Next week FC Groningen will face their first European game for seven years and will come up against a team with a similar barren spell, Aberdeen FC. On Thursday 17th July they will travel to the North-East of Scotland in the search of a successful European adventure. To do so, they will have to get past a rejuvenated Aberdeen side, boosted by their best season in almost 20 years. I’ll give a brief history of Aberdeen in Europe and the present team including key players and tactics.

  • By Ross Anderson
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Despite the recent years of very little experience, Aberdeen aren’t strangers on the European stage. Alex Ferguson’s inspired side of the 1980’s were a regular in the latter stages of European competition, and were seen as a real force in the game. In 1983 they progressed to the final of the Cup Winner’s Cup, defeating Bayern Munich along the way. The Dons then managed to shock the world after they beat football giants Real Madrid 2-1 in the final, a night still remembered fondly by many from the city and in Scotland itself. That was soon followed up by a second competition win in November that year after a 2-0 aggregate win over European Cup winner’s Hamburg in the European Super Cup, becoming the only Scottish side ever to win the competition and also the only Scottish side to win two European trophies in the process.

These great achievements saw Ferguson move south to Manchester United and since then Aberdeen have seen a real decline in both performances and results which has seen them become sort of a forgotten name on the European stage. This time has also seen them regress, not only in Europe, but also in Scotland as they fell far behind both Celtic and Rangers (before liquidation) both in ability and financially. They have never been out of the top division, but in the last 20 years they become a mid-table club, one unable to win a trophy and keep up with the success of the big two clubs.

They managed to change this in the season of 2007/08, the last time Aberdeen properly produced on the European stage. To make the group stage of the competition, the Dons had to defeat Dnipro of Ukraine. A 1-1 aggregate score saw them through on away goals to a tough group of Atletico Madrid, Copenhagen, Panathinaikos and Lokomotiv Moscow. After only 1 point from 9 Aberdeen were fortunate to still be in with a chance of qualifying after results between the other clubs went their way. Only a win at home to Copenhagen would see them through to the next round. On one of the best night’s Aberdeen had seen in recent years, they won 4-0 to set up a last 32 meeting with Bayern Munich. A well deserved 2-2 draw at Pittodrie had Aberdeen dreaming of a huge shock, but the dream and Aberdeen’s last European run collapsed with a 5-1 defeat in Munich.

The Dons last entry into the now called Europa League was slightly more recent than Groningen, at the start of season 2009/10. They were paired with Czech side Sigma Olomouc, and in what looked like a fairly even tie, turned into a complete embarrassment as Aberdeen suffered their worst home defeat in European competition in their history. A 5-1 home loss was followed by a 3-0 defeat in Czech Republic to cap off a horrible start to a new season. It’s fair to say Aberdeen will be looking to make better showing of themselves in this season competition.

The present Aberdeen side has come a long way since that 8-1 aggregate defeat. Since then they have gone through three different managers, produced and lost key players, suffered the worst defeat in their history (9-0 to Celtic in 2010) and won their first trophy for 19 years. The first three years after their last European game were filled with poor management, poor signings, poor performances and poor morale within the fans base. It is an easily forgettable few years in Aberdeen fans memories. First went manager Mark McGhee after a season and a half of dull football, then former Scotland manager Craig Brown came and went after the side failed to show much progress. The appointment of ex-Bristol City manager Derek McInnes at the end of 2012 hardly got the fans excited, but the impact of his appointment would be huge the following season. After a series of positive signings including rival’s Dundee United’s player of the season Willo Flood and ex-Scotland cap Barry Robson. The great start to the season, with the Dons producing a fine mix of solid defensive displays, along with the ability to produce dangerous attacking moves drew plaudit from those in Scottish football, but more importantly within the fans themselves. Riding on a wave of confidence, McInnes managed to guide Aberdeen to their first Cup Final since 2000, which in itself produced their first Cup win since 1995 after a 0-0 (pens) win against Inverness Caledonian Thistle. The unbelievable scenes both inside the stadium that day and also in Aberdeen for the open top bus tour the following day reinstated the great job that McInnes had done in such a short space of time.

The season may have fallen flat from then on, a run of three wins in their last eleven games saw them pipped on the last game of the game to second spot in the league by Motherwell, but it is still one that will feel confident after a great season, and one which will have had time to reflect on matter during a short summer break.

