Eredivisie Round 31 Preview: The race for the Europa League play-offs
While Ajax – Heerenveen has been played already (a shame really, because Babette van Haaren’s preview was excellent), there are still eight games to come this weekend. Even though Ajax slipped up by drawing 1-1, they still remain on course for a third consecutive title. Even if their closest rivals Vitesse win, there still is a three point gap with three games to go. Vitesse go to Feyenoord this weekend while AZ host PSV in the battle for second, which Jens van Pieterson takes an in-depth look at here, making reading all the above rather redundant.
Elsewhere in the Eredivisie, Groningen are battling their northern rivals Heerenveen for seventh. Groningen play ADO tonight in the early game. ADO will be without their key figure FC Groningen youth graduate Danny Holla – their captain and leading scorer – due to suspension. ADO desperately need a win to be in the mix for the EL play-offs and they could even overtake tonight’s opponents. Mike van Duinen and Rydell Poepon are major doubts for ADO but FCG will themselves be without top scorer Michael de Leeuw and winger Mitchell Schet. An attacking trio of Kirm, Texeira and Zeefuik with Van Moorsel as a number 10 behind them will hardly inspire fear. However, Texeira has scored 2 goals in his last 3 and with midfielder Leandro Bacuna on a penalty streak (he netted a penalty in all of his last three games), FC Groningen might have found the right time to step it up.
The game will be attended by Barcelona scout Miquel Albert following a prior visit by youth coaches of FC Groningen to Barcelona. He may want to enquire about Fode Fofana, a local talent of 10 years old who already visited the club back in November ; Ajax are also interested. Virgil van Dijk, surely the only player on the field who is destined to reach the top, will be hoping to catch the eye. Anyhow this isn’t a gossip column but a football preview so we better get cracking…
Heracles face RKC Waalwijk tonight and should they win, they would move up into the top half. RKC would move up three spots and leapfrog their opponents were they to emerge victorious. This is all pretty inconsequential in truth unless Roda JC defeat all but relegated Willem II. Roda showed real resolve to come back from three goals down against Vitesse and three points tonight would give them a good chance of catching RKC ahead of their clash next week. Perhaps Roda will rescue themselves after all.
Sunday sees FC Twente visit VVV Venlo at de Koel with the former champions returning to some kind of form (unbeaten in four, winning three). VVV have received a number of plaudits in recent weeks but the wheels came off in last week’s defeat to PEC Zwolle.
If FC Twente slip up, FC Utrecht will be looking to seize the opportunity of closing the gap with the Tukkers. After the pounding last week, Utrecht will be looking to redeem themselves against EL play-off spot contenders NAC Breda. They will be without the suspended Jan Wuytens and Anouar Kali, who both got sent off against AZ after two yellows. It’s still uncertain if goalkeeper Robbin Ruiter can return to his duties. If not, cult hero Jeroen Verhoeven will be between the sticks again. Former Volendam and Ajax goalkeeper Verhoeven takes his fair share of stick due to his rather rotund appearance but he’s often better than people give him credit for.
In Nijmegen, NEC will meet Zwolle, which to the delight of Benefoot-man Peter McVitie will result in the hashtag #NECPEC. Zwolle all but secured their stay in the Eredivisie last week with their victory over VVV. Meanwhile head coach Art Langeler has signed a four year deal as the head of youth development of the Eindhoven club. Former FC Groningen, SC Heerenveen and Standard Liège manager Ron Jans will succeed him. For NEC, a win is necessary to keep their EL play-offs hopes alive. Only a few weeks ago, their participation was all but certain but a run of poor form (one point out of eighteen possible) has put that in doubt as Heerenveen and Groningen have overtaken them. They will have to continue their quest for Europe without their midfield general Ryan Koolwijk, who is sitting out a suspension.