It’s been a very long time for Feyenoord – one of Holland’s big three. Eighteen seasons since they’ve been Dutch champions.
This year? Well, they will have few better opportunities – five points clear of Ajax and eight ahead of champions PSV Eindhoven with 13 games to go; the Eredivisie title is theirs to lose.
But as the pressure builds, will they take the lessons of last season and use them to their advantage or could the memories of last term’s winter collapse weigh heavily on their minds?
Coming into the festive break last time round, Giovanni Van Bronckhurst’s men were very handily placed only two points off top spot, and their fans were beginning to dream.
But then a run of seven straight league defeats – an unwelcome record for the club – saw the dream become a nightmare as Feyenoord fell away dramatically to seventh in the table before they managed to regroup.
A late season revival saw them climb back to third spot, win the Dutch Cup and secure a place in the Europa League.
However, a season that promised so much in terms of the biggest prize eventually saw them finish a very distant 21 points behind Philip Cocu’s PSV Eindhoven.
It must have been a chastening experience for Van Bronckhurst in his first season and for his squad. But if it’s true that we learn more from our failures than our successes, then on this season’s evidence, the 42-year-old and his players have learned much. What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, right?
This time round, Feyenoord have lost just one of their 21 games. They are top scorers in the league with 56 goals and have the meanest defence, conceding only 12.
The club has benefitted from being able to keep last season’s squad more or less intact and from the form of their major summer signing from FC Copenhagen, Nicolai Jorgenson.
The 6’3 Danish hitman has thrived in Feyenoord’s direct, physical attacking play. Jorgenson, as the league’s top scorer, is the Eredivisie’s most influential hitman, bagging 15 goals and providing an impressive 8 assists in his 21 appearances.
The €3.5 million shelled out for the striker looks very good business indeed.
And speaking of goals, Liverpool fans will be interested to know that Dirk Kuyt at 36 continues his career Indian summer.
His seven goals and four assists from a deep lying midfield role have also been important, as has been the fact the Feyenoord have had 13 different scorers this season.
Notably, Van Bronckhurst has managed to up the club’s scoring rate this term. Last season, they scored 62 goals in total, a rate of 1.82 a game.
This time, Feyenoord are only eight goals off last season’s total with a third of the season to go – scoring at a rate of 2.7 a game. That improvement added to the drop off in the scoring rates of their two main rivals (all three have very similar defensive records) go a long way to explaining the Rotterdam sides title charge.
Can they see it through? The fact that they only have the league to focus on after KNVB Cup and Europa League exits should be a help. Much may depend on how they react should they suffer any league setbacks.
That said, Sunday afternoon’s hard fought 2-0 win at FC Twente was their seventh victory on the bounce. And that they they found a way to win only an hour after Ajax cut their lead to just two points suggests that they have gained the crucial ability to play under pressure.