Dutch Eredivisie, Matchday 1 Preview: Ajax Begins Title Defense; Jozy Altidore Debuts For AZ Alkmaar Vs. PSV Eindhoven


Ajax opens their title defense against De Graafschap, while AZ and PSV square off in the opening weekend's marquee match

Though Europe's 'big three' are a couple of weeks from getting underway, the European football season really gets started in earnest this weekend as the Eredivisie, among other leagues kicks off their season. Title holders Ajax Amsterdam have made some changes, but have kept the key parts of their squad together and will be looking to make another title run. FC Twente and PSV Eindhoven have lost more than they have gained in the transfer window, but both have squads strong enough to challenge Ajax.

Both Twente and Ajax will be expected to get three points from their fixtures in Week 1, while PSV face a serious challenge in AZ Alkmaar. AZ finished in fourth place last season and director of football Earnie Stewart has brought in his countryman Jozy Altidore, among others, to try to aid AZ's attack.

AZ Alkmaar vs. PSV Eindhoven

Sunday, 6:30 am ET

Watch: ESPN3.com in the United States

Luckily for Americans interested in the Eredivisie, ESPN3 usually makes a point of carrying at least one game per week. This week's selection is obvious, as AZ and PSV were the third and fourth placed teams in the league last year and figure to be in similar positions once again.

PSV are a team that have undergone some massive changes in their squad this offseason, partially due to their financial difficulties. Star winger Balázs Dzsudzsák was sold to up and coming Russian side Anzhi for a large sum of money, while Mexican international defender 'Maza' Fransisco Rodriguez moved on to Stuttgart. While Maza was not replaced, Georginio Wijnaldum was brought in from Feyenoord and should help replace some of Dzsudzsak's production.

AZ has undergone some serious upheaval, losing a number of star players. Forward Kolbeinn Sigþórsson has moved on to Ajax, defender Hector Moreno has moved to Espanyol and midfielder Stijn Schaars has gone to Sporting Lisbon. Only Altidore and Ruud Boymans, another striker, came into the team.

With Schaars' departure, someone has to step up to partner Rasmus Elm in the center for AZ, and their roster looks thin in that area. Ola Toivonen and Wijnaldum should be able to create time and space on the ball for themselves in the center of the pitch, and that should ultimately be the difference between the two sides on Sunday.

De Graafschap vs. Ajax

Sunday, 8:30 am

Maarten Steklenburg and Demy de Zeeuw are gone from, along with Luis Suarez and Urby Emmanuelson, who departed last winter. In are backup goalkeeper Kenneth Vermeer and now former FC Twente ace Theo Janssen, who will step into de Zeeuw's place. Great players always leave Ajax and others step up to replace them, and in the cases of Steklenburg and de Zeeuw - though it seems harsh to say - they will not be missed for long.

Frank de Boer's new look side will be heavy favorites against De Graafschap, despite starting on the road. The Doetinchem team has yo-yoed back and forth between the first and second divisions in recent years and did well to avoid the relegation playoff places last season. Anything but a big win for Ajax will set off alarm bells in Amsterdam.

Other matches

Excelsior vs. Feyenoord - Friday, 2:00 pm ET

Roda JC vs. FC Groningen - Saturday, 12:45 pm ET

Heerenveen vs. NEC - Saturday, 1:45 pm ET

RKC Waalwijk vs. Heracles - Saturday, 1:45 pm ET

VVV Venlo vs. FC Utrecht - Saturday, 2:45 pm ET

ADO Den Haag vs. Vitesse - Sunday, 8:30 am ET

NAC Breda vs. FC Twente - Sunday, 10:30 am ET

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