Eredivisie season 2011/12 preview: the title contenders

Posted on 25 July 2011

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In the build-up to the start of the 2011/12 Eredivisie season, 11tegen11 will review all Eredivisie clubs to discuss the tactical implications of all summer changes. Nine Eredivisie clubs will kick off the new season with a new manager and several clubs have seen key players leave, freeing up space to fit in young talents and new acquisitions. The first chapter of this preview series will discuss title contenders Ajax, Twente and PSV.

 

Ajax

Manager: Frank de Boer (since December 2010)

Formation: 4-3-3

Key players gone: Demi de Zeeuw (Luis Suarez and Urby Emanuelson during winter transfer window)

Key acquisitions: Theo Janssen, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Thulani Serero, Derk Boerrigter

Frank De Boer was quite outspoken about his goals for the coming season: retaining the title and reaching the knock-out stages of either the Champions League or the Europa League. Much will depend on whether the club will retain the services of captain Jan Vertonghen and right full-back Gregory van der Wiel. With goal keeper Maarten Stekelenburg’s contract expiring in 2012, the club will be keen to cooperate on a deal seeing him leave, as rumored, to AS Roma this week. Understudy Kenneth Vermeer already showed his qualities during earlier spells in the first team squad and will be ready to perform at that level again.

Frank de Boer inherited a squad playing a double pivot in front of their back four with one central playmaker, which he immediately changed to a single holding midfielder with two probing central midfielders. The trade of Demi de Zeeuw for Theo Janssen fits into that plan perfectly. Janssen’s excellent vision and passing skill provides De Boer with the perfect opportunity to switch to a deep-lying playmaker system rather than the single holding midfielder that we saw during the second part of the 2010/11 season. This will also allow central midfielders Eriksen and Siem de Jong more on the receiving end of offensive passes with new striker Kolbeinn Sightorsson demanded to free up space for them by applying false nine principles.

Apart from Janssen and Sigthorsson, Ajax also secured the services of creative midfielder Thulani Serero, who impressed as player of the year in the 2010/11 South African Premiership, and winger Derk Boerrigter, last season’s Jupiler League player of the year. Should Ajax indeed retain all of their current outfield players, De Boer’s main concerns over the season will consist of the choices he will have to make as a result of the strength in depth of the current squad.

Vurnon Anita impressed as a holding midfielder during the latter stages of the past season, but the arrival of Janssen indicates his best chances of playing time might be a return to a full-back role, competing with Van der Wiel and rising star Boilesen. The two offensive midfield spots will presumably be taken by Eriksen and De Jong, which will see Serero and Uruguayan international Lodeiro in fierce competition for playing time. Sigthorsson looks a sure starter as the central striker, with El Hamdaoui definitely on his way out and Ajax rumored to be looking for an understudy here. Finally, wing starters Ebecilio and Sulejmani will see Özbiliz and Boerrigter ready to take over any time.

 

Twente

Manager: Co Adriaanse (since July 2011)

Formation:  4-3-3

Key player gone: Theo Janssen

Key acquisition: Willem Janssen

For the second time in succession Twente will start a new season with a new manager. Michel Preud’homme traded his Twente contract for a managerial position at Al Shabab Riad and in Co Adriaanse Twente found an experienced Eredivisie manager, ironically moving in the reverse direction as his predecessor after being relieved from his duties managing Qatar’s Olympic team earlier this year.

With a managerial change taking place it’s risky to state firm things about the tactics of the coming season, but some form of 4-3-3 looks the best fit to both squad and manager. Adriaanse stated some interesting things about his intentions with last season’s revelation, Belgian international Nacer Chadli. While mostly used as an inside left winger, the new Twente manager will aim to play Chadli in a central playmaking role behind their lone striker. This will allow him to connect with Twente’s main playmaker Bryan Ruiz, who drifts in from the right wing with large amounts of positional freedom. Any form of double playmaker system would be new to the Eredivisie, but a Dutch based version of Palermo’s Pastore-Ilicic tandem would be more than welcome.

To complete Twente’s strike force, Swedish international Emir Bajrami is expected to gain more playing time on the left wing after only completing only one full game despite 21 appearances during last season’s Eredivisie campaign. The choice to move Chadli to the centre of the pitch would force either De Jong or Janko out of the starting eleven, with the Austrian target man looking to be the most likely victim, although he may still prove very valuable as a ‘plan B’ target man striker.

Twente’s midfield will have to do without Theo Janssen. The omnipresent midfield was an integral part of Twente’s success of the past two seasons and the 2010/11 Eredivisie player of the year might be dearly missed in Enschede. Adriaanse’s move directing Chadli to a central position may be seen to fill in the void of creativity in the central part of the pitch, left by Janssen’s departure. Behind Chadli, holding midfielder Wout Brama, still only 24 years old but with 218 matches for Twente under his belt already and new signing Willem Janssen will complete the midfield three. Willem Janssen started all 34 Eredivisie matches for Roda last season and his energetic runs will add to the dynamism of Twente’s midfield.

 

 

PSV

Manager: Fred Rutten (since July 2009)

Formation: 4-3-3

Key players gone: Balasz Dzsudzsak, ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, Jonathan Reis, Markus Berg, Danny Koevermans (Ibrahim Afellay during winter transfer window)

Key acquisitions: Dries Mertens, Kevin Strootman, Georginio Wijnaldum

After finishing the Eredivisie in third place for two consecutive seasons, which does not live up to the high expectations of his appointment as PSV manager, Fred Rutten will try and take PSV back to where they were at the end of all but one of the ten seasons prior to his appointment: first or second place. In order to do so, his options to bring in major signings seemed limited. Until the 14m transfer of winger Balasz Dszudszak and a deal selling the ground under their stadium to the city of Eindhoven that is…

Hungarian winger Dszudszak was hardly the only player leaving PSV, as central defender ‘Maza’ Rodriguez, veteran striker Koevermans, talented Brazilian striker Reis and, during the winter transfer window, captain Ibrahim Afellay all left the club for a combined fee of 4m. Striker Berg returned to HSV after his one year loan deal ended.

PSV re-invested Dszudszak’s transfer money in three presumed first team starters. Winger Dries Mertens and holding midfielder Kevin Strootman was transferred in from Utrecht and creative central midfielder Georginio Wijnaldum from Feyenoord. With that, the void of three departed strikers still remains to be filled. The only natural striker left in PSV’s current first team squad is Género Zeefuik, a home grown player who only started one Eredivisie match in his career so far. Alternatives could be provided by playing winger Lens or offensive midfielder Toivonen in that position too. As a potential transfer target Ajax’ out of favor striker Mounir El Hamdaoui is mentioned, but no deal has been done yet.

In tactical terms Rutten’s third season may see a mini-revolution. The disappointing results of the past two seasons induced quite some criticism on Rutten’s tendency to stick with two defensive minded central midfielders. And see, so far in the pre-season friendlies, PSV has appeared with a midfield three consisting of Strootman in a single holding role with the pair of Toivonen and Wijnaldum providing offensive input. It remains to be seen if the void of strikers will call Ola Toivonen back to that position, but early signs point towards more offensive intentions by Rutten.

 

In conclusion

Ajax will have to be wary of defensive key players like Vertonghen and Van der Wiel making late transfer window departures, Twente seem to have a plan in place to deal with Janssen’s departure and PSV showed offensive intentions during the pre-season friendlies. It can hardly be overstressed that the transfer window still lasts for over a month and early results in the competitive matches may lead to changes of tactical directions, but the outline for another exciting and close Eredivisie title challenge is here!

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