After its win against Manchester City, Ajax hasn’t fully able to continue in the same positive vein. In a good, old fashioned boiling Kuip, the Klassieker delivered a 2-2 tie. The Amsterdam team took the lead twice but they were unable to pull the final trigger. Ajax ended the match with ten men after a red card for Moisander.
Never change a winning team – that’s what Frank de Boer’s thinking must have been when he set up the starting line-up for the Klassieker. Four days after a great win against Manchester City (3-1), the Ajax coach replicated the line up from the midweek Champions League match for this meeting in de Kuip. Christian Eriksen thus appeared in the centre forward’s position again. But the Ajax player sank back towards the midline more this time than against the Sky Blues. Eriksen was more of a shadow centre forward in this match in de Kuip.
It didn’t stop Eriksen from scoring the opening goal in de Kuip, just like he did last season. After beautiful preparation work by left winger Ryan Babel, the Dane scored after twelve minutes: 0-1. Last season, Feyenoord figurehead John Guidetti personally erased the 0-1 deficit and turned it into a victory for the Rotterdam team (4-2, three goals by Guidetti). The Manchester City was in attendance among the spectators this time. The crowd favourite was thanked profusely for this past season, during which he wore the Feyenoord jersey as a loaned out player from Manchester City. If you didn’t know better, you’d think that the Swede had been playing in de Kuip his whole life.
On Twitter, Guidetti has expressed his wish that Ajax would be defeated by both ‘his’ Manchester City and Feyenoord. On Wednesday, at least half of that desire turned out to be wishful thinking. But defender Jean-Paul Boëtius did bring the Rotterdam team one step closer to victory. The debuting left winger managed to score with very little space: 1-1. Boëtius’ rebound shot hit the mark, after a missed attempt by midfielder Lex Immers. The Den Haag native missed the Ajax goal almost comically from very close by.
Frank de Boer: “Before the break, we played many vertical balls, when in fact we needed to find the opening horizontally towards De Jong and Eriksen. That led to a lot of needless loss of possession. And that was a shame because we had the space.”
Feyenoord coach and former Ajax player Ronald Koeman surprised everyone beforehand by giving a starting spot to their own homegrown talent, Boëtius, in the Klassieker. The rookie paid back the trust manifold with his fresh, candid playing, plus a goal. The youth international initially had far too much time and space to showcase his talents. When his direct opponent Ricardo van Rhijn removed some of that space by covering him more closely, Boëtius became less prominent in the match.
The question midway through the first half was how Ajax would recover after the tying goal in the 113th Klassieker. Would their infamous inconsistency again rear its ugly head, so soon after a midweek European duel? “You’re only as good as your last match”, De Boer had told his players after the confidence-boosting win against the English champion. Continuing on the same strong path and booking a good result against Feyenoord would be a complete shot in the arm.
Ajax escaped narrowly when Wesley Verhoek, after half an hour of play, came free in front of Kenneth Vermeer, but shot wide. Earlier, Tobias Sana had seen his shot end up on Kostas Lamprou’s fists.
Three minutes after the break, Ajax – who kept their calm and organization intact after the goal against – took the lead again, via Siem de Jong. The captain made good from short range after a sharp free kick from Eriksen. For De Boer’s team, the 1-2 lead was wind in their sails. Once again, it was the Rotterdam team who needed to make up lost territory. After about one hour, Immers came closest to tying the game. The central midfielder shot over at first, but soon after that, took a better shot. Kenneth Vermeer was lying across Immers’ long distance shot.
Ajax needed to finish the job with ten men. Fifteen minutes before the end, Niklas Moisander received his second yellow card. The Fin was thus forced to retire to the locker room early. De Boer: “That second yellow card was a heavy handed punishment. Before that red card, we had everything under control with eleven against eleven.” The Ajax coach reacted by bringing in defender Mitchell Dijks for midfielder Lasse Schöne. Daley Blind, playing very well once again, finished the Klassieker in the defensive heart. Earlier on, De Boer’s team had started the second half with Miralem Sulejmani taking over Sana’s spot. Eyong Enoh replaced Babel in the final minutes.
The ten Ajax players seemed poised to complete their mission successfully. But that was just an illusion, as Graziano Pellé struck in the ninetieth minute. The Italian centre forward shot the ball past Vermeer – who was, for once, helpless – at close range. De Boer: “We need to be tougher in those situations and block the ball. You should never let an opponent get so free when he’s in the box.”
Vermeer saved his team from a defeat in extra time by stopping a hard header from the same Feyenoord player with a beautiful reflex. So the Klassieker ended in a 2-2 tie; a result that ensures that Ajax, after being in the lead twice, returns to Amsterdam with a gnawing feeling. In any case, this applied to De Boer: “This is very disappointing. Just like last week against Heracles, we gave away a lead in the last minutes. We now only took home two points from the last two competition matches. That’s much too little. It feels like we’re standing here empty-handed.”