Group Stage Fan Preview: Feyenoord
After eighteen long years, Dutch giants Feyenoord Rotterdam finally won a league title again, which directly means their return into the famous Champions League. The UEFA Cup winners in 2002, will be back on the highest level of club football, where in they only participated in the qualification round a few times in the last fifteen years. The last time Feyenoord reached the group stage of the Champions league, the Dutch side failed to proceed to the next round in a group with Juventus, Newcastle United and Dinamo Kiev. The most recent Champions league campaign ended in the first qualification round in 2014, when they were beaten in two matches by Besiktas. Feyenoord managed to win the competition once, in 1969/1970, by beating Celtic 2-1 in the final of the precursor to the Champions League, the Europa Cup I. This year, the working class club from Rotterdam will return at the highest level, with expectations among the fans being high as ever.
Julio Ricardo Cruz scoring one of his two goals in Feyenoord’s historical 2-0 home Uefa Cup victory over Juventus in 1999.
The entire city of Rotterdam was holding its breath, awaiting the Champions League draw for the 2017/2018 season, with Feyenoord being one of the teams to be drawn. Some were hoping for a draw with European giants, like Real Madrid or Paris Saint-Germain, others hoped for a draw with a chance at surviving the group stage. In the end, something in between those options was the result in Monaco; Manchester City, Napoli and Shakhtar Donetsk being Feyenoord’s upcoming opponents for this season. ‘Could have been better, could have been worse’, was what head coach Giovanni Van Bronckhorst had to say about the group Feyenoord was placed in.
With Eljero Elia setting of to Turkey, Karsdorp and Kongolo being transferred to AS Roma and AS Monaco, and Dirk Kuyt ending his professional career, some important factors of the 2016/2017 league-winning team have moved away. Feyenoord’s board was not shy on spending the transfer sums received for Karsdrop end Kongolo, and managed to get their replacements long time before the transfer window ended. With the very talented left full back Ridgeciano Haps coming from AZ for an amount of five million euro’s, and former academy player and left winger Boëtius returning from Basel, Feyenoord directly managed to strengthen their squad early this summer. Besides those players, a back-up right back came over from Fiorentina on loan, a young and skilled midfielder was brought in from Utrecht, and Sam Larsson, one of the best wingers in the Dutch league last season, was added to the squad. Feyenoord’s biggest weakness in the Champions League will probably be the lack of pace in central defence, with Van der Heijden and Botteghin. In the Eredivisie they proved to be a strong defending duo, but when you face strikers with the pace of Aguero and Mertens, you might get in to some trouble. Feyenoord does have a third central defender who will probably be more able to stop those quick strikers, Jeremiah St. Juste, the 20-years old captain of the Dutch u-21 team have come in from Heerenveen this summer, and is believed to be the future option when one of the two current central backs leave.
So far he have not seen a lot of first team action, but he seems to be a good option for the upcoming Champions League matches.
Feyenoord’s strength lays in their solid, yet still creative midfield and their Danish striker Nicolai Jorgensen, who won the golden boot in his first season at the club. He combined 21 goals with 11 assists, making the team play better every single time he came on the pitch.
None of the players currently playing for Feyenoord have played in the Champions League before, while the other teams in the group all have a lot of that experience. The Feyenoord squad also seems to have sufficient lack of individual quality compared to Napoli and Manchester City, therefore coach Van Bronckhorst will need to come up with an excellent tactical plan, if he wants to make a chance of beating those sides.
If you ask a Feyenoord fan, most of them will tell you they can beat any team at home on a good day, which gives them a change of surviving the group, especially after beating Manchester United at home in last season’s Europa League, and the win over Sevilla in the 2014-2015 Europa League. Feyenoord might be able to surprise Manchester City or Napoli, but their best shots at points seems to be against Shakhtar, home and away. Napoli and Manchester City can only possibly be beaten when the team rises above itself and when one of the two European top clubs underestimates Feyenoord. The away games against these clubs look a bit like mission impossible, but they will be great trips for the fans, who are famous for travelling everywhere their club goes, and will certainly show up in great numbers again. All this together will make it an unbelievably hard task for Feyenoord to end in second place and to proceed in the tournament, Feyenoord will need to pick up the points at home, and hope for a surprise in an away game. At first the team will focus on securing the third spot, to make sure their European season does not end before winter en they can get in to the Europa League. But who knows, with a bit of luck, Napoli and Manchester City might be in for a surprise.
By: Kees Rodël