With the Premier League ‘campaign’ pretty much a dead duck for us, the Europa League is now the only remaining opportunity to salvage something from what has been a pretty crud season. Standing in the way of a place in the last 16 are BSC Young Boys – one of the leading lights in what is a fairly average Swiss League – in what should be a pretty tight affair over the two legs. Being a proper sad meff I’ve watched some of Young Boys Europa group games and what follows is my protracted assessment of what lies in store over the two legs, starting with the boss Uli Forte.
A defender by trade, second generation Italian Forte’s first big gig came as boss of St Gallen, inheriting a side who had just been relegated to the second tier of Swiss football. Forte overseen promotion in his first season and then stabilised things before getting the bullet in his third season, a campaign which would ultimately result in relegation.
His next job would be at Grasshopper and although he was only there for 1 full season it would be a fruitful one; he improved the clubs points total by 43 on the previous season, moving from 3rd bottom to 2nd top, returned the club to the Champions League and bagged the Swiss cup.
Whilst trophies haven’t followed yet at Young Boys he has overseen great improvements, with a 16 point swing in his first campaign and this season his points per game ratio has also steadily risen. It’s especially impressive given that a lot of the big hitters from the squad he inherited have moved onto bigger leagues, indeed from the side that beat Spurs in the ECL playoff 2 years ago only English born Sutter is likely to start next week.
Its hard to really define his team’s style. In their games so far in the EL they haven’t dominated possession, nor have they dominated territory. They are more set up to play counter attack but with Hoarau up top they can be more direct should they wish.
Ok, so what about the team….
The Defensive Unit
Yvon Mvogo (Keeper) Only 20 years of age but has been preferred to Swiss International and former club captain Wolfili for the bulk of this season, and especially in Europe. The Napoli away defeat provided a decent microcosm of his good and bad qualities, firstly with an impressive 7 saves which kept the score respectable. On the flip side his command of the area was poor, continually struggling with crosses and making a truly comedy gaffe to gift Napoli their second goal.
Scott Sutter (RB) Formerly a junior at Charlton, London born Sutter is a right back who can also play in midfield and – less convincingly- at left back. A mainstay of the side, he played a vital role bombing forward in the win over Spurs 2 seasons ago and was equally impressive vs Bratislava away, crucially picking up 2 assists from the right flank.
Jan Lecjaks (LB) – Big, physically imposing left back who is comfortable shuffling across to centre back. Poses little threat on the ball and is generally uncomfortable going forward in possession. His back-up Rochat played vs Napoli but endured a miserable night that culminated in gifting clown keck’s mob their third goal.
Milan Vilotic (DC)– 28 year old right footed Serbian International centre back who previously spent 3 seasons at Red Star in his homeland. His time in Belgrade came to a sticky end after a feud with Robert Prosinecki, and it’s not the first time his mentality has been called into question. A tall, aggressive ball winning defender, he can be caught out in 1v1’s and perhaps likes to go to ground a bit too easily. Not massively comfortable on the ball and can be caught in possession.
Steve Von Bergen (DC)- Skipper and decent covering defender with good levels of concentration. Has good pedigree having played in the Bundesliga and Serie A plus he has featured in x2 World Cups for Switzerland. Will play on the left of centre alongside Vilotic.
Sekou Sanogo Junior (DMC)- Defensive midfielder from the Ivory Coast who will play on the left of central midfield. Can drive forward and beat players using his physique, gives a good aerial presence and isn’t afraid of ruffing things up in midfield, often going to ground and giving away unnecessary fouls. Along with Hoarau he will be the main target for free kicks and corners.
Milan Gajic (DMC)- 28 year old Serbian central midfielder, a good passer but who has dubious levels of concentration and defensively isn’t great. Plays right of centre but is left footed so it would be worth running at his weaker side. His Balkan battle in the middle of the park with Besic cold be one to keep an eye on.
Yuya Kubo (AMC)- 21 year old two footed second striker who will predominantly drift to the left. Came through the ranks at Kyoto Sanga which is one of the J-League’s most prolific talent production lines .Fellow BSC creative sparks Josef Martinez and Michael Frey have moved onto Serie A and Ligue 1 respectively, meaning Kubo is now pretty much a first pick, Has good acceleration and will look to pick up the ball in deep areas and drive into the opposition half. Can be easily dispossessed against more physically robust opponents.
Guillaume Hoarau (FC) One time Everton target under Moyes, Hoarau is a one man battering ram. Has scored 5 in 5 starts in the Europa this season and having previously turned out for PSG and Bordeaux he has plenty of pedigree and big game experience to call on and no forward has won more aerials per game in the tournament than he has. Jags and co will be well served by keeping a high-ish line to prevent him doing damage from crosses and also keeping him on his weaker right foot. Bagged 2 in Saturday’s 4-2 win over Grasshoppers which helped BSC leapfrog Zurich into 2nd spot in the table.
Raphael Nuzzolo (FL)- Converted from a forward into a winger, Nuzzolo is a right footed wide attacker who will play on the left and look to cut inside onto his better foot. He is clever, can head, volley and dink nice one touch goals. Top Young Boys scorer in the league this season with 5 goals and scored against Liverpool in the EL a few seasons ago.
Renato Steffan (FR) I like this cat. Left footed wide midfielder, he is a good dribbler and crosser. For me he is their chief danger man – he is at his best running at defenders and made the crucial assist for goal 2 v napoli. The main creative force with plenty of assists in his locker, he is also the joint top scorer for the club in the league this season. Is also good at picking up free kicks and has decent movement in the opposition 6 yard box, particularly in the air.
Ghana forward Afum offers a pacy alternative although in front of goal he is very erratic with just 2 goals in 15 Swiss League games this season. Right sided Argentine Zarate is a much more credible gunslinger from the bench, and he scored against the RS in the group stage a few seasons ago.
Betting points to consider
- Despite finishing second in their group Young Boys won more points and scored more goals in their group than we did
- They are particularly strong at home in Europe, having won 7 on the spin and scoring 19 goals in the process, conceding only 2.
- When the sides meet this week Young Boys would have played only twice since the last round of Europa League games (1 win and 1 draw) compared to the twelve games we have been involved in.
- Young Boys have scored 3 goals in each of their last 2 home games against English opponents at home (Spurs & Liverpool).
Young Boys will be a difficult side to get the better of and it wouldn’t surprise me if we narrowly lost the opening leg, such is the strength of their home form . Man for man they are weaker than Lille and Wolfsburg, though, and I could see us putting three past them at Goodison.
EFC to win 4-3 on aggregate.