After a thrilling season last time round the new Eredivisie campaign promises more excitement as the Dutch big three look to force their way back into the reckoning for honours. For the first time in 50 years AFC Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven all finished outside the top two last term; AZ Alkmaar celebrated a historic second title and FC Twente were runners up while SC Heerenveen claimed the Dutch Cup.
AZ will begin their title defence with Ronald Koeman at the helm following the departure of Louis Van Gaal to FC Bayern München. Van Gaal is not the only key absentee with central midfielder Demy de Zeeuw leaving for rivals Ajax, though the arrivals of Sweden international Pontus Wernbloom and Danish 19-year-old Morten Nielsen give Koeman options in midfield. AZ have started confidently enough, with last season's Eredivisie top scorer Mounir El Hamdaoui on the scoresheet in their 5-1 demolition of Heerenveen in the Dutch Super Cup last Saturday.
De Zeeuw goes
Koeman, though, is not expecting an easy run. "It is not just any old player that has left; Demy is a Dutch international," the 46-year-old said. "We have some players in our squad who could replace him, but they still have to develop. I expect PSV to do better and Ajax also seem promising though they still have to prove it. Twente lost strength on the wings, but Heerenveen have not changed much." Eredivise young player of the year Eljero Elia has left Twente for Hamburger SV, while Marko Arnautović is out with a foot injury, leaving coach Steve McClaren on the hunt for reinforcements.
Martin Jol has replaced Marco van Basten at Ajax and will aim to bring the title back to Amsterdam for the first time since 2004. The additions of Thimotée Atouba from his former club Hamburger SV and De Zeeuw from AZ strengthen his hand, though Thomas Vermaelen has left for Arsenal FC. "It is hard to say how good we are compared to other clubs," Jol said cautiously. "It will not be easy, but it is possible, so we will try."
While Jol was wary of placing too much expectation on his side, there is no doubting PSV's ambitions. The Eindhoven club surrendered the title last season for the first time in five years and they have recruited heavily in a bid to win it back with new coach Fred Rutten joined by André Ooijer, Orlando Engelaar and Stanislav Manolev at the PSV Stadion. Feyenoord, meanwhile, start as outsiders once again with Leo Beenhakker working as an advisor alongside coach Mario Been. The season kicks off on Friday when Heerenveen, who have brought in Michal Papadopulos to replace departed top-scorer Danijel Pranjić, host Roda JC.
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