Going Dutch with Sparta Rotterdam

Our 6th league game of the season saw our best result of the save yet as we came from behind to beat defending champions Ajax.

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They had a man sent off and we took full advantage, with Duarte scoring a brilliant chip for the third goal. Since that game, we have not looked back.

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We have won our last 5 Eredivisie games and progressed to the next round of the cup meaning that we are in 3rd position in the league!

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Our tactic is simple, but effective and we’re now even starting to look solid defensively, which did not happen at all last season.

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Once again Emanuel Emegha is our standout player. In 10 Eredivisie games he has 7 goals and 6 assists.

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With the board ecstatic with how things are going, I was offered a contract to keep me at the club for the next 2 and a half seasons.

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If we keep this up, then we could seriously be in with a shot of qualifying for Europe in just our second season at the club!
 
Excellent result against ajax. Best I've managed so far against them is a draw. 3rd season might be our season to finally beat them
 
Excellent result against ajax. Best I've managed so far against them is a draw. 3rd season might be our season to finally beat them

Yeah the red card changed everything but not complaining about beating Ajax! Not sure if it's the same for you but there seems to be quite a big gap between the top 5 (Ajax, AZ, PSV, Feyenoord, Utrecht) and the rest so we'll do well to finish above any of them this season
 
A real test for us was playing against Feyenoord and AZ Alkmaar in the space of 4 days, as those teams finished 4th and 2nd in the league last season.

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So to get 4 points from those 2 games shows that we are quickly becoming the real deal.

With the focus completely on the league this season, I decided to put out a completely rotated side against semi-professional De Treffers in the cup. That included a debut for 16-year-old striker Dominique Maysonnave who came through the last youth intake.

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He repaid my faith with a debut hattrick.consisting of a goal within 71 seconds and 2 within 5 minutes.

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He became the youngest player in Sparta Rotterdam history and I can see him being a big part of our future as we aim to make it to the top with Dutch players only.

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And the end to December 2021 just kept on getting better. We cannot stop getting good results!

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We’re unbeaten in 13 in the league, which is simply ridiculous for a team expected to finish 10th. Halfway through the Eredivisie season, we sit in 2nd position!

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The only negative news is of my own doing. Two of our players have been called up for the AFCON, including first-choice keeper Maduka Okoye.

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Benjamin Van Leer is second choice keeper and would normally deputise for Okoye... but I have already agreed to sell him to VVV Venlo in January.

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So it means that we’re going to be without a goalkeeper for a few matches and youngster Rijk Janse will have to deputise unless we can find a solution in January.

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But with us in 2nd position and looking likely to be in Europe next season, I don’t really care!
 
Yeah the red card changed everything but not complaining about beating Ajax! Not sure if it's the same for you but there seems to be quite a big gap between the top 5 (Ajax, AZ, PSV, Feyenoord, Utrecht) and the rest so we'll do well to finish above any of them this season
I found it closed a fair bit in the 2nd season as they all sold a couple of decent players and didn't replace them with the same quality. Ajax sre just in a different league though
 
The goalkeeper crisis was anything but a crisis, as youngster Janse saved a penalty on his league debut.

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However, he could do nothing about our unbeaten run of 17 matches ending in a surprising loss at home to Fortuna Sittard. It was the first bad result we’ve had this season but it was still alarming at how bad we were.

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Results and performances were actually getting worse but we then beat managerless AZ emphatically away from home.

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One of the scorers in that game was Thomas Bruns, who signed on a free transfer in the summer and has 5 goals for us already despite not getting into Vitesse’s team last year.

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We were then knocked out of the cup by AZ immediately after the league win, but our season has been such a success so far that it really didn't matter how we fared in the cup.

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We’re still going strong in 3rd position, but I’m wary of a PSV fightback in the latter half of this season.

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Especially because our next 5 games are ridiculous, we face them twice alongside leaders Ajax, second place Feyenoord and 4th placed Groningen.

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Who knows how things are going to turn out after those 5 games!
 
After thinking we’d play PSV twice in a row, one of the fixtures got rearranged because of their progression in the Europa League.

