If last week was a disappointing one for the Netherlands' defeated UEFA Europa League quarter-finalists, the next three could prove just the opposite for PSV Eindhoven or FC Twente, who, along with AFC Ajax, are featuring in a thrilling title race.
PSV's European adventure came to an end when they lost 6-3 on aggregate to SL Benfica following a 2-2 second-leg draw in Eindhoven, but 72 hours later they were back on top of the Eredivise after winning 2-0 against Heracles Almelo. "It was a very tough afternoon," admitted PSV coach Fred Rutten. "In possession we were painful to watch in the first half. We can do much better, but in the end it's the three points that are important and it's the result that counts. To become champions, you also have to win these kinds of matches."
PSV captain Balázs Dzsudzsák, meanwhile, put a positive spin on his side's European exit. "Although it was a pity to go out of the Europa League, in a way it's good we don't have to play so many games because we don't have enough [squad depth] to give people a rest," he told UEFA.com. "The competition is really tight, three teams can become champions, so now we have to give 1,000% and show we are the best in Holland. It won't be easy, but if you want be champions it never is."
PSV's task was made easier, however, by Twente's second successive 1-1 draw, which enabled Rutten's men to sneak ahead on goal difference. If the Eindhoven outfit are to win the title for a 22nd time they must hold their nerve for their remaining three matches, the first of which pits them against the side they thrashed 10-0 earlier this season. Feyenoord are unlikely to be such a walkover this time, though, having scored ten goals themselves in their last two league matches.
Twente will be hoping Feyenoord do exact revenge. A bad week in which their European adventure concluded against Villarreal CF was compounded by De Graafschap's 89th-minute equaliser on Sunday. The Tukkers are now level on 65 points with PSV and still in the frame to defend their title. Indeed, they could yet clinch an unprecedented double, having also qualified for the Dutch Cup final against Ajax.
"We've still got plenty to look forward to," said midfielder Wout Brama. "We can still become champions and cup winners so these last games are all cup finals. I think we can build on what we achieved in Europe and play the rest of the season full of confidence. We must take it game by game, we can't get too far ahead of ourselves by thinking about the title. This approach worked for us last year and hopefully it will again."
Defender Oguchi Onyewu is also positive about his side's title prospects. "We're still up there, we still have the cup final to play on 8 May and with two big trophies to play for we're expecting a strong finish," he said. "The club have high aspirations to win the league so we can play in the Champions League again and acquire more European experience. I think we're making a name for ourselves, so hopefully we'll win the league and qualify directly for the group stage of the Champions League."
The remainder of their task starts at fifth-placed ADO Den Haag, who have lost just twice at home all season. They then host Willem II before travelling to Ajax – where they have not won a league match for six years – a week after facing Frank de Boer's side in the Dutch Cup showpiece.
Yet Ajax cannot be ruled out either. They too are gunning for a domestic double after closing to within a point of the top two with a 2-1 comeback victory at NEC Nijmegen. "We started dramatically, and had to thank our opponents that it only was 1-1 at half-time," said De Boer. "A draw might have been a fairer result, but obviously I am extremely happy with this 2-1 victory."
Like their Dutch Cup final opponents, however, Ajax are holding out for a mistake from PSV to win the league. "Anything is still possible," added De Boer, who could clinch the title on his 41st birthday. "I'd rather have seen PSV spilling points instead of Twente. We have to still depend on PSV, but all we can do is look at ourselves. We have to keep fighting for victory in every match."
Ajax host SBV Excelsior this weekend, before travelling to SC Heerenveen, after which they complete what could be a dramatic finale to their campaign with that double-header against Twente.
©UEFA.com 1998-2016. All rights reserved.