On Sunday afternoon, Ajax’s chances at the title shrunk significantly. The Ajacieds posted a disappointing 1-1 tie at Excelsior, and because of this draw, they now stand at six points behind leader Feyenoord. With the Classic coming up after the interland period, Ajax’s blunder at Woudestein will cost them.
Prior to the game, a great 27th round of play was anticipated by the Amsterdam team. Feyenoord was going to Heerenveen, which, on paper, would be a tough assignment. However, the Rotterdam team came back from behind to win the game. After that, it was up to Ajax to be flawless, but they were unable to do this. The only highlight of the regrettable afternoon was Justin Kluivert’s first goal in Ajax 1.
In Kralingen, Ajax had hopes to hang on to the great post-Copenhagen game feeling. On Thursday, Ajax had convincingly reached the quarterfinals of the Europa League. In Rotterdam, Ajax seemed to be suffering from heavy legs from that game. Their play was tame, and somewhat careless.
Bosz had also been forced to make some changes to his team. The squad saw four new faces compared to the match against Copenhagen. Kasper Dolberg was unable to play due to groin pain, which gave Justin Kluivert the opportunity to play in the right wing position. Bertrand Traoré took over the centre forward position.
Moreover, Davy Klaassen, back in the selection after his suspension, got the nod above Donny van de Beek. Daley Sinkgraven was chosen over Nick Viergever and Kenny Tete was assigned to right back. Joël Veltman left the Copenhagen game early on, and has been suffering somewhat since then. Bosz thus went with Tete, who had previously stood in very well for Veltman.
Matthis de Ligt got the spot at centre back once again, and his playing showed extremes. In the seventeenth minute, with an amazing tackle, he prevented a goal from Mike van Duinen, who had been heading towards Andre Onana. De Ligt received applause for this, but ten minutes later, the reaction he elicited was less than positive. The youngster made a mistake in the buildup and thus brought Van Duinen into scoring position. Via Tete’s body, the opening goal was sent against the ropes.
Kluivert breaks the spell
Ajax wasn’t in the game at all, but after 32 minutes, they evened the score. Hakim Ziyech, following a combination with Amin Younes, reached the back line and made a tight pass. Kluivert was in perfect position at the post and scored the tying goal.
Somewhat later, Ajax came close to making the game 1-2. A header by De Ligt was turned away by Warner Hahn. With a feline reflex, the former Ajacied, under the crossbar at Excelsior, prevented De Ligt from redeeming himself for his earlier mistake.
Bosz stepped in midway, bringing in Viergever for Davinson Sánchez. This didn’t have much effect, as Ajax’s play remained stodgy. Ajax did have two exciting moments, but Ziyech’s free kick went into the side net, and Sinkgraven wasn’t able to put Lasse Schöne’s free kick into the goal.
Despite the high stakes of the game, Ajax gnawed away at the game little by little. In fact, Excelsior had the biggest opportunity fifteen minutes before the end. Onana made a critical save and prevented the 2-1 goal from being scored by Hicham Faik.
In the final fifteen minutes, Ajax picked up steam, but it tasted of desperation. Two opportunities came from this. Kluivert had the greatest one, but he shot into the side net. In extra time, Kluivert made a dangerous pass, but Younes was unable to do anything with the fading ball.
With lowered heads, the Ajacieds signed off. They are now six points behind, with seven games to go. Moreover, Feyenoord’s goal balance is better. For Ajax, the priority seems to have shifted to maintaining second place. PSV has gained two points. Three weeks after the Classic, Ajax will visit Eindhoven.