‘The confidence is back,’ said a satisfied Feyenoord head coach Giovanni van Bronckhorst on Friday afternoon, two days ...
To say it’s been an eventful week for Feyenoord off the pitch is perhaps putting it mildly. Last Sunday’s defeat at De Graafschap was followeds a day later by reports in various publications suggesting that the playing staff had had enough of Gertjan Verbeek. Club skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst moved to repudiate those rumours Friday, making a statement on behalf of his squad mates to the effect that the claims made this week in the media are unfounded.
Verbeek has defended himself on more than one occasion this week with the words ‘I cannot do anything about that’ when confronted with yet another statement in the press. ‘But I can do something about this,’ said the coach Friday in response to Van Bronckhorst’s enterprise. ‘The squad have now said how things really are. Today I read the umpteenth article in which the truth had been twisted. So for me this statement is a great initiative.’
Looking ahead to Saturday’s match against AZ, Verbeek suggested that the squad have had to put up with enough. ‘This is all negative energy, while we badly need our energy to win points against AZ. So the only thing the players can do on Saturday is their very best. By doing so they can generate a lot of goodwill. If that comes across clearly and we can make things difficult for AZ by showing a lot of spirit, the supporters will go home satisfied.’
It certainly won’t be easy for Feyenoord. AZ have been in a rich vein of form recently and justifiably head the table. ‘We aren’t,’ said Verbeek. ‘But there are chances for us. AZ employe a very attractive attacking style of play and that generates chances for us on the counter.’
Feyenoord will take to the field against the league leaders without Kevin Hofland, who has hamstring problems. Verbeek explained that nothing has been damaged, but playing the defender is too big a risk. Timothy Derijck will take his place in the starting line-up. Norichio Nieveld has also been added to the squad as an extra defender.
After a disappointing 07-08 season, this term AZ are back on track to cementing their place as one of the Eredivisie’s major clubs. The Alkmaar outfit arrive at De Kuip this Saturday at the top of the league and in pole position to lead the table at the winter break. That did not look on the cards when the campaign got underway in August, as losses to NAC Breda and ADO Den Haag left AZ pointless after two games.
Coach Louis van Gaal’s position was questioned in the media and the club’s recruitment policy was also scrutinised (AZ’s summer signings included two first division players Niklas Moisander and Nick van der Velden). Three months down the line everything is completely different. AZ have not lost a game since those opening two defeats and as a result they have unrelentingly climbed the table, reaching the top of the pile for the first time a few weeks back.
Van der Velden does not look to have any difficulties adapting to a higher standard of football, while Moisander has garnered praise for adding steel and composure to the defence. The young Finn is part of a very solid rearguard that has kept a clean sheet in nine Eredivisie games. In total, AZ have conceded just eleven games in fourteen league outings, making it the most stingy team in the top flight.
Van Gaal’s men are doing strikingly well at the other end of the park too. AZ have scored more goals than any other team in the Eredivisie and they also have the league’s top scorer – Mounir El Hamdaoui. The Rotterdam-born goal-getter has netted no fewer than fourteen this season already.
His strike-partner Ari is also well on the way to realising his potential. The Brazilian was often sneered at last season, and he started this campaign on the bench. But an injury to Graziano Pellè gave Ari his chance and he’s rattled in six goals in a string of fine performances since the start of November.
With AZ sitting pretty at the top, the good folk of Alkmaar have slowly started to talk in terms of the title. The club certainly have plenty of experience of what can go wrong. Two seasons back AZ travelled to Excelsior only needing to win to claim the championship, but they choked big time. That is no doubt why the club had such a torrid time last season. Van Gaal will be hoping his side have learned from the experience.
Feyenoord – AZ
Saturday 13 December, 20:45 at De Kuip
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Derijck, Bahia, Van Bronckhorst; Wijnaldum, El Ahmadi, Fer, Lucius, Bruins; Makaay.
AZ: Romero; Swerts, Moisander, Moreno, Pocognoli; Mendes da Silva, Holman, Schaars, Martens; Ari and El Hamdaoui.
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
11/02/2004 Feyenoord - AZ 0-3
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