By Stefan Coerts | Dutch Football Editor
After an impressive squad overhaul in the summer transfer window, very few people would have expected PSV to make a flawless start to the 2011-12 season. Nevertheless, it's unlikely that anybody would have even taken into account the possibility that a crucial encounter would await the club only five league games into the new season.
A loss in Sunday's home game against Ajax would leave them trailing their Amsterdam rivals by six points after barely two months of Eredivisie action and PSV are all too aware of the importance of this weekend's meeting.
However, despite their inconsistent performances in the Dutch top flight so far, PSV have very little reason to be worried ahead of the match at Philips Stadium as they have the undisputed star of this season so far in their ranks in Dries Mertens.
Three months ago, PSV fans were devastated when star player Balazs Dzsudzsak left the club for Anzhi Makhachkala in a deal worth €14 million. A difficult season appeared to be on the cards for the Boeren as there was little doubt the winger would be sorely missed. Nevertheless, the Hungary international has quickly been forgotten in Eindhoven following the impressive rise to prominence of Mertens.
|CAREER STATISTICS | Dries Mertens (PSV & Belgium)
Attributes: Technique, pace, dribbling, creativity
|Height||Club||Weight||Place of Birth||Former clubs|
||Gent, Aalst, AGOVV, Utrecht
The 24-year-old joined PSV from Utrecht in June and hasn't wasted any time in making a huge impact in his new surroundings. Mertens has made the left-wing position his own and head coach Fred Rutten already considers the Belgium international to be an indispensable first team member.
"Dries puts so much energy in a match. He's an amazing player and he has been extremely efficient ever since he joined us," commented Rutten after PSV's 1-0 narrow Europa League win on Thursday, courtesy of a Mertens strike in the first half.
Hardly has the description 'efficient' been more apt than for Mertens in the opening months of the 2011-12 campaign. The pint-sized wide-man has already netted seven goals in five Eredivisie appearances and set up three more, thus being involved in 71 percent of PSV's 14 league goals.
|RUTTEN ON MERTENS
"Dries puts so much energy in every game he plays. He's an amazing player and has been extremely efficient."
- Fred Rutten
Mertens is, naturally, brimming with confidence following his superb start at PSV and the former Utrecht ace will be keen to prove his worth in the Eindhoven side's first serious test of the new season on Sunday.
The likes of Ahmed Ammi (ADO Den Haag), Tim Eekman (Excelsior) and Ferry de Regt (VVV) weren't too much of an obstacle for Mertens in the past few weeks, but he faces a sterner test against Ajax when Netherlands international Gregory van der Wiel awaits.
Nevertheless, even against one of the best right-backs in Europe, Mertens will fancy his chances of being decisive in the Philips Stadium at the weekend.
The former Anderlecht youngster has excellent technique, is a superb dribbler of the ball, has showcased good passing skills and possesses the vision to set up team-mates in dangerous positions with his intelligent through passes. Additionally, Mertens can make life difficult for any goalkeeper with his accurate long-range strikes and calm finishing skills inside the area.
Ajax will be high on confidence following their good start to the season as Frank de Boer's men are still undefeated after five games. Additionally, they put in an encouraging performance in Wednesday's scoreless Champions League draw against Olympique Lyonnais.
However, Mertens' scintillating performances in the first two months of this term won't have gone unnoticed in Amsterdam and de Boer will doubtlessly realise that neutralising the Belgium international will be vital in Ajax's attempts to leave Eindhoven with a good result.
The 24-year-old will not surrender just like that though and de Boer is unlikely to have a good night's sleep on Saturday.
Follow Stefan Coerts on