United’s first opponents in this year’s Europa League campaign are Dutch side Feyenoord. Feyenoord are traditionally one of Hollands big three having won 14 Eredivisie titles and 12 KNVB Cup competitions. In fact Feyenoord were the first side from Holland to become European Champions winning the Champions Cup in 1970 one year ahead of their main rival Ajax. Despite this they have fallen behind Ajax and PSV in recent years having not won the national title since 1999.Their victory in last season KNVB Cup was their first trophy since they won the forerunner of the Europa League, the UEFA Cup in 2002.
Last season was their first under manager Giovani von Bronckhorst and they finished 3rd in the Eredivisie although they might have sustained a more serious challenge had they not lost seven games on the run mid-season. They rallied to claim a Europa League qualification place with a late run of form before going on to beat FC Utrecht in the domestic cup final. Van Bronckhorst is an ex-Feyenoord player who stepped up as manager having previously served as assistant to Ronald Koeman and Fred Rutten.
Under Van Bronckhorst Feyenoord favour a 4-3-3 shape although this is flexible enough to morph into a 4-4-2 in the defensive phase when one of the wide forwards will drop back into a narrow position and the midfield three will shuffle across to form a compact midfield four, whilst on the other side the wide forward will stay high but also come narrow to form a front two. Feyenoord often adopt this approach in bigger games and it may be a shape and tactic they will adopt in the Europa League, especially away from home.
Feyenoord general team shape and transforming to a flat compact 4-4-2 in the defensive phase
Feyenoord tend to play a high defensive line and their wide players will press aggressively when their opponents move the ball wide with the rest of their side maintaining their defensive shape. Against lesser sides they will look to dominate the ball and create overloads in central areas but domestically against the likes of Ajax they will be far more defensive in a compact 4-4-2 and wait to hit the opposition in transitions or capitalize on set plays. They adopted this approach in their 1-0 win against Ajax last year and in their 2-1 win in the cup final.
Feyenoord’s key players are former Liverpool man Dirk Kuyt, now 36 years old, who scored 23 goals in all competitions and central midfield player Eljero Elia who is the sides main creative force creating 46 goal scoring opportunities last season. Further back two youngsters are key in defensive areas. Centre back or right back Terence Kongolo is 22-years-old, a solid defender he is a counterpoint to the more attack minded 21-year-old right back Rick Karsdorf. Karsdorf contributed 10 assists last year and has been called up to the national side recently, but has not yet made an appearance for the Oranje.
Feyenoord are seen as a developing force under Van Bronckhorst and are a side United should not take lightly.