It was clear once again on Sunday afternoon in the Amsterdam ArenA that Ajax continues to struggle against PEC Zwolle this year. After a tie last season in competition play and defeats in the final of the Johan Cruijff Shield, the team once again didn’t manage to win – despite a clear dominance – and settled for a 0-0 draw.
Despite the loss of points, De Boer wasn’t displeased with what he saw: “We did lack the drive to create opportunities today. We’ve been playing so many matches in short succession and that takes its toll. For example, you just miss that running play. We tried to patiently wait for the goal, just like Barcelona does. But with Barcelona, Messi eventually gets the ball and scores. But we don’t have a Messi. The positive thing is that we kept a clean sheet, but today we lost two points.”
As the last match of the eighth round of play, Ajax and PEC Zwolle played in a reasonably full Amsterdam ArenA. A place that holds good memories for the visitors, considering their recent 1-0 win in the match for the Johan Cruijff Shield. And PEC has continued to thrive after that season opener, too. The Zwolle team is currently in third place in the rankings, with the same number of points as leader PSV and runner-up Ajax. Moreover, Ajax has been unable to defeat coach Ron Jans’ team in their last three meetings. On the other hand, PEC has only ever won one point in Amsterdam in Eredivisie play.
These were interesting statistics that could potentially result in a good football game. But it wasn’t a grandiose battle. PEC was certainly not planning on hiding in the Amsterdam ArenA, and Ajax always wants to play offensively, but in the beginning, there was nothing spectacular about the match. In the first minutes, Tomas Necid of PEC and Kolbeinn Sightórsson for Ajax both had good opportunities. PEC had a setback in the 24th minute when Mustafa Saymak was sidelined and the team seemed to lose some momentum. Substitute Jodi Lukoki was greeted with warm applause by the Ajax crowd. The loaned-out Ajacied saw Ajax take most of the initiative, with more streamlined attacks than PEC, but the national champion consistently lacked the right finishing touch. For example, Sigthórsson’s header went wide, as did Moisander’s shot in the 36th minute, as well as Veltman’s header just before halftime. For the eighth time this season, Ajax header to the locker rooms without having scored in the first half, and it was a shame that the dominance they had shown on the field had not been translated into a single goal.
In the second half, De Boer left Niki Zimling (tactical reasons) and Nicolai Boilesen (as a precaution) in the locker room. Nick Viergever and Ricardo Kishna came to reinforce the team. De Boer hoped for more dynamism but after seven minute, the supporters started to jeer in displeasure. The pace was too slow and PEC was easily able to keep up.
After an hour of play, Ajax shifted into higher gear. The crowd got behind them and PEC – except for a nice shot by Necid in the 71st minute – didn’t get near keeper Jasper Cillessen’s goal. An Amsterdam goal seemed to be in the air. Veltman came close to scoring the opening goal with a header and Sigthórsson sent a shot against the upper corner. In the seventieth minute, Anwar El Ghazi came on for Lasse Schöne to reinforce the offense. He seemed poised to give Ajax the lead when the home team had five men break out against three PEC players. But El Ghazi sent Kishna’s pass wide and in the 90th minute, Kishna failed to score the winning goal.
Thus Ajax wasn’t able to translate its dominant football into the tangible result of a goal. Ajax thus lost competition points to Zwolle for the first time since February 12, 1989.