Ah, Dutch football. The Eredivisie is always on the verge of dropping into oblivion, never to be called a top league again, but the draw of historic teams, great young players, and awesome storylines always prevails. Tactically, this could be one of the best Eredivisie seasons in recent memory. So, without further ado, feel free to peruse my preview of the Dutch teams that interest you. Or all of them (if you have time)!
Note: Teams in order of last season’s table.
Depth chart key:
- Red lettering = likely to leave
- Red highlight = injured
- Yellow Highlight = work permit under review
- Bold lettering = multiple, non-linear positions
I happen to have just finished reading Pep Guardiola: The Evolution, an up-close and personal account of the Spanish manager’s three years in Munich. Besides the tactical nuances and brilliant stories, a huge takeaway from Martí Perarnau’s ode to Pep is the importance of letting managers adapt. Dutch football is no exception to the general rule that immediate success, or at least hint at success, is absolutely required for top teams. With Mark van Bommel preparing to take on his first season at the helm of PSV Eindhoven, we’ll see just how patient the club’s directors really are.
Phillip Cocu led the North Brabant club to three Eredivisie titles during his tenure, including last season’s win that earnt him a move to Fenerbahçe. Cocu’s side was known for its direct play, thriving with the speedy Hirving Lozano out wide, and its knack for ultimately winning close affairs.
PSV will try to tackle a domestic title defense as well as European campaign, but two road bumps stand in the way. Colombian defender Santiago Arias was a key component to PSV’s forward movement and defensive stability on the right-hand side and has moved to Atlético Madrid for €18 million. Joshua Brenet is another full-back to leave the club, to Hoffenheim, but hope is on the horizon.
Denzel Dumfries and Angeliño had breakout seasons at SC Heerenveen and NAC Breda, respectively, last year. Dumfries is a Dutch youth international who, at only 22, has asserted himself as a top Eredivisie right-back. His athleticism and crossing accuracy make him a constant threat on the right flank. Spaniard Angeliño is only 21 and impressed greatly at NAC on loan from Manchester City last season. He won the league’s “Talent of the Month” four times and will bring his great positional sense and technique to PSV’s left flank. Having spent only €7 million on both players combined, PSV have begun to build the future of their defense.
However, the champions’ potential stumbling block isn’t its squad strength (bar a late summer move by Lozano), but instead its squad cohesion. The Johan Cruijff Schaal (Dutch Super Cup) gave us a glimpse at Van Bommel’s first competitive match in charge. PSV lost to Feyenoord on penalties, having failed to score or concede for 90 minutes.
From the start, it became clear that Van Bommel is going to shake things up. As opposed to Cocu’s run-and-gun style of play, PSV were much more measured and slow in the season’s curtain-raiser. Last year PSV played only 294 successful short passes per match compared to Ajax’s 426, AZ Alkmaar’s 420, and Feyenoord’s 404 (WhoScored). But in Eindhoven last week, PSV were much more willing to pass around the back and maintain possession.
The issue isn’t that the possession-oriented approach cannot work for a squad like PSV Eindhoven. The match was lost due to a failed implementation. Clearly, an adjustment period is needed for every new manager and the appointment of Mark van Bommel at the Philips Stadion is no different.
PSV Eindhoven have done well to maintain key players like Lozano, Jeroen Zoet, and Luuk de Jong. Losing Marco van Ginkel after an injury and subsequent inability for Chelsea to loan him back means that the midfield needs a reorganizing period. Nick Viergever makes the jump from Ajax to PSV and looks like a solid pick for the left side of central defense. Uruguayan midfielder Gastón Pereiro will need to pick up his game and provide a much needed creative engine in the final third of the pitch, while Jorrit Hendrix and Bart Ramselaar could make up a very capable double-pivot.
In terms of the squad’s overall talent, it seems PSV will be relying heavily on youth this season. While the likes of De Jong and Daniel Schwaab will provide experience, the entire bench consists of almost all youngsters. Maximiliano Romero and Donyell Malen will get chances up top, while Brazilian Mauro Júnior has shown flashes of brilliance. Whether this inexperience will hurt PSV’s chances this season or not, it will almost definitely benefit the club in the long term.
