On Sunday, Ajax will face a tough home game against FC Utrecht. That is Frank de Boer’s expectation, as he explained on Friday during his weekly press conference. “There is a reason they’re in fourth place. They’re a difficult opponent, and they also happen to be the last team to have defeated us. So we consider ourselves warned.”
Earlier on Friday, at PSV’s press conference, Philip Cocu said that if his team wins the next four games, they will win the championship. De Boer was thus (naturally) asked for a reaction. “I’m only going to say that we definitely know that”, he quipped. “If we win four times, we’ll be the champion, not PSV. And maybe we don’t even need to win four times and can afford to tie a game.” Ajax is nursing a two-point lead on PSV.
“But you never know for sure”, continued De Boer. “We cannot have any more off days, let’s be clear about that. We are living in the moment, match to match. Our focus is completely on FC Utrecht. We need to make sure we don’t suffer any damage.”
De Boer contested a PSV reporter’s opinion that PSV has been winning recent matches more easily. “We’ve also been winning with relative ease lately, just not against Cambuur. But PSV had a tough time against Willem II as well. I just have confidence that we can beat any Eredivisie opponent. That’s not arrogance, but it’s based on the strength of our selection. Our players are good.”
The importance of a broad selection was proven when both Jairo Riedewald and Kenny Tete sustained longer term injuries. In the past few months, they have been seamlessly replaced by Mike van der Hoorn and Nick Viergever. De Boer is ‘not surprised’ at this.
“We received a lot of criticism because we had two acquisitions sitting on the bench. But we’ve always stated that we wanted to have a good, broad selection. The best players play. Mike and Nick have grown a lot because they’re always playing right now. We’ve always been confident that if we needed them, they’d be there. They’ve been very important, and hopefully they will continue to be until the end.”
Full speed ahead
Utrecht has the cup final against Feyenoord coming up next week. De Boer doesn’t think that the Utrecht team will be focussing on the match in de Kuip just yet. “Perhaps Robbin Ruiter (who is injured) will be, but the other players won’t. It seems to me that they will want to go full speed ahead against Ajax and leave the game feeling good. Getting thrashed by us wouldn’t do their confidence any good.”
Anwar El Ghazi played a key role against Cambuur. As a substitute, he made the assist on Davy Klaassen’s winning goal. De Boer was asked if he was happy with the signal that El Ghazi had given. The coach was restrained in his answer. “I expect that kind of signal not only from him, but from every forward. Sometimes things don’t go well and you bring in players in the hope that they can make a difference. I’m very pleased with Anwar. He’s been training well for weeks, but I have no reason to make a change.”
De Boer feels that the Ajacieds need to give their maximum in order to win the championship. In his eyes, Ajax has a difficult program ahead, with no easy games. “We still need to play at De Graafschap and they’re still fighting degradation. Utrecht is always a hard opponent and Twente keeps doing better. Next to that, Heerenveen is steadily improving and they will have the home advantage. No, we have a lot of work to do.”