Eredivisie Title Run-In: A Four-Way Fight
Just seven weeks remain of the Eredivisie season and the battle to be crowned champion looks set to go down to the wire with just three points separating the top four teams.
Old rivals Ajax and PSV Eindhoven are the top two in the standings after 27 games of the season, with the Amsterdam club a point clear. Feyenoord are level on points with PSV Eindhoven but sit in third place because of a massively inferior goal difference, while this season’s surprise package Vitesse Arnhem are two points further adrift of Ajax in fourth.
FC Twente had led the pack when the Eredivisie embarked on its winter break at the end of December, but a miserable run of form—which resulted in the sacking of manager Steve McClaren—has left them 10 points behind Ajax and effectively out of the running for the title.
Here, we take a look at the remaining games and assess the chances of the four protagonists in the race to be crowned Eredivisie champions 2012-13.
Defending Eredivisie champions Ajax have been defeated just twice all season, and they have moved to the top of the table following an unbeaten run in February and March which has seen them drop just four points.
A tight defence—the second meanest in the league—has conceded just 27 times all season, and Ajax have plenty of goals in them with only title rivals PSV Eindhoven having found the back of the net on more occasions this season.
Significantly for Frank de Boer’s side, there is no over-reliance on the goals coming from one source as Siem de Jong is the club’s top scorer with 11 of the 63 goals this season.
Of Ajax’s remaining seven games, four are at home and three are away and only one comes against a top-four team. That game is the visit to PSV Eindhoven on April 14 which could prove to be a title decider.
Ajax should have little trouble picking up maximum points against mid-table NEC Nijmegen, Heracles Almelo, SC Heerenveen and FC Groningen, while the penultimate fixture of the season is at home at the Amsterdam Arena to basement club Willem II.
The Eredivisie’s most attractive team to watch, given that they have scored 83 times already this season, including scoring five or more goals in a game on eight occasions, is PSV Eindhoven.
Dick Advocaat’s side haven’t proved infallible, however. Without the seven defeats suffered this season, three of which were to title rivals Ajax, Feyenoord and Vitesse Arnhem, PSV Eindhoven could potentially be on the verge of being crowned champions.
Their run-in is arguably the most difficult of the four teams with Ajax visiting the Philips Stadion on April 14 and a trip to fifth-placed FC Twente on the final day of the season on May 12. Before then, there are likely wins over relegation candidates Roda JC, Willem II and AZ Alkmaar and home games with mid-table FC Groningen and NEC Nijmegen.
Feyenoord may not have been Eredivisie champions since 1998-99, but this season represents their strongest recent chance of lifting the title—even taking into consideration the fact that they were runners-up to Ajax last year.
The Rotterdam club—managed by Ronald Koeman—have continued to keep pace with Ajax and PSV Eindhoven and are level on 56 points with the latter and just a point adrift of the former.
Feyenoord have a gem in the league’s second top scorer Graziano Pelle, who spent the opening half of the season on loan from Serie A side Parma before making it a permanent transfer in the January transfer window. The Italian forward has netted 21 times and his goals will be crucial to the title challenge.
Koeman’s side must face title rivals Vitesse Arnhem at home on April 21 and have three other home games at De Kuip when they host second-bottom Venlo and mid-table Heracles Almelo and NAC Breda—which is the final game of the season.
But it is the away trips to Heerenveen, RKC Waalwijk and ABO Den Haag that will ultimately define Feyenoord’s title aspirations.
This year’s surprise package, Vitesse Arnhem have bounced back from a dismal run of form in seven games either side of the winter break in which they lost four away games in a row and picked up just five points.
The only win in that period was at home to Ajax as Fred Rutten’s side completed a double over the current Eredivisie leaders, while they also picked up four points from two games with PSV Eindhoven and have beaten Feyenoord.
Much of Vitesse Arnhem’s success has been down to the goalscoring exploits of Wilfried Bony, who is the Eredivisie’s leading scorer with 26 goals to his name.
But equally, it has been the defence in recent weeks that has been impressive, with the latest run of five successive wins coming with four clean sheets.
Aside from the trip to face Feyenoord on April 21, Vitesse Arnhem have the easiest run-in of the four teams challenging for the title. They face the bottom four clubs as well as hosting mid-table PEC Zwolle and NAC Breda and should not be ruled out of winning a first-ever Eredivisie title.
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