If Van Bommel can implement a smart passing style with a more aggressive midfield and overlapping full-backs, PSV have all the chance to succeed once again. However, we know squads take time to adjust to new management and a switch from direct play to short passing football will make that adaptation even more difficult.
If there has to be one favorite to win the Eredivisie this season, it has to be AFC Ajax. The Amsterdammers have perennially underachieved in domestic competition recently, but it’s hard to ignore the improvements made by director Marc Overmars this summer. The additions of Dušan Tadic and hometown hero Daley Blind — both on the tail end of their primes — make this Ajax squad absolutely mouth-watering. Hakim Ziyech, Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt all look set to stay and fight for the club on home turf and across Europe.
With a brilliant squad at his disposal, Erik ten Hag has little excuse for a failure to win a trophy this season. However, despite only being in charge for eight months, the Dutchman has got his squad playing magnificent football. Against Sturm Graz in the Champions League, a fluid front line of David Neres, Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, and Tadic intertwined with Ziyech to create a handsome attacking unit. Youth academy graduates Carel Eiting and Noussair Mazraoui have filled in shallow positions nicely. Everything seems to be falling into place.
Domestically, we know how Ajax will approach their opponents. Lots of passing, playing the ball out of the back, and high-tempo attacking. All ten outfield players will likely see touches in the opponents’ half and plenty of goals will be scored.
The question yet to be resolved is how Erik ten Hag’s side will pressure their opponents. Two seasons ago under Peter Bosz, Ajax played like a homage to the European-dominating side of the 1970s, implementing lung-busting presses and quick counter-pressing in the final third. Early into the 18/19 campaign, Ajax have played with a lot less pressure when the opposition takes the ball out of the back.
This could be down to Ten Hag’s meticulous game-by-game adjustments, but it could be a new strategy to conserve energy and manage matches better. Against Sturm Graz, Ajax countered quickly and cruelly when the Austrians pushed high and left themselves exposed. Neres specifically is a treat to watch when a ball is played into space behind the lines, and his newfound role on the left wing allows him to cross in on his favoured left foot.
Klaas-Jan Huntelaar has been granted an opportunity up top amidst Kasper Dolberg’s injury worries and looks to have nailed down a starting role for the season. The veteran target man involves himself with Ajax’s buildup play, dropping deep into midfield, and has been a bit unlucky with his finishing. Nevertheless, he’s scored three goals in three Champions League qualifiers.
Ajax are a fusion of veteran stability (Lasse Schöne, Huntelaar, Blind), young flashiness (De Ligt, Frenkie de Jong, Neres), and exemplary talents (Ziyech, Tadic, Tagliafico). With a deep bench including former Utrecht star Zakaria Labyad, a recovering Dolberg, and the exciting Donny van de Beek (just to name a few), Ajax look set for a serious title challenge. The only question is whether they will have the wherewithal to finish the job.
Last season, AZ Alkmaar surprised everyone with a third-place finish. John van den Brom led his side to play with verve and control, keeping the ball well and lashing viscious attacks upon the opposing goal. However, the summer sales of Wout Weghorst and Alireza Jahanbakhsh have taken away 57 combined goals and assists from the squad in one fell swoop. Will the young team have enough fire power to retain a top three spot?
The initial signs say no. AZ lost to Kazakhstanian side Kairat Almaty in their Europa League qualifying tie, denying their fans a chance to enjoy continental football. This came as a surprise because Van den Brom’s side has seemingly done well to replace Jahanbakhsh and Weghorst. ADO Den Haag hitman Björn Johnsen joined the club after a phenomenal season, while Dorin Rotariu joins the club on loan from Club Brugge in Belgium.
Johnsen and Rotariu look to be like-for-like replacements, while skilful winger Calvin Stengs will also be in contention for a wide role following his season-long injury spell. Even 17-year-old Myron Boadu will look to make an impact up top for AZ this season.
In midfield and defense, everything remains the same for AZ. Marco Bizot anchors an athletic defense in goal. Ahead, full-backs Jonas Svensson and Thomas Ouwejan have proven themselves capable of defending diligently and running forward, while Greek center-back Pantelis Chatzidiakos is one of the more promising defenders in the Dutch game.
