Sunday, February 25, 2024

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Dutch Eredivisie review - AZ dominate but McClaren is still a flying Dutchman

The outlook continues to be rosy for Steve McClaren and his new team FC Twente. Although a 0-0 home draw with FC Utrecht did not leave much to write home about, there were positives for McClaren to take from the result. FC Twente increased the pressure on their opponents throughout the second half and were unlucky in the last twenty minutes not to force a deciding goal against a team who are one of several vying for a UEFA Cup spot, and looked happy to settle for an away point.


In fact FC Twente are now ten games unbeaten in the Eredivisie since November 9th when they were dispatched by this season's surprise package AZ Alkmaar 3-0. Not only is McClaren's team doing well in the league but last week they comprehensively destroyed ADO Den Haag in the Dutch Cup (KNVB Beker) 5-1. This leaves them facing a very winnable home draw in the quarter-finals against the relegation threatened De Graafschap.


With FC Twente also contemplating a last 32 UEFA Cup tie with Marseille in a couple of weeks, the remainder of the season is looking very promising indeed for the much ridiculed former England boss.

Despite FC Twente's disappointment at the draw, the result actually saw them reduce the gap behind second-placed Ajax to just goal-difference. Marco van Basten has much to contemplate as he witnessed his Ajax side lose for the second consecutive week 1-0 - this time at home against SC Heerenveen. To make matters worse the victory saw Heerenveen close the gap on the battle for second to just three points, as they remained in fourth.

Ajax's performance resembled a lot of their season so far: they flattered to deceive as their build-up play brought promise, only for the final ball to often go astray. The game then became an uphill struggle for Ajax not long after the restart, when Thomas Vermaelen was sent off for the home side. Heerenveen continued to pressurise and clinched the vital goal in the 59th minute when Danijel Pranjic scored with a direct free kick. That was pretty much that for van Basten's team, they toiled for an equaliser which never looked that likely, and remain on 41 points with FC Twente.

Meanwhile, AZ Alkmaar took full advantage of the failure of the second and third placed teams winning…  by doing exactly that themselves! Reflecting their campaign so far, they confidently overcame the challenge of Sparta Rotterdam, who are yet to win in 2009. Two goals in the final half an hour were more than enough for AZ to finish off Sparta for a 2-0 victory, and this meant an extremely impressive ninth consecutive league win.

AZ are now nine points ahead of the field in the Eredivisie and it’s looking ominous for their challengers. What is all the more remarkable is that last season they finished in 11th place, and they have won only one Eredivisie title in the club's history. Perhaps less surprising is who the architect of their impressive turn around has been, their manager is none other than Louis van Gaal.

The former Ajax, Barcelona and Dutch national manager has been quietly bolstering his reputation all over again with AZ since 2005. If he manages to claim the Eredivisie this season, it surely won't be long until another large club comes calling for his services. Either way, AZ Alkmaar have certainly been exponents of the 'sexy football' that Ruud Gullit once championed.

As for the remainder of the field, PSV Eindhoven managed to keep in touch with the top four and continue their recent upturn in form, after an awful November saw them get knocked out of the UEFA and Dutch cups. They easily out-played De Graafschap, winning 3-0 largely thanks to the performance of Ibrahim Afellay who scored a brace. The victory for PSV was also a welcome respite after the resignation of their now former coach Huub Stevens last week.

At the other end of the table, Feyenord continued their poor form, losing their seventh game out of nine in all competitions. Their 1-0 defeat at NEC means that they haven't won away from home since the middle of November and they have now slumped to twelfth in the Eredivisie.

Finally, bottom club Volendam earned a commendable 1-1 draw away at seventh placed NAC. Unfortunately for Volendam, any positive results are usually surrounded by several of the negative variety. They remain rooted with twelve points all season and seven away from avoiding the drop, a club who certainly aren't flying.

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