Ajax and PSV have sailed away while below them there is a competition of who can stay above the fray and be the best of the rest. Seven teams are directly challenging for third spot as the Eredivisie has thrown together a fine mix of favourites and dark horses in this exciting competition for 3rd place.

  • By Chaka Simbeye
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vil az feyFeyenoord dropped out of the title-race and parachuted into a race for third place which holds the allure of European football. Nine points seperate them in 3rd place and NEC Nijmegen in 9th place as the battle for the treasured 3rd spot could be one of the most hotly contested battles ever. There is a blend of usual suspects and surprise packages adding intrigue to a fine Eredivisie season which has spoiled neutral and fans alike with its twist and turns.

Eight Eredivisie games without a win meant Feyenoord relinquished their place in the title race and had to call on the trained eye of Dick Advocaat to aid young coach Giovani Van Bronchorst. Now the Rotterdam have four wins in their last four as they look to tighten their grip on third place while a KNVB Beker final against Utrecht awaits. The key to their mini-resurgence has been the reintroduction of players like Jens Toornstra and Bilal Basacikoglu who have re-energised and freshened up the team. One hopes that the right-flank of Dirk Kuyt and Rick Karsdorp can continue to prove vital in their push for silverware and a place in Europe.

Van Bronchorst has a tough end to his first season in management with matches against FC Twente, Groningen, Heracles, Willem II and NEC Nijmegen while they will also have to contest the KNVB Beker final. A strong finish will make their poor start to the second half of the season look like a minor bump in the road of a long journey rather than anything more damning as the Rotterdammers have it all to do in the final months of the season.

Two points behind Feyenoord are AZ Alkmaar in fourth as they have risen while their new signings have settled well and lifted them from mid-table where they were placed in December and into breathing distance of third. Vincent Janssen has 15 goals since the turn of the season which has catapulted him into top spot in the Eredivisie’s goalscorer’s charts and into the Dutch National Team as well as Danny Blind’s good graces. Behind him, he has a stellar supporting cast with Dabney Dos Santos and Alireza Jahanbaksh supplying him with ammo, Markus Henriksen supporting him physically and in terms of goals, Joris Van Overeem stringing things together and Ben Rienstra giving the team security.

However, AZ’s season gets tough as they begin their run-in at home against current Eredivisie champions and title contenders PSV without three of their first choice back four while Markus Henriksen and Alireza Jahanbakhsh will also miss out. Their final fixtures also include matches against Heerenveen, PEC Zwolle, ADO Den Haag and Utrecht on the final day of the season. Manager John Van Den Brom must hope that his squad is deep enough to weather this storm so they can have another crack at European football.

One point behind AZ in fifth are Utrecht who can raise a Sebastien Haller to AZ Alkmaar’s Vincent Janssen and have engrossed their fans with a brand of calculated and incisive football that has kept them sailing in the top half of the table. Ruud Booymans returned from injury in mid-season and provides a solid alternative or partner to Haller. Bart Ramselaar has been one of the stars of the season driving forward to great effect from the Utrecht midfield while Rico Streider’s strong positioning and metronomic passing mixed with Andreas Ludwig’s workrate creates an engine room that Yassin Ayoub is finding tough to break into at the moment. Timo Letschert’s recent callup to the Dutch National Team personifies that something special is happening in Utrecht.

Erik ten Haag’s brand of breathtaking football deserves reward as Pep Guardiola’s disciple has a shot at silverware in his first season with the KNVB Bekker final to look forward to. However, he must keep his team focused on the league as they too have a tough end to the season with Heracles, Ajax, Vitesse and AZ Alkmaar making up some of the fixtures in their final stretch of the season.

