This weekend’s fixtures are set to have a massive bearing on the race to finish third in the table and guarantee Europa League football for next season. With the league title already sown up by PSV, Ajax securing second place and Dordrecht guaranteed to finish bottom, there is not much else to play for this season. All that remains is to find out which of the teams will contest the relegation play-off, to cement the teams who will play in the Europa League play-off and which of the teams will finish third.
On Sunday AZ Alkmaar host NAC Breda in what could potentially be a trickier fixture than it looks on paper with NAC looking to secure their survival in the league. Thanks to a police strike the big game of the weekend between Feyenoord and Vitesse is now to be played on Monday night. A point for Feyenoord in this game will take Vitesse out of the equation and it will also be enough to secure third place if AZ lose. Even if both Feyenoord and AZ win Feyenoord will most likely still finish third thanks to their far superior goal difference. A win for Vitesse will shake things right up and force it to go right up until the final day.
Let’s now have a look at all three teams chances of finishing in that final league position…
Feyenoord should have had third place sewn up by now, but after a stuttering finish to the campaign there are now in danger of losing it after doing so well to get themselves up there in the first place. Were also, up until a few weeks ago, looking up the table at catching Ajax in second but are now forced to look down after gaining only two points from their last nine. A 2-2 draw with Willem II didn’t look to be too damaging at the time but that was followed by a surprise first defeat at De Kuip since September to relegation candidates Go Ahead Eagles. Go Ahead had only won twice away from home all season and it was a damaging defeat that could have a big impact on their final league position. Before last weekends break in play a point away to Groningen would otherwise have been seen as a good one but in their current situation after going 1-0 they will be disappointed not to see it out.
With manager Fred Rutten and potentially several playing staff such as Clasie, Boetius and Te Vrede all linked with moves away it is easy to see why they may have tailed off towards the end but you would hope that they would like to put Feyenoord in as good a position as possible for next season, especially captain Clasie. Coach Rutten is already guaranteed to guide Feyenoord to their worst league position in three years but he won’t want to make it any worse. After scoring four goals in three appearances at the end of March, Anass Achahbar has failed to score in his next three. They will hope he can return to this form to guide them through the next two games. They will also be boosted by the fact that they have signed striker Colin Kazim-Richards on a permanent deal from Bursaspor. Feyenoord will be confident of securing the right result at what will be a crowded house against a Vitesse club that has looked slightly out of sorts this season. Terence Kongolo will be back after missing the game at Groningen and the only absentee will be Khaled Boulahrouz who was sent off in the dying seconds last time out. With expectations high the only thing that is likely to cost Feyenoord is their nerve in the big games which, barring PSV at home and AZ away, has sometimes hindered them this season.
Nearest and most likely challengers to Feyenoord for third place, AZ are currently sitting in fourth with three points separating them and a place above. The team from Alkmaar could potentially miss out through their poor goal difference, which would need to see a twenty goal swing between them and Feyenoord in the final two games if they finish level. This has not been helped by a defense that has conceded a massive 53 goals this season, the worst record inside the top 11 teams. This year itself they have shipped four to PSV, six against Utrecht, three against Vitesse, four at home to Feyenoord and five at Heerenveen, a cut down on these figures would have seen them right in amongst it at the top.
Utrecht alone have put nine goals past them this season. Like Feyenoord it has been a fairly inconsistent season for AZ and they have never really been able to put a good run of results together. Good results such as the 2-2 draw away to Feyenoord, the 1-0 win at Ajax and 4-2 success at Groningen have been cancelled out by defeats at home to Feyenoord and both games against PSV. A run of seven games unbeaten from the end of October to mid-December seemed to put them on the right path until it was inexplicably ended with a 3-0 defeat at home to Utrecht. Straight after this game it again looked as if they had dragged themselves back in it with a run of one loss in eight leading into March. During this time they looked like serious challengers to Feyenoord and even an outside bet of a Champions League place a run of one win in five though showed their inconsistent nature. They go into the game on Sunday with two wins in a row including a crucial three points away at struggling Twente.
However, the fans will be disheartened by the sale of captain Nemanja Gudelj to Ajax this week, though he will be suspended for this weekend’s fixture anyway. Whether this will have an affect on the players themselves though remains to be seen. With Gudelj, their main source of goals, out it will now be up to the rest of the squad to pitch in with striker Steven Berghuis looking to add to his tally of nine goals this term. AZ will gain confidence from the from the fact the have already beaten NAC Breda this season 1-0 away from home, but teams fighting relegation at the end of the season can be a very different animal to the one at the start, so they can’t afford to be complacent.
Vitesse can count themselves unlucky that they seem to have just a very outside chance of reaching the top three. Their season seems to have gone the opposite from their two rivals’ as their poorest form seems to have come in the middle of the campaign. They would have found themselves in with a great chance of grabbing third spot with a win at De Kuip on Monday if they had won against ADO Den Haag in their last game. This defeat put an end to a truly spectacular run of 12 games without a loss including ten wins, but the shock defeat has left their hope of gaining entry in the Europa League automatically hanging by a thread. Anything but a win on Monday and they will have to go through the play-offs, and with what looks like Zwolle, Heerenveen and one of either Feyenoord and AZ joining them in there, nothing is certain.
Aside from the defeat at Den Haag, Vitesse can point to a disappointing start to the season where they failed to win in August and only had four points from their first 18. It looked as if they had found their feet between September and October when they recorded three straight wins, scoring 16 goals in the process but a run of one win in ten was to follow that though as their season fell away before them. The much needed unbeaten run that followed was vital and set them up in a good position coming into Monday nights game before the defeat to Den Haag. The team does posses some truly quality players in Marko Vejinovic, Davy Propper, Valeri Kaziishvili and Bertrand Traore and are capable of beating any team in this league on their day. Traore has 11 goals to his name and will look to add more before he presumably returns to Chelsea in the summer.
Vitesse can also take heart from Feyenoord’s recent slump in form and after seeing Go Ahead Eagles come away with three points; they are likely to be in a confident mood.
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