Ajax rediscover recipe for success
© AFP

The final sprint tends to produce sensational finishes in the Eredivisie and the 2010/11 campaign proved no exception. Neck and neck for so much of the season, Ajax and FC Twente locked horns on the final day of action with the title still very much up for grabs, and it was the Amsterdam outfit who ultimately came out on top. As Ajax celebrated their first Dutch crown since 2003/04, PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar tied up the division’s UEFA Europa League spots. FIFA.com looks back over a thrilling year.

The champions
Frank de Boer spoke to FIFA.com about “restoring the Ajax spirit” after replacing Martin Jol in December and their first title in seven years must count as an emphatic stride in the right direction. The former Netherlands defender wasted no time in communicating his methods and his coaching style quickly bore fruit, despite the loss of key forward Luis Suarez in January. “It’s extraordinary that our philosophy of the game has already brought us such a big success,” said De Boer, whose team got their hands on the trophy thanks to six consecutive wins in their final fixtures.

Scorer of two goals in the crucial 3-1 victory against Twente, Siem de Jong signed off with 12 for the season to confirm his emerging talent, while Mounir El Hamdaoui weighed in with 13 to make up for the loss of strike partner Suarez.

European places
Champions last term, Twente came within 90 minutes of capturing a maiden league and cup double. The Enschede outfit downed Ajax 3-2 to claim the Dutch Cup and kept themselves in the top three all season, making light of the injury to attacking linchpin Bryan Ruiz. Luuk de Jong struck 12 times and Marc Janko plundered another 14 goals, with Nacer Chadli similarly central to the attacking style cultivated by coach Michel Preud’homme, who replaced Steve McClaren last summer.

As for PSV Eindhoven, they must content themselves with the Europa League after leading the way for a significant portion of the campaign. Spring losses to Twente and Feyenoord proved costly for Fred Rutten’s men, who will be joined in the competition by Gerrit Verbeek’s Alkmaar, who made the most of Feyenoord’s struggles to seal a place in Europe during a transitional phase.

Also of note
Boasting one of the youngest line-ups in the top tier, FC Groningen are one of four teams now gearing up for play-offs to secure the Eredivisie’s final Europa League ticket. A fifth-placed finish for the northern side represented an impressive return to the upper echelons, while Harm van Veldhoven’s Roda JC Kerkrade, a club featuring an array of Belgian talents, can similarly pride themselves on securing sixth spot. Those two hopefuls will now do battle with ADO Den Haag and Heracles Almelo in the play-offs.

Feyenoord came in tenth after long flirting with relegation, and the definite low point for the traditional giants came with the humbling record 10-0 defeat by PSV in October. Theirs was an underwhelming season, and their feelings of frustration will be shared by SC Heerenveen, FC Utrecht and Vitesse.

The big names
Oddly enough, none of the division’s four most prolific marksmen led the line for one of the four clubs at the top of the standings. PSV’s Hungarian forward Balazs Dzsudzsak racked up the biggest tally among the leading quartet, but his 16 strikes left him seven shy of top scorer Bjorn Vleminckx of NEC. None of the leading trio were Dutch either, with Vleminckx a Belgian international, second-placed Dmitri Bulykin of ADO Den Haag representing Russia and Roda’s Mads Junker hailing from Denmark.

Less explosive in front of goal, Belgian winger Chadli lit up the Eredivisie thanks to his spectacular technique, and it proved a successful season as well for PSV’s Swedish forward Ola Toivonen, AZ’s Icelandic striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and young Dutch duo Luc Castaignos and Ricky van Wolfswinkel.

Ups and downs
The second tier beckons for Willem II after the Tilburg side conceded a mammoth 98 goals. Managing only 37 in reply, Willem II notched just 15 points and will be replaced in the top flight by RKC Waalwijk, who wrapped up the one automatic promotion berth on offer. Six more sides are currently competing to join them, in a play-off system that pits them against Eredivisie strugglers VVV-Venlo and Excelsior.

At a glance
Top three
1 - Ajax, 73 points
2 - Twente, 71
3 - PSV, 69

Top scorers
1 - Bjorn Vleminckx (NEC) - 23 goals
2 - Dmitri Bulykin (ADO) - 21
3 - Mads Junker (Roda JC) - 20

The stat
30 – The number of goals conceded by Ajax, proud possessors of the tightest rearguard in the league. The champions owed much of their defensive solidity to exciting Belgian youngster Toby Alderweireld, who received excellent support from Gregory van der Wiel, Jan Vertonghen and veteran Andre Ooijer.