Group A at World Cup 2022 is one of those which could provide a whole lot of drama, or none at all. Senegal losing Sadio Mane to injury is a major blow and this should, on paper anyway, all but confirm that the top spot belongs to the Dutch. A round of 16 spot is their’s to lose.
Netherlands World Cup Preview
Netherlands Key Player
Major tournament success is built on a solid foundation more often than not. Louis van Gaal has some strong offensive-minded players at his disposal, but it seems hard to look past Virgil Van Dijk as the Dutch catalyst. A successful Netherlands World Cup campaign will surely hinge on the performances from the towering centre-half.
Liverpool’s peak performances in the Jurgen Klopp era have gone hand-in-hand with Van Dijk’s excellence. Conversely, when he has been out of the team or underperforming, the Reds have suffered as a result.
Virgil van Dijk is attending his FIRST World Cup for the Netherlands 👏 pic.twitter.com/hSoNV7MSC2
— ESPN FC (@ESPNFC) November 11, 2022
Van Dijk for Liverpool is a natural leader and this role that he takes on carries over into the famous orange jersey. Daley Blind is another player who embodies that idea of having a manager figure on the pitch, but the Liverpool man simply oozes class beyond that. The prospect of Senegal, Ecuador and Qatar attempting to attack this Dutch defence with Van Dijk at the heart of it is worrying.
In their most recent two Nations League games, in which they clashed with Belgium and Poland, they kept clean sheets in both. Van Gaal chose to go with Denzel Dumfries of Inter Milan and Blind as wingbacks in a five. Van Dijk was in the middle of the three centre-backs with Nathan Ake on the left and Jurrien Timber on the right.
Whereas Blind is in the twilight years of his career and has never particularly been blessed with pace, Dumfries is always a threat going forward. The latter showcased this last summer at the European Championships, scoring in two of the three group games. This allows the Netherlands the chance to throw Dumfries forward in transition, seeing a switch to a four with Timber well-versed as a fullback and Ake of course used to play in a back-four.
How much can be read into the players appearing further up the field from these games remains to be seen. Vincent Janssen and Steven Bergwijn, two former Tottenham Hotspur players, led the line. Surely to be ahead of them in the pecking order are Memphis Depay, Cody Gakpo and maybe even Noa Lang. There is a fair amount of choice for Van Gaal going forward but none of it is truly elite.
Netherlands Unexpected Star
Xavi Simons and Gakpo are two young players with the talent and exposure capable of making a huge difference this winter. One player who has gone somewhat under the radar though is Kenneth Taylor. It is hardly a surprise to see a Netherlands World Cup squad littered with Ajax players, and one of those is Taylor.
The man in question is a 20-year-old midfielder who has made his first-team breakthrough for both club and country this year. When Ryan Gravenberch made the move from the Dutch giants to Bayern Munich, Taylor was tasked with filling the void. Gravenberch still holds a very bright future, but he has made all ten of his Bundesliga appearances this term as substitutes, accumulating a measly 175 minutes.
Special debut for Holland tonight. Kenneth Taylor, on his first match with the national team — top talent who’s doing great with Ajax. ⭐️🇳🇱 #Holland
Many top clubs are monitoring him since long time but he’s now a key player for Ajax, also ready to shine with Holland. pic.twitter.com/gMHy5b8soc
— Fabrizio Romano (@FabrizioRomano) September 22, 2022
Taylor’s rise from Gravenberch’s understudy to superseding him in the Les Oranjes pecking order is quite astonishing. His compatriots in the midfield are few and far between so him getting on the pitch isn’t out of the question whatsoever. Former Ajax man and current Barcelona outcast Frenkie De Jong is the main man whilst Atalanta duo Marten de Roon and Teun Koopmeiners are worth a watch too.
Netherlands World Cup Predictions
The Netherlands World Cup campaign could quite easily go the same way as a number of countries on their level. Belgium and Spain come to mind as those who make it through the group with relative ease but show very little from there on in. Van Gaal’s men have to top the group and then this would result in a potential round of 16 clash with Wales. That could either way but giving them the benefit of the doubt of a win, they would then surely be played off the park by Lionel Messi and co.