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Netherlands vs England pre-match: Key semi-final tactical battles

Our team reporters look at where the second UEFA EURO 2024 semi-final could be decided.

Nathan Aké, Bukayo Saka, Denzel Dumfries and Kobbie Mainoo
Nathan Aké, Bukayo Saka, Denzel Dumfries and Kobbie Mainoo

There appears to be little to choose between the Netherlands and England heading into the second semi-final of UEFA EURO 2024.

EURO2024.com's Netherlands reporter Derek Brookman and Joe Terry, our man in the England camp, put their heads together to identify the key battlegrounds that could go a long way to deciding who advances to Berlin.

Latest: Netherlands vs England

Shackling Saka

Bukayo Saka has been England's most dangerous outlet in Germany, with defenders struggling to read his bursts of pace. The Arsenal man will often slow right down to walking pace with the ball at his feet, tempting the defender to jump in, before darting out of reach to the byline for a cutback or to the edge of the box for a shot on goal. Knowing it's about to happen is one thing; stopping it is another altogether.

How Saka took game to Switzerland

The England winger's direct opponent is likely to be Nathan Aké. The two have frequently gone head-to-head before, in confrontations between Arsenal and Manchester City. Meanwhile, the Aké/Cody Gakpo tandem has been a feature of the Netherlands' matches in Germany, and Ronald Koeman is unlikely to want to break up a winning combination – at both ends.

But there is another option: Tottenham's Micky van de Ven, another who knows Saka from the Premier League. The 23-year-old's speed is the stuff of legend and he made some excellent defensive blocks after coming on against Türkiye.

Danger down the Dutch right

Full-back, winger, assist provider, goalscorer – Denzel Dumfries is the archetypal everyman on the Dutch right flank. The Oranje's shape in the round of 16 victory over Romania was tailored to his strengths. Steven Bergwijn, nominally stationed on the right wing, often drifted inside, which cleared the way for Dumfries to bomb forward, which he did repeatedly.

Without a left-footed player on that side, England's left wing has been stymied in an attacking sense, yet defensively Kieran Trippier has been solid. His positioning and work rate mean he's rarely caught out. Luke Shaw's potential return may restore balance going forward, albeit his lack of match practice could be tested by Dumfries' all-action style.

EURO ’96: England 4-1 Netherlands

System breakdown

If, as widely anticipated, Gareth Southgate sticks with the formation he used against Switzerland, then we are in for a fascinating tactical battle in Dortmund. Koeman is an avid disciple of Cruyff's 4-3-3. However, England's three-man rearguard with wing-backs can be kryptonite for that system, as witnessed in the 2021 UEFA Champions League final between Manchester City and Chelsea.

Such a set-up places immense responsibility on the wing-backs – expected to be Saka and either Trippier or Shaw – as they must provide numerical superiority in both attack and defence. If they're caught too high up the pitch, then Declan Rice and Kobbie Mainoo could be left exposed in midfield, especially if the Dutch have engineered a numerical advantage in that area by pulling a winger deeper infield.

Whoever gets the numbers right in these vital areas could well find themselves in Berlin for Sunday's final.

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