Tuesday, 30 July 2019

Preview: Eredivisie 2019/20 Season

The new season of football in Holland is just days away as the Eredivisie makes its return. Ajax will be looking to defend their crown with PSV and Feyenoord looking to recapture the glory. Utrecht, AZ Alkmaar and Vitesse will be looking to spring a surprise. While FC Twente, Sparta Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk all make triumphant returns to the Dutch top flight with the latter two securing victory via the dreaded play-offs.

Ajax had a tremendous 2018/19 season after securing their first title in 4 seasons as well as a brilliant run to the semi-finals in the Champions League. That vibrant, exciting, attacking team won admirers and plaudits across Europe. Matthijs De Ligt and Frenkie De Jong have left for a combined fee of £132M while the futures of Donny Van de Beek, Hakim Ziyech and David Neres remain in doubt. Erik Ten Hag will want to keep that squad together but conceded that De Jong and De Ligt were bound to departure the club this summer. But despite those departures, there are still plenty of reasons to be excited in the Dutch capital right now. They will fancy their chances of retaining the title and cause more waves in the Champions League. Ajax have brought Quincy Promes back to Dutch football after a disappointing year in Spain. He is determined to bring the continued success while Edson Alvarez looks a very astute replacement for Matthijs De Ligt.

Despite being top of the tree for most of the campaign, the season ultimately ended in disappointment for PSV Eindhoven. Mark Van Bommel's first season in charge brought plenty of positives but they were pipped to the title by a red hot Ajax side. That disappointment has seen PSV add to their squad as they gear up for another title challenge and potential Champions League campaign. However, the club have also seen a few departures most notably Luuk De Jong who has joined Sevilla and Angelino who has returned to Manchester City. PSV's marquee signing so far is the exciting Portuguese attacker Bruma who arrives from RB Leipzig. The young attacker will add pace and creativity to the PSV side and Van Bommel will be ready to unleash him this season having struggled in Germany. Van Bommel is also shifting to a much younger squad with highly-rated defenders Olivier Boscagli and Timo Baumgartl joining the club. There are plenty of reasons to be optimistic at PSV this season as Van Bommel targets silverware for the first time as a manager. 

It seemingly looks like a two-horse race for the Eredivisie title but could a summer of change at Feyenoord bring success this season. Giovanni Van Bronckhorst has departed after a terrific spell in charge in which he brought Feyenoord's first title since the late 1990s. Big-name players Robin Van Persie and Tonny Vilhena have left the club while the future of other players remains in doubt. Van Bronckhorst's replacement is former Dutch international Jaap Stam who arrives following a brief spell at Zwolle. Stam is tasked with bringing success back to Rotterdam after a flat couple of seasons since their title success in 2016. Stam has been actively looking to improve the squad he has inherited and has brought back a former fans favourite Leroy Fer who left on sour terms during his first spell but he is delighted to be back at his boyhood team. Others to arrive include Liam Kelly from Stam's former club Reading and former Dutch international Luciano Narsingh. The pacey winger returns to Holland after a disappointing spell at Swansea City.  Feyenoord have been flat for too long, can Stam ignite them into title contenders? Only time will tell.

