Evaluating the Dutch sides’ chances in the Europa League
Believe it not, it has been over two decades since we last witnessed an Eredivisie winner of the Europa League (formerly the UEFA Cup) — with Feyenoord the last Dutch recipients in 2002, lifting the trophy after beating Germany’s Borussia Dortmund 3-2 in a five-goal thriller on home soil at the De Kuip in Rotterdam.
In fact, that was just the third time a side from the Netherlands has ever won Europe’s secondary club competition since its inception in 1971/72 — with the Club on the Meuse successful for the first time in 1974 and PSV Eindhoven securing their only triumph four years later in 1978.
It is nowadays dominated by Spanish victors, who have won the cup 11 times in the 20 renewals since Feyenoord’s victory in 2002 — and the trophy could return to the Iberian Peninsula again this year, as La Liga giants Barcelona are currently the second favourites behind Arsenal in the outright winners’ market on this site.
The Dutch are still heavily represented as we head into the knockout rounds, with the Eredivisie’s big three Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord amongst the final 32 teams. So, as things begin to heat up in the Europa League, let’s take a look at the Dutch sides’ chances of winning the trophy at the Puskas Arena in Budapest come May.
It might come as no surprise that the most likely victor from the Netherlands on this page is Ajax. The Amsterdam side dropped down to the second tier of European football after finishing behind Liverpool and Napoli in their Champions League group, and will now face Union Berlin in the first knockout round.
The Sons of God have struggled for form for the last few months, failing to win in seven straight Eredivisie games — a run which resulted in Alfred Schreuder being sacked just six months after replacing Manchester United bound Erik ten Hag.
They showed an immediate reaction to beat Excelsior 4-1 away from home under interim boss Johnny Heitinga just days after Schreuder was dismissed, so there could be an uptick in form in Amsterdam and they are the favourites with the bookmakers to win this tie. But Union Berlin have shown some fine form to sit second in the Bundesliga behind Bayern Munich.
One place above Ajax in the Eredivisie table in third at the time of writing, PSV have also struggled for form since the Dutch top flight returned following the World Cup — winning just two of their five league games, losing two and drawing the other against Fortuna Sittard.
The departures of key forwards Cody Gakpo and Noni Madueke, who understandably couldn’t resist the gravitational pull of the Premier League — joining Liverpool and Chelsea respectively in the January transfer window — looked like it could cost Ruud van Nistelrooy’s team dearly.
But Thorgan Hazard, Fabio Silva and Patrick van Aanholt were all brought to the De Kuip on loan in January, with the former pair both seen as attacking replacements to Gakpo and Madueke at least for the short term.
The Eindhoven outfit face serial Europa League winners Sevilla, who have lifted the trophy six times since their maiden success in 2006, in the first knockout round and are expected to be sent packing by Jorge Sampaoli’s men.
Top of the Eredivisie, Feyenoord have also stumbled since the return to league action following the World Cup — winning just twice in their last five, but have retained the top spot thanks to the poor form of the teams below them.
The Club on the Meuse weren’t the most convincing in Group F of the Europa League either, winning two, drawing two and losing two as they finished top of the standing ahead of Midtjylland on goal difference.
That does, of course, mean that Feyenoord get to bypass the first knockout round of the tournament and turn their attention to the round of 16 in March. Hopefully that will be enough time for Arne Slot’s men to rediscover some form.