Ajax has ended its pre-season with a loss. Playing in the Stade Georges-Pompidou, Olympique de Valence’s home, AS Saint-Etienne was too strong, defeating Ajax 1-0. De French team sealed the win shortly before the match’s end.
This match against the record-holding champion was the last part of the pre-season. Leading up to 2015-2016, Ajax met Dinamo Moscow (2-2) in their first match. After subsequent friendlies against FC Nordsjaelland (1-3 loss), Panathinaikos (2-0 win) and VfL Wolfsburg (1-1), Frank de Boer’s team arrived in Valence. In the cozy stadium which is home base for the eight-class team Olympique de Valence, AS Etienne was their opponent.
This match was the last test before the critical double-header against Rapid Wien. Ajax will battle against the Austrian team for a spot in the play-offs for participation in the UEFA Champions League. Obviously, a good performance was desired on Wednesday, although it will be even more important to perform well one week from now in the Ernst Happel Stadium in Vienna. In addition, this will be a revisiting of the site of Ajax’s Champions League win in 1995.
Ajax made a decent impression in Valence. AS Saint – Etienne, the number 5 team in the last Ligue 1 rