Last season was certainly an eventful one for AZ. After beating PSV in September 2013 Gertjan Verbeek was sacked due to ‘a lack of chemistry’ between the management and the playing staff. He was replaced by Dick Advocaat until the end of the season when a replacement would hopefully be found. They finished the season in 8th qualifying themselves for the Europa League Play-offs writes Ryan O’Grady.
They beat Heerenveen 3-1 on aggregate in the semis before losing to Groningen 3-0 on aggregate in the two-legged final. Advocaat has now moved on to manage Serbia and he has been replaced by former Heerenveen manager and Ajax legend Marco van Basten. AZ will be hoping he can replicate Heerenveen 5th placed finish last season. They will also need more goals from elsewhere on the pitch as they only scored 54 goals last season, joint 8th best in the league, and when you consider Aron Jóhannsson scored 17 of these and Berghuis was second with 9, they certainly need more goals from a midfield which last season only managed to find the target 13 times. Aron Jóhannsson is currently recovering from an ankle injury he sustained while playing for the US national team in the World Cup, but he has been quoted as saying that he would like to be back for the start of the season or even the second game at home to Ajax.
They will miss Roy Beerens this season after he moved to Hertha Berlin in Germany, as well as scoring five times last year he also managed 5 assists. The club are hoping that his loss will be covered by the arrival of Guus Hupperts from Roda JC who managed 9 goals and 6 assists and if he can replicate that form at AZ then he should help propel them to their predicted position of 5th. AZ have had a mixed preseason, they beat 4th tier side AFC ‘34 by 4 goals 1, then playing in a goalless draw with NEC before beating VVV 2-0 away. However their latest preseason friendly was against German side 1899 Hoffenheim in a game where AZ played very poorly losing 3-0 and barely threatening to score themselves and this is made even worse by the fact that the German side played for over an hour with only 10 men. The young player to watch this season is probably 19 year old Thom Haye. He only made 3 senior appearances last year but he has already won the UEFA U17 European Championship with the Netherlands and has appeared for the U19 Netherlands side eight times.
Overall there is promise for AZ Alkmaar, some of the teams who finished above them last season probably won’t be as strong for the forthcoming season, such as Vitesse who have lost loan stars Lucas Piazon and Christian Atsu and Heerenveen have lost Alfred Finnbogason as well as manager Marco van Basten who of course is now manager at AZ. If new signing Hupperts repeats last season’s form and more goals arrive from midfield then 5th place is certainly attainable.
TRANSFERS INS AND OUT
IN: Guus Hupperts (Roda JC), Muamer Tankovic (Fulham), Sergio Rochet (Danubio).
OUT: Thomas Lam (PEC Zwolle), Erik Heijblok (FC Volendam), Etienne Reijnen (SC Cambuur), Hobie Verhulst (MVV), Johann Berg Gudmundsson (Charlton Atheltic), Joris van Overeem (FC Dordrecht), Nick Viergever (Ajax), Roy Beerens (Hertha Berlin).
MANAGER – MARCO VAN BASTEN
There isn’t much you can say about the ‘Swan of Utrecht’ that isn’t already known. One of the greatest strikers ever during his time with Ajax and AC Milan, he turned his gaze to management in 2003 after famously being quoted as saying that he would never try management as an assistant at Ajax B. In 2004 he became the manager of the Oranje, quickly establishing himself as a strong no-nonsense figure. After Euro 2008 van Basten signed a four-year contract with Ajax but resigned after one year following failure to qualify for the Champions League. In 2012 van Basten was announced as manager of Heerenveen. In his first season he led them to an eighth placed finish before they finished 5th last season.
KEY PLAYER – JEFFREY GOUWELEEUW
One player who will be reunited with his former manager this season is 23 year old centre back Gouweleeuw. He quickly rose up through the youth team ranks at Heerenveen before making his debut in 2011 against Excelsior. In the 2011/12 he was an important member of the team which went on to finish 5th that season and qualify for the Europa League. The following season wasn’t so successful, Gouweleeuw found himself on the bench at the start of the season and he nearly left in January to join AZ. This fell through but both Gouweleeuw and Heerenveen had a much better second half to the season reinforcing his reputation as one for the future. In the summer of 2013 he finally got his move to AZ for 1.5 million. Last season he was an ever-present for AZ making 37 appearances scoring one goal.
PREDICTION – 5TH
BET VICTOR EREDIVISIE TITLE ODDS: 25/1
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