Ajax posted a 0-2 win against Excelsior on Sunday afternoon. The Amsterdam team had Anwar El Ghazi and Arek Milik to thank for that score, which was achieved by halftime. That was the fifth clean sheet in a row during this competition. Ajax is in first place, with five points more than PSV and three more than Feyenoord, after six games.
Following the European tied against Celtic, Ajax faced Excelsior in sunny Woudestein. The Amsterdam team had lost first place on Saturday to Heracles – who surprisingly beat PSV - and PEC Zwolle had also passed Ajax. The assignment was therefore to win on the artificial turf in Rotterdam, in order to reach first spot once again.
Frank de Boer achieved this with a slightly amended formation compared to Thursday’s game against Celtic. Riechedly Bazoer, suspended against the Scots, returned to midfield, and Arek Milik returned to centre forward. That meant that Viktor Fischer was on left flank and Davy Klaassen was back at midfield. Daley Sinkgraven and Amin Younes relinquished their starting spots on Sunday.
Ajax faced a lamed Excelsior, who had to do without captain Sander Fischer and striker Tom van Weert, and was in a position to take a very early lead in the fourth minute. Milik passed an unmissable opportunity to Bazoer, but the midfielder’s low shot went wide. Ajax remained in control against a closed, but sloppy, Excelsior. After Viktor Fischer had tripped against keeper Filip Kurto, and Anwar El Ghazi had literally shot the ball out of the stadium on a free kick, Excelsior got its first chance in the twentieth minute. Daryl van Mieghem shot into the side net.
The well-filled visitors’ stands were getting a bit impatient with Ajax’s controlled play, during which the ball was often played back. They cried for Ajax to ‘play football, play football’. The call did not go unheard, as El Ghazi picked up the ball in the 34th minute, slalomed through the Excelsior defense, and outplayed Kurto, 0-1. His seventh goal of the season was a done deal. Five minutes later, Milik thought he had an easy chance to score, but he hadn’t counted on an Excelsior defender, who forced a corner out of Fischer’s pass. But three minutes to halftime, the Polish striker scored his third goal of the season. From the edge of the box, he sent a clear shot in with his right foot. With the help of the grabbing Kurto, the ball disappeared against the ropes, 0-2.
Messy second half
The play didn’t become more compelling in the second half. Excelsior tried to score its first goal, but the Kralingen team simply was not good enough in this match to make this happen. Adil Auassar’s shot in the 67th minute was solidly grabbed by Cillessen. Excelsior still had it in them to mount an offense in the last ten minutes, partially helped by Ajax’s messy playing and inability to hold on to the ball. Still, Milik and Klaassen both came close to making the score 0-3, but the third goal never came.
After PSV’s loss and Feyenoord’s draw, everyone in Amsterdam was pleased with three points against Excelsior. There is another match on Wednesday, after all, the cup match against De Graafschap. De Boer: “I’m reasonably satisfied. We kept a clean sheet and our competitors squandered points. But it’s a shame that we didn’t score more goals, because the possibilities were there. We should have been more careful.”