How Hearts are preparing for FC Zurich, what style to expect and stadium benefits
The countdown is on for Hearts. It’s just five days until the club return to European action following a wait of six years, one month and four days.
Some may well already be dreaming of a potential Europa League group of Manchester United, Real Sociedad and Union Berlin. Who can blame them?
Players and management will, of course, be focused on the challenge Dundee United will present at a sold-out Tynecastle Park on Sunday. Manager Robbie Neilson is at ease knowing his squad “understand” the need for focus.
In the background preparation is well under way amongst analysts and management team.
Hearts had someone in Belfast for the first-leg against Linfield and then in Zurich as the Swiss champions won 3-0 to complete a 5-0 aggregate scoreline. Former Hearts attacker Donis Avdijaj scored twice in the latter, while Italian international Wilfried Gnonto impressed in the away leg.
"We've started to watch a wee bit of them," Neilson said. “They won the league last year then lost the manager and a couple of players.
"It's going to be a tough tie, no doubt at all, playing against the Swiss champions. They have good international players within that group and we need to bring our best game to give ourselves any chance.
"It's a different challenge [to domestic games]. They changed their style a wee bit – more counter-attacking last year, but more possession-based now.
“They have a lot more pace in their team than the majority of teams here. Rangers and Celtic are more possession-based with sustained attacks. Zurich have more pace in wide areas. They played 3-4-3 on Thursday so they have that explosion in wide areas.
"We probably haven't come up against a team that will sit a wee bit and then come after you. It will be different but that's part of playing in Europe. We are looking forward to it.”
‘Away game for both’
Hearts will train in Edinburgh on Wednesday morning before flying out to Switzerland later that day.
Key for the team progressing could well be the different grounds.
Zurich are not playing at their home ground, instead playing 80km away in St Gallen due to a concert. While Hearts will likely be backed by a sold-out Tynecastle Park rather than at Murrayfield where they have played in some European campaigns going back to 2004.
“It will almost be like an away game for both teams, they played there a couple of weeks ago and got beaten 2-0,” Neilson said.
“It’s a different kind of stadium and it will be different for them.
“We’ve had that experience with Murrayfield, even though it’s just around the corner it’s a different stadium, a different environment.
“So I hope it helps us.
“It’s massive for these European nights, especially if the second leg is at home.
“You look at Celtic and Rangers when they have the second leg at Parkhead or Ibrox and they have that intensity, that atmosphere. It drives them on.
“I would expect Tynecastle to be the same. It can be a weapon for us. If we get full houses the atmosphere will be rocking and that will help us.”
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