Eredivisie preview: Vitesse – Staying the course
With Ajax struggling and stuttering through the season, PSV in sudden decline after a bright start and Feyenoord trailing after a poor start, it seemed 2013-14 was Vitesse’s year.
The club have become genuine title contenders over the last three years following the takeover of Merab Jordania and latterly Alexander Chigirinsky. The links to Chelsea have seen some excellent young players such as Tomas Kalas, Gael Kakuta, Patrick van Aanholt, Christian Atsu, and Lucas Piazon come and go on loan, developing a great deal but guiding the Arnhem club to new heights.
At the end of 2013, Vitesse and Ajax were joint top of the Dutch league, but the second half of the season saw them completely dismantle and implode. Ajax began to take control of the league and took over and eventually nothing could stop them from winning a fourth consecutive title for the first time in their history.
Remarkably, Vitesse dropped completely out of the title race and failed to even finish in a European spot. Peter Bosz’s men staggered over the finishing line and were demolished by FC Groningen in the Europa League playoffs to ensure the Eredivisie and KNVB Beker were the only competitions they play in this season.
The 2014-15 season then sees a lot of pressure put upon Bosz and the Vitesse team. The disruptions in the background following the publicised sacking of press officer Ester Bal and the protests and outrage that prompted within the fans was one rather sizeable disruption on the face of it at least. However, former owner Jordania’s threats to cut off the fingers of Joost de Wit and insisted to world media that Chelsea wouldn’t allow them to win the Eredivisie and thus qualify for the Champions League. That Vitesse completely bottled it in the second half of the season only intensified the confusion and scepticism surrounding the club and its links to the London giants.
Bosz cannot allow a similar occurrence this time. Vitesse haven’t had too many big changes in the first team and still look strong in defence, midfield and on the flanks while the former Heracles boss has had a full season at the club to acclimatise. While Ajax, PSV and Twente are all formidable opponents, the aim should be to stay in the race until the dying weeks, not until Christmas.
This summer, the loan periods of Van Aanholt, Atsu and Piazon have ended. In the case of the left-back, it was time for him to go after two and a half years on loan from the London giants, Atsu was simply too good to return, while Piazon will be happy not to go back to the GelreDome after his season that was half magic and half horrendous.
The departure of those three players doesn’t leave Vitesse significantly weaker, however. The replacement for Van Aanholt had already been at the club, in the shape of Rochdi Achenteh, who joined from Zwolle in January. Significantly, one of the brightest young players Chelsea have sent to Vitesse, Bertrand Traore, stays for a full season. The versatile, quick, skilful attacker looked promising in the second half of 2013-14 and will become a more important player this time around.
The departure of right back Frank van der Struijk poses no real threat with Wallace coming in on loan from Chelsea. The attack-minded full-back suits Vitesse’s playing style under Peter Bosz and will gain vital experience in the Eredivisie. Arnold Kruiswijk comes in to bolster the heart of the defence, acting as backup to last season’s duo of Guram Kashia and Jan-Arie van der Heijden.
In midfield, Kelvin Leerdam, signed last summer from Feyenoord, remains the most important player. Dynamic and intelligent with good control, the central midfielder who can also play as a right back was one of the team’s most important and productive players last season and will be again this year. Davy Propper and Marko Vejinovic also continue in the centre of midfield as they look to tie everything together with their passing ability and technique while Valeri Qazaishvili will most likely continue to start from the bench.
With Traore and Labyad on the wings, they have great width, pace and skill as well as extra goal threats and Renato Ibarra is available too.
Up front is the main issue with Vitesse, just like it was last season. Mike Havenaar has departed and is no real loss to the club. Uros Djurdjevic failed to make an impact at Vitesse last season but will be looking to become a more important player this year. Abiola Dauda is expected to make a difference, so who knows what this season will bring for the Arnhem club?
Player to watch: Abiola Dauda
Abiola Dauda has joined from Red Star Belgrade, where he scored 11 goals in 20 league games last season and has already made some appearances in friendlies for his new team. The 26-year-old Nigerian looks more mobile and quicker than Havenaar and is thus more suited to Vitesse’s fast paced style of play, but there remains a concern that he is not of the quality capable of leading the front lines. If he can slot into the team well and begin to fire the goals in, though, this will be a prosperous campaign for Bosz and his Vitesse team.
BeNeFoot prediction: 5th place