Sunderland play their final match of pre-season on Saturday against Dutch Eredvidisie side SC Heerenveen at the Stadium of Light.
The game will provide fans with the rare chance to watch European opposition at the SoL, as well as to see our new signings Jordan Willis, Conor McLaughlin, Marc McNulty and George Dobson play in the red and white stripes.
Ahead of the match, Matthew Crichton spoke to SC Heerenveen fansite producer Marcel Koppers, who answered questions informing us about his club and what Sunderland can expect during the match - a game that will provide a fierce test for the lads ahead of our season opener against Oxford on August 3rd.
MC: Heerenveen finished 11th in the Dutch Eredivisie last season - where do you think manager Johnny Jansen will be aiming to finish this season?
MK: The aim for the future is to compete for the places between 6 and 9. I’m not sure whether this is realistic at this point as we only got in two new players while about eight players - who played regularly - have left. The biggest signing is the Nigerian winger Childera Ejuke but he’s not eligible to play yet due to issues with his work permit.
MC: Sam Lammers and Michel Vlap both scored 16 league goals each last season but have since left the club. Are you concerned by losing two of your best players?
MK: This ‘concern’ is pretty much part of the club’s DNA. We have to sell our best players each year to cover costs and to be able to invest in new players. I am pretty confident that our forwards (Van Bergen, Odgaard and Ejuke) will be able to score goals as well.
MC: Heerenveen have competed in the Europa League many times in the 21st century, facing our local rivals Newcastle in 2005. Who is the best team you have seen your club play against in Europe?
MK: That was without a doubt AC Milan in the Europa League in 2008. They brought their full squad to our Abe Lenstra Stadion, including stars like Ronaldinho, Kaka, Gattuso, Shevchenko and Inzaghi. Pippo (Inzaghi) showed exactly what he was capable of by forcing an own goal on our side and being on the right spot to finish the 0-3. In the end we lost 1-3 thanks to great ‘chip’ penalty by Pranjic.
MC: Are you expecting many Heerenveen fans to travel across from Holland to the Stadium of Light on Saturday?
MK: As we don’t play abroad very often anymore (the last Europa League trip was in 2013), I think a lot of fans are enthusiastic about the idea of visiting the game in Sunderland. How many fans will go... about 150?
MC: Do Heerenveen have a preferred formation or a style of play which they are recognisable by?
MK: It seems that the new coach Johnny Jansen wants to play in a switchover style; to lean back and surprise the opponent when they make a mistake. They will try to get the right winger Van Bergen (and later also Ejuke from the left) in the right position to beat their opponent(s) with speed.
However, our defence has been terrible last year and without any reinforcements it might turn to be a very bad strategy. So far, our friendly opponents haven’t been that strong.
MC: Who are the three players within your team who you would say are your most threatening to Sunderland?
MK: From the team that will face Sunderland on Saturday I would say Jens Odgaard, Mitchell van Bergen and Ben Rienstra. If we’re able to score at the Stadium of Light, it will probably be one of them. From free kicks the most danger will come from Jordy Bruijn and Hicham Faik, who are both specialists.
MC: Robbin Ruiter failed to perform at Sunderland having moved from FC Utrecht. How do you think the Dutch Leagues compare to the English Leagues?
MK: That’s difficult to say as I don’t regularly watch the English lower division games. In the media the Eredivisie is often compared to the Championship as being similar, but obviously the money is much better over there. So, it’s getting more and more difficult to keep up.
MC: Lastly, what do you think the score will be at full-time on Saturday?
MK: That’s again a tricky one! I don’t know Sunderland well enough but they will definitely be able to score against us and I hope we can score a few as well: 2-2?