Eredivisie preview: Round 28
As things stand:
With seven games to go, Ajax, PSV, Feyenoord and Vitesse are battling it out for the championship and the preliminary Champions League-spot that comes with second place. Ajax lead the pack with 57 points, PSV and Feyenoord follow with 56 and Vitesse is the ‘outsider’ standing on 54. Ajax and Vitesse have pretty straight-forward home games this weekend. Ajax will be up against eighth place NEC, who are on a three match losing streak after impressing all season. The club from Nijmegen needs to find form fast, otherwise a Europa League play-off spot could be in jeopardy. Vitesse will receive PEC Zwolle in the Gelredome. Vitesse are the form team in the Eredivisie, having won their last five. PEC Zwolle have lost their last three games away from home. PSV will visit Roda JC. De Boeren have struggled for consistency this season and the Roda game could be a potential banana skin for the title candidates. That said, Roda are lying in sixteenth place, battling relegation and the gap in quality should be enough for Advocaat’s men to see them through. Feyenoord face the toughest opposition. Without their topscorer Graziano Pellè they head north to face SC Heerenveen, whose four wins on the spin have sent them surging up the table into Europa League play-off contention, depending on the result of the cup final. Feyenoord will have to be at their best in order to get a result.
FC Twente are battling for fifth place with FC Utrecht, the latter is trailing by two points. NAC Breda will visit FC Twente, while VVV Venlo will travel to Utrecht. NAC is close to safety, sitting in eleventh place. They won the derby against Willem II rather comfortably (4-0) and they will fancy a draw against FC Twente . Since Steve McClaren’s departure, the Tukkers have started to play a lot better, resulting in a first victory of the new year at FC Groningen two weeks ago (0-3). NAC will face a testing away trip against FC Twente. However, NAC’s problems are small beer compared to VVV’s. The Venlonaren are struggling in 17th and while they have a reasonably comfortable five points cushion between them and the sole automatic relegation spot, catching RKC Waalwijk, who are four points above them, is another story altogether. The battle for fifth could become relevant if AZ pull off an upset and defeat PSV in the cup final. Otherwise, fifth spot becomes a direct place for Europa League-football.
The last Europa League spot will be decided by play-offs. NEC sat comfortably in seventh at one point, but have been overtaken (on goal difference) by ADO Den Haag, who go to RKC. With Heerenveen trailing by one point and Heracles by two, the fight for seventh, eighth and possibly ninth place is still wide open. Heracles will face surprise strugglers AZ in Almelo. The number ten is looking to pile on the misery for AZ, whose 14th place represents major underachievement given the players at Gertjan Verbeek’s disposal. The 2009 champions trail PEC Zwolle by three points and with Roda JC only one point behind them, a relegation play-off place isn’t out of the question. In twelfth place FC Groningen’s season is pretty much over, as they sit five points above the relegation play-off places and five points off of a possible Europa League play-off spot. They will visit Willem II. The Tilburg-club is pretty much doomed from the looks of it. Five points adrift, but in the negative sense, the game versus FC Groningen is a last chance for the Tricolores to save their spot in the top division.
Game of the Week: Heerenveen – Feyenoord, 30 March, 19:45 CET
Feyenoord won the game versus FC Utrecht two weeks ago but at a price – they lost their focal point in attack to suspension. Graziano Pelle, the attacking fulcrum of the Rotterdam-side, received a yellow card for an innocent challenge on Anouar Kali. It’s the only player Ronald Koeman will miss from his usual first eleven. He is some player though, as Pellè has been good for 21 goals in 23 league appearances so far. Without the Italian striker, the goals have to come from somewhere else. While Koeman has to scratch his head over who to slot into the striker position, he wishes he could call upon his opposite number tomorrow, former international teammate Marco van Basten, who has no worries at all.
With four wins on the trot, Heerenveen have been excellent lately, which is largely down to the form of Serbian playmaker Filip Djuricic. The 21 year old number ten has been hailed ‘the Cruijff from the Balkans’ before his arrival and struggled to fulfil the high hopes Heerenveen had with him. Lately, he has been different class, creating and scoring chances, sublime dribbles and artistic finishing have been a bit of a habit the last few months.
Another reason for Heerenveen’s resurrection is Alfred Finnbogason. The Icelandic striker has been a constant boon for the Frisian club in a season dominated by inconsistency. The 24 year old has already scored 20 goals in 24 appearances, an incredibly impressive number for a club that has been anything but potent this season. It’s a shame Pellè can’t pick up the sword in the battle of the strikers this Saturday, but whatever happens, it should be a great game to watch. Heerenveen may be going for Europe but De Club aan de Maas will be looking to overcome this hurdle in order to boost their hopes of a first title since 1999.
Player to watch: Wilfried Bony | Vitesse – PEC Zwolle, 31 March, 14:30 CET
Wilfried Bony has been the man everybody has been talking about lately. An impressive scoring record, transfer rumours, Bony himself showing his unhappiness: there’s never a dull moment with the Ivorian striker. The powerhouse forward of Vitesse has been untouchable ever since he came back from the Africa Cup of Nations, scoring in all six of his games and racking up ten goals in the process. Against PEC Zwolle, a team who are vulnerable at the back, he will be looking to add to his tally and while his league total is standing at 26, the club record of Nikos Machlas (34) is in sight for Daddy Cool. The Greek striker has already come out and said he would be happy to see his record go. A blast here, a header there: Bony will get his goals from anywhere and he’ll be eager to put PEC Zwolle to the sword.