With kick-off for the new season less than three weeks away, Andy Booth assesses the summers of runaway favourites for the Eredivisie 2015-16 title, Ajax and PSV.

  • By Andy Booth
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Following four consecutive titles with Ajax, Frank de Boer’s incredible run was abruptly ended last term as Philip Cocu’s PSV Eindhoven won the Eredivisie at a canter. Their first league title in 7 years was won by 17 points and frankly the outcome was rarely in doubt. However the loss of key men for PSV means that this season is unlikely to be such a one horse race.

Inadequacies of their rivals would seem to rule them out of the runnings. Neither AZ, Feyenoord, nor Vitesse have the resources or strength in depth to mount a serious challenge whilst financial troubles and an exodus at 2009-10 champions Twente has left them up in a precarious position ahead of the new season. All signs suggest that the two giants, who share 55 championship titles between them, will once again go head to head for the crown.
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Defending champions PSV will have a different feel to their squad this season with some big names having moved on. Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum swapped Eindhoven for England and Karim Rekik decided against making his loan from Man City permanent, opting for a move to Marseille instead.

Depay’s ability is obvious and few were surprised when he completed his big money transfer to Manchester United earlier this summer. The Dutch Football Talent of the Year was the league’s top scorer in 2014-15, scoring 22 in his 30 matches. Much more than just a goalscorer though, his speed and ruthlessly direct attacking style will be sorely missed.

Wijnaldum’s contribution to the side was just as important as Depay’s. His tenacity in midfield lifted the energy of the side and his ability to turn defence into attack epitomised the direct, counter attacking style the team often adopted. He held the team together and made them tick. His ability to chip in with a goal will be missing too; his return of 14 league goals was superb given how involved he was defensively.

Despite being only 24, Wijnaldum’s replacement Davy Pröpper, is a very experienced Eredivisie player now. Having spent his whole career at Vitesse so far the midfielder had expressed his desire to step up to one of the country’s bigger clubs and he now has the chance to prove his merit at PSV. Having made his national team debut last month, Pröpper arrives with good pedigree, but has big boots to fill.

More good news for Cocu is the return to fitness of Stijn Schaars. The 23 time capped midfielder missed virtually all of last season with a knee injury but is likely to be ready for the new campaign. In the absence of Wijnaldum, Pröpper and Schaars will have big roles to play as PSV seek to defend the title. Whilst another big positive is securing the permanent transfer of Andres Guardado from Valencia after last year’s loan.

Depay’s replacement, Maxime Lestienne, is more of a wildcard. The Belgian winger arrives on loan from Al-Arabi after a disappointing season on loan at Genoa, in which he scored just 1 goal, but Cocu will be hoping he can rediscover some of the form he displayed at Club Brugge where he scored at a ratio of 1 in 3.

Similarly Gaston Pereiro arrives at Philips Stadion as a relatively unknown entity to most fans. Having just turned 20, the attacking midfielder who arrives from Uruguayan side Nacional will be experiencing Europe for the first time. He is well thought of back home though and the €7m PSV were willing to spend on him suggests their confidence in the youngster.

As well as different personnel in midfield there are defensive concerns too. Karim Rekik’s two year loan spell has ended and Jeffrey Bruma now needs a new partner in the heart of the defence. Nicolas Isimat-Mirin is the most likely candidate to fill the void and it remains to be seen if the new partnership will work or expose the disruption.

Recent news that Jetro Willems has suffered ligament damage to his left knee and will miss the start of the new campaign is another huge blow for Cocu’s side. The left-back was in terrific form in 2014-15 and his 13 assists exemplify his importance to the team. New signing Simon Poulsen will fill in, but PSV are at their best with Willems playing.

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Meanwhile Ajax have not suffered such drastic losses. Of course, not having such exceptional talents in the first place made that more likely, but still they have largely kept hold of their better players. The loss of skipper Niklas Moisander to Sampdoria is manageable whilst the imminent departure of Ricardo Kishna to Lazio should be too. John Heitinga will plug the gap of experienced centre half and despite struggling with the pace of the Premier League and Bundesliga in recent years, at 31 he should still be able to do a decent job in the Eredivisie.

Mitchell Dijks returns to his former club after a positive stint at Willem II. He will offer competition to Nicolai Boilesen who will leave the club within a year. Dijks featured regularly in the Willem II side who performed above expectations last year to finish 9th.

Viktor Fischer is back from injury and Amin Younes, the new arrival from Borussia Mönchengladbach, offer fresh options going forward, softening the blow of the Kishna departure. The German looked bright during the recent European Under 21 Championships in the Czech Republic. Operating primarily as a winger, the small technician started each of Germany’s four matches. At club level, he hasn’t hit the ground running though. He struggled to break into the Gladbach first team whilst a spell on loan at 2. Bundesliga side Kaiserslautern proved unsuccessful. At €3m, he isn’t a huge risk and the side is unlikely to be built around him. Fischer and Anwar El-Ghazi will be first choice on the wings, ahead of Younes in the pecking order.

In central midfield Ajax have strengthened. Serbian international Nemanja Gudelj arrives from AZ after an excellent 2014-15 season, in which the Alkmaar outfit finished 3rd. Gudelj was their top scorer alongside Steven Berghuis with 11 goals and he will be hoping to carry that goal threat with him to Amsterdam. He offers a lot more than the likes of Thulani Serero, adds class and will improve the balance of the Ajax midfield which disappointed last season.

Up front Yaya Sanogo joins on loan from Arsenal and will compete with Arkadiusz Milik to lead the line following the sale of Kolbeinn Sigthorsson to Nantes. Young Sanogo has not enjoyed the best of times since moving to the Premier League two years ago. In his 21 league appearances, including 10 on loan at Crystal Palace, he has failed to get his name on the scoresheet. Frank de Boer and Arsene Wenger will both be hoping he fairs better in the Eredivisie.

With just under six weeks of the transfer window remaining, there is still plenty of time for both sides to further invest. However at this stage Ajax have had the better summer. The departures of Depay and Wijnaldum will hurt PSV unless their replacements perform well above expectations or more reinforcements arrive. Coupled with Ajax’s steady progress, the gulf in quality between the two squads has been slashed and 2015-16 looks set to be an intriguing, close run season.

Andy Booth (27 Posts)