>After an off-season which saw the Netherlands reach the World Cup final, the Dutch Eredivisie resumes this weekend to plenty of anticipation.
It all begins on Friday night when champions FC Twente travel to Roda JC, while on Saturday title contenders PSV Eindhoven go to Heerenveen and on Sunday it’ll be the giants of Ajax against Vitesse.
It is hard to know who the title favourites are, although Ajax – who fell a point short of the title last term – have done well to hold onto several World Cup stars and coach Martin Jol despite financial problems, while Fred Rutten is building an exciting, young side at PSV Eindhoven and reigning champions Twente have been impressive in the European summer.
So here’s Sports Pundit’s analysis of the 2010/2011 Eredivisie season title contenders;
It’s been all about in retention for the Godenzonen this close-season. Financial problems, impressive World Cup performances and the advances of London club Fulham must have tempted Ajax to cash in on some of their assets, but as they search for their 30th league title – and first in six years – they’ve resisted.
Martin Jol will take the reins again at Amsterdam ArenA despite Fulham’s interest. And while the transfer market isn’t closed yet, it seems as if Ajax will retain the services of Luis Suarez, Maarten Stekelenburg and Gregory van der Wiel who all impressed at the World Cup.
Ajax have lost Serbian striker Marko Pantelic – who scored 14 goals last term – along with wingers Dennis Rommedahl and Kennedy Bakircioglu, but the recent acquisition of AZ Alkmaar’s Mounir El Hamdaoui is a big plus. The Moroccan took the Eredivisie by storm two seasons ago when he led AZ to the title. After 104 goals last term - and with El Hamdaoui’s addition - goals won’t be a problem for Ajax.
With a midfield consisting of players like Siem de Jong and Demy de Zeeuw it’s clear this a strong side, but after falling short to smaller clubs in the past two seasons, are they hungry enough to make it happen?
Ins’‘Mounir El Hamdaoui (AZ Alkmaar), Daniel de Ridder (Wigan), Daley Blind (FC Groningen – Loan Return), Mitchell Donald (Willem II – Loan Return), Darko Bodul (Sparta Rotterdam – Loan Return), Jeffrey Sarpong (NEC Nijmegen - Loan)'’Outs’‘Marko Pantelic (released), Dennis Rommedahl (Olympiacos), Gabri (Umm Salal), Kennedy Bakircioglu (Racing Santander), George Ogagaru (FC Sion)>Sports Pundit prediction; 2nd’’
There’s been plenty of changes at De Grolsch Veste this off-season, none bigger than the departure of title-winning coach Steve McClaren to VfL Wolfsburg. Key players have left and been sold too, so it’s been a busy off-season for Twente management, but they’ve impressively recovered.
Indeed, the new boss will be Michel Preud’homme who won the Belgian Jupiler League with Standard Liege as coach a few seasons ago. Twente, though, will have the added distraction of Champions League football this term, so it might be a difficult initiation for the new manager.
Players who’ve departed include stalwart Blaise Nkufo, veteran midfielder Kenneth Perez, tricky winger Miroslav Stoch and Wigan-bound Ronnie Stam. Twente have effectively replaced all with prolific Austrian striker Marc Janko, Swedish winger Emir Bajrani and Venezuelan wing-back Roberto Rosales the stand-out signings. Bryan Ruiz – who scored 24 goals last term – has stuck around too, while it’s a big season for youngster Cheick Tiote.
Nevertheless, despite their impressive handling of their departures it’s going to be difficult for Twente to simply recover and challenge for the title right away, especially with the distraction of Champions League football to come. Preud’homme certainly has his work cut out for him and you fancy the title might be a stretch too far.