Feyenoord weren't the only club to change managers this summer as 6 other sides will begin the new season with a new man at the helm. John Van der Brom is the new man at Utrecht after he left AZ Alkmaar at the end of his contract. He replaces Dick Advocaat who left at the end of his contract. Utrecht are in the Europa League qualifying rounds after winning the Europa League play-offs last season. Van der Brom will be hoping to get Utrecht into the group stages. Meanwhile, Arne Slot who was Van der Brom's assistant at AZ Alkmaar has been promoted into the top job. Slot inherits a team which finished 4th last season and he will be looking to push them further in the season. Jaap Stam's replacement at Zwolle is John Stegeman. Stegeman arrives from the Go Ahead Eagles who were beaten in the promotion play-offs. Stegeman brings experience having managed Heracles for 4 years. He will be tasked with pushing Zwolle towards the top half having finished 13th last season. A surprise departure at the end of the season was Rene Eijer leaving Fortuna Sittard having secured survival in their first-ever Eredivise season. His replacement is the little known Sjors Ultee and like Eijer, he will be tasked with ensuring Fortuna Sittard remain an Eredivisie club. VVV-Venlo were sprung a surprise in June when Maurice Steijn left to take over at Al Wahda in the UAE. His replacement is Robert Maaskant who left his role as director of football at second-tier club Almere City to take the job. Maaskant has lost last season's top scorer Peniel Mlapa but despite that loss, he will be hoping to improve on last seasons 12th place finish. Despite promotion back to Eredivisie at the first attempt, Marino Pusic was sacked as boss of FC Twente. Pusic went down with them but brought them straight back up but it ultimately wasn't good enough. His replacement is Pusic's assistant Gonzalo Garcia Garcia. The spaniard is known to Dutch football having played for Groningen and Heerenveen. He will be tasked with ensuring Twente establish themselves in the Eredivisie and avoid relegation.

Joining the Eredivisie this season along with FC Twente are Sparta Rotterdam and RKC Waalwijk. Sparta Rotterdam conquered the play-offs beating De Graafschap over two legs. They will be looking to cause a few surprises this season under the experienced Henk Fraser who is an excellent manager at this level. Sparta are back after two years away and they will be looking to seize their chance. RKC Waalwijk are also back and a spell away and like Sparta, they also conquered the play-offs beating the Go Ahead Eagles in a thrilling second leg securing a 5-4 win. Waalwijk will be looking to establish themselves back in the Eredivisie and Fred Grim will be well aware a difficult season lies ahead to secure safety. But all three promoted sides bring confidence, momentum and a determination to seize their opportunity.

The 2019/20 Eredivisie season promises to bring excitement, quality goals and surprising results. Can Ajax retain the title? Or will PSV take the title back? Which team is gonna be the surprise package? Only time will tell but one thing for sure the Eredivisie is gonna be an exciting league to watch this campaign.

My Picks: Ajax to be Champions, PSV as runners-up, therefore, securing the second Champions League place. Feyenoord, Vitesse and Utrecht to be in the Europa League qualifying rounds. RKC Waalwijk to be automatically relegated. Emmen and Fortuna Sittard to be in the relegation play-offs.

Sunday, 7 July 2019

A Sensational Season Story: Strasbourg

It has been a rollercoaster two seasons for Strasbourg in Ligue 1. They secured their first ever campaign back in 2017 after winning the Ligue 2 title. Their first season brought survival and stability. The club has grown and things are getting better and in their second ever Ligue 1 season, they secured their highest-ever finish of 11th place. But not only that the club secured the French League cup which means Strasbourg could be playing in the Europa League next season. A tremendous achievement for a club who have only been a top-flight side for two years. 

Thierry Laurey has done a magnificent job in his three years so far and the club is going from strength to strength. He has built a squad on a relatively small budget but they are a difficult unit to break down as PSG have found out in their 4 Ligue 1 meetings. Laurey has preferred a back three in his time at the club but occasionally reverts to a four. Laurey's team are thriving under his leadership and the back three allows them to be dangerous as well as play two strikers up top. Laurey will admit their first half of the season was much better than their second with their season peaking at their cup triumph as Strasbourg finished the season with just two wins in their final 14 league games. But despite their disappointing second half of the campaign, their season has certainly been sensational purely for their cup win and highest ever league finish.

Laurey's squad is built on players with potential and a strong togetherness. Their three main strikers all impressed last season. Ludovic Ajorque, Lebo Mothiba and Nuno Da Costa combined scored 26 league goals between them. Both Ajorque and Mothiba notched 9 goals each to finish as joint top scorers. Laurey relies on his three strikers to deliver the goods and they certainly have but they will need to step up if indeed they qualify for the Europa League. But it isn't just their strikers who have impressed other players across the side have certainly played an important role. Midfielders Anthony Goncalves and Adrien Thomasson have impressed this season. Strasbourg didn't spend a penny on them and Laurey has certainly got a tune out of them. Both scored 5 goals from midfield but also played an important role defensively with their desire to get back and help the defence.

