The memorable 1-0 win over Fenerbahce in Istanbul has been, so far, the first bright spot in an otherwise dull sky for Young Boys Bern; their start to the season has been one to forget. Thus far, Vladimir Petkovic’s men have been unable to shrug off the disappointment of last season when Basel snatched the Swiss title from their grasp at the death. Until the final two games of the season Young Boys had dominated the Swiss Super League and the collection of their first title since 1986 seemed just a formality.
"I didn’t expect such a difficult beginning", Petkovic admitted. It took four games for Young Boys to win their first three points of the season, defeating Grasshoppers 2-1 in Zurich. Prior to that, the Yellow-Blacks managed just two points from their first three matches, losing to small Bellinzona and drawing with Luzern and newly promoted Thun. Not the best way to state their intention to win this season’s Super League; or defeat Tottenham Hotspur to reach the Champions League group stages either.
In Bern doubts began to grow about Petkovic’s future at the Wankdorf Stadium, rumours spreading that the club’s board were getting ready to pull the trigger. However, the impressive dispatching of Turkish giants Fenerbahce in the Sukru Saracoglu Stadium – in the process Young Boys became the first Swiss team ever to win a game in Istanbul – has bought the coach more time and Petkovic will work furiously to rediscover last season’s form. For Petkovic Young Boys’ form is now, more than ever, personal, after sections of the media labelled the Bosnian as the "always comes second coach". The 46-year-old has, so far, lost two Swiss Cup finals – the first with Bellinzona and the second with Young Boys – and has led the Yellow-Blacks to two consecutive second place finishes in the Super League.
It hasn’t been easy going for Petkovic this summer and for that he is surely due some sympathy. Young Boys lost two key players in the form of Ivorian striker Seydou Doumbia (sold to CSKA Moscow) and fellow countryman and midfield live-wire Gilles Yapi-Yapo (headed to Basel on a free transfer). "These departures have unquestionably weakened Young Boys" commented respected Swiss Super League expert Paolo Galli in a column at Il Giornale del Popolo, "but they will not cover up the unimpressive performance of the team for a long time anymore."
Doumbia and Yapi-Yapo have been replaced at the Wankdorf by Cameroon striker Henri Bienvenu and Swiss rising talent Moreno Costanzo. Bienvenu, despite having been bought from Esperance Tunis only last January, has become a regular only in this current campaign, playing a vital role in the Champions League third qualifying round victory over Fenerbahce by scoring the winner in Istanbul. Costanzo, a 22-year-old playmaker from St. Gallen, has assumed an important role too, showing great technique and vision in the home leg against the Turks and converting an 89th minute penalty to snatch a 2-2 draw for Young Boys.
This season Petkovic has switched from a 3-4-3 to a 4-1-4-1 system. Apart from Bienvenu and Costanzo, Young Boys have a raft of impressive performers such as goalkeeper Marco Wolfli, central defender Emiliano Dudar and veteran stopper Christoph Spycher, just back from five years in the Bundesliga with Eintracht Frankfurt. Despite playing at left back with Frankfurt, Petkovic has deployed Spycher as a defensive midfielder, his original role.
When the Swiss side face English Premier League side Tottenham Hotspur in the Champions League playoff round they will be clear underdogs. While Spurs are expected to progress, Young Boys can play with relative freedom. This could well be their biggest advantage and Petkovic will hope that victory over the Premier League club can act as a further spurs for his side, in much the same way the disposing of Fenerbahce has.
Photo courtesy: twicepix