Sunday 2nd April 2017 is poised to be a critical day for the Eredivisie title race. The age-old clash will take place at the Amsterdam Arena between hosts AFC Ajax and visitors Feyenoord – two of the Netherlands’ most decorated clubs.
Both sides have a rich history of producing and nurturing young talent as well as numerous titles, and this weekend’s fiery derby promises much of the same. A whole host of Under-23 stars are set to clash in the fixture, which could either settle the title, or blow the race wide open.
Ahead of the meeting between these Dutch giants, Scouted Football looks at the youth to watch out for at the Amsterdam Arena this Sunday:
Straight outta’ Rotterdam – well, almost. Feyenoord’s Rick Karsdorp is a measured, impressive right-back who hails from Schoonhoven, a small town 30 minutes from Rotterdam. With four assists to his name so far this season, the 22-year-old has proved he can be a creative influence on the right flank.
An ever-present for De Trots van Zuid (The Pride of the South), Karsdorp has missed a mere 16 minutes of Feyenoord’s 2016-17 league campaign, and has been an influential cog in the club’s rise to the summit of the Eredivisie.
Karsdorp was a mainstay during the club’s Europa League campaign but struggled to impose himself in the key fixtures against Manchester United and Fenerbahçe.
His defensive game is relatively solid which explains why Giovani van Bronckhorst has selected him to start in every match. Karsdorp averages 1.3 tackles per game, as well as 1.6 interceptions, highlighting his key role in Feyenoord’s rear-guard action.
Going forward, Karsdorp is particularly efficient, completing on average one successful dribble per game, as well as being an effective distributor of the ball.
An aerial assault upon the Dutch international right-back may bear fruit for Ajax. However, with Ajax’s options on the wing tending not to be the tallest or the most abrasive, Karsdorp may be off the hook.
In the reverse fixture earlier in the season, Kasper Dolberg had given Ajax a vital lead which they surrendered in the final five minutes. This time, Ajax may not have the pleasure of fielding the great Dane due to a troublesome groin injury.
Introducing Justin Kluivert: the 17-year-old son of club legend Patrick, who has burst onto the scene this season as one of Ajax’s most promising young talents. Still not fully developed as a player or a man, Kluivert has a long way to go before he can be considered on a similar level to his father.
The slender winger has electric pace and silky skills, which he has demonstrated in his appearances for the Ajax first team, Jong Ajax and the Netherlands’ U19 setup during 2016-17.
Recently in Dolberg’s absence, Kluivert has stepped up to the plate, scoring his first goal in a red and white shirt against Excelsior to rescue a point from the jaws of what would have been a crippling defeat.
Kluivert may be called upon from the bench in De Klassieker if manager Peter Bosz deems the fixture too daunting for the youngster. Although, if he does feature, expect athleticism, verve and a youthful, often naïve but refreshing approach to taking on full-backs.
Kluivert Jnr. registers among the highest in the league for attempted dribbles per 90 minutes, and it is his confidence which has been a key factor in his meteoric rise to the first team at such a young age, as displayed through such statistics.
The 19-year-old’s impact on Ajax’s season cannot be underestimated because he has been such a terror for opposition defences. 18 goals in all competitions, 13 of which coming in the league, has cemented his place as Ajax’s starting forward.
As detailed in the Scouted Football HandBook: 2017 Edition, Dolberg has made the step up from youth football to the Eredivisie in a few short years, and held his own rather admirably. The Dane who won his first national team cap this season, plays without fear to a certain extent, dribbling at opponents, almost as if he is challenging them to stop his forays into the final third.
Dolberg’s finishing is undoubtedly his key attribute, proven by his excellent goals tally in his first full season in the Ajax first team.
His audacity to dribble also explains why he is fouled so often. Having already scored against Feyenoord’s defence this season, Dolberg’s will be coming into Sunday’s game full of confidence and enthusiasm – only if he is deemed fit enough to play. Not only would it be a psychological blow to the team, but Ajax would be a great deal poorer in terms of attacking quality should Dolberg be unavailable.
This is because the teenager has five goals in his last five games, including a brace against FC Twente. His goals made the difference in the Europa League knockout tie with FC København, as Ajax qualified for the Quarter-Final of the competition thanks to two Dolberg strikes; one in each leg. During his absence against Excelsior, Ajax seemed somewhat disjointed and lacked a focal point to their attacks as Bertrand Traoré struggled in a centre-forward role.
Another player well-known to us at Scouted is Tonny Vilhena. The Scouted Football Handbook: 2017 Edition incumbent is set to star in Sunday’s classic in a central midfield role, carrying on his industrious work that has put him at the forefront of Feyenoord’s success this season.
Vilhena is only 22, but has been in the Feyenoord first team fold for the best part of five years. This is a testament to his supreme talent, tenacious work-rate and his ability to mix it up.
In the past it was difficult to know which Vilhena would turn up to any given match, however this season he has been another stalwart of van Bronckhorst’s surge to the peak of the Eredivisie standings. Consistent, dogged and somewhat of a maverick, Vilhena could be the key figure in Feyenoord’s midfield that prevents the forward-thinking influence of Ajax’s Hakim Ziyech and Davy Klaasen.
Vilhena comes into De Klassieker on the back of a Man of the Match performance against Heerenveen prior to the international break. Feyenoord’s No.10 scored an excellent improvised finish as he controlled the ball with his head, cutting inside before scoring a mean half-volley which nestled nicely in the corner. Vilhena has that ability – to affect a game with his attacking potency, proven by his four-goal haul so far this season.
On the other hand, his defensive contributions cannot be underestimated either. Against Ajax’s triumvirate of central midfielders, who have a tendency to roam thus creating space for their attacking trio, Vilhena’s work rate and tireless efforts to win possession could be crucial in disrupting Ajax’s flow and gameplan. The 22-year-old averages 2.7 tackles per game in the Eredivise, along with two interceptions per game. This sort of authority being stamped on a game is synonymous of Vilhena’s style of play, and is part of the reason why Feyenoord look set to lift their first Eredivisie crown since 1999.
Team selection pending, De Klassieker could harbour a hotbed of young talent, in one of the Netherlands’ oldest derby matches. Ajax in particular have fielded teams this season where the average age has been 21.7 years of age.
Giovani van Bronckhorst has opted for a more experienced team selection in general, however it has not been completely devoid of young Dutchmen; messrs Karsdorp and Vilhena can attest to that.
No doubt the match will be an interesting encounter – a victory for the home side would see Ajax climb to within three points of the leaders. Alternatively, if Feyenoord triumph, they would extend their lead at the top to nine points. With only six matches remaining for both sides following the weekend’s classic, toppling Feyenoord may be too much of an ask if Ajax slump to defeat.
One thing is certain though, both sides will need to ensure they perform with maturity and cool heads. It is poised delicately as a must-win match for both, and with the pair in good form, this could be the most exciting De Klassieker of recent times.