Strasbourg's star man of the 2018/19 season was right wing back Kenny Lala. The 28-year-old is firmly in his prime and sparkled on the Strasbourg right. He was outstanding both defensively and offensively. In his 34 games, the wing back scored 5 times but more impressively provided 9 for his teammates. Lala's dynamic running and brilliant crossing have been a vital tool in Strasbourg's last two seasons. While the full back is unlikely to come into Didier Deschamps' thinking, he was certainly one of the best full backs last season and he will certainly want to showcase his skills further in the Europa League as well as continue to push Strasbourg in the right direction. 

Plans are already underway for the new season with the Europa League qualifiers on the horizon. Strasbourg have also added to their squad. Lamine Kone is back on a permanent deal after a successful loan spell last season. A few new faces have also arrived with Lens midfielder Jens Bellegarde, young midfielder Diego Branco and Caen centre back Alexander Djiku have all signed for the club in recent weeks. Djiku arrives for a fee of £4M from Caen. Despite Caen's relegation to Ligue 2, Strasbourg were cleary impressed with the centre half who will add more options and presence in their preferred back three style. Laurey will explore more options ahead of another potentially special season. Strasbourg have been on the crest of a wave since their arrival in Ligue 1 and their 2018/19 season was certainly a sensational story.

Monday, 1 July 2019

A Sensational Season Story: Emmen FC

Along with Fortuna Sittard, Emmen were promoted to the Eredivisie for the first time in their history in 2018. Fast forward 12 months, and again like Fortuna Sittard, Emmen have avoided relegation to secure back to back Eredivisie seasons. It has been a tremendous couple of years for the club going up as champions before finishing 13th in their first top-flight campaign five points clear of the relegation play-offs.

Dick Lukkien has done a magnificent job at the club and despite their difficulties during their first season, the club stood by him. Emmen finished the season with a flourish notching 3 wins in their final 4 games to push them to comfortable safety. Anco Jansen finished as the club's top scorer with 5 goals in his first Eredivisie season. Lukkien will no doubt need to improve the striking options in the summer if they are to survive again next season. Emmen will be looking to build on their fantastic debut season with Lukkien's style proving tough for their Eredivisie rivals. They're aggressive, no-nonsense, width style has caused problems for teams. But another huge plus is their resilience to come back in matches. Despite their lack of goals, the Emmen squad is packed with desire, belief and a determination to never give up. Dick Lukkien will be hoping to carry this momentum and same passion shown in their debut season.

Emmen's success is built on consistency with Lukkien making very few changes to starting eleven. His preferred formation was 4-4-2 but Lukkien has used a variety of different formations including 4-2-3-1 and 5-3-2. Anco Jansen is a priceless figure in their team and was vital to their success last season. In addition to his 5 goals, the Dutchman also set up 7 goals. Another man who impressed for Emmen last season was Caner Cavlan. The Turkish defender notched 4 goals and set up 6 others and like Jansen, played a crucial role in Emmen's success. But the defender will leave the club this summer after being snapped up by Austria Wien. Others who impressed included Michael Chacon, Nicklas Pedersen, Alexander Bannink and Jafar Arias. Emmen's squad has a range of experienced campaigners and players new to the Eredivisie and its a combination which brought success with Lukkien aiming to build on an excellent first season.

Their season was truly sensational as they defied the odds and expectations of many to secure a second consecutive season in the Eredivisie. However, a huge summer lies ahead with over half the squad gone after their contracts were not renewed as Lukkien looks to freshen up his squad despite their successes. Cavlan is the big notable departure and no doubt Lukkien will be disappointed to lose him but Lukien will have faith in the players still at the club. New signings will be on the agenda and the players will have to quickly adapt to Lukkien's aggressive style which brought their success. The new season is on the horizon but the 2018/19 season was sensational for Emmen and they will be hoping to still ride the crest of their wonderful wave.