Eredivisie

The State of Play Heading into Match-day Five of the Eredivisie

Thus far, the Eredivisie season has been as enthralling as we could have wished for, exciting us to no end with relentless attacking football and individual stellar performances. The first four match-days have also flaunted the Eredivisie’s rich pool of young talent, with players such as Hakim Ziyech, Hirving Lozano, Steven Bergwijn, and Matthijs de Ligt continuing to impress.

The results of match-day four affirmed the respective prospects of each ‘Big Three’ club in securing this season’s title. With closer scrutiny, the performances of PSV Eindhoven, Ajax and Feyenoord exposed a great deal about what sort of shape each club is in, whether that is from an attacking, defensive, or inclusive perspective.

PSV

Starting with reigning champions PSV, a 6-1 rout against Willem II was their best performance so far this season as Mark van Bommel oversaw his team clinically hit their stride. Despite Willem threatening in the fourth minute of the game, hitting the post through striker Fran Sol, PSV went through the gears to register a remarkable four goals before half-time.

What was most outstanding about PSV’s performance against Willem was the variety of their goal-scoring; midfielder Jorrit Hendrix scored in stunning fashion from 25 yards, left-winger Bergwijn struck twice including a lovely curled finish from outside the box, Gaston Pereiro converted a convincing penalty, and centre-half Nick Viergever zipped forward twice to score a close-range volley and a header.

Overall, van Bommel’s PSV are playing superb football and stand in great stead to defend their title this season, with a top-two finish looking highly likely at least. With a slightly revitalised version of his predecessor Philip Cocu’s system, van Bommel has made PSV more exciting to watch, and although not as defensively sound as Ajax, their ball-playing midfielders transition into attack with ease.

Nonetheless, Ajax will make it incredibly difficult for PSV to regain the Eredivisie title. Without a league title triumph since the 2013/14 season, PSV’s arch-rivals finally appear a convincing enough outfit for their fans to firmly believe in. From back to front, their line-up is solid, including vital new signings Daley Blind and Dušan Tadić who have so far made up for the disappointment of Ajax losing two brilliant players in Justin Kluivert and Amin Younes.

Ajax

In thrashing Vitesse Arnhem 4-0 away from home, Erik ten Hag’s team recorded a third consecutive clean sheet in the league. Having previously dispensed of Emmen FC 5-0 at home, and overcome VVV Venlo 1-0 away, Ajax’s defence, strangely enough considering their attacking prowess, has emerged as arguably their greatest strength. Following a sturdy defensive display away at Dynamo Kiev in a Champions League qualification second-leg, drawing 0-0, van Tag and his men will be buoyed by how convincing they have been this season.

Ajax boast the best defence in the Eredivisie, with a back-line of Noussair Mazraoui, Blind, de Ligt, and Nicolás Tagliafico providing an essential balance between youth and experience. The centre-halves Blind and de Ligt are assured on the ball and read the game excellently, and Mazroaui and Tagliafico are more than comfortable in their wide positions and highly efficient in their offensive play. The way Ajax play has also altered since ten Hag became their trainer, with a slower build-up play dictated by midfielders David Neres and Frenkie de Jong designed to cater to Tadic and veteran striker Klaas-Jan Huntelaar. Nonetheless, this providing a perfect counter-point to Ziyech’s electrifying ability to change the pace of their game.

The victory over Vitesse was put in motion within two minutes as Ajax’s Moroccan menace Ziyech provided a moment of magic, turning in midfield to unleash an unstoppable left-footed shot past Vitesse’s goalkeeper Eduardo. Ziyech also exhibited his gifted dribbling abilities earlier this season, bursting down the right flank and cutting back onto his explosive left foot to send Ajax into an early lead at home to FC Emmen. His pace and clinical finishing has surged his team forward this season and he has often caught opposition defences off-guard by his intensity and vigour from the get-go.

Ajax this season have flourished despite a demanding list of fixtures. Facing Sturm Graz, Standard Liege, and Dynamo Kiev was a testing start to the season, especially considering the Dutch giants succumbed to Rosenborg in the Europa League qualification stage last season. This term in Europe they came through with aplomb, declaring their hunger for a better campaign this time out.

For Vitesse, inconsistency has summed up their start to the season after crashing out to Basel in the UEFA Europa League qualification stage, responding by thrashing Groningen 5-1, then drawing to Heerenveen and AZ Alkmaar, doing little to set them apart from the typical mid-table teams in the Eredivisie. Time will tell as to whether enigmatic trainer Leonid Slutsky can inspire a charge for the league’s European qualification positions by May 2019.

Feyenoord

Now onto the curious Feyenoord. Gio van Bronckhorst remains at the helm, and rightly so, despite a disappointing campaign last season. Defensively, his team still appear to be reeling from the losses of key defenders Terence Kongolo and Rick Karsdorp.

In their first four matches this season, Feyenoord have been alarmingly disjointed. Despite racing into a 4-0 lead away at Heerenveen on matchday three, Feyenoord collapsed after the eightieth minute, shipping three goals to almost throw the game away. Unfortunately for van Bronckhorst, his team is frequently being bailed out by the returning Robin van Persie and the composed Jens Toornstra in attack. Indeed, all top teams need fantastic and reliable strikers, but Feyenoord are over-reliant on theirs, and their defence urgently needs to shape up to give them a better chance in the Eredivisie this season, or risk falling away behind PSV and Ajax.

As well as shipping three in the space of ten minutes at Heerenveen, conceding two away at De Graafschap and two at home to NAC suggests that against better opposition, Feyenoord will not be afforded second chances to redeem their careless misgivings. Van Bronckhorst’s team will not be able to continue to get away with such a lack of balance in their system.

Indeed, Feyenoord have won three of their first four, recovering from an embarrassing defeat at De Graafschap on matchday one to achieve good form going into matchday five. Yet they do not strike me as considerable title candidates in the context of PSV and Ajax’s strengths going forward and in defence. Nonetheless, with a fantastic trainer and a stronger squad than the likes of AZ and Utrecht, not to mention the fortress that is De Kuip, they should finish in the top four despite the club’s loftier ambition.

Heading into matchday five, PSV travel to Den Haag, who have won their last two matches and sit sixth in the league table. Ajax host Groningen who will be vowing to lift themselves from the relegation zone where they currently find themselves. Lastly, Feyenoord face a challenging trip to AZ Alkmaar which will be their biggest test of the season so far.

What is clear after matchday four is that the Eredivisie is back with a bang, with an abundance of compelling competition back on our screens for yet another season. Let’s hope that the title race can deliver on recent campaigns and go down to the wire again, a likely prospect considering the enthralling start to the campaign we have witnessed.

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