Friday, August 29, 2008

Euro '08 Pick 'Em Winner finally cashes in: Eredivisie Season Preview

Anyone remember this? Well, our winner was obvious a couple of months ago, and UF reader Joep Smeets managed to hang on top and win the whole thing. As our "prize", we offered him a post on anything he wanted, and when offered to him, he told me he wanted to wait until late August to claim his reward.

Why? Because the Dutch Eredivisie kicks off this weekend, and he's just the man to handicap it and break it down for us ignoramuseseses.

This makes me happy, because I had no idea where to begin. I know Ajax, they're good, PSV, and that's about it. Feyenoord? Is that one?

Anyway, Joep has all the answers for us, so educate yourselves after the jump.

One of the leagues kicking off this weekend is the Dutch league. The first though this may conjure in some of you is probably “do the Dutch still have a league?” and the answer to that question is “more or less”. The Eredivisie, as it is called, has spent the last decade slipping gradually but steadily into irrelevancy, to the point where Arsenal can comfortably field their Carling Cup starting eleven and still brush off the second best team our country had to offer with ridiculous ease.

But yes, even mediocre leagues have to start at some point, and Friday night is the Eredivisie’s turn. And because the nice gentlemen at Unprofessional Foul know all of you are dying for an in-depth analysis of Europe’s seventh best league - or because they owe me a guest post because I crushed all of you in the European Cup Pick’em - here is a preview.

The Contenders

The Dutch league has been dominated for years by a traditional top three, consisting of Ajax (remember them?), PSV and Feyenoord, however, in the past decade, Feyenoord has been managed more poorly than Enron and as a result, hardly makes any more pretensions on the Dutch title than you or me.

That leaves us with Ajax and PSV, the latter of which have been champions four years straight. During this period, PSV has been hollowed out each and every year, losing quality players to quality teams and to Spurs. Despite of their knack for bringing in proper replacements, losing Gomes and Farfan means they have now lost the last two players who played for the team that made CL semi’s a few years ago.

PSV’s player to watch: Ibrahim Affelay. This will be the year he finally outgrows the Dutch league. Honorable mention to Dirk Marcellis, who played his heart out at Anfield last year and got a standing ovation for his effort when he was sent off. A young central defender who played very well at the Olympics and is getting considered for the senior national side.

Even with PSV losing a little bit of quality every year, Ajax has not been able to catch up. The past four seasons have seen more turmoil in Amsterdam than in your average war zone, and about as many heads have rolled. Each season starts with the same high expectations (PSV has got to be the only team that has won four championships in a row while not being considered favorites for any of those seasons), merited by an influx of new players that are considered a lock to get the job done. So far, none of them have, but there’s no question Ajax can field more attacking firepower than any other team in the league.

Ajax’s player to watch: Klaas Jan Huntelaar, obviously. He’s the centerpiece of an attack that features three quick and goal-oriented players around him in Luis Suarez, Miralem Suljemani and Civantich. Ajax’s defense might not be very stable but this lot could outscore any team in the league.

The Hopefuls

Behind PSV and Ajax there is a sizeable group of pretenders to the Dutch crown, led by SC Heerenveen and FC Twente, who will both feature in the UEFA Cup this season. The only two teams in Holland with a foreign coach are slowly but steadily attempting to structurally fill the hole in the top three that Feyenoord left behind.

Heerenveen, especially, has a very capable scouting team. You only have to look at the strikers they have fielded over the past year, which include Huntelaar, Afonso Alves, Samaras and van Nistelrooy. Twente has taken a big gamble by hiring Second Choice Steve, who is about as familiar with the Dutch league as any of you are.

Others in this group include Feyenoord and AZ, the latter of which made a very strong attempt at the title two years ago, only to fail miserably in the last season.

Players to watch

Michael Bradley (SC Heerenveen) Bradley is no unknown to most of you, probably, and was one of the better midfielders of the league last season. From what I gather, he gets forward more for Heerenveen than he does for the US, which is his strong point. [Ed. Note: there are rumours brewing of him moving to Middlesbrough]

Douglas (FC Twente) a strong Brazilian defender that messed up against Arsenal. Young, though, and he has the top teams in Holland taking looks at him, which means the Premier League will most likely not be far behind. He shut down Huntelaar in the playoffs for the Champions League qualification ticket, which is no small feat.

Jonathan de Guzman (Feyenoord) Canadian by birth, Dutch by footballing passport, he has been one of the few bright spots for Feyenoord. He is a very complete young midfielder that has been attracting interest from England.

