de Kuip, Rotterdam
Sunday, March 2, 1330 hrs GMT
This Sunday brings a mouthwatering clash in the Eredivisie as leaders Ajax encounter 4th placed Feyenoord away at de Kuip. The leaders are yet to lose a game domestically in 2014, and among their victories is one vs their fierce rivals from Rotterdam in the KNVB Cup, when they came back from a goal down to win 3-1. Meanwhile, Feyenoord have yet to really get their engines going on full throttle in 2014, having lost one and drawn three of their last 6 matches in the Eredvisie. Neither team goes into this clash on a particular high, with Ajax coming off the back of an aggregate 6-1 loss to Red Bull Salzburg in the Europa League, while Feyenoord have drawn their last two matches, having gone ahead first but later conceded, as well as manager Ronald Koeman’s announcement that he will not continue at de Kuip beyond this season. This is the last year in which the ban on away fans at Ajax-Feyenoord matches is in effect, but even without the violence, this promises to be a matchup in which tempers will soar and emotions will show.
Team News and Tactical Brief
For Feyenoord, there is good news in the form of Bruno Martins Indi returning from his suspension for stamping Renato Ibarra. Jean-Paul Boetius, who has been one of Feyenoord’s best players this season, has also received his first ever Oranje call-up and is very likely to feature on Sunday. Feyenoord do not have any major injuries, leading up to the match, having 23 players fully fit.
The defence has been experimented with, due to the absence of Martins Indi, with Nelom and Kongolo having been tried at leftback, with Mathijsen filling in at centreback. The 22-year-old’s return means the defence can go back to a lineup we’re more used to seeing, with Martins Indi down the left, veteran Joris Mathijsen and captain de Vrij in the centre and the indispensable Janmaat on the right flank. However, it is worth noting that Koeman may decide to go with 20-yr-old Terence Kongolo, who has been very good when paired with de Vrij in recent games.
In front of them, will be the trio of Jordy Clasie, Lex Immers and Tonny Vilhena, who have played together in almost every game this season so far, for the Rotterdammers. Immers has had a good season, especially aving already scored 9 goals in the league this season. Vilhena acts as the glue in this midfield, moving up to support Immers and the frontline while Clasie sits deep and moving back to help Clasie, leaving Immers to play alone behind Pelle.
As mentioned previously, Boetius will take his place on the left flank, though the position on the other side is up between Armenteros and Schaken, though the balance tilts slightly in favor of the Dutchman. Up front is a name that selects itself, captain Graziano Pelle. who is only 3 goals behind Alfred Finnbogason in the top scorers’ chart.
Probable starting line up (4-3-3): Mulder; Janmaat, de Vrij, Mathijsen, Martins Indi; Immers, Clasie, Vilhena; Schaken, Pelle, Boetius
The league leaders have suffered injuries to important players in recent weeks. Boilesen and Fischer were definitely going to be ruled out, while a late fitness test saw Serero being determined fit to play but the in-form Schone, still not 100%.
In defence, it’ll be the usual suspects. van Rhijn down the right, Veltman and Moisander in the middle and Blind, who has had to fill in at leftback again due to Boilesen’s injury. Frank de Boer has previously played rightback Ligeon and midfielder Lerin Duarte at leftback before, to accomodate Blind in the no. 6 role, but it is unlikely he will implement this in a game of de Klassieker’s stature.
Ahead will be Christian Poulsen – who recently turned 34 – in the aforementioned no 6 role, with Klaassen and Serero, assuming the South African is fit enough to start.
With both first-choice wingers in Fischer and Schone out injured, Frank de Boer went with Lerin Duarte on the left and youngster de Sa on the right midweek v Salzburg, but is likely to play Bojan instead of de Sa this Sunday. The Spaniard has been very disappointing in the Netherlands so far, but one of his better performances did come in the Cup vs Feyenoord. Having made an amazing debut last weekend, incidentally coming on for Bojan, Ricardo Kishna might just have to wait a bit longer to get his first Ajax start. It will be surprising, but not completely unanticipated if the Ajax coach decides to give the 19 yr old a baptism of fire. Up front will be captain Siem de Jong, functioning in his false 9 role nd having gotten back on the scoresheet last weekend.
Given the versatility of this Ajax squad, it is also very much possible that if Serero is not fit enough to play from the start, either de Jong or Duarte could drop back down to midfield, with Sigthorsson playing striker.
Possible lineup (4-3-3): Cillessen; van Rhijn, Veltman, Moisander, Blind; Klaassen, Poulsen, Serero; Bojan, de Jong, Duarte
Player to watch out for
Graziano Pelle (Feyenoord)
The Italian was lucky enough to be relieved of a one-match suspension and get away with a fine, after kicking out at cameras after the match v Twente last weekend and this Sunday, will be lining up vs the defending champions. Having already scored 22 goals in all competitions this season, the big 28-yr-old has consistently contributed to the Feyenoord cause in the form of goals, assists and a certain assurance up top. The phrase, ‘Sunday is Pelle day’ has become extremely popular in the Netherlands – such is the consistency of Pelle finding the back of the net on a Sunday. The service he receives and connection he shares with Boetius on the left has been very good too, and together, they will look to attack the relatively weaker side of the Ajax defence. Both van Rhijn and Veltman are prone to errors and if one such mistake happens to occur on Sunday, the usual suspect with his immaculately gelled hair and towering stature will be there to punish Ajax.
Feyenoord 2-2 Ajax
Ajax’s recent away form has not been great by any means and Feyenoord are much better at home than anywhere else, so it is likely to be a closely-contested match. Also taking into consideration, Ajax’s injury concerns and psychological impact from the lesson they received from Salzburg, it will by no means be an easy victory – if it is one – for them. Feyenoord on the other hand, are known to switch off and allow their opponents into matches, and will be wary of the fact that if they lose, it will effectively rule them out of the title race – already 9 pts behind their opponents this weekend.