Virgil van Dijk and Matthijs de Ligt: Jamie Carragher analyses brilliant Netherlands pair

Watch Netherlands vs England from 7pm on Sky Sports Football on Thursday; kick-off is 7.45pm

Netherlands' defender Matthijs De Ligt (L) celebrates with Netherlands' defender Virgil Van Dijk after scoring their first goal during the UEFA Euro 2020 Group C qualification football match between The Netherlands and Germany at the Johan Cruyff Arena in Amsterdam on March 24, 2019
Image: Matthijs de Ligt and Virgil van Dijk form a formidable centre-back duo for the Netherlands

England will come up against one of the best centre-back pairings in world football on Thursday, when they face the Netherlands in their Nations League semi-final.

Will England beat resurgent Dutch?

Will England beat resurgent Dutch?

Netherlands vs England preview: Will England claim their place in the UEFA Nations League final? A resurgent Netherlands side stand in their way.

Virgil van Dijk - PFA Player of the Year and Champions League winner with Liverpool - will be at the heart of the Dutch backline, alongside 19-year-old Ajax captain and rising star Matthijs de Ligt.

Here, Sky Sports pundit Jamie Carragher assesses the strengths of the two defenders - and how England may look to find a way past them…

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De Ligt: A talent, a leader

"It's unbelievable what De Ligt is doing at 19-years-old. The performances we saw him give in the Champions League were outstanding.

"But it's not just his ability - there's obviously been a lot of great young defenders, teenagers we've seen over the years with talent - but also his leadership qualities. I saw him giving a speech at the end of the season on a stage, speaking like he was 29, not 19.

Matthijs De Ligt 0:45
Netherlands boss Ronald Koeman and Van Dijk discuss the future and ability of Matthijs de Ligt

"To be captain of Ajax and with them getting to where they got to this season, he's clearly a leader and top class.

"He's got the physical attributes too. I played that position as a young kid and sometimes you can make mistakes by getting knocked about if someone is too strong for you or too quick for you because you're not fully developed physically. But that's not a problem for De Ligt at all, he's a man.

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It's unbelievable what De Ligt is doing at 19-years-old.
Jamie Carragher

"He looks like he's 24 or 25. That's a massive advantage for him at a young age.

"There's no guarantee with any player but you look at De Ligt and, for me, it's almost like a guarantee he's going to be a top player."

Van Dijk: Now he's among the very best

"When you talk about the best players in the league, you automatically go for the attacking players. But Van Dijk is in the top five players in the Premier League - not just defenders, players.

Alisson and Virgil van Dijk celebrate following Liverpool's Premier League win at Brighton. 0:52
Jamie Carragher says Van Dijk and Alisson were the difference for Liverpool in their Champions League final win over Tottenham

"Now, that might sound obvious as he got player of the year this season but year on year, if you said to me 'name the best players', I'd always put him in along with Sergio Aguero, David Silva, Kevin De Bruyne, Mohamed Salah, Harry Kane, Eden Hazard and so on. There might be someone who has a better season than some of those players one season but, consistently, they're the best - and Van Dijk will always be in that list."

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Perfect pairing

"I saw Ronald Koeman at the weekend saying he feels he's got the best partnership in Europe at international level and in some ways you can't really argue. Firstly, he knows them better than anyone and it's also the position he played in himself.

Matthijs de Ligt has been compared to Virgil van Dijk

"In Van Dijk I think he has the world's best defender - and I think he can rightly say that now he's won a Champions League. While in De Ligt they've definitely got the world's best young centre-back."

In Van Dijk, Koeman has the world's best defender. In De Ligt he's got the world's best young centre-back.
Jamie Carragher

Plan of attack?

"So how do you get past them? Stay away from the middle! Go down the sides!

Liverpool's Virgil van Dijk (left) and Manchester City's Raheem Sterling battle for the ball during the Premier League match at the Etihad Stadium, Manchester.
Image: Could the pace of Raheem Sterling trouble Van Dijk on Thursday?

"That's actually where England have great strength. They have great pace with Raheem Sterling and with Jadon Sancho in the squad, while Marcus Rashford plays out there, too. There's massive pace there, so I still think England can cause problems for Holland."

Watch England in the Nations League Finals

Watch England in the Nations League Finals

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Nations League live on Sky Sports

You can watch every minute of the Nations League finals live on Sky Sports.

Netherlands vs England - Thursday 6 June from 7pm, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event; Kick-off at 7.45pm.

Third and fourth place play-off - Sunday 9 June from 1.30pm, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event; Kick-off at 2pm.

Nations League final - Sunday 9 June from 7pm, live on Sky Sports Football and Sky Sports Main Event; Kick-off at 7.45pm.

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