AZ: Lots of talent and he whose name cannot be spelled
Having lost six first team regulars from last season and an assistant coach while failing to spend a lot of money on new signings, the summer has been a fairly discouraging one for an AZ team competing in the Europa League.
The Alkmaar club dislodged Feyenoord from third place on the final day of the campaign to book their place in Europe’s second tier competition. However, since then, star players Nemanja Gudelj and Steven Berghuis have been sold to Ajax and Watford respectively, while centre-back Wesley Hoedt (Lazio), goalkeeper Esteban and left-back Simon Poulsen (PSV) left for free. Things got worse just days before the first round of matches when star striker Aron Jóhannsson was sold to Werder Bremen. There were changes in the background, too, as coach John van den Brom’s assistant, Marco van Basten, was snapped up by the KNVB to assist Danny Blind at the national team.
Crucially, there is still a core of talented players for their intelligent coach to work with and the club have been canny in the transfer market.
Alireza Jahanbakhsh is one of the smartest signings AZ could have made as in bringing in the Iranian winger from NEC, they have introduced a deadly young attacker to offset the loss of Berghuis. Meanwhile, Vincent Janssen was initially brought to the AFAS Stadion as backup to Jóhannsson, however it seems the pressure is now on the 21-year-old to deliver consistently up front. Janssen has impressed in pre-season and in Europe but it remains a major step up from second-tier side Almere City for whom he notched 19 goals in 34 games last term .
Sergio Rochet, the 22-year-old goalkeeper, could line up between the sticks and has looked bright in pre-season, while Gino Coutinho offers experience having joined from Excelsior for free.
Hoedt, a very promising young centre-back, is quite a loss, but in Jeffrey Gouweleeuw, they have a strong but technically good defender, while it seems Jop van der Linden will be the man to play alongside him after joining from Go Ahead Eagles. Jan Wuytens is a very reliable backup option, though, and they also have 20-year-old Derrick Luckassen, who showed promise when called upon last term. The versatile Ridgeciano Haps could be utilised at left-back when AZ are looking to set up with an attacking style, though Donny Gorter’s return from his loan with Aalborg presents another option.
Joris van Overeem’s return from his loan spell at FC Dordrecht is certainly good news for Van den Brom. The technically sound box-to-box midfielder, 21, will look even more comfortable in a stronger team. With Dabney dos Santos, Marcus Henriksen, Celso Ortiz and Thom Haye to choose from, Van den Brom can still put together a quality midfield.
Another third place finish looks beyond AZ’s reach this year, but it does not seem likely that they will fall too far down the table and will still challenge for a Europa League playoff place.
Player to watch: Alireza Jahanbakhsh
The 21-year-old winger showed to be a deadly talent in the Eredivisie in his first season wtih NEC, making it a bit of a miracle for them to hold onto him following their relegation. The Iran international was pivotal in NEC bouncing back up to the Eredivisie with 12 goals and 17 assists in 28 games.
Joining AZ presents a new challenge at a better level, but he is certainly good enough to star for Van den Brom’s team and will be a key player from the very beginning.
BeNeFoot Prediction: 5th