After the euphoria of last week, Feyenoord may well find things tougher Sunday lunchtime in Tilburg against Willem II. While Feyenoord were almost scoring at will on last week’s opening day, the Tilburgers went down 2-0 to NEC. So Willem II will have something to prove. But with only eleven places up for grabs and a whole host of candidates vying for the privilege, every member of the Feyenoord squad has something to prove too.

Make no mistake: coach Gullit has thrown down the gauntlet. ‘If you don’t perform, you’ll be taking your place next to me on the bench.’ No surprise then that Friday training was a competitive affair.

‘Everyone understands that he has to perform if he wants to play.’ If you have a squad with little depth, it’s fairly clear who’ll play and who won’t, but that cannot be said for Feyenoord at the moment, as Gullit emphasised at the weekly De Kuip press call.

A prime example is Thomas Buffel who was hauled off at the break in last week’s defeat of De Graafschap, because Gullit felt that he was underperforming. Three days later in Oslo the striker grabbed both of Belgium’s goals in his country’s 2-2 draw with Norway. ‘That is real class and it shows that Buffel is a top pro. I value his attitude.’

Gullit expects the competition to bring the best out of his players. Not just Buffel, but Ebi Smolarek too, for example. The young Pole seems to have lost his place in the first team to new Dutch international Romeo Castelen, but Smolarek need not think he’s a forgotten man in the shadows.

‘Romeo had an excellent game for Holland,’ conceded Gullit. ‘He was one of the better players. He’s a laid-back lad with both feet on the ground. I hope he continues to progress. But Romeo hasn’t made it yet and there’ll come a time when things don’t go as he’d like them to. That’s only logical: every young player experiences a dip. There can be all sorts of reasons.’

In any event Feyenoord will be without both Anthony Lurling and Christian Gyan Sunday lunchtime. Lurling is still working his way back from a knee injury and he hopes to join the rest of the squad after the away game in Arnhem against Vitesse. Gyan has been unable to shake off a muscle strain in time.

Holland Casino Eredivisie

Date: Sunday 22 August
Time: 12.30 pm
Place: Willem II Stadium, Tilburg

Likely line-up
Babos; Song, Saidi, Paauwe, Mtiliga; Castelen, Ono, Bosschaart (Ghaly), Goor; Kuyt, Kalou (Buffel).

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