Considering the present condition of his squad, Erwin Koeman will have to pick and mix to put out some sort of balanced side when AZ come to De Kuip Saturday. ‘We have been weakened, but we don’t have to be afraid of AZ,’ clarified the coach at Friday’s press conference after detailing the injury situation. ‘I want us to work hard for ninety minutes. AZ is further along than Feyenoord, but they are weak in places too.’

Feyenoord will kick off with a youthful eleven against third-place AZ. A full treatment room at De Kuip has means that Koeman has had to puzzle together a starting line-up. Jonathan de Guzman is missing again, which is a real blow. Karim Saidi is also unavailable, after returning from international duty with an injury. Tim Vincken will not be fit in time for the encounter, while Theo Lucius remains doubtful till the last minute. A decision on the captain may even be delayed until after the pre-match warm-up. ‘Theo is not a hundred per cent fit,’ admits Koeman. ‘He wants to play, but if I run the risk of losing him for four matches, he won’t be playing tomorrow. It has to be a responsible decision. We’ll look at it again on Saturday.’

Koeman feels that the long injury list is not a coincidence. ‘We have to give everything for 95 minutes to win the match, which is very demanding. The strain and the unnecessary internationals, as with Saidi now, have played a part in this.’

Danny Buijs misses the match due to suspension after the midfielder was slapped with a three-match ban. ‘It was on the cards,’ admits Koeman. ‘I have told Danny in crystal-clear terms what I think about it. It’s bad timing. I hope he realises he’s hurting the team.’

Koeman has yet to decide on a game plan, which is unsurprising given the uncertainty on Lucius’s availability. The coach tested a number of options at Friday training, but he did so behind closed doors. ‘I’m not going to go into how we will take on AZ. We’ve tried out a couple of things and we’ll have to find the right balance. It’s important for us to give a hundred per cent and to try to stop AZ from playing. Otherwise we could have a problem.’

AZ come to De Kuip Saturday with a mission. Under Louis van Gaal the club is fast establishing itself as one of the strongest in the country on the pitch, but despite beating anything else that’s put in front of them, trips to the traditional top three – Feyenoord, Ajax and PSV – have typically ended in disappointment. Under Co Adriaanse AZ did manage to win in Eindhoven in late 2003 and at De Kuip in early 2004, but otherwise they have had little success. AZ are certainly not at PSV’s level, but they would appear to be more than a match for the other two. After AZ’s most recent loss in Rotterdam Louis van Gaal suggested that the whole ambiance at De Kuip had had an impact on his team. ‘It’s not the first time this has happened to us at a top club,’ said the coach, alluding to a big loss at PSV. Saturday’s is AZ’s first visit to a top-three club this season, so the performance and result will say a lot about how the club has progressed under Van Gaal’s stewardship.

AZ certainly have enough quality to secure the win. Van Gaal’s side has experience in the shape of captain Shota Arveladze, who has set his mark on the team. The side has lost two important members in Joris Mathijsen and Kenneth Perez, but the coach has responded calmly and talented players like Moussa Dembélé, Gijs Luirink, Maarten Martens and Julian Jenner have made AZ that much stronger than last year. The fact that a player like Simon Cziommer, a midfielder who would walk into most any team, has found his place under threat says all you need to know about the quality Van Gaal has assembled in Alkmaar. The coach has also brought players on that were written off as too lightweight, including Danny Koevermans. The striker has scored goals in the second tier, but no one felt that he could hack it in the upper reaches of the Eredivisie. Yet Koevermans has proved them wrong, carving out a reputation as an impact sub. Eight goals this term has made him the club’s top scorer and a potential international.

Saturday 18 November, 20:00 at De Kuip
Referee: Haverkort

Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Lucius (Greene), Bahia, Drenthe; Greene (Derijck), Pardo, Hofs; Kolkka, Charisteas, Huysegems.
AZ: Sinouh; Steinsson, Jaliens, Opdam, De Cler; De Zeeuw, Martens, Mendes da Silva, Schaars; Arveladze, Dembélé.


26/12/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 2-0
3/4/2005 Feyenoord - AZ 4-2
11/2/2004 Feyenoord - AZ 0-3
15/12/2002 Feyenoord - AZ 6-1
10/3/2002 Feyenoord - AZ 4-1

19/3/2006 AZ - Feyenoord 1-0
31/10/2004 AZ - Feyenoord 4-1
14/9/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 2-2
15/2/2003 AZ - Feyenoord 1-4
20/10/2001 AZ - Feyenoord 1-3
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