Morocco's Mazraoui must prove his worth for Ajax in De Klassieker
This weekend's Eredivisie action is headlined by the latest edition of 'De Klassieker' between heavyweights AFC Ajax and Feyenoord in Amsterdam on Sunday, where Morocco's Noussair Mazraoui seeks to continue his revival.
While always a crunch game on the Dutch football calendar, this showdown could be particularly important to the Ajax right-back as he looks to continue his path back to fitness and a regular place in the team under manager Erik ten Hag.
After nearly a month on the sidelines with an injury he sustained while playing for Morocco's U-23 team in early September, he has started both of Ajax's last two Eredivisie matches. The latest was in the 2-1 win over RKC Waalwijk, in which Mazraoui filled in at left-back for the suspended Nicolas Tagliafico.
Yet the North African was left out of Ajax's midweek UEFA Champions League match at home to Chelsea, with ten Hag preferring Tagliafico on the left of defence and teenage Dutch-American Sergino Dest at right-back.
This leaves Mazraoui in a frustrating position, striving to earn game time and a return to full match sharpness, but clearly not considered fully ready for a 'big game' by his manager.
The clash against Feyenoord certainly falls into that category, even though the Rotterdam team are a full 12 points adrift of Ajax and already appear to be out of the title race.
If given the opportunity to feature in the match, the Moroccan needs to put in a performance which would erase any lingering concerns from ten Hag.
"The most important thing for me is that I make minutes again. I have not had good preparation and have always been tormented by minor injuries," the Moroccan wingback explained to Ajax Life in the wake of the win over Waalwijk.
"I have to build up rhythm by playing many matches in a row. I need about six or seven duels to get in a flow, that everything goes free and automatically again."
He added, "You can't really do matches [simulate match intensity] on the training."
If Mazraoui is indeed picked for the match against Feyenoord, he is likely to come up against Swedish left winger Sam Larsson. The 26-year-old will be a tough one-on-one opponent, particularly in the way he likes to drift inside and link with his midfielders.
However, he does not possess the outright pace to go past Mazraoui out wide, something the Moroccan will appreciate after repeatedly chasing the speedy Stanley Elbers last weekend: "I had a fast opponent in front of me, their right winger always got the ball.
"I always had to sprint hard after that. I already felt that after 45 minutes, for sure. When I get tired, I am afraid of a recoil and an injury. It has gone wrong before, so that makes sense. Staying fit now is for the most important thing," Mazraoui added.
Five facts to know about Mazraoui
- Despite being born in Leiderdorp, Netherlands, Mazraoui is a full Moroccan international. He made his debut for the Atlas Lions in September 2018 and was a member of their Africa Cup of Nations side which reached the round of 16 at the tournament in Egypt earlier this year.
- Mazraoui has played in three 'Klassiekers' against Feyenoord (two in the Eredivisie, one in the KNVB Cup), with Ajax winning two and losing one. He played the full 90 minutes in all three games and picked up two yellow cards in the process.
- Mazraoui's only Eredivisie goal to date came in an 8-0 win over De Graafschap in December last year. He netted in the 25th minute of that match and also provided an assist for countryman Hakim Ziyech seven minutes later.
- Since making his Eredivisie debut in the 2017/18 season, the 21-year-old has made 41 appearances in the Dutch top flight. However, only five of those have come this campaign due to his injury issues.
- Mazraoui completes 82.1 percent of attempted passes in the Eredivisie this season, while also averaging 1.6 tackles and 2.2 clearances per game.
Chidera Ejuke takes aim at Groningen; PSV look to extend AZ's winless streak
Before 'De Klassieker' takes centre stage on Sunday evening, ESPN viewers will be able to catch Heerenveen v Groningen live from the Abe Lenstra Stadion (coverage from 13:05 CAT), which will feature Nigerian striker Chidera Ejuke, who is looking to add to the four Eredivisie goals he has scored this season.
Another key game on Sunday sees title hopefuls PSV Eindhoven with the chance to dial up the pressure on Ajax before their crunch match against Feyenoord. Mark van Bommel's side will be looking to go level on points with the Amsterdam club at the top of the log, as they host an AZ side which has slipped down the standings after two matches without a win.
High-flying Vitesse - featuring the likes of Oussama Tannane and Nouha Dicko in attack - will chase a fifth straight win when they host ADO Den Haag on Saturday.
Eredivisie fixtures on ESPN
Sunday 27 October
13:15: Heerenveen v Groningen - LIVE on ESPN from 13:05
17:45: Ajax v Feyenoord - LIVE on ESPN from 17:35