4276: UEFA Cup Preview- AZ Alkmaar v
by : Hugh Larkin
Newcastle United take a two goal advantage to Alkmaar in the UEFA Cup but by conceding two away goals they have given Louis Van Gaal’s side a glimmer of a chance. AZ will certainly give it everything to try and save the tie.
A 4-2 win in a home leg delivers an overall victory in European ties in 71% of matches, so the odds certainly favour Newcastle. However, they are playing a team that is notably cavalier and built for attack, so the occasionally fragile Toon defence will be examined.
This season AZ are the top scorers in the Dutch Eredivisie, with a cracking 71 goals in just 28 outings. Van Gaal’s side bang them in at nearly three goals per game and it has kept them in second place behind PSV. The club are now the main challengers to the traditional ‘Big 3’ in Holland.
They have experience in this competition too as the team went to the semi-finals in 2005 and were only beaten on away goals by Sporting Lisbon on away goals. Typical of AZ the score was 4-4 on aggregate.
Like most medium sized clubs who do well, the predators came calling and they lost players like international centre half Joris Mathisjen and young star Ron Vlaar to Hamburg and Feyenoord. Despite the losses the club have remained at the forefront in Holland.
Getting the ultra-positive Van Gaal as coach was a coup; his sides have always been built without a reverse gear and this side is no exception. They line up in a nominal 4-4-2 but there is great fluidity about the way they play.
Oddly, being 4-2 down affords them great licence to get forward from the off. They have to score at least two goals anyway and even if Newcastle score, three strikes for AZ would see them through. Expect them to begin bombing forward immediately.
AZ have a prolific strike pair in former Rangers man Shota Arveladze and Danny Koevermans. The Georgian has 12 in the League so far and has added another 6 in this competition. His partner has bagged an impressive 19 in the League and 22 in all competitions.
Between them the pair are a real handful and there is also support from Belgian international Moussa Dembele. From midfield, fellow countryman Martin Martens has contributed 9 times since his move from Walwijk and a number of other players have chipped in with 4 or 5 efforts.
Dutch defender Tim De Cler has had the left back slot for most of the season and he carries the ball forward impressively. On the right, his full back partner could well be Icelandic cap Gretar Steinsson who also takes a very progressive attitude. Demy De Zeeuw arrived this season from Go Ahead Eagles and should anchor the midfield.
AZ have only let 26 League goals in this season- despite their aggressive posture- and much of that can be put down to Dutch international centre back Barry Opdam. He may have to work overtime in this tie though.
Even more than in the first leg, this game seems to be made for Obafemi Martins to exploit his pace and direct running. AZ do have problems getting pressure on the ball sometimes in the midfield and this may mean that Glenn Roeder’s team will have time to release their pacy striker.
The news though that Stephen Carr and Steven Taylor may be missing from the Newcastle lineup will give more encouragement to AZ. It should all be a treat for neutrals and the night will become finely balanced if AZ begin well. The game may turn into a nervous experience for their fans but Newcastle’s attack should see them through.
Prediction; AZ Alkmaar 3- Newcastle United 2
14 March 2007