Three days after disqualification from the UEFA Europa League, Ajax suffered a painful loss in the Eredivisie. Away at FC Utrecht, the Ajax boat capsized three minutes before time: 1-0. Former Ajacied Yassin Ayoub struck his old club down with the winning goal. Ajax’s disastrous week was thus complete.
How had Ajax processed the disappointing elimination from the UEFA Europa League? Last week’s 1-1 draw against Molde FK was still having its effects in the Domstad. After European elimination and previous elimination from the cup tournament, Ajax has only one mission remaining this season. Winning the championship and the resulting participation in the UEFA Champions League are now the focus. The day after PSV’s 1-1 tie at home against Roda JC, Ajax had to do well in the Nieuw Galgenwaard. The Eredivisie leader could solidify its position at the head of the rankings.
The statistics showed how difficult away games in Utrecht have been. Since March 1 2009 (0-2), six straight matches in the Domstad have failed to result in a win. Up until Sunday, Frank de Boer had never lost an Eredivisie match in the month of December as Ajax’s head coach; at the same time, the North Holland native has never won a match on Utrecht soil as a coach. The first statistic was brought to an end on December 13, 2015. De Boer is still waiting for his first Eredivisie win in Utrecht.
De Boer had tinkered with his squad quite a bit compared to the eleven who had started against Molde FK. Anwar El Ghazi, Riechedly Bazoer and Kenny Tete were the new faces at kick-off. Tete had been suspended on Thursday. De Boer left the left back position open on Sunday. Mitchell Dijks, usually the first choice for the left back position, started on the bench. Thulani Serero and Riechedly Bazoer took turns taking care of the free spaces at midfield.
Ajax was the dominant team in the first half, but interestingly, it was the home team that had the best opportunities. Within half an hour, Andreas Ludwig (shot, saved by Cillessen) Sean Klaiber (sharp attempt) and striker Sébastien Haller (goal disqualified, offside) wreaked havoc with the Amsterdam defense. Ajax (which hadn’t created any opportunities in the first half) remained unscathed. Eleven minutes before halftime, Serero and El Ghazi had the first real shot before Robbin Ruiter. Serero’s shot was blocked, after which El Ghazi’s also made a (failed) attempt to pass Ruiter. A long distance shot from controller Nemanja Gudelj completed the list of shots taken by Ajax in the first half. It was a meagre harvest.
No Ajax fans
The Ajacieds could not even draw strength from their own supporters. Leading up to the competition match, much had been said about the decision to ban Ajax fans from the game. The issue remained difficult to understand and unfair. Offensive chants from the Bunnik Side during the last FC Utrecht – Ajax match ensured that the hard core fans’ stands remained empty this time.
However, FC Utrecht had placed the Bunnik Siders in a different location, the safety issue had to be regulated. The decision forced Utrecht mayor Jan van Zanen to ban Ajax fans. Opposite the Bunnik Side today, the visitors’ stand was empty. Ajax was thus punished for the misdeeds of the Utrecht fans. “It is disappointing and difficult to understand that we, as management and fans, aren’t welcome today”, tweeted Ajax General Manager Edwin van der Sar from his home shortly before kick-off.
It seemed at times that the empty seats in both teams’ supporter stands robbed the teams of creativity and liveliness. The sometimes flat atmosphere in the stadium didn’t bring out the best in either team. With substitutes Viktor Fischer (who came in for the injured Amin Younes directly in the second half) and Lasse Schöne (in for El Ghazi for the final twenty minutes) De Boer hoped to help his team with a dose of passion and conviction.
A tangible result took a long time to materialize. In the final stages, Ajax only managed an opportunity for Milik, who just slid under the ball on a free kick by Gudelj. The Amsterdam team had luck on their side when Sean Klaiber volleyed the ball wide. Ten minutes later, Bart Ramselaar shot the ball wide of the Ajax goal. Ajax thus had two narrow escapes in the final minutes. But the third time ended up being the charm, as happened with Yassin Ayoub’s shot. Ajax didn’t clear the ball out of their zone, and the midfielder made good: 1-0.
Shortly before time, Ajax was unable to repair the damage. The Amsterdam team thus suffered a painful loss in Utrecht very soon after suffering elimination from the Europa League.
FC Utrecht - Ajax 1-0 (0-0): 87. Ayoub 1-0
Ajax: Cillessen, Tete, Veltman, Riedewald, Gudelj, Bazoer, Klaassen, Serero (83. Van de Beek), El Ghazi (69. Schöne), Milik, Younes (46. Fischer).