Last week against Excelsior (3-0), Davy Klaassen scored on his birthday, and Arek Milik treated himself a similar birthday gift on Sunday. The Pole opened the score early on in the top match against AZ, and the fun didn’t stop there. Milik also determined the final score of 4-1, scoring two goals, as did Davy Klaassen.
Milik was cheered loudly. “Happy birthday to you, happy birthday to you”, sang Ajax’s eager fans. Followed by an old-fashioned ‘hip hip hooray’.
Ajax - AZ had been called a top match beforehand. Although the difference between the number two and number three ranked teams was a whopping eighteen points, AZ was estimated to have a fair shot in this match after a strong series of performances. Some even considered them the favourite. AZ has won its first seven matches after the winter break. Ajax hasn’t achieved top form yet in this calendar year and has only showed its strength sporadically, such as against Feyenoord.
But Ajax exhibited good form against its fellow North Holland team. After a tentative opening phase, the home team took charge and tightened the screws considerably. This led to a comfortable 2-0 lead.
In the fourteenth minute of the match, Milik broke the ice. The Pole scored spot-on after an outstanding pass from Gudelj. It was Milik’s twelfth competition goal, which is already an increase on his total from last year with the Amsterdam club. The Pole was last year’s club top scorer with eleven goals.
Gudelj’s joy was palpable. The player has received ome criticism of late. Frank de Boer has stood by the midfielder, calling the Serb ‘indispensable’. Gudelj, just like Nick Viergever, was facing his former club in this match. Gudelj stood out offensively against AZ. One minute after the 1-0 goal, he also put Amin Younes to work. The German freed himself well, but stumbled on keeper Sergio Rochet in the near corner. Ajax was the dominant team and had almost nothing to fear from its opponent. Keeper Jasper Cillessen could almost have taken a day off for the first half.
After thirty minutes, Ajax increased its lead. The man of the moment was Klaassen, who had seen his header land on the goal’s roof just moments before. A sharp break away in the 28th minute seemed to be fruitless at first. Ajax’s captain just didn’t reach Anwar El Ghazi’s precise pass. AZ breathed a sigh of relief, but it was merely a reprieve. Younes picked up on the left side, outplayed his man and set Klaassen on the path to success: 2-0.
Ajax’s goals were by the book, but perhaps the most beautiful attack of all didn’t result in a goal. Younes was freed up in the box and had his pick of corners to shoot into, but in the end he only found an AZ player’s body in his way.
Former Ajacied John van den Brom, AZ’s coach, had his work cut out for him in the break. His team hadn’t created any danger at all. The Alkmaar team’s good intentions, which were surely there, seemed relegated to the back burner. After eight minutes, Klaassen put a 3-0 score on the board. A well-executed counter attack (just like with the 2-0 goal) seemed to go nowhere at first, but Klaassen picked up El Ghazi’s failed pass and scored via Rochet’s body.
The match for El Ghazi ended shortly thereafter. After a slight misdemeanour, the forward received his second yellow card, thus a red. This gave AZ, hapless until that moment, some hope. But El Ghazi’s absence didn’t cause Ajax any headaches in the first ten minutes. Until the 64th minute. Top shooter Vincent Janssen, who has been on a roll since the winter break, created some room for himself via a (header) one-two with Markus Hendriksen. His shot into the far corner was too strong for Cillessen: 3-1.
De Boer made his intentions clear and brought in Ricardo van Rhijn for Younes. Ajax was intent on protecting its lead with five defenders. The home team was successful in this, despite AZ’s strength on field.
Ajax was even able to increase its lead. Milik beat Ron Vlaar in terms of speed and outsmarted Rochet with a cunning ball. The same Vlaar kept Ricard van Rhijn from scoring a few minutes later. But this didn’t dampen the Amsterdam team’s celebratory mood.