The reliable, youthful midfield trio of Fredrik Midtsjö, Teun Koopmeiners, and 20-year-old team captain Guus Til is one of the best in the country. While Til has shown a knack for getting into the box and creating/finishing chances, Midtsjö and Koopmeiners make up a smart, possession-oriented double-pivot capable of conquering most high presses. Marko Vejinovic joins the midfield from Feyenoord following his season-long injury layoff.
Graphic provided by the brilliant @11tegen11 on Twitter, using data from Opta.
Last season, according to WhoScored, Alkmaar attempted 484 short passes per match, the second most in the league behind Ajax. A lot of this passing was between defenders and deeper midfielders, but attackers like Alireza often got involved early against less capable defenses. AZ have the capability to control matches 90% of the time, but two of the top three Eredivisie scorers have left the club.
Making up for the loss of scoring and creative ability won’t be easy, but the pieces are in place. Oussama Idrissi and Calvin Stengs could form a deadly wing partnership for years to come, while the aforementioned midfield and defense are sturdy and technical. Van den Brom has work to do, but no European football will certainly help last season’s most improved team and their bid to build upon a top three finish.
Coming out of the Johan Cruijff Schaal win, Feyenoord looked like a squad with a coherent tactical plan. Giovanni van Bronckhorst saw his side draw 0-0 in regular time with champions PSV, using a solid 4-4-2 defensive block to deny any available space to pass. Yet, after a horrific performance against Slovakian side AS Trencin in their Europa League qualifying match, a resounding 4-0 defeat, things don’t seem so clear anymore.
How Feyenoord (blue) and PSV (red) lined up in the 2018 Johan Cruijff Schaal. Feyenoord defended diligently and saw the game out 0-0, leading to a penalty shootout which they won.
Van Bronckhorst has been praised for his ability to get Feyenoord to perform well domestically. This was highlighted by a league win in 2016/17, a brilliant feat considering PSV and Ajax’s financial strength. Feyenoord are strong too, no doubt, but the Rotterdammers have had to be a bit more careful on the transfer market and with their man management.
AZ Alkmaar managed to claim third place over Feyenoord last year in a successful attempt to disrupt the top three hegemony. But star players have been retained and the squad supplemented with signings, leading many to tout Feyenoord as potential title winners. Nicolai Jörgensen, Steven Berghuis, Tonny Vilhena, and Jerry St. Juste all look poised for great performances this season. Robin van Persie and Jens Toornstra add experience and clinicality. The signings of Jordy Clasie and Yassin Ayoub will bolster a physical midfield.
However, unlike the performance against PSV, Feyenoord’s issue may actually be their defensive strength instead of clinicality. The Slovakians made mincemeat of Sven van Beek and Bart Nieuwkoop in defense, while young goalkeeper Justin Bijlow didn’t calm any nerves following Brad Jones’ departure last week.
Gio van Bronckhorst, more than any other top three managers, has a lot of squad improving to do. Whether that comes in the form of player rotation or tactical reshuffling, it seems a necessity following the loss in Slovakia. Steven Berghuis and Sam Larsson can form the most clinical wing partnership in the league if the chances are granted to them, but the rest of the team looks lost and out of their depth at the moment.
One constant over the past few seasons has been FC Utrecht. The diamond midfield-using squad has been a top-five team for three years, but the departure of Erik ten Hag last winter spelt trouble. According to tussendelinies, Utrecht were a big dropper, losing eight points from the previous season. The departures of Zakaria Labyad (Ajax) and Yassin Ayoub (Feyenoord) won’t make it any easier to maintain a top-five status this season.
Jean-Paul de Jong took over when Ten Hag left for Amsterdam and continued in much of the same vein. Unlike most Dutch sides, Utrecht play in a 4-4-2 with all four midfielders in a central role. Ayoub wasa the workhorse of the midfield and Labyad often played up top with Gyrano Kerk, a young and direct striker. Kerk remains, as does number six Rico Strieder and attacking midfielder Sander van de Streek, but the holes left by Ayoub and Labyad will be difficult to pave over.
Cyriel Dessers showed a lot of promise up top last season and a combined strike force with the Belgian and Kerk could provide bundles of goals. Utrecht play quite direct but like to pressure their opponents, meaning the strikers are not only important for goals but for pressing as well.
