The race for the 2018/19 Eredivisie title is going down to the wire, with champions PSV Eindhoven and challengers AFC Ajax tied on points at the top of the table.
With just five rounds of the campaign remaining, the Amsterdam side have moved into first place but they only lead PSV on goal difference.
Erik ten Hag’s side, which has caught the eye in the UEFA Champions League this season and will be in action against Italian heavyweights Juventus tonight, won 4-1 away to Willem II last weekend to move into pole position.
The key result in their assumption of first place was a 3-1 home win over PSV late last month and it should lay the platform for a record-extending 34th Eredivisie title (and a first since 2013/14).
This is because Ajax have a kind run-in for the rest of the domestic campaign: three of their five remaining matches are at home and they face only one other team currently placed in the top five of the standings: Utrecht, in Amsterdam on the final day of the season, May 12.
Assuming ten Hag’s team win all of their remaining matches, the fact that they enjoy a significant advantage in the goal difference stakes (+74 to PSV’s +65) suggests they should win the title.
However, Mark van Bommel’s PSV have won three of the last four championships and know how to close out a season when the pressure is on.
They too have a kind run-in to the close of the season, though they do appear to have one stumbling block in their path: a potentially tricky away game against fourth-placed AZ Alkmaar on the final day.
Trying to outscore Ajax and catch up on goal difference is a long shot for the Eindhoven team, who more realistically need to focus on winning all of their remaining matches and hope that their rivals, possibly distracted by the Champions League, drop some of the 15 points up for grabs.
Should PSV not be able to claim the title, at least captain and striker Luuk de Jong seems likely to pick up the ‘Golden Boot’ for top scorer: he currently has 25 Eredivisie goals to his name, five ahead of nearest rival, Dusan Tadic of Ajax.
Other standout players this season include Hirving Lozano, with the Mexican winger attracting major attention for his ability to both create and finish off scoring chances, as well as his counterpart on the other PSV wing, Steven Bergwijn, while Ajax’s crop of emerging talent has already produced one major sale – Frenkie de Jong will move to Barcelona at the end of the season – with the likes of Matthijs de Ligt and Moroccan star Hakim Ziyech possibly following him out of the exit door of the Johan Cruyff Arena following their excellent campaigns.
For the rest of the table, giants Feyenoord are in a battle with AZ to finish in third place and secure qualification for the UEFA Europa League, while the trio of Utrecht, Vitesse and Heracles (who can claim to be the most improved team from last season to this, with Frank Wormuth’s side already amassing three more points than they managed in 2017/18) will fancy their chances of remaining in position to playoff for a spot in the continental competition.
Down at the bottom of the table, NAC Breda, who have managed just five wins all season, look very likely to suffer direct relegation to the Eerste Divisie, while the two berths for the relegation playoffs are currently occupied by Excelsior and De Graafschap, but Emmen and Fortuna Sittard are just two and four points clear of the red zone respectively.