Eredivisie Previews: PEC Zwolle and AZ
PEC Zwolle – A flash in the pan? Perhaps not…
The Johan Cruijff Schaal win over Ajax has further boosted their growing reputation as they look to develop even further in the Eredivisie. But it won’t be an easy task for former Zwolle player and current manager Ron Jans. The Cup win was an absolute high and one that will be savoured for decades to come in the capital of Overijssel, but it also papered over the cracks that PEC Zwolle showed in the league in 2014. While a 10th place in itself looks acceptable, it is a worrying trend for the Blauwvingers that they managed only one league win less in August 2013 (4) as they did in the rest of the season (5). With fulcrum Mateusz Klich returning to Wolfsburg and imposing centre back Darryl Lachman joining FC Twente, the spine of PEC Zwolle has taken a significant blow already and the topscorers of last season, Fred Benson and Guyon Fernandez, have been let go. Ajax are also looking to prise away goalkeeper Diederik Boer while midfield general Kamohelo Mokotjo joins Lachman in Enschede.
It’s not all doom and gloom for PEC. They will play in the Europa League for the first time ever this season and PEC Zwolle have been quite busy on the transfer front so far. A lot of talented youngsters have been brought in with attacker Dimitrios Ferfelis (Werder Bremen) and Boy de Jong (Feyenoord) likely to make the biggest impacts. Furthermore, Ben Rienstra will be a welcome addition too ; the versatile player has joined from local rivals Heracles Almelo and is comfortable in the centre of defence as well as in midfield.
Player to watch: Ryan Thomas
Ryan Thomas had a better debut season than he could’ve dreamed but the New Zealand winger is not one to mess about and watch around in awe. With several attacking players left he will be key to Ron Jans his plans and he sure does have the ability to do so. An industrious type, he will give any full back a run for his money and his form will be essential in whatever PEC Zwolle are able to produce this season.
BeNeFoot prediction: 10th place
AZ – Putting the Z back in AZ
It has been a very interesting off-season for AZ, who welcome Marco van Basten as the successor to Dick Advocaat. While van Basten was often mocked by the fans during his time as Ajax boss, which coincided with AZ’s first title since 1981, he is seen as a manager who enhanced his reputation at Heerenveen. He worked in difficult circumstances, brought on young players and played attacking football, all of which will serve him well in Alkmaar. Off the field has also seen the club win their recent court case against the local council in Alkmaar who tried to prevent AZ building a new youth complex in Zaanstad, which is where the Z in AZ comes from. The team have always played in Alkmaar but with relations strained with the council, they are looking to reestablish themselves in their “southern home”, which lies much closer to Amsterdam and hence is mostly populated by Ajax supporters.
This season will see a new-look forward line due to the departures of Roy Beerens to Hertha and Johann Berg Gudmundsson to Charlton on a free. Guus Hupperts has joined from Roda JC, which is an exciting signing and he is joined by Muamer Tankovic who has left Fulham to play regular first-team football. Swedish striker Tankovic will provide backup for the currently injured USA international Aaron Johansson, who topped the club’s scoring charts last term. He has made a very positive impression in pre-season. Elsewhere, the club have been given a big boost with the news that star midfielder Nemanja Gudelj is staying put after interest from FC Porto. Alongside the talented Serbian, youngster Thom Haye has a bright future ahead of him and will be looking to break through this coming season.
Player to watch: Muamer Tankovic
The young Swede comes highly-rated from Fulham and has been the leading scorer in pre-season. A player who is tactically aware and technically proficient, he can both lead the line and play in support of Johansson in the front three.
BeNeFoot prediction: 6th place