One point behind Utrecht is Heracles in sixth who have been the surprise package of the season led by 39 year-old manager John Stegeman. Mid-season saw top-scorer and prized asset Oussama Tannane depart for Saint-Etienne while Heracles were on the wrong end of a 6-3 thrashing and 5-0 bollocking at home AZ Alkmaar and Roda JC respectively during a four-game losing streak. Regardless, the team managed to hang on to their spot in the higher echelons of the league and with 2 wins in 2 behind them, they are still in the race for the coveted third spot. Illas Bel Hassani and Thomas Bruns have kept on moving as the attacking and creative hub of the team while Brahim Darri experienced a rise in his output as Jaroslav Navratil joined in on the party.

As every other team in this royal rumble for third, they too have a tough run in with Utrecht, Vitesse, Feyenoord, ADO and Groningen all left to play before the end of the season. Given the club were rooted bottom for much of last season, what they have done this season is nothing short of extraordinary with their intimate stadium, young manager and talented crop of players. One of the most well-run teams in the Eredivisie could continue a fairytale run all the way into Europe.

One point behind Heracles in seventh are FC Hollywood, Vitesse Arnhem who lost one of the most progressive managers in the league in Peter Bosz to Jordi Cruyff’s project at Maccaibi Tel Aviv. His interim replacement Rob Maas has struggled to continue what his predecessor started but Vitesse are still in the race for third with a shout. Vako Qazaishvili and Milot Rashica are two of the most exciting players to watch while the returning Dominic Solanke has also enjoyed a solid loan spell and could spur them forward. Marvelous Makamba has been nothing short of, well, marvelous while Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker has done enough to convince that his stay should be extended as Kevin Diks is growing as a right-back.

Maas has to galvanise his side for tough fixtures against NEC Nijmegen, ADO, Heracles, PSV Eindhoven, Utrecht and FC Twente. This special group of players who are capable of producing spectacular performances need to pull together under the interim boss as the club have been hanging around the top of the Eredivisie for years now but with nothing left to show for it. There could be changes on the technical bench and on the pitch in the summer but Vitesse have it all left to do right now.

Two points behind Vitesse are PEC Zwolle in 8th who are a symbol of what solid management on a stable ship could mean for Dutch clubs as since their return to the Eredivisie in 2012, they are now an established team in the top flight with KNVB Beker and Johan Cruyff Schaal trophies to show for it. Ron Jans is one of the most underrated managers in the country as his team will not stop in their constant search for improvement. Lars Veldwijk who has been on loan from Nottingham Forest has been nothing short of superb with his 13 goals and 9 assists, even earning admiring glances from the South African National Team. PEC will have to face Ajax, Roda, AZ Alkmaar, NEC Nijmegen and PSV Eindhoven in their final games of the season.

One point behind PEC is Ernest Faber’s well-drilled NEC Nijmegen side who sit in ninth place during their first season after promotion and after losing their manager Ruud Brood with their best player Alireza Jahanbakhsh. Next season will see them lose Faber to Groningen who sit in 13th place while top scorer Christian Santos and Navarone Foor will be out of contract in the summer. However, at the moment, they are a well-oiled counter-attacking machine who have made some remarkable buys and loans in the transfer market like Lucas Woudenberg from Feyenoord and Todd Kane from Chelsea who have been sublime this season. Gregor Breinburg is one of the most complete midfielders in the Eredivisie mixing defensive awareness and the ability to keep things ticking over in midfield.
The newly promoted side sending tremors throughout the Eredivisie have Vitesse, Utrecht, Cambuur, PEC Zwolle, Roda and Feyenoord in the next few months. Next season, they could lose nearly half of their starting lineup as they will have to continue to show their impeccable initiative in the transfer market which has got them this far. Many out of work coaches should be licking their lips at the prospect of managing the club next season as they have strong chance of securing European football.

A seven team rat race for European football will bring a sense of intrigue to the closing stages of the Eredivisie while also making for an exhilirating European playoff phase at the end of the season. Most of the participants of this battle will play each other while all the teams involved have a tough end to the season ahead of them as there are no easy games left. This competitive edge can only be good for the standard of football and competition in the Eredivisie as this like the title race, will go down to the wire.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)