Ajax gains ground on competitors

Ajax gains ground on competitors

Ajax has reinforced its hold on second place in the home game against FC Twente. With a confidence-building 4-2 win, Ajax increased its lead on its closest competitors. Ricardo Kishna scored twice, and marked Ajax’s 5000th Eredivisie goal. Riechedly Bazoer and Nick Viergever also scored in this victory.

Ajax was in a position to take full advantage of the loss of points suffered by practically all competitors for second place. On Friday, AZ lost at home to leader PSV: 2-4. On Saturday, Feyenoord lost on the artificial turf at Heracles Almelo (2-0), and a day later PEC Zwolle lost its regional derby to arch enemy Go Ahead Eagles. By the time 16:45 rolled around on Sunday, Ajax knew exactly what they needed to do to reinforce their hold on second place in the Eredivisie rankings.

In the opening phase, Ajax proved to be resilient. The header with which Jésus Corona gave his team the 0-1 lead after only six minutes was a true setback. Ajax hasn’t exactly been on a roll in terms of scoring this season. The Mexican gave the Amsterdam team an extra challenging afternoon with his goal.

But things looked very different for the Ajacieds only ten minutes later. First, Nick Viergever scored to even up the game with the ‘Tukkers’ in the eleventh minute. The left back left Twente goalie Sonny Stevens completely hopeless with his cannon-like shot. Four minutes later, Ajax was able to cheer again. On a pass from Daley Sinkgraven, Riechedly Bazoer scored with his left foot: 2-1. Just like that, the tables had turned in the lively (thanks to some great atmosphere enhancing activities) Amsterdam ArenA.

The home game against the ‘Tukkers’ marked the start of a busy football period. With an eye on the home game against Twente, plus the duo of UEFA Europa League games against Legia Warsaw, De Boer had announced on Friday that he would rotate his players. For the home match against Twente, this resulted in a largely changed defense. In fact, compared to the match against Go Ahead Eagles (1-2), which had been won with a dose of good fortune, Ajax’s last line had a completely difference face.

Right back Kenny Tete replaced the injured Ricardo van Rhijn. Joël Veltman and Niklas Moisander returned from, respectively, an injury and a suspension. The last time that Veltman and Moisander formed their trusty defensive duo was during the Qatar training camp during the winter break. Nick Viergever started on left back. Nicolai Boilesen remained sidelined as a precaution. With Thulani Serero watching on as a substitute player, Davy Klaassen was once again in the critical central midfielder position.

Despite the positive halftime result, Ajax soon faced a new setback. Midway through the first half, Joël Veltman retreated again due to his injury. The central defender, after his last test on Monday with the Ajax Reserves, had seemed fit for at least one hour of top level football. But fate decided otherwise; the international was forced to relinquish his spot to Mike van der Hoorn. The return Moisander-Veltman defensive duo was thus short-lived. The Ijmuiden native’s injury is even harder to swallow considering the upcoming confrontation with Legia Warsaw. On Thursday evening, Ajax has the opportunity to take its first step towards the Europa League round of sixteen.

But as badly as Ajax needed to win on Sunday, the same was true for Twente in this round of play. Alfred Schreuder’s team also desperately needed to win. The ‘Tukkers’ have also lost their last two competition matches to PEC Zwolle and Excelsior. Hakim Ziyech is undeniably one of the players who prove that Twente has enough individual talent for – at least – a high place in the sub-top. The individualist took over the ball five minutes after the break, after Luc Castaignos had tripped on Cillessen. The Twente tying goal was another setback for every one with an Ajax heart.

Ajax – FC Twente remained exciting and, especially for a neutral observer, a pleasure to watch. With centre forward Arek Milik in for the battle-weary Lasse Schöne, Ajax once again launched its hunt for goals with full conviction. And the Ajacieds certainly didn’t disappoint their 49.874 spectators. In the 68th minute, Kishna scored on a pass from El Ghazi. Outstanding and gifted preparation work from Sinkgraven led up to the goal.

Seven minutes later, Kishna scored a fantastic landmark goal. The 4-2 goal was, in addition to being a decisive one for the game, Ajax’s 5000 goal since the start of the Eredivisie. The Amsterdam club is the first to reach this milestone. The historic component gave this well- deserved win some extra sheen and weight. The most important goal had been reached. With this win, Ajax has a stronger hold on second place, behind PSV. With eleven rounds of play remaining, Ajax has an eight-point lead on its closest followers, Feyenoord and AZ. PEC Zwolle follows at ten points behind. And against Twente, Ajax finally posted a win that can build their self-confidence.