Eredivisie returns

Image: Koeman: Under pressure looks at the candidates for the Eredivisie ahead of the start of the season. takes a look at the candidates for the Eredivisie title ahead of the start of the new season on Friday

Defending champions AZ Alkmaar are keen to keep hold of their crown, but giants PSV Eindhoven and Ajax are desperate for a return to glory. Ronald Koeman has taken over at AZ, but Ajax boss Martin Jol and PSV chief Fred Rutten will hope to make life difficult for the former Holland legend. Steve McClaren's FC Twente, however, will be a side to watch after the ex-England boss guided his team to second place in his debut campaign. Ajax coach Jol has talked down his side's chances of wresting the Eredivisie crown away from AZ despite a summer rebuilding programme. The new campaign gets under way on Friday night with Heerenveen taking on Roda JC, while Ajax open on Sunday with a trip to FC Groningen. Jol, who joined Ajax from Hamburg early in the close season, believes AZ and the team they dethroned, PSV, will be the sides to beat. The former Tottenham boss told Voetbal International: "Alkmaar have kept most of their team together, while PSV made a step forward by signing experienced duo Andre Ooijer and Orlando Engelaar. "You can say it is almost unfeasible for Ajax to win the title but it can be done and we will go for it. "Playing for the championship is a must for Ajax but being the biggest club in the country does not guarantee success, like we noticed in the last few years." Ajax have not won the trophy for five years but have brought in Holland international Demy de Zeeuw from AZ and Hamburg full-back Thimothee Atouba. However, last season's captain Thomas Vermaelen has left for Arsenal. De Zeeuw is set to start on Sunday but Atouba could have to settle for a place on the bench. Ajax are also without Spanish utility man Gabri while young midfielder Eyong Enoh faces a late fitness test on a groin problem. AZ visit Heracles Almelo boosted by getting their hands on the Dutch Super Cup last weekend after thrashing Heerenveen 5-1. New boss Koeman reluctantly sanctioned the sale of De Zeeuw but replacement Pontus Wernbloom is set to go straight into the side at the weekend. Heracles are one of the favourites to go down having sold key players Ricky van den Berg and Emmanuel Boakye this summer. PSV ought to get off to a winning start with a home game against newly-promoted VVV Venlo. FC Twente start at Sparta Rotterdam with McClaren admitting it will be tough for his side to match their achievements of last season, let alone to improve on it. "I have told my players that it would be difficult to repeat the success (of last season)," he said. "I am convinced it is possible, but we also now need to build a new team, with the transfers of several good players. This season it's also our goal to get the maximum out of the group."

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