Ajax has handed leader FC Twente its first loss of points. In a sold out Amsterdam ArenA on Saturday evening, Frank de Boer’s team was too strong for the team from Enschede, 1-0. Christian Eriksen scored the winning goal midway through the second half. Thanks to that goal, Ajax now stands only three points short of first place.
The top match against FC Twente was the starting shot of an exciting and difficult week in which Ajax will play three home games. On Wednesday, the first home game of UEFA Champions League takes place against Real Madrid. Four days later, FC Utrecht visits the ArenA. Ajax – FC Twente was, of course, the showdown between the reigning national champion and the Eredivisie’s current leader. There was a lot at stake for Ajax in this match. With eighteen points from the first six duels, Twente entered the ArenA without absolutely no loss of points this season. The pressure was clearly on Ajax, who, thanks to this win, extended its winning streak at home in the Eredivisie to 21 games.
To play FC Twente, Frank de Boer chose the same line-up as for last Wednesday’s cup match win against FC Utrecht. That meant that Ryan Babel was once again in the centre forward spot, and Derk Boerrigter and Tobias Sana were in the wings. The only change was the return of first keeper Kenneth Vermeer.
The high expectations couldn’t be met in the first hour. After an early opportunity for Babel, it took about half an hour before anything threatening happened in front of either goal. With a strong Nacer Chadli header, Twente made the first dangerous move in front of Vermeer’s goal. Shortly before the break, Niklas Moisander, who was celebrating his birthday, had a great opportunity to bring Ajax into a 1-0 lead, but his shot disappeared just on the wrong side of the post. Frank de Boer: “Beforehand, you’d maybe expect a more open game, but it was this way because of our own play. Because we kept pushing the opponent further and further back, we came closer to their penalty kick area. Then, the ball has to fall just right. That’s why it was important to keep waiting patiently for our chance.”
That patience was rewarded midway through the second half. After an hour, the duel finally exploded in the lively ArenA. There was a gem of an opportunity for Chadli, who made another dangerous header on a corner kick. Vermeer was sharp on the save. In the counter attack, Eriksen’s liberating goal came. The Dane shot Ajax into the 1-0 lead. On a pass from Babel, Ajax’s Player of the Game sent a searing shot that was just too powerful for keeper Mihaylov.
Eriksen has been criticized lately for not being decisive enough. De Boer has also encouraged him to be more forceful in his playing, and to raise the bar for himself. “Eriksen is a top player in the making. And as a top player, you especially need to make a difference in this kind of match. He’s risen to the challenge in this match. Of course he’s only just 20 years old, and his development will progress with ups and downs. But he needs to become more consistent between all of the matches. And as a team, you always need to be able to build on a top player.”
Under the watchful eye of Real Madrid coach José Mourihno, Ajax didn’t squander the lead in the last fifteen minutes of the match. In the closing phase, there was even time to bring out Fabian Sporkslede for his home debut. Three days after his debut in the Galgenwaard, the home-grown midfielder performed in the ArenA for the first time. He shared in the celebration that erupted right after referee Vink’s final whistle. Ajax can head into its next top match against Real Madrid with confidence.