Erwin Koeman has little he can to rely on going into the decisive phase of the season. Realistically, Feyenoord can finish either fifth or sixth in the table, but with two games to go it’s anyone’s guess whether the Rotterdammers will have secured a place in the Champions League or the Intertoto Cup by the time the fat lady starts crooning. There is also uncertainty as to which players are fit and who’s in form. So Koeman has plenty to chew over ahead of Sunday’s Eredivisie match against NEC, Feyenoord’s last home encounter of the season before the playoffs.

Koeman seems to be confronted with that type of conundrum every week. Last Sunday against Heracles the coach was unwilling to start with 16-year-old Wijnaldum and was therefore forced to shuffle his pack. ‘But others failed to make the most of their chance, so maybe Wijnaldum will get the nod again this week.’ Koeman will name his squad a day before the game. ‘We could really use Drente’s power in midfield, but who am I going to play at left back?’

The only thing Koeman knows for sure is that he needs a three-point return against NEC Sunday to ensure Feyenoord stay in the driving seat. For the coach the only way to guarantee that is with good old-fashioned hard work. ‘We will have to battle. Our play has sometimes been indulgent in recent weeks. We cannot allow that to happen on Sunday. If we go down, let us at least go down fighting.’

AZ and Ajax won their cup semis earlier this week, which means that a top-five finish will guarantee a Uefa Cup spot even in the worst-case scenario. ‘The group know everything is still in our own hands,’ confirmed Koeman. ‘We’ve been well beaten in the last two games, but that says nothing about our chances in the next two games.’

Koeman will have to do without Theo Lucius Sunday. The midfielder is still unavailable due to a hamstring injury. Otherwise, the jury is still out on Alfred Schreuder. ‘He has played with painkillers in the last two games because of hip problems,’ admitted Koeman. ‘We’ll have to wait and see whether he’s fit on Sunday.’ Romeo Castelen missed Friday training with a painful knee, but is expected to take the field against NEC.

Dwight Tiendalli is back to full fitness after turning out for the reserves Monday, when he played a full match without any reaction. The defender may even walk straight back into the team. One player who will not is Karim Saidi, who has been added to the second string squad. Koeman explained that the Tunisian in his eyes is ‘someone who makes his own rules when recovering from injuries.’ The coach feels that Saidi is failing to show full commitment to the team.

If any team deserves to be described as a mid-table outfit this season it is NEC. Mario Been’s side are currently in eleventh place in the Eredivisie after a hot and cold campaign. Just look at the results in recent weeks. Champions elect PSV were sent packing with nothing to show in the last home game when NEC won 2-1, but a week later FC Groningen steamrollered over Nijmegen’s finest eleven, cruising to a 4-1 win. That just about encapsulates the season NEC have had. Feyenoord were walloped 4-1 at De Goffert, while Ajax escaped with a 2-2 after equalising in the last minute. Title challengers AZ were also held to a goalless draw in Alkmaar. At the other end of the scale, basement clubs Willem II and Excelsior both took three points off NEC in March.

The unpredictability ensues in part from the low average age of Been’s squad. Dominique Kivuvu, Rutger Worm and Roy Beerens are all young guns, but the side has few old hands to keep them on the right track. Only Gábor Babos (32) and Patrick Pothuizen (34) have reached their fourth decade. Peter Wisgerhof and Andrzej Niedzielan are the only other players in the squad born in the seventies. The lack of experience has certainly played against NEC. The club is currently four points behind ninth place FC Utrecht and a spot in the Uefa Cup playoffs.

The goals-for column has been a concern. 32 goals in 32 games is among the worst in the top-flight. Brett Holman and Romano Denneboom are certainly two potentially dangerous strikers, but it hasn’t clicked for them this season. Both have seven goals to their name so far, which is a fairly meagre return all told.

That said, the NEC back line is fairly solid. Marie Been strengthened the centre of defence in November, fielding on-loan Mark Otten for the first time in the 4-1 drubbing of his parent club Feyenoord at the end of that month.

Been and Otten are not the only Rotterdammers on the Nijmegen payroll. Gábor Babos, Said Boutahar, Lorenzo Davids, Brett Holman and Ferne Snoyl have all turned out for Feyenoord. But Koeman and Co are sensible enough not to expect any favours when the clubs meet Sunday.

Feyenoord – NEC Nijmegen
Sunday 22 April, 14:30 at De Kuip

Referee: Bossen

Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Vlaar, Bahia, Drenthe; Buijs, Wijnaldum, De Guzman; Castelen, Charisteas, Van Hooijdonk
NEC Nijmegen: Babos; Nalbantoglu, Otten, Wisgerhof, Olsson; Kivuvu, Barreto, Davids; Denneboom, Holman, Beerens


11/09/2005 Feyenoord - NEC 3-0
05/12/2004 Feyenoord - NEC 2-1
17/08/2003 Feyenoord - NEC 2-1
18/08/2002 Feyenoord - NEC 2-0
09/12/2001 Feyenoord - NEC 5-0

26/11/2006 NEC - Feyenoord 4-1
08/02/2006 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
08/05/2005 NEC - Feyenoord 2-0
28/01/2004 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2
16/03/2003 NEC - Feyenoord 1-2

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