Throughout last season McInnes liked to set up with a number of different tactical set up’s. They usually line up in a  4-3-3 formation, with three central midfielders, two advanced wingers and lone striker up front. This formation can easily be switched to a more conservative 4-4-2 with the wingers dropping deaper and the advanced midfielder pushing on to form a secondary striker behind Rooney. They have also been known to play a 5-3-2 formation with winger Jonny Hayes dropping into a wing back, with Shay Logan on the other side. This allows defender Andy Considine to move into his preferred centre back position. They would most likely not use this option against more dangerous opponents such as Groningen.

Key Players:

Mark Reynolds: Current club Player of the Year and Aberdeen’s Mr Reliable. Was a major factor in Aberdeen’s defensive success last season, forming a solid partnership with captain Russell Anderson. Signed in 2013 after a successful loan spell from Sheffield Wednesday and has become a firm fan favourite. Has a great combination of both speed and strength and has great timing in the tackle, is rarely booked or sent off. A fantastic season was also topped off after he was called up to the Scotland squad for a friendly with Nigeria in June. One weakness in his game is his reliance in punting the ball hopefully up the pitch rather than looking for a teammate.

Ryan Jack: Has established himself as a key member of Aberdeen’s squad after coming through the youth system. Still only 22, he is seen by many to be a future captain in the making. Surprisingly powerful central midfielder who is also at home playing as a right-back, who can control a game with his movement and passing. Jack is one of those players who is so quietly influential, that his good performances almost get overlooked. Likes to drop deep and move around behind other midfielders in the squad in order to control the tempo of the match, and creates the space for players such as Peter Pawlett, Barry Robson and Willo Flood to move in to. Has slowly become a more rounded player after each season, and arguably had his best season yet last year despite missing a few months through injury. Also has an eye for a spectacular goal or two.

Peter Pawlett: Along with fellow midfielder Jonny Hayes, Pawlett provides the pace in the Aberdeen team. Surprisingly announced himself as one of the best players in Scottish football last season after several seasons of disappointing performances. Before last season he would often go completely missing in games, and was in danger of becoming known more for his diving abilities than his football abilities. Last year though, he showed his true quality and became arguably the Dons most dangerous player and one who opposition players would deliberately target. Has a devastating change of pace and has excellent dribbling abilty, but also showed he has an eye for goal with key goals throughout the season, most notably in the League Cup Semi Final and against Celtic as Aberdeen knocked them out of the Scottish Cup. Cruelly denied an appearance in the League Cup Final with a last minute injury, but a call up to the Scotland squad last month was a reward for his fantastic season that could see him grow into a top player.

Niall McGinn: After a stunning start to his first season at Aberdeen, had a more subdued season last year. After signing for the club two years ago after leaving champion’s Celtic, he quickly established himself as a fan favourite and one of the best players to player the club had seen in recent times. He began life at Aberdeen being played as a striker for former manager Craig Brown, showing a consistent scoring ability and the intelligence to dance around opposition players and defenders. With such a great first season in the bag, scoring over 20 goals, the second season was always going to be hard to follow that up with. Though he finished as Aberdeen’s top scorer, he was largely inconsistent, often completely disappearing in games and looked really short of confidence. After failing to score for over three months in the season, which wasn’t helped with being forced into a wider position, he ended the season on a better note scoring 5 in his last 9 games. If found on a good day, could have a real impact on this tie.

Adam Rooney: A bargain free signing in January this year after being told he could leave by Birmingham City, he brought what Aberdeen had been looking for for some time, a true out and out striker. Scored in each of his first four league games for the Dons and provided a real goal threat for the side. Quickly became a major player for the side and one of the first picks on the team sheet as he easily kept other strikers Scott Vernon and Calvin Zola out of the squad. Has real strength and a proper finishing ability, he can hold the ball up well but does lack in pace. Can sometimes go missing in games if up against fast defenders but does his best to get in the right areas when it counts. The arrival of former Blackburn Rovers player David Goodwillie will relieve him of some of the responsibility up front. Will live long in the memory of a lot of Aberdeen fans after his winning penalty in the shoot out for the League Cup.

Ross Anderson (3 Posts)

23 year old Journalism student from Montrose in Scotland. Picked up a liking for Dutch football after moving to Rotterdam in 2011 and became impressed by the Feyenoord fans love of football and their club. Kept in touch with the league after moving back to Scotland and found myself becoming a supporter of Feyenoord. Also a big supporter of Aberdeen in the Scottish Premier League. Follow me on Twitter at @rossando91.