De Boer: ‘This is a big match'

De Boer: ‘This is a big match'

Frank de Boer has high expectations of the home game against Vitesse, a team he holds in high esteem.  “I see this as a big match”, said the Ajax coach during Friday’s weekly press conference.  “Vitesse has a good selection, just look at who they have on the bench.  They’re fourth right now.  I have the feeling that they can hold that position for a long time.”

There was a switch of coaches at Vitesse during the winter break.  Peter Bosz left for Maccabi Tel Aviv, and assistant coach Rob Maas has stepped up.  Not much will change, according to De Boer.  “Bosz and Maas were both defending midfielders, but you can’t find that back in Vitesse’s play.  They both want to play attacking football.  Maas has taken over, but the philosophy hasn’t really changed.”

Ajax trained on Friday leading up to the Vitesse match, and De Boer stood out for his sharp coaching.  The Ajax coach was asked if there was a reason for which he was so much on top of the training.  “I think that this group needs a short leash”, was De Boer’s reaction.  “Today’s training was demanding.  At times, I held my breath hoping that they wouldn’t get injured in the tough duels.  My coaching is usually like this.  Sometimes it’s a bit more toned down, but today it was full-on.  There are a few tactical elements that we discussed.  You go for it, whether it goes well or not.”

Davy Klaassen will be absent against Vitesse, just like he was against ADO.  His logical replacement, according to the reporters, should be Donny van de Beek, who also did the honours  as attacking midfielder at Kyocera Stadium.  De Boer did not reveal anything, although he expressed satisfaction at Van de Beek’s contribution against ADO.  “He did well in that position, he stood his ground.  It was a shame that he wasn’t able to finish off that one great attack, but otherwise he worked his tail off.”

Always win

Due to elimination from European and cup tournaments, Ajax’s focus is completely on the competition.  De Boer claims that this won’t put any additional pressure on the team. “Competition always comes first and Ajax’s duty is to win, whether it’s Eredivisie, cup or European play.”

Ajax may be in the Eredivisie lead, but the team hasn’t always been convincing in the top matches.  De Boer has an explanation.  “My feeling is that we always have to make the game.  If one day you’re not at your best and give away a lot of room, we end up with egg on our face. We were mediocre against PSV, we had a bad day.  Against Feyenoord we were continuously in possession, and in European play, we constantly sought to attack.  If something isn’t right, then the opponent gets better opportunities.  Great teams get punished for this, and smaller teams experience this much less.”

De Boer said that Ajax is looking for a new centre forward.  “We’re not happy with Yaya Sanogo, he’s not one hundred per cent fit.  What if Arek Milik is out?  We want to win the championship.  We can’t do that with eleven or twelve people.  Normally, it’s numbers 18, 19 and 20 who determine whether you win the championship or not.  Arek is very important, but the second striker needs to be important, too.”

Chemistry

De Boer was specifically asked about the development of his Polish centre forward.  “He’s not there yet”, began the coach.  “But he’s doing many things well, and that’s why he’s always in the line-up.  He can score like no other with his left foot, and he will always be able to do that.  But he needs to learn to recognize when he needs to be the point man, and when he needs to stay away.  His chemistry with his team mates could also be better, although that has improved a lot.”

Offense is the line that De Boer struggles with the most. “It’s always like that, isn’t it?” he grinned.  And then, more seriously.  “Younes is pretty good and Arek is steady right now.  It’s only with the right winger position that we sometimes fiddle with.  Schöne can play there, so can Fischer, El Ghazi and Cerny.  There are many good options.  We’re looking at the trainings and matches to see what we need.  In the end, the players themselves determine whether or not they will play.”

Vitesse awaits on Saturday.  De Boer knows how to fight the Arnhem team.  “They’re a young team with many qualities.  We need to make sure that they don’t tap into their qualities.  If Vitesse gets the room, they’ve proven that they can play good football.”