DAVID SMITH - Friday, February 17, 2012
Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar likely need a win at Utrecht to keep their share of the Eredivisie lead while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond will try to inch closer to a promotion playoff spot against Telstar.
FC Utrecht - AZ Alkmaar
Having come out ahead in their tough first-leg Europa League knockout game against Anderlecht on Thursday, Jozy Altidore and Alkmaar need to keep the momentum going when they travel to 14th-place Utrecht on Sunday.
AZ put themselves in prime position to reach the final 16 of the Europa League with their 1-0 victory over Anderlecht on Thursday night. This extended their winning streak to four games across all competitions, and seemed to confirm that their tough run of December and January is now a thing of the past.
Heading into the weekend's round of games, they are tied with PSV Eindhoven on points atop the Eredivisie, however trail by way of inferior goal differential.
With Eindhoven facing a rather cold Groningen team immediately prior to AZ's game, Gertjan Verbeek's squad are likely to find themselves in the position of needing to take all three points in Utrecht's Stadion Galgenwaard in order to keep up the pace.
This shouldn't be too far out of the realm of possibility, as Utrecht have, apart from a pair of surprise victories over Ajax, have been largely underwhelming over the last three months, with just those two wins in their last ten games.
One of these games included AZ's 2-0 win in late-November, and they will be confident that they can complete the double over their southern neighbors.
AZ have a full squad for the game while Utrecht are without longterm absentee Jacob Mulenga, along with the injured duo of Marc van der Maarel and Rodney Sneijder.
Helmond Sport - Telstar Velsen
Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond Sport will hope to have shaken off Monday night's disappointing draw when they hit the field on Friday against visiting Telstar Velsen.
Helmond were wasteful in allowing a halftime lead quickly turn into a 3-3 draw on Monday in a game which will have certainly raised major doubts about their defensive fortitude.
They have been able to maintain their unbeaten record since the turn of the new year, and up until Monday, the major factor was a much-improved defense.
The game saw a return to their old habits which had made them one of the league's worst defensive teams through the late months of 2011. If they have any hope of successfully qualifying for the promotion playoffs for a third straight year, will need to buckle down and prevent any further embarrassing mishaps.
Friday's home game against Telstar could be a perfect opportunity to sharpen their claws. While in no realistic threat of suffering relegation, they have been entirely underwhelming all season with just five wins to their name, and have failed to string together consecutive victories since early-September.
Due to weather-related cancellations, they have been out of action since January 27, and will likely be showing signs of rust.
Helmond will be missing only suspended midfielder Juanito Sequeira while Telstar are missing forward Jerge Hoefdraad who recent suffered an ankle injury, along with injured players Danny Schenkel and Andrew Ornich. In addition, defender Anthony Correia is still listed as questionable.