Lesser-fancied European Teams to watch this season #8 - FC Utrecht
As the European football season is getting underway and the Premier League starting on Friday, here is a team you may want to follow outside of the UK in the Dutch Eredivisie in FC Utrecht.
The only Dutch team from the city of Utrecht, the fourth most populated city in the Netherlands, the football team has a very strong history in the league despite never winning the Eredivisie title. They are the only team apart from the big three in the Netherlands of Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord to have never been relegated from the Dutch top division.
They have produced some well-known players in their academy which include Erik Pieters, Michel Vorm and Dirk Kuyt. They also had players such as Ricky Van Wolfswinkel and newest West Ham United signing Sébastian Haller.
In this century, Utrecht have never finished below 11th position, which is consistent and have qualified for the UEFA Cup, and the subsequent Europa League 8 times which includes last season. The team currently have some familiar faces - former PSV man Adam Maher, former PSG youth player Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and former AC Milan player Urby Emanuelson are all part of the roster.
In the Netherlands, the top two qualify for the Champions League, the next two qualify for the Europa League, and then places 5th to 8th go into a play-off competition for the final place in the Europa League. Utrecht finished in 6th place, and then proceeded to win the play-off to qualify for the Europa League qualifying round. Unfortunately, they have already been knocked out in the qualifying round, losing 3-2 on aggregate to Bosnian side Zrinjski Mostar.
Utrecht in the last campaign certainly rotated formations a lot under former manager Dick Advocaat after they sacked previous manager Jean-Paul de Jong after 4 games. They ended the campaign in 6th, with a decent record of 60 goals scored and 51 goals conceded. The key players for the team were attacking midfielders Simon Gustafson and Sander van de Streek, both scoring 11 goals for the team. Gustafson playing especially a key role in the team's win in the playoffs, scoring 3 goals altogether in the semi-finals and final.
The team has a brand new manager in John van den Brom. This will be the fourth Eredivisie team he has managed after being the manager at fellow clubs ADO den Haag, Vitesse and most recently at AZ where he guided them to Europa League football once again. Van den Brom has so far ensured every time he has managed, he has qualified for Europa League football.
In his first three games of the season, he has stuck to playing the traditional Dutch system of 4-3-3, with two holding midfielders and in the league, it has worked. They defeated van den Brom's former club ADO den Haag 4-2 last weekend and hope the form can continue.
Van den Brom during his time at AZ was the man behind the rise of Vincent Janssen and his incredible season at AZ where he scored 31 goals in 45 games, which ended in his ill-fated move to Tottenham Hotspur. If Van den Brom can get another striker such as Bahebeck to have the same form, Europa League will be a target again for Utrecht.