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Ajax and PSV lead the way

Published: Friday 26 December 2003, 11.43CET
Winter review: Two familiar names may top the Eredivisie but it has not been plain sailing. features

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Published: Friday 26 December 2003, 11.43CET

Ajax and PSV lead the way

Winter review: Two familiar names may top the Eredivisie but it has not been plain sailing.

The Netherlands' traditional big three, AFC Ajax, Feyenoord and PSV Eindhoven, may have been relieved to welcome the winter break.

Mixed form
Ajax and PSV may be duelling for the title, but neither managed a goal in their final matches prior to the shutdown, which runs until 21 January. Moreover, only one Ereviside team remain in Europe, in stark contrast to recent distinguished performances.

Ajax stumble
Deposed as champions last season by PSV, Ajax currently lead the way. But whereas they began the season at a rate of knots, in the last month they have crashed out of the UEFA Champions League, finishing bottom of their group, departed the Dutch Cup at home to NAC Breda and ended the year with a 2-0 defeat by FC Twente. That followed a run where they had picked up 25 points from nine fixtures, but they are now level with PSV, albeit with a game in hand.

Summer changes
The summer losses of Cristian Chivu, Andy van der Meyde and Ahmed Hossam 'Mido' have weighed heavy, despite the additions of Wesley Sonck, Zdenek Grygera, Tom Soetaers and Julien Escudé. Reaching the Champions League quarter-finals was consolation for Ajax's failure to retain the title last season. This time, only the league crown will do for Ronald Koeman's side, but PSV are in no mood to surrender that honour.

Free-scoring run
Guus Hiddink's team were tipped to retain the championship having kept their squad together this summer. But despite Mateja Kezman's continued prolific form - 15 league goals and counting - they have found themselves trailing Ajax, despite being unbeaten away from home. However, prior to ending the year with a 0-0 draw at SBV Vitesse, they had embarked on a run of four straight league wins, scoring 17 goals, the highlight a 7-0 defeat of FC Volendam, when Kezman scored four times.

UEFA Cup chance
They are also the only Dutch side left in Europe, earning a UEFA Cup third-round tie against AC Perugia as a consolation for being pipped by AS Monaco and RC Deportivo La Coruña in the Champions League. The return of Marc van Bommel from the hernia problem he suffered in early November will also be a boost, and they remain in the Dutch Cup.

New-look Feyenoord
Feyenoord, though, are facing their first finish outside the top three since 1997/98. They lie fourth, four points behind AZ Alkmaar, after a summer overhaul that saw Paul Bosvelt, Pierre van Hooijdonk, Bonaventura Kalou and Brett Emerton depart and Dirk Kuijt, Danko Lazovic, Peter van den Berg, Hossam Ghaly, Jean Carlos Dondé and Alfred Schreuder arrive.

Alkmaar impress
With only two Champions League slots, Feynoord already seem set to have to settle for another UEFA Cup campaign unless they can make up the nine-point gap on the top two. A more realistic challenge could come from Alkmaar, who sit five points off the top and are impressing under former Ajax coach Co Adriaanse. They boast prolific strikers in Ali Elkhattabi and Kenneth Perez, who have scored 12 and eight goals respectively.

European challenge
Feyenoord could even struggle for a UEFA Cup place as Willem II, SC Heerenveen, FC Utrecht and Twente are all eyeing a top-five finish. It is Twente whom Bert van Maarwijk's men face in the Dutch Cup quarter-finals in February. Holders Utrecht are also still involved, and were drawn at home to second division Heracles Almelo.

Relegation dogfight
Lower down the table, SBV Vitesse's financial troubles are beginning to tell on the pitch, and they face a relegation dogfight with newly promoted FC Volendam, ADO Den Haag and bottom club FC Zwolle.

Last updated: 27/12/03 17.57CET

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