De Boer focused on second place

De Boer focused on second place

Despite winning last week at PSV, Frank de Boer has little hope of winning the championship this year. “I don’t believe, as I think everyone does, that PSV will fritter away eleven points. Moreover, we would need to win everything as well”, said De Boer during Friday’s press conference. “But miracles do happen.”

“We need to make sure to hang on to second place, and even expand on our lead”, said De Boer. “That’s key right now.” Ajax meets Excelsior on Sunday, who has been performing above expectations lately. The Rotterdam team is in thirteenth place after 23 rounds of play, eight points above the degradation threshold. “They’re showing good stuff”, said an impressed De Boer. “Excelsior is a team that is playing well, and operating from a well-organized foundation. There’s a reason they are where they are right now.”

Ajax will be forced to play without Arek Milik in the ArenA on Sunday due to his hamstring injury. De Boer didn’t elaborate on who would take over the Pole’s place in the centre. But the coach did express satisfaction at Anwar El Ghazi’s performance as centre forward in the last part of the PSV game. “He stood in very well. In the last months before he joined us, Anwar was playing at centre forward with the under 19s, so we knew he could do it.”

De Boer says El Ghazi is multifunctional. “He does well in all three positions out in front. He’s good with both feet – although he favours his right foot for shooting – he’s fast, he’s good with headers on the attack, and with his height, he can be the target man. Moreover, he’s always by the goal. That’s one of his qualities. Even when he’s not playing well, he’s often involved in the three important attacks.”

In addition to Lasse Schöne, Richairo Zivkovic is also an option for centre forward. De Boer is moderately satisfied with the Ajax Reserves’ scoring machine. “He’s doing well, but let’s not forget that he’s still with the under 19s. He’s scoring well with the Ajax Reserves but there are several areas for improvement. Thinking with the team and tactics are two of those areas, and he knows that.”

De Boer counts himself lucky with Davy Klaassen and Joël Veltman, who he calls the cultural pillars of the team. Due in part to their physical problems after the winter break, Ajax saw PSV surge ahead in terms of points. “I think that it definitely impacted us and cost us points. Although I feel that we should have been able to make up for that with the players who were available. Davy and Joël bring a certain energy. And when things aren’t going well, they try to turn it around. You need guys like that in a selection.”

For one Excelsior player, Sunday’s game will be very special. Bas Kuipers has been loaned out by Ajax to the Rotterdam team. De Boer is curious to see the Ajax youth player. “Of course we’re following Bas and watching how he’s doing in the Eredivisie. He’s having a very good season.”