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Champions League Preview: Zulte Waregem – PSV

Zulte Waregem host PSV this evening in the second-leg of their Champions League qualifier. The Dutch side head into this match with a two goal lead, but Zulte are looking strong and will be desperate to put their opponents under pressure to try and claw their way back into this tie.

Zulte Waregem

On the field, things are going well in the competition for the Belgian revelation of last season. Zulte Waregem is one of the leaders after winning their first two games of the competition. Though, the runner up of the Jupiler Pro League last season will need to perform better than they did in the first game against the Dutch club.

PSV, and especially the young Belgian player Zakaria Bakkali, played on a higher level. Players like Hazard and Leye will need to stand up and be counted if Zulte Waregem are still keen on reaching that next round in the Champions League. This PSV-side will be very difficult to beat and will be very eager to score that important away goal.

Off the field, things couldn’t get much worse for Zulte Waregem last week. Things heated up after Zulte Waregem assigned Thorgan Hazard as the new captain of the club. Zulte Waregem really wanted Thorgan Hazard to stay at the Gaverbeek and promised him to be the new captain if he signed a new loan contract with them. The elder players disagreed after Francky Dury was obliged to give Hazard the captain’s armband. Things needed to cool down quickly. Thorgan Hazard took a wise decision and gave the captaincy back to Davy De Fauw.

Francky Dury is happy that his players can now focus on their next game against PSV. “We will try to win this game”, said the Zulte Waregem coach to Het Nieuwsblad. “That is the goal were we are aiming at. If we can score fast we can put PSV under pressure. Leaving the Champions League with a win would already be a nice achievement for a club like Zulte Waregem.”

PSV

Phillip Cocu’s young PSV side arrive in Belgium to face Zulte Waregem with cautious optimism. Despite their two-goal lead, their performance in the first Eredivisie game of the season against ADO showed how strong they can be on attack, but also how slack they are defensively. The Eindhoven side strolled to a three goal lead within 33 minutes, but threw it away, with Mike van Duinen netting a late second for the opponents in injury to ensure a nervy closing minutes to the game. But PSV’s inability to concentrate and maintain the intensity for the entire 90 minutes will be a cause for concern for their coach and may be something for Zulte to exploit.

History of PSV’s journeys to the neighbouring country doesn’t paint a positive picture. The Eindhoven side have never scored in a Champions League fixture in Belgium, having lost their last four matches on Belgian soil 4-0, 3-0, 2-0 and 1-0 respectively. Importantly, they’re up against an opponent brimming with confidence as well as everything to play for. Early and intense pressure from Zulte might give this incredibly young and fresh PSV back line something to worry about.

Despite the defensive frailties, though, the first-leg and the weekend’s fixture showed how strong this exciting young side can be when they go forward. Georginio Wijnaldum, Zakaria Bakkali, Memphis Depay, Adam Maher and Jurgen Locadia looked fierce when they attacked with pace. Furthermore, left-back Jetro Willems’ bursts forward added further attacking potency and the movement and passing of Stijn Schaars created a lot of danger against the Den Haag club.

PSV should be confident of seeing out this tie and take another step towards the group stages of Europe’s most prestigious club competition, which they haven’t been involved in since 2008-09, but it will in no way be a walk in the park for Cocu’s men.