The Cooling Down: Lestienne’s in the limelight
It’s the 37th minute of the biggest game so far this season, PSV – Feyenoord. The Rotterdam team have not had a proper shot on goal yet, but are 1-0 up due to Jeffrey Bruma’s own goal in the fourth minute. PSV are on five points and with the current scores, they will fall seven points behind Feyenoord and main title rivals Ajax. There is no Memphis. There is no Gini Wijnaldum.
Step forward Maxime Lestienne. A delicious chipped through ball from Davy Pröpper found the Belgian in acres of space, he bursts runs in from the left and into the box. One touch, a bounce and then Lestienne blasts it with his left past a helpless Kenneth Vermeer. Jeffrey Bruma was relieved, the score was even and PSV went on to record an impressive and deserved 3-1 win over Feyenoord, with Lestienne the star performer.
It’s been a while since Lestienne had grabbed the headlines. The ever-promising Kortrijk native was always one of Belgium’s brightest talents, but a year ago the infinitely talented lefty had made the eyebrow-raising and money-driven transfer from Club Brugge to Al-Arabi, followed by an unsuccessful loan spell at Genoa. A career already littered with odd incidents, the suspension from the Belgian U21 team after supposedly having had sex with a female friend on training camp a particular highlight, there seemed to be something surrounding Lestienne that was just not right to allow him to reach the heights that his talent should allow him.
But so far, he seems to have settles in well at PSV, who took the technically gifted winger on loan from Al-Arabi to fill the boots of last season’s Eredivisie top scorer Memphis Depay.
The Belgian winger had already expressed concerns with his own decision-making when talking to Het Laatste Nieuws earlier in 2015. A lot of ‘if only I’s and an admission of regret at not being more professional in previous years, the then-Genoa player seemed to have matured. He says things have changed. Him becoming a father, the realisation that football is all he has (the 23 year old did not finish high school) and the death of his former team-mate Junior Malanda have woken him up.
With his peroxide died hair, Lestienne still looks as flamboyant as ever. But his manager has lauded him for his behaviour so far, saying he sees an introvert and shy but cheerful character. On the pitch, Lestienne has been everything but introvert. Already drawing comparisons with Ola Toivonen, he has showed moments of aggression and foul play, annoying the rival crowds but on the other hand thrilling his own with some magical passes and footwork. A fantastic assist for Luciano Narsingh was a sign of things to come in the first home match of the season against FC Groningen (2-0) and this time the Belgian emphasised his star quality.
PSV are optimistic that they can revive the former Club Brugge starlet and at 23, the Wallonian has time on his side. A goal and an assist have been his reward in the first four games, but mainly the new-found positivity surrounding Lestienne will hopefully spur him on to reach old heights and perhaps new ones.
Rusty Kuyt and reality check for Feyenoord
It took four games and injury time for Dirk Kuyt to have his first shot from open play after his return to the Eredivisie. And it also took Kuyt four games to set up the first chance for one of his teammates. The lift the Katwijk man has given Feyenoord is undeniable, but it’s mainly been in spirit and confidence rather than in footballing qualities. Against FC Utrecht and Vitesse, that was enough to inspire his team to victory, against SC Cambuur his composure for the penalty was much needed. An asset not to be underestimated given the track record of the Feyenoorders with penalties. But in general, more is needed to make Feyenoord actual title contenders and from Kuyt, more is needed to make his return not only a success because of the symbolism.
In general, the expectations surrounding the 35-year-old and the team had already been building up to unrealistic proportions over the last week, with some pundits making Feyenoord favourites for the away clash with PSV. But a close look at the team still shows plenty of weaknesses. Terence Kongolo and Sven van Beek are makeshift fullbacks who are more comfortable centrally and were exposed as such against the pacey attack of the Eindhoven team. Eric Botteghin and Jan-Arie van der Heijden is a centre-back pairing that still needs time to settle in. The midfield with Vejinovic, Immers and El Ahmadi is good but not great and lacking creativity. And the attack of Bilal Basacikoglu, Kazim-Richards and Kuyt is hard-working but not brilliant.
