Ajax held on to their lead of group G in the UEFA Europa League on Thursday evening. The Ajacieds played to a 2-2 draw at Celta de Vigo, maintaining their two-point lead on the Spanish team. Ajax took the lead twice in Vigo, via Hakim Ziyech and Amin Younes, but Celta had a reply both times.
Since Standard Luik – Panathinaikos ended in a 2-2 draw, Ajax seems to be in a prime position to return to European football after the winter break. The Amsterdam team lead with seven points. Celta follows with two fewer points, and Standard at five fewer. Ajax could potentially ensure themselves of a spot in the next round in two weeks, after the fourth round of play.
On the eve of the match, Peter Bosz had said that no players would be spared leading up to the Classic against Feyenoord on Sunday; he kept his word. Only the controlling midfield position was changed after the win at ADO Den Haag (0-2). Nemanja Gudelj replaced the injured Lasse Schöne.
But things looked different at Celta, despite the fact that the team has a two point deficit on Ajax, the leader of group G. The Spaniards have an equally important match to play on Sunday – the derby against Ryan Babel’s Deportivo La Coruña – and that was reason enough for coach Eduardo Berizzo to leave five regular squad players on the sidelines. Former Feyenoord striker John Guidetti was the acte de presence.
But the Swede, just like his team mates, was unable to make much happen. In the opening minutes, Ajax was in charge and took the lead midway through the first half. The goal originated from a by-the-book counter. Kasper Dolberg crossed a chunk of midfield with the ball at his feet, and then put Ziyech to work. The left-footed player shook his opponent off and shot diagonally into the goal: 0-1.
Celta seemed to be jolted awake by the goal and came out of its shell somewhat. A hard shot by Facundo Roncaglia into the side net was a warning for Ajax. After about thirty minutes, the tying goal was scored. The goal was somewhat odd. Seemingly unaware, captain Andreu Fontàs scored the goal on with a lateral heel-kick, 1-1.
Ajax threatened to lose control in this phase of the game, and had received 3 warnings by the 31st minute. An early yellow card for Davinson Sánchez was followed by stunts by Gudelj and Joël Veltman. After that, the game calmed down in Estadio Balaídos. The last fifteen minutes passed uneventfully. Only Gudelj made a mark with a hard long-distance shot (just over) the goal.
Younes seeks inside route
The second half offered little show. In the 70th minute, Celta initiated a good attack, but Sisto’s shot was blocked by Viergever. At the same time, Ajax took advantage of a sharp counter. Younes, who had been somewhat in the background until that point, was freed up on the left side, just as Ziyech had been on the 1-1 goal. But where his Moroccan team mate had gone to the outer side earlier, Younes sought out the inside route. The German carved out some space for himself to take his shot, and he deposited the ball with a beautiful curve into the Celta goal: 1-2.
It was ground-hog day, because at that point, Celta once again got an out-of-the-blue opportunity in a run of the mill situation. This time, Roncaglia, who had totally escaped notice, sent a header from a corner over the goal. But it was just a question of time, because eight minutes before time, Celta tied the game. And it was a well-earned goal. Substitute Fabian Orenella surprised Andre Onana with a great long-distance shot. It was the game’s final word, and the last goal that was scored.