In this pursuit of the championship, Frank de Boer and his Ajacieds are trying to resist distractions and are attempting to stay as much on course as possible. “Why should we deviate? We’re in first place, and we’ve been doing well so far”, said Ajax’s coach during Friday’s press conference. “We’re not thinking of any other matches. The only thing we have in our hands is to beat FC Twente, preferably with as large a margin as possible.”
Goal balance has been the key phrase both in Amsterdam and Eindhoven in the past few days. There are two matches to go and both teams have equal number of points, but the goal balance is tipped in the Amsterdam team’s favour by six points over PSV. Thus it isn’t just a victory that counts, but the size of the victory.
“If we can win by 5-0, obviously we’ll go for it”, said De Boer. “But it may be that we need to be content with 1-0. You need to evaluate the situation on the field. Are we much better and feel that we could play to 2-0, 3-0 or even 4-0? Or have we reached a1-0 advantage with blood, sweat and tears? In the last case, we would obviously not go for broke in the hunt for more goals.”
A worst-case scenario, in which PSV would trounce last-placed SC Cambuur with a huge score is not something that De Boer fears. But, as he’s said before, he is focussing on his own team. “Cambuur isn’t a team that allows many goals against and I’m sure they don’t want to get slaughtered this time either. This isn’t a guarantee that PSV won’t post a monster win, though. But I want us to concentrate on our own job at hand, that that’s FC Twente.”
Football fan De Boer hopes that the championship will remain undecided until deep into the last day of play. “But then, with Ajax coming out on top”, smiled the coach. “This is the best it can get. I experienced that in 2007 as a supporter, when there were three teams in the running for the championship. The NOS show was amazing to follow. Then PSV came out on top, thanks to Phillip (Cocu) himself.”
Hakim Ziyech is the big man at Twente. How does De Boer plan to fight Twente? “First of all, we need to neutralise the line towards Ziyech. He’s a very good player who has made the difference very often. But we have good defenders who can hopefully keep him in check.”
The suspended Mitchell Dijks will be absent from Ajax’s line-up. De Boer was asked which players are options to replace him at left back. “Nick Viergever, Jairo Riedewald and Kenny Tete”, he answered, without revealing who stood the best chance of getting the spot.
Tete and Riedewald have both been out for months due to injury, but have now both completely recovered. “They’re both looking good right now. On Tuesday, we played eleven against eleven in order to help these two guys build up some match rhythm.”
Tete played his first minutes on the first team against Utrecht (2-2), and had previously played with the Ajax Reserves. His friend Riedewald hasn’t had any match time yet. “He’s been training fully in the last two weeks. We actually wanted to let him play with the Ajax Reserves, but the KNVB wouldn’t allow it. But he’s looking good. I could select him.”
Zakaria El Azzouzi has been playing for Twente on a loan-out basis since the winter break. De Boer expressed satisfaction as the striker’s development. “I think that it’s been good for his career to do this. He’s been playing a lot and he’s been important.”
The fact that El Azzouzi could potentially hurt his employer is bothersome for De Boer. At the same time, the Ajax coach doesn’t want to make too much of it. “It isn’t an ideal situation for either party, that’s clear. But that’s how it’s done in the Netherlands. We loaned him out because we felt that this would be best for his development. Let’s hope that he has a quiet game. He’s definitely a player to watch.”
The fact that Twente is now out of financial difficulties pleased De Boer. “That is fantastic for the club. We should all be happy that they will continue to exist. They’re a great club, with a beautiful stadium and good supporters.” Twente has also made an impression on the field. “They have many individual qualities. If we give them the space, we are in for a tough match”, said De Boer.