We are a week away from Fiorentina’s first match in Europe since a night no one remembers against Borussia Mönchengladbach in 2017. Instead of a German side, Viola will face Dutch side FC Twente from Enschede. Since these sides have never crossed paths, here’s a quick look at who exactly these guys are.
Football Club Twente was founded in 1965, when Sportclub Enschede merged with Enschedese Boys. They have spent all but a year since in the Dutch top flight, only suffering relegation in 2018 and bouncing back the following year. However, it hasn’t been easy to navigate all this time, as a bankruptcy in 2003 nearly led to the club’s collapse and further financial issues led to a league investigation in 2015.
Despite the hiccups, however, Twente are a venerable team with a decent silverware cabinet. They won the Eredivisie in 2009-10 under manager Steve McClaren, and they also won the KNVB Cup 3 times, most recently in 2010-11. They have also won the Dutch Supercup twice. Their alumni include Ronald de Boer, Dušan Tadić and Hakim Ziyech.
Since returning to the Eredivisie in 2019, they finished 14th, 10th and then 4th last season. This past season was particularly notable as they finished with 68 points in 34 games (scoring 55 and conceding 37), just 3 behind giants Feyenoord. It was enough to send them to the third round of the Conference League playoffs, where they defeated Serbian team Čukaricki by an aggregate score of 7-2. They also beat NEC Nijmegen in the league opener last week, so they won their first 3 games of the year.
Yes, they have good players. Let’s start with Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who you might remember as the former upcoming van Basten. Although he’s never reached those heights, the 33-year-old (who is Johann Neeskens’ son-in-law) is a reliable presence in the box, scoring 16 league goals last year and assisting another 8. He also has plenty of European experience, so he’s probably the biggest threat for Fiorentina to snuff out, although he’s relying more on his teammates’ serve at this stage.
Michel Vlap is the creative center, a classic Dutch number 10 who will float and look to play killer passes; he also offers a goal threat, having scored 5 goals last season and also getting on the scoresheet against Čukarički. Keep an eye on his late runs in the box. 20-year-old Greek winger Christos Tzolis picked up the winner against Nijmegen and looks like the real deal. Finally, the great Robin Pröpper (younger brother of Davy) is a real threat from set pieces, having scored 5 goals last year. Finally, veteran goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall is a pretty good shooter and seems to be bailing them out at least twice a game in situations that look really, really sticky.
Manager Ron Jans is a smart and capable tactician who has done a good job with this group. Although they are good on the ball and can play from the back, they are more transition-based than the Dutch stereotype, especially because they have speed on the wing. They love to counter-press and advance numbers quickly and play a super high line to do so; if it sounds a bit like Fiorentina, well, yeah.
In attack, they have two consistent avenues of attack: moving away and crossing for van Wolfswinkel, with Vlap also making those late runs into the box. They aren’t afraid to launch full-backs or send central midfielders into wide positions in order to create overloads. If the cross is not on, they will try to play very quick passes down the middle and try to overwhelm the defenses with the large number of players running forward. Although risky, they are good at quick rallies to get someone on goal from an unexpected angle. To repeat, however, they are usually happy to focus more on pressing and then attacking the short field when they win the ball.
They are definitely a good team, but Fiorentina are far from doomed. Twente are quite shaky at the back, which isn’t surprising considering how many bodies they send forward. When they lose possession, their high line makes them very vulnerable to quick attacks, especially on the wings. This should suit the Viola just fine, as Nicolás González, Riccardo Sottil and Jonathan Ikoné will likely have plenty of room to operate.
And, if I’m being honest, the level of defense just isn’t that high. The whole backline sometimes struggles in space, and they tend to lose a man at the worst time; Luka Jović should find some space to operate. And, while Vlap is a smart passer, he really is the main creative hub. Closing it means Twente will likely struggle to carve out many chances. The Tuscans are a good bet to get through this, although it won’t be easy.
Hmm. They have a bunch of players with famous parents in van Wolfswinkel, Pröpper and Sem Steijn (son of Sparta Rotterdam manager Maurice Steijn). Ok, yeah, that wasn’t that fun. Their home stadium is Grolsch Veste (Grolsch’s Fortress) and yes, it is named after the Enschede-based brewery. It’s kind of fun, isn’t it?
Oh, and the nicknames. Everyone loves nicknames. The main one is the Tukkers, which sounds very fun and cute in English. There’s no funny story behind it, unfortunately: it’s just the nickname of the locals. They are also called de Trots van den Oosten (the pride of the East) and the Reds (and yes, they say it in English.
Good. Another fun fact. In 1974–75, Twente qualified for the UEFA Cup with their best result at the time. The following season they had an incredible run through the cup, only falling in the final against Borussia Mönchengladbach. And as we all know, there’s no shame in losing to Fohlen in a European Cup. The fun part, though, is who the Tukkers beat to get there. Want to guess? Yeah. They knocked out Juventus in the semi-finals.
So at least we can agree that Twente is pretty cool.