Perhaps veteran utility player Urby Emanuelson will step up and take a creative role for his own. Or maybe new signing Simon Gustafson will emulate the link between midfield and attack that Labyad so expertly produced. New defensive signing Emil Bergström will partner with captain Willem Janssen in the centre of defense. Their work is cut out for them, as Utrecht’s high-pressure system will give opponents some space to work with.
We’ve seen Utrecht come back from player losses before. Sofyan Amrabat and Sebastien Haller were sold last summer and Utrecht still managed to finish comfortably in the European playoffs (albeit missing out on European football after losing to Vitesse). The question is whether De Jong will be tasked with improving upon a fifth-place finish or simply with keeping Utrecht afloat.
Along with Utrecht and AZ, Vitesse Arnhem have been a club constantly looking to challenge the top three sides in the country. Russian manager Leonid Slutski has taken over the first team squad and will oversee a team full of new additions and old faces.
Slovenian forward Tim Matavž has a proven track record in the Netherlands and scored sixteen Eredivisie goals last season. Captain Bryan Linssen’s inward runs on the left side make him a constant threat on goal. In midfield, Thulani Serero and Navarone Foor are capable of breaking down defenses and controlling tempo. In defense, full-backs Alexander Büttner and Vyacheslav Karavaev have the stamina and technique to run down the line and contribute crosses.
In terms of new signings, Chelsea have loaned Vitesse two players (as of writing). Veteran goalkeeper Eduardo and young central defender Jake Clarke-Salter both come in from London ready to aid Vitesse’s campaign. Danish defender Rasmus Thelander will likely partner Clarke-Salter in defense and former Ajax youth defender Danilho Doekhi will look to break into the team. Midfielder Matus Bero and full-back Khalid Karami can both claim to be amongst the best backup players in the league.
Vitesse have the talent in defense and midfield to control most other Eredivisie sides. Serero and Foor can each drop deep and carry the ball forward and the previously discussed full-backs have great on-the-ball skills. Thomas Bruns will likely lead the midfield and try to find space between the lines. Matavž may be the one to convert most of the chances, but Linssen and Roy Beerens will carry a lot of the creative burden in the final third.
How Vitesse went about building up against FC Viitorul in a Europa League qualifying match.
Slutski not only has a very strong starting eleven to work with, but a very strong and talented rotational squad to draw upon. Oussama Darfalou was signed from Algeria this summer and could be the long-term replacement for Tim Matavž. Hilary Gong — signed from AS Trencin — looks like a great spark plug off the bench. The goalkeeper and central defensive positions are packed to the brim, and even young full-backs Lassana Faye and Max Clark have the talent to make an impact.
A closely contested loss to FC Basel in the Europa League third qualifying round showed us just how talented and determined this Vitesse squad is. The Swiss team has a packed roster, but Slutski’s side held them for over ninety minutes before former Vitesse forward Ricky van Wolfswinkel nicked a winner. But even if Vitesse fail to mount a comeback, the signs are clear. The Arnhem-based club isn’t here to mess around. If Slutski knows how to manage this squad and they get a bit lucky, I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw Vitesse hovering around the top three come Christmas time.
ADO Den Haag
The club from The Hague somewhat surprisingly finished in a European playoff spot last season. Björn Johnsen’s goalscoring exploits were a large reason behind this, but that shouldn’t completely diminish ADO’s chances this season. Alfons Groenendijk has built a team with a clear identity, capable of causing upsets against any side in the country.
The loss of Johnsen threatens to seep the goalscoring power out of Den Haag, so it’s vitally important that others step up. Yuning Zhang is the (loaned) replacement for the Norwegian striker and a good season from the Chinese marksman will likely correlate with a good season from the club. ADO play very directly and quickly, so chances must be taken when they arise.
Midfielder Nasser El Khayati takes up a role close to the striker in possession, while veteran Lex Immers forms a pivot between defense and attack. A strong back line is anchored by Wilfried Kanon and Tom Beugelsdijk, two strong defensive presences able to cut out danger deep in their own half.
Graphic provided by the brilliant @11tegen11 on Twitter, using data from Opta.
