In The Spotlight: Your guide to a dramatic Eredivisie title race
This season’s Eredivisie title race is shaping up to be one of the most dramatic ever.
The top five teams are separated by just eight points, with red-hot favourites Ajax languishing at the bottom of that quintet ahead of their game against FC Volendam tonight.
We take a closer look at the contenders with all to play for in the Dutch top flight.
Feyenoord in front
Currently leading the way are Feyenoord, with the Rotterdam giants well placed to chase down only their second league title this century.
The 1970 European champions last ruled Dutch football in 2016-17 but are firing on all cylinders under their 44-year-old head coach Arne Slot, who also has a certain Robin van Persie in his coaching setup.
They are officially the toughest team to beat in the division, with their solitary loss of the campaign to date a dramatic 4-3 defeat at PSV Eindhoven last September.
Slot’s men, who beat NEC 2-0 yesterday, also impressively topped a Europa League group containing Lazio and FC Midtjylland, meaning they will feature in next month’s last-16 draw.
One of their star performers, ironically, has been ex-Ajax striker Danilo — the 23-year-old Brazilian striker netting eight league goals since arriving from Amsterdam last summer having failed to make the grade in the capital.
Alkmaar taking aim
AZ Alkmaar are regulars in the Eredivisie’s upper reaches but it is unusual to see the Cheeseheads this prominent in the title race.
The shock departure of their former boss Slot to Feyenoord in December 2020 presented his London-born assistant Pascal Jansen with the chance to take charge and the 49-year-old has certainly grasped his opportunity.
Despite losing the likes of Teun Koopmeiners to Atalanta and Myron Boadu to Monaco in recent times, Jansen is proving a master of regeneration and his youthful team are refusing to buckle this term.
Alkmaar are the Eredivisie’s best travellers with eight away wins from 10 matches, while 24-year-olds Dani de Wit and Vangelis Pavlidis have 25 goals between them in all competitions.
While bookmakers are expecting Jansen’s men to fade away, supporters are daring to dream of only a third ever league success this May and their 4-1 win at Go Ahead Eagles kept them just two points off the pace.
Traditionally, PSV are the likeliest team to disrupt a period of domestic Ajax dominance and Ruud van Nistelrooy’s side have a great chance of doing so again this season.
On their day, the Eindhoven giants possess the firepower to roll over anyone, as displayed by an ominous tally of 45 goals scored in their 18 league outings.
Yet if two 6-1 victories and a 7-1 rout have shown Van Nistelrooy's outfit at their ruthless best, Tuesday night's defeat at struggling FC Emmen displays a vulnerability that may prove costly in such a tight title race.
Van Nistelrooy is having to get used to life without his former talisman Cody Gakpo, who headed to Liverpool for a fee north of £35million earlier this month, while his other key man Noni Madueke has just joined Chelsea.
Regardless of whether that money is immediately reinvested into the playing squad, this current crop still have more than enough to reign supreme.
Twente a tough nut
If the old adage that defence wins championships is proved correct, then FC Twente are on course for only a second ever Eredivisie title.
Coached by the vastly experienced Ron Jans, they have given up only 11 goals in their first 18 matches which unsurprisingly makes them the most stubborn backline in the division.
Jans, 64, is approaching 100 matches in charge of the Enschede-based outfit and compiled a balanced and well-drilled unit spearheaded by veteran forward Ricky van Wolfswinkel.
Last term, a fourth-place finish saw them qualify for Europe for the first time in eight years and it has been more of the same in 2022-23, with their current league unbeaten run stretching to nine games.
A bright prospect at the heart of their success has been 21-year-old centre back Mees Hilgers, who looks destined for bigger things however this campaign pans out.
Alarm bells for Ajax
When reigning champions Ajax won nine of their opening 11 Eredivisie games this term, it appeared to be business as usual — but things are rapidly unravelling in Amsterdam.
Alfred Schreuder was the man tasked with replacing Manchester United-bound Erik ten Hag last summer and though the 50-year-old made a fine start, he now finds himself under immense pressure.
Five straight draws in the league have seen De Godenzonen slip from first to fifth, while four losses from six Champions League group stage clashes saw them only just seal a consolation berth in the Europa League.
With the likes of Jurrien Timber, Dusan Tadic, Brian Brobbey and Mohammed Kudus in his ranks, Schreuder is unquestionably underperforming and turning things around fast is a mandatory requirement.
While an eight-point gap with a game in hand is far from unsurmountable, the 36-time kings of the Netherlands are embroiled in an almighty battle to retain their crown.