Ajax v Feyenoord: Eredivisie champions should be confident of a Klassieker victory
Four games in and only one win between them, the early stages of this Eredivisie campaign haven’t exactly been kind to league giants Ajax and Feyenoord. Their performances haven’t been great compared to rivals and league leaders PSV, who have won two out of two and scored eight goals so far. Sunday’s Klassieker match in the Amsterdam Arena, however, provides both sides with a chance to get a good win over their fellow title contenders and fierce rivals. Although neither set of fans can be completely happy with their side’s displays so far, it is the Ajax supporters who should be more confident heading into this game.
Ajax, looking to win their fourth consecutive Eredivisie title, have started the new campaign slightly brighter than their bitter enemies. A 3-2 win over AZ after extra time in the Johan Cruijff Schaal kicked things off, then the new Eredivisie season started with a comfortable 3-0 win over Roda JC. The reigning champions played particularly well with Christian Eriksen, Siem de Jong, Viktor Fischer and Ricardo van Rhijn all putting in excellent performances. However, they suffered defeat the following week as AZ got revenge for the Super Cup result, beating the reigning Eredivisie champions 3-2 in Alkmaar. Frank de Boer’s men were 2-1 up until Van Rhijn conceded a penalty and was dismissed halfway through the second period. AZ managed to capitalise on the numerical advantage and score two more to take the three points.
Feyenoord, on the other hand, come having lost both their opening league matches, suffering a 2-1 defeat to Zwolle in the opening game and then a 4-1 hammering at the hands of FC Twente, after going down to nine men.
As Feyenoord are without their first (Daryl Janmaat, injured) and second (Jordy van Deelen, suspended) choice right backs as well as captain and centre-back Stefan de Vrij (suspended), Ronald Koeman must enter this game with a makeshift backline. Bruno Martins Indi will move from left-back into the centre to partner Joris Mathijsen. Miquel Nelom will come into fill the left fullback role and Sven van Beek, 19, will be called up to play on the right. Martins Indi is moving into his preferred role at centre-back, however, he and Mathijsen have played as a central partnership only four times at Feyenoord and both are left footed. As this backline is unfamiliar and thrown-together, Ajax, with their fluent, quick and threatening attack which consists of Eriksen, Fischer, Sigthorsson and Barcelona loanee Bojan Krkic, will be looking to exploit the weaknesses from the early stages of the game.
Ajax have their own right-back and captain absences, but Frank de Boer will find it easier to plug these gaps than his counterpart. The suspension of Van Rhijn means De Toekomst graduate Ruben Ligeon will make his sixth Eredivisie appearance at right-back, but he is a good fit for this team. The only thing De Boer has to think about is who will replace team captain Siem de Jong, who is out for at least six weeks with a collapsed lung. The coach has named Lasse Schone, Lucas Andersen and Thulani Serero as potential options to fill the role of the midfielder and all three have been included in the squad for this match, so there is no shortage of talented players ready to take up that role. Schone is the man expected to start in the midfield, but Andersen’s inclusion, with his speed and skill, offers an extra threat should De Boer bring him on later in the game.
When they hit top form, both these sides can be remarkable when they go forward, but they haven’t been able to hit that level in these first two weeks. What has been particularly worrying for Koeman has been how flat they have been in attack. Zwolle kept Feyenoord’s star striker Graziano Pelle under control with such ease in the opening game that he could only pull off one shot in the 90 minutes and struggled to find a team mate with his passes (56% accuracy, third lowest in the game). Against Twente, he played much better, but still struggled to find the space to fire a shot towards goal. Of his two shots, one of them found the net, however, his link up play was much better and he managed to bring teammates into the game. But Feyenoord’s numerical disadvantage proved too much to overcome and the match couldn’t be salvaged for them.
How Ajax cope with Pelle will be a crucial point of this game. He has already shown that he has the strength to hold off Toby Alderweireld and make the difference against Ajax, scoring an equaliser in the dying minutes of the first Klassieker last year, so the centre-backs must be careful in how they mark him. Also, his passing targets Lex Immers, Schaken and Tonny Vilhena must be watched closely to ensure the threat is eliminated quickly. Feyenoord’s lack of a “Plan B”, or life beyond Pelle, is something which has been discussed often and this season, as teams will look to find a new way to deal with the threat of The Italian Stallion, it is important for Koeman to look for a way around this issue. It seems that he has done just that, as the Feyenoord attack is somewhat boosted by the arrival of Samuel Armenteros on loan from Anderlecht. The former Heerenveen and Heracles striker adds an extra option up front, while providing competition for Pelle, however he has not had a lot of time to settle into his new surroundings, having just arrived on Thursday. Interestingly, Armenteros has never scored against Ajax, or, for that matter, any of the traditional Eredivisie top three. The 23-year-old isn’t expected to start this match, but provides Koeman the opportunity to alter the style of the attack should he see fit during the derby.
Ajax, meanwhile, are fairly settled and potent on the attack. Their constant swapping of positions and the speed at which they pass the ball is difficult for any defence to deal with, but this patched up backline of Feyenoord may struggle even more. This year, Eriksen and Fischer have played together for a full season in the first-team, while striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson is fully fit and Bojan, with a point to prove, has looked bright, although, as Nikos Overheul has already said on this website, he has been played out of position. Despite being utilised as a winger, when he cuts into the centre and looks to link up with a teammate or fire a shot towards goal, he has looked fairly dangerous at times. He’s certainly one for Nelom to worry about.
As the talent and ability of both these teams is of an abundance, both of these teams will create danger and be in with a great chance of winning. However, due to the selection and previous two matches of Feyenoord, as well as the slightly better performances of Ajax, it is the Amsterdam natives who should be more confident of victory heading into this match. Their record against Feyenoord in the Amsterdam Arena is exceptional. It has been eight years since the Rotterdam side last won in the capital and there is every reason to believe that that dismal run will continue for another year at least.