Preview: FC Utrecht vs. Sparta Rotterdam

FC Utrecht welcome Sparta Rotterdam to Stadion Galgenwaard for an Eredivisie Europa playoff semi-final on Thursday night.

The winners of this one-legged affair will face the victors of the second semi-final between NEC and Go Ahead Eagles for a chance to secure a place in the Europa Conference League qualifying rounds for next season.

Match preview

After three successive sixth-placed finishes between 2018-19 and 2020-21, Utrecht have since secured seventh spot in each of the last three Eredivisie campaigns, although they finished four points worse off this time around compared to the previous season.

De Domstedelingen only won one of their final four matches of the regular season and subsequently finished six points behind fifth-placed Ajax and 15 points adrift of fourth-placed AZ Alkmaar, whom they drew 3-3 with at AFAS Stadion last weekend.

Utrecht were staring down the barrel of defeat as they entered half time three goals behind, but Othmane Boussaid pulled one back 10 minutes after the interval before the dismissal of AZ’s Dani de Wit on the hour mark shifted the contest in the visitors’ favour, with Sam Lammers and Victor Jensen scoring in the final 20 minutes to rescue a point.

Ron Jans’s side are now bidding to securing European football for the first time since competing in the 2010-11 Europa League group stage, but success on Thursday is not a given considering that they suffered a 1-0 home defeat to Sparta Rotterdam less than a fortnight ago.

That victory for Sparta is one of six that they have celebrated across their last eight Eredivisie matches, and this strong run of form helped them make a late surge into the top eight, although they still finished two places and 10 points worse off than in 2022-23.

Camiel Neghli was the only name on the scoresheet when De Kasteelheren beat Utrecht earlier this month, and he also opened the scoring in a 2-1 home win over Heerenveen last weekend; Tobias Lauritsen doubled their advantage before Pawel Bochniewicz netted what proved to be only a consolation for the visitors in stoppage time.

Jeroen Rijsdijk’s men have fared slightly better away from home this term having picked up 26 of their 49 points on the road, and they head to the Stadion Galgenwaard having won three of their last four away matches.

Sparta have in fact won their last two visits to Utrecht, so they will fancy their chances of success on Thursday as they endeavour to move one step closer to securing European qualification for the first time since the 1985-86 UEFA Cup

Team News

Utrecht will be without the services of Tim Handwerker and Kevin Gadellaa as they continue to recover from knee injuries, while Anthony Descotte remains sidelined with an unspecified issue.

Former Manchester United youngster Zidane Iqbal has featured regularly in recent weeks and he is expected to continue in midfield alongside Can Bozdogan, while Rangers loanee Lammers – who has scored a team-high 10 goals this term – is set to lead the line.

As for Sparta Rotterdam, Arno Verschueren (knee) and Joshua Kitolano (unspecified) are both set to miss out due to injury, but Django Warmerdam has returned to training this week and could be in contention to return to the matchday squad.

Lauritsen, who scored away against Utrecht in a 2-1 win for Sparta last season, has scored 12 goals in all competitions this season and is expected to start up front, supported in attack by Neghli and Koki Saito.

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