Ajax made a good start in its first of ten final matches. Frank de Boer’s Ajax players were clearly the masters on Saturday in FC Twente’s Grolsch Veste. With Ajax dominating to a 0-2 win, the ‘Tukkers’ could have ended the match much worse.
The match between title contenders FC Twente and Ajax was a match between two troubled teams. Ajax’s confidence has suffered after eliminations in rapid succession from the Europa League and cup tournament. The ‘Tukkers’ have also been especially sluggish since the winter break. Things have been so dismal in fact that Twente bade farewell to coach Steve McClaren last week. For both the current champion Ajax and FC Twente, all developments in the Eredivisie still bear a lot of weight. This edition of FC Twente – Ajax was thus especially charged.
Ajax came out of the starting blocks very strong. This top match had barely started when the ball landed in Nikolay Mihaylov’s goal. Niklas Moisander struck from far out with a treacherous curve ball. The Fin fired and saw his attempt change direction mid-course and strike gold mercilessly: 0-1. It turned out not be a lucky one-off. The Amsterdam team dominated in the first half. The home team were under strain. Under interim coach Alfred Schreuder, McClaren’s successor, some aftershocks were still clearly being felt.
The Twente team didn’t have much of an answer to the Ajax carousel. Frank de Boer’s tactical choice, on paper, placed Lasse Schöne on the right wing. The Dane – a midfielder – thus regularly appeared as a right forward. Schöne just as easily let himself sink back towards midfield. He created space by doing this for both Siem de Jong and Christian Eriksen, when each of them broke through.
Kolbeinn Sigthórsson, starting as centre forward, wasn’t static, either. He also regularly made way for the Ajax players from the middle line when they stormed forward. With Viktor Fischer and Sigthórsson as the two pure forwards, and controller Christian Poulsen, the ‘Tukkers’ had two more thorns in their side. Especially Poulsen stood out thanks to his useful defensive plays. Ajax’s rolling carrousel was proving to be a success.
Ajax dominated and managed a second goal before the break. On a free kick by Eriksen, Toby Alderweireld sent a header into the goal: 0-2. The Belgian (celebrating his 24th birthday on Saturday) gave himself and Ajax a great gift. The lead was truly earned, and rightful. Headers from Schöne and Moisander almost – and perhaps should have – brought Ajax into an even bigger lead in the first half. The ‘Tukkers’ were lucky to retreat from the first half being only down 0-2. Ajax keeper Kenneth Vermeer had very little to do during the entire evening. Eriksen’s assist gave his one hundredth Eredivisie appearance extra shine.
“It’s just a matter of time before that goal comes”, Frank de Boer had said a few days before the competition match. “But then we’ll need to put it into the back of the net at some point.” The team has had a hard time scoring in recent games, but proved its coach right on Saturday. Ajax created many opportunities once again, only this time they didn’t forget to convert them into goals. Although it was noteworthy that it was two central defenders who struck this time.
After eliminations from the UEFA Europa League and the cup tournament by AZ, Ajax can once again focus on the competition. “It’s an important phase with ten finals”, emphasized De Boer, referring to the closing phase of the competition. The Ajax players need to treat each match as if it were a final. With a deficit of two points on leader PSV, everything is still possible for Ajax in the Eredivisie.
Whoever makes the fewest mistakes in the nine remaining games will likely become the next champion. In theory, PSV and Ajax seem to have the best chances. After winning the game in the Grolsch Veste, the away game against PSV will be another crucial top match for Ajax. The Eindhoven team didn’t falter in their home game on Saturday evening against VVV-Venlo: 2-0.
Ajax secured the win in the Grolsch Veste quite simply. They didn’t have any trouble after the break. Vermeer did the little work that came his way perfectly. Among others, Sigthórsson and Schöne (who, after the Icelander was substituted, moved into the centre forward position) found Mihaylov in their way after the break. So it remained at two Ajax goals. That was enough for a sweet, but especially important, confidence – building victory. The race for the national championship is on with nine more games to go…
“We dominated today and rewarded ourselves”, said Frank de Boer during the press conference afterwards. “We needed this as a team. We were waiting for a win. We continued to believe in our field play and never doubted ourselves. We didn’t let a strong opponent like Twente come into the game for even one minute.”