Yay, we're back! Hope you all enjoyed the football feast through the summer and come back refreshed and ready to go again. The first of our leagues kicks off this weekend so here we go with the first look at the new Dutch season.
Roda JC v Twente
NEC v VVV Venlo
De Graafschap v Excelsior
Heracles v Willem II
Heerenveen v PSV
Groningen v Ajax
Feyenoord v Utrecht
Vitesse v ADO
NAC v AZ
Only one of the big five - as we must now consider it - begin at home and that's Feyenoord. Having got rid of a number of their big earners, they may need a year or two more to build a side capable of winning the league again, but they've at least turned the supertanker around. New signings are few and far between, so the veteran Jon Dahl Tomasson will have to score the bulk of their goals. Utrecht pose tricky opposition and could easily spring an opening day surprise here. They've remained much the same as they look to build on an encouraging season last time around. The champions begin life after Steve McClaren against Roda. Gone are the veterans Blaise N'Kufo and Kenneth Perez. Young Luuk de Jong has been handed the shirt vacated by the record goal-scorer N'Kufo while Perez's calming midfield influence will need Theo Janssen to shed the wild child image and grow up. There's no Miroslav Stoch, Azerbaijani Vaguf Javadov comes in from partner club Qarabag, but Bryan Ruiz remains. They look to be well in contention for a repeat success, but it'll be a lot harder this time around. Either way, they'll be way too good for Roda JC.
PSV are the title favourites and begin with a tricky one away at Heerenveen. The Friesians have had a massive clear-out, so may find the early going tough. New faces too in Eindhoven where Marcus Berg comes in from Hamburg and Jeremain Lens from AZ to bolster the forward line, but it's much the same squad as last time, just a year older and wiser. They look strong. Ajax are in a muddle. They need to raise cash, so offers for Luis Suarez, Gregory van der Wiel and Maarten Stekelenberg will not be refused, but would they have time to bring in anyone should they leave? Marko Pantelic is already gone, so Mounir El Hamdaoui, in from AZ, will have to pick up his slack alongside Suarez. It's the young lads who will have to step up. Toby Alderweireld was great last season, as was Siem de Jong and they'll have to be again. Groningen, their opponents this week, look set for a season of struggle. AZ are just emerging from the collapse of their parent company and have lost an entire forward line. Gertjan Verbeek is the new boss and while he's lost a fair few players, he's still got plenty to work with, unlike Robert Maaskant at NAC who doesn't have two brass farthings to rub together as the new Rat Verlegh stadium still weighs as a millstone round the club's neck.
Elsewhere, there's an early battle between the two promoted clubs. Excelsior have crammed their side with Feyenoord juniors while De Graafschap will be looking to Rydell Poepon for the goals to keep them up. They both look like having long, hard seasons. VVV Venlo too look like having a season of struggle. No longer are the likes of Keisuke Honda and Sandro Calabro there and the replacements, frankly, aren't up to much. Heracles lost Verbeek to AZ, but still look a tidy little side, well able to challenge for the final Europa League spot led by the likes of Everton and Darl Douglas. They're at Willem II this week who only avoided relegation by beating Go Ahead Eagles in the play-offs. They don't look any better than that for the new season. Vitesse against ADO also looks like a relegation battle. ADO lost several of their better players in the off-season and don't have the cash for replacements while Vitesse are really struggling and have a tiny squad. Any injuries and they're in trouble.
Finally, a plea. Last season was the worst in a number of years for crowd trouble. Can we all just calm down please?