AMSTERDAM, December 7 (Eredivisie) - The stage could be set for PSV Eindhoven to tighten their grip on the Eredivisie this weekend as they visit out-of sorts FC Groningen while title rivals Ajax and AZ Alkmaar clash in Amsterdam.
AZ and Ajax are respectively five and six points behind the defending champions ahead of their clash at the Amsterdam ArenA which sees AZ coach Louis van Gaal return to his former club.
Ajax will be denied the services of the suspended Kenneth Perez but last weekend's 6-0 humiliation of Willem II ended a mini-slump by the Amsterdammers which had left coach Henk ten Cate's side in some disarray.
Now back on track, Ajax will be hosting an AZ side that has scored 48 goals in the Eredivisie this season - they have played 15 matches.
That is seven more than PSV who have the next best strike force in the division.
Van Gaal has tried to play down suggestions that they could be the first team from outside the 'big three' - Ajax, PSV and Feyenoord - to win the Eredivisie since AZ's last title success in 1981.
However, a victory against Ajax would be a clear signal that the club is in the race.
However, the hopes of Ten Cate and Van Gaal of winning the Eredivisie look at present likely to be thwarted by another former Ajax boss, Ronald Koeman.
When he took the reins at PSV from Guus Hiddink in the summer, many would have hoped that an era of success might be ending for the Eindhoven club.
However, nine consecutive Eredivisie wins have seen the champions establish a significant lead at the top of the table.
A trip to Groningen until a few weeks ago would have been seen as a tough outing for PSV as the northerners were unbeaten at their Euroborg home since moving there from the Oosterparkstadion last season.
However, Ron Jans' outfit has had a poor run with three defeats in their last four matches in which they have conceded 16 goals.
Their proud unbeaten record at the Euroborg ended in a 5-2 humiliation at the hands of ADO Den Haag in their last home fixture and PSV will doubtless feel that they could not be visiting at a better time.
It will also be something of a sentimental journey for Koeman whose career started at Groningen.
Koeman's brother Erwin, another Groningen graduate who is now coach of Feyenoord, has committed his future to the Rotterdam club despite the bad behaviour by that club's supporters in recent weeks.
Feyenoord host ADO Den Haag on Sunday in a match which has clear potential for more crowd problems, given the reputations of the respective sets of fans.
Frans Adelaar resigned as ADO coach last month because of crowd trouble by supporters of The Hague outfit.
Fourth-placed FC Twente will hope to continue their fine recent form at Tilburg against hosts Willem II.
RKC Waalwijk travel to Arnhem to play Vitesse.
Heracles Almelo host Sparta Rotterdam while Foeke Booy's FC Utrecht travel to Nijmegen to play NEC. NAC Breda entertain Excelsior at the Rat Verlegh Stadion.
Heerenveen kick-off the weekend on Friday evening when they host Roda JC.