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Ajax bid to bounce back, new challenge for McClaren

SoccerNews in Eredivisie 29 Aug 2008

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While PSV Eindhoven target a successful title defence Ajax are out to revisit past glories while former England coach Steve McClaren cuts his teeth in foreign climes as the Dutch league kicks off this weekend.

McClaren will certainly be grateful that most sides in the Eredivisie are not of the calibre of the Arsenal side which crushed his new employers FC Twente 6-0 on aggregate in the Champions League qualifiers over two legs.

Wednesday's 4-0 beating at the Emirates was at least a little less painful than the Euro 2008 elimination at Croatia's hands which former Middlesbrough boss McClaren famously watched from under an umbrella – and public vilification has not resulted either.

McClaren's men will look to put early points on the board at Roda JC Kerkrade on Saturday after Vitesse Arnhem and FC Groningen get the season officially under way on Friday.

But the title is PSV's to lose after four straight successes – FC Twente, McClaren will doubtless be aware, have not finished in the top three for 11 seasons.

PSV's title came despite Klaas-Jan Huntelaar's goal-a-game exploits for Ajax, still the record-holders with 29 championships and who lost out in the playoff for entry to the Champions League qualifiers.

But Marco van Basten at the helm Ajax are intent on going places again, having so far managed to hold off covetous glances in Huntelaar's direction from tpo clubs including Real Madrid.

“We will do our utmost to make Ajax champions again,” van Basten said as the team began pre-season training as he bids to inject into the club the winning mentality he had as a player with Ajax, AC Milan and the Dutch national side which he propelled to Euro 88 glory.

Holding on to Huntelaar makes a change from recent seasons which saw the departure, to Real, of attacking midfielder Wesley Sneijder with Ajax having functioned in recent years as a nursery side for the continent's finest – which they once were themselves.

After three off-colour seasons Ajax have invested 20 million euros this summer and the club have high hopes for 20-year-old Serbia international Miralem Sulejmai, bought from Heerenveen.

PSV will bid to hang onto domestic supremacy despite selling keeper Heurelho Gomes to Tottenham – Andreas Isaksson coming in from Manchester City as his replacement while Dutch young strike starlet Stefan Nijland has arrived from Groningen.

The key new face at the Philipsstadion is coach Huub Stevens, who arrives from Hamburg.

Several sides have changed their coach, although Louis van Gaal is still in his seat at AZ Alkmaar, with Feyenoord replacing Bert van Marwijk (now national coach) with former Heerenveen trainer Gertjan Verbeek.

Feyenoord are the only club to win the league title aside from PSV and Ajax since Alkmaar in 1981 but their last success came in 1999.

Fixtures:

Friday

Vitesse Arnhem v FC Groningen

Saturday

FC Utrecht v PSV Eindhoven

Willem II Tilburg v Ajax

Roda JC Kerkrade v FC Twente

NEC Nijmegen v De Graafschap

Sunday

Heracles Almelo v Feyenoord

FC Volendam v SC Heerenveen

Sparta Rotterdam v ADO Den Haag

AZ Alkmaar v NAC Breda

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