KNVB Beker preview PSV – AZ: Catastrophe or success, AZ’s season hinges on one night
AZ are bringing an end to a very dismal season this week, but they can turn it into a successful one this evening with a victory over Dick Advocaat’s PSV in the KNVB Beker Final in De Kuip.
The Alkmaar club were expected to enjoy a moderate but ultimately enjoyable campaign this season, but their poor performances in the Eredivisie saw them fall dangerously close to the relegation zone. Although the chances of them dropping into the playoffs didn’t seem realistic, they did have a brief scare in which they were in touching distance of third bottom side Roda JC. However, Gertjan Verbeek’s team is one of too much quality to go down. In fact, the current crop of Cheese Farmers is generally one too strong to be stuck in the lower-mid table for the vast majority of the season.
Adam Maher and Jozy Altidore have been the few bright sparks for AZ throughout this season. Altidore has improved on his successful first term with the club, netting 23 goals in his 32 league matches. The USA international’s confidence has increased immensely and he has maintained a level of consistency throughout the current campaign despite AZ’s sub-par performances.
Altidore’s importance cannot be overstated, but central to his success has been 19-year-old Maher. The teenager has taken several steps forward in his development throughout the season and has become the heart of the Alkmaar side. His five assists and seven goals in the league don’t tell the full story. Maher really is a remarkable young player with great confidence and even greater ability. He is a player who sticks out for AZ even in the big games and is very often an example for those around him, despite his age. A precocious young talent with great skill, he possesses a good shot, sublime passing accuracy and vision and wonderful creativity. Maher, it seems, has developed beyond this AZ team, but he’ll be desperate to deliver a trophy to the club which has developed him since he was an 11-year-old.
These two have been integral to AZ in the league, but their influence in the KNVB Beker has been even greater. Maher has provided an assist in all but one match in this competition and scored two, while Altidore has hit the net at least once in every single round. They made the difference in the semi-final match against Ajax. AZ had gone 75 minutes without imposing themselves on the match until a quick attack lead to the youngster crossing to the striker to head home. From that opener, Frank de Boer’s side were stunned and Verbeek’s charges were able to capitalise and knock home another two, with Altidore scoring his second and AZ’s third deep in injury time.
Since then, AZ have gained a lot of momentum and are reaching their peak as the season reaches its climax. Icelandic winger Johann Berg Gudmundsson is enjoying his best spell of the season, while his compatriot Aron Johansson has looked bright in his four league appearances since joining from Aarhus in January. The latter has chipped in with three goals whilst the former has made six assists, three of which have come in his last four games.
Although AZ were second best in the recent match against final opponents PSV in their recent meeting, there are many positives they can take from the performance. The Noord-Holland club got off to a bright start but a Mark van Bommel wonder strike from a free-kick ten minutes from the break tipped the balance in PSV’s favour. From then on the Eindhoven giants dominated and would extend their lead by two within the first 16 minutes of the second-half to wrap the game up.
Despite PSV’s superiority throughout the last hour of the match, AZ never gave up. They continually threatened their opponents’ goal, with Maher firing shot after shot towards Boy Waterman between the sticks.
It was Maher, Gudmundsson and Johansson who combined to net a consolation goal for the hosts. Johansson passed to Maher on the edge of the area who, in one fluid movement, faked a shot and passed wide to Gudmundsson who was able to whip it across goal for his Iceland teammate to divert home.
It didn’t spark a wonderful comeback, but it made clear that AZ aren’t a team to lie down and give up, regardless of the situation or opponent.
As they prepare for tonight’s KNVB Beker Final against Advocaat’s team, this perseverance and determination will be more important than before. If they can threaten PSV from the early stages like they did in last month’s clash in the AFAS Stadion, they have to take their chances. Sloppiness in front of goal will be their downfall as PSV’s efficiency in front of goal is much greater than theirs due to the sheer attacking force and quantity of goalscorers they have.
However, with Altidore, Maher, Gudmundsson, Johansson and Roy Beerens high in confidence and performing well, it seems they have a better chance of finding the net this time around, should the opportunities arise. AZ have scored 15 goals in their last four matches, in which they have played Utrecht, PSV, Heerenveen and Zwolle. They approach this game in their best run of form of the entire campaign and are worthy opponents for PSV for a competition in which they have scored 20 times.
For AZ, a KNVB Beker win over PSV would certainly brighten up what has been a thoroughly disappointing season, despite the quality in the squad and in the coaching staff. The ambitious Maher has incurred the wrath of certain fans due to his desire to leave and he looks set for either PSV or Ajax this summer. There is also a degree of uncertainty surrounding the immediate future of Altidore, so this could be their biggest opportunity to win a trophy for a few years, at least. As they reach the peak of their performances at the right time, they will be confident of recording a better result against PSV, against whom they have conceded eight goals in their two meetings already this season.