ADO will rotate the ball around their offensive formation when possible, but a commonly used option is route-one football. Expect a lot of long balls towards the front line or midfield. However, their inability to truly control a match — combined with the loss of, arguably, the most clinical Eredivisie forward last season — may see Groenendijk’s side fall down the table this year.
SC Heerenveen will be one of the most exciting teams to track during this coming season. Combining speed with technical skill, youth with experience, the Frisians are in a constant state of waiting. Will they take the leap towards the top of the table or drop into Dutch football purgatory? Eighth place last season could be chalked up as a disappointment and the fans of Heerenveen will be wanting much more.
Martin Ødegaard was brilliant for Heerenveen on loan from Real Madrid, while new defensive signing Denzel Dumfries added plenty of key passes from the right flank. Both players have moved on — the latter to PSV for over €5 million — but the core of last year’s squad has been retained. Centre-back partners Kik Pierie and Daniel Höegh, the former only 18, are astute and dependable. Arbër Zeneli and Morten Thorsby add pace and skill to the squad. Sam Lammers, on loan from PSV, has been touted as a potential top scorer in the league.
But everything is not well in the Friesland. Captain and sturdy veteran midfielder Stijn Schaars is injured for the first half of the season. Sparta Rotterdam defender Sherel Floranus has been brought in to replace Dumfries, his former teammate, but isn’t as refined nor strong. Ødegaard’s creativity must be replaced, but Nemanja Mihajlovic and Marcos Rojas are yet to impress out wide.
Jan Olde Riekerink takes over the squad hoping to instill a winning breed of football. But it has been over a year since his last job, when Galatasaray sacked him, and he has lots of work to do. That being said, Heerenveen performed very well last season for a club finishing just above mid-table. They passed the ball calmly, in both a short and direct manner, and created lots of chances.
Most factors point towards an uptick in Heerenveen’s form this year. Zeneli, Lammers, Thorsby, Höegh, and ‘keeper Warner Hahn form a solid spine with creativity and solidity. The bench is packed with capable talents, like Lucas Woudenberg, Michel Vlap, and Pelle van Amersfoort. When quality young talents combine with skilled veteran players, the recipe for success in the Eredivisie has been built.
The first half of last season was a dream for PEC Zwolle. Thirty-three points meant the Blauwvingers were firmly in place for European qualification. However, PEC only managed a third of their point total in the second half of the season, condemning them to a ninth-place finish outside of the European playoff spots. What had begun as a dream season ended with a lot less happiness.
Matters have been made even worse this summer. Defender Philippe Sandler left for Manchester City, while Mustafa Saymak and Youness Mokhtar — two crucial pieces in Zwolle’s attack — each saw their contracts out and departed for Turkey.
Luckily, thanks to the team’s smart scouting and frugal negotiating, a new wave of young players have joined the club. Mike van Duinen joins from Excelsior as the presumed striker of choice. Vito van Crooij and Clint Leemans, two key players in VVV-Venlo’s rise to and success in the Eredivisie, join for only €1 million total. Youth players Gustavo Hamer (Feyenoord) and Zian Flemming (Ajax) both have the potential to make an immediate impact in Zwolle.
Manager John van ‘t Schip was on the top of the world last year and was touted as a potential replacement for Marcel Keizer at Ajax. But now, the Dutch/Canadian will be tasked with rebuilding a squad with bags of potential. Danish winger Younes Namli was extremely efficient last season, while midfielders Ryan Thomas and Rick Dekker are smart, skillful, and sturdy. Kingsley Ehizibue made a name for himself as a top defender in the league last season and 16-year-old Sepp van den Berg is on the verge of breaking into the starting eleven.
The pieces are in place for PEC Zwolle to become one of the Netherland’s most dynamic teams. Van ‘t Schip’s side can play a mix of styles — pressurizing the opponents and keeping the ball or simply playing quickly and directly — which could lead to long-term success. Financially, PEC are nowhere near the top three in the league, or even the likes of Vitesse and AZ. But we’ve seen that they have the power and tactical acumen to succeed. Now, it is only a matter of putting the results together throughout ten months.
Heracles Almelo are one of those clubs that could seemingly slot themselves mid-table for the rest of eternity. However, this season could see them change fortunes in either a positive or negative way. On one side, they’ve kept hold of star winger Brandley Kuwas despite links to British clubs. New manager, German Frank Wormuth, has been aided with no less than four German-speaking signings including midfielder Alexander Merkel from Admira Wacker.
