After a week without a number of key players in training due to international commitments, Erwin Koeman was finally able to run the rule over his squad Friday, two days ahead of the first derby of the season across the city at Sparta. The coach decided to train behind closed doors, which would suggest that Feyenoord are preparing to play in a different way Sunday. Koeman was not about to confirm or deny that, although he did admit ‘that we don’t like being in thrall to one system. I don’t feel it’s any surprise that something has to give.’

Koeman was happy to discuss the issue at the weekly press call Friday, although true to form he wasn’t willing to shoot him mouth off. ‘We have had a disappointing start, so something has to happen. I wouldn’t be doing my job well if we just continued down the same path. I have to intervene. Not least because we are going into a really important month for us, with the cup, Europe and the league.’

The coach would not be drawn on whether he planned to start with three up front rather than two. ‘I already know my formation, but there’s another training session on Saturday. And the form of the players also plays a role. Otherwise we shouldn’t try to complicate things too much. Whatever system we play Sunday, it’s about being prepared to work for each other and showing our supporters what we can do.’

While Koeman followed tradition by staying tight-lipped about his eleven picks for Sunday’s derby, one thing that is clear is that Philippe Léonard will not be making his debut. ‘He is lacking fitness,’ the coach explained. ‘So it would be wrong to pick him already. I don’t want to burden the lad too early and risk him picking up an injury,’ says Koeman, who is hoping to draft in the Belgian defender in two weeks.

Léonard is joined on the sidelines by Vlaar (foot) and Collen (shoulder), together with treatment room regulars Schreuder and Castelen. Koeman does have two new additions available to him however, in the guise of Buijs and Charisteas. ‘We needed them too,’ admitted Koeman, ‘because the squad needed some stimulation. We’ve got that. The arrival of two newcomers always freshens things up to some degree. And naturally I have more choice than before and that’s not a luxury.’

The two new arrivals have impressed Koeman up to now. ‘Buijs has found it easy to fit in. It’s an advantage of course that he knows the club. He also appears able to cope well with the difference in standard. You can see he’s learned a lot these past few years. He is better at keeping possession and his game is more relaxed.’

The much-discussed Charisteas has also eased himself in at Feynoord, Koeman feels. ‘I thought it was nice how coolly the lad has reacted to all the commotion over the past few days. He’s clearly used to a few things as a Greek. He also understands the sensitivities around his arrival. I enjoyed seeing that. But the most important thing is that we continue to talk about football in the squad and not about side issues, in spite of everything. And that everyone is convinced we have to take the points now.’

The season is scarcely underway, but the signs are that Sparta are set for a fine campaign. Wiljan Vloet’s team did as well as expected last year, but nothing more than that, flirting with relegation for most of the season. A place in the playoffs continued to hang over their heads until the last day, but the expectations are higher this time around.

Despite the loss of crowd favourite Ricky van den Bergh, the squad does have more quality in attack this campaign. Yannis Anastasioui has already proven himself on the pro circuit and is happy to work his socks off. The Greek looks like he may be able to convert a large percentage of speedy Rachid Bouaouzan’s crosses. Speed is also something Ghanaian Anthony Obodai can count on. Last year’s player of the year repaid the complement by signing an extended deal at the club.

On loan midfielder Haris Medunjanin adds quality in the centre of the engine room. Louis van Gaal felt that the youth international needed experience at the highest level and Sparta were happy to help the AZ coach out. Technical proficiency coupled with the never-say-die attitude of Sjaak Polak, Yuri Rose and others ensures the team looks very well balanced and a mid-table finish certainly seems possible. But while Sparts haven’t started too badly performance-wise,  they have only one point to show for their efforts. A draw at FC Utrecht was promising, but a home defeat to Vitesse was less welcome.

Sunday 10 September, 14:30 at the Kasteel stadium
Referee: Haverkort

Sparta: Ponk; De Roover, Gudde, Schenkel, Polak; Rose, Obodai, Medunjanin; Bouazouan, Anastasiou, Van Dijk
Feyenoord: Timmer; Tiendalli, Greene, Bahia, Drenthe; Buijs, Hofs, Lucius, De Guzman; Huysegems, Charisteas


21/8/2005 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-3
24/3/2002 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 0-5
15/10/2000 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-4
4/12/1999 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-3
29/11/1998 Sparta Rotterdam - Feyenoord 1-2

19/2/2006 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 4-0
19/8/2001 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 5-0
29/11/2000 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 2-1
26/3/2000 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 1-2
5/4/1999 Feyenoord - Sparta Rotterdam 1-0

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