Feyenoord play their first Boxing Day fixture in more than three decades on Monday and it’s set to be a real Christmas cracker as Louis Van Gaal brings league leaders AZ to De Kuip. With the game fast approaching sell-out status coach Erwin Koeman for one is really looking forward to the Rotterdammers’ second top of the table clash in a fortnight. ‘We have shown that we can hold our own in top matches in terms of quality, team spirit and character, so I expect a fierce game.

Feyenoord and AZ are in completely different states of mind ahead of the first Boxing Day fixture for 32 years. The visitors are top of the table and into the quarter finals of the Gatorade Cup. Louis Van Gaal has managed to take Co Adriaanse’s work to another level since joining the club in the summer. It was a great signing by the Alkmaar club, who surprised everyone by challenging for the title last year until late in the season. When Adriaanse decided to try his hand in Spain, he advised the AZ chairman to move heaven and earth to tempt another ex-Ajax coach Van Gaal to take his place. That audacity seems to be paying off as AZ mirror last season’s form in the first half of the campaign, but in the knowledge that their squad has a year’s extra experience to draw on.

A second important signing for the Alkmaar club has been Shota Arveladze, who has added firepower to the team and it must be said that in 2006 AZ look to have as good a chance as they have ever had of repeating their 1981 title win.

Feyenoord on the other hand have suffered recent setbacks, with defeats to lowly ADO in the Eredivisie and Roda JC in the cup. Out of Europe long ago – unlike their less fashionable opponents – the Rotterdammers have only one prize within their grasp whereas AZ are gunning for three.

Koeman however does not think that the recent defeats will affect his players once the action begins Monday. ‘This is a top match and the players are maybe a little more able to focus on it,’ says the coach. ‘Against AZ no one can play sixty, seventy per cent. Against teams like RBC and ADO there is a danger that some players think they are better and as a result are unconsciously less sharper against opponents that invest more than a hundred per cent. There are obviously also a number of factors that have an impact, such as a stupid mistake or a penalty that is given or not given. But it is clear that we are steady enough.’
‘I’ve experienced it myself. One week I played fantastic against a top team and the next week I was hopeless. A footballer has to learn to deal with that. For me, it’s important that a player improves in that area. Some do. I hope to bring in better players for the less strong positions and ultimately to have a consistent team. AZ are ahead of us on that; it is a team with routine that has been together for years.’
Unlike the match against Roda JC, the coach will start with four at the back again, which will secure Pascal Bosschaart a return to the team. It will be interesting however to see which right back Koeman prefers against the league leaders. Pieter Collen was preferred ahead of Alexander Östlund in the cup, playing out the whole game, and put in a good performance without setting off any fireworks. The Belgian has been given until the end of the month to prove himself after a string of serious injuries and he’ll be doing his utmost in training over the coming days to convince Koeman that he’s the man for the job.

The same will go for Sebastián Pardo, who started in a five-man midfield last Wednesday, although the Chilean is likely to start on the bench.
Feyenoord – AZ
Monday 26 December, 12:30 at De Kuip

Feyenoord: Lodewijks; Collen (Östlund), Greene, Bahia, Bosschaart; Ghaly, Paauwe, De Guzman; Boussaboun, Kuyt, Kalou.
AZ: Timmer; Steinsson, Jaliens, Mathijsen, De Cler; Landzaat, De Zeeuw, Sektioui; Perez, Huysegems, Arveladze.

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