England travel to the Amsterdam Arena on Friday evening to take on a Netherlands side that know they won’t be part of this summer’s World Cup.
Indeed, both countries enter this fixture with largely different motives; while Gareth Southgate will look to explore his World Cup options and iron out kinks in his master-plan, Ronald Koeman will simply hope he can inspire something to suggest this could be a new, far more positive era for Dutch football.
But which manager is faced with the bigger injury problems, who enters this fixture in the better form and how will each side likely line up? Here’s everything you need to know before the 19.45pm kickoff in Amsterdam…
There’s incredibly little to choose between England and the Netherlands in terms of their head-to-head record, separated by just one win and a mere three goals – likewise, both countries have kept six clean sheets in this fixture and are yet to receive a red card.
However, England’s win total is somewhat deceiving; Oranje have lost just once during their last 13 meetings with the Three Lions, that single exception being the iconic 4-1 romping at Euro 1996, winning five of them.
Currently though, England are ranked five places higher than their Friday hosts by FIFA, and the fact Oranje have failed to qualify for the World Cup is another clear barometer of the gap in quality between the two sides.
England haven’t lost in six games, their last defeat being a 3-2 in a well-contested friendly against France, and have kept an impressive five clean sheets – with Brazil and Germany both held to scoreless draws during the last batch of friendlies, Slovakia’s Stanislav Lobotka is the only player to have netted past the Three Lions during that time. However, the real blow for England is the absence of star striker Harry Kane, the only player to score for Southgate’s side during their last four outings.
Fortunately though, the Netherlands are without their most potent threat during the last six games too; after Oranje’s failure to qualify for the World Cup, Arjen Robben has hung up his boots at international level. Unlike England, the Dutch have lost one of their last six, but that was their only non-win in nine games as they made a late dash for a spot at the tournament in Russia this summer.
But prior form for the Netherlands now feels largely irrelevant. Not involved in the World Cup and welcoming a new manager in Koeman, this Oranje side will have a different feel to it – with five debutants included in the former Everton gaffer’s squad.
Koeman has already confirmed he won’t be fielding his side in a 4-3-3 formation against England, so a 3-5-2 seems the likeliest setup. Plenty of Premier League stars could feature as well; Liverpool’s Virgil van Dijk will wear the captain’s armband and likely take the role at the heart of defence, while Georginio Wijnaldum forms a key part of the midfield – although his failure to form an effective partnership with Kevin Strootman has been a long-term concern of the Dutch for some time.
Former Manchester United winger Memphis Depay, arguably the Netherlands’ biggest offensive threat following the retirements of Wesley Sneijder and Robben, will be a crucial outlet on the break. But perhaps the most pertinent question is what role Koeman has in mind for Justin Kluivert, son of Patrick and one of the hottest prospects in the Eredivisie right now. We’re not tipping the 18-year-old to start but he could be Oranje’s main impact player from the bench.
We know Gareth Southgate wants to use 3-4-3 at some point during the World Cup and Friday’s friendly will likely be seen as his chance to see the formation at something close to full strength, the only exceptions being Harry Kane leading the line and Jack Wilshere in the midfield – the Arsenal star suffered an injury in training but could be back for the Italy game next season.
We’re expecting Alex Oxlade-Chamberlain to take his place in the midfield instead, although that’s by no means guaranteed considering how rarely the versatile powerhouse has played in a two-man engine room throughout his career – although Jordan Henderson, set to be captain tonight, will offer some familiarity alongside him.
In goal, meanwhile, Jordan Pickford appears to have earned the right to audition first for England’s No.1 jersey with a number of media outlets tipping him to start. The other curiosity is the third slot in a back three that Harry Maguire and John Stones seem nailed on for – Eric Dier could get his chance to impress there having predominantly featured in midfield for England.
The real excitement though is in attack; England have some fantastic forwards at their disposal at the moment, and Southgate will need to find a way of making Manchester City’s flying winger Raheem Sterling and Tottenham’s goalscoring prodigy Dele Alli consistently combine.