Can PSV still win the Eredivisie title? Ryan Ferguson looks at the ten things the Eindhoven club must do to lift the trophy.

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cocu 2The first half of this Eredivisie season was admittedly disastrous for Phillip Cocu and PSV. A frequent inability to score goals was exaggerated by a defence which seemed to fall asleep at vital moments. Cocu has been unable to find a settled side, with a youthful squad often struggling to maintain a rhythm or kill-off games. At times, things became historically-bad. A string of October defeats resembled PSV’s worst run in nearly a decade, whilst a 2-6 mauling by Vitesse was the clubs most brutal home defeat in thirty-six years. PSV were defeated in the KNVB Beker third round and slumped to an ignominious exit from a Europa League group shared with Ludogorets, Chornomorets and Dinamo Zagreb. They currently languish in seventh place, some eleven points behind leaders Ajax in the Eredivisie. In essence, this has been the worst PSV season in two or three generations.

However, I still believe. Whilst these may be the crazed ravings of an optimist or a sad insight into the exact chemical imbalances which make a football fan, I still honestly think that PSV Eindhoven can rise from the ashes and win the Eredivisie in 2014. Yes, patience was tested during the first half of the season. Yes, hearts were broken with each agonizing away defeat. But, in the two games immediately preceding this winter break, I saw a change in this PSV squad; a sudden and uniform sense that enough is enough. As Cocu’s men demolished FC Utrecht 5-1 and defeated Den Haag 2-0 at home, thus registering consecutive victories for the first time in two months, I could sense a determination, a resolve, a new-found will to prove all doubters wrong. PSV were playing with a point to prove, as if the riot act had been broadcast. The players are ready to fight.

Therefore, I still see potential in this PSV season. Here is a list of ten things which must happen if that potential is to be recognised and crowned with a Title in May.

1. “You gotta believe!”
PSV fans are amongst the most loyal and vociferous in the Netherlands. In tough times, they stick together. We saw this recently when, following the hammering by Vitesse, several players mixed with fans in the stands to apologise. The same players paid for all fans who traveled to Utrecht. PSV fans have been exemplary in their support of, and perseverance with, this faltering team. Now, we all have to believe. We have to sincerely believe that our team can still win this Eredivisie title, and we must fight all the way to help make it a reality. Keep the faith!

2. PSV must beat nearest rivals
When things were still sparkling back in September, PSV thumped Ajax 4-0 at the Philips Stadion. It was a tactical masterclass from Cocu and a scintillating performance from this young Eindhoven squad. It was then that I, like many fellow fans, began seriously contemplating a Title challenge. However, defeats to nearest rivals such as Feyenoord, AZ and Vitesse awaited, shedding yet more gloom on a tail-spinning season. In the second half of this campaign, PSV travel to Amsterdam, Arnhem and Heerenveen. They also host AZ, Twente and Feyenoord. Realistically, PSV must win an overwhelming majority of these key fixtures if a Title challenge is to materialise.

3. The rivals must slip-up
Any team which ranks seventh at the winter break will be reliant on the misfortune of others in order to progress. PSV must hope that several of the teams around them experience rough patches in form. In addition to the Eredivisie, Ajax will play in the Europa League and KNVB Beker, which may result in physical and mental fatigue on which PSV can capitalise. Likewise, AZ must play in Europe. Also, the six teams above PSV must all play each other, with the inevitable dropping of points providing plenty of opportunity to advance up the table. Cocu will have the added benefit of only concentrating on the preparation of one game per week, which may afford him more time to address weaknesses and create detailed tactical gameplans compatible with success. Ultimately, however, the extent of that success rests in the travails of his nearest rivals.

4. Cocu must find a position for Adam Maher
Adam Maher is perhaps the brightest prospect in Dutch football. He gained a glowing reputation at AZ for a free-flowing, carefree style. At times, it looked like Maher was just playing in the park with friends. It was all so natural to him; the vision, the guile, the dynamism. Naturally, the move to PSV represented a big leap for a young and prodigious player. Maher has struggled to find consistency in Eindhoven, with fleeting glimpses of his extreme potential off-set by long periods of struggle. I believe that these growing pains can be largely attributed to a lack of consistency as to where on the field Maher is deployed by Cocu. At times, injuries and suspensions to key players have shifted Maher into a conventional midfield berth, where he is expected to tackle and chase and break-up play. That really isn’t his natural game. Adam Maher needs to be the fulcrum of attacking play within this PSV team, a fluid playmaker blessed with free-reign to do whatever it takes to create chances and win games of football. It’s vitally important that Maher is deployed in his natural position just behind a central striker, from where he can penetrate with similar spontaneity as he did in Alkmaar. This one tactical shift could bring gargantuan rewards for Cocu and PSV.

5. Experienced players must be fit and performing
At various stages this season, PSV have struggled with injury. In a squad based almost entirely on a youth, with an average age regularly lurking in the teens, the importance of experienced players such as Stijn Schaars, Ji-Sung Park and Georginio Wijnaldum cannot be overstated. When a number of these players have been present on the field at the same time, PSV have looked dangerous. Against Milan, Wijnaldum was ubiquitous; Ajax couldn’t deal with the class of Park; Schaars has looked like a father in a midfield of excitable youngsters. Furthermore, the proven quality of Luciano Narsingh could have a major impact in transforming this PSV team from also-ran to contender. All these players are vitally important; the more minutes they play together, the more games PSV will win.

