Frank de Boer and his central defender Joël Veltman gave the pre-match press conference leading up to the duel at home against Fenerbahçe. Ajax needs to win on Thursday in order to preserve a decent outlook on playing European football after the winter break.
The press conference with the Dutch and Turkish press started off with positive news. De Boer announced immediately that Riechedly Bazoer is fit enough for a starting spot. “And he will start, too”, the Ajax coach enlightened further. However, he remained mum about the remaining starting Ajacieds, and will have clarity on this only on Thursday before the duel against Fenerbahçe. The biggest question is regarding the left back position. Mitchell Dijks is injured. De Boer announced that Jairo Riedewald will definitely not be the starting left back. The youngster seems destined to fulfill a spot in the defensive heart.
De Boer is pleased with the level of his Ajacieds. The selection is fully in development. Two last-minute losses to Fenerbahçe and Feyenoord don’t take anything away from that. “The team is even better now”, analyses De Boer. “For example, now there is a lot of attention paid to applying pressure, and with that I mean that the entire team is applying pressure. That’s going well. They are also packing more of a punch. This is a talented young group, and there is still a lot that can be achieved. That’s why many Ajacieds are in the Dutch national team. The national team coach can build for the future. The guys need to keep focused though, and there will definitely be some ups and downs.” Velman echoed his coach’s words: “We’re doing better as a team, applying pressure better. We’re having fewer problems.”
De Boer and Veltman know what will be expected of them in Thursday’s home game against the Turkish team. After a 1-0 loss in Istanbul, only a win will do. De Boer: “We’ll need to post a good result on Thursday, otherwise it will be very difficult to reach second place in the pool. Ajax needs to win. If we lose, it will be almost hopeless. And if it gets to that, I almost can’t see how we’ll move forward in the Europa League.” Veltman, who had the misfortune of being involved with goals against in the games against both Feyenoord and Fenerbahçe, knows what they need to do to get a good result. “Be sharp for 95 minutes. Give one hundred per cent.”
Robin van Persie
Robin van Persie seems to be the man to watch in Amsterdam. The Rotterdam native will be looking for redemption after being dropped from the Dutch national selection. De Boer and Veltman expressed respect for the striker. “Robin is a very good player, someone who can always make the difference”, said the Ajax coach, without questioning national team coach Danny Blind’s decision. “We’ll definitely need to pay attention to him. A good Van Persie is fatal. I hope that Veltman and his team mates can keep him in check.” Veltman: “Van Persie just sees it. That was clear in Istanbul against Ajax.”
The development of individual players and the team are creating expectations. Ajax can still make it quite far in Europe, emphasized De Boer. “If you really want to have an impact, you need to make the semi-finals. If you make it that far, it’s fantastic. Then you’re really achieved something. But first we need to focus on this pool phase. I’m convinced that if everything goes well, we can go far.”
PSV’s win against Wolfsburg in the UEFA Champions League, is pushing the Ajacied to make waves in European play as well this season. “PSV’s win is a fantastic example of a Dutch team doing well in Europe”, said De Boer. “It’s extra motivating and encouraging that Dutch teams can do that.” The Ajax coach expects Fenerbahçe to play a compact game in the Amsterdam ArenA on Thursday. “We will need to be very careful with the ball. That’s how we’ll need to play. We’ll have to watch out, especially for loss of possession. If you don’t play compactly enough and suffer unnecessary loss of possession, a good team can really hurt you. That’s what we need to avoid.”