The 2024-25 season was a very successful one, relatively speaking. After achieving European football through league finish last season, we managed the same feat again with the latest campaign, improving our finish from 6th to 4th – as a result going through to the Europa League in 2025-26. With only PSG attaining more possession than us, we again dominated the ball against our opponents, though we did score notably fewer goals than our fellow European qualifying teams. Yet we pretty matched out expected goal difference – evidence that our formation does a good job in looking after the ball, but perhaps isn’t that cutting edge. Given our advance up the Ligue 1 table, perhaps a change in tactic might be required to have more thrust to goal scoring to hopefully match our dominance with the ball.
Once again we gave our younger players considerable minutes, with the majority achieving well over 50% of potential minutes. This analysis also helps to identify players who aren’t playing sufficient minutes and are likely surplus to requirements. Boulaye Dia falls into that category and will be earmarked for a move away from the club. Giulian Biancone has also usurped Godswill Ekpolo in the right back role, so consideration will go into whether he is the right man to be a back up. It’s worth noting that Jens Petter Hauge only joined the club in the January window, so as such, actually played a considerable number of minutes in relation to how many he was eligible for.
New central midfield signings, Depoorter, Zwane and Cüneyt Gür all played a good number of minutes without any of them standing out. The mainstay in the central midfield was on loan Hannibal (signified by the purple dot). This was to be his last season at Le Havre as Manchester United had decided that he was now suitably developed for a place in their squad and would not renew his loan agreement. His time at Le Havre has been instrumental to our achievements in not only retaining our status as a Ligue 1 club following our promotion from Ligue 2, but also to then progress up the league and into Europe. His chance creation has been exemplary – as pointed out in a previous blog with a player focus on him – but I feel it’s worth highlighting just how good Hannibal has been for us. Whilst his goal contributions have waned, his assists have been club-leading for us. Never falling below 0.30 goal contributions per 90 in his four seasons with us, he’s provided numerous open play chances for Ali Akman, our main striker, and our other forwards, and also from set piece situations.
In terms of goal scoring contribution across the entirety of the season (and not just Ligue 1), we relied heavily upon both Ali Akman and Ivan Saranic. The two contributed 37% (helpfully 37) of all goals, on a combined xG of 29.48. Ariel Mosór, our Polish right-sided centre back, signed for £6m from Legia last season but crucially (read stupidly) after the closing of the registration window, was the next highest – showing that our set pieces routines, in particular corners, worked well. This pleased the board as they’d mandated this a club focus. In total, seventeen goals were scored from set pieces (eight from corners and nine from free kicks).
Europa Conference League Review
Achieving European football well ahead of the expectations of the Club leadership, gave us a good chance to see where we were at. As it turned out, we were a lot further ahead than I had thought we were with our development.
Winning our group against relatively weaker opponents (Slovenia’s Maribor and Serbia’s Čukarički) and Bundesliga side Köln, resulted in us achieving a bye in the first round knockout as those sides who finished third in the Europa League and second in their Europa Conference League played off against one another. Two further victories over Czechia’s Slavia Praha and North Macedonia’s KF Shkëndija followed – with us brushing them both aside with reasonable ease, so much so in the case of KF Shkëndija that we were able to fully rotate our side for the second leg after a 5-0 victory in the first match.
It was the semi final result against Everton that really shocked me. A 2-0 win at home was surprising, but to then go to Goodison Park and win 2-1 away from home was a fantastic feeling. Ali Akman was the star of the tie with three goals across the two games and eight in the competition as a whole. Achieving a final in our first outing is brilliant and something I really wanted to win to make our mark on Europe.
Our opponents were to be Dutch side AZ Alkmaar. AZ had qualified for the Europa League proper, but a third place finish in their Group saw them drop into the Europa League Conference. Their path to the final was represented by a demolition of Parma, close ties against FC Midtjylland and Rapid Wien, before a semi final victory against our Group opponents Köln.
