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S04 – 3 | GroningIN or GroningOut?

Firstly, it’s not true that I’m running out of titles for these posts.

Secondly, now that we’re out of the KNVB Beker we are ready to give the Eredivisie our full concentration in search of consecutive seasons qualifying for Europe. Our biggest obstacle to that is the mammoth run of five games in February against five of the top seven sides in the league.


Results

I anticipated February being a difficult month and 2 points from a potential 15 tells the story. This month was a killer and definitely puts our European dreams in doubt. It could have gone very differently if we could hold on to our 2-1 score at half time in the Feyenoord game but their comeback set us up for the nightmare at Utrecht. Another lead let slip against Ajax before AZ brought us down again. I was on the edge of despair at 2-0 down to PSV but we fought hard and youngster Levy Smith scored the all important goal to bring us level.

When Heracles came to town and left with all 3 points it seemed that all hope was lost. Suslov’s early goal against Excelsior was cancelled out by a late equaliser but we came back all guns blazing against SC Cambuur with four different goalscorers.

Following this loss to Vitesse our hopes of automatically qualifying for Europe were gone. Suslov finished the season strongly with five goals in the last six games of the league schedule, pushing his tally to 8 for the season!

This left us finishing in a disappointing 6th position, 15 points off 4th. It meant we would take on local rivals sc Heerenveen in the European Playoff Semi-Final.

A big sigh moment, right here. An 85th minute penalty stole the first leg for Heerenveen and, more importantly, gave us a 3 away goal mountain to overcome.

The second leg gave and then very quickly took away. We went into half time 1-0 up (3-3 on aggregate with Heerenveen leading courtesy of the away goal rule), playing well and confident of getting that vital second goal. In the 57th minute Daniel Sturridge filled my heart with joy – had the financial gamble paid off? No. Just 5 minutes later Heerenveen struck again to equal the tie on aggregate but gifting them the overall victory on away goals. Devastating.


Squad

It’s time for the annual cull which consists of just two players this season. 22 year old Romanian defender Antonio Manolache is released without a senior appearance for Groningen despite having been here when I arrived on day one. Luis Machao also leaves on a free after an unfortunate 3 years at the club which yielded a measly 11 senior appearances due to two damaged cruciate ligament injures resulting in 8 and 7 month absences each – recurrences of the same injury he suffered back in January 2016.

I anticipate this being the last year of my minimal youth recruitment policy. This season we brought in Bram de Vries, who was the only one of 16 players to show anything that attracted me to offer terms.


End of season stats and awards

This season’s Best XI graphic demonstrates our move back to playing two advanced wide men. Pascal Stenzel and Freddie Woodman were the only two from this eleven not to score over the course of the season.

New signing Pascal Stenzel became a mainstay of the squad immediately. Guðmundsson’s goalscoring numbers show the benefits to our tactical switch and the influence of the widemen. Demetri Mitchell once again made his mark as our top assister and also had the highest average rating across the season.

For the second year running we made the podium on two of the Eredivisie Awards. Youngster Tomas Suslov was ranked 3rd in the Eredivisie Talent van het Jaar but Freddie Woodman stole the show by claiming the Eredivisie Keeper van het Jaar award.


Tomas Suslov – the rising star of Slovakian football?

In rounding off this season’s update, I decided to leave behind the SWOT analysis and instead discuss Tomas Suslov. As the below graphic will show, Tomas Suslov began his time with Groningen at the age of 16, already in the club’s Under 19 team when my save began. Four seasons on, he is now aged 20 and beginning to make his mark on the team. His development may not have been spectacular but it has been steady nonetheless and Suslov has shown to be ready for first team football. The below graphic shows Suslov’s development from the beginning of 2018/19 season up until the beginning of the 2022/23 season.

His third season was really his proper breakthrough into the first team squad, after a second season with sporadic appearances which were mostly from the bench. The season just gone (his fourth season) was a remarkable success for Suslov with 8 goals and 6 assists in 30 league matches. A few minor injuries prevented him from completing a full 34 match season.

Suslov’s key stats from this season are as below. For someone so adept at passing, he creates relative few chances per 90 minutes although shows his stength in shots taken and headers won. 1.41 key passes per 90 show that while he may not be highest on the list for assists, he is very much involved in the build up play.

Suslov currently has 2 full Slovakian caps to his name, a number I expect to rise over the coming season. He has been attracting interest from Everton, Lazio, Lyon and Ajax recently – a relatively low release clause (for foreign clubs) of £6.25m contributing to that interest. Currently Tomas is reluctant to discuss terms on a renewed contract as he “wants to play in a better division” but hopefully that position may change over the coming months before the next season begins!

 

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