Vitesse lost to Groningen 3-1 yesterday and despite winning three in a row just last month, Vitesse has failed to come away with a single point from the last two matches. Ajax now has a fairly comfortable lead in the title race and Vitesse is no longer in control of its own destiny.
As the table shows, Vitesse is only one point out of second place and the Champions League spot that comes with it, but both Feyenoord and Twente have a game in hand.
For reference, Vitesse finished in fourth place last season with 62 points. The club would have to win four of its remaining five games in order to match last season's point total.
By all accounts, Peter Bosz is a very good manager, and it's a bit surprising that Vitesse hasn't been able to take the next step this season. Vitesse's struggles are even more surprising when one considers that Lucas Piazon, Christian Atsu, and later, Bertrand Traore were added to a squad that already included a motivated Patrick van Aanholt trying to earn a spot on the Dutch World Cup squad, a developing Davy Propper (who has done a very nice job meeting the challenge to fill Marco van Ginkel's boots), a very good goalkeeper in Piet Velthuizen, and a rock at centreback in Guram Kashia (last night's match being the exception, as Kashia had the first truly poor match I've seen from him).
The loss of Wilfried Bony certainly hurt, and Mike Havenaar was ill-suited to take over the starting role. That said, Lucas Piazon's 11 goals and 8 assists in his first 16 games certainly helped offset the loss of Bony.
The defending has been shocking at times, and Velthuizen deserves a lot of credit for preventing as many goals as he has. While I have reservations as to whether that Chelsea would let him go, Nathan Aké should be high on Vitesse's wish-list for next season. Aké can play a number of positions (centreback, left back, defensive midfielder) and would certainly help Vitesse address its defensive woes. It also doesn't hurt that as an exciting youth Dutch player, Aké would be extremely marketable at Vitesse.
While the club still has a shot to make it into the Champions League, it's worth taking a look at Vitesse's European options based on where the club will potentially finish in the standings.
If Vitesse finishes 2nd - the club would earn a spot in the third qualifying round of the Champions League. Vitesse would have to win a home and away tie in both this round and in the play-off round in order to make it to the group stage. Vitesse's chances at making it to the group stage are heavily influenced by the draw. For example, this year, the third qualifying round saw the likes of Celtic, Basel, Zenit Saint Petersburg, and Lyon. However, it also included Albanian club KF Skënderbeu Korçë, Romanian club Nõmme Kalju, and a Swiss club called Grasshopper FC.
Similarly, success in the play-off round is heavily influenced by the draw. This year's play-off round included Arsenal, AC Milan, and Schalke 04. It also included Bulgarian club PFC Ludogorets Razgrad, Kazakhstani club FC Shakhter Karagandy, and Slovenian club NK Maribor.
If Vitesse finishes 3rd - the club would earn a spot in the play-off round of the Europa League. It would have to win a home and away tie in order to advance to the Europa League group stage.
If Vitesse finishes 4th - the club would earn a spot in the third qualifying round of the Europa League. It would have to win a home and away tie in both this round and in the play-off round in order to advance to the group stage.
This is where Vitesse finished last season, and it lost 3-2 on aggregate to Romanian club FC Petrolul Ploiești. The matches were played at the beginning of August, and save for Patrick van Aanholt, the club was devoid of Chelsea players.
I expect that both Chelsea and Vitesse have learned from what happened last year and will ensure that the players Chelsea plans to send to Vitesse next season will be available to train with the club as early as possible.
If Vitesse finishes 5th - the club would be forced to compete in a play-off with the 6th, 7th, and 8th placed teams to determine which Eredivisie club gets a spot in the second qualifying round of the Europa League. This is a situation Vitesse would likely want to avoid, at it leaves virtually no summer break in between seasons. The summer would be full of fixtures in far-flung places against (very) low-level European competition as the club tries to earn a spot in the group stage of the Europa League.
In an ideal world, Vitesse will win out, get a little help from it's rivals, finish in second place, get favourable draws in the qualifying rounds, and make it to the Champions League group stages. However, the much more likely reality is that Vitesse will end up in the Europa League, which is certainly a solid consolation prize for Vitesse.
A solid campaign in the Europa League will be an excellent step in the right direction for Vitesse, but getting to the next level, Champions League football, is extremely important for both clubs.
First, the exposure that that Champions League brings to a club can be extremely lucrative not just in terms of earning a slice of the UEFA revenue-sharing pie, but also in terms of additional commercial revenue opportunities. Champions League football would instantly raise the stature of the Arnhem club to a level never before seen in the club's 120+ year history.
In terms of immediately quantifiable figures, Vitesse would stand to earn at least £7.2m if it reached the group stage (based on UEFA's 2013-14 expectations). Further, there are significant performance bonuses for not losing matches. This year, a draw in the group stage earned a club £420k and a win earned a club £840k. The bonuses increase considerably after the group stage, but £7.2m just for showing up represents a great deal of money to Vitesse. Note that these figures don't include the additional market share each club receives from broadcasting revenue (distributed according to the proportional value of each club's television market).
Second, the potential for Chelsea to offer Champions League football to its current crop of young players (not to mention the young players the club is targeting for the summer who may have great potential but aren't ready to compete for minutes at Stamford Bridge just yet) is an extraordinary asset that no other team on the planet currently possesses.
The ability for Chelsea to offer consistent Champions League football to not only the first team, but also its loanees, would instantly propel Chelsea's position from top four or five in the world to unquestioned number one when it comes to youth development and player acquisition.
While Vitesse may not get Champions League football this year, it will almost certainly get there next year or the year after, and when they do, it will have an enormously positive impact on both the club itself as well as Chelsea.