The joys of Heracles Almelo and SC Freiburg

Unsurprisingly, the candidates for the side most pleasing on the eye in Europe generally include Barcelona, Bayern Munich, Arsenal and Werder Bremen.

But scan the Bundesliga in depth, delve inside the Eredivisie, and two more hats are tossed into that ring.

Heracles Almelo, 2009/10

The Polman Stadion may only host 8500 spectators and a side good enough to finish 6th in the Eredivisie, but Gertjan Verbeek’s Heracles were one of the most eye-catching sides for me last season. Their success has also now earned Verbeek the reigns at 2008/09 champions AZ Alkmaar.

Indebted to an injury-defying first XI, Heracles’ positivity often sees their shape become 2-3-2-3.

Kwame Quansah offers a disciplined presence in the insuring role, and the full backs function near the final-third of the pitch more often than the first-third. Thus, on-ball, Verbeek was generally content to keep just two defenders at the back.

Their attacking play tends to begin via the jinxing, threading or shooting threat of Willie Overtoom. Elsewhere, Everton drifts in to the support-striker role behind the multi-talented Bas Dost.

The tall ostensible target-man times his diagonal darts to perfection, and is threatening in the air or on the last defender’s shoulder.

Delivery into the box comes via the set-pieces of all-round midfield-man Marko Vejinovic, or the end-products of run-at-you winger Darl Douglas. That he’s capable of going in or out on his carries means opposition full-backs are unsure which angle to seal, thus adding to the already substantial arsenal of weapons Heracles have at their disposal.

Already shorn of Coach Verbeek, Heracles also have a paucity of Europa League football next season. A 6th-place finish ensured they entered the Dutch top flight’s play-off competition, where the victor graces UEFA’s secondary continental cup competition.

Alas, Roda JC, the team who finished 9th in the league, prevailed 3-2 on aggregate at the semi-final stage.

Moving over the border to Germany, perhaps some will deem me citing Freiburg as a thing of beauty as contentious. They finished 14th in the Bundesliga last year, and only assured themselves of avoiding the drop in the parapenultimate round. But towards the end of 2009/10, Robin Dutt’s master-plan sprouted.

SC Freiburg, 2009/10

In a movement-heavy 4-1-4-1, Freiburg make for ace viewing. On the right-hand side, Jonathan Jäger dribbles and crosses.

Mo Idrissou, meanwhile, is all power and presence just behind the main striker.

The full-backs, rampaging, were capable of delivering some particularly noteworthy balls into the box during the closing stages of the campaign, feeding the too-often profligate Papiss Demba Cissé.

Nevertheless, the Senegalese striker runs and runs, will hound any cause, and is often notably unselfish in the box.

This unselfishness feeds the likes of Cedric Makiadi to fire in long-rangers, or Johannes Flum, bursting into the box on a trademark ghost.

At the back, goalkeeper Simon Pouplin starts short, rolling to the ball-bringing centre-backs, who get protected by the wave-breaking Julian Schuster. One of this quartet, centre-backs, ‘keeper or Schuster, then sets a full-back to carry or pass the ball out of Freiburg’s half.

Freiburg and Heracles remain very much off-the-radar, totally unfashionable clubs. Yet for fans of the sport, the occasions on which we get to witness floor-working football teams beyond the likes of Barcelona makes watching football all the more worthwhile.

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