Kolbeinn Sigþórsson grabbed a quintuple as Gertjan Verbeek’s AZ side grabbed their first win at home since November.
Graziano Pellè got an 89th-minute winner when these sides met at De Koel earlier this season, but there was never any danger of AZ needing a late clincher this time. The game was sealed just shy of the quarter-hour mark, but perhaps that was unsurprising – Venlo have been on a torrid run of form in the league recently, with no win since November 5, and now 25 goals leaked in their last eight games. AZ, on the other hand, came into this tie having drawn both games played after the winter break, but clearly saw it as a good opportunity to stop the rot. A win against the side second-bottom and eight points from safety has temporarily lifted AZ up to fourth, and given the Eredivisie what would appear to be a new free-scoring superstar-in-waiting to fill the boots of Luis Suárez.
AZ got off to the best possible start, Kolbeinn Sigþórsson scoring twice after a defensive error and clever pull-back respectively. AZ were already cruising, allowed to go 2-0 up within 13 minutes due to their opponents inability to construct any semblance of shape, track runners, press the ball, or communicate. They did try a form of damage limitation immediately after the second goal by aimlessly passing the ball amongst themselves, wasting time, and drawing AZ further up the pitch. However, sensing that more goals were there for the taking, the hosts pressed the ball with relish, forcing a number of mistakes and making VVV continuously relinquish possession.
Belgian international Maarten Martens was absolutely superb during the first half and carved VVV open single-handedly at times. His running off-the-ball was devastating – immaculately timed, executed to inch-perfect specifications, and opening gaps for others to exploit. But Martens was given a lot of time to make such runs, and no black-shirted player made much of an effort to go with him.
So in control, AZ were playing total football – Stijn Schaars covering as Héctor Moreno zoomed upfield with the ball, fellow centre-back Niklas Moisander bobbing about in the opponent’s half, looking to receive a pass, and both full-backs always offering an overlap. Resultantly, VVV never knew where to position their players in the defensive phase of play. They seemingly knew that they ought to press the ball, but failed to do so – this indecision seen by the distance they ended up maintaining between their four banks. As for cutting out the threat from the wings, the defence stood stretched, but the full-backs received minimal help from either Robert Cullen or Ahmed Musa in stopping the two-pronged wing-attacks. Thus, AZ used the pass out to the wing as a decoy – the final pass intended for a run made between a centre-back and full-back.
The match ball belonged to Sigþórsson as of the 26th minute – more poor positioning, lack of tracking, and a quiet and nervous approach to defending allowing the Icelandic international to complete a treble. With the three points seemingly in the bag, AZ took their foot off the pedal, carefree becoming cocky. Their defence was punished for continuing to stand too high after the ball was lost when Ruud Boymans, who’d toiled to create two chances out of nothing for VVV earlier in the game, exploited an uneven stab at playing offside, powered his way through, before the ball eventually fell for Musa to turn it in. VVV were temporarily rejuvenated, and at last played with a hint of energy and belief. However, AZ spent the last eight minutes of the half playing keep-ball, successfully stifling the VVV momentum.
And AZ were back in the driving seat immediately after the interval – Sigþórsson getting his fourth two minutes after the restart, and Jóhann Berg Guðmundsson spectacularly making it 5-1 in the 51st minute. VVV were now pressing the ball more keenly (never in the AZ half though), and tucked the two widemen inside whenever one of the home side’s centre-backs looked to pass down the middle, or launch a run. With the AZ full-backs making attacking runs towards the corner flags and being covered by their opposite number, AZ now only had one spare man floating in the centre of the park in a more compact area. The away side’s defence were still very much entrenched, but their banks were getting closer together, the players more comfortable and familiar with their roles in the defensive system, and with AZ not willing to expend needlessly energy, something of a stalemate ensued.
But midway through the second half, the champagne flutes were out again. Moreno pass-and-moved, jinxed and darted his way into the opposition’s area, before unselfishly teeing up Sigþórsson to grab his fifth goal of a memorable evening. The 20-year-old certainly won’t be buying his own beer if the team goes out to celebrate in Alkmaar this evening.
It took six AZ goals for the message to get through, but at long last, VVV pushed their defence out of Kevin Begois’s box. Closer to the lonely Boymans, there was now less space for the AZ midfielders to make the same game-changing darts, and all balls played behind the defence were harder for one of the red-shirted widemen to reach with more ground to cover before optimum pace was picked up. Nevertheless, AZ flirted with adding a seventh – the silky, canny Stijn Schaars interchanging with the attackers and still pulling the strings, and Charlison Benschop generally missing the chances everyone else carved out. Whereas Begois didn’t have time to catch his breath, Sergio Romero didn’t touch the ball in the second half. The Argentine might have to get used to such boredom as it’s fellow strugglers Excelsior next week for AZ. VVV, the league’s second-lowest scorers with just 18 from 20 games played, visit a NAC Breda outfit just as determined as AZ to secure their place in the European play-off zone.