Team Watch: What do the Netherlands look like under Frank de Boer?

The former Ajax and Crystal Palace boss replaced Ronald Koeman as head coach of the Oranje in the summer

9:00am on Thursday 12th November 2020
Daryl Gouilard

Since Ronald Koeman left the Netherlands to join Barcelona in the summer, Frank de Boer has been appointed as his successor but things have not gone as well as many would have expected.

While they have secured a total of five points in the Nations League at the time of writing, they haven’t scored more than one goal in any match.

Since De Boer’s style of coaching is more pragmatic, he prefers to have his team focus more on the defensive style of play. While under Koeman, things were different as they were an open-minded team that played attractive football and looked to score goals while keeping things tight at the back.


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This article will explain De Boer’s tactics and how he will approach this international break, while recommending potential young stars that can make an impact during this period.

Holland Squad and Formation

Under De Boer, the Netherlands have played with a 4-2-3-1 formation against similar or lower strength opponents, as it allows the players to be able to control possession more often.

Indeed, as against Bosnia & Herzegovina in the Nations League, they managed to control 70% of ball possession and made more than 700 passes during the match. But, it can also backfire, as when the opposition look to press high up the pitch, which Mexico demonstrated in De Boer’s debut match in charge.

Against stronger opponents, like Italy, it is expected that the former Ajax manager will use a 5-3-2 formation to create a strong low-block and numerical advantage at the back to limit the attacking threat of the opposition. Italy were only able to create eight shots towards the Netherlands’ goal, but six of them were on target, showing that De Boer’s tactics haven't worked yet in the way he wants.

Losing Virgil van Dijk at the back will be a massive low for his side as he is not only a key player at the back for the national team, but also a leader for the side. With Matthijs de Ligt still recovering from his shoulder injury and looking to regain match sharpness, De Boer is left with Inter’s Stefan de Vrij and Ajax’s Daley Blind as two first-choices for the centre-backs position.

Manchester City’s Nathan Ake and Brighton’s Joel Veltman are also capable of playing at the centre of the defence, and they are likely to be considered if De Boer opts to play with a back-five against Spain.

NETH - Football tactics and formations

In goal, Valencia’s Jasper Cillessen and Feyenoord’s Justin Bijlow are also out due to injuries, and Twente’s Joel Drommel was called up to replace them. But with Norwich’s Tim Krul and AZ’s Marco Bizot both available, De Boer won’t be worrying too much about choosing his keeper.

Up front, both PSV’s winger Mohammed Ihattaren and Spurs’ winger Steven Bergwijn will miss out and have all left the camp due to injury and lack of match fitness respectively. Krasnodar’s midfielder Tonny Vilhena also withdrew due to testing positive for coronavirus virus, but De Boer won’t face any struggle when choosing their replacements having called up a decent amount of central midfielders and wingers.


De Boer is a manager who has an extensive knowledge of the concept of ‘totaalvoetbal’ (or ‘total football’), having been a part of the national team and Ajax’s Golden Generation in the 1990s.

In his 4-2-3-1 formation, his players tend to look to make position interchanges in order to create space in between and behind the opposition’s defensive lines to support the progression of the ball. This requires the attackers to be able to locate a good position to be in to receive the ball from the ball carrier and connect with other teammates at the same time.

But against teams who defend in a disciplined low-block, the players tend to struggle to advance the ball since the attackers are unable to position themselves in a place where they can pick up through balls and make runs into the box. As a result, they are forced to rely on crosses from either flank. Whenever Luuk de Jong starts, he will be able to turn up at the end of crosses to convert the chance. But when he does not play, the former Atlanta United manager might have to look at other options, particularly Donyell Malen and Memphis Depay’s pace to exploit the opposition’s defensive line.

Defensively, whether playing in a 4-2-3-1 or in a 5-3-2, the Netherlands will look to overload the wide space by shifting their defensive shape to the ball-sided area. From there, they will look to press the opposition and regain possession as quick as possible using numerical superiority. In the central area, once again, using numerical superiority, they will look to overload the edge of the box and prevent any short link up plays in between the players.

Up front, a press is applied in order to force the ball carrier to make long passes forward, which the Dutch centre-backs are capable of dealing with, or make a back pass to restart the build-up. At times, they do not press aggressively as they prefer to block available passing lanes to encourage the ball carrier to execute the mentioned solutions.

Developing Star: Donyell Malen (PSV)

21 yrs - F (CL) - PSV
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Played matches
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Final third passes P90

While it is hard to argue that AZ prospects such as Owen Wijndal or Teun Koopmeiners are making a huge impact at both their club and the national team, Donyell Malen will be the player that De Boer will look to when he is searching for someone who can make an impact from the bench. With impressive pace and intelligent positioning, he can be used as an advanced forward who sits in between the defenders and look to attack the space behind them.

In a 5-3-2 formation where two strikers are used to lead the line, his appearance will be extremely helpful as it either allows Depay to drop deep to pick up the ball or De Jong to act as the team’s target man. His goalscoring ability has also been proven since the 18/19 season with ten goals in 31 Eredivisie matches.

Last season, he played 25 matches across all competitions and managed to score 17 goals, a decent tally. PSV fans will definitely expect more from him this season, and having scored 8 goals in 13 matches across all competitions, they certainly have the right to demand more from the young prospect.


It has been a struggle under the management of Frank De Boer. While it is true that his record with previous employers are not impressive, his time at Ajax had brought the club four Eredivisie titles and one Dutch Super Cup.

Being in familiar surroundings and his home country will boost his managerial confidence and allow him to guide the national team back to its glory days. While it is still early into his tenure, the fans can expect to see more from De Boer and their latest Golden Generation at the upcoming ‘Euro 2020’ and possibly World Cup 2022.

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