By Peter McVitie

This Sunday, Ajax and Feyenoord meet in the season’s first Klassieker of the season. After nine matches, the fierce rivals sit even on points in the Eredivisie, with Ajax enjoying a better goal difference than Ronald Koeman’s men. Neither side has been able to build any momentum so far this term as they have been terribly inconsistent, so they are desperate to collect all three points from this match to give their campaign a massive boost and maintain the pressure on current leaders Twente, whom they are five points behind.

This fixture last season lived up to the hype that had preceded it as the hosts came back from a goal down to thump the champions 4-2 to make it one victory out of their last ten clashes with their rivals. The hat-trick hero of that day John Guidetti might have departed De Kuip, but Feyenoord have plenty to fall back on with a squad rife with talent and attacking options. New signing Lex Immers has provided plenty of goals from midfield, while Graziano Pelle has proved a decent acquisition since arriving on loan from Parma and Darryl Janmaat has been an important player, bombing forward and adding an extra attacking option from the right-back position as he did at Heerenveen last term. Wesley Verhoek is another player who has looked sharp since joining from Twente in the summer and the striker opened his goalscoring account last week as his side reduced a two goal deficit to beat VVV 3-2 at the Seacon Stadion. These new signings have combined well with last season’s stars Jordy Clasie, Ruben Schaken and Sekou Cisse. Bruno Martins Indi has improved over the last season and has become more reliable defensively whilst providing backup to attacks.

Ajax have changed a lot themselves and have made some cheap but effective acquisitions to bolster the side with the likes of Tobias Sana, Niklas Moisander, Lasse Schone, Christian Poulsen and Ryan Babel all joining Frank de Boer’s side. Added to these new signings are Ricardo van Rhijn and Jody Lukoki who are enjoying their first full season in the senior squad, whilst mainstays Siem de Jong, Christian Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld, Kenneth Vermeer, Daley Blind and Derk Boerrigter have all been key to the side. Also, Lesley de Sa, Fabian Sporkslede and Viktor Fischer have all made appearances off the bench after being promoted from the Under 19 side.

Although unbeaten in the league so far, Ajax are going through the sloppy start to the season which has become somewhat of a formality for them in recent years. The reigning champions have won four and drawn five so far this season. Their poor form heading into this match had been a worry for fans of the Amsterdam giants, as they saw their side surrender leads in their last two Eredivisie matches to draw with Utrecht and Heracles. But all fears were swiftly put to bed as the capital club responded with a wonderful display in midweek which saw them destroy European big spenders Manchester City 3-1 in the Champions League.

So far this season, a lack of experience and depth has seen Frank de Boer’s side fail to follow a Champions League match with a league victory, something the reigning Dutch champions managed only twice last term. That hangover is something De Boer will be desperate to avoid as they head to De Kuip for the heated derby.

Top Netherlands referee Bas Nijhuis has been assigned to oversee the match and De Boer hopes the 35-year-old is not intimidated by the demanding and vociferous home crowd. As always, the pressure is on Ajax to perform against their bitter rivals, but the coach feels the recent trips to Rotterdam have been made much harder by weak refereeing performances which have seen the hosts receive rather soft penalties by the officials.

De Boer is without the likes of long-term absentees Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Nicolai Boilesen, whilst youngsters Thulani Serero and Davy Klaassen are unavailable due to groin injuries, but Jody Lukoki could feature after recovering from a knee injury.

Ronald Koeman’s side are unbeaten in their last five Eredivisie matches and will be better rested than their opponents as they do not have the distraction of European football to deal with.

The Pride of the South, buoyed by their magnificent comeback last week, welcome back Stefan de Vrij and Ruben Schaken from injury, whilst Graziano Pelle has recovered from illness to make Sunday’s squad. Teenage centre-back Terence Kongolo, goalkeeper Erwin Mulder and winger Sekou Cisse are all unavailable due to injury.

The injuries both sides are currently suffering from will not affect them too much as they have enough options to cover those areas. Although these teams are yet to hit full gear, this match provides a platform from which they can build the desired momentum and really get their title challenge underway. Given the style of Feyenoord and Ajax, these derby matches are rarely boring, and this one looks likely to live up to the expectations which come with it.

It could be another six goal thriller, but it is impossible to predict in whose favour.

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