherlands senior squad for a number of years now as the 23-year-old has already made 27 appearances, even wearing the captain’s armband during Holland’s friendly against Spain on March 31st after Sneijder left the pitch. He impressed during the bronze medal World Cup run as he appeared in every match that Holland played, even scoring the third goal of the 5-1 thrashing that the Netherlands handed Spain in the first game. This is proof that De Vrij is highly respected within the dressing room and by the coaching staff. Fortunately, it is not only his leadership and poise that are his desired attributes, his skill on the football pitch is evident. Like Van Dijk he is also rarely caught out of position, averaging 3.6 interceptions a game and 6.1 clearances a game, comparing that to the legendary Sergio Ramos, who only averaged 2.4 interceptions and 3.9 clearances, De Vrij’s numbers are extraordinary. If Holland are to succeed, De Vrij will have to continue to show his skills on the pitch and in the dressing room.
If you could create a left-back in a simulator, it would be Jetro Willems, a player with dynamic pace able to bomb forward and harass defences, while still able to track back and help his own back line. It is that dynamic pace that leaves managers around the world salivating over his potential. Not only does the young man possess vast amounts of pace, but the ability to pick a pass. The electrifying winger linked up well with now former teammate Memphis Depay to create a devastating left wing attack, and when able to get by a defender, possesses great quality in his left foot and whip in crosses to devastating effect. Willems accumulated a staggering thirtheen assists this season in the Eredivisie, second most behind only Hakim Ziyech. To put that into perspective, the closest defender to that assist total was Bart van Hintum with 7, which put him tied for 14th in the league. But with his partner Depay gone, there is much speculation that Willems could also be headed out of the Eredivisie. Young Willems surprisingly made the 2012 Euro cup squad and even played in a handful of games, although nothing extraordinary. He has improved drastically since then, particularly attacking-wise, and will look to be the long-term left back for the Oranje in the future.
Janmaat was a Dutchman who had a bit of a coming out party during the 2014-2015 season with Newcastle United. The 25-year-old right back moved from Feyenoord last season and struggled early on trying to adapt to the pace and physicality of the Premier League, but he eventually settled in and became one of Newcastle’s only consistent players. A very attacking right-back, Janmaat is strong in the tackle and has a sharp eye for making key passes that dissect opposing defences. Daryl totalled six assists this season, impressive for a right-back, particularly one that had an incredibly stagnant offense like Newcastle. Something Janmaat specializes in is the long pass, making 2.1 long passes a game, crucial for a team trying to attack when transitioning from defence to offense. This type of pass is particularly effective when wingers who possess immense amounts of pace are on the receiving end of the pass. With players who possess this type of speed such as Arjen Robben, Memphis Depay, Quincy Promes, Eljero Elia and Jeremain Lens available, the long pass could be the difference between winning and losing. Fortunately, Janmaat also takes care of his defensive responsibilities, tallying 2.8 tackles a game, tied for 20th in the entire Premier League, remarkable for a player more known for his ability to dribble at defenders and attacking flare. Janmaat could be the key that unlocks the treasure chest of trophies available for the Netherlands in the years to come.
These young men will have to continue to develop and improve if Holland wish to become truly elite and finally win that ever elusive World Cup.
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