Ajax remains close on leader PSV’s heels. With a 3-0 win at home against Excelsior, the deficit against the Brabant team is only one point. Arek Milik was the most celebrated Ajacied on Sunday with his two goals. Davy Klaassen, who was celebrating his birthday, played a leading role by scoring as well.
Leader PSV played its 24th Eredivisie game on Saturday. The Eindhoven team posted a good 2-0 win at home against Heracles. For Ajax, a win was necessary in order to bring the point difference between the teams down to one point.
Three man defense
Forced in part by injuries and Mike van der Hoorn’s suspension, Frank de Boer called upon a three-man defense in the ArenA. Joël Veltman, Nick Viergever and Mitchell Dijks were the Ajax defenders. Centre forward Arek Milik was in the starting line-up for the first time since the away game at Roda JC (2-2 on January 31).
De Boer has also called up youngsters Damian van Bruggen and Robert Muric for the match selection. The up-and-coming talents had been dreaming of an official debut in Ajax 1. That dream came true for Muric on Sunday. The Croatian gave his debut extra sheen by making an assist on Davy Klaassen’s goal.
Lasse Schöne is far past the stage of making his debut. Moreover: the Dane started as a midfielder and this was his 150th match as an Ajacied. Schöne was honoured afterwards by Ajax’s director of football affairs Marc Overmars. The multi-faceted veteran received a fine shield with an inscription.
One way traffic
Traffic was going in one way only in the ArenA. In the first half, the Rotterdam team had to settle for one lone opportunity, whereas Ajax created a myriad of chances and possibilities. Had they had just a bit more precision in finishing, the duel would have been decided by halftime.
In the opening minutes, Milik nearly punished keeper Tom Muyters’ tinkering. In the aftermath, shots from – again – Milik, Anwar El Ghazi and Riechedly Bazoer went wide of the goal. Headers from Amin Younes and captain Davy Klaassen, celebrating his 23rd birthday, were doomed to the same fate.
It was Milik who put an end to the Amsterdam team’s missed opportunities. Four minutes before halftime, the Pole made his mark with a searing shot that blasted past Muyters: 1-0. Milik’s preparation work is also worth mentioning. The forward brought himself into a great position with a great solo. His guard, Henrico Drost, was fully out-played in the process.
Ajax nearly saw its lead double when Sander Fischer touched the ball erroneously and almost sent it into his own goal. The Amsterdam team’s lead by halftime was well-deserved, but it was also a paltry reflection of the balance of power on the field.
Milik scored his tenth goal of the season against the Kralingen team. Earlier on, the Polish Ajacied had scored on Woudestein during the 0-2 away win. With that total, Milik pulls even of club top scorer El Ghazi, who is the other Ajacied who has scored in Rotterdam this season.
It didn’t take Milik long to pull ahead of his co- top scorer. Ten minutes after the break, the centre forward made good once again: 2-0. Milik’s eleventh competition goal was initiated this time by a pass from Younes. A nice detail is that las season, Milik was Ajax’s top scorer with eleven goals. The international seems set to beat his own Eredivisie goal total of 2014-2015.
The new (and also old) club top scorer did himself and Ajax a great service. Milik has mainly been the substitute centre forward. With his strong performance and goals, Milik demonstrated his class and resilience once again. Milik and Klaassen’s goals added well-earned polish to Ajax’s home game against Excelsior.
“It took a while to get used to playing that way”, said De Boer afterwards about his chosen tactic. “With the extra man at midfield, there were a lot of position swaps. In that case, you need to constantly be anticipating each other. Things got better in the second half and there was a lot of pressure on Excelsior’s goal. Against this type of team, where you’re also on the opponent’s half a lot, you can play well with Milik. He also scored an amazing goal. Basically, I’m happy with 3-0, although we could have scored more. We played a well-controlled game and created enough opportunities.”