The league season in the Netherlands gets back on track this week. Here’s Stephen Farrell to bring you right up to speed with the Eredivisie.
With the Dutch Eredivisie set to restart again after its winter break this week, now seems a good time to round up the important events of the first half of the season.
PSV Eindhoven currently head the table and are looking to take the title back to one of its traditional homes after two seasons where it has gone to upstarts AZ Alkmaar and FC Twente. Before that PSV had won four in a row and have started this season like the PSV of old. Twelve wins and 53 goals from 19 games have given them a four point lead. They also achieved one of the most striking results of the season back in October when they beat old rivals Feyenoord 10-0. Much of this success has been built on a group of highly talented attacking players. Particularly noteworthy have been top scorer Ola Toivonen and Forwards Balász Dzsudzsák and Jonathan Reis.
Reis has been one of the stories of the season. He scored a hat-trick in the Feyenoord game but is lucky to be playing for PSV at all. He was actually fired back in January after failing a drugs test then refusing the clubs offer of help with treatment for drug addiction. But the club re-signed him in July and he has repaid their faith with eight goals so far this season.
However, PSV lost arguably their most important player during the winter break when Barcelona signed captain Ibrahim Afellay for the bargain price of €3 million. The Dutch international was out of contract at the end of the season and had made it clear that he wasn’t going to sign a new one leaving the club little choice but to cash in. His absence could hurt PSV in the second half of the season.
And they’ll be looking over their shoulder because, although they have scored 13 more goals than anyone else, they only have a four point lead over Twente who have a game in hand. The defending champions may have been expecting a quieter season. They lost a number of important players in the summer as well as their second manager in as a many seasons after Steve McLaren went to Wolfsburg but former Belgian goalkeeper Michel Preud’homme has proved a more than adequate replacement. They’ve kept last years top goalscorer Brian Ruiz but the goals have come from all over. They’ll fancy their chances of overtaking PSV in the second half of the season as well as progressing from their Europa League tie against Rubin Kazan.
Behind the two leaders are FC Groningen who have been regulars in the European play-offs for the past few seasons without really making a serious challenge to the bigger teams. This season, however, they seem to have taken a step forward. They are currently level on points with Twente but, importantly, appear to be one of the few Dutch teams able to maintain consistent league form from season to season and could be a greater force in the coming years.
Behind them lie traditional heavyweights Ajax who look like adding to the wait for their 30th title. They were many people’s favourites when the league began after missing out to Twente last season despite scoring over 100 goals. They’ve been rather less exciting this season, ‘only’ scoring 37 goals so far but conceding fewer than anyone else. With Martin Jol resigning just before the break, it will be interesting to see how they get on under club favourite Frank De Boer.
The catalyst for last season’s goal glut was Luis Suárez. The Uruguayan was highly rated before the World Cup but became a household name during the tournament, partly for some impressive form in the early stages but mainly for his goal-saving handball in the quarter final with Ghana. A move to one of Europe’s big names was predicted with figures of £30 million being rumoured. The gossip columns are now predicting a figure of around half that and Ajax may be regretting not selling when they had the chance.
Last season he managed 49 goals, this year he is on 13, eight of those in the league. What’s more, he has managed to make himself even more unpopular with fans after biting Otman Bakkal in the 0-0 draw with PSV earning himself a red-card and a seven game ban.
The last two European play-off places are occupied by AZ and Roda JC both of whom would probably be happy with maintaining their positions come the season’s end. Their nearest challengers are ADO Den Haag, progressing well after their promotion in 2007-08, and NAC Breda.
In the middle of the pack sit Utrecht, possibly struggling to cope with a Europa League campaign and the speculation surrounding highly-rated Ricky van Wolfswinkel, NEC, thanks to Eredivisie top scorer Björn Vleminckx, and newly promoted De Graafschap.
The biggest name by far at the wrong end of the table are Feyenoord who have been having a nightmare season. The hammering from PSV was a low point but they’ve been generally poor. They currently sit 13th, only four points above the relegation play-off spots and feeder club Excelsior.
Bottom of the table are Willem II. With only four points, and no wins so far, they can pretty much resign themselves to Eerste Divisie football next year, assuming they can survive until then. It’s hardly surprising given that they had to offload most of their squad during the summer, but they would be a notable loss for the league. They were the first champions of the professional era in 1954-55 and have produced some notable players including Jaap Stam, Marc Overmars, Sami Hyypiä.
Also in trouble are VVV Venlo, six points adrift but knowing the the Eredivisie relegation play-offs will give them at least an outside chance of staying up at the season’s end. Above them are Excelsior and Heracles, neither of whom would, realistically, have hoped for anything more than survival from the season.
The other surprise team at the bottom are Vitesse but their situation couldn’t be more different from that of the other, more financially challenged, strugglers. They were taken over last summer by Georgian businessman and former player Merab Jordania, who stated his aim was to make the team champions within three seasons.
They couldn’t really have started off any worse but, realistically, they are too good to go down. The side contains three players on loan from Chelsea and one each from Inter, Barcelona and Ajax but it will clearly take time, and more investment, for them to become the latest challengers to the traditional big-three of Dutch football.
The season restarts on Wednesday with some important matches. Ajax play Feyenoord in the biggest game in Dutch football. Both sides desperately need a win. Feyenoord to ensure they stay clear of the relegation play-offs, Ajax to stay in touch with the leaders. Earlier in the day, Twente take on Heracles. Should they achieve the home win expected of them, they will move to within a point of PSV and set up a dramatic second half to the season.