In total, Feyenoord have scored seven goals so far, but three of those were penalties, while another was an own goal. The results so far had been encouraging, but to actually convince and live up to the tag of ‘title tcontenders’, improvement is needed at De Kuip.
Ajax profit from settled squad
Ahead of the game, the home match against ADO Den Haag felt like it could well be the first real test in the league for Frank de Boer and his men. However, that thought was put to bed in just under 20 minutes. A Davy Klaassen assist set the first up for Anwar El Ghazi after which the winger returned the favour to his captain. In the end, the 4-0 win was not as convincing as the scoreline suggested but definitely as comfortable as they come. After four games, they are the only team with a perfect record, scoring 12 and conceding none.
For the first time under Frank de Boer, Ajax have not only invested significantly, but have profited from a squad that didn’t lose any starters from last year. Even though the play doesn’t look silky smooth yet, Ajax have a better squad than they have had in years and although it is early days, with the right tweaks there could be something special building in Amsterdam. A mix of academy graduates and purchased talent, Ajax have time on their hands to regain their crown. Opening up a four point gap with the expected competition already, Ajax are in the driver’s seat for the title.
Schreuder’s last party ruined with Heracles taking the cake…
Ahead of the Twente derby, under-fire manager Alfred Schreuder received a cake and a letter from the fans of local rivals Heracles Almelo, to show appreciation of his work. The destruction of a club that just over a year ago were seen as supposed title contender has gone rapidly (as Peter McVitie described earlier here) and while Schreuder is far from the only one to play part in this, he is seen as the main culprit. In hindsight, the 2-0 loss at Heracles was the final straw. With one point in four, FC Twente have equalled their worst ever start to an Eredivisie season and the team showed no signs of improving. Schreuder reportedly has received a €2 million pay-off on a contract that was to run until 2019. A huge sum for a club that has had been suffering from severe financial problems throughout the year.
Ironically, Schreuder’s departure could lead to yet another big money transfer, as captain and star player Hakim Ziyech is contemplating his future as he is furious at the sacking of the manager. What remains left of the 2010 Eredivisie champions is yet to be seen, with Jesus Manuel Corona on his way out as well. FC Twente will not be relegation candidates, but a stable season of midtable obscurity seems to be the best the Enschedeërs can wish for at the moment.
…And eating it too
Meanwhile, John Stegeman’s fairy tale at Heracles continues. The Zwart-Witten registered a third straight win and now find themselves second in the table. The nine points they have won so far were all garnered fair and square, commendable stuff. One of the more entertaining sides in the competition and filling out their stadium nicely, Heracles will be a great side to follow for the neutral this season.
Kalezic earning his credentials as Roda look the best of the promoted sides
In an odd 1-2-3, the only reason that Kalezic is manager of Roda JC is because N.E.C. lost their manager last summer. Ruud Brood preferred an assistant role at PSV to staying on at N.E.C. In a chain reaction, Darije Kalezic, who managed Jong PSV, was not in contention to be Cocu’s second man and decided to move away. And the whole reason for PSV’s need for an assistant was the departure of Ernest Faber, who in turn became the head honcho of the Nijmegen club.
Despite an impressive six from four for N.E.C., it seems Roda JC have come out of it best. The 0-1 win at AZ was a deserved one and the Eredivisie no. 3 of last season did not manage a single shot on target against the Jupiler League no. 3 of 2014-15. After four games, the Kerkraders have picked up nine points form four and look nothing like the dire side they were at the end of last season.
The work Darije Kalezic has done so far is admirable and the Bosnian looks again determined to show what an excellent manager he is. In the battle for relegation, the 45 year old might turn out to be the most influential signing of the Eredivisie season.