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Ajax must beat AZ Alkmaar and Van Basten to stay in Dutch title race

There’s an old saying about getting too comfortable. Frank de Boer has certainly made management look easy at Ajax by winning four Eredivisie titles in a row, but finds his side a dozen points off the pace to make it five consecutive Dutch league crowns.

A sudden downturn in form for the Amsterdam giants, who have picked up a single point from the last six available, has handed PSV Eindhoven a huge advantage. Coral make Ajax odds-on at 8/13 to return to winning ways, however, by beating AZ Alkmaar at home.

While Alkmaar, 4/1 outsiders for victory at the Amsterdam ArenA, have not earned victory on that ground this century, a draw may be tempting value at 3/1 as only PSV and Utrecht have beaten them in Eredivisie action since September.

On AZ’s coaching staff is one Marco van Basten. The great Ajax striker and later not quite so successful manager stood down as head coach of Alkmaar last year, citing stress.

“The stress I experienced was more than I would have liked,” said Van Basten, who is now assistant boss. “There were two solutions: to do something else or to change the way I currently work. That is why I asked AZ to change my responsibility to better suit me and so that I can continue.”

It was bold and brave of Van Basten to do this, and to laud him for it should not be misconstrued as patronising one of the modern era’s best European footballers. If he is teaching USA striker Aron Johannsson how to adapt after serious injury, then the Alkmaar frontman, who has Icelandic heritage as well, will pose a danger to Ajax.

Johannsson, who has been on target against the Amsterdam outfit before, is 3/1 to net again anytime, and scored in AZ’s last outing. Serbian midfielder Nemanja Gudelj, meanwhile, is leading Alkmaar marksman with eight in the league, and is better in the same market at 7/2.

With Davy Klaassen missing out and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson sidelined, the goal burden for Ajax falls on Europe’s ‘Golden Boy’ Arkadiusz Milik. The Poland striker, who succeeded Paul Pogba as the awarded winner for the best young player on the entire continent, is short at even-money, given he is yet to score in 2015, in the anytime market.

Denmark winger Lasse Schone has down Alkmaar before and is better at 6/4 to net again. Teenage talent Anwar El-Ghazi should play some part for De Boer, and he is 5/1 to score last. A score draw of 1-1 looks a likely outcome here at 15/2, though it will Ajax’s title chances no good.