Oranje Wednesdays – The Eredivisie Title Race Heats Up….

De Kuip, one of football’s great cathedrals, has seen its fair share of dramas over the years. The events of a few weeks ago when PSV Eindhoven visited was another.

Dick Advocaat said of playing at the ground that it “turns you into a footballer.” His side for a while were passing a test they so badly needed, but would spectacularly fail, losing 2-1. Feyenoord, on the other hand, galvanised are once again dreaming of a championship one that has eluded them since 1999.

Frustration following what was a setback for the Eindhoven club boiled over post-match. It was three precious points that catapulted Feyenoord back into this season’s title race. The most closely fought in Europe: eight games remaining, top four separated by three points.

There was always a possibility of emotions spilling over and that’s not factoring in this being one of the more intense rivalries in Dutch football, greatly fuelled by both set of supporters – encapsulated historically by Ruud Gullit’s infamous transfer.

It didn’t help with Ronald Koeman stoking the fire, suggesting Advocaat’s side would feel their knees tremble in the tunnel before the game. His wish for an electric atmosphere was granted – both teams stepping out into a cauldron of noise and peppered with snow. It was like gladiators stepping into the colosseum.

“Sore losers”

There was no hell unleashed until the contest was over. In what can only be described as a moment of madness Jeremain Lens, who had given the Eindhoven side the lead, decided to take the law into his own hands after the final whistle.

The genesis was his grievance – during the closing stages of the game – of not being awarded a free-kick after feeling he was impended roughly by Oranje teammate Joris Mathijsen.

The blue touch paper was lit and what followed was unprofessionalism of the highest order. Lens, along with a few of his teammates, waited for Mathijsen in the dressing room area. Once the veteran defender walked aimlessly past him, everything kicked off, engulfed by red mist Lens would grab his shirt only for a scuffle to then break out.

Fortunately it was broken up, by members of both teams (including management) before it could escalate into a serious incident. In a time where ‘respect’ is being constantly preached this was a kick in the teeth and another PR disaster for PSV only a month after Erik Pieters’ meltdown.

Ruben Schaken, who equalised, described PSV as “sore losers”. His captain Stefan de Vrij said it was an experience he’d never had before. “They were waiting for us,” he told NUSport.

Advocaat, embarrassed, tried to lighten the situation by suggesting his players were more aggressive after the game than during it, but did say he would have a “good conversation” with Lens. This out of character behaviour by the PSV wide-forward would see him fined, handed a three match ban, and as a result not included in Oranje’s latest squad for their upcoming World Cup qualifiers.

The sour ending shouldn’t overshadow what was an enjoyable game and fine performance by Feyenoord.

Trailing at half-time the Rotterdammers regrouped and rallied to claim all three points courtesy of their ‘Italian stallion’ Graziano Pellè. His 17th goal of the season – he’s scored three more since – one worthy of winning any contest, turning brilliantly before unloading a fierce drive to beat the rooted Boy Waterman.

Ajax’s Plan B

Ironically it would have sent Ajax manager Frank de Boer into a merry dance; after he’d described Pellè as Feyenoord’s “only plan,” which was his rebuttal to Koeman’s suggestion Ajax lack a “plan B”. He would describe the notion as “bull****” in one of his more animated press conferences a day before the Europa League Last 32 first leg against Steaua Bucharest.

The comment by Koeman, whilst a guest on Studio Voetbal, came on the day Ajax drew at home to Roda JC, despite controlling large spells of the game, sterile domination if you will.

It was a failed opportunity to close the gap to PSV to a single point. Soon after Feyenoord’s win over PSV, they had another, this time to go level on points if they could beat Den Haag in the ArenA. Again a case of déjà vu, they would concede, chase the game (dominating possession and racking up their passing stats) and equalise.

At full-time heads bowed with their body language suggesting it was a painful defeat. Only a few days earlier it was exactly that, squandering a two-goal lead (on aggregate) against Steaua, then crashing out of the Europa League on penalties: so, no home final on De Boer’s birthday. This would be further exacerbated by their KNVB Beker semi-final defeat a week later at home to AZ.

Koeman would subsequently clarify his ‘plan B’ talk, stating he meant no malice when suggesting Ajax should go direct when their passing game isn’t yielding any reward – especially when teams set out in a 6-3-1 formation to stifle them – but conceded De Boer is right to persevere with his vision of football.

As far as De Boer is concerned Ajax don’t need a ‘plan B’ such is their great faith in their system, which paid off in Enschede when Ajax brushed aside a forlorn Twente; they would overtake PSV at the third time of asking in a comfortable home win against PEC Zwolle.

The day before, Advocaat saw his side lose at Heerenveen. The fourth away meeting against one of his former Oranje captains. Despite being on course to shatter a few pre-existing goal scoring records, PSV are a point behind Ajax, level with Feyenoord and two ahead of Vitesse the dark horses.

Everyone is feeling the pressure, maybe with the exception of Vitesse who, similar to Feyenoord last season, know not much is expected of them, so can quietly go about their business and see where it takes them. With Wilfried Bony in exquisite form – leading race for the Golden Boot on 24 goals – everything is possible.

Last season the three giants of Dutch football occupied the top three positions. It may be the same again, unless Vitesse can gate-crash.

Ajax are in a similar situation to the one they have found themselves the last two season, so are considered favourites. Feyenoord experienced it a year ago but now with heightened expectations. PSV, after their summer recruitment, know failure isn’t an option. Like any great drama on television the season finale is one not to miss.

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