2020 Eredivisie Title Race: Week 5

Outside the traditional top three, it has to be said that Vitesse Arnhem and AZ Alkmaar show the most promise atop the Dutch Eredivisie. While the two are usually never in contention for the title by the last few months of the season, each has shown why they deserve to be considered top five clubs. AZ’s rise with their exciting, young squad has been documented along with their propensity for high-octane, almost Ajax-like football showcasing. Vitesse’s Leonid Slutskiy takes a more pragmatic approach than Arne Slot, but a similar concept remains; Vitesse succeed with quick attacking moves on the backs of young players. You may not enjoy watching them week-in week-out (although I would disagree with you), but the two sides coming face-to-face is a can’t miss encounter.

Losing captain Guus Til to Spartak Moscow seems not to have deterred AZ from playing the kind of football they’ve been putting on display for years now. Calvin Stengs is still one of the greatest prospects in Dutch football, as is teenage sensation Myron Boadu. Teun Koopmeiners replaces Til as captain and, at 21, does not look out of place donning the armband. His penalty in Arnhem followed up a successful spot kick in Antwerp to send AZ to the Europa League group stages the week before. Slot’s is a cohesive footballing unit and, despite their inconsistency at times, they look like a great candidate for a top three place come May.

That is, if they can finish out results like last weekend.

AZ kept over 60% of the ball against Vitesse (WhoScored) but, save for Koopmeiners’ penalty, couldn’t convert chances into goals. A myriad of factors can explain this misfiring, but I personally don’t think it’s time to worry about this just yet. Too early in the season, not enough possible examples of their success or failures to say whether they are a side that can create chances in their sleep but can’t consistently turn those chances into goals. For one, I believe Boadu will consistently improve throughout the course of the season, as will Stengs.

Koopmeiner’s penalty, won by Boadu, wasn’t enough to see AZ into halftime with an advantage. Jay-Roy Grot asserted himself as a physical presence on the wing, winning a header to put Tim Matavz into space within the confines of the box. Ron Vlaar lost the speed battle and Matavz rocketed a shot past Marco Bizot to level things in added time.

Both sides played back-and-forth football for the second half, with AZ looking often like the side prepared to grab a winner. Thus is the nature of their playing style, though, as AZ let one too many Vitesse balls find their way into the box. All it took was an errant hand in second-half added time for a penalty to be whistled. That was that, as they say. Matus Bero striked the winning goal with a retaken penalty.

All of a sudden, Vitesse are top of the Eredivisie. Granted, Ajax and PSV have only played four matches, but this is still something for Arnhem dwellers to be satisfied with. Slutskiy’s rampaging side, despite losing a few players this summer, is beginning to work like a well-oiled machine. It may not be as flashy as Alkmaar or Amsterdam, but often times their style is an effective one. Perhaps the ethos of soccer in the Dutch higher divisions will change if we begin to see that non-possession oriented, if not pragmatic football, can lead to success. Surely it’s difficult to compare Vitesse and, say, Emmen or Fortuna Sittard, because the former has much higher player recruiting capabilities, but the difference between said sides and the traditional top three is still vast. Adaptability is key in the fight to gain a rightful place atop the Eredivisie. Have Vitesse provided the blueprint to succeeding with a smaller budget? Time will tell, but the signs are at least positive going into the international break.

Write Alex at thecrossbarpost@gmail.com.

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