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Meet FC Twente, Fiorentina’s first Conference League opponent

The Viola take on the Dutch side with a spot in the group stage on the line.

General Views of Grolsch Veste Stadium home of FC Twente Photo by Marcel ter Bals/BSR Agency/Getty Images

We’re a week away from Fiorentina’s first match in Europe since a night that nobody remembers against Borussia Monchengladbach in 2017. Instead of A German Team, the Viola will take on Dutch side FC Twente of Enschede. Since these sides have never crossed paths, here’s a quick primer on just who exactly these guys are.

So who are these guys?

Football Club Twente were founded in 1965, when Sportclub Enschede merged with Enschedese Boys. They’ve spent all but one year since in the Dutch top flight, only suffering relegation in 2018 and bouncing right back the year after. It hasn’t been smooth sailing that whole time, though, as a bankruptcy in 2003 almost resulted in the club folding and further financial problems led to a league investigation in 2015.

Despite the hiccups, though, Twente are a venerable side with a decent silverware cabinet. They famously won the Eredivisie in 2009-2010 under the management of Steve McClaren, and they’ve hoisted the KNVB Cup 3 times as well, most recently in 2010-2011. They’ve won the Dutch Supercup twice too. Their alumni include Ronald de Boer, Dušan Tadić, and Hakim Ziyech.

Yeah, but what have they done more recently?

Since returning to the Eredivisie in 2019, they’ve finished 14th, 10th, and then 4th last season. That last season was particularly notable, as they finished with 68 points from 34 games (scoring 55 and conceding 37), just 3 behind giants Feyenoord. That was enough to send them into the third round of Conference League qualifying, where they put away Serbian outfit Čukarički by an aggregate score of 7-2. They also beat NEC Nijmegen in the league opener last week, so they’ve won their first 3 games of the year.

Do they have any good players?

Yeah, they’ve got good players. Let’s start with Ricky van Wolfswinkel, who you may recall as a former next van Basten. While he never hit those heights, the 33-year-old (who’s the son-in-law of Johann Neeskens) is a dependable presence in the box, scoring 16 in the league last year and assisting 8 more. He’s also got plenty of European experience, so he’s probably the main threat for Fiorentina to smother, although he relies more on service from his teammates at this point.

Michel Vlap is the creative hub, a classic Dutch number 10 who’ll float around and look to play killer passes; he also offers a goal threat, having pinged in 5 last season and gotten on the scoresheet against Čukarički as well. Keep an eye on his late runs into the box. 20-year-old Greek winger Christos Tzolis notched the winner against Nijmegen and looks like the real deal. Finally, big Robin Pröpper (Davy’s younger brother) is a real threat at set pieces, having scored 5 last year. Finally, veteran goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall is quite a good shot stopper and seems to bail them out at least twice a game from situations that look very sticky indeed.

So some good players, but how do they actually play?

Manager Ron Jans is a smart and capable tactician who’s done a good job with this bunch. While they’re good on the ball and can play out from the back, they’re more transition-based than the Dutch stereotype, particularly because they’ve got some speed on the wings. They love to counterpress and get numbers forward quickly and play a very high line to do so; if this sounds a little like Fiorentina, well, yeah.

In attack, they have two consistent avenues of attack: get it wide and cross for van Wolfswinkel, with Vlap making those late runs into the box as well. They’re not afraid to throw the fullbacks forward or send the central midfielders into wide positions in order to create overloads. If the cross isn’t on, they’ll try to play very quick passes through the middle and try to overwhelm defenses with the sheer number of players running forward. While risky, they’re good at quick exchanges to get someone in on goal from an unexpected angle. To repeat, though, they’re generally happy to focus more on pressing and then attacking the short field when they win the ball.

That sounds like a good team. Are Fiorentina doomed?

They’re definitely a good team, but Fiorentina are far from doomed. Twente are pretty shaky at the back, which isn’t surprising considering how many bodies they send forward. When the lose the ball, their high line makes them very vulnerable to quick attacks, especially down the wings. That should suit the Viola just fine, as Nicolás González, Riccardo Sottil, and Jonathan Ikoné will likely have a lot of space to operate.

And, if I’m honest, the standard of defending just isn’t that high. The entire back line struggles in space at times, and they’re prone to losing a man at the worst moment; Luka Jović should find some space to operate. And, while Vlap is a clever passer, he’s really the main creative hub. Shutting him down means that Twente will probably struggle to carve out many chances. The Tuscans are a good bet to get through this, although it won’t be easy.

Okay, that’s all the boring stuff. What’s the fun stuff about Twente?

Hm. They’ve got a bunch of players with famous relatives in van Wolfswinkel, Pröpper, and Sem Steijn (son of Sparta Rotterdam manager Maurice Steijn). Okay, yeah, that wasn’t all that fun. Their stadium is de Grolsch Veste (the Grolsch Fortress) and yes, it’s named after the Enschede-based brewery. That’s kind of fun, right?

Oh, and nicknames. Everyone loves the nicknames. The main one is the Tukkers, which sounds very fun and cute in English. There’s no fun story behind it, sadly: that’s just the nickname of people from the area. They’re also called de Trots van den Oosten (the Pride of the East) and the Reds (and yeah, they say it in English.

Fine. One more fun fact. In 1974-1975, Twente qualified for the UEFA Cup in their best-ever finish at the time. The following season, they made an amazing run through the cup, only falling in the final to Borussia Monchengladbach. And as we all know, there’s no shame in losing to die Fohlen in a European cup. The fun part, though, is who the Tukkers beat to get there. Want to guess? Yep. They knocked out Juventus in the semifinals.

So at least we can agree that Twente’s pretty cool.