On Sunday, Ajax was unable to take complete revenge against arch rival Feyenoord. Ten days after the Rotterdam team’s triumph in the KNVB Cup tournament match, the Eredivisie edition of Feyenoord – Ajax ended in a 1-1 tie. Captain Davy Klaassen scored the tying goal in de Kuip. Frank de Boer’s team thus heads into the interland period as the league leader.
The statistics gave this Classic extra cachet. Feyenoord – Ajax was a match-up between the best team at home and the strongest team away in the current football season. Feyenoord has not yet lost a single game this season in the Rotterdam football temple. As of 14:30 today, Ajax had the best away record of any team so far this season. The Amsterdam team has won five of their six away games; away at FC Twente, they played to a draw.
Ajax also has a keeper who has never lost to Feyenoord in Eredivisie play. The Gelderland native has won three games and tied three. A fourth tie was added on Sunday. Cillessen had a significant contribution in maintaining these statistics. In several tough moments, the Ajax goalie coolly led his team through the difficulties.
The rankings provided the Amsterdam team with a golden opportunity. Ajax could increase its lead on second-placed Feyenoord to six points if they won. “We can’t knock them out, but we can certainly deal them a blow in the race for the title”, said Nemanja Gudelj beforehand. The Serbian Ajacied, an experienced veteran when it comes to playing highly charged matches, started as central midfielder. Knowing that PSV had beat FC Utrecht (3-1) earlier in the day, Ajax wanted to win even more.
Klaassen as centre forward
Frank de Boer elected to play Davy Klaassen in the starting centre forward position. The flanks were manned by Amin Younes (left) and jack of all trades Lasse Schöne. This last was replacing the injured Anwar El Ghazi. The forward sustained an injury to his ankle early on during Thursday’s match against Fenerbahçe (0-0). Although the club was forced to make do without its top scorer, De Boer was able to call on left back Mitchell Dijks, as well as Viktor Fischer, who also suffered a light injury on Thursday. Dijks was in the starting line-up, and the Dane was fit and started this Classic on the bench.
The second Feyenoord-Ajax meeting in ten days was the setting for revenge. Or would this be Ajax’s second disappointing game in de Kuip? On October 28, the Classic in de Kuip turned into a popular festival. A late and unfortunate own goal by Joël Veltman helped Ajax to an early exit from the cup tournament. The Feyenoorders and their ‘Legioen’ celebrated this triumph as if the most important Europa Cup had landed in the Rotterdam team’s trophy case that same evening.
A Classic always brings out extra powers in an Ajacied, especially if it’s dubbed the Match of the Year. Recent history was still fresh in everyone’s mind, and Veltman especially was surely out for redemption. After a disappointing midweek tie against Fenerbahçe (0-0) in the UEFA Europa League, several Ajacieds were also looking for redemption.
The historic enemies allowed each other very few opportunities in the first 29 minutes of this Classic. Within half an hour, Eljero Elia had the first real opportunity of the match. The home team’s lefty saw Cillessen make a good save. With Feyenoord goalie Kenneth Vermeer within shooting distance, centre forward Klaassen sent the ball back to Daley Sinkgraven. The left midfielder’s attempt sailed wide.
The first skirmishes were a lead-in for the home team’s opening goal. Dirk Kuyt sailed around offside and brought Sven van Beek, who had come up with him, into position. The central defender then left Cillessen hopeless: 1-0. Once more the sold-out de Kuip burst into celebration. After the break, it was a nail-biting game for the visitors. Cillessen prevented the situation from worsening by stopping a sharp attempt from Marko Vejinovic. Another disappointment was when Schöne was forced to retire from the game. He was replaced by his countryman, Fischer.
There was still half of a Classic match left for Ajax to restore order. At the start of the second half, yet another Ajacied was forced to the sidelines. Riechedly Bazoer was replaced by Arek Milik. The Pole took over his trusted spot as centre forward, and Klaassen continued the match from his own familiar position at midfield.
The Classic picked up speed soon after play resumed in the second half. Ajax applied pressure, and had an unlucky break when Kenneth Vermeer rescued Gudelj’s attempt from out of the goal. Veltman, playing an outstanding game, send the next corner over with a header. The tying goal came two minutes later. Klaassen’s shot, which had changed direction, cannoned beautifully, almost miraculously, over the hopeless Vermeer, 1-1.
There was no shortage of combat, passion, fouls and yellow cards in the exciting final minutes. Cillessen once again had opportunities to distinguish himself. The goalie made a crucial save on an attempt from substitute Colim Kazim-Richards. On the opposite side, Sinkgraven was stopped by former Ajacied Vermeer with a sweeping shot over and a header (save Cillessen) the Ajax keeper had the last word. Thus Feyenoord and Ajax played to a1-1 tie on Sunday.
Feyenoord - Ajax 1-1 (1-0): 38. Van Beek 1-0, 59. Klaassen 1-1
Ajax: Cillessen, Tete, Veltman, Riedewald, Dijks, Bazoer (46. Milik), Gudelj, Sinkgraven, Schone (45. Fischer), Klaassen, Younes (79. Serero).