Exclusive: Dutch football expert Michael Bell on Celtic Europa League opponents AZ Alkmaar

By Euan Davidson

August 14, 2021

Celtic face AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League on Wednesday, in front of another packed Paradise crowd.

With all the momentum of the Jablonec victories, and hopefully a win tomorrow against Hearts, the confidence is creeping back to Celtic Park. AZ Alkmaar, though, represent stern opposition for a spot in the Europa League group stage.

The Dutch side finished 3rd in the Eredivisie last time out. While they may lack the star power of Ajax or PSV Eindhoven, they’re still a team well worth examination.

67 Hail Hail spoke exclusive to editor and founder of Football Oranje Michael Bell, to get his take on our next European opponents.

Celtic v AZ Alkmaar: who to watch, and how they’ve been so far

67 Hail Hail: AZ Alkmaar finished 3rd in the Eredivisie last season: was that expected, or did they perform better than most pundits and fans would’ve thought?

Michael Bell: “The season before last, AZ were challenging for the title and could have won it before the season was ended because of Corona. They were once again expected to challenge and a top three finish was definitely expected. Third was even a disappointment.

Celtic 3-0 FK Jablonec | The glory of being back at a packed Paradise

Celtic 3-0 FK Jablonec | The glory of being back at a packed Paradise
67 Hail Hail (Youtube)

“However, they did lose their head coach halfway through the season because he decided to take over at Feyenoord this season.”

AZ have lost Calvin Stengs and Myron Boadu. Have they been replaced, and how much weaker does it make AZ this season?

“AZ are a club that looks to their academy and they produce a number of good youngsters. However, Stengs and Boadu are very difficult to replace. AZ have signed Willem II striker Vangelis Pavlidis as a replacement for Boadu. But for Stengs, they are looking for Jesper Karlsson and Zakaria Aboukhlal to step up.

“They also have a very talented 17-year-old called Ernest Poku who is one to watch. I do think AZ are looking weaker this season than last and they are short of an extra striker at the moment.”

Photo by Patrick Goosen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Celtic v AZ Alkmaar: tactics and personnel

Who should Celtic fans be watching out for?

“Teun Koopmeiners is the excellent AZ Alkmaar captain. And he is still with the club at the moment despite plenty of interest. He is the controller of the midfield and key player for the moment. On the wings, [Jesper] Karlsson is an excellent forward who can score goals. [Ernest] Poku will also catch the eye from the bench.”

What kind of tactical style does Pascal Jansen tend to use in big games?

“Jansen usually deploys a 4-3-3 and could decide on a fluid attack with Karlsson, [Zakaria] Aboukhlal and [Albert] Gudmundsson who are all naturally wingers. AZ will look to keep it very tight at the back and use the pace of the front three to counter.

“Koopmeiners will spread the ball around the pitch from just in front of the defence. Jansen has considered a 5-3-2 formation this pre-season though with AZ having three excellent CB’s. So, that wouldn’t be a surprise if they lined up in that formation.”

“Celtic will be a very tough tie for them”

Should Celtic fans view AZ as a similar threat to PSV?

“I would say PSV Eindhoven are a lot stronger than AZ Alkmaar at the moment. AZ miss a real attacking creator in midfield. And it remains to be seen how they will do without Stengs as the one creating from the wings.

“AZ have a lot of question marks around them going into the new campaign and are without injured left-back Owen Wijndal at the moment.

“[Alkmaar] have lost goalkeeper Marco Bizot, and right-back Jonas Svensson along with Boadu and Stengs. The club are also expected to lose Koopmeiners and possibly Wijndal too. So they are a club in transition at the moment.

“Celtic will be a very tough tie for them.”

Photo by Patrick Goosen/BSR Agency/Getty Images

Our take: promising words from Bell, but still plenty of threat from AZ

This is valuable insight, by the way. If there’s any English speaker with the Eredivisie knowledge you could ask for, it’s the Football Oranje editor.

But there are crumbs of comfort. Yes, AZ have some excellent players. Ask their manager. However, they too are a team in flux, dealing with some big departures this summer.

There are definitely weaknesses to be exploited. If Owen Wijndal is out, for example, Celtic have a flurry of wing talents who could expose AZ from wide positions. That’s very much how Ange Postecoglou likes to play.

Reasons to be wary? The midfield. AZ Alkmaar have some real threats in the middle of the park. Even if they are missing that creative midfielder, as Bell states.

Either way, it’s going to be an exciting time when AZ roll into town.

Some quotes have been edited for length.

Read more: Why Ange Postecoglou’s “unwarranted support” comments matter a great deal