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We also achieved our first ever praise in the media for relying on homegrown talent. Nigerian goalkeeper Okoye is the only starter at the club who is not Dutch.

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Our huge, season-defining next 4 games started with a big win against 4th placed Groningen.

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We then followed that with 2 losses away against PSV and Ajax, which were expected.

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After a tough set of fixtures, we desperately needed a win. There could not have been a better fixture for us than at home to 15th placed NAC Breda.

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But a woeful first-half performance ensured our 3rd league loss in a row and put us into panic mode.

Our next game was at home to bottom of the table FC Emmen. Surely we’d stop the rot here?

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We battered them but had to rely on a Mijnans last minute thunderbolt to bail us out. Our recent form has been horrific and it’s occurring at the worst possible time.

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And yet with 6 games remaining, we are still in 3rd but PSV and Utrecht are closing in.

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I am of the opinion that if Ajax win the cup, then finishing 4th is good enough for us to get into Europe. However, if we finish below that or Utrecht win the cup then we’ll likely go into a European places playoff.

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We still have to play PSV and Utrecht and so those 2 games could determine if we qualify for Europe or not next season.

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After being in the top 3 for so long, it would be gutting to fall at the final hurdle. But our form needs to improve immediately.

 

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Because of the dramatic nature of the league, I completely forgot about the youth intake until the notification came through!

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Once again it is a decent youth intake with the best player being Nick de Boer, who is yet another promising striker at the club.

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Back on the pitch, our attention turned to a tough away match against Vitesse.

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So to come away with a victory and a clean sheet was very impressive. We followed that up with an even better win over PEC Zwolle.

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It was a good job as well because both PSV and Utrecht kept on winning, meaning that European qualification was far from secure.

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Especially as we played both of them next, in the space of 3 days.

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However, Utrecht lost to Ajax in the Dutch Cup which was good news for us.

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It meant that finishing in 3rd place would result in Europa League qualification, 4th place would get us into the Europa Conference League whereas positions 5-8 would take part in a playoff to determine the last European spot.

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With 4 games remaining, the game against PSV was huge. So it was laughable when they scored after 14 seconds!

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It made what followed even more remarkable.

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We were absolutely brilliant and came back from 3-1 down to beat Europa League semi-finalists 4-3!

FC Utrecht followed 3 days later.

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A 1-1 draw was more than fine with me as it confirmed a top 4 finish for us! The only thing left to decide in our last 2 matches was if we would play in the Europa League or Europa Conference League next season.

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A comfortable win followed by a final day draw was enough for us to achieve a third-place finish.

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What a season it has been... We’ll enter the Europa League Playoff Round and are guaranteed group stage European football next season!
 
Nice work getting into Europe mate! Hopefully you can win that playoff and get in the Europa League, although the Conference might be more winnable in your first season in European competition. Either way though, it will bring a bit of extra revenue in and help you towards your longer term goals.
 
Nice work getting into Europe mate! Hopefully you can win that playoff and get in the Europa League, although the Conference might be more winnable in your first season in European competition. Either way though, it will bring a bit of extra revenue in and help you towards your longer term goals.

Yeah I honestly don't mind which group stage we end up in but am looking forward to the increase in prize money!
 
Our final standing of 3rd position was the best ever in Sparta Rotterdam history, not bad for our second season in charge!

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It was a fantastic performance from our squad this season, it’s easy to forget we were only predicted to finish 10th at the start of the year

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Deroy Duarte got 10 goals and 9 assists in the Eredivisie, which is a terrific return for a shadow striker.

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Sven Mijnans also got 9 goals and 7 assists in total.

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But it was Emanuel Emegha who once again was our player of the season, finishing second top scorer in the Eredivisie with his 19 league goals and also getting 9 assists.

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At 6’6”, every cross, corner and long-throw is aimed at him. It means he had a ridiculous 169 shots this season!

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Another player I have to mention is Dominique Maysonnave. He’s just turned 17 and only made 7 first-team appearances last season but I am expecting next season to be a breakout year for him. He could arguably turn into a world-class player!

