uefa.com gives its mid-term report on UEFA Cup challengers PSV Eindhoven.
Having exited the UEFA Champions League at the first hurdle, PSV Eindhoven still have hopes of European success as they look to claim their first UEFA Cup title since 1978. Slow to recover their stride after cruising to the Dutch Eredivisie title last term (winning by a 17-point margin), PSV's sixth UEFA Champions League campaign ended after the first group stage, leaving them with a place in the UEFA Cup instead.
Drawn alongside French club FC Nantes Atlantique, Galatasaray SK of Turkey and Italy's S.S. Lazio, Group D was arguably the most open in the competition. All four sides entered the final round of matches with a chance to progress but PSV had to settle for third place as they went down to a 2-0 defeat at Galatasaray.
Van Bommel blow
That was one of three defeats in their Champions League campaign, the first coming in their opening match at Nantes, where they lost 4-1. PSV responded with two impressive home wins, 3-1 against Galatasaray - Arnold Bruggink, Ernest Faber and Mateja Kezman the scorers - and then 1-0 against Lazio, Kevin Hofland's 40th-minute strike their reward for a spirited and skilful display. However, the loss of influential midfield player Mark van Bommel to a knee injury before the return against Lazio meant he would miss not just the visit to Rome but also PSV's remaining three matches in the competition.
Without Van Bommel, Lazio exacted their revenge on PSV when Stefano Fiore and Claudio López scored the goals that sent them to a 2-1 defeat in the Olimpico stadium. In their remaining two matches, PSV - now also without injured goalkeeper Ronald Waterreus - drew 0-0 at home with Nantes and then lost 2-0 to Galatasaray, the result that sealed their fate.
Lesser lights shine
Since their Champions League exit, Eric Gerets has also lost to injury defender Hofland - a possible transfer target for Manchester United FC - although Van Bommel and Waterreus were both back ahead of the winter break. In the absences, some of the squad's lesser lights have shone, including young Danish defender Kasper Bøgelund and midfielder Theo Lucius.
Clinching third place in their Champions League group meant a place in the third round of the UEFA Cup and PSV were drawn against Greek club FC PAOK Thessaloniki. The away leg, at the Toumba stadium, produced an exciting encounter that PSV lost 3-2. John de Jong's 20th-minute header opened the scoring but Yiasoumis Yasemakis (2), Ifeanyi Udeze put the hosts in charge before Arnold Bruggink netted with nine minutes remaining to give PSV hope for the second leg.
The Philips stadium witnessed another feast of attacking football a fortnight later, when PSV won 4-1 on the night to complete a 6-4 aggregate victory. Jan Vennegoor of Hesselink, the club's main summer signing from FC Twente, struck twice and Georgi Gakhokidze and Van Bommel were also on target.
Erik Gerets's PSV face last season's UEFA Champions League semi-finalists Leeds United AFC in the fourth round and, if successful, could meet Feyenoord in an all-Dutch quarter-final encounter. While aware of Leeds's capabilities, PSV will take heart from impressive performances against English clubs in Europe in recent seasons, performances which have brought victories against United last season, Newcastle United FC and, in the 1995/96 season, Leeds themselves.
On the domestic front, having won the Dutch league title with such ease last term, PSV have struggled to recapture their superiority and sit third in the table, trailing Feyenoord and AFC Ajax who both have games in hand. They have already let in the same number of goals they conceded during the whole of last season and will look to tighten up defensively in the second half of this campaign