Gritty Netherlands need Memphis Depay in top form at Euro 2020 to make deep run

Memphis Depay has always wanted to be the headline act. He failed to achieve that at Manchester United, but his starring role with Lyon is now expected to earn him a summer move to Barcelona. First, though, he has the chance to claim centre-stage with Netherlands, and he did just that during the 2-0 win against Austria, which secured top spot in Group C and a place in the Euro 2020 round of 16 for the Dutch.

Just like his team, though, Depay is showing positives and negatives. If we see more of the good than the not-so-good, from both the player and the team, Netherlands could go deep into the tournament.

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But there is also the danger that one off-day could result in the Dutch and Depay crashing out with a whimper.

Frank de Boer's team is a tough side to assess after two games in Group C. It displayed attacking threat and defensive naivety in equal measure during a 3-2 opening-game victory against Ukraine, but against a dour Austria in Amsterdam, Netherlands dominated for 90 minutes while missing a hatful of chances to win the game by a much greater margin.

This Netherlands side, having to play Euro 2020 without injured defensive talisman Virgil van Dijk, lacks the flair of previous Dutch teams, but where Netherlands lack the creativity of old, they make up for it in tenacity.

And up front, while centre-forward Wout Weghorst is a tireless worker and physical presence, he simply cannot compare to some of the greats of yesteryear, such as Robin van Persie, Ruud van Nistelrooy, Patrick Kluivert, Marco van Basten and so many more stellar Dutch strikers.

But that lack of magical talents and goal-scoring greatness is why Depay has become such an important player in De Boer's team.

The 27-year-old scored the opening goal from the penalty spot against Austria in the 11th minute, following a David Alaba foul on Denzel Dumfries, and he instigated the move for the second goal, scored by Dumfries, by releasing Donyell Malen with a clever pass that resulted in the substitute squaring for Dumfries to score from close range.

Depay also missed two clear chances of his own in the first half -- the second was a bad miss from six yards after Weghorst had passed to him, unmarked, at the far post.

Having been given the licence by De Boer to roam across the forward line, Depay took advantage of his free role by dropping off Weghorst and largely moving out to the left in an effort to be the creative force for the Dutch.

It is a responsibility that he has grown accustomed to in recent years. During the qualification campaign for Euro 2020, Depay scored six goals and produced eight assists for the team and ended up either scoring or creating a goal every 38 minutes as the Netherlands qualified as runners-up behind Germany in Group C.

That contribution reflected his club form at Lyon, where he has scored 76 goals in 182 games since moving from United in 2017. With former Dutch coach Ronald Koeman in charge of Barcelona, it is regarded as one of the worst-kept secrets in football that Depay will move to the Camp Nou as a free agent this summer.

It will certainly help Depay settle in amongst stars such as Lionel Messi and Antoine Griezmann at Barcelona if he can make himself one of the leading players of Euro 2020 and his performance against Austria hinted that he now has the experience and maturity to shoulder the burden of carrying Dutch hopes.

Without a striker of true international class, Netherlands need Depay to become another Arjen Robben -- a player capable of scoring or creating from out wide or off the centre-forward.

Robben ended up with 37 goals in 96 appearances for the Dutch, but Depay is not far behind, with 27 in 66 games for his country.

But can he now deliver in the biggest game and against the toughest opponents? We will soon find out, with the Dutch facing the third-placed team in Group D, E or F in Budapest in the round of 16. Old rivals Germany are a potential opponent in that game.

Depay appears ready for the challenge, though. When he left PSV Eindhoven for United in a £25m transfer in 2015, then-United manager Louis van Gaal was warned by his coaches that Depay's temperament would see him struggle at Old Trafford.

He arrived at the club and immediately asked for the prestigious No. 7 shirt, worn by Eric Cantona, David Beckham and Cristiano Ronaldo, with his self-confidence appearing to border on arrogance.

Within 18 months, he had been shipped out by Jose Mourinho to Lyon after scoring just seven goals in 53 largely disappointing appearances.

His attitude angered both Van Gaal and Mourinho, with Depay once infamously reacting to being dropped to the reserves by Van Gaal by turning up for the second-string game in a Rolls-Royce and wearing a cowboy hat and red leather jacket, despite being urged by teammates to take his medicine and keep a low profile.

Seven years after he burst onto the global scene with important goals as Netherlands reached the World Cup semifinals, and after enduring more than a few ups and downs, Depay has a starring role for his country and is playing the best football of his career.

He is the spark for this team, and Netherlands will go far at Euro 2020 only if Depay rises to the challenge.