For one half, Ajax struggled against PEC Zwolle. It was a 17 year-old rookie, making his debut, who finally gave Ajax some panache as the season resumed for its second half. With Justin Kluivert, who was making his debut, coming onto the field, Peter Bosz’s team finally hit its stride. Goals by Lasse Schöne and Hakim Ziyech (2) gave the title contender a 1-3 win.
One week after the glossy dress rehearsal win against RB Liepzig (5-1 win during training camp in Portugal), Ajax kicked off the second half of the season in Zwolle. Bosz will not have Bertrand Traoré at his disposal this month. The forward is playing in the Africa Cup with Burkina Faso. Hakim Ziyech and André Onana were not selected by, respectively, Morocco and Nigeria. Both pillars were on the squad against PEC. Onana had recovered in time from the flu, which kept him sick until Friday.
Anwar El Ghazi also had a starting spot. Despite persistent rumors of an impending transfer to Lille, Bosz put his faith in the right winger.
Kluiver was the youngest in the Ajax selection with which Bosz started off the new calendar year. Kluivert junior made his official debut five minutes before halftime, coming in for the injured Amin Younes. The German was suffering from pain in his left thigh. With ‘young Kluivert’ coming in, Ajax had its first father-son pair since Danny and Daley Blind.
In the first half, Ajax didn’t come anywhere near its fine form from one week ago against RB Liepzig, the Bundesliga’s number two team. Moreover: PEC, who has been performing quite poorly in the Eredivisie so far this season, is the team that had the best opportunities in the first half on its own home turf, Mac3Park. The Amsterdam team escaped a deficit in the first half, in the sixth minute. On a pass from Ted van de Pavert, PEC centre forward Brock-Madsen came up just short of sending the pass past Onana. Fifteen minutes later, birthday both Joël Veltman’s loss of possession put the visitors in a tough position. Onana didn’t manage to control the shot from Ajax loan-out Django Warmerdam, after which Brock-Madsen once again failed to make good.
Before the break, Ajax went for the counter – forced in part by PEC. This tactic almost resulted in a goal after half an hour. Beautiful prep work by Daley Sinkgraven (regaining ball possession) and Ziyech (phenomenal cross-pass) brought El Ghazi face to face with former Ajacied Mickey van der Hart. The PEC keeper had the final word in the counter-attack.
Shortly after his entry, Kluivert seemed to make an impact on the mediocre match. With his first play, he put forward El Ghazi in front of the Zwolle goal. The latter was just offside and the whistle blew. This play from Kluivert showed guts and talent of the just-turned 17 year-old, wearing jersey number 45.
With the teenager in their midst, Ajax seemed to undergo a metamorphosis. Kluivert – on paper, a first year U19 player – seemed to seamlessly integrate at Eredivisie level. Kluivert gave Ajax panache with his football know-how, daring and insight. Thanks in part to Kluivert’s contribution, the Amsterdam machine was running smoothly in the second half. The substitute also had a nice part in Lasse Schöne’s opening goal. The Dane scored his goal on a penalty, after El Ghazi had been floored in the Zwolle box. El Ghazi had been launched a beat earlier by…Kluivert.
Just one minute later, Hakim Ziyech doubled the lead. The Moroccan Ajacied left his guard Philippe Sandler, and then Van der Hart, without a chance: 0-2. The duel seemed to be decided ten minutes into the second half. Brock-Madsen’s unnecessary goal (1-2) had the Ajacieds on their toes for a while. Ten minutes before time, Ziyech secured the Ajax victory. The midfielder crowned a drawn-out rush over the left side with a spot-on long shot: 1-3. With his spectacular playing and goals, Ziyech was able to thumb his nose to Moroccan national coach Hervé Renard, who had surprisingly bypassed him for the Africa Cup.
“We should have grabbed PEC by the throat right away, but we started off too weak”, said Peter Bosz about the match in Zwolle. “It didn’t go the way I would have liked.” The trainer saw his team recover after the break. Bosz was able to praise substitute Kluivert’s performance. “Justin substituted well. He made himself valuable right away with a few good opportunities. We’re going to go easy with him, but he definitely has talent.”
With more than sixteen rounds of play left in the Eredivisie, Ajax remains five points behind leader Feyenoord. PSV needs to make up eight points on the Rotterdam team. The exciting race for the title continues in 2017. With Justin Kluivert as the new promise for Ajax 1.