Germany meet the Netherlands for the third time in six months on Sunday, with the Dutch enjoying the better of recent games. Virgil van Dijk leads a new generation of exciting talents capable of hurting Germany again.
If Germany's shambolic World Cup was a shock to the system, their relegation from the Nations League, and particularly their 3-0 humbling by traditional rivals the Netherlands, was concrete proof that Joachim Löw's side could no longer consider themselves among the world elite.
Virgil van Dijk's crashing header opened the scoring that October night and he also rescued a late point for his country against Germany in November. The Dutch captain piled more misery on Germans when he powered home another header as Liverpool dumped Bayern Munich out of the Champions League last month.
"He is a fantastic in the air, not just because he is big, but because he gets so much power behind his headers," said Germany boss Joachim Löw of van Dijk (pictured, top). The 27-year-old's attacking threat is a bonus as he's been imperious defensively for some time now. His strength, composure and reading of the game have transformed Jürgen Klopp's side from talented entertainers to genuine contenders and he's having a similar effect on his national team.
As important as van Dijk is to the Oranje, he's far from the only threat Ronald Koeman's side pose as they welcome Germany to Amsterdam again on Sunday.
Memphis Depay stole the spotlight from his skipper as the Netherlands won their first Euro 2020 qualifying campaign with a convincing 4-0 win over Belarus on Thursday. The Lyon forward opened the scoring after 51 seconds before setting up the second and fourth, and scoring the third. "Memphis is very important pillar for us and he showed that," said Koeman after the match.
The 25-year-old has always been a dangrous dribbler but has added awareness and creativity to his game since an ill-fated spell at Manchester United. He also provides a pacy outlet and set piece threat for the Dutch. Depay has now either scored (5) or assisted (2) seven of the 16 Oranje goals under Koeman and appears to be approaching his peak.
His developing relationship with Frenkie de Jong was key to the Netherlands' success on Thursday night and the pair appear to have a level of telepathy that's rare in players that only link up in internationals. De Jong, 21, has agreed to move to Barcelona from Ajax at the end of this season for a fee of about €75 million ($85 million) and has already become a key figure at club and international level.
A classy midfield playmaker, de Jong has made more successful passes in the final third of the pitch than any other player in the Eredivisie this season and is second on the same list for the Champions League. His ambitious distribution is perfect fodder for pacy forwards like Depay and Ryan Babel and, along with Ajax teammate Matthijs de Ligt, he looks set to be a fixture at the top end of European football for some time.
The man who plays just ahead of de Jong for the Dutch has been dining at the top table for a few years now, but often goes unnoticed. Georginio Wijnaldum has become another key component of Klopp's Liverpool machine, and is arguably the Premier League club's best central midfielder.
"He's an outstanding player," said the German coach of his charge earlier this season. “He combines a lot of things that you need. On a one-on-one situation, he can keep the body between the opponent and the ball, then pass the ball."
Wijnaldum often plays a more advanced role for his country than he does for his club and was on the scoresheet on Thursday. He, like most of his Dutch teammates, is familiar to the Germans. They need to ensure that familiarity doesn't breed even more contempt.