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With a group stage place guaranteed in either the Europa League or Europa Conference League, a lot of work needs to be done in the next transfer window. We need to bulk out the squad but also need to add first team quality as we aim to compete on 2 fronts next season.

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We also have to deal with star player Abdou Harrouri wanting to leave. He wanted to join a Saudi club in January and is unhappy I broke a promise… we’ve just qualified for Europe mate!

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It might be difficult to get the quality that we need, but I’m looking forward to our first season of European football.
 
It’s been an eventful summer at Sparta Rotterdam as we attempt to bulk out but also improve our squad ready for European competition with Dutch players only.

The first player in was 35-year-old Willem Janssen from Utrecht for £170,000 purely because he is a model citizen so will be perfect for tutoring youngsters at the club

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Next in was Joel Ideho on loan from Arsenal, who will add real quality to both flanks.

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We also made 2 impressive free transfers. The first was Marvin Zeegelaar after his Udinese contract expired - he only wanted £2,500 per week.

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And we also brought in Jeremy Helmer on a free from AZ Alkmaar. He made just 2 appearances for them last season yet will be an important player for us, demonstrating the huge gap between the 2 teams despite us finishing 4 positions above AZ last season!

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We also spent £650,000 on youngsters Johan den Boer from ADO Den Haag and £550,000 on Sil Swinkels from Villa (who made his debut for Villa in real-life against Liverpool in the FA Cup match recently).

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Importantly, we managed to extend the loans of key defenders Sepp van den Berg and Maxim Gullit from Liverpool and AZ.

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For the first time in the save I was able to persuade the board to upgrade facilities at the club so we have improved junior coaching, youth recruitment and the training facilities - although I asked for the latter at the worst possible time as it won’t get completed until the end of the season.

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We’re predicted to finish 8th, which shows what an incredible achievement it was to finish 3rd last season. I don’t think it will be happening this time around as we try to balance domestic and continental football.

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Talking of which, the Europa League playoff draw was made and it confirmed nothing. We will play Fenerbahce… or FC Midtjylland... or AEK Larnacas!

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It turns out Fenerbahce beat FC Midtjylland in the Champions League and that the Danish side will play AEK Larnacas in the Europa League. The winner of that will then play us in the playoff… I presume!

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With our recent signings, our squad is now almost 100% Dutch. Laros Duarte plays for Cape Verde but I’m willing to let his nationality slide as his brother Deroy is Dutch and one of our star players.

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The only other non-Dutch player is keeper Maduka Okoye, who I’m only going to sell if we get someone decent in to replace him. He declined to move to Vitesse and there are no real quality Dutch keepers who want to join us, so he might stay for another season.

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Right then, let’s see what our first season in Europe has in store for us!
 
**Spoiler** For a keeper you should check out Maarten Paes at Utrecht. I picked him up for £4.5 million at the end of the 3rd season
 
**Spoiler** For a keeper you should check out Maarten Paes at Utrecht. I picked him up for £4.5 million at the end of the 3rd season

Yeah there's a few I've lined up but either not had the transfer budget for or wage budget for them. I went in for both Marco Bizot and Rody de Boer but they went to other clubs so will stick with Okoye for now. I also have a decent keeper in the u18s that I'm hoping will be good enough to be our long term keeper but we shall see

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The Eredivisie season could not have started any better with us making a tricky away game to FC Twente look easy with a 2-0 win.

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After that game, we found out that FC Midtjylland would be our opponents in the Europa League

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We followed up our first league win with an even better victory against Ajax (which we had goalkeeper Okoye to thank as he made 10 saves in the match) and a comfortable win against PEC Zwolle which included a first Eredivisie goal for 17-year-old academy graduate Maysonnave.

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So 3 Eredivisie games, 3 wins. Things could not have started better for us as we went into our Europa League Playoff Round with Midtjylland who were favourites judging by the star ratings my scouts gave their players.

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Our first ever match in Europe saw us complete a thoroughly professional performance, with Emanuel Emegha scoring 2 goals.

