It is only seven months since PSV Eindhoven came within an ace of pipping AC Milan to the UEFA Champions League final. But their current position in Group E brings back memories of previous travails.
This is PSV's tenth UEFA Champions League campaign, and only in their ninth did they make it past the group stage. As they prepare to welcome Fenerbahçe SK on Matchday 6 PSV lie third in the pool, a point behind AC Milan and FC Schalke 04, in a campaign that has proved the importance of home advantage.
PSV's two fixtures at their Philips stadium have produced 1-0 wins against Milan and Schalke. On the road, though, a goalless draw in Italy was sandwiched between damaging 3-0 defeats in Istanbul and Gelsenkirchen. This is not a phenomenon unique to European football: PSV have won 17 consecutive Eredivisie games at their Eindhoven home, the last three, oddly enough, by a 3-0 scoreline, and they have not suffered a defeat there since 18 December 2004 - when both of Roda JC's goals were scored by current PSV striker Arouna Koné. Indeed, the only goal conceded in that time was against SC Vitesse on 21 August - put through his own net by PSV defender Alex. Their most recent away league result, in contrast, was a 4-4 draw against RKC Waalwijk.
Coach Guus Hiddink's cause was not helped by the summer losses of Mark van Bommel, Ji-Sung Park and Johan Vogel, taking away class and experience from the midfield, missed most in the testing circumstances of a European away day. However, he refuses to blame those transfers for the defeats, and believes the 3-0 scorelines in Turkey and Germany were harsh.
"Away against Fenerbahçe we played pretty well, but we let the defeat run into too high a figure," Hiddink told uefa.com. "As a team we were able to push them back for a while, but allowed some situations that should not have happened, with a striking example the penalty and red card against Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink right before the break. Against Schalke I noticed their players looked a bit physically stronger, by which I mean personal strength."
That the midfield has held together despite the close season transfers is due in no small part to 35-year-old captain Phillip Cocu. His return in 2004 proved vital in turning around PSV's European fortunes. "
We are stronger at home, but we are not the only team in Europe that is faced with that," said Cocu.
However, he is in agreement with Hiddink that the disparity in PSV's Group E results may be misleading. Cocu told uefa.com: "When analysing the matches, you must admit that those scores were higher than the game merited, certainly the away match against Fenerbahçe. But don't forget, our opponents are also better in their home matches, certainly Schalke, and I think the same goes for Fenerbahçe."
Cocu acknowledged that the loss of his former midfield partners has not helped PSV's cause. "I am not talking about missing one player specifically, like for instance Mark van Bommel," he said. "Last season we really had a strongly balanced team, certainly in the depth of the squad, we were not depending on one or two players. Now we have a squad that is a bit more limited in choice, certainly in the Champions League, but we just have to deal with it. This is the squad we have to reach the next stage with."
Of concern to Hiddink is the lack of firepower that has landed them just two goals in five group stage games - hindered by the fact that late signings Jason Culina and Koné missed the UEFA Champions League deadline. Hiddink said: "
It is a disadvantage to have to change the team around every two weeks. That certainly is a fact. Although we knew this from the start, it is still a shortcoming for us. Certainly when a player like [DaMarcus] Beasley pulls out with a hamstring injury."
'All or nothing'
Whatever the selection problems, PSV at least know a win tonight would take them through, whatever the result between Milan and Schalke. Cocu said: "It will be an all or nothing match. If we win [we stay in] the Champions League, a draw the UEFA Cup and a loss will leave us empty-handed, so it will certainly be a match with a lot of pressure. But luckily we still have it all in our own hands." A third 1-0 win in the group, and PSV's group-stage hoodoo will fade further into history.
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