In a weekend which consisted of 36 goals across nine games, four hat-tricks (one of which coming from an 18-year-old debutant), two 3-3 draws, the end of a side’s 100% record and two teams picking up their first wins of the season, there is something more subtle but much more emphatic (although Jurgen Locadia’s ‘dream’ debut is probably on a par) to discuss from the latest round of Eredivisie fixtures.
Vitesse secured a 2-1 victory over Utrecht to go within one point of league leaders Twente.
The significance isn’t obvious at first, but when you consider that the Arnhem side, who have never finished higher than third in the Eredivisie, sit in second place and are a further two points ahead of PSV and Ajax and are on the verge of cementing themselves as a top side in the country, the importance becomes much clearer.
Vitesse pulled off the remarkable last season when they finished seventh in the league to secure a Europa League qualifying spot under the guardianship of John van den Brom, a massive shock after their 15th place finish the previous year. In the Europa League, Vitesse were unlucky to fall at the second hurdle as they overcame Lokomotiv Plovdiv to be paired with emerging Russian superpower Anzhi Makhachkala and suffered 2-0 defeats in both legs. They have recovered quickly, however, and so far this season, with former Twente and PSV boss Fred Rutten drafted in as coach, Vitesse remain unbeaten in the top flight and with the squad at their disposal they are in a great position to build on last season’s wonderful achievement and ensure they have another attempt at European qualification.
The eastern Netherlands club are mostly unchanged from last term. Chairman Merab Jordania has retained the services of Tomas Kalas and Patrick van Aanholt on loan from his good friend Roman Abramovich at Chelsea for a second consecutive season, with Gael Kakuta also joining from the London club this summer. The loanees join remarkable talents who have come through Vitesse’s own academy. Davy Propper, a 21-year-old midfielder, goalkeeper Piet Velthuizen, who returned after a poor season with Spanish side Hercules and the exciting 19-year-old Marco van Ginkel have all come through the Rhine club’s youth system in the last few years and made a great impact on the first-team. Nicky Hofs has returned for his third spell with his hometown club and fan favourite Theo Janssen, who spent ten years at Vitesse before winning league titles with Twente and Ajax, is back plying his trade in the GelreDome this season. These homegrown stars, combined with the fantastic Renato Ibarra and midfielder-turned-centre-back Jan-Arie van der Heijden – a graduate of Ajax’s famous youth system, provide plenty of support with wonderful fluidity for Japan international Mike Havenaar, Brazilian forward Jonathan Reis and the fantastic Wilfried Bony who lead the line in the standard 4-3-3 formation which dominates Dutch football.
Bony has been crucial to the success of Vitesse over the last two years. The Ivorian netted 12 in 28 last term and has scored five in the first seven matches this season. His superior technical ability, great speed and eye for goal will provide plenty of points for Rutten’s men as he spearheads the attacks. The 23-year-old has made the difference on several occasions already this season. His fantastic injury time backheel secured a 1-0 victory over Feyenoord and he played a significant part in their 3-0 win over Groningen, despite Vitesse going down to ten men early in the first half.
Bony was again on target for Vitesse this weekend, finding the net just five minutes after Van Ginkel’s second-half opener as they beat Utrecht 2-1. It was a great sign of the potency and effectiveness of the team that they managed to leave the Galgenwaard with all three points despite not playing well at all. For once, the midfield failed to grab hold of the game and they looked toothless on attack throughout the first period but they came out fighting after the break and did enough to win the game as Jacob Mulenga’s 70th minute strike for the hosts did nothing to worry Vitesse. With Bony in such good form and thriving from the support offered by Reis and Havenaar, whilst Janssen, Van Ginkel and Ibarra continue to control the tempo of their matches and the defence remains strong – Vitesse have conceded less than any other team in the league, they will be able to maintain their stay at the top end of the table and provide a shock battle for the title.
This weekend, Vitesse face a tough test at home to a Heerenveen side looking to build on their first victory under Marco van Basten. But the toughest test will come weeks later as they play AZ, Ajax and Twente before travelling to Eindhoven to meet PSV .The clashes against these sides expecting to occupy the top spaces come the end of the season will test the mental and physical strength of Fred Rutten and his entire squad.
There is certainly a healthy mix of experience and youth in this Vitesse side, but these fixtures will show exactly how resolute this team is.
A tough few weeks await Rutten’s side, but it’s clear that an exciting future awaits beyond that as the Eredivisie prepares to welcome its new superpower.