6. Young prospects must continue to develop
The belief in youth demonstrated by Cocu is admirable and exciting. In the first half of this season, many young starlets rose to prominence for PSV. Memphis Depay gets better with every game and now looks like a genuine goal threat. Zakaria Bakkali became the youngest ever player to score an Eredivisie hat-trick and has provided infrequent bursts of pure electricity. Jeroen Zoet has developed into a dependable and adept goalkeeper; Santiago Arias epitomises effort and determination; Rekik and Bruma have formed a solid partnership. In future months, it will be incredibly important for the long-term future of PSV that these players continue to develop. The sense of individualism, however, must be reduced, and this cluster of young stars must learn to compliment each other. If Cocu can get the mix right, and help these phenomenal prospects to grow, PSV can beat any team.

7. Cocu must be given time
When Phillip Cocu was handed a four-year contract to manage PSV, he promised to embark on a journey to modernise the club and instill a sustainable long-term foundation. The youth system, which Cocu worked tirelessly to improve as a coach, has been placed at the very nucleus of the clubs long-term philosophy. A serious financial investment has been made, and a technical team headed by Art Langeler has been drafted in to help the academy progress. Now, youth talent is regarded as an intrinsic aspect of the PSV plan, rather than a useful coincidence. Such is the nature of young footballers, time is needed to allow them to develop physically, mentally and tactically. The youth graduates now used by Cocu in the first team need a flexible timetable in which to reach their peak. They must adapt to life as a professional footballer, and also learn the intricacies of winning games. Therefore, we, as PSV fans, must continue to create a positive environment conducive with the progression of Cocu’s plan. He is the best man for the job at this time. He will eventually bring the sustainable, renewable success which we all crave.

8. Marcel Brands must have a strong transfer window
In the days of boom-and-bust, PSV would have chucked millions of euros at the type of problem which currently faces them. A marquee signing was seen as the perfect antidote to all ills. However, the recent trophy drought and change in club ethos has necessitated a transformation of player recruitment policy. PSV maintain a salary cap and will aim to sign players who can help the club within a three or four-year period. Adam Maher is the perfect example of the type of player in which PSV are looking to invest. In this regard, the PSV squad could benefit from the signing of one or two players to add greater depth, with a little more experience in attacking and defensive areas perhaps making a huge difference. In terms of realistic targets, Brands could potentially look at players like Alfreð Finnbogason, Bas Dost, Luuk de Jong, Ibrahim Affelay, Michael Bradley, Urby Emanuelson and Zakaria Labyad to provide a mid-season boost without sacrificing the long-term timeline for success. Also, the technical director must fight to keep hold of star players such as Zoet, Wijnaldum and Depay whilst seeking to conclude the on-going saga with Ola Toivonen.

9. PSV must take chances, score goals and finish games off
The 1-1 draw at home to ten-man Heerenveen in November was a perfect microcosm of PSV’s season. It encapsulated finely the recurrent problems of Cocu’s team. The Eindhoven giants luxuriated in 70% of possession, and played with a real tempo. They had nineteen shots, with nine on-target and ten squirming wide or flying over the crossbar. Even after knocking on the door relentlessly, a scrambled Florian Jozefzoon goal in stoppage time salvaged only a point. It was a typical performance and a typical frustration; the kind of profligacy in front of goal which turned comfortable-looking fixtures against Heracles, Cambuur, Ludogorets, Roda JC and NAC Breda into ninety-minute tours of frustration. If PSV can continue creating numerous chances in games, with Adam Maher perhaps probing from his favoured number ten role, and a striker starts taking advantage regularly, then a positive second half of this season can be had. In order to challenge for this Eredivisie crown, PSV have to find that striker, be it Tim Matavž, Jürgen Locadia or a sensible option via transfer.

10. Results must be consistent
The two successive victories prior to this winter break have given PSV a great basis from which to build. In football, confidence and momentum are great factors. They both come naturally with winning. The great PSV teams of yore would often go five, eight or ten games undefeated to put distance between themselves and nearest competitors. If this incarnation is to win a seemingly-unlikely Eredivisie crown, a long run of positive results is needed; PSV must seek to close the eleven-point chasm as quickly as possible. A string of victories will help. Any Title-winning team needs to find a consistency of results. PSV need to find that level, stick to it, and hope for the best.

Obviously, the odds are stacked massively against PSV. An eleven-point deficit cannot be rectified overnight. If all of the occurrences outlined in this article materialise, Georginio Wijnaldum could be lifting the Eredivisie Title in May. If just one of the ten points does not bloom to fruition, the already slim chances of a PSV triumph could evaporate quickly.

If you are a PSV fan, believe in the unseen! If you support another Dutch club, do not write-off the sleeping giants just yet.

Ryan Ferguson (23 Posts)