Stijn Schaars (AZ) is a very solid young midfielder who captained the European Cup winning u-21 sides. He has been out injured for a long time and AZ hurt without him. If he regains his pre-injury form, he will be considered for the national team and difficult for AZ to keep in Alkmaar for much longer.

European Competitions

After Arsenal’s drubbing of Twente, PSV will be the only Dutch team in the Champions League. They’re grouped with Liverpool, Marseille and Atletico Madrid, which means it will take a small miracle for them to go through.

In the UEFA Cup, there is a sizeable Dutch contingent, spearheaded by an improved Ajax-side, Heerenveen, Twente, Feyenoord and NEC, a small team who played an out of this world second season half and subsequently lost its three best players and hasn’t found any decent replacements so far. Ajax, with Huntelaar up front and Stekelenburg in goal could make a deep run, while the rest would be lucky to survive the group stage except for maybe Heerenveen.

We’ll, there you have it. Another season full of poor defending and bright young talents is upon us. The football might be poor, but the Dutch league guarantees at least a few players each year who will make the step to the big times at the end of the season, so I suggest you all keep an eye on it!


The NY Kid said...

Well done Joep! And glad to see you around.

Side-note: One of the refs in my rec league played for Ajax several decades ago.

ü75 said...

Was AZ Alkmaar's contention just a one-off thing? I liked the way they fought.

Eladio said...

Great stuff, Joep. But was hoping you could answer a few questions on the Eredivisie table/playoffs.

Based on the table listed on Soccernet (which could have 10 year old information), they have the following:

Champions League: 1st
Champions League qualifying play-offs: 2nd, 3rd, 4th, 5th
UEFA Cup play-offs: 6th, 7th, 8th, 9th
Intertoto Cup play-offs: 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th
Relegation play-offs: 16th, 17th
Relegation: 18th

1st is straightforward. For the 2nd thru 5th playoffs, however, how many get CL qualifications -- just 1? And do the others in that group automatically get UEFA cup?

And then with the 6th-9th, how many UEFA cup spots are those 4 playing for?

And then 10th-13th I assume is for the 1 Intertoto Cup spot.

So a team that finishes 6th, could lose out on a UEFA cup spot AND an Intertoto spot? Sounds kind of harsh, tho it does keep people below the top half of the table fighting for something at the end of the season. Though I'm not sure i like the fact that a team that was less than mediocre during the league season, but has a few good games at the very end gets rewarded with a Europe spot the next year.

Joep Smeets said...

u75: AZ came very close two seasons ago, losing the title on the last day by losing against a bottom team. They imploded last season, even though all the pundits had them winning the whole thing. A few poor decisions later, like allowing Danny Koevermans to leave for PSV and Shota Arveladze to Levante and replacing them with two high paid but unproven strikers and nobody's expecting them to compete for the title anymore. Of course they could bounce back, they have some important players back like Schaars and also Martens, plus they still have Dembele (Belgian like Martens) who has gotten looks by AS Roma lately.

Eladio, as for the playoffs, the schedule you have is the situation as it was these past two seasons, but after much debate, they have axed the Champions League qualifying playoffs altogether. CLQ goes to the number 2, UEFA tickets for 3 and 4, meaning we have have now just one playoff group, places 5-8 (I think) for the last remaining UEFA ticket (other than the one awarded for winning the Cup of course)

Joep Smeets said...

NY Kid, what's the guy's name?

Adam said...

eladio, you'd be shocked to know, but soccernet is wrong. According to Wikipedia it was 2-5 playoff winner CL. the 3 losers got into the UEFA cup, then the next 4 battled it out for 1 intertoto spot.

However, it appears they have changed all that this year, to mirror most other leagues so the 1 and 2 finishers get CL spots, and the 3, 4, and cup winner(or cup runner up if winner is in the top 4) get UEFA Cup spots. Teams 5-8 have a playoff for the last remaining UEFA cup spot.

Good article, my only issue was this glaring typo:

"You only have to look at the strikers they have fielded over the past year, which include Huntelaar, Afonso Alves, Samaras and van Nistelrooy."

It should be over the past couple years right?

The NY Kid said...

@Joep - I can never remember his last name. Not sure if he ever made the first team, but he definitely spent quite a bit of time with the reserves.

Eladio said...

Sounds like the winds of change have finally hit the low countries.

Rafäel said...

brilliant joep. By the way, a though group for PSV in the Champions. I hope they will not advance to the next round. you know, specially for the ATLETI....and the kid.

and, for the owners, great blog, very interesting for the football fans. You should look down and write once of mexican league.
mmm, no maybe not, it´s a piece of shit right now.