Eredivisie Preview: PSV – Biggest threat to Ajax’s title

The 2013-14 Eredivisie season for PSV resembled a significantly swerving sine curve – and that is probably an understatement.

It’s been 7  long seasons since the Eindhoven club tasted the sweetness of success in the league. 7 painful seasons, weathered by the PSV faithful, since the days of back-to-back titles. 7 seasons of trying to keep up, and coming close, only to falter in the final stages. However, it looks like PSV might finally be on the course to genuinely challenging Ajax and put up a bid in breaking the Amsterdammers’ monopoly that has recurred in the Netherlands over the last 4 years.

A dismal first half of the season saw them, at one point, closer to the relegation zone than the top of the table, but a resurgent few weeks after the winter break and the introduction of experienced players in Bryan Ruiz and Ji Sung Park saw them climb up to 2nd and push Vitesse, Twente and Feyenoord all the way. Unfortunately, the team’s form fell again as PSV failed to get the results they needed to keep up and ended up limping to 4th place.

This summer however, has seen Vitesse, Twente and Feyenoord lose key players both in terms of sales and the end of loans. PSV so far, have only significantly been alerted to the possibility of losing Zakaria Bakkali – the 18 year old who burst on to the scene with a debut hattrick but has not been spotted since, owing to apparent attitude problems, relegated to a bit-part role in the squad by Cocu. However, the latest reports are that he will sign a new deal. Depay has been linked with Manchester United – of course customarily as the media continues to link every single one of the Dutch World Cup squad to van Gaal’s latest assignment. However, PSV have slapped a hefty €20 million fee on the 20-year-old, which deters most suitors. Depay has seen interest from Tottenham Hotspur also, but has said he is very much open to staying in Eindhoven.

Keeping Depay might just be the biggest piece of business PSV will have accomplished this summer – certainly the most important. In his first season as a starting regular in the team, the Moordrecht-born winger has literally spelled out breakthrough for the club. The focal point of everything good PSV conjure in attack, Depay – or Memphis, as he prefers to be known – has taken the league by storm. Blessed with fantastic pace and dribbling skills, a monstrous physique for his age and an absolute cracker of a shot, Depay is quite possibly the closest the Eredivisie has produced thus far to a Cristiano Ronaldo.

Memphis had consistency issues last season, and while Cocu constantly tried to improve his ability to involve his teammates and play for the team, he would keep regressing now and then. However, in terms of mental approach, perhaps the World Cup came at the right time for Depay – and even club captain Georginio Wijnaldum. Given the opportunity to play along side veterans and world-class players such as Robben, Nigel de Jong and Wesley Sneijder, both Wijnaldum and Depay would have benefited enormously.

What this gives PSV is two considerably more mature players, who were already taking responsibility on field, but can now offer that extra step-up in big matches, in crucial moments. For his age, Wijnaldum is already one of the most experienced players around – already 187 Eredivisie appearances under his best – despite missing a significant portion of last season through injury. A vital cog in the midfield, Wijnaldum was used in a significantly more defensive role than his role for PSV by van Gaal in Rio and though he looked lost initially, he had fully come of age by the time the Dutch dispatched hosts Brazil 3-0 – even grabbing himself a goal.

Depay, on the other hand, has grown exponentially within the few weeks he spent in Rio. Having been van Gaal’s saviour in two group stage matches, sent on to win the match as someone who can turn the game around, Depay has not disappointed. Thriving in the stress-scenarios, he has definitely taken more responsibility upon himself and should definitely see himself as a real leader in the PSV camp – still of course, very much open to a stay in Eindhoven.

Moreover, the Philips have added Luuk de Jong to their ranks over the summer. Though he flopped terribly in his time at Monchengladbach and on loan in Tyneside, de Jong is still a good striker by Eredivisie standards, with prior experience of winning the Eredivisie of course. Once touted as the more talented of the two de Jong brothers, Luuk has seen his brother’s career rise significantly over the last few years. Keen to prove a point, the new PSV No. 9 acknowledges that in each of the seasons since 2009, an Eredivisie medal has always arrived at the de Jong household (Luuk x1, Siem x4) and wants to keep that record going. A big, typical centreforward, with good ball-playing skills, Luuk arguably offers more up top than Jurgen Locadia did last season and will be crucial in performing against strong centre-halves.

The defence, however, is what needs most addressing at PSV. Most of their games were lost after periods of PSV dominance and a solitary lapse in concentration by the PSV defence. Arias, Bruma and Willems look to stay in Eindhoven, but Rekik might not return after his loan from Man City ended. The young Jorrit Hendrix looks the likely partner for Bruma but there is still inexperience in the backline that Cocu needs to address and once he does, PSV will have a team to really reckon with.

Feyenoord will be in a period of re-invention, while Vitesse still lack a decent striker and Twente have lost their man driving force in Dusan Tadic as well and all the while, Ajax have strengthened in key areas, but still have a set of relatively obvious Achilles’ heels. However, PSV with a squad that has played together over the last season and has influential game-changers can surely give Ajax a run for their money in the season to come.

Player To Watch: Memphis Depay

Assuming the young Dutchman does not yet leave Eindhoven in the month or so to come, Memphis Depay will be the man PSV will look to this season again. Significantly matured, still the physical beast he is, the stage is perfectly set for Depay – still only 20 years old – to further smoothen his rough edges and blossom into an even better player. All eyes are already fixated on him, having gained a significant number of observers and admirers after his supersub showings in Rio and Memphis is the kind of person – as he exhibited – who thrives on pressure and that extra surge of adrenaline coursing through his prominent veins. He was already easily PSV’s most influential figure in attack last season but with a better striker in Luuk de Jong up top to play with and the added experience of the World Cup, Depay could take the league by storm this season – yes, more so than last season – and with it, possibly a closely-contested Eredivisie title.

BeNeFoot prediction: 2nd place

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