Everton return to Europa League action this week when they travel to Switzerland to face BSC Young Boys on Thursday evening.
The Toffees have struggled domestically this season but have enjoyed a successful European campaign so far and will be hoping to continue where they left off in the Europa League Group Stages when they face a side who currently sit in second place in the Swiss League.
Ahead of Everton’s trip, I caught up with Swiss Football writer Craig King – @FootballSwiss – to get the lowdown on our next European opponents – here is what he had to say.
Young Boys was founded by brothers Max and Oscar Scwab, Hermann Bauer and Franz Kehrli, all of whom studied in Bern. The club would officially come into being on March 14th, 1898 as Berner Sport Club Young Boys.
It is fair to say that BSC Young Boys has had its most successful days in the past rather than the present: The club, better known simply as Young Boys, has not tasted silverware since their Swiss Cup victory back in 1987 and has struggled to challenge for the title in recent years with highest finish coming in the 2009-10 season when they finished three points behind Basel in second.
European football though has been a constant for the club in some form since 2003.
Young Boys, as mentioned, had their successes throughout the 1950s and 60s under coach Albert Sing as the club delivered four successive Swiss championships and also brought home the Swiss Cup twice. During this time in charge, Sing would also take Young Boys into European competition for the first time as they drew Vasas Budapest of Hungary in the European Cup.
This was at a time when Swiss politicians would demand that Swiss clubs should not have contact with the Hungarian side and that stance would force the game to be played in Charmilles Stadium in Geneva as Servette offered up their stadium for use. 20,000 fans would cheer on the team but ultimately they would be defeated by a 3-1 aggregate score after a draw in Geneva and defeat in Budapest.
The large attendances would follow for the following season as they once again participated in European competition, defeating MTK Budapest in front of 28,000 to advance. This campaign would be a memorable one as SC Wismut Chemnitz, then the East German champions, would come to town and after the two teams couldn’t be separated, with a 2-2 draw at home with 32,000 watching on and a draw in Germany, a deciding game would take place in Amsterdam that the Swiss side would win to book a semi-final berth against French side Reims.
It is, perhaps, the biggest game in the history of the football club. April 15th, 1959 as Stade de Reims came to the Wankdorf Stadium. 60,000 fans packed in to see Geni Meier score the only goal, a moment that goes down in history in the Swiss capital and despite a 3-0 defeat in Paris, the performance overall was something the club could be proud of, but the good times would shudder to a halt soon after, their last European appearance coming the following season when Hamburg won 5-0 in Bern to eliminate them. Albert Sing, considered the best manager the club ever had, would leave in 1964.
The difficult times in Bern would continue throughout the years with coaching changes happening often. They would not return to European football until 1974.
Over the next few years, the club would change coaches several teams but it would be Alexander Mandziara who would lead Young Boys to their first title in twenty-six years after a decider with Neuchatel Xamax and also a massive European fixture with Real Madrid that is fondly remembered after the 1-0 home win, although elimination would come in Madrid. In the nineties, the club would run into financial difficulties and then faced relegatation in 1997. It was during this time that YB would come close to folding until a company in Luzern rescued them from the brink.
By the 2000s, YB’s found themselves back in the top league and back in Europe. They would also move into the brand new Stade de Suisse in 2005.
YB’s would then have their most successful season in some time as they, as mentioned previously, finished third in the 2009-10 season. The club’s UEFA Champions League run would be ended by Tottenham but they would manage to successfully qualify from their UEFA Europa League group before being eliminated by Zenit St. Petersburg of Russia.
Disappointment would follow the following season as they would fail to reach the Groups of the Europa League with a defeat to Braga, but they would return to the same competition next season, reaching the group only to lose out to Anzhi Makhachkala, Liverpool and Udinese.
A third placed finish in the 12/13 season allowed passage back to the UEFA Europa League and put Young Boys back along the top teams in the Swiss league.
Young Boys are enjoying their season at the moment, they sit in second place in the league and although they are eight points behind Basel, they will believe they can mount a late title challenge after dislodging Zurich from second over the weekend.