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I was thinking to myself that we’d pretty much made it to the group stage. Oh how wrong I was.

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We managed to get through in the end but were incredibly lucky to do so. We surrendered 3 goals and looked to be going out until 17-year-old Maysonnave bailed us out to see us go through on away goals.

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So after all of that, we will be in the Europa League group stage after all!

We will face Galatasaray, Hoffenheim and Slavia Prague in what is a very tough group for us. It’s easy to forget that on paper we’re a mid-table Eredivisie team!

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In between the two Europa League games we also beat Groningen, so casually sit at the top of the Eredivisie.

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Our season could not have started any better!
 
The Qatar World Cup means that we will be playing 2 games a week right up until November, including weekly Europa League ties. Our squad is about to get tested!

Our first game in the Europa League was at home to Hoffenheim, a team who were in the Champions League group stages last season. Our side, on the other hand, was far from Europa League quality... nevermind the Champions League.

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The difference in quality showed as we were humiliated by them. They were just far too strong for us.

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It was made worse by the fact that injuries to important players were piling up.

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We faced Slavia Prague in our next Europa League game in what was our easiest game on paper. So, naturally, we were 4-0 down by halftime.

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The inevitable defeat was actually made more heartbreaking by the fact that we scored 3 second-half goals.

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A tired and depleted squad then went to Galatasaray in the third group stage game and managed to get a credible draw in Turkey.

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It means that we’re actually still in the Europa League group... just.

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So it’s been disappointing in the Europa League, but the same cannot be said for the Eredivisie.

WE HAVE WON 9 OUT OF 9 LEAGUE GAMES!

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Some results have been fortunate, but it is crazy that we have a 100% win record in the Eredivisie considering the fact we’ve been playing in the Europa League too.

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It’s been a true squad effort, but youngster Dominique Maysonnave is excelling with 6 goals already despite only starting in 4 games in all competitions.

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After the international break, we have matches every 3 or 4 days as the 2022 Winter World Cup in Qatar fast approaches. I can’t see our league form continuing but who knows what’ll happen!
 
After getting a surprise draw against Galatasaray last time out, I had confidence that we could get something from the home game… and that’s exactly what we did.

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Suddenly the dynamic of Group H had changed. With 2 games remaining, we were in second position after that win!

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The surreal league form continued in the meantime, with us beating PSV Eindhoven away from home to make it 11 wins from 11.

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We then got an even better result against Hoffenheim, with a completely unexpected win away from home.

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So our final group stage match against Slavia Prague would decide everything. And by everything I mean whether we would get into the Europa League Knockout Round or the Conference League Knockout Round.

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And once again we made them look like the best team in Europe. They beat us twice and lost to everybody else!

We finish a whirlwind group in 3rd position, which means we qualify for the Europa Conference League that will take place after the winter World Cup.

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Back in the Eredivisie, we finally dropped our first points of the season at home to Fortuna Sittard.

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So, ridiculously, we are top of the table despite juggling Europa League football and our squad being predicted to finish 7th.

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Emanuel Emegha is once again at the centre of all things good for us. He has 13 goals in 17 appearances this season and is attracting the attention of some big clubs in Europe.

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But it is our defensive work that has got us to where we are. We have conceded 4 league goals all season!

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All the defence have been brilliant but club captain Bart Vriends has been solid for us all season and Marvin Zeegelaar is proving to be a quality free signing for us.

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I can’t believe how well things are going for us this season! We now have a 6-week break as the Qatar World Cup takes place.
 
With a 6 week break in the middle of the season I thought I’d look at a few stats - one thing I have failed to notice until now is that we have the lowest wage budget in the Eredivisie, despite being top of the league!

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In the winter World Cup, Holland managed to reach the quarter-finals, with Portugal going on to win the competition.

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After finishing 3rd in our Europa League group, we went straight into the draw for the Europa Conference League First Knockout Round. We were rewarded with an away trip to Standard Liege in what will be a one-legged tie.

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They have a decent looking squad but are 4th in the Belgian league, so I am hoping we can put up a fight against them.

