The road to continuing in European football after the winter break is shaping up to be a long and rocky one for Ajax. In the ArenA’s press room, Frank de Boer looked back on Thursday’s tie against Celtic with mixed feelings. The loss of points gives an extra layer of tension to the upcoming second UEFA Europa League pool match, which will be against Molde.
“I definitely feel divided about this”, said Ajax’s coach. “First, we made a poor start with a 0-1 deficit. Ten minutes later, we were 1-2 behind. In the end, we got to 2-2. We should be happy with that tie. But the fact that we squandered points is disappointing. That’s for sure.”
“Maybe we were over-concentrating. Perhaps it had something to do with tension”, said De Boer, attempting to explain the poor start. Daley Sinkgraven’s loss of possession was the catalyst for Nir Bitton’s 0-1 goal. “We made bad decisions, which we then paid for. That happens in Eredivisie as well. That needs to stop. We’ve been hitting a wall more and more lately, and we’re experiencing poor starts more often, too. Fortunately though, this wasn’t as bad as it was against Rapid Wien.”
During the first half, Ajax recovered from its bad start. The attack that led to Viktor Fischer’s sizzler (1-1) was a thing of beauty. Amin Younes, making his debut, was at the root of the tying goal. From the left side, the German sought the shortest path to Celtic goalie Craig Gordon. Via captain Davy Klaassen, the ball eventually landed with Fischer. De Boer: “That attack had everything going for it. There was, especially, lots of movement and focus on the goal. We played the way Ajax is supposed to play.”
Not alert enough
After the tying goal, the Scots once again struck. This time, it was Mikael Lustig who was able to score with a header, unhindered. “From a corner, I think you need to send the ball away”, said the Ajax coach, rubbing salt in the wound. There was no Ajacied who could stop Lustig from making the header. “At that moment, we weren’t alert enough. Especially with the guys in Celtic who are strong at headers. In fact, the 1-2 came out of nowhere. I went over the small details during half-time. Our second half was better. We had control and created opportunities. I was just a matter of time until the 2-2.”
After the red card for Emilio Izaguirre, Ajax drew even with Celtic in the final minutes. The Danish super sub scored from a free kick. “I’m very satisfied with Lasse. But tonight, we also saw what Younes can bring. We don’t have many players like Younes in our selection. And if Lasse continues this way, he’ll get in at some point. In the end, I’m satisfied with how we found a solution against ten men.”
Molde in driver's seat
But still, De Boer’s body language spoke volumes. His ending plea was very clear. De Boer was upset. Ajax should have won its first home game of the EL pool stage. They will need to win full points in the home games against Molde and Fenerbahçe. But first, they will meet the Norwegian opponents from the pool.
“The away match against Molde will be important”, emphasized De Boer once again for good measure. “After the win against Fenerbahçe and with a home game up next, they’re in the driver’s seat. I’ve said this before: Fenerbaçe has the name. Molde has a pretty good name, otherwise they wouldn’t have beat Fenerbahçe. There is still lots of potential in this pool. In the end, we should have won three points here. You need to win everything at home, and tonight we didn’t. But we can build on our spirit during and some phases of the match.”