Many matches before a Champions League match were difficult this season. But the away game against FC Zwolle was perfect for Ajax. The home side never troubled Ajax, who were helped by the poor Zwolle defence. Through two goals by Rafael van der Vaart, two by Zlatan Ibrahimovic and an own goal by Albert van der Haar the team from Amsterdam coasted to a 0-5 victory.
Coach Ronald Koeman began with Rafael van der Vaart in the line up. Steven Pienaar was rested before the match against Valencia. Because Koeman thinks that Van der Vaart is more dangerous when he comes into the box instead of him already being there, Ajax played in a sort of 4-5-1 system, with Zlatan Ibrahimovic as the lone striker.
Nourdin Boukhari had lost his starting position. Back in the line up was Hatem Trabelsi, who played on the right side again after being rested against Groningen last Wednesday. He combined with Nigel de Jong on the right side and both players exchanged regularly from right back to right half.
Zwolle had opened a bit more offensive-minded, but after eight minutes Ajax had the biggest chance. Cristian Chivu swung a long free kick toward the Zwolle goal, but back-up goalkeeper Diederik Boer punched the ball over his crossbar. The resulting corner kick, and the next one failed to create any danger.
But with Rafael van der Vaart in the team, Ajax create a lot of danger. The youngster, back in the line up after three months, received the ball from Sneijder with his back to the goal in the fifteenth minute. With three defenders around him, Van der Vaart turned and shot and with a bit of luck made it 0-1.
Three minutes later Sneijder almost made it 0-2 when his shot from 20 metres rattled off the cross bar. In the 21st minute Ajax were on target. Zwolle's defence misjudged a cross by Maxwell. Ibrahimovic got his foot behind the ball and struck hard in the upper left corner.
Exactly the scenario that Koeman had been hoping for for weeks. Quickly decide the match and play it out. FC Zwolle also lent a hand. Rumours circulate that a mutiny is going on in the team. It has been denied, but in the 33rd minute the stories seemed to be true. Albert van der Haar played the ball back to his own goal and 'keeper Boer was not counting on that. The score was 0-3.
Ajax was very comfortable. Never was the team, who play a crucial match for the Champions League on Tuesday, in any danger. The game even became hilarious at times, with the Zwolle players launching the Ajax forwards toward their own goal with completely misguided passes.
In the second half it became even funnier. Ajax made it 0-4 in the 58th minute, when Sneijder passed to Pienaar. The South-African, who came on after halftime for De Jong, found Van der Vaart who had no trouble scoring.
Michel Doesburg then tried to make the best goal of the evening. The Zwolle defender headed the ball fiercely against his own crossbar. The ball bounced back onto the pitch, where Van der Vaart shot it against the post.
Luckily, Ajax made a another goal. Ibrahimovic easily made it 0-5. There were 25 minutes remaining after that, but no more real chances were created. Koeman brought on Boukhari for Van der Vaart and Witschge for Sneijder. There were no more goals, but nobody seemed to mind.
Least of all Koeman: ,,We have to get through this time with many matches, including for the Champions League, damage-free. So without injuries and without losing points. Now even the opponent helped us by scoring the third goal and they were finished. We are confident for the match against Valencia. I thought that Van der Vaart and Ibrahimovic combined well. Van der Vaart is very effective. He scored the first goal and it was good for him that the match was decided so quickly. Zlatan has found his scoring touch again. That should give his confidence a boost. We will think about whether Rafael will start on Tuesday in the next couple of days. He took a big step toward a hundred percent fitness tonight, but Valencia of course is an entirely different level.