The historic Amsterdam club won their 35th Dutch first division championship, swatting away all competition and continuing their domestic dominance.
However, there were additional noteworthy storylines during this unique (mostly spectator-less) 2020/21 Eredivisie season, which officially concluded on Sunday.
Eredivisie Season Review
The Title Winners
Ajax cruised to their second league title in three seasons, an outcome which was never in doubt. After topping the table on October 24, 2020, with a 13-0 demolition of VVV-Venlo, Erik ten Hag’s squad never relinquished their hold on the league. Their final total of 88 points was the most in a single Eredivisie season by a club since PSV in 2014/15.
Ajax’s attacking juggernaut lit up the Eredivisie, scoring 102 goals over 34 league matches. They eclipsed the century mark for the second time under ten Hag (Ajax scored an incredible 119 goals during their legendary 2018/19 season.) Before his arrival, no Eredivisie club had scored more than 100 goals in a season since PSV in 2012/13. This remarkable offensive output has made ten Hag a highly coveted manager throughout Europe, with many teams interested in recreating his Ajax scoring machine.
Ajax lost just twice this season and conceded only 23 goals, the fewest by an Eredivisie club since 2016/17. Both defeats came before January 2021, as Ajax ripped apart their opposition with ease and ferocity. In the club’s final 19 league matches, they won 17 times, including victories over rivals Feyenoord and last year’s title challengers, AZ Alkmaar. They won the league title by 16 points, along with securing a record-extending 20th KNVB Beker (Dutch Cup). After a frustrating end to last season, with the curtailment of the league, Ajax put together one of the most impressive years in recent Dutch history.
PSV’s Ups and Downs
PSV Eindhoven, winners of 24 Eredivisie titles, finished in second with 72 points. After a disappointing fourth-place finish last season, they rebounded strongly under manager Roger Schmidt. PSV lost only four times—the same as Ajax’s title-winning team two years ago.
However, it was the high number of draws (nine in total) that derailed any title challenge. Two of those came against Ajax, as PSV were the only team the champions did not defeat in 2020/21. These matches were discouraging for PSV, as they were leading in both, before blowing a 2-0 lead in Amsterdam and conceding a late 92nd-minute goal in Eindhoven. Schmidt’s side were the only Dutch club to consistently pose any problem to Ajax, but never took full advantage.
Ultimately, it was PSV’s ineptitude against the league’s top teams (Ajax, AZ, Vitesse and Feyenoord) that defined their season. Out of these eight matches, PSV won once and picked up only six points from a possible 24. They lost half of these games, including two defeats to AZ. PSV’s poor performances against the Eredivisie’s best limited their chances of seriously competing for the title. Still, a second-place finish and a spot in the Champions League qualifying rounds beckon, which made for an overall acceptable season.
AZ Alkmaar’s Hectic Season
No team was arguably more negatively affected by the cancellation of the 2019/20 Eredivisie season than AZ, who were tied at the top of the table with Ajax. However, despite beating Ajax twice, AZ’s goal difference was inferior, which sent them to the Champions League qualifying rounds instead of a direct group stage berth. From there, they were dealt a difficult draw (Dynamo Kyiv away in just one leg) and were eliminated, eventually playing in the Europa League group stages. This hectic start to the season damaged any chances AZ had of challenging for the title again, as they drew their first five league matches.
However, AZ rediscovered their 2019/20 form and won ten of their next 13, improving their league position. The club were also dealt a blow when successful manager Arne Slot was sacked after secretly agreeing to terms with Feyenoord to coach the club next season. In stepped assistant Pascal Jansen, who guided AZ to home and away victories over PSV and Feyenoord, while winning 17 of his 24 league matches in charge. In fact, after a 3-0 humbling loss to Ajax in late January, AZ only dropped seven points the rest of the season, leading to a credible third-place finish.
The Trauma of Relegation
ADO Den Haag and VVV-Venlo will be playing football in the Dutch second division in 2021/22, as there was no question that they were the two worst teams in the Eredivisie. Venlo never recovered from the scarring 13-0 defeat to Ajax in October, as they conceded a league-high 91 goals. They also lost the most times (23) and had the worst goal difference (-48). Venlo only picked up one point from their final 15 league matches, which emphasised their relegation form.
Den Haag were also horrific this season. They finished bottom of the table with 22 points from 34 matches. They won only four times (fewest in the league), along with scoring a pitiful 29 goals, which was also the worst. From January 13 to May 2, Den Haag did not win a single match, and despite winning two of their final four games, it was not enough to confirm the inevitable. After being spared of relegation in 2019/20 due to the league’s cancellation, The Hague’s major football club will be playing outside of the Eredivisie for the first time in 13 years.
Ajax left winger Dusan Tadic was one of the best players in the Eredivisie this season, as he was instrumental in the club’s championship run. Tadic recorded 14 goals, and his 17 assists led all players in the league. Even though he is 32, the Serbian is at the prime of his career, and his performances this year were extraordinary.
Feyenoord right-winger Steven Berghuis also had a fantastic season, good enough to potentially earn a starting spot in the Dutch national team during the delayed-Euro 2020 tournament this summer. His 18 goals and 12 assists were a bright spot in an overall underwhelming season for the Rotterdam club, who finished in fifth.
Other Eredivisie stars included PSV centre-forward Donyell Malen. The 22-year-old finished second in the league in scoring, with 19 goals, and will also play a role in Euro 2020 for the Netherlands. Top players also fueled AZ’s third-place finish, as the duo of defensive midfielder Teun Koopmeiners and forward Myron Boadu scored 15 goals apiece, with Boadu’s sensational hattrick against Feyenoord as a standout moment.
Perhaps the most incredible player in the league this season was Venlo striker Georgios Giakoumakis, who finished as the top scorer with 26 goals. With a mind-boggling market value of just €2.50 million, the 26-year-old Greek scored a hat-trick in the opening match, along with two four-goal performances over a two-week span. Ironically, Giakoumakis starred for a relegated team, as Venlo only scored 43 total goals in the league. It is hard to fathom how much worse the year could have been for the club if Giakoumakis did not play at such a high level.
An Exciting and Compelling League
Despite its reputation as a feeder-league, where young footballers gain experience before their inevitable sale to larger, most prestigious clubs, the Eredivisie generally provides fantastic football, with fun and high-paced matches between historic clubs.
This season was no different, with quality performances shining throughout the hard months of lockdowns and the continuing pandemic. In the end, Ajax won another league title, which may provide a sense of normalcy to a world that desperately needs it.