FC Groningen v Ajax
How will Ajax have recovered after their hectic set of results? An international break has brought rumours regarding Erik Ten Hag’s position as manager (with links to taking on the Manchester United position), but also an opportunity for the squad to re-focus on the remaining games and retain the Eredivisie title and Dutch Cup. Ajax have some winnable home league games coming up, but this is the first of four remaining away fixtures against sides in the top ten.
Ajax still sit two points clear at the top of the Eredivisie, but they have had some fortunate last-minute winners lately: all of the last three Eredivisie wins have been by three goals to two, and goals were scored in the final minutes of the games. That makes it only one clean sheet in seven.
However, Groningen aren’t a side who are known for their goal scoring. They have netted seven times in their last two fixtures – don’t let that fool you; they will be difficult to break down here and they will undoubtedly try to frustrate Ajax. It is difficult to say whether Ajax will be drawn into another tough game that is far more uncomfortable than they would like, but they simply have been far from their best. Their win two weeks ago over Feyenoord was partly due to their great rivals tiring late in the game and mistakes from their reserve goalkeeper. I will predict an Ajax win; it won’t be by a wide margin.
FC Twente v PSV
This promises to be one of the games of the round. Sat in the top five, Twente have had a magnificent season; they are on a run of only one loss in sixteen league matches and they have kept three clean sheets in a row. Goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall has been one of the Eredivisie signings of the season. He made possibly the save of the season a fortnight ago as Twente won by one goal to nil for the third successive fixture. It’s a good job the Tukkers have Unnerstall because though they create lots of opportunities in games, they don’t score enough of them.
I have no doubt that Twente will get their chances in this Saturday evening clash, especially with PSV being so leaky this season. The Eindhoven side have conceded the most goals out of any of the top five sides; however, they do come into this on the back of three clean sheets from their last three. They appear to be a side improving now that players have returned from injury and there is a sense of confidence that they can still catch Ajax in the title race, beat them in the cup final, and go even further in the Europa Conference League.
The doubt that lingers in my mind is that PSV have struggled against the Eredivisie top sides under outgoing head coach Roger Schmidt. Their concentration may have improved lately, but there are still too many mistakes in the side – in my view – to achieve any of the three honours. There does seem to be a vibe about them at the moment similar to when they thrashed Ajax in the Johan Cruijff Schaal: they’re the underdogs and that suits them. I would be very surprised is either of these sides kept a clean sheet; that is despite PSV’s recent record.
AZ Alkmaar v Vitesse Arnhem
Without a doubt, the European exits of both of these sides before the international break would have had an impact on how they played last time out. It is likely to do so again this weekend too if either set of players have some who are demotivated.
I think the rest would have suited AZ Alkmaar better. They have very few rotation options, so the same 14 or so players have been important throughout the season. It is getting to the stage now where players such as Vangelis Pavlidis may have had their head turned by a summer transfer. His goal involvement per minutes played is impressive: averaging a goal or assist every 123 minutes on the pitch. They are also at home here, where they have been so good this season, and they very rarely fail to score.
Vitesse’s season ended up revolving around their Europa Conference League run (that run is now over after losing to Roma). A couple of wins in their last eight games will ensure a top eight finish and a play-off spot for next season’s European qualification. I think they will struggle in the play-offs because they will struggle to beat a team like AZ over two legs at the very end of a long campaign. Players will also be moving on from the Arnhem side this summer, so I don’t see every player giving 100% for a win in Alkmaar.
RKC Waalwijk v FC Utrecht
I maintain that RKC Waalwijk have had a decent 2022 of results so far. Unfortunately for them, they remain just skirting above the relegation trouble – by five points having played a game more than their rivals.
The big news in Utrecht is that head coach René Hake was sacked during the international period. Hake didn’t even get to see out the season. The move was possibly done with the intention of giving the squad a morale boost before the European play-offs. Under Hake, Utrecht were never really convincing of finishing in the Eredivisie top four; their early season form faded, and if it weren’t for their wins back in late Summer, then they would have been in the bottom half rather than chasing Europe. Let’s see what kind of reaction we get from Utrecht.
They key thing for me will be how Utrecht can break down RKC’s five-man low block; I think they will find it difficult. Backing an RKC handicap should win, given that I see the home side getting at least another point here, and there’s a safe cushion in case Hake leaving has an unlikely positive impact on the visitors. RKC are desperate for points; they will be targeting more here.
Feyenoord v Willem II
Two weeks ago, Feyenoord played an excellent first 60 minutes away at Ajax. They were winning the game and were impressive against a side they have not beaten since 2005. However, due to their Europa Conference League commitments, they dropped off in the final third of the match and they gave two sloppy goals to ultimately lose. Reserve goalkeeper Ofir Marciano was at fault arguably for all three goals; he is not as strong as injured first choice Justin Bijlow. In response, Feyenoord snapped up Romanian goalkeeper Valentin Cojocaru on loan from Ukrainian side Dnipro in the last fortnight. He will not be as good as Bijlow, and he conceded three goals on his unofficial debut: a 3-3 friendly draw with RKC.
Willem II, under new manager Kevin Hofland, earnt a promising point in their 2-2 draw with AZ. After gaining the lead, they sat back and it nearly worked until a last-minute equaliser. Clearly, even with Hofland as head coach, Feyenoord are still heavy favourites to win. I am expecting goals though with the Rotterdam side having had two weeks to reset. The Tilburgers will need to concentrate on their remaining matches to stay in the Eredivisie.
Backing over 2.5 goals is the wise choice here. Timon Wellenreuther will be a busy goalkeeper, and you also can’t rule out Hofland’s men giving this game a good go with the confidence from their last result.
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