Utrecht will look ahead to a more positive season following last season’s disappointment. The end of Robby Alflen’s short reign has made way for Erik ten Hag to take over as manager. His task will be to improve on an 11th place finish and to bring out the best in the exciting young talent in his squad.

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utr loTen Hag’s main challenge will be to tighten up a defence which gave away more goals (62) than relegated Go Ahead Eagles (56) last season. In response, the former Bayern Munich II coach has decided to switch to a 3-5-2 formation, with 3 centre-backs and 2 full-backs lining up across the back. What’s more, the former centre-back has a large squad at his disposal, and will hope the extra competition for places brings out the best in his squad. “I strive to create an environment in which everyone reaches their maximum. You must want to improve yourself every day and at every level push the boundaries; that’s the approach. You must have the drive to get the most out of yourself.”

Last season saw the rise to prominence of young players such as Yassin Ayoub and Rubio Rubin. Many more youth academy products will hope to make the break through this time around like Bart Ramselaar and Rodney Antwi, but this could become difficult in a very large squad.

Summer Transfers

In – Filip Bednarek (Twente), Bram van Eijk (Feyenoord), Robin de Jong (FC Twente), Patrick Joosten (NEC), Sebastian Haller (Auxerre), Sinan Keskin (Ajax), Timo Letschert (Roda JC), Sylla Sow (NEC), Ali Ulusoy (Feyenoord), Louis Nganioni (Lyon, loan), Andreas Ludwig (Aalen), Rico Strieder (Bayern Munich)

Out -Edouard Duplan (ADO Den Haag), Kai Heerings (Cambuur), Tommy Oar (released), Elroy Pappot (released), Kenny Teijse (Go Ahead), Gyliano van Velzen (Volendam), Danny Verbeek (NAC), Jeroen Verhoek (released), Jordy van der Winden (Den Bosch), Michael Zullo (Melbourne City)

The biggest moves into the club involve the permanent signings of Sébastien Haller and Timo Letschert. Left-back Louis Nganioni will hope to impress in the Eredivisie on loan from Lyon and German midfielders Andreas Ludwig and Rico Strieder arrive from Aalen and Bayern Munich respectively.

The major departures include long serving Edouard Duplan leaving for ADO and Tommy Oar walking away on a free transfer following five and a half years at the club.

Pre-season

Utrecht started pre-season at the end of June, recording easy victories against amateur teams: SDC Putten (0-4), Regioteam De Meern (0-6), SV Zevenhoven (0-8), FC Ambacht (1-6), as well as a 0-3 win against Achilles’29 from the Eerste Divisie. Preparations stepped up with a 4-0 win over SPL side Dundee United, a 2-3 loss at the hands of Derby County from the English Championship, a 2-0 victory over FC Lienden and finally an encouraging 1-1 draw at Ipswich Town, also competitors in the Championship.

Nacer Barazite, Rubio Rubin and Sébastien Haller are three forwards who have all been in form in pre-season, Barazite leading the scoring charts with 8 goals.

Key Players

ayoubYassin Ayoub

The 21-year-old quickly became a regular fixture in Utrecht’s side since making his debut in 2013. He is a defensive midfielder who plays along the lines of Jordy Clasie; an intelligent, ball-winning midfielder with the capability of playing balls forward. Ayoub is also very comfortable with the ball at his feet and isn’t afraid to take a shot at goal. Feyenoord showed strong interest in the Moroccan-born Dutchman last summer and seemed a good replacement for Clasie. However the move failed to materialise, Ayoub will now hope to shine for Utrecht this season and potentially earn himself a big move next summer.

utrtwe hallSébastien Haller

Haller made his move to the Netherlands permanent last month after a very successful loan spell in the second half of the last campaign. He netted 11 times in just 17 appearances and even won the club’s player of the year award. Originally he was a replacement for Ruud Boymans who suffered a season-ending injury last season, and like Boymans, Haller is physically strong, tall and can finish very well. The Frenchman, 21, has represented France at all youth levels (he already has 5 goals in 6 matches for the U21’s) and if he can continue the form of last season, he won’t be far away from the senior national team.

rubin utreRubio Rubin

Rubin is only 19 years of age, but already looks set to play a main part in Utrecht’s season. He only scored 3 goals in 29 appearances last term, but in the last year Rubin has made big strides in his career; going from a scrawny winger making his Utrecht debut to a bulked-up striker now contributing to the USA national team. Rubin has already been described as one of the “biggest talents” from the United States and will hope to follow in the footsteps of Jozy Altidore and Aaron Jóhannsson as an American striker who can score 20+ goals in a season and be a regular in the national side. Read more about Rubin on Football Oranje here.

Predicted Line-Up

Ruiter

van der Maarel – Letschert – Kum

Klaiber – Jansen – Ayoub – Ludwig – Nganioni

Haller – Barazite

Utrecht’s new 3-5-2 formation will hope to spell the end for the leaky defence which has plagued the club’s league form for the past two seasons. Klaiber and Nganioni are strictly full-backs but will hope to push forward and offer service to the forwards. There is plenty of competition in defence; Ramon Leeuwin, Jeff Hardeveld and Gévero Markiet can all play across the back-line whilst Yannick Corte and Nassir El Aisatti are extra wing-backs.

However the new formation doesn’t accommodate for wingers such as Kristoffer Peterson, Sofyan Amrabat or Bart Ramselaar, but they may be deployed up front in a position which already has an embarrassment of riches. Sébastien Haller, Nacer Barazite and Rubio Rubin are the main strikers, with Ruud Boymans yet to return from injury. Youngsters Rodney Antwi, Issa Kallon and Leon De Kogel will also hope to get a game.

The depth in a very big, young squad continues as Rico Strieder, Mark Diemers and Adam Sarota are other options in central midfield. Also, Filip Bednarek is the back-up to Robbin Ruiter between the sticks.

Prediction

Utrecht have been very quiet in their preparations for the new season. The team does have some good players, particularly up front. If Haller and Rubin find their shooting boots and the new formation can hold firm in defence, Utrecht could slip under the radar and be the surprise package in the Eredivisie this season. A mid-table finish will be the bare minimum for ten Hag. A cup run would also provide a positive campaign for fans who haven’t tasted success since winning the KNVB Beker in 2004.

Prediction: 12th




Michael Statham (445 Posts)

Writer/interviewer/YouTuber for Football-Oranje. Massive Dutch football fan from the UK. Follow me @EredivisieMike & subscribe to Football-Oranje on YouTube.