Europa Conference League Final Line Ups
Setting up in a 4-2-3-1, AZ were plainly set to play very wide by Arne Slot after watching some initial attacking play. Their full backs, with Beukers likely playing as a complete wing back on the right, spread wide and rapidly once they’d won back possession of the ball. This left their central defenders with a lot of space to cover should a swift turnover occur with a Le Havre counterattack. We were already set to press them high up the field, so recognising their weakness in the centre of the pitch, I added a further instruction to the team to play through the centre. The below graphic shows with AZ’s average positioning with the ball. Our pressing helps to explain why they’re so deep when in possession of the ball – but also note the advanced position of Beukers, this will be integral to the first real action below and also the space for us to exploit with a quick counter.
After I adjusted our team instructions to focus play down the middle it worked a treat. The long kick from AZ’s Owusu-Oduro fell straight to Dvunjak who, untroubled by any opponent, has time to lay it off to Hannibal. He in turn spots Zwane, our Mezzala in space not being pressed by the deeper AZ central midfield players who haven’t advanced up the pitch. When they do come into press Zwane, Ali Akman in the false nine role drops back into this space and drags his defender with him. Chema Núñez runs into the huge gap between the right back, Beukers, who has initially advanced too far up the pitch and the other centre back, Van den Berg. All through the play from the moment we win the ball back to the first touch of Chema Núñez, the ball barely travels outside the width of the centre circle and we have a one-on-one which is finished emphatically.
We had to wait until the second half for our next goal. This time the goal came from an initial build up from our own half. We win the ball back and then look to spring an attack, spreading the play across to the right hand side. By the time it reaches Biancone on the flank, he lays it across to Hannibal who uses some of his flair to beat his man, playing it into Ali Akman who holds off his run into the six-yard area, with AZ’s defenders concentrating on the run of Saranic. With Chema Núñez occupying the mind of Beukers, Zwane finds himself unmarked and he finishes with aplomb into the bottom corner.
Our second goal seemed to free AZ’s shackles. They took the game by the scruff of the neck from their kick off following the Zwane strike. Their first response was in the 64th minute. We lost concentration following an AZ thrown in and it culminates in our offside trap being sprung by a Koopmeiners through ball over the top to Yusuf Barasi, who calmly finished past the on-rushing Sorano – 3-1. Biancone had been to distracted by the offside Karlsson, giving Barasi the perfect opportunity to rush past Mosór who was overloaded with Barasi and Taabouni to look after because Dvunjak had been dragged over towards the ball rather than sitting on Taabouni.
It only takes another minute for AZ to find the equalising goal. We switch off yet again from another throw in, with the AZ players running rings around our defenders, leading to Fedde de Jong popping a cross up for Taabouni to nod in. A poor couple of minutes have cost us a game that we had a stranglehold on and the players’ morale drops markedly. I try to encourage them, but to no avail…
We try to reassert our dominance on the ball and remove team instructions to time waste now that AZ are level. Yet this just leads to AZ exploiting us on the 85th minute as our players tire from our pressing. After yet another thrown in from AZ down their right flank, play eventually develops down their left flank. Saranic lets Esajas run past him and with Biancone and Dvunjak confused as to who is picking him up, as Reijnders off the ball run has them confused, neither of them pick up the run nor the player on the ball. Mosór was unlucky not to cut the pass out with his attempted sliding interception, but this just leads to Yusuf Barasi being free to slot home at the second attempt after Soriano blocks his first effort. Hearts sink and we look to go ‘very attacking’ but the game plays out with AZ sitting deep and keeping out any of our efforts.
You might think I would be disappointed by the result, and I was, but I was equally as pleased because we had made it this far – proud in fact. We shouldn’t be this far ahead of our plan and our overall play is generally encouraging – we are playing good football, if not full bore attacking chance creation on steroids. Quite how much we will miss Hannibal and his creativity, we will have to wait and see next season, but we have now earned the revenues from European football to help us solidify our finances and have some funds to reinvest. If we continue to be cautious with our spending on player transfers and wages, then Le Havre should at least have a strong platform to build upon going forwards. This should then help us progress our tactic and shape in the fullness of time once we have better players amongst our ranks to properly fulfil them.
As a break from the norm, I’ll be looking at player acquisitions and sales in the next blog, along with the usual amortisation in the season review for 2025-26. I hope you return for that soon.