But Wormuth doesn’t speak Dutch, and a serious divide between expectations and results could ensue. Spanish striker Adrián Dalmau is an unknown quantity. A defense that conceded 64 goals (fourth-most in the league) has only seen additions of players from the German lower divisions and Schalke’s reserves. Silvester van der Water, a player bought from Almere City, could be a starting attacker if one of Kuwas or Kristoffer Peterson picks up an injury. Heracles have an abundance of bodies but — bar Kuwas — no true difference makers.
Some pundits have picked Heracles Almelo for a surprising relegation fight despite their tenth-place finish months ago. With a depleted defense, uninspiring midfield, and questionable striker situation, this is not outside the boundaries of possibilities. However, a wide duo of Kuwas and Peterson provided 32 total goals and assists last term. If both men are on their game for ten months, a European spot is possible. If Kuwas is sold before the end of August, a relegation could be on the cards.
For a club with such a small budget, Excelsior Rotterdam have done magnificently well to avoid relegation in recent seasons. Lately, though, a few key departures could spell the end of their time in the Eredivisie. Mitchell van der Gaag was widely regarded as the best manager in the league last year as he guided Excelsior to eleventh, their highest finish since the 1980s. But the manager, along with star players Mike van Duinen and Hicham Faik (among others), have departed.
The figure of Excelsior’s squad currently resembles a team prepared to fight relegation. Jurgen Mattheij and Ryan Koolwijk are more than capable central players, as is creative talent Luigi Bruins. But besides those three, creativity and high-level talent is hard to find. Jinty Caenepeel is a capable winger, but the only true forward replacement for Van Duinen is Denis Mahmudov, a signing from the second division.
Adrie Poldervaart won’t likely replicate the smart tactics of Van der Gaag, but he can keep Excelsior away from the relegation spots. Whether or not he will is still up in the air, but many are leaning towards a bottom of the table finish for the small Rotterdam group.
FC Groningen’s 12th-place finish last season was somewhat of an anomaly in the Dutch Eredivisie. Groningen are renowned for their great scouting network and consistency over the past decade, but the recent bottom half finish was their worst since 2012. However, some smart summer moves make Groningen a favourite to leap past three or four clubs and challenge for a European place.
Despite their poor finish, Groningen were renowned across the country for their extremely young midfield. Ludovit Reis, Tom van de Looi, and Ritsu Doan all picked up major minutes despite being 20 or younger. Doan recently made his loan move from Japanese side Gamba Osaka permanent, and only at the expense of €1.7 million for the club.
Goalkeeper Sergio Padt won plaudits for his point-winning saves last season. Youngsters Julian Chabot (Sparta) and Deyovaisio Zeefuik (Ajax) join the club permanently to bolster the defense for years to come. Up front, Mimoun Mahi is probably the club’s most valuable player and the winger is set for yet another quality season. Mateo Cassierra signs on loan from Ajax for the season and will likely be Groningen’s starting striker.
So, everything seems to be in place for the Green-White Army to mount a challenge well within the top half of the league. The only major question mark is the team’s new manager, Danny Buijs. The Dutchman has only managed one side in his career, third division Kozakken Boys. Despite leading them to two consecutive second-place finishes, it will be a difficult task both inside the locker room and on the pitch to adapt to the Eredivisie.
Buijs is inexperienced, but Groningen are perhaps one of the better Dutch sides for him to grow as a manager alongside. Their most talented starting eleven possible, according to my estimates, has an average age of only 24.
Groningen struggled to keep the ball consistently last season and never really claimed an identity as their own. With players like Doan, Reis, and Mahi improving year by year, they have the chance to identify as one of western Europe’s most exciting young sides. It will take time as their core develops, but Danny Buijs can begin constructing it this year.
Willem II come into the new season with mixed feelings. Last year the Tilburg side struggled to keep the ball and create chances (10.9 shots per match the lowest in the league). On the other hand, Spanish striker Fran Sol is one of the most clinical in the country. An array of players leaving on free transfers have been replaced in stride; Diego Palacios and Dimitrios Kolovos join on loan, and plenty of talent comes in permanently — led by midfielder Pol Llonch.
