De Boer: AZ deserve their place
Ajax coach Frank de Boer believes AZ Alkmaar more than merit their place at the top of the Eredivisie as the two teams prepare to meet at the Amsterdam ArenA this weekend.
AZ have won seven of their eight league fixtures this season to sit four points clear of nearest challengers PSV Eindhoven and FC Twente.
Defending champions Ajax are a further two points adrift of the leaders, and De Boer has warned his players they can expect to face tough opposition on Saturday.
"AZ have a great team on the bench and look very good," he told Voetbal International. "They are playing with a lot of dynamism and exude confidence. They may not have the biggest stars but they fight for each other.
"It's not often that AZ come to Amsterdam as league leaders. They are candidates for the title, that's for sure."
Ajax's hopes of closing the gap at the top will not be helped by injuries to Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (ankle), Nicolai Boilesen (hamstring) and Aras Ozbiliz (ankle).
Lorenzo Ebecilio (hamstring) and Thulani Serero (abdomen) are also doubts, but Toby Alderweireld is expected to recover from an ankle problem. AZ striker Ruud Boymans is facing a spell on the sidelines after undergoing ankle surgery this week.
PSV are at home to FC Utrecht on Saturday, while Twente make the trip to RKC Waalwijk as both sides look to keep up the pressure at the top of the standings.
Any dropped points among the top four would be welcomed by Feyenoord, who lie fifth and just a single point behind Ajax.
The Rotterdam club are at home to winless VVV-Venlo on Sunday and defender Dani Fernandez is hoping they can give their fans something to cheer about following a 3-0 loss to ADO Den Haag before the international break.
"After the game against ADO, we were frustrated because we had played badly," the Spaniard said on feyenoord.nl.
"We have the chance to make amends on Sunday against VVV. If everyone is focused and does what he has to do, we can win this match."
Vitesse Arnhem, who today announced a new two-year sponsorship deal with telecommunications company Simpel, are level on points with Feyenoord and will travel to NEC Nijmegen on Sunday hoping to move up the table from their current sixth place.
Also on Sunday, Excelsior Rotterdam will be aiming to pick up their first win at NAC Breda, while a victory for Roda JC at home to ADO would see them climb above their opponents in the table.
On Saturday, Heerenveen take on lowly De Graafschap, with Heracles Almelo facing mid-table rivals FC Groningen at the Polman Stadion.