DAVID SMITH - Friday, December 9, 2011
Jozy Altidore and AZ will try to break free of their growing slump when they welcome struggling De Graafschap while Charles Kazlauskas and Helmond look to end their three-game slide at Volendam.
AZ Alkmaar - De Graafschap Doetinchem
After a pair of disappointing results in in league play during the last week, Jozy Altidore and AZ Alkmaar need to pick up a victory at home against relegation candidates De Graafschap or risk seeing their lead atop the Eredivisie slow evaporate.
AZ were unable to get the job done in their midweek half-game at second-bottom Excelsior, being held goalless over 45 minutes in the make-up contest to settle for a point.
That was a marked improvement over their 5-1 drubbing at the hands of Twente just three days before, however is a huge opportunity wasted in their quest to build a safe lead ahead of the other challengers in the division.
As it now stands, AZ have a four-point edge over PSV Eindhoven and are five ahead of Twente, however with both teams also facing opponents in the bottom half of the standings, taking all three points is a necessity.
Accomplishing this goal might not be the biggest strain against De Graafschap, who have lost four of their previous five games, and are two points below the surface in the relegation places.
For AZ, midfielder Maarten Martens is still awaiting the green light from team medics to return to action from an ankle injury, and saw his chance to ease back onto the field delayed after a minor thigh problem kept him out of a reserve game on Monday.
For the visitors, Serbian forward will likely miss the game with a pulled muscle, as will Finnish midfielder Jussi Kujala with a knee problem.
FC Volendam - Helmond Sport
Charles Kazlauskas will return from suspension on Friday night, just in time to help Helmond try to break free from their three-game losing streak on their trip to sixth-place Volendam.
The American defender's presence was sorely missed in their narrow 1-0 home defeat to Emmen on Friday, although moreso for his particular scoring prowess this season.
His five goals are good enough to make him second-leading scorer on the team, although being shut out by one of the poorer defenses in the league was still a somewhat embarrassing result.
It will almost certainly be a tougher go at Volendam on Friday, who have not lost at home since early-September, and boast the division's top scorer in veteran striker Jack Tuyp.
Neither team is currently reporting any absences for the game.