Danes lead the way in Dutch league at halfway stage
AMSTERDAM (AP) — In a year when the Netherlands missed the European Championship, it is not much of a surprise that few of the top players in the league play for the Dutch national team.
Two Danes have been the top players in the first half of the Dutch season.
Nicolai Jorgensen’s league-leading 12 goals have powered Feyenoord to the top of the table as the league enters its winter break. The 25-year-old Jorgensen moved from FC Copenhagen to Rotterdam at the start of the season, netted in his first two matches and never looked back.
Kasper Dolberg hasn’t scored as many goals -- he has eight -- but the 19-year-old Ajax striker’s stylish play has already earned him comparisons with some of the club’s greatest, including Marco van Basten and Dennis Bergkamp.
Will 2017 be the year when perennially underachieving Rotterdam powerhouse Feyenoord finally breaks a title drought stretching back into the last century?
Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s balanced Feyenoord team looks like a serious contender as it goes into the Dutch winter break with a five-point lead over Ajax. Two-time defending champion PSV Eindhoven is a further three points back in third and uncharacteristically struggling to find the net.
Free-scoring Feyenoord has 47 goals so far this season, almost double PSV’s tally of 25.
There were clear signs last season of a Feyenoord revival as the team won the Dutch Cup. Now it has its 15th league title -- but first since 1999 -- in view. Van Bronckhorst managed to keep the team together over the offseason with veterans Dirk Kuyt and Ahmed El Ahmadi staying in Rotterdam along with another attacking midfielder, Tonny Vilhena, to form the team’s backbone. Jorgenson arrived to provide the goals.
The start of 2017 could be key for the title race as Ajax creative midfielder Hakim Ziyech and El Ahmadi will both be on African Cup duty for Morocco.
PICK OF THE PLAYERS
Netherlands coach Danny Blind must be ruing the fact that Ziyech, a Dutch-born Morocco international, did not choose to play for the Netherlands.
Ziyech has continued for Ajax where he left off last season at FC Twente. He slotted seamlessly into his new club’s midfield and his darting runs and incisive passes have helped to keep Ajax in the title race.
El Ahmadi, meanwhile, is having his best season at Feyenoord, adding goals (four in the league) to his trademark tough tackling and pinpoint accurate ball distribution in midfield.
While Jorgensen has quietly amassed his goals, and six assists, Dolberg has stolen the headlines with his graceful turns and clinical finishing, netting eight goals in 12 league matches.
The highlight was a first-half hat trick in Ajax’s 5-0 rout of NEC Nijmegen on Nov. 20. The first goal is a likely contender for goal of the season as Dolberg combined with his Danish teammate Lasse Schoene before controlling the ball on his chest and twice on his thigh as he cut through a group of three defenders and sent a powerful shot into the roof of the net .
Dolberg proved he can score against stronger sides, too, with a memorable strike against Celta de Vigo in the Europa League.
The young Dane has not scored since the NEC hat trick, but looks certain to raise his tally after the winter break.
FC Twente nearly didn’t make it into the mix this season.
The Dutch soccer association called for the 2010 league champions to be relegated because of financial mismanagement and it took an appeal to secure a berth in the top flight this season. But after losing Ziyech to Ajax, it remained to be seen if Twente could survive.
Turkey striker Enes Unal, on loan from Manchester City, has filled the gap with 10 goals, lifting Twente to a surprise seventh in the league at the halfway mark.
POINTS TO PROVE
Two-time defending champion PSV Eindhoven goes into the winter break in third place, eight points adrift of Feyenoord, and has struggled for form all season.
Captain Luuk de Jong leads the league, together with Ziyech, in shots with 60, but has only four goals to his name. PSV also was eliminated from the Champions League, finishing last in its group with only two points.
Newly-promoted Go Ahead Eagles Deventer is struggling to adjust, managing only three victories in its first 17 matches and currently last in the league.