Ins’‘Marc Janko (Red Bull Salzburg), Emir Bajrani (IF Elfsborg), Rasmus Bengtsson (Hertha BSC), Roberto Rosales (AA Gent), Nacer Chadli (AGOVV), Bart Buysse (Zulte Waregem)'’Outs’‘Blaise Nkufo (Seattle Sounders), Ronnie Stam (Wigan), Miroslav Stoch (Fenerbahce), Kenneth Perez (released), Slobodan Rajkovic (Chelsea – Loan Return)'’Sports Pundit prediction; 3rd
Fred Rutten’s Red & White Army will be looking to end a lean spell for the Dutch giants who dominated the Eredivisie last decade but have failed to seriously threaten for the title in the past two seasons. With an exciting and youthful squad, led by Ibrahim Afellay and Balazs Dzsudzsak, PSV may be ready to return to the top of the Dutch game.
Big names have left, but the departures of Andre Ooijer and Timmy Simons shouldn’t be overestimated as the pair moved well into veteran status last term. On the other hand, PSV have bolstered their squad with Brazilian defender Marcelo and Canadian midfielder Atiba Hutchinson.
But the biggest arrival in Eindhoven is Swedish striker Marcus Berg, who joins PSV on loan from Hamburg SV after a disappointing first season in Germany. Berg made his mark in Holland with Groningen before his move to HSV and should relish the move back to the Eredivisie. He’s been joined by Jeremain Lens, and along with Ola Toivonen, Danny Koevermans and Otman Bakkal it’s obvious PSV has plenty of goal scoring outlets.
Danko Lazovic’s departure to Russia midway through last term didn’t help them then, but Rutten appears to have recovered his loss in the close-season, while his young brigade look set to blossom. Orlando Engelaar and Carlos Salcido will lead the way and under Rutten’s stewardship they’ll be capable of going all the way to the title.
Ins’‘Marcus Berg (Hamburg SV – Loan), Jeremain Lens (AZ Alkmaar), Atiba Hutchinson (FC Copenhagen), Marcelo (Wisla Krakow), Stefan Nijland (Willem II – Loan Return)'’Outs’‘Andre Ooijer (AEK Larnaca), Timmy Simons (FC Nurnberg), Dirk Marcellis (AZ Alkmaar), Andy van der Meyde (released)'’Sports Pundit prediction; champions
It’s a changing of the guard in Rotterdam, with several veterans moving on at Feyenoord in this off-season with the list headed by Dutch World Cup skipper Giovanni van Bronckhorst.
Feyenoord boss Mario Been, 46, will hope to develop youngsters this term but challenging for the title looks beyond the 2002 UEFA Cup winners. There’s been no major signings in the close-season but youngsters Leroy Fer and Georginio Wijnaldum clearly appear to present a bright future for Feyenoord.
Ins’‘Ruben Schaken (VVV Venlo), Adil Auassar (VVV Venlo), Michael Lumb (Zenit St Petersburg – Loan), Fyodor Smolov (Dinamo Moscow - Loan)'’Outs’‘Giovanni van Bronckhorst (retired), Roy Makaay (retired), Denny Landzaat (released), Jonathan de Guzman (Real Mallorca), Stefan Babovic (Nantes – Loan Return), Kevin Hofland (AEK Larnaca – Loan)'’Sports Pundit prediction; 4th
The 2008/09 champions fell from grace last term, but recovered as the season went on. Unfortunately, Dick Advocaat – who steadied the ship – has departed for Russia but Gertjan Verbeek replaces him after an impressive spell at Heracles Almelo where he took them to sixth spot last term.
The acquisition of 22-year-old midfielder Erik Falkenburg is a shrewd buy, but AZ have lost goalscoring machines Mounir El Hamdaoui and Jeremain Lens as well as midfielder David Mendes da Silva and they’ll be missed.
Ins’‘Erik Falkenburg (Sparta Rotterdam), Dirk Marcellis (PSV Eindhoven), Nick Viergever (Sparta Rotterdam), Charlison Benschop (RKC Waalwijk), Milano Koenders (Sparta Rotterdam)'’Outs’‘Mounir El Hamdaoui (Ajax), David Mendes da Silva (Red Bull Salzburg), Jeremain Lens (PSV Eindhoven), Kees Luyckx (NAC Breda), Kemy Agustien (released)'’Sports Pundit’s prediction; 5th