Ajax made a flying start in the 2015-2016 Eredivisie on Sunday. Visiting AZ, they posted a generous win: 0-3. Anwar El Ghazi (two goals) and former AZ player Nemanja Gudelj were the leads in the AFAS Stadium.
A disastrous week ended well thanks to this convincing win. The elimination from the UEFA Champions League at the hands of Rapid Wien was a bitter pill to swallow. On Tuesday evening, Ajax was relegated to the play-offs for a spot in the group phase of the UEFA Europa League. In contrast, the Alkmaar team had loaded up on confidence thanks to Thursday’s win against Istanbul Basaksehir. Former Ajacied John van den Brom’s team easily earned berth in the last EL qualifying round.
What strategy did Ajax come prepared with? Could the negative spiral be reversed? The answer came quickly. Shortly before the first fifteen minutes had expired, El Ghazi scored beautifully. The right winger, who had veered to the left, shot the ball diagonally with his right foot from about twenty meters out, passing AZ keeper Sergio Rochet: 0-1. This amazing goal was surely appreciated by former strikers Ruud Geels and Marco van Basten, both in attendance in the press box. Once upon a time, clad in Ajax jerseys, they had also scored beautiful goals. The Ajax fans in the full visitors’ stands enjoyed El Ghazi’s achievement fully. The player was honoured las season as the most talented Ajacied in the A selection.
El Ghazi’s goal was the first step on this sunny – in every way – afternoon for Ajax. Ajax continued very well – thanks to considered position play, but with few good opportunities – before halftime. Compared to the last match against Rapid, Frank de Boer didn’t have Viktor Fischer available to him. The Dane had sustained an injury on Friday, but did train on Saturday. He was kept out of the match as a precaution. Ajax thus played in a similar formation as in the away Rapid game: with Daley Sinkgraven operating as left forward, and with Gudelj at midfield. The man who just last season was AZ’s captain was playing on familiar territory.
Returning to Alkmaar clearly inspired Gudelj to do amazing things. The Serbian was at the foundation of Ajax’s second goal with his free kick in the 38th minute. El Ghazi received the tailor-made pass and easily scored; the ball disappeared slowly behind the goal line via Rochet’s body. Five minutes before halftime, Gudelj struck again. After great preparation work from left back Mitchell Dijks, who had stormed up ahead, the midfielder took a long distance shot. Gudelj’s celebration of his goal was modest, out of respect for his former club.
El Ghazi’s injury early in the second half was the first downer of the afternoon. The razor-sharp player was replaced by Lasse Schöne. Later on in this North Holland derby, Yaya Sanogo – loaned out from Arsenal – came in for centre forward Arek Milik. Ajax thus had very renewed face on offense.
In the hunt for more Ajax goals, captain Davy Klaassen was stopped by keeper Rochet. The hunt remained fruitless after the break. Ajax simply played the derby out with cool professionalism. The excitement was limited to the first half. AZ was unable to create any significant problems for Ajax. Only new AZ centre forward Vincent Janssen came close to scoring, but his pivoting shot went long.
Ajax took a good first step in this brand new season, one that will hopefully end in the team winnig its 34th national championship. Next weekend, Ajax’s first home game against Willem II awaits. In the Amsterdam ArenA, Ajax will have the chance to give this first win a suitable follow-up.