Europa League play-offs: Twente & Utrecht in control

FC Twente – FC Groningen (1-0)
19 May 2013, 1230 CET – Venue: Grolsch Veste, Enschede – Referee: Richard Liesveld

The previous three fixtures between the two: 4-1 in the Grolsch Veste, 0-3 and 0-1 in the Euroborg. FC Twente’s form: Unbeaten in nine. FC Groningen’s form: one point from the last four games. Difference between the two in the competition? Nineteen points in favour of FC Twente. Score in aggregate: 0-1.

Gutierrez scores.

Gutierrez scores.

Things haven’t exactly improved for the Groningers since the mid-week preview. Twente were comfortable first leg victors. It was a match hardly worth watching but for a beauty of a goal by Chilean playmaker Felipe Gutierrez, who is finally coming into his own after making the switch from Universidad Catolica last summer. Whereas most had pegged him as ‘The New Bryan Ruiz’, he seems more comfortable filling the gap Theo Janssen had left two years ago, sitting a bit deeper in midfield and dictating the play in creative fashion. Together with Leroy Fer and Willem Jansen, their control of the midfield was quite impressive.

FC Groningen manager Robert Maaskant still hopes for a surprise though. ‘We are realistic and know that Twente are the better team. But 1-0 is only 1-0 and that means we can still believe. We can always hope for a wonder. If we score the first goal, or they receive an early red card, the game can go either way.’ FC Twente interim-manager Alfred Schreuder is confident his side can knock FC Groningen out of the competition. ‘Our victory last Thursday was fully deserved. We know we should’ve won more comfortably when looking at the chances we created. That didn’t happen and that’s why this is still a game. FC Groningen will come to Enschede trying everything possible to reach the next round. We want to play in a certain way and both squad and staff are working on that. We play at home, so we’re obliged to win this.’

FC Groningen have a horrendous record against teams above them in the league, as they have only picked up one point in thirteen games against the top six. They need to buck the trend otherwise the season will end where it started (Twente won 4-1 on the opening day). FC Groningen will be determined to avoid a repeat.

There aren’t any changes expected in either line-up.

FC Utrecht – SC Heerenveen (1-0)
19 May, 16:30 CET – Venue: Stadion Galgenwaard – Referee: Pol Van Boekel

Utrecht will be confident of booking a place in the Europa League playoff final as they head into the second-leg of their semi-final tie with Heerenveen with a 1-0 advantage. The first-leg defeat in Heerenveen was the fourth in a row for Marco van Basten’s side and means they have a mountain to climb if they are to overcome this deficit against an Utrecht team which has won its last five matches.

Van Basten, though, believes his team are still in it, insisting: “It is a difficult task, but nothing is impossible. FC Utrecht are a good team, but they are not Barcelona…We have to play well to win, but we definitely have a chance.”

Utrecht were by far the more dangerous side throughout the clash in the Abe Lenstra Stadion on Thursday and they are expected to be the dominant force once again in the Galgenwaard. Utrecht are very strong on home turf, while Heerenveen’s away form has been very poor throughout this campaign. Crucially for Heerenveen, they are without star playmaker Filip Djuricic as well as midfielder Sven Kums due to injury, while Arnold Kruiswijk is a doubt.

Van der Gun celebrates.

Van der Gun celebrates.

The absence of the likes of Djuricic and Kums is a huge worry for Heerenveen as it severely reduces their attacking potency in a game in which they need to be at their best on the front foot. Top scorer Alfred Finnbogason needs all the support he can get and the 21-year-old Serb is crucial to that. The Icelandic international was isolated up front in the first-leg before his substitution and if the issue isn’t resolved for the return leg, it will only end in disappointment for Heerenveen.

It is important that the visitors upset the rhythm of Utrecht, as coach Jan Wouters wants to see his side utilise possession more effectively in Sunday’s match than they did in the first-leg, insisting that his side must attack and look to kill the game off. “We are not just going to defend the lead. We just have to play our own game and look for the victory,” said the 52-year-old before criticising his team’s first-leg performance. “We were too sloppy. We didn’t reach our normal level in Heerenveen and we were poor in possession. That must change on Sunday.”

Utrecht have less to worry about as they head into this game, there are no crucial injury concerns and that they have scored 13 goals in their last five matches (which includes a 4-2 win over Heerenveen as well as Thursday’s 1-0) shows how strong they are in attack at this time. As Wouters says, they just have to play their own game. For Heerenveen and Marco van Basten, on the other hand, things are much more complicated heading into this match.

The preview of FC Twente – FC Groningen was written by Michiel Jongsma, the preview of FC Utrecht – SC Heerenveen was writte by Peter McVitie

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