All across Europe, the warning signs of spring are easing themselves into our lives. The ice is melting, the days are getting longer and most importantly, the rest of the European domestic leagues are back after their winter breaks. The Spanish Primera Liga joined us on the third, alongside the Italian Serie A as the German Bundesliga followed suit the week after. This weekend will mark the first full weekend of fixtures for the Dutch Eredivisie of 2011. The league officially climbed out of its winter slumber on Wednesday night with a handful of fixtures to even up the games played by each club in the league, but for most clubs in the Dutch top division, it’s the start to the second half of the season.
Pace setters, PSV, will be returning to work with a slightly concerned look upon their faces. The Eindhoven club come back to the Eredivisie without key playmaker and Captain Ibrahim Afellay after joining Barcelona for a modest three million pounds, due to his impending contract expiration in the summer.
This coupled with the injury of Jonathan Reis and Danny Koevermans’ decision to not sign a new contract puts the club in a situation where strikers capable of playing for the badge and continuing the sides championship winning form are few and far between. Responsibility seems to of fallen upon Marcus Berg to compensate for the situation, but with a mere four goals this season, things don’t look so hopeful for the red-whites.
Fred Rutten will have to fall back on his experience to shuffle the formation and tactics board around until something interesting and somewhat optimistic comes out as he now looks down on a squad lacking key players and title rivals breathing down their backs. The last few days have linked the club with journey man. Eidur Gudjohnsen. Perhaps not the most capable long term replacement but at this moment in time, any reinforcement will do. We predict a long and difficult second half of the season for the Eidenhoven side.
Two hours to the north in Enschede, FC Twente have finished preparations for their second attempt at retain their crown. The club have had a rather up and down season so far, since the fading of coach extraordinaire, Steve McClaren. Following him out the door went Cheick Tiote to Newcastle, and David Carney to Blackpool as the club struggled to keep a hold of the stalwarts of last season’s success.
New coach Michel Preud’homme did well to mend said wounds with an astute signing in new striker Marc Jenko from Red Bull Salzburg who’s only gone and stolen the title of official goal scorer for the side with twelve goals so far this season, second only to Björn Vleminckx of NEC and an absolute necessity to the club’s form. The club have also benefited from holding on to key players such as the defensive back bone, Douglas, and last seasons top scorer, Bryan Ruiz.
Twente have shown character this year, with an impressive thirteen match unbeaten run at the beginning of the season including a 1-0 away win over PSV as they endeavour on to prove there’s more to this apparent one season wonder. Elimination from the Champions League could help outpace an Ajax side slightly distracted by European football, and the return of Bryan Ruiz from injury could help outscore a PSV side struggling to find a fit and able striker.
This week has also seen Ajax battle the media beast at its gates and has subsequently seen the beast sent packing back to the foreign field of Anfield without its sought after prize – the small Uruguayan striker Luis Suarez. The prolific goalscorer has attracted attention form Europe’s elite over the course of his time at Ajax but it seemed as though Liverpool had finally reached an agreement with the Amsterdam side, only for De Boer to come out, claiming that the offer didn’t match their valuation of the player.
Ajax have done well to hold on to their top players from the summer and on through the January transfer window. Since De Boer has come in, the team has seen a noteworthy increase in team spirit that has helped the star players keep their heads down and away from the distracting allure of big move’s away from the club. Notable examples of this where Urby Emanuelson distancing himself from a move to Liverpool early last week as well as Van Der Weil’s proposed move to Chelsea quickly hushed as the club concentrated on its one hundred percent record under new coach De Boer with a win over rivals Feyenoord with a comprehensive 2-0 victory.
“Only when an absurd amount is on the table should we let him go.” – Frank De Boer
Prior to the game, few would of predicted anything beside what was expected to be a rather one sided match between a Feyenoord side still stuck in the wilderness and an Ajax side that’s found its old character under De Boer. The club have quickly picked up pace and are storming up the league in chase of PSV and Twente, while playing exquisite football along the way.
The first goal was tremendous, a long range shot from Alderweireld that looked hit in hope from around 30 yards out that just managed to evade the paw of a diving Erwin Mulder. The second came from a penalty half way through the second half when Sulejmani was brought down in the box by defender De Cler. There were claims of diving from the Siberian forward from the Feyenoord players but the decision stood and the Serbian converted the spot-kick past (Fox?) Mulder.
The victory pushed Ajax into third spot with just three points between themselves, second place Twente, and league leaders PSV who all sit level on games played. Not much between the madness at the top as Europe welcomes a close title race and an entertaining second half to the Eredivisie season.