Ajax is still looking for its first win in the UEFA Europa League’s group phase. For the third time in four matches, they played to a draw. No goals were scored in the game against Fenerbahçe in the Amsterdam ArenA. The Turkish team thus held on to their two point lead. Ajax is in a holding pattern in terms of continuing in the European tournament.
“We were very sloppy with the ball”, was captain Davy Klaassen’s comment after the game. “Actually, the tie is a good reflection of the balance of power during the game. There were no great opportunities. They did get a few in the final minutes due to mistakes of ours.”
Halfway through the Europa League’s group phase, Ajax had earned a scant two points. The last minute loss at Fenerbahçe didn’t help their situation. Ajax thus knew that the assignment for this return game against the Turkish team was clear and simple: to win. If they could do that, their two-point deficit would be erased. A loss would kill all of their chances.
Ajax had played a 3-4-3 system against Roda JC on Saturday. De Boer went with the trusted 4-3-3 against Fenerbahçe. That was at the expense of midfielders Thulani Serero and Daly Sinkgraven. The good news was the return of young pillar Riechedly Bazoer to midfield. Nick Viergever was at centre back. Jairo Riedwald was at left back in the absence of Mitchell Dijks.
At the Fenerbahçe match, all eyes were on Robin van Persie. The striker had received bad news from Dutch national team coach Danny Blind on Monday. He was no longer needed on the national team. The coach didn’t mince his words. Van Persie wasn’t good enough or fit enough. The striker returned to his home country seeking redemption, but in the ArenA, he barely got his feet wet. Van Persie’s only true opportunity was in the second half, but Joël Veltman intervened with a fantastic tackle.
The stakes were high in this game, and both teams knew it. But there was an incredible amount of sloppiness in both teams’ play in the first half. Klaassen had an opportunity in the first minute, after moderate defending by keeper Volkan Demirel. Ajax’s captain was unable to convert his opportunity into a goal.
A bit later on, Ajax, and especially Veltman, breathed a sigh of relief. The defender touched an attempt badly, but fortunately was spared a Feyenoord scenario. Ajax continuously lost possession, yet was still able to make a few threats from the right, mainly vial Anwar El Ghazi. The right winger was unable to reward his own efforts in the twentieth minute after a great play, and saw his shot blocked. El Ghazi retired later on due to an injury. Lasse Schöne came in for him.
Shortly before the break, both teams had a good opportunity, with the biggest being Fischer’s. The Dane pushed through from the sideline until the Turks’ box, but subsequently was intercepted by keeper Volkan. On the opposite side, Fenerbahçe had been threatening on a corner.
The entertainment value and level of play of the game remained low in the second half. Fenerbahçe seemed perfectly content to tie the game and didn’t seem to mind much that Ajax maintained a slight dominance on field. Ajax’s executions continued to be sloppy.
A second disappointment presented itself shortly after. After El Ghazi, Fischer was also forced to the sidelines. The hope was that substitute Amin Younes would be able to break the match open, but that didn’t happen. The German had a relatively anonymous substitution. In a way that was also true of Schöne, although the Dane was involved with Ajax’s biggest opportunity. On a pass of his, Klaassen sent his attempt over from the edge of the box.
Ajax didn’t manage to break through Fenerbahçe’s defense. The visitors went for broke in the last fifteen minutes. Van Persie’s opportunity was the summit of the Turkish threat.
Between minute 80 and 82, Fenerbahçe turned up in front of Ajax’s goal three times, and substitute Fernandao’s opportunity was the greatest one. The Brazilian, who scored the match winner in the first match, sent a short-range shot wide. Ajax made one more attempt, but a Younes attempt was saved by Volkan.
Klaassen was disappointed with the result, but is hopeful for the next round. “We need to win twice and hope that Fenerbahçe lose. What do I think our chances are? Less than fifty per cent. They’re in better shape, that’s clear.”