In my season preview I suggested that Ajax fans have plenty to look forward to going into this season, and that certainly appears to be holding true. Their first major achievement this season was managing to keep hold of their top performers from the World Cup (Suarez, van-der-Wiel, Stekelenburg etc) and also add to the squad with proven Eredivisie goalscorer El Hamdaoui. With the closing of the transfer window and the resolution of his own personal situation, Ajax manager Martin Jol has finally been able to concentrate on playing matters, and what a start to the season for the Amsterdammers. With 7 matches played, Ajax sit top of the pile having won 5 and drawn 2. Together with their spectacular qualification for the Champions League, this must be one of their best starts to the season for a long time. Goals have been in plentiful supply for Ajax this season with El Hamdaoui and Suarez 3rd and 4th on the top scorers list with 6 goals each. While on the field things are looking good, there are serious rumblings of discontent amongst Ajax supporters regarding ticket prices for the Champions League games. Fans of Borussia Dortmund & MSK Zilina take note! Expect heavy protests from the renowned ‘Vak 410’ during the home Champions League matches, starting this Tuesday against AC Milan.
Last weekend saw the first really big clash in the Eredivisie this season with Ajax visiting Champions FC Twente. Twente are also unbeaten so far but have been struggling to convert draws into wins and already sat 4 points behind Ajax going into this game. The situation remains unchanged after an exciting 2-2 draw, Ajax twice coming from behind to survive the intimidating atmosphere inside De Grolsch Veste in Enschede. Theo Janssen once again impressed on the big stage with 2 goals to follow on from his storming performance against Inter in the Champions League. With Twente you get the feeling that Michel Preud’homme is doing an excellent job with the players at his disposal, but they will just not quite have enough to last the pace at the top.
Next mention should go to PSV Eindhoven who are the 3rd of 4 unbeaten sides after 7 rounds of games. Swedish striker Ola Toivonen has been on exceptional goal-scoring form, 7 goals in 7 matches have helped his team to a solid start especially considering their horrendously long trip to Novosibirsk for a Europa League qualifier sandwiched between 2 Eredivisie matches. Looking down the PSV goal-scorers list you realise that the club also did a great job this summer keeping hold of most of last year’s top performers while strengthening the squad in other areas. Toivonen’s countryman Marcus Berg has settled in well & Ibrahim Affelay is doing a good job of rewarding the club for not letting him go in the summer (4 goals so far). One of my favourite players in the Eredivisie, Hungarian Balazs Dzsudzsak also continues to impress. PSV are surely the only squad capable of pushing Ajax for the title and they too faced their biggest test of the season so far last weekend, welcoming surprise package FC Groningen to the Phillips Stadion. Groningen have been setting the early season pace and proved it has not just been through fluke or an easy fixture list by holding PSV to a 1-1 draw on their own turf. Times are good up North then, and Groningen is certainly an uncomfortable away trip for the best of sides. Next weekend should give a good insight into the relative strengths of the two main challengers to PSV & Ajax as Twente host Groningen. This could be an interesting match, and expect one of the remaining unbeaten records to fall.
On the subject of surprise packages, ADO Den Haag have had their best start to a season for 31 years. The summer saw a big exodus of middle-of-the-road players and somehow ADO have hit the jackpot with their summer loan additions. I already mentioned Slovak Frantisek Kubik in the season preview, and he hasn’t disappointed with 4 goals so far. Outshining even Kubik is the Russian striker Dmitry Bulykin, bought in at the last minute on loan from Anderlecht. These new attacking options seem to be bringing the best out of winger Wesley Verhoek & ADO seem to be scoring at will, 16 goals in 7 games bringing unheard of pleasure for the loyal ADO supporters. Verhoek’s performances on the wing have really been outstanding so far, and all 3 of these players will be worth looking out for as the season progresses. However, despite all this newfound attacking prowess, ADO have also conceded 16 and the defence needs to improve if their stay in the top half of the table is to be sustained. Why not let the fans enjoy it while it lasts and what a dream for ADO: “Wij gaan Europa in” were the chants after last weekend’s 3-2 victory over Heracles Almelo.
Heracles have strangely been struggling and sit 2nd bottom after this defeat. Luckily for the teams involved at the bottom there does seem to be a one-place cushion, Willem II having lost all 7 matches look doomed already. On the subject of relegation, one team who will be nervously looking over their shoulder already is Feyenoord. The season is already effectively over for the Rotterdam powerhouses, having been dumped out of the Europa League by FC Gent & after a missed penalty deep into extra time against Roda JC, now find themselves eliminated from the KNVB Beker. All hope of European football next season lost for Feyenoord then and this ‘transition period’ looks like it might last for a while – they even lost to tiny feeder club Excelsior 3-2 in one of the shocks of the season so far.
While talking of European football, 5th place is currently occupied by Roda JC, ADO are currently 6th & NEC Nimegen, NAC Breda & Excelsior sit level on points just below ADO. Excelsior have certainly had an impressive start to the campaign, but you can’t help feeling that last week’s home defeat to Vitesse Arnhem might well see the start of those two clubs moving in opposite directions in the table. The next 4 teams, Heerenveen, AZ, Utrecht & Feyenoord will all be disappointed at being in the bottom half at this stage, but the upcoming games will surely sort out the genuinely stronger squads from those who have over-achieved in the early rounds of matches. Heerenveen v ADO is a big game next weekend as is NAC v NEC. Despite Utrecht’s distinctly average start to the season, one player who is standing out is Ricky van Wolfswinkel, level at the top of the scorers list with Ola Toivonen on 7.
Vitesse, De Graafschap & VVV Venlo make up the numbers and especially the latter two of those teams will be in a massive fight to avoid the relegation playoffs.
So, all things considered, it has been an entertaining start to the season in Holland. There are plenty of good players playing their trade in the Eredivisie and it has not only been the quantity but also the quality of the goals which has been grabbing the headlines. Attendances seem to be up, and there is already a feeling of excitement building ahead of the middle part of the season. Watch this space for more updates ..