PSV: There is always the hope of a Jetro performance
His first season in management was regarded a failure, his second a success. Whether Phillip Cocu is a good manager in the making or not is still very much in the balance, although momentarily the arrow is pointing more to the positive end. A championship is always an endorsement, but when the stats are as overwhelming as last season (29 victories from 34, 88 points, 92 goals) it should be a ringing one.
But last season’s PSV was not just your regular Eredivisie team. The mercurial talent Memphis Depay defied expectation by staying another season while being ready for a step up. He made a pact with Georginio Wijnaldum that both would leave the Eredivisie with a league title, the thing they had been craving for years. The two fulfilled their promise and were integral in the title charge. To say both overstayed their Eredivisie welcome to a bullish extend would not be an exaggeration. With help from new signing Luuk de Jong and the already seasoned Eredivisie force Jetro Willems, PSV were able to come up with goals whenever needed.
Next to the four eye-catching Dutch internationals, PSV possessed another five with Dutch national team experience, excluding the yet to debut Jeroen Zoet who has featured in the squad several times. All but Stijn Schaars (who missed most of the season due to injury) were 24 or younger at the start of the season too. To nurture the young side, Andrés Guardado was brought in to re-enforce the midfield. The Mexican international made his 100+ caps experience count, as the Valencia loanee was voted Eredivisie player of the year 2014-15 by both Algemeen Dagblad and Voetbal International. The mix of talent and experience was a unique one in a time where Eredivisie talent seems to be able to transfer abroad for a lucrative contract within a year of breaking through.
And so it wasn’t a surprise that, at the start of the 2015-16 season, Cocu had to re-establish his side with two of his most vital cogs having left for bigger and better. Eredivisie 2014-15 topscorer Memphis left for Manchester United, while captain Wijnaldum is the new face of Newcastle United for a princely salary of €5 million a year, five times the salary cap of clubs like PSV and Ajax. It was not only the two crown jewels that left. Manchester City loanee Karim Rekik preferred Olympique Marseille over a permanent stay at the Philips Stadion, while Oscar Hiljemark (who mainly warmed the bench) has joined Palermo after a successful Under 21 Euros campaign.
The former Barcelona midfielder may have lost some of his players, but raw French defender Nicolat Isimat-Mirin saw his loan deal made permanent and at 23 is still young enough to mature into a fine defender. The biggest coup however is the signing of Andrés Guardado. The left-footed midfield general had many options, but seems settled in Eindhoven and decided to stay.
Next to these two deals, PSV have successfully pursued Gastón Pereiro. The 20 year old Uruguayan is one of the biggest talents of South America, with his idol Álvaro Recoba comparing the tall striker/winger to Robin van Persie. Maxime Lestienne (on loan) and Davy Pröpper respectively will have to fill the unthankful tasks of filling the void that Memphis and Wijnaldum have left. Meanwhile, experienced Danish international Simon Poulsen has been signed to deputise for Willems at left back.
With an experienced defender expected to sign (Hector Moreno of Espanyol as first choice), PSV look a more balanced squad than last year, when they relied heavily on the talents of individuals. Apart from that, exciting surrounds some of the younger players.
Adam Maher, Willems and to a lesser extent Jürgen Locadia are familiar names, but at respectively 22, 21 and 21, this season of Champions League football could do wonders for their development and push them on to greater things. The 17 year old Steven Bergwijn has been appointed Memphis’ successor by the man himself and will want to show just what an incredible talent he is. Glimpses have been seen in pre-season and it looks promising. With De Jong settled in and nowhere near his peak, PSV possess the best striker in the country, yet he is, together with two other 24 year olds in goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet and Luciano Narsingh, one of the more experienced heads in the squad. The Colombian right back Santiago Arias (23) was a stable force for PSV last season and has been ever improving, while Jeffrey Bruma and the aforementioned Isimat-Mirin, both 23, possess the pace and power to establish a frightening centre back partnership.
Despite losing over 40 goals in Wijnaldum and Memphis, this side still looks very much capable of outscoring its opponent with ease. With a new blend of talent and experience it might take some time for the team to settle and this could prove a problem. However, there is no doubt that PSV will again prove one of the two top favourites for the Eredivisie title.
Player to watch: Adam Maher
His list of achievements reads like one of an experienced player. Five seasons in the top flight, over 150 games played, Cup winner, league winner, former Eredivisie Talent of the Year and several caps for his country. Yet, Adam Maher is 22. Just. And after many ups and a few downs, Maher is on the up again. A tremendously talented central midfielder, so comfortable in all central roles that he has from a young age drawn comparisons with Cesc. Yet still waiting for international recognition. This season is set to be Maher’s year.
After filling in from a deeper role the past couple of seasons, the man from Ait Izzou has taken back the position in which he impressed so much for AZ. Maher has everything to be a huge success there: The willingness to press, the imagination to create, the technique to execute that and the dribble to enforce something when called upon. The first showing of the latter this season has already been had. In the battle for the Dutch Super Cup, Maher followed up a smart dribble with a clinical finish, basically finishing off the encounter with FC Groningen (0-2, game ended 0-3). More of the same is not only what is expected, but also what is needed. For both PSV and Adam Maher.
BeNeFoot Prediction: 2nd