NORTHERN IRELAND face a tough task against the Netherlands in their latest Euro 2020 qualifying contest. Jack Lambden (@_JackL_) sets the scene.
Northern Ireland v Netherlands | Saturday 16th November 2019, 19:45 | Sky Sports
Michael O’Neill will take charge of Northern Ireland for what is likely to be the final time at Windsor Park on an emotional occasion for the new Stoke manager.
The job that the man from Portadown has done since taking charge of the national team is nothing short of remarkable.
Taking Northern Ireland to Euro 2016 (the first tournament qualification for 30 years), a competition which captured the imagination of so many of the so-called ‘smaller’ nations, ranked as the best achievement of O’Neill’s career as both a player and manager and even led to him being awarded an MBE in 2017.
The Irish are compact and very tough to beat, a real favourite amongst those that back against goals with there being more than three goals in only two of their last 18 competitive games, one of which came in the 3-1 reverse to Ronald Koeman’s men.
Matching up with Holland’s 4-3-3 in that match was brave, although with the Irish pinned back into their own defensive third for much of the game that shape turned into a 4-5-1 with Kyle Lafferty and then goalscorer Josh Magennis acting as lone front men.
The Dutch have propelled themselves from failing to qualify for successive tournaments through, unable to deal with a quality gap left by much of the golden generation retiring to being tipped as potential winners of the Euro 2020 final at Wembley.
The squad has a superb mix of experience heads such as Virgil Van Dijk, Gini Wijnaldum and Daley Blind who have tasted success at the top of the game and some of the world’s best young talents – the pick of the bunch being Frenkie De Jong who’s move to Barcelona in July seems the perfect fit for his style of play.
In-form forward to hurt Irish
Going forward, Quincy Promes has started to find some consistent form and Memphis Depay is finding the net again after his Lyon team’s slump in September/October which is good news for both their clubs and the national team ahead of the next round of qualifiers.
Depay bagged twice in the 3-1 win in the reverse fixture and with five goals in his four games since that match, it’s hard to look past him finding the net again at Windsor Park.
With 19 goals in his Holland career, Depay is now the top scorer in the Dutch squad and he has the type of temperament which thrives when responsibility rests on his shoulders, maturing significantly since his move to France to the point he is now main man for both club and country in the role of central striker.
Depay is 6/5 best priced with Bet365 to score anytime which is a play I am going with. Although he missed Lyon’s match away at Marseille through injury, he has been named in the Dutch squad and is likely to feature given the importance of this fixture and the national team’s reliance on his form.
To give some insurance however, Bet365 gives you the option to tick a ‘void if player does not start’ box on the betslip before placing money on this selection which would be a wise move just in case Depay does not make the cut.
Keeping things tight early
One problem for Holland has been conceding first in games which has occurred in seven of their last eight fixtures. Given that I don’t think Northern Ireland will pose much attacking threat though and will want to keep things tight in the opening stages, a better angle of attack than backing Norn Iron to score first looks to be for the First Goal Of The Hame to be scored from 29th minute-full time at 6/5 with Marathon.
Ronald Koeman’s sides are often slow starters, something I recollect clearly from when he managed the side I follow, Southampton. We would often perform much better in the second half of games which is underlined by the statistics for Koeman’s three seasons in English football with the Saints and then Everton – his sides scoring 102 goals in the second half compared to 73 in the first.
I think the Dutch are purely focused on getting the win at this stage of qualification rather than blowing away teams ranked lower than them with Koeman’s preferred counter-attacking brand of football, which fits well with the current squad containing an abundance of pace in attack, more suited to playing top sides like the Germanies and Frances of this world.
I can only see them improving though with each passing game and with a win here sealing qualification, I think they will be party poopers for O’Neill’s goodbye in a relatively routine win.