Ajax said goodbye to main sponsor Aegon in style. In the last Eredivisie duel in the ArenA with Aegon adorning the jerseys, the Amsterdam team defeated FC Utrecht 3-1. Thulani Serero, Davy Klaassen and Anwar El Ghazi scored the goals in this third victory in nine days.
Frank de Boer was pleased with the win, but not with the play: “We had a European game this week, so we should be happy to win 3-1. But you also want to see a continuation of what we showed last week, and that was missing.”
Considering the most recent statistics, which showed that only one of the last eight matches between the teams had been won by Ajax, FC Utrecht could be considered a threat. The Utrecht players don’t need any additional motivation for this match since their club’s supporters have been talking about the ‘match of the year’ for weeks. Robbie Alflen’s team was forced to play without Ruud Boymans, who has already scored nine Eredivisie goals this year. Against FC Utrecht, Frank de Boer once again put his faith in the same starting team which had secured a spot in European play for after the winter break.
The opening part of the match was marked by nervous play by both teams. Both Ajax and Utrecht played hastily, resulting in a game that was entertaining but not good, and in which most of the danger came from counters. Around the fifteen minute mark Ajax pressed on, which resulted in an opening goal, after previous opportunities for Lucas Andersen and Arek Milik. After a rejected corner landed at Thulani Serero’s feet, he took a devastating shot and his attempt landed into the goal via a Utrecht player: 1-0.
Two minutes later, keeper Ruiter choked on a Ricardo van Rhijn free kick, but was saved when a defender cleared the ball. But it was 2-0 within two minutes. After an Ajax attack, taken from the tiki-taka football book, the ball came to Milik. The Pole sent the ball, with a fantastic pass, into the penalty kick area, where Klassen, who had run up ahead, was ready to score, 2-0. “It was actually for Lucas (Andersen) but I took a chance that he would play it forward”, said goal-scorer Klaassen afterwards. After that, Ajax had two more good chances to leave Utrecht behind. Niklas Moisander thus had the chance to crown his 250th Dutch competition match with a goal, but Ruiter prevented that, and Kishna was unlucky as well when he wasn’t able to shoot hard enough into the goal, on a Schöne pass in the 34th minute.
With a 2-0 lead, Ajax seemed to have it made, but Utrecht grabbed their first chance to get back into the game. Rubio Rubin appeared behind Veldman and sent the ball past Cillessen with ease, 2-1. Ajax seemed shell-shocked and one minute later, Leeuwin almost scored the tying goal with a header from Rubin’s free kick. The Ajax keeper prevented this goal with a beautiful dive, and the team headed into halftime with a slight lead.
After the break, the tying goal almost fell from the sky: Cillessen though he could let an attempt from Van der Maarel go, but saw the ball hit the post. Utrecht, smelling an opportunity, shifted into higher gear and Ajax, who was better, had a tough time with the visitors. In the 63rd minute, De Boer switched Kishna and Andersen for El Ghazi and Riedewald. Anwar El Ghazi crowned his first contact with the ball after a great passing move with a nice shot past Ruiter, 3-1. De Boer celebrated the goal with the just-substituted Kishna.
The fans were thus able to take a breather, but Utrecht wasn’t done yet. Ajax, with its sloppy play, gave their visitors hope. El Ghazi sent the ball unwittingly into Rubin’s feet, but Utrecht didn’t cash in on that gift.
Seven minutes before time, De Boer brought in a third substitution. After making his European debut on Wednesday, Richairo Zivkovic also made his Eredivisie debut with Ajax. The centre forward has scored thirteen times in the Jupiler Leage, but didn’t have enough time to score his first Eredivisie one with Ajax. But Ajax, deservedly, defeated FC Utrecht and thus brought the final game with main sponsor Aegon to a good end. Moreover, this marked the 1300th win in the Eredivisie.
“After the 1-0 we had a period in which we were in the same rhythm we’ve been having in previous matches”, said De Boer. “Then we scored the 2-0 goal and we could have scored the 3-0 and 4-0 goals. But the team seemed to get a bit complacent. The goal against in a prime example. Then Serero didn’t get the cross-pass and none of the other midfielders were thinking defensively. In the second half we played poorly, even badly. Every ball needed to be as difficult as possible, and we didn’t get back into our rhythm. Then I always say ‘find it in position play’ and things sort themselves out again. After the 3-1 I felt like it could be 7-1. But we remained sloppy.”