It will be a hard job for Ajax to remain in the UEFA Europa League after the winter break this season. With just three points in four matches, Frank de Boer’s team is now dependent on Fenerbahçe. Aside from that, Ajax needs to beat Celtic in order to eliminate the Scottish team and keep the pressure on the Turkish team. Frank de Boer: “It will be very tough.”
Upon entering the green coloured stadium, De Boer was directly confronted with memories. As a former player of the team’s arch rival, the Glasgow Rangers, he knows the feeling in Glasgow very well. He returned here in 2013 as Ajax’s coach. “There’s always an incredible atmosphere here at Celtic Park. As a young player, you dream of playing in this kind of stadium. The Celtic players experience this once every two weeks. For most of us, this is new. In the Netherlands, the only comparable atmosphere is during Ajax – Feyenoord and Feyenoord-Ajax. For our young group, it’s an amazing experience to play here.”
Ajax is still looking for its first win in the Europa League pool phase. From their visits to Norway and Turkey in the past few months, they brought home a total of only one point. Both home games, against Fenerbahçe and Celtic, gave them the remaining two points. “After the draw, I had been counting on winning seven points from the home games alone”, said Frank de Boer during the press conference prior to the training in Glasgow. “It’s disappointing to be in this position with only two games left until the end of the group phase. We’ve obviously had to adjust our expectations. Although I still feel that we should be able to survive in this pool. But it’s going to be very difficult.”
Ajax and Celtic both need to win
It would be the first time for De Boer, as Ajax’s coach, if the team doesn’t make it through the winter break in Europe this season. Since he took over the helm from Martin Jol in 2010, Ajax has always made it through the winter break. “Although there is a difference between the UEFA Champions League and the Europa League. In the Champions League, the first, second and third placed teams go through. In the Europa League, you need to be one of the top two teams. The match against Celtic is crucial for both teams. We both need to win in order to remain in the running for the next round. And still, it’s not in our hands at all. We have to hope that Molde does its best against Fenerbahçe at home, on their artificial turf. But even then, we need to win the next two matches. And that’s proven difficult in our last four European matches.”
The home game against Celtic ended in a 2-2 draw earlier this season. “We started that match quite nervously, and we got two goals scored against us. From that perspective, I think the draw was a good result, especially since they had several good opportunities.” De Boer has good memories of the meeting from two seasons ago in Glasgow. Despite the 2-1 loss in Celtic Park, Ajax’s coach saw his team perform well back then. “We were unlucky with a penalty kick and a
shot that changed direction. In the end, Lasse Schöne’s goal was key in getting us a better overall result. I realise that our team has changed significantly since then, but I’m confident that we can book a good result here tomorrow evening.”
Debut Van de Beek?
De Boer didn’t completely commit to his starting line-up, although he admitted that he didn’t want to tinker too much with it. Still, some adjustments will be needed, considering that Thulani Serero will be absent, whereas he was in the squad against SC Cambuur. Because Riechedly Bazoer and Daley Sinkgraven are unavailable, Donny van de Beek’s name came up during the press conference. Perhaps the 18 year-old midfielder will make his debut in Glasgow? De Boer also named Jairo Riedewald as an option. In that case, the central defensive duo with Veltman would be broken up.
Ajax’s coach did give away a bit about the battle strategy. “We’re not going to open the door, but we will naturally attack. We want to win, and we need to win. So we are going to try to dominate on Celtic’s half. We will also have to keep the field compact.” The word ‘confidence’ was also mentioned. Something that Nemanja Gudelj has his own take on: “Sometimes an away match is a bit less pressure than playing at home. That could be an advantage.”
Gudelj will meet a familiar face in the Scottish football temple. He knows Nadir Ciftçi from their time at NAC together. The Serb hasn’t exchanged any barbs or taunts with his former team mate. “He’s a good friend of mine, but I never speak to players from the opposing team in the days before a match. After the match, I do, of course.”