It is said that the truest testament to a manager’s ability is his ability to sustain success. After running away with the Eredivisie in dominant fashion last season, Cocu saw himself faced with the challenge of retaining the title as well as improving PSV’s luck in Europe this season. The departures of Georginio Wijnaldum to Newcastle United and Memphis Depay to Manchester United made sure that the former PSV captain had his work cut out for him this season.
Another knee injury to star left-back Jetro Willems meant that PSV lost three of their most influential players from last season and compounded the challenge Cocu had on his hands. Cocu, a manager who would rather find his strongest lineup and play them week after week rather than toiling with his lineup was faced finding new components for his side. Davy Propper and Maxime Lestienne were brought in to replace Wijnaldum and Depay, respectively and managed to settle quickly.
Although, Lestienne isn’t an energetic goalscorer like his predecessor, he makes up for it in explosive creativity and his willingness to support his fullback. However, just as the Belgian was beginning to find form with 4 assists and 1 goal in the Eredivisie and 2 assists and 2 goals in the Champions League, family grievances forced him to take a compassionate leave as he was only able to return last week.
One of Cocu’s strongest strengths as a manager is his ability to allow players to be comfortable playing new positions as Joshua Brenet, usually a right back has had to deputise at left back while Jurgen Locadia who prefers to play as a central striker has found playing time on the left wing. Brenet, finally seems adjusted to playing on a different flank in a defensive and attacking sense. His positioning and strength unsettle attackers, and that combined with athleticism when bombing forward have led to some impressive performances.
Locadia, who seemed disgruntled with his place on the bench, at the start of the season, after a brilliant pre-season will provide stern competition for Lestienne when the latter returns to full fitness. The hulking young Dutchman’s ability to hold his own against fullbacks as his pace and skill is put to great use out wide while also providing an extra option in the box for crosses have made him an integral part of Cocu’s attack.
In the wake of Wijnaldum’s departure, Cocu has seemed to have a mini-selection headache when picking his starting midfield trio. Lately, Andres Guardado, Jorrit Hendrix and Davy Propper have made the cut as their hardworking nature and ability to store surplus amounts of possession have indicated that Adam Maher faces an uphill battle to get back into the starting lineup.
Guardado is the deep-lying playmaker stringing everything together while Hendrix provides the energy to motor the ball forward, press opponents and shoulder defensive responsibility while Propper is the midfield maestro linking midfield and attack. When Maher inherited Wijnaldum’s number 10 jersey, it was expected that he would be PSV’s main source of creativity but his tendency to go missing in games has meant that Cocu is unable to rely on him.
Luciano Narsingh’s hamstring injury has given Cocu a chance to play the mercurial Uruguayan Gaston Pereiro on the right flank as he has brought his own brand of South American flair to the frontline. Narsingh’s performances had taken a nosedive which led to a telling off by midfielder Stijn Schaars in a training video captured by the Eindhoven Dagblad in a training session before the Manchester United game. Pereiro will have a chance to excite the PSV faithful while the Dutchman recuperates from a hamstring injury.
Karim Rekik decided to join Marseille instead of returning to PSV so the Eredivisie title holders decided to sign experienced centre-back Hector Moreno who has been a stalwart in the side since joining. He has partnered well with Jeffrey Bruma as their blend of grit in defensive situations and elegance when playing out of the back have made them the two most important names in the starting lineup.
Cocu looks ahead to an important match against CSKA Moscow which could grant his side progression to the last 16 of the Champions League knowing that he has a starting lineup which he can trust with worthy competition on the bench and returning in the future. PSV have four wins in their last five in the Eredivisie while also having three consecutive clean sheets in all competitions going into their match with CSKA. It seems that Cocu’s faith in his chargers has been well founded.