On Thursday night, the Netherlands and England clash in the second of the Nations League semi-finals. The pair meet for the right to face Portugal in the final of the competition on Sunday. The Portuguese defeated Switzerland 3-1 on Wednesday night in the first semi-final.
One of the keys to the Dutch side’s hopes of beating Gareth Southgate’s side lie with their potentially rock-solid centre-back pairing of Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs De Ligt.
Van Dijk one of the best centre-backs in the world
Both centre-backs have enjoyed fantastic seasons for their club sides. Virgil van Dijk established himself as one of the best centre-backs in the world at Liverpool, as he helped the Reds win the Champions League and finish second in the Premier League table.
The 27-year-old picked up the rather interesting statistic of not having a player dribble past him in any of his 50 appearances for the Reds. The man-mountain is now a key player for both his club and his national team.
Suddenly, the Dutch have a world-class centre-back on which to build the foundations of their team on. It is a long time since the Oranje had a centre-back of Van Dijk quality.
One of the best young centre-backs in the world
Not only do the Netherlands have one of the best centre-backs in the world, but also one of the best young centre-backs in Ajax youngster Matthijs de Ligt. The 19-year-old captained the Dutch team to the Eredivisie title and the semi-final of the Champions League.
De Ligt’s leadership abilities are incredible for such a young player. On the pitch, he appears to be mature beyond his years, which can be a vital quality in a centre-back.
In fact, the youngster’s displays in the Champions League this season have made him hot property. Reportedly the likes of Barcelona, Liverpool and Manchester United are all interested in signing the highly-rated star this summer.
The pairing with Van Dijk looks perfect. In fact, Netherlands head coach Ronald Koeman quite understandably believes he has the best centre-back partnership in the world. Between them, they have all the qualities required for a top-class pairing.
England have a tough task to beat the pair
Despite the Netherlands having such a strong centre-back partnership, England are favourites to beat the Oranje on Thursday night.
It seems unlikely that England boss Gareth Southgate will pick Tottenham’s Harry Kane as the team’s main striker. The forward looked well off the pace in the Champions League final after months on the sidelines through injury. Manchester United star Marcus Rashford is more likely to start as the lone striker.
The key for England to winning this game is likely to be livewire wingers Raheem Sterling and Jadon Sancho. The pair are highly dangerous attacking players and the Dutch full-backs are not of the same quality of their central teammates.
It will be interesting to see how England approach the game, considering the presence of the pair at the heart of the Dutch defence. The pair have certainly not anybody down this season and unlikely to let their national team down this evening.
Is Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt the best centre-back pairing in world football?