PEC Zwolle bounce back boosts Beker semi-final chances

By Peter McVitie in Zwolle

With his team poor in form in an intense period of the season, PEC Zwolle coach Ron Jans would have been forgiven for feeling slightly anxious ahead of Saturday’s meeting with Willem II.

The Tilburg side, flying in the Eredivisie since their promotion last year, were looking to close the gap and ensure the fight for the last Europa League playoff place in the Eredivisie between these two goes down to the final weeks of the campaign.

For the home side, though, it was all the more crucial. Having won only one of their previous seven games, another defeat could have been disastrous, leaving them no room to breathe in the fight for European football and potentially damaging confidence even further as they prepare for Tuesday’s KNVB Beker semi-final with FC Twente.

Jans, though, saw no reason to fear Jurgen Streppel’s men.

“I’m not worried,” he told BeNeFoot before the game. “We lost against ADO Den Haag away, but we scored in injury time [to make it 2-2] and then they scored the winner even later in injury time – that’s unlucky.

“We beat Cambuur, a good team, 6-1, then in our last game [against Excelsior], we had more than 70% possession we had about 25 shots on target, but the ball wouldn’t go in.

“I’m not worrying.”

The Tilburgers are one of the league’s sturdiest sides as they restrict space and try to release their attackers with speed. Zwolle feed off of space between midfielders as they build up patiently. A clash in styles and with their tie with Twente, a team still unsure of the best way to set up, looming, this was the ideal test for Jans’ men.

With Tomas Necid, Ryan Thomas and Trent Sainsbury returning from injury but forced to take their place on the bench, it was a tie which would test the strength of the PEC squad and their tactical flexibility, as a change to a more narrow shape was required.

From the early stages of the first half, PEC saw just how much of a difficult evening they were in for. With Willem II sitting very back and inviting them in, they were able to build up well enough through Joost Broerse and Van der Werff from deep in their own half, but finding a way to push forward and open up a clear chance on goal seemed almost impossible.

With his movement, agility and pace, Mustafa Saymak looked like a potential hazard between the midfield and defence, but the hosts could not find him often enough to capitalise, and when they did, there was nowhere for him to go as passing options were all but completely closed off.

Long passes and crosses in the first half proved rather futile, too, with the strong, bustling centre-backs of Willem II keeping Stef Nijland under control fairly easily.

The second half was a brighter story for PEC, though. The game opened up a bit more and the hosts’ passes were more incisive and chances were easier to come by.

Willem II’s defence remained stubborn, though, with Mitchell Dijks giving Jody Lukoki a very tough time on the flanks. Furthermore, a lack of width on the left made it difficult for PEC to stretch their opponents throughout the game and with both Jesper Drost and Nijland, not enough of an out-and-out No.9, playing centrally, Willem II’s centre backs were able to keep track of them too easily.

The introduction of Necid and Thomas after 67 minutes helped turn the game in PEC’s favour even further and with the duo returning to full fitness, their effect will severely boost the team’s chances heading in to the match in Enschede.

Thomas, replacing Lukoki, is perhaps too lightweight at the moment, but as a fresher player with immense pace and energy and one more inclined to come inside from the right wing, he was a much bigger threat for the home side.

Necid, on the other hand, is more of a target man. Taller and stronger than Nijland, he is more of a nuisance for defenders and helps move backlines closer to goal to open more space in between lines.

From here, Zwolle were able to be more intricate in central areas and get into better scoring positions. From here, they passed up chances, with one shot from Wout Brama hitting the post, Drost sending the rebound wide, Thomas firing over from close range and Necid seeing two saved.

The decisive move, though, came from a corner. The cross came in from left-back Bart van Hintum and it somehow found its way through to the back post and landed perfectly for right-back Bram van Polen to fire home.

It was in no way a fluid and classic affair, but overall, Zwolle deserved the three points.

The attention, then, turns to Tuesday’s meeting with Alfred Schreuder’s side, who were demolished 5-0 on home turf against PSV on Saturday.

PEC should be more confident side as they will find more space behind the Twente midfield and defence than Willem II’s, as Twente are trying to dominate games when they should be bursting forward with pace through Jesus Corona, Hakim Ziyech, Bilal Ould-Chikh and Luc Castaignos.

The Tukkers, also, are in dire form, having won just one of their last nine games, but that is what adds some extra spice to this tie – that victory came at the expense of PEC in mid-March at De Grolsch Veste.

Still, though, with Twente caught in limbo on the field and with the club in terrible shape off of it and PEC Zwolle regaining some effectiveness and strength, it would be no surprise to see Ron Jans’ men back in De Kuip to chase a second consecutive Beker.

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