DAVID SMITH - Friday, April 13, 2012
Jozy Altidore and Alkmaar need a win at PSV Eindhoven to keep their title hopes alive while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond will try to keep their momentum going as they near the playoffs.
PSV Eindhoven - AZ Alkmaar
After their midweek draw with Twente saw them slip three points behind leaders Ajax, Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar are in desperate need of a win at fifth-place PSV Eindhoven on Saturday to keep their shot at the Eredivisie title from further diminishing.
Altidore had one of his best games in the AZ shirt on Wednesday, knocking in a pair of goals for the team, however a late equalizer from their opponents left them frustrated to settle for just one point.
With Ajax hosting one of the likely teams for relegation in De Graafschap one day later, a win is likely necessary to keep their deficit from growing any larger.
Alkmaar and PSV met way back in the first game of the current Eredivisie season in August, with Altidore not only making his debut for the team but scoring his first goal in the AZ uniform as they won by a 3-1 scoreline.
Despite having lost in midweek to RKC Waalwijk, PSV are still almost certainly on an emotional high, having wrapped up their place in Europe and a well-deserved piece of silverware last weekend in their 3-0 Dutch Cup final win over Heracles.
With five games left to play, a title run is not mathematically out of question for PSV, as a win could bump them up to third should other results go their way.
AZ can pull even with Ajax in the lead should they win and the current leaders suffer an unlikely loss, however a vastly inferior goal differential to the leaders will mean that they must look to win outright on points. They are are without midfielder Celso Ortiz, who is working back from a knee injury.
The hosts are likely missing a pair of players who were hurt in their midweek loss; defender Erik Pieters is recovering from a foot injury he re-irritated, and midfielder Keven Strootman is hobbled by a knee problem.
Helmond Sport - Cambuur-Leeuwarden
Charles Kazlauskas should retain his spot in Helmond's starting lineup on Friday as they try to continue their cruise to the playoffs against visiting Cambuur Leeuwarden.
Monday's dominant win over AGOVV saw Helmond clinch the fourth-period title, and while that assures them of a spot in the playoffs, they are looking likely to be headed to a first-round bye into the final eight.
Friday's game would have been one of their tougher tasks prior to last weekend, as Cambuur had run off five wins in six games and were one of the hottest teams in the division outside of Helmond.
However a draw on Friday then a 2-0 home loss three days later have shown the team's cracks, and they could be simply overpowered by a steaming-hot Helmond squad that has taken no prisoners in their current 15-game unbeaten run.
Adding a ninth straight victory could see them jump one or both of FC Eindhoven and Sparta Rotterdam, however aside from deciding who their first opponent will be when the playoffs kick off in a few weeks will have little bearing on their season now.
Kazlauskas did manage to score in the first meeting of the two teams in mid-September, and with a consistently threatening level of play in Monday's game, could be a huge contributor on Thursday.
Helmond are not reporting any injuries or suspensions for the game, while Cambuur are without injured defenders Leon Hése and Martijn van der Laan.