Dutch coach Adrie Koster joins Willem II with a CV packed with experience. Koster managed Willem in the early nineties before taking over 14 teams, including Excelsior, Ajax, Club Brugge, and multiple Dutch youth international sides. However, this is Koster’s first actual managerial position since 2014. Will the Dutchman bore his men with outdated ideas, or is Koster the revelation the club needs?
We’re not sure about that yet, but one thing is certain: the success or failure of Willem II rides on the shoulders (or boots) of Fran Sol. A former Real Madrid youth player, Sol has scored 26 goals in 62 Eredivisie appearances for the club. He’s battled back against cancer in recent years, but a recent surgery has not stopped his phenomenal performances. Clubs in England and Spain have flirted with signing the 26-year-old, but it seems for now Sol will play in the Netherlands.
As mentioned before, Willem II really struggled to create chances to see out matches. One possible change that Koster could make is the usage of a back five. The club has three or four capable central defenders (when healthy) and some very good wide defenders. Fernando Lewis, specifically, has the ability to get up the pitch and contribute to attacking moves. Three full-backs have arrived at the club since January, so perhaps now is the time to put their overall qualities to good use.
NAC Breda did their job last season: survive relegation after being promoted. Now it’s time to build on that success and push for a European place, something many people believe is possible in the near future. Even though NAC didn’t sell many important players, a lot of their squad was loaned from affiliate Manchester City. And for a club so heavily reliant on those loan players, a large shift in squad balance is expected.
The previously acclaimed Mitchell van der Gaag has taken over the reigns in Breda, where his 19-year-old son Jordan is actually on the cusp of a squad place. Van der Gaag will be met with a squad missing Thierry Ambrose’s firepower, Angeliño’s great work rate, and Manu García’s creativity. Yet, even with the loan departures, things are looking up.
Mark Birighitti is a calming presence in goal, while City loanee Erik Palmer-Brown will partner Menno Koch in defense. Pele van Anholt and Jurich Carolina join the club as presumed first choice full-backs, while Utrecht midfielder Anouar Kali will be a crucial anchor in NAC’s midfield. A plethora of players capable of playing deep in midfield probably means Breda will use somewhat of a double-pivot, likely with Kali and Karol Mets or Arno Verschueren.
Luka Ilic joins temporarily from City as a potential key midfielder. The Serbian is highly touted in Manchester and certainly has the potential to breakout this season. Up front, Mitchell te Vrede will take over goalscoring duties while Mikhail Rosheuvel and Mounir El Allouchi provide support out wide.
Besides the striker position, NAC Breda can consider themselves one of the deepest teams in the league. Arijanet Muric is a quality goalkeeper on loan from Man City. Fabian Sporkslede was one of the top right-backs in the league for a while last season. As mentioned, the midfield is packed with talent young and experienced. Even on the wings, players like Giovanni Korte and Gervane Kastaneer would be first choice for many other Eredivisie sides.
I am very excited for this NAC side. Mitchell Van der Gaag’s phenomenal performances with Excelsior, a plethora of great talent, and smart supplementary loan signings make this team one to watch. They may not yet have the talent to dominate matches, but they will certainly look to push towards the top eight within a year or two.
Last year, Maurice Steijn successfully navigated VVV’s first season in the Eredivisie since 2013. It wasn’t pretty; VVV had the lowest possession average (44.5%), lowest successful dribbles (6.3 p/m), and second-lowest, by 0.1 percent, pass completion (72.3%) in the league. Oh, and did I mention they only scored 35 goals? Those stats meant fans at De Koel didn’t enjoy many phenomenal performances, but The Pride of the South managed to stave off relegation.
If Steijn and his boys are to avoid relegation once more, they’ll have to turn in even more closely-fought victories. Vito van Crooij and Clint Leemans left for PEC Zwolle, leaving VVV with only a handful of cash to replace them. Clinical striker Lennart Thy returned to Germany after his loan ended. Midfield signings Peter van Ooijen (Heracles) and Tino-Sven Susic (Royal Antwerp), as well as West Ham loanee Martin Samuelsen, have added much-needed talent.
