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Mail Sports expert MARTIN KEOWN reveals how England duo Bukayo Saka and Phil Foden can exploit Virgil van Dijk in the Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands

  • England will face the Netherlands in the semi-finals of Euro 2024 on Wednesday

England’s system change from 4-2-3-1 to 3-4-2-1 to emulate Switzerland not only proved effective in the way we controlled our opponents, it also brought our most creative players higher up the pitch than they had in previous matches.

England should 100 percent use the same system against the Netherlands. It was no coincidence that Bukayo Saka played his best game of Euro 2024 against the Swiss, because he took advantage of what was around him.

For Saka, his partnership with Phil Foden can only be a reminder of the partnership he enjoyed with Martin Odegaard at Arsenal.

Saka took up high and wide positions, while Foden, like Odegaard, appeared in the inside pocket. The Dutch will be afraid of the damage this duo can do together.

The Netherlands will have Nathan Ake at left back and Virgil van Dijk at left back. Saka could occupy Ake, while Foden could pose a dilemma for Van Dijk, who will have to decide whether to stay with him or go with him.

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) has a lot to think about tactically ahead of the crucial Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday evening.

England manager Gareth Southgate (left) has a lot to think about tactically ahead of the crucial Euro 2024 semi-final against the Netherlands in Dortmund on Wednesday evening.

England's new formation could give Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk a headache in defence

England’s new formation could give Dutch captain Virgil van Dijk a headache in defence

If Bukayo Saka occupies Nathan Ake, Phil Foden (centre) could pose a dilemma for the Dutch captain

If Bukayo Saka occupies Nathan Ake, Phil Foden (centre) could pose a dilemma for the Dutch captain

VAN DIJK’S DILEMMA

When Saka pushes forward down the right, he forces Nathan Ake to stay put and tackle him, leaving Van Dijk in a dilemma…

Option 1: If Van Dijk decides to stay to keep Kane out of space, Foden has the chance to do damage with the ball as Ake is then occupied by Saka…

Option 2: But if Van Dijk decides to come out of the back four to stop Foden, that could open up space for Kane to intervene. If Foden can find him, he’s through on goal…

Foden will cause Van Dijk a problem if he takes up space in the danger zone

Foden will cause Van Dijk a problem if he takes up space in the danger zone

If Van Dijk pushes through, space will be created at the back for Harry Kane

If Van Dijk pushes through, space will be created at the back for Harry Kane

If Van Dijk stays, Foden will have pockets of space to work with. If Van Dijk is teased into coming out of his defensive line to cover him, then a big space will be created for Harry Kane or even Jude Bellingham to exploit.

The same situation could arise at the other end of the pitch, with Kieran Trippier – or Luke Shaw if he starts – and Bellingham.

England are not the only team to have struggled with creativity early in this tournament, but this 3-4-2-1 system looks set to be the best approach if Southgate and his team are to win this European Championship.

The threat of fixed moments must improve

Southgate and his analysts saw how badly the Netherlands defended the corner they gave to Poland in the group stage, and their players stood there like mannequins.

Although it was a long catch-up game, which prevented England from being knocked out by Slovakia, we can still improve a lot in terms of set-pieces.

No other country has committed more fouls than England in the run-up to this semi-final, with Virgil van Dijk being the worst offender. Now is the time to make those set-pieces count.

Beware of Denzel’s dynamite attacks

The Netherlands start with a 4-2-3-1 formation, but when in possession, Denzel Dumfries will move from right back to right wing, with Steven Bergwijn or Donyell Malen moving inside. It’s a trademark move for the Dutch at this tournament, changing their formation to a 3-2-4-1.

On the left side of the pitch, Cody Gakpo stays high and wide, using his pace and strength to break inside and fire shots on target. Kyle Walker will have to tackle Gakpo, who is gunning for the Golden Boot after scoring three times at these Euros.

The Netherlands will have considered adapting their system to England, as we did against Switzerland. However, I am sure Southgate expects the unexpected and is ready for any last-minute tactical adjustments by Ronald Koeman.

England must watch out for Denzel Dumfries, who explodes from the right for the Dutch

England must watch out for Denzel Dumfries, who explodes from the right for the Dutch

Kane and Bellingham have been fouled more than any other England player

Dumfries took up an advanced position on the right flank against Turkey

Dumfries impressed against Turkey (right), while Van Dijk allowed the most fouls (left)

The Three Lions must improve on set-pieces against the Netherlands in the semi-final

The Three Lions must improve on set-pieces against the Netherlands in the semi-final

Declan Rice has been a crucial part of England's midfield form this tournament

Xavi Simons moved to a more central position against Turkey

The battle between Declan Rice (left) and Xavi Simons (right) in midfield could decide the outcome

Rice must cook in Xavi fight

England will have to keep Xavi Simons in check. He started Euro 2024 on the right flank but was quickly pushed into a central role as a number 10. I am impressed with his decision-making.

Dutch midfield duo Jerdy Schouten and Tijjani Reijnders will provide sharp passes between the lines to Simons, who can coordinate attacks if given the time and space.

Declan Rice will be in constant contact with Simons in this clash and this is a key battle that the England midfielder will need to win if we are to reach the final.

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