Young Boys started with two defeats in their opening ten matches, at Basel and Zurich, the two top sides in the league and their only real blip since those defeats came in October and November as the club were defeated in three consecutive matches, away to relegation-threatened Aarau and home to FC Basel and FC Vaduz, another side battling relegation.
They have hardly put a foot wrong since though and momentum has been building in the capital with wins in their next five matches domestically and a win in Europe that saw them through against Sparta Prague. They would return from the winter break with a draw at Luzern after leading in the 80th minute, but they bounced back in emphatic fashion at the weekend with a 4-2 victory over Grasshoppers.
Young Boys defeated Ermis Aradippou of Cyprus and Debrecen of Hungary to reach the Europa League Group Stages this season. In their opening Group I fixture they routed Slovan Bratislava 5-0 with the goals coming from Lecjaks, Steffen, Nuzzolo, Nikci and Hoarau.
The next match away at Sparta Prague would end in a 3-1 defeat with Hoarau netting again. Matchday 3 would see the side showcase their impressive home pedigree in Europe as they defeated Italian side Napoli by a 2-0 scoreline with Hoarau and Bertone scoring the goals. Napoli would earn their revenge in Naples though with a 3-0 win, despite stubborn resistance for nearly all of the first half.
A comfortable win over group whipping boys Slovan Bratislava by a 3-1 scoreline which saw a double from Kubo and a goal from Hoarau set up a tense shootout in Bern against Sparta Prague with Hoarau netting a late penalty and Steffen scoring in the very last minute to confirm their place in the next round.
The fans will be pinning their hopes on the likes of Guillaume Hoarau. The Frenchman has proven to be a great signing over the summer and he is the top scorer at Young Boys this season and provided a constant threat throughout the Europa League campaign.
In midfield, Nuzzolo, Kubo and Steffen are all capable of finding the back of the net as two of those players demonstrated in the weekend victory over Grasshoppers and Kubo in Bratislava against Slovan. They are three players to watch out for with Steffen and Kubo providing the assists in the win over Napoli.
Defensively, the height and experience of von Bergen and Vilotic should provide a threat from corners while Lecjaks was able to show his threat on Saturday with three great assists against Grasshoppers. Florent Hadergjonaj at just twenty is the least experienced in the squad but he did start against Sparta Prague in the decider and has been a regular in the side. Sutter will get the nod if manager Uli Forte does not keep Hadergjonaj in for the visit of Everton.
I think when the draw was made in December, myself and many others had this down as one of the harder draws that Young Boys could have been given and that their Europa League run would likely come to an end against Everton. When the draw was made on December 15th, Everton were only just entering a patch of poor form after going eight games undefeated, but their recent run has saw only two wins in sixteen matches across all competitions.
The form book then has, for me at least, put this game more in doubt. Everton though have excelled in the Europa League and won home and away against Wolfsburg, a side that are now flying in the Bundesliga.
Young Boys will be proud of their performances so far this season and even more so with their home record in the Europa League in recent seasons. Since a 5-3 defeat to Liverpool in 2012, Udinese, Anzhi, Ermis, Debrecen, Slovan Bratislava, Napoli and Sparta Prague have all fallen at the Stade de Suisse. Infact, YB’s have only ever lost three times in the Europa League/UEFA Cup at home since they began to participate in it.
I think over the two legs, Everton may have too much for Young Boys. I wouldn’t be surprised to see Young Boys grab a result at home with the crowd behind them, especially with Everton in current form, but I do think it would need to be a strong victory, perhaps 3-0 to really give them a chance. They defended well against Napoli in Naples for long periods but were eventually outdone and I think the same could happen at Goodison, although I do think they’d be able to defend a 3-0 lead over there, anything less and Everton, with how big a game this is in their season, could come back into it.
Everton have the better players, I don’t think there is much doubt about that and if they perform like they can, then over the two legs I think Everton will advance but I think it will depend on how things go down at the Stade de Suisse. A defeat there for Young Boys would be very disappointing.
Big thanks to Chris for his thoughts!