Another chapter of one of the most tense and passionate derbies in Europe will be played out in the large and intimate De Kuip on Wednesday as Feyenoord take on Ajax in the KNVB Bekker. Although, their league meeting is over a week away, the KNVB Bekker is no exhibtion match as a place in the next round and bragging rights are on the line. This will also be the first meeting of Giovani Van Bronchorst and Frank De Boer as managers.
Even though only home fans are allowed to attend the match, a raucous atmosphere awaits as the two teams will battle it out. The Rotterdammers and Amsterdammers are level on points in the Eredivisie as their domestic seasons are beginning to build momentum but the cup match is a different proposition. Although, the league table doesn’t lie, Ajax have been average in the Europa League with a loss and two draws as De Boer continues to toil and alter his side.
In the match, he will be without captain Davy Klaassen who is nursing a concussion from the weekend win against Vitesse. In his absence, he will look to Viktor Fischer who has been his secret weapon since the beginning of the season. The young Dane has been shuttled from position to position, playing as a false-nine, left-winger and attacking midfielder as De Boer has played musical chairs with his attackers. Fischer is elegant and tidy on the ball while his hunger for goals sets him apart from some of his peers. The attacker has five goals in all competitions this season as he looks to maintain a regular first team place.
Meanwhile, it is said that De Boer will be able to recall the likes of Arek Milik, Thulani Serero and most importantly, top scorer Anwar El Ghazi. Riechedly Bazoer and Nemanja Gudelj will continue in midfield while Dijks, Veltman, Riedewald and Tete will remain as the back four with Cillissen in goal.
Feyenoord, on the other hand are in red hot form rampaging through the Eredivisie scoring eight in their last two. Dirk Kuyt has scored 6 of those goals as he is the Eredivisie’s top scorer with ten, showing the irrepressible desire to be of value to his team that has guided him through an exemplary career. The 35 year-old is playing on the wing of an experienced attacking trident including the lanky Michiel Kramer and industrious Eljero Elia. He will go into this game with baited breadth ready to prove that King Kuyt rules with an iron fist.
Elia has sparked a renaissance in Rotterdam as he has looked confident and imperious. Kuyt brings the goals and fear factor, Kramer the towering height and presence while Elia brings the thrill. Feyenoord have a wing-heavy game that allows Elia to see much of the ball, driving at opponents with intent and help out with three goals and one assist this season. It is enthralling to see him so liberated and confident as he will hope to get the better of youngster Kenny Tete in what should be an entertaining match-up on the flank.
With Feyenoord, there is always a new kid on the block but this time, it isn’t someone from their illustrious Varkenoord academy. Feyenoord director Martin Van Geel and his scouting staff tracked midfielder Simon Gustafsson at FC Hacken for an extended period of time before deciding to buy the Swede after he and the Swedish U21 team won the UEFA Euro U21 tournament. He is currently leading for Feyenoord in assists with four and he has bagged one well-taken volley this season.
The lumbering 20 year-old possesses a deft weight of pass in attacking situations and spacial awareness to link play in the final third and be a hazard at the top of the opposition’s box. His intimidating stature allows him to be commanding in possession as he is keeping Tonny Vilhena rooted to the bench. Marko Vejinovic and Karim El-Ahmadi are ever present work-horses in midfield and will be part of an enticing battle with Gudelj and Bazoer.
Van Bronchorst rejigged a sometimes porous defence and shelved the youthful centre-back partnership of Sven Van Beek and Terence Kongolo by moving Kongolo to left-back. The experienced Jan Arie Van Der Heijden and Van Beek play at centre -back while youngsters Bart Nieuwkoop and Rick Karsdorp will compete for the right-back role as they have both impressed this season. Kenneth Vermeer will play against his old team again as the undisputed Feyenoord goal-minder.
Meanwhile, De Boer will keep experimenting with his frontline as he has fallen victim to his plethora of options as his team meanders the fine line of being a success or a ticking time bomb. Both teams will have their work cut out in their first meeting of the season in what is undoubtedly the tie of the round.