We’ve managed to finally crack it into Europe with a berth in the Europa League Best Placed – Third Qualifying Round. As I mentioned in a previous post, this is not going to be an easy task! There are any number of strong opposition we could draw and we would still have a further round to negotiate before we have sight of the group stage.
Our aim, as always, is progression. To go a little further than the last season. It’s not too much to ask…
Progress has been made on the loan front. I’ve now reduced it from seven loanees to five with one of them feeling more permanent than temporary. We’ve also made some difficult decisions on players departing the club but all with good reason.
Bruno Varela (GK) was subject to a £3m bid from Marseille and, fearing a player backlash, I decided to accept the offer which represented a £2.1m profit after 34 clean sheets in 2 seasons. Ludovit Reis (CM) had fallen out of favour in the last season so when AA Gent came calling with £2.5m up front (potential £500k in future fees) I was glad to accept. The final sale of the summer was Deyovaisio Zeefuik (DR) who joins PEC Zwolle for an initial £500k (potentially rising to £625k). Young Romanian Antonio Manolache (DC) moved to CFR Cluj on loan for season as the 21-year-old continues to miss out on a place in the first team.
Juan Foyth (DC/Tottenham Hotspur) makes it four seasons on loan at FC Groningen, joined by Maximus Tainio (DM/Tottenham Hotspur), Taiwo Awoniyi (STC/Liverpool) and Albert Guðmundsson (AMRLC/AZ Alkmaar) in rejoining the club on loan for the year. The final loanee of the summer is Luca Zidane (GK/RM Castilla) who comes in as a back-up goalkeeping option. Pascal Stenzel (DR/Borussia Mönchengladbach) comes in for a fee of £1.9m with Iago Oliveira (MC/Portimonense) a free signing following the conclusion of his previous contract. We made Gary Cahill (DC/Watford) our latest baffling English signing as a free agent. João Ganchas (AML/Vitória Guimarães) was the final signing of the summer for £3.3m after impressing in a fixture against us.
With the task of European football so soon in the footballing schedule, I arranged a bumper pre-season of 8 games. The results, as clichéd as it is, were irrelevant but I was happy with the performances and the fact we ran into the season with full match fitness for our first choice XI.
As mentioned, we would begin the season early, with our first European game scheduled for 5th August. With baited breath we awaited our fate, and fate it was as we were matched up with FMSamo’s Vitória!
Sadly, we fell at our first European hurdle. I expected it to be difficult and was proven to be correct. We fought valiantly, going down to a 3-2 aggregate victory. Vitória went on to be eliminated 5-2 by Everton in the next round. With our European adventure now already behind us, we participated in four league games in August. 10 points from a potential 12 was pleasing with Suslov on the score sheet twice before a convincing three-goal victory over then league leaders Sparta.
All of this leaves us in a league position that I am more than happy with at this early stage of the season. Excelsior and NAC Breda are the early strugglers with PSV leading the way with a seemingly resurgent Feyenoord. We host PEC Zwolle in our next league fixture with VVV-Venlo to come later in the month in the KNVB Beker 1st Round.
I’m not too disappointed by how Europe panned out, I expected a hard draw and I’m content with how we competed over two legs. It’s all about doing a little better each season and that is our aim this year. The board is content with a Top Half finish in the league but I’ll be pushing for European Qualification again. In the KNVB Beker the board want a Quarter Final, this is an aim I’m happy to go along with.
All in all, I’m happy with the squad I have and confident of how we’ll do domestically. Tactics continue to be tinkered with, switching between a flat 41DM41 and a 41DM23 – I hope to make my mind up on that this season although the two are merely a matter of two positions apart at their base!