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Then the Jan transfer window came along and with it, we signed loanee Sepp van den Berg on a permanent from Liverpool for £325,000 with his contract expiring in the summer.

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And with first choice right-back Troupee perpetually injured, I decided to bring in Melayro Bogarde on loan from Hoffenheim.

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We kicked off 2023 with 2 wins in the Eredivisie. But for some reason we cannot seem to beat Fortuna Sittard. The only team we’ve dropped points to in the league also beat us in the Dutch Cup, not that it was a competition I was particularly bothered about.

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Aside from our backup team losing to Fortuna Sittard, our defensive record has been a joke all season. I honestly don’t know what it is that we’re getting so right, but nobody in the Eredivisie can get through us!

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Our away record has been impeccable too. We have literally conceded 1 goal away from home in the Eredivisise

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Then we played Feyenoord in the Rotterdam derby.

You know what’s coming don’t you?

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I’m honestly not even disappointed to have lost considering our ridiculous form but to concede 6 goals in one half - after conceding 4 goals in our previous 16 matches - was just weird!

We followed that up with a draw against Willem II, conceding to them in the last minute despite them having 10 men, but got back to winning ways against ADO Den Haag.

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So despite having a record of played 19 won 16, the existence of Ajax means that we’re actually second in the table.

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I’m not expecting us to win the Eredivise, far from it. 2nd place would mean Champions League football and I’ll take that all day long.

Next up for us is Standard Liege in the Europa Conference 1st Knockout Round!
 
Despite being second in the league having only lost 1 league game this season, it’s easy to forget that we actually have a squad that was predicted to finish 8th.

Thankfully, Ajax were on hand to remind us of that by smashing us 5-0.

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We then played bogey team Fortuna Sittard and finally managed to beat them for the first time in 2 years.

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Our next match was Standard Liege in the Europa Conference League 1st Knockout Round. It was a game which centre back Sepp van den Berg was ruled out of with injury.

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But it didn’t matter one bit, we absolutely dominated the match with Emegha scoring a hattrick.

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With it being a one-legged tie, we went straight to the second knockout round and will face Valencia.

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They’re 7th in La Liga, but should be far too strong for us with players like Gaya, Soler and Gonçalo Guedes.

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We followed the emphatic win in Europe with a loss against AZ but a solid home win over Heerenveen

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Youngster Maysonnave is getting too good to leave out of the team and somehow has the 4th most assists in the Eredivisie despite having only started 12 matches.

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And Ajax have not actually been at their best, so we are back at the top of the table

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With 10 games remaining, I think I need to accept that we are in a title race!
 
The extremely long named ‘UEFA Europa Conference League Second Knockout Round’ against Valencia was another one-legged tie and we travelled to one of the strongest teams remaining in the competition with little hope of progressing.

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We threw everything at them but could not pull off an upset. Still, our first season in Europe has been a great adventure and helped the finances out a lot too.

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The loss to Valencia left us with just 10 Eredivisie games to play this season and our results in March were crazy.

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We had our 2 most emphatic victories since taking over against Sparta Rotterdam against Vitesse and PEC Zwolle.

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But the craziest game was away to Utrecht. We were 3-0 up and out of sight yet they somehow managed to get a draw. The only positive from the match was a hattrick from youngster Maysonnave who is going to be a star.

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Some of our players have been incredible this year, and I’ll go in-depth at the end of the season, but Arsenal loanee Ideho has really hit form as has right back Troupee after returning from injury.

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But because Ajax are Ajax, that draw against Utrecht means we are back in second position.

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Our squad is nowhere near as good as 4 or 5 teams in the division and I never once thought we’d beat Ajax to the Eredivisie title. But with 6 games remaining, we are still in the title race.

I can’t see Ajax dropping any points and it’s likely we’ll drop points against PSV, Groningen and Feyenoord, all of whom will still have to play.

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2nd position means we qualify for the early stages of the Champions League and I would certainly take that!

But we couldn’t pip Ajax to the title, could we?
 
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