Feyenoord trained on an artificial surface once during the week – on Thursday. They returned to the real stuff at De Kuip Friday. ‘We took the conscious decision to train once on an artificial surface and not twice or three times,’ explained Bert van Marwijk. ‘If you’re not used to artificial turf you always run the risk of injuring yourself. I always hold my breath. But obviously we had to get the feel of the synthetic surface, so we trained on it once. For maximum recovery we left it there and later we trained on the perfect pitch in the stadium to recover optimally.’
Given the individual qualities the surface would appear at first glance to be an advantage for Feyenoord, but Van Marwijk is quick to add a little rider. ‘If I look at the players we should be able to do quite well. But it’s obviously easier if you play on it every week. Heracles have that advantage. As well as technique it’s also about being used to it, when you’re passing the ball for instance. I understand they water the pitch before the match. You normally play the ball so that someone can run onto it; we’ll have to play to feet now. Those things are different.’
Feyenoord are looking for a third successive victory Saturday, which will help a little after a dramatic start to the year. ‘It wasn’t great against Vitesse, but we managed to pull through. We survived and that can have a positive effect,’ explained the coach, who also expressed his satisfaction with Leroy Fer Friday. The youngster was himself surprised to be brought back into the starting line-up in recent weeks, but he’s responded magnificently. ‘You still see some defensive errors,’ admitted Van Marwijk, ‘ but that’s only logical. He is a midfielder, but he’s defending at the highest level. He make up for a lot when he has the ball, you saw that with his two decisive passes against De Graafschap. He is uninhibited, intelligent and strong in tackles and not as slow as he might look. Against Vitesse he was actually one of the better ones.’
Van Marwijk will have to do without Tim de Cler in Almelo. The defender is suspended and injured. He’s joined in the treatment room by Theo Lucius, Tim Vincken, Ron Vlaar and Chun-Soo Lee. The South Korean has his foot in the plaster of Paris for a week, before the medical staff investigate the problem further.
Heracles seem to have mastered the art of doing just enough. The Almelo outfit have managed to keep themselves out of the relegation playoff positions until now. After 25 games they are a point ahead of Excelsior. Interestingly, they managed to finish last season two points ahead of the Rotterdammers at the end of last season, when Excelsior were forced to save their Eredivisie status through those playoffs.
Heracles have learned a very important lesson over the past three seasons in the Eredivisie: win against your nearest rivals and you stay in the league. Matches against Ajax, PSV, FC Twente or FC Groningen are treated as nice little extras, but it’s against teams like VVV-Venlo, Excelsior and Willem II that the club really focuses on the job at hand.
That focus will have to remain sharp in the final third of the season, bearing in mind that the gap to bottom side Willem II is just three points. The remaining fixtures do not provide much comfort either, as the only relegation candidate on the programme is that same Willem II.
It’s gradually dawning on Heracles that they are going to have to slay a few dragons in Almelo. Last week’s fine home draw against Heerenveen is proof of that. They’ll be hoping that a similar result can be secured on the artificial surface against Feyenoord.
Saturday 23 February, 20:00 at the Polman Stadium
Heracles: Pieckenhagen; Boakye, Klavan, Looms, Breukers; Quansah, Gonzalo, Maas, Michalke; Everton, Lakic
Feyenoord: Timmer; Fer, Greene, Hofland, Bahia (Lensky); Landzaat, Hofs, Van Bronckhorst; De Guzman, Makaay, Bruins
15/04/2007 Heracles Almelo - Feyenoord 4-1
29/01/2006 Heracles Almelo - Feyenoord 0-4
02/12/2007 Feyenoord - Heracles Almelo 6-0
27/08/2006 Feyenoord - Heracles Almelo 0-0
27/11/2005 Feyenoord - Heracles Almelo 7-1