One of the most exciting finishes to the football premier league race in decades is expected tonight. Three teams, AZ Alkmaar, Amsterdam’s Ajax and PSV Eindhoven, are all in with a shout, with goal difference the only thing dividing them.
AZ are best positioned to raise the trophy with a superior goal difference (five-goal lead on Ajax) and have arguably the easiest game away to lowly-placed Excelsior of Rotterdam. With the smallest budget of the three, AZ have played the most attacking football this season and seem to have the strongest team spirit.
But manager Louis van Gaal has warned against complacency and says the pressure of being the favourite could get to his relatively inexperienced side. Danny Koevermans, the team’s top scorer, admitted he was having problems keeping his mind off the game. ‘I have to set myself tasks each day to stop myself from thinking about the match,’ he told the Telegraaf this week.
The outsider in the race, third-placed PSV, have the hardest game, playing Vitesse of Arnhem. PSV will have to rely on AZ and Ajax dropping points. They face a tough mental task, having frittered away an 11 point lead in past weeks. After the winter break PSV were comfortably on course to win their third consecutive premier league championship.
There has been speculation this week of a rift between some PSV players and manager Ronald Koeman. ‘It is logical in a squad of 25 players that some are dissatisfied, but we still have a chance to win the title,’ said captain Philip Cocu in the Telegraaf.
Ajax on the other hand have kept quiet about their expectations after their manager said last Sunday that he felt his side will be lifting the trophy this weekend. Henk ten Cate must be counting on AZ dropping points because the goal difference between the two clubs is huge. Ajax would have to score six goals more than AZ if both teams win their last game. That’s a tall order for Ajax, even against the weak Willem II (Tilburg).
Those without strong affiliations will probably be rooting for AZ to clinch their first premier league championship since 1981.
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