The Eredivisie takes a nap next weekend to make way for World Cup qualifiers and international friendlies, which means that Feyenoord’s next fixture will be at FC Volendam on 5 April.
The coach has got his side going in recently weeks, which has seen them garner 10 points from the last four games. ‘The team has come on leaps and bounds, also in terms of performances. As a result, you see the belief in the squad that we can get a good result against AZ.’
Feyenoord will face the champions-elect without the suspended Giovanni van Bronckhorst or the injured Jon Dahl Tomasson and Kevin Hofland, who all started against PSV, but Vlemmings feels that changes little. ‘I think as a team we are at the point where, while it’s a pity they are not available, it’s not like that we cannot do without them.’
Tomasson’s absence seems to open the door again to the return of Luigi Bruins playing just behind central striker Roy Makaay. ‘Because of Jon Dahl’s return Luigi has been left out for a while,’ said Vlemmings. ‘He trained like a professional in that time and worked hard and played well in the reserves. The position is free again and Luigi has the requisite qualities. We are very confident that Luigi can play well there.’
Vlemmings watched AZ live a few weeks back in a cup-tie against NAC Breda. ‘As the home team I expected AZ to make things more difficult for their opponents,’ said the coach. ‘They are very well organised defensively and they work well breaking from defence to attack too.’
After the AZ game Feyenoord have six cup finals to play in the Eredivisie. ‘In those games we’re targeting the playoffs,’ said Vlemmings. ‘We’re coming from a long way back and we’ve earned the right to attempt it by believing in our chances. We have that against AZ now too.’
AZ looked to have won the title two seasons ago, but slipped up at Excelsior in the final round of matches. They will have to implode monumentally this time round if they are to be denied again. But given the current state of the table and the form being shown by Louis van Gaal’s side, the club’s second ever Dutch title would appear to be all but in the bag.
The Alkmaar outfit have seven games in which to defend an 11-point lead over second place FC Twente at the top. AZ lost their first two matches, but then went on a 25-game unbeaten run, which continues till this day. It’s a club record that Van Gaal admits is a proud achievement, but it will mean little if they blow the title.
The coach has put together a tight-knit collective that is secure at the back and strong up front. Despite being forced to make various changes at the back due to injury, most recently Joey Didulica in place of Sergio Romero, Van Gaal’s side continues to defend superbly week in, week out. That’s borne out by the stats, which show that AZ have conceded just 14 goals this season, fewer than any other team in the country.
AZ have been just as effective going forward. The Alkmaar battering ram always seems to break down the opposition, with Moussa Dembélé and Mounir El Hamdaoui stealing most of the limelight. Most people in the know feel that Dembélé is ready to play at one of Europe’s top clubs, while El Hamdaoui is the nation’s top scorer with 20 goals.
With the season now entering the final run in AZ need just 11 points to take the Eredivisie crown. That said, Van Gaal’s side end the season away to third place Ajax, away to second place FC Twente and home to fourth place sc Heerenveen, so they’ll be hoping to get the points on the board before then. Starting with Feyenoord Sunday.
AZ – Feyenoord
Sunday 22 March, 14:30 at the DSB Stadium
AZ: Didulica; Swerts, Jaliens, Moisander, Poulsen; Dembélé, Holman, Schaars, Martens; El Hamdaoui and Pellè.
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Lucius, Bahia, Leerdam; El Ahmadi, Bruins, Fer; Wijnaldum, Makaay and Biseswar.
12/03/2008 AZ - Feyenoord 0-1
11/03/2007 AZ - Feyenoord 0-0
19/03/2006 AZ - Feyenoord 1-0
31/10/2004 AZ - Feyenoord 4-1
14/09/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 2-2
13/12/2008 Feyenoord - AZ 0-1
30/01/2008 Feyenoord - AZ 2-2
18/11/2006 Feyenoord - AZ 3-2
26/12/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 2-0
03/04/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 4-2
BIG MATCH FACTS
AZ have hosted Feyenoord 30 times in the Eredivisie, winning 7 times. Feyenoord claimed all the points on 12 occasions, while 11 games finished all square.
Feyenoord have earned 10 points from the last 4 matches. Only AZ and sc Heerenveen have bested that. Both have 12 points from 4 matches.
The Rotterdammers won the most recent encounter between the clubs at the DSB Stadium, edging out AZ 1-0 on 12 March 2008. Jonathan de Guzman scored the only goal. AZ’s Kew Jaliens was red-carded in injury time.