D-day in Rotterdam and Alkmaar
Instead of putting on a pair of football boots, the Feyenoord players put on their aprons last Wednesday for a cooking class at a pizzeria somewhere in the centre of Rotterdam. With some teambuilding in a stress free environment coach, Ronald Koeman hoped he could get his team back on track for what is probably the most important match in the final stage of the season. Against the current number two in the league, Vitesse Arnhem, it’s make or break time for Feyenoord. Or as Koeman stated in an interview with NuSport: ‘‘the one who wins this Sunday will finish second in the league.’’ – also referring to the equally important game between PSV and AZ.
Unfortunately for Feyenoord their 18-year old revelation Jean-Paul Boëtius injured himself during training on Friday and will be out for the rest of the season. It’s unclear who his replacement on the left flank will be with Ivorian Sekou Cissé and John Goossens both in contention. Neither have performed well this season due to injury but Koeman is reported to be very fond of Goossens (who has a magnificent shooting technique) and Cissé’s days at De Kuip are numbered. Another possible option is moving Dutch international Ruben Schaken from the right wing to the left and putting Wesley Verhoek on the right but that doesn’t seem likely. That said, with striker Graziano Pellè up top and midfielder Lex Immers back in action, Feyenoord seem to have fewer problems then their opponent.
About 75 miles to the east, in their recently opened training complex, Vitesse’s preparations were anything but trouble-free. Top scorer Wilfried ‘Daddy Cool’ Bony was not on the pitch this week because of a leg injury but he returned to training today and his fitness is being assessed. 20-year old midfielder van Ginkel, who is having an great season with 8 goals, 7 assists and a cap for the Dutch national team has a head injury meaning Davy Pröpper will come in. First choice goalkeeper Piet Velthuizen returns between the sticks.
What does all that mean for Vitesse? Surely, the absence of Bony from the starting XI (30 goals in 27 matches) would be a huge loss. However, fellow striker Mike Havenaar (9 goals in 20 matches) has proved himself capable of shouldering some of the goalscoring burden. He scored twice last week against Roda and his 6ft 4in frame makes him incredibly powerful in the air. Jonathan Reis (7 goals in 28 matches) will take Bony’s place in the eleven should the Ivorian not make it . The Brazilian striker never really lived up to the expectations in the Gelredome after being sacked by former employer PSV for the use of forbidden substances. Earlier this year Vitesse managed to grab a win 3-2 against Ajax without Bony, who was at the Africa Cup of Nations. Nevertheless, my view is that he remains an indispensable member of the Vitesse side. For a different perspective, check out De Zestien’s statistics-based look at Bony’s impact on the team.
At PSV’s trainingcomplex De Herdgang in Eindhoven, 55 miles south, things are anything but straightforward. Voetbal International reported earlier this week that there is a split in the camp along racial lines. However, the two cliques responded to the claims made by VI’s Editor in Chief Johan Derksen by coming out for training in two separate groups. Furthermore, their former striker Ruud van Nistelrooy denied that he had been approached by the club to return in an advisory/mentoring capacity and Arnold Bruggink says the club need to go back to their roots.
Returning to matters on the field, the game with AZ is vital. PSV have won just two of the last five after a poor performance against Ajax last week they are craving for three points in Eindhoven. It is a dress rehearsal for next month’s cup final and underachieving AZ will want to land a psychological blow on their rivals. PSV put all their effort (and money) into this year’s title, but even with Ajax dropping points last night, it remains a distant possibility. If they fail to secure second place and are yet again condemned to the Europa League, the club with the second biggest budget in the league will have to make do with a consolation prize. And that is not accepted in Eindhoven.
For all three teams it’s crucial to win and there’s much at stake for the chasing pack. Whoever wins will go a long way towards securing the second place and after that 1-1 draw from Ajax against Heerenveen last night, there remains a glimmer of hope in Eindhoven, Arnhem and Rotterdam.