But that doesn’t distract from the fact that VVV-Venlo look like a bone-dry squad at the moment. Loan signings Jay-Roy Grot and Peniel Mlapa are two forwards with questionable goal scoring records. Leemans and Thy scored seventeen goals between them and those numbers won’t just appear out of thin air. Steijn must have some serious tactical plans up his sleeve if VVV aren’t to crumble down to the bottom of the division.
Promoted teams in the Netherlands are always a bit of an unknown quantity. What is usually a good sign, as was for NAC Breda one year ago, is an influx of players. Fortuna Sittard have done just that.
Their young core has been built upon in the off-season; goalkeeper Alexei Coselev, defender Branislav Ninaj, midfielder Mark Diemers, and winger Lisandro Semedo have all joined on free transfers. In addition, smart loan signings like Andrija Novakovich (striker, Reading) and Ahmed El Messaoudi (midfielder, KV Mechelen) make Sittard look quite strong heading into the first division.
The largest hole on the pitch for Fortuna Sittard will be in central defense after young star Per Schuurs moved to Ajax. The defender was the all-around player for the team: strong in defense and in the air, great at passing out of the back, and even the scorer of an occasional goal. Without that focal point, Sittard may struggle to stop attacks and start their own.
Another question mark surrounding Sittard’s season is that of René Eijer. The newly-appointed manager is taking over his first professional team, having previously managed amateur sides. Eijer did scouting for multiple Dutch clubs and assisted at UAE club Al-Jazira, but his resumé is not stellar. Like Danny Buijs at Groningen, it is yet to be seen how Eijer will adjust to top-flight management. And that is really scary for a side expecting to battle relegation.
Unlike the two other promoted sides, De Graafschap have very recent experience in the first division. It was their draw with Ajax on the final day of the 2015/16 season that gifted PSV the league title over the Amsterdammers, despite De Graafschap being relegated anyway. This season, the club is looking to cause upsets again, but maybe with the end result of safety from relegation instead.
Like Sittard, De Graafschap have gone to work in the transfer market. A trio of Erik Bakker, Ted van de Pavert, and Stef Nijland joins from PEC Zwolle, while wingers Furdjel Narsingh and Mohamed Hamdaoui join from second division clubs. Add to them the signing of attacker Daryl van Mieghem from Heracles and the loan of ‘keeper Hidde Jurjus from PSV and you’ve got yourself quite the talented squad.
If De Graafschap survive, which will surely be the only goal from manager Henk de Jong’s perspective, the squad is built for a sustained run in the top division for years. Captain Sven Nieuwpoort is only 25, while players like Bart Straalman and Leeroy Owusu are only 21. That being said, the experience of Nijland, Narsingh, and Bakker will be crucial for their survival bid this year.
De Jong oversaw SC Cambuur when they were relegated in 2016, but he’d managed to lead them to 12th place the season prior. Clearly the directors at De Graafschap trust in him to do much of the same. But if one thing is for sure, it is this: Eredivisie relegation battles always come down to the final one or two weeks. The best way to avoid that situation is to accumulate as many points as possible early on and stay mid-table. De Graafschap have the ability to do that, but no more.
FC Emmen are entering their debut season in the Eredivisie at a clear disadvantage. Financially, Emmen are the poorest club in the league, even behind the small and mighty Excelsior. Their main transfer coups are Nicklas Pedersen from Mechelen and Wouter Marinus from PEC, two solid but unspectacular players. Manager Dick Lukkien is going to need more luck than his surname to survive the threat of relegation.
If we’re being honest, FC Emmen will probably struggle to assert themselves against most teams in the league. Their defense will be under constant threat, especially against top-half sides. While the likes of Pedersen and Luciano Slagveer are exciting in the box, the number of chances the forwards will see are likely minimal.
Thus, the key to Emmen’s success lies in midfield. A trio of Hilal Ben Moussa, Wouter Marinus, and Alexander Bannink looks likely to start. Each player offers something going forward, which could be helpful in low-scoring matches. However, the lack of a true #6 could spell trouble for the debutant side.
Match statistics provided by WhoScored.com and Tussendelinies.nl. Transfer values provided by Transfermarkt.nl.
Thanks to @NathanAClark on Twitter for coming up with the depth chart style.