On Tuesday, Ajax kicks off its important double header with Rostov. The stakes in these two matches against the number 2 Russian team from last season is a ticket into the UEFA Champions League main tournament. On the eve of the first match in the playoffs, coach Peter Bosz and Nemanja Gudelj look ahead to the showdown in the Amsterdam ArenA.
The disappointment in the 2-2 tie against Roda JC from last Saturday seeped through every question asked by reporters on Monday. How can Bosz ensure that Ajax allows fewer goals against? ¨Last week, we were constantly thinking of how to do this. It´s not something that you can fix in a couple of weeks. We mostly need to look at exactly how many opportunities we´re giving away. Seen from that perspective, the opponents´ productivity is often very high. Except in that away match against PAOK, it hasn´t been the case that it´s been raining goals at the back for the whole match.¨
Bosz continues: ¨We´re investing a lot of effort into winning the ball back. We´re applying a lot of pressure. With that way of playing, you know that you´ll be giving away a lot of room at the back. And you also know that the opponent will appear in front of the keeper if you give away opportunities. Is that extra dangerous against a team like Rostov? Definitely. If there is a team who has mastered the art of counter football, it´s Rostov. They´re strong in transition and they do that with lots of quality.
When asked if Ajax will adjust their way of playing considering the Russian team´s qualities, the Ajax coach answered: ¨We play to win, and that goes for European matches as well. So we shouldn´t start playing more defensively, but our execution needs to be better. We´ll therefore need to defend better. Especially against a club like Rostov. We need to get better at that, as a team.¨
Nice to win, but not necessary
Although a win at home against Rostov is obviously wanted, leaving the field on Tuesday with three points is not absolutely necessary, according to Bosz. ¨The home game against PAOK (1-1) taught us that we don´t need to win at home in order to move onto the next round. But, of course, it would be very nice. Especially if we can keep a clean sheet.¨
Whether or not Ajax is the favourite to win is unimportant, claims Bosz. ¨I always find it hard to say anything about that beforehand. I still haven´t seen Rostov in action live. Of course we´ve watched them. Our analyst Tonny Bruins Slot saw them in action last weekend against Zenit (3-2 loss). And we have thoroughly analysed both duels against RSC Anderlecht from the third round qualifying CL match. It´s difficult to say anything significant about the teams´ relative strengths. We´ll see who is stronger after two matches.¨
Ajax has been facing a luxurious problem since the arrival of Bertrand Traoré last weekend. With the 20 year-old loaned out player from Chelsea, the 19 year-old Mateo Cassierra and Kasper Dolberg (18), Bosz is suddenly spoiled for choice for the centre forward position. Ajax´s coach wouldn´t commit to whether, following his stint as a substitute in the Roda JC match, Traoré was ready to start on the squad on Tuesday. ¨It would be very quick, although it is an advantage that I´ve worked with him already, at Vitesse. Bertrand is familiar with our way of playing. But the question remains whether this is the right moment to start him from the beginning. Kasper and Mateo have both scored in the last games, and are doing well. We now have the luxury problem of having three good centre forwards in our selection.¨
Tickets Ajax - Rostov
Ajax - Rostov starts on Tuesday at 20:45 in the Amsterdam ArenA. Tickets can still be purchased via the link below.