The Cooling Down: The rise of the phoenix continues as Heracles convince against PSV

Only a year ago, Heracles looked doomed. Having lost their first five games of the season, their sixth was a home match with FC Twente and they were hammered once again – 1-4 this time. It would take the Heraclieden until the eighth game before they picked up their first points, battering NAC Breda 6-1. Like a phoenix, the Almelo club rose from the dead and cemented their Eredivisie status a couple of games before the end of the campaign.

This time out, the sixth game was a more cheerful occasion. While Heracles lost their first game of the season again – to newly promoted Roda JC – there was no worry a repeat of last term’s disastrous start was on the cards. Instead, they followed that up with four straight and impressive victories. On Saturday, they faced their biggest test, with their their 500th game in Eredivisie history pitting them against PSV – a team they had never beaten before at their own ground, the Almeloërs will have felt they had never had a better chance to do something about that than now. Though only 86 seconds in, they had made their challenge all the more difficult, with Luuk de Jong putting John Stegeman’s side on the back foot. But not for the first time Heracles proved a sturdy piece of opposition, even for a team that had beaten Manchester United only four days earlier.

After ten minutes of struggle, the Heracles magic started to wear off on the squad again. Even though it was only the third game in their revamped stadium, they had looked impregnable in the previous two and were looking to gain that same dominant feeling again versus PSV. And soon it was Heracles dominating the game. With problem child turned prodigy Tannane again the most dangerous of the hosts, the right forward put Joshua Brenet in for a more sterner test than football millionaire Ashley Young had done so only days earlier. Tannane turned Brenet in and out several times, trying his luck with several shots from his left foot. On the other flank, Brahim Darri was giving PSV problems too, although to a lesser extent then his counterpart on the right.

The equaliser eventually came through a whole different source. Left back Mark-Jan Fledderus, an Eredivisie veteran, controlled a ball on the edge of the area after another Heracles attack and surprised goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet with a swerving left-footed shot from outside the box. And it took took little time for Heracles to take the lead. One minute before half-time, it was Moroccan-Dutch left midfielder Iliass Bel Hassani who carved open PSV’s midfield with a run through the right, only to lay the ball off to Thomas Bruns. The 23 year old steered the ball into the low right corner with an immaculate first-time effort straight from Bel Hassani’s pass, leaving Zoet with no chance for the second time in the space of six minutes. After the break, PSV did get a few chances to level the score, but a resilient Heracles held on to claim the three points.

The 15 points after six games is a great reward for the team from the east of the Netherlands and a justified one as well. Since Stegeman’s first victory after his appointment in October, the team has picked up 16 Eredivisie victories, a record only bettered by the traditional big three and Vitesse. In their 11th consecutive season in the top flight, they are finally not so much frowned upon as the forefathers of artificial turf – they were the first of the in total six Eredivisie teams with an artificial pitch – but lauded for their football and their talent identification in both players and managers. After giving Peter Bosz and Gertjan Verbeek a chance to develop and teaching players such as Marko Vejinovic and Bas Dost, now is the chance for the 39-year-old Stegeman to get the best out of himself and the aforementioned talents.

PSV set back but Moreno the main talking point

Heracles played the last 17 minutes of the game against PSV without star winger Oussama Tannane as he was taken out of the game by Héctor Moreno due to a stamp on his upper leg. Despite injuring Luke Shaw earlier in the week, the Mexican defender felt that after his mea culpa there was no need to drop his never-say-die attitude. The ironic turn of events that had happened in PSV – Manchester United (Moreno scored the equalizer after Shaw went off injured) was spared on Heracles, although Moreno did get one of the best chances of the game from a header only seven minutes after Tannane had left the field.

The aggressive and reckless way of defending of Moreno that saw an opponent leave the field injured in two of his three games so far is one of the elements that pundits have craved to see at big Eredivisie clubs. ‘Lose the naivety!’, ‘we need more men!’ and other slogans calling for more maturity have been used over the last few years. And when this leads – or can lead – to a good result that benefits the country, a lot of wrongs will be talked right. In that light, many hefty challenges in games of the national team have been justified. And Moreno’s tackle against Manchester United, although not malicious but reckless, was fine by many as it helped their cause (UEFA Co-efficients!).

The high, stretched leg on Tannane did not suit such a purpose and received a fair bit of criticism. As long as it’s difficult to establish a ‘we’ and them’, it is harder to justify tough play.

In general, the Dutch like to take the moral high ground, especially when there is no chance of getting any type of win or superiority in any other way. But as the midweek-reactions displayed, it is way more difficult to actually form a consequent opinion when such toughness and grittiness actually plays in one’s favour for once. The two accidents have been poached off by some as incidents, deserved of a red card but unfortunate actions from someone ‘who is not that type of player’.

For now, this might hold as an explanation. But it would be wise for Moreno to be a bit more controlled in his games over the next few weeks, to ensure he won’t get a reputation as a serial offender.

Feyenoord still in search of a gameplan

A grand total of 47 crosses were attempted by Feyenoord against Roda JC (1-1), a record this Eredivisie season. In the end, all it effectively resulted in was one goal, with Michiel Kramer opening the scoring thanks to a fantastic delivery from Rick Karsdorp. Feyenoord lack a distinctive game plan so far and even though you’d expect some kind of nous and niftiness in an attack with two World Cup finalists (Dirk Kuyt & Eljero Elia), hardly any was displayed. Feyenoord have picked up 13 points from a possible 18 so far and while this is a totally acceptable amount, the team is not making any progress. The midfield is flat and lacks attacking threat, Kuyt is still struggling to find some kind of form and Kramer is a mere poacher (2 goals in 200 minutes) in a team that requires a more expansive forward.

So far, Feyenoord have scored more than one non-penalty goal in one game on one occasion (a 3-2 win over FC Utrecht) and the lack of goals from the whole team is concerning. Dirk Kuyt is the top goalscorer with three converted penalties, Michiel Kramer scored two and former Feyenoord academy player Jeffrey Bruma helped out with an own goal in the game against PSV. The other four goals came from Colin Kazim-Richards, Tonny Vilhena, Bilal Basacikoglu and Eljero Elia. Moments of individual brilliance have so far kept Feyenoord up to pace with the top teams in the league, but the lack of fluidity is concerning.

Boring Ajax make light work of Excelsior

Ajax have received plenty of criticism for being boring over the last year or so. And against Excelsior, nothing was done to dispel that myth. After the first half, a goal from Anwar El Ghazi and another from Arek Milik made sure that Ajax could cruise the second half without any trouble, and that’s what they did. The days of opposition fans being excited that the attractive Ajax is coming to town have long gone.

However, Ajax have scored more goals than any Eredivisie team (16), have conceded the fewest (2) and lead the league table with 16 points from six. Especially the defence seems vastly improved compared to last year. The 11 shots on target faced is an incredible 26 fewer than at this point last season. And even if the defence is breached, there is still Jasper Cillessen. The goalkeeper has not done his reputation any favours with his latest displays in the national team, but remains the outstanding goalkeeper in the Eredivisie.

While the team could do with a more entertaining brand of football, the foundation for another title seems there.

Baby got Becker

PEC Zwolle are enjoying what is by now a trademark flying start to the Eredivisie season and are, together with Ajax, the only unbeaten side so far. In fact, PEC can boast to be the longest unbeaten current Eredivisie team, because their last league defeat stretches back to April.

Against ADO Den Haag, that sequence was under threat for a while. However, not for the first time this season, the pair of Lars Veldwijk and Sheraldo Becker stepped up to the plate to save the day. After trailing 0-1, Becker equalised only to set up teammate Veldwijk for the 2-1 ten minutes later.

While the 1-1 of Becker was a bit of a fluke – a cross sailed into the far corner – there was nothing unusual about his overall performance. Sheraldo Becker has been sensational since the turn of the summer and with three goals and four assists he’s had a hand in more than half of PEC Zwolle’s goals. The speed merchant (‘no-one in the Eredivisie is faster than me’) adds something unique to this side and the Ajax-loanee will certainly fancy his chances when he returns to his parent club at the end of the season.

For now, he is one of the pieces of another fitting PEC puzzle. The work Ron Jans and the club have done, again building a very decent squad, is remarkable. In each of the three seasons with Ron Jans, they have done well in their first six games and only Jesper Drost has contributed with a goal in more than one of these seasons. The constant turnover of players does not seem to deter the Blauwvingers and as with Heracles, it is great to see their excellent transfer policy reap rewards.

N.E.C. 2 – 0 sc Heerenveen
SC Cambuur Leeuwarden 0 – 0 FC Twente
Heracles Almelo 2 – 1 PSV
PEC Zwolle 2 – 1 ADO Den Haag
Willem II 3 – 1 De Graafschap
Roda JC 1 – 1 Feyenoord
Excelsior 0 – 2 Ajax
Vitesse 3 – 0 De Graafschap
FC Groningen 2 – 0 AZ

# Team Games Points +/-
1 Ajax 6 16 14
2 Heracles Almelo 6 15 10
3 PEC Zwolle 6 14 8
4 Feyenoord 6 13 4
5 PSV 6 11 9
6 Roda JC Kerkrade 6 11 1
7 Vitesse 6 10 6
8 FC Groningen 6 10 2
9 N.E.C. 6 10 -1
10 FC Utrecht 6 8 0
11 sc Heerenveen 6 6 -2
12 ADO Den Haag 6 5 -3
13 Willem II 6 5 -3
14 AZ 6 5 -4
15 Excelsior 6 4 -5
16 FC Twente 6 3 -6
17 SC Cambuur Leeuwarden 6 2 -16
18 De Graafschap 6 0 -14

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