Due to their absence, Norichio Nieveld took on the position in the central defence against NEC and Sparta. And the youngster surprised Vlemmings in a positive way. ‘It increases competition in central defence. Certainly with the sparse cover we have now. I’m glad Bahia is back.’
In addition to Nieveld, the young Kelvin Leerdam has also played the full 90 minutes in the last two games. Leerdam played at left back, a position he has had little prior experience in. ‘The technical staff are very satisfied with him,’ said Vlemmings. ‘Kelvin is a player with a good sense of space and he reads the game well. He knows where the ball is going to come and that’s a quality you can especially use in midfield. He has done very well at left back in these games. Keeping him in the team is an option.’
Feyenoord have found FC Groningen a real challenge in recent seasons and have suffered quite a few losses. However, Vlemmings does not intend to adapt too much to take account of the opposition. ‘I take our own team much more as a starting point’, said the coach. ‘In the phase we are in it’s important to play according to our own system. That brings clarity and certainty. We have to invest energy in the things we do ourselves.’
Clearly, the Rotterdammers have looked closely at FC Groningen in recent weeks. After watching the defeat of ADO Den Haag Vlemmings observed that the Hague-based outfit were at least a match for their higher-placed opponents. ‘But they clicked fairly well against Ajax,’ said the coach Friday. ‘They play very well in their own system, which is well developed. They are always a threat up front. We are ready.’
They are not so quick to hit the panic button in Groningen. Despite suffering five defeats in six outings ahead of the winter break, the club refused to blink. No one from the boardroom rushed to pull the carpet from under the feet of coach Ron Jans and there was no mass hysteria in the stands.
That patience seems to be paying dividends since the short winter break. Yes, Groningen were knocked out of the cup on penalties at NAC Breda, but in the league the men in green and white stripes have done much better. Only Sparta Rotterdam have managed to take a point off Groningen this year. Ajax, ADO Den Haag and NEC have all lost to the northerners.
Koen van de Laak is the man in form. The midfielder is sometimes the only Dutchman in a team that includes a host of Swedes. Van de Laak was involved in all Groningen goals in the second half of the season, thus playing a large part in the club’s revival.
As a result, Feyenoord will face a confident Groningen at De Kuip on Sunday. Recent history is also on the visitors’ side. The Rotterdammers have lost three of the last five encounters on home turf. Only the October 2005 game between the clubs ended in a Feyenoord victory. Last season’s game finished all square.
That form has been mirrored up north. Feyenoord won back in April 2005 and grabbed a draw a year later, but have left Groningen empty-handed on the last three occasions. Earlier this season, then coach Gertjan Verbeek saw his side beaten 3-1. An early red card for Kevin Hofland was a decisive turning point in that game.
Feyenoord – FC Groningen
Sunday 8 February, 14:30 at De Kuip
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Nieveld, Hofland, Bahia (Leerdam); El Ahmadi, Tomasson, Fer; Slory, Makaay and Biseswar.
FC Groningen: Luciano; Hiariej, Granqvist, Sankoh, Stenman; Van de Laak, Holla, Lovre, Levchenko; Gonzalo and Berg.
27/01/2008 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-1
08/04/2007 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 0-4
16/10/2005 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 4-1
21/11/2004 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-2
02/05/2004 Feyenoord - FC Groningen 1-2
28/09/2008 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-1
25/11/2007 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-2
20/08/2006 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 3-0
26/02/2006 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 1-1
24/04/2005 FC Groningen - Feyenoord 0-2
BIG MATCH FACTS
- Feyenoord have won 19 of the 29 matches against FC Groningen at De Kuip, the visitors returned home with a win 3 times and there have been 7 draws.
- Feyenoord have played 9 teenagers this season, which is more than any other Eredivisie club.
- The corresponding fixture last season came on 27 January 2008. The match ended 1-1. Marcus Berg (32’) gave the visitors the lead, but Feyenoord equalised through an own goal by Mark-Jan Fledderus in time added on at the end of the first half.