The Cooling Down: AZ finally impress with quality display against Heracles

By Peter McVitie

After a summer of upheaval at the AFAS Stadion, AZ have had a fairly abysmal start to the season. John van den Brom lost more than half of his first-team during the transfer window and his side struggled immensely to get going in the Eredivisie, winning just one of their first six matches.

Impotent in attack and looking quite fragile in defence, they surrendered points to Ajax, Excelsior, Willem II, Roda JC and Groningen, collecting a victory against newly-promoted De Graafschap, who sit bottom of the table.

However, on Saturday, the Alkmaar club gave an indication that they are turning a corner this term with a very impressive 3-1 victory over a Heracles team who had been the surprise package of the first six weeks.

Lining up with Muamer Tankovic and Vincent Janssen in a front two, the Alkmaar side were a threat throughout the game. The duo linked up well, with Tankovic the more imposing attacker as his young partner continues to adapt to the team and the step up from the Eerste Divisie following his transfer from Almere City.

AZ have found it difficult to get into great goalscoring positions so far this term which has deprived them of points. However, against an in form Heracles team, they were much brighter, quicker and adept at opening up space.

With Ben Rienstra sitting deep in midfield and three lively and technical players in Joris van Overeem, Dabney dos Santos and Markus Henriksen in front of him, it allowed for more numerous attacks. Rienstra, who joined from PEC Zwolle in the summer, was key in AZ’s building from the back. As Rajko Brezancic and Mattias Johansson moved forward, the 25-year-old moved in between Jop van der Linden and Jeffrey Gouweleeuw to help them move beyond a Heracles front line which refused to press beyond the halfway line.

It was through such a set up that AZ opened the scoring on Saturday. Building from the back line, Gouweleeuw moved it out to Johansson who immediately played to Janssen on the edge of the box. The Swedish full-back burst forward into the space as the attacker held it up before backheeling it into his path in the area. Johansson’s sweet square ball was easy for Henriksen to nudge over the line.

AZ threatened immediately afterwards as Janssen was found running down the left flank, but his shot was saved. From the subsequent corner came Gouweleeuw’s header. The game was over and done with at 2-0, essentially.

The Alkmaar side were quite happy to press the visitors high up the park and forced them wide to Brahim Darri on the left as the Almelo club pushed up. The winger’s pace and skill makes him a big threat and he opened up one massive chance for Iliass Bel Hassani, but he failed to beat the keeper. The latter, another pivotal player for Heracles, saw another chance gone in the early stages as he was marginally offside. But beyond that, AZ managed well in keeping them at a safe distance.

When Darri left the field with an injury after 27 minutes, their chances were doomed. AZ grew and three points were in the bag.

The first six weeks of AZ’s campaign have been fairly dreary as they lost six first team players during the summer transfer window, including star striker Aron Johannsson and their most threatening winger Steven Berghuis. It was only natural that they would take some time to gain any momentum with so many new players.

The win over Heracles will be particularly encouraging because of how much more effective AZ were in all areas of the pitch. They were also more effective in getting into dangerous positions in and around the opposition box on Saturday. They like to attack down the right, but against John Stegeman’s team they quickly looked to move it in towards the centre with neat passes and good runs before making the final attempt on goal. It is a big sign of progress when you compare it to games against Groningen, Willem II and Roda JC in which they were completely ineffective in attack and had some glaring defensive issues too.

Van den Brom was understandably delighted with his team after a game against a team which had beaten PSV the week before and sat second in the table before kick-off. “We should have scored at least five,” was the ex-Anderlecht boss’ only criticism. “We created a lot of chances, but missed too many.”

Even his counterpart Stegeman conceded that his side had been thoroughly demolished: “The opponent was just better than us on all fronts. AZ could have won by a larger margin because we gave away a lot of chances.”

Van den Brom and the Alkmaar natives will be hoping this display is a sign that things are clicking. Pairing Janssen with Tankovic seemed to disguise the ineffectiveness of the former and, particularly if he can start finding the net, gave the suggestion that they can build a good partnership.

Performances of this calibre in the next games against Twente and Cambuur should see them collect a further six points heading into the meeting with Feyenoord in De Kuip.

If they can progress from here then it could be a bright campaign for AZ, which will be quite a wonderful recovery from some massive summer departures.

Jari Oosterwijk and the kids give new belief to Twente

By Michiel Jongsma

The first win of the season for Twente could only be inspired by one man and one man only. Hakim Ziyech, who has announced that he has chosen to represent Morocco over the Netherlands only a week ago, provided two assists as FC Twente won 2-1 versus Roda JC. The playmaker has now scored or assisted the last 17 goals of FC Twente in the Eredivisie, a run that runs back March 22, 2015. The dependence of FC Twente on its star player and captain is obvious and the Enschede faithful should be happy to still have him.

But apart from the three points and Ziyech’s usual impact, there were plenty of other positive things to take from the Roda game. Jari Oosterwijk scored his first Eredivisie goal for FC Twente, starting as a striker with Olympiacos Michael Olaitan pushed out to the flank. The 20 year old forward was deemed not ready by Alfred Schreuder, but showed in his start against Roda that he is ready to compete with the Nigerian striker for the No.9 position. Apart from Oosterwijk, starting youngsters such as Peet Bijen and Hidde ter Avest  – who has been the main right back for a while now – in defence and relying on Jeroen van der Lely and Jelle van der Heijden to see the game out shows trust in the academy of FC Twente. And over the last few years, this has been exactly one of the things that had been missing. In the seasons that FC Twente and Heracles shared an academy, a lot of the youngsters chose to represent Heracles as they felt there was no chance of getting into the first team at the Enschede side.

The financial situation of the club now allows the youngsters to come through and just as with Feyenoord earlier, it might be the route back to a financially healthy club. And with the disconnect between the club and its fans, bringing in youngsters born and raised in the region surely will strengthen the bond between club and its supporters.

The Eredivisie remains unpredictable as all bottom table teams garner points

By Michiel Jongsma

It was a remarkable weekend as De Graafschap managed to pick up their first point vs Willem II, drawing 2-2 after going a man and two goals behind. In general, it was a good matchday for the minnows of the Eredivisie. Excelsior came from behind three times to draw with ADO Den Haag, SC Cambuur were unlucky not to get more against FC Utrecht (3-3) while FC Twente and AZ picked up their first wins and home wins respectively. All nine teams in the bottom half of the table picked up at least a point as the table crammed together a bit more again.

The Eredivisie is not what it used to be, but the unpredictability and the goals (with two 3-3 draws in Week 7) make up for a lot. Apart from last season, when PSV and FC Dordrecht were glued to opposite ends of the table, the last few seasons have seen exciting title races and nervous relegation fights.

At the bottom De Graafschap have, according to data analyst Sander IJtsma, been really unlucky so far. Despite their points tally suggesting that they won’t do anything this season, the Superboeren might get their luck and click into gear, making the battle in the bottom as exciting as ever. At the top,  Ajax have had a fairly easy run of games so far and have big tests coming up in the next five matches, with away games at Heracles, Vitesse and Feyenoord and home games against PSV and Roda JC. In a month, the shape of the table could be remotely different, and it’s not difficult to see why a lot of Eredivisie clubs can fill out their stadiums on a fairly regular basis.

The Eredivisie truly is a gift that keeps on giving.

FC Utrecht 3 – 3 SC Cambuur Leeuwarden
sc Heerenveen 0 – 0 Vitesse
Ajax 2 – 0 FC GroningenPSV 2 – 1 N.E.C.
AZ 3 – 1 Heracles Almelo
De Graafschap 2 – 2 Willem II
Feyenoord 2 – 0 PEC Zwolle
ADO Den Haag 3 – 3 Excelsior
FC Twente 2 – 1 Roda JC Kerkrade


# Team Games Points +/-
1 Ajax 7 19 16
2 Feyenoord 7 16 6
3 Heracles Almelo 7 15 8
4 PSV 7 14 10
5 PEC Zwolle 7 14 6
6 Vitesse 7 11 6
7 Roda JC Kerkrade 7 11 0
8 FC Groningen 7 10 0
9 N.E.C. 7 10 -2
10 FC Utrecht 7 9 0
11 AZ 7 8 -2
12 sc Heerenveen 7 7 -2
13 ADO Den Haag 7 6 -3
14 Willem II 7 6 -3
15 FC Twente 7 6 -5
16 Excelsior 7 5 -5
17 SC Cambuur Leeuwarden 7 3 -16
18 De Graafschap 7 1 -14

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