VAN MARWIJK FORCED TO IMPROVISE IN AMSTERDAM

Feyenoord know they need to get a good result against their biggest rivals Sunday after the midweek results left the Rotterdammers trailing PSV by eight points. Bert van Marwijk’s preparations have not been perfect however. The coach has seen the treatment room fill up in recent days and he’ll be forced to cobble together a team as best he can to face Ajax. Van Marwijk’s biggest headaches are in defence.

Feyenoord are likely to be without their regular left and right backs for the game. Tim de Cler and Theo Lucius are both almost certain to miss the fixture, which will force Van Marwijk to ask a midfielder to moonlight in defence. Danny Buijs returned to training Friday but is not expected to be fit enough to start against Ajax. Van Marwijk called a conference with his medical staff two days before the match to work out his options. He’ll be keeping his fingers crossed that Buijs is declared ready after all.

If Buijs and Lucius miss the game, Van Marwijk will be forced to improvise. ‘In that case I’ll have to push a midfielder back a line,’ admits the coach, who would like some unexpected good news from Saturday training so he doesn’t have to shuffle his pack. ‘I hope to have Theo and Tim, and also Michael Mols on the pitch tomorrow, although I’m virtually sure that it won’t happen.’

With the state of the table in mind, the Feyenoord coach could certainly do without all the hassle. As PSV threaten to open up an unassailable lead at the top of the Eredivisie, a good result at the Amsterdam Arena would seem to be non-negotiable. ‘And there’s a lot of prestige at stake too. For that reason alone we are extra motivated,’ confirmed Van Marwijk. ‘Injuries don’t change that in the least, needless to say.’

Ajax is a worthy opponent, according to the coach, who was surprised to hear Wednesday that Ajax had been beaten at home by PSV. ‘I really expected Ajax to win. They have a good squad with a lot of quality. They are especially strong up front. We know where their strengths lie.’

THE OPPOSITION

Ajax’s strategy in the transfer market has been a hot potato in newspapers and TV programmes in recent weeks. All that talk has perhaps not been entirely unjustified either; Ajax have signed four new players, including two that were previously allowed to leave the Arena (Kenneth Perez and Rasmus Lindgren), a third that finally arrived after a whole soap opera (Bruno Silva) and a fourth that may or may not be as good as he used to be (Samuel Kuffour).

All told however Ajax had little alternative but to dip into the market during the past transfer window, as the Amsterdammers attempt to improve the standard of Adrie Koster’s squad. The loss of Wesley Sneijder before the start of the season was not compensated for with a signing before the campaign got underway. That was bad enough, but when Jaap Stam suddenly decided to retire with immediate effect and Hedwiges Maduro signed a deal with Valencia, the situation became pressing.

It would not have been so bad perhaps if the Amsterdammers were performing anywhere near well enough on the pitch. Edgar Davids has returned to action after a protracted period on the treatment table, but he has been unable to prevent his side from being eliminated from the Dutch Cup by NAC Breda, as well as dropping Eredivisie points against NEC and Vitesse, two sides in the bottom half of the league.

Defeat at home to PSV last Wednesday left Ajax on the same points as Feyenoord, eight shy of the champions and just one ahead of Heerenveen and Groningen. Which is why Sunday’s match against the Rotterdammers – the biggest of the Dutch season any year – is such a vital one for the Amsterdammers in February 2008. Unfortunately for Koster, his side will face their archrivals without the suspended Davids, who was red-carded in the final minutes against PSV for a reckless challenge on Méndez.

EREDIVISIE
Ajax – Feyenoord
Sunday 3 February, 12:30 at Amsterdam Arena
Referee: Van Hulten

PROBABLE LINE-UPS
Ajax: Stekelenburg; Silva, Kuffour, Heitinga, Emanuelson; Gabri, Perez, Lindgren; Rommedahl (Bakircioglu), Huntelaar, Suarez
Feyenoord: Timmer; Lucius (Buijs), Greene, Hofland, De Cler (Lensky/Bahia); Landzaat, De Guzman, Van Bronckhorst; Slory, Makaay, Hofs

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