Feyenoord take on AZ Sunday in the knowledge that they have to get something out of the game to keep a healthy gap between themselves and the trio of clubs chasing them – all of whom have home games against opposition lower down the league this weekend. Newcastle showed Thursday that hustle and bustle could give you the edge against a team that currently occupies second spot in the Eredivisie, racking up a 4-2 win in northeast England. ‘AZ have weak points too,’ acknowledges Koeman, ‘otherwise they would not concede four goals.’

Erwin Koeman will be reminding his players of what happened four months ago when AZ arrived in Rotterdam as clear favourites against an injury-hit home side only to be packed off home with nothing. It was a surprise to many that Feyenoord took all the spoils on that November evening, but it was all that Rotterdam industry deserved. It would be no bad idea to schedule a double bill for the squad ahead of Sunday’s game, with the November match followed by the Newcastle drubbing.

The key to success for Feyenoord is attitude. ‘They are the best footballing side in Holland,’ explains Koeman. ‘If we let them play, we’re better off staying home. So it’s essential that we respond with the right degree of aggression and physical presence to stop them from playing. We will do everything we can. And we need to have a good day, because to beat AZ you have to be at the top of your game.’

Erwin Koeman doesn’t go into Sunday’s match with his squad at full strength. The most conspicuous absence is captain Theo Lucius, who has the same hamstring problems as before the winter break, only this time they’re worse. Lucius played through the pain barrier earlier in the season, but Koeman does not want to push his captain too far. ‘I had to substitute him against Roda JC too. I don’t want to take any risks with him. He cannot play; he could then. It’s a big setback.’

It is compensated to some extent by the return of Alfred Schreuder, who is back to rude health. Sebastián Pardo has also been given the medical all clear, which gives the coach extra options in midfield. Karim Saidi is fit too, after shaking off a knee knock picked up in a reserve game.

Feyenoord are set to bus northwards on Saturday to give the squad time to prepare in a relaxing setting for what is an important match. Feyenoord remain two full wins ahead of the chasing pack in the race for fifth place, but Koeman is refusing to take playoff qualification for granted. ‘Let’s get there first; that’s where our focus lies now. We are six points ahead, but nothing has been decided yet. Which is why Sunday is another important game.’

‘AZ play the same type of football as FC Barcelona,’ said Louis van Gaal prior to the UEFA Cup match at Newcastle United Thursday. There was little to back up the coach’s claims in AZ’s performance, as the Dutch side fell three goals behind to an average home side within twenty minutes and the final score-line (4-2) was seen as a relatively good outcome by Van Gaal considering his side’s disarray at St James’ Park on occasions.

Feyenoord may be able to profit from tired AZ legs just three days after the home side’s trip across the North Sea, but if truth be told, the Alkmaar outfit have a large squad and there is plenty of quality in depth. In attack for instance, Van Gaal is able to rotate between Arveladze, Dembele, Koevermans and even Jermaine Lens.

It could be said that AZ have little left to play for in the league. The championship is not a realistic target, while a Champions League playoff place is almost guaranteed. So with the club still in the national cup competition and the UEFA Cup, it would not be surprising if Van Gaal focused his team’s hunger on those two knockout tournaments. Since Co Adriaanse first arrived in Alkmaar AZ have made great strides on and off the field, but there have been no trophies to confirm that the club are a force to be reckoned with.

The Rotterdammers travel north in the knowledge that they have not won in Alkmaar since February 2003. Bearing in mind that AZ have gone eight games unbeaten in the Eredivisie and the only side to take all three points at DSB Stadium are champions elect PSV, a win looks like a tall order for Feyenoord.

PSV were paid back big time last month by the way, as AZ went to Eindhoven and turned over Ronald Koeman’s side 3-2. It was a result that evidenced AZ’s newfound bite. Van Gaal has introduced a large slice of pragmatism to his side’s style. It has often been felt that AZ were pretty but a little frivolous, but that has changed over the past weeks and months.

AZ – Feyenoord
Sunday 11 March 2007, 12:30 pm at DSB Stadium
Referee: Braamhaar

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
15/12/2002 Feyenoord - AZ 6-1
19/03/2006 AZ - Feyenoord 1-0
31/10/2004 AZ - Feyenoord 4-1
14/09/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 2-2
15/02/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 1-4
20/10/2001 AZ - Feyenoord 1-3

Timmer; Greene, Vlaar, Bahia, Drenthe; Buijs, De Guzman, Schreuder; Castelen, Charisteas, Kolkka
AZ: Waterman; Steinsson, Jaliens, Opdam, De Cler; Jenner, De Zeeuw, Martens, Boukhari; Koevermans, Arveladze
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