This season’s Dutch Eredivisie is shaping up to be an exciting one – here we take a look at some of the most notable stories as it reaches its midpoint
Much of our contemporary domestic footballing focus is fixated on the English Premier League, the Spanish La Liga and the Italian Serie A. This means that the competitiveness and excitement of other Leagues can easily slip underneath the radar, not receiving the recognition they deserve.
Step forward the Dutch Eredivisie, the Netherlands’ premier football division that has been delivering enthralling, attacking football since its professional founding in 1956.
Steeped in history, it has developed a reputation as one of Europe’s most entertaining competitions with some of the game’s most passionate supporters. Not to mention the conveyor belt of young talent it still continues to churn out. For decades Dutch domestic football has nurtured and shone a spotlight on future stars.
The 2020/21 season has so far certainly not disappointed, containing an additional level of intrigue in that the Eredivisie was one of the few European competitions to completely cancel last season due to Covid-19, meaning the same 18 teams competing this season and a far longer break.
With the campaign edging towards it midpoint, what have been the biggest talking points so far?
The Ajax goal machine
The abandonment of last season was to the detriment of Ajax, who were locked in an intense title fight with AZ Alkmaar as they seeked a 27th Eredivisie title. And so far this campaign they’ve looked determined to make up for that misfortune. If they do, it will surely be down to a mightily impressive attack.
The standout result to date is undoubtedly the 13-0 thrashing of mid-table side VVV-Venlo, the biggest victory in Eredivisie history and the club’s joint largest in all competitions. Whilst their opponents had a man sent-off and it was one of those crazy games that can occur every now and again, it demonstrated the attacking variety and clinicalism Ajax have in their arsenal, with seven different players scoring and the same number getting assists. Youngster Lassina Traoré has been particularly eye-catching, becoming the first Ajax player to record five goals in a single Eredivisie match since Marco van Basten in 1985.
At time of writing, they have amassed over 200 goal attempts and 50 goals in total, substantially more than their closest rivals. And the impressive numbers go on – 15 different players have found the back of the net so far and they have only failed to score once. The fact that Captain Dusan Tadic is their leading scorer with just nine also shows how widely the scoring has been spread. Across Europe, no one has been as domestically lethal as Ajax.
Struggles for returning Robben
One of the rare, feel-good stories of 2020 was when 36 year-old Dutch great Arjen Robben announced that he would be returning to football just a year after his retirement, re-joining his first club FC Groningen to help them through the Covid-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the narrative has so far failed to go to script, with the ex-Bayern Munich, Real Madrid and Chelsea winger having spent the majority of his time on the treatment table.
In his return to where it all started 20 years ago, Robben has only been able to make two appearances. He initially missed seven matches due to a lack of fitness and when his comeback finally became official against PSV Eindhoven in front of 6,049 excited fans, it lasted a mere 28 minutes due to a groin injury which has kept him out at least until the Christmas period. He’s only been able to play a total of 44 minutes this season but recently expressed his desire to give everything to get back on the pitch again.
With 96 international caps for the Netherlands and as one of the world-class wingers of the 21st century, it would be brilliant not just for FC Groningen but the whole Eredivisie if Robben can get back to full fitness, play regularly again and once more dazzle matches with the wingplay that tormented fullbacks for the best part of two decades.
A challenge to ‘the big 3’?
Traditionally three teams have been the dominant forces in Dutch football – Ajax, PSV Eindhoven and Feyenoord. Since 1956, there have only been six occasions when the Dutch national championship trophy hasn’t gone to one of them – and two of those were when there wasn’t even a winner. Whilst AZ Alkmaar in 2009 and Twente in 2010, the latter led by one Steve McClaren, looked to have broken up that hegemony, the league has since fallen back into the clutches of the impressively consistent ‘big 3’.
Could the 2020/21 season be the one to break it again though? Whilst there are still a lot of games to play and much drama to come, at present those aforementioned sides haven’t quite broken away from the pack as expected. At time of writing Vitesse are in third, above Feyenoord, and FC Groningen level with the Rotterdam side. Even Twente and AZ Alkmaar are just a couple of results away from entering the mix, with just seven points separating the six teams below current leaders Ajax.
With all the different variables of this season, from the empty stadiums to the congested fixture list and the fact that Ajax and PSV have the added distraction of European competition, this could well be the campaign when the Eredivisie has a thrilling title-race involving several clubs. If one outsider can go on a particularly good run and get a little bit of luck along the way, there’s no reason why we couldn’t see a surprise name on the trophy come May.
A relegation dogfight with a difference
One of the quirks of the Eredivisie compared to the likes of the Premier League is its system for relegation. There is only one automatic relegation spot to the Eerste Divisie (First Division), compared to the traditional three many major leagues are used to, with the teams finishing 17th and 16th competing in separate promotion/relegation play-offs with team’s from the Eerste Divisie for the final two places in the top division.
As it stands, very few points separate bottom club FC Emmen with 14th placed Fortuna Sittard, so it is already shaping up to be a very tense and gripping fight to avoid the dreaded relegation drop and the agony of end of season play-offs. Naturally, we are inclined to see who is battling it out for the glory at the top, yet an added exciting dimension this year will be the scrap between potential five teams to avoid the drop.
The arrival of Götze
Although his career was stuttering, the signing of Mario Götze by PSV Eindhoven was seen as a major coup for the Eredivisie. He is a World Cup winner and was viewed until a couple of years ago as one of Europe’s most exciting attacking midfielders. And as we stated in this article, the move could be one that revitalizes his career.
And at present it is looking like a very shrewd move for player and club.
PSV are primed for a season-long challenge for the title with Ajax, with Götze playing a vital role. The fact he has been able to play 12 games across all competitions so far is arguably a feat in itself considering the injuries he has suffered these last few seasons, despite the odd muscle niggle causing him to miss a couple of games. That he has quickly adapted to PSV’s playing style and his new environment is fantastic for club, player and potentially country, with Götze already contributing four goals and three assists. How he continues to develop is a fascinating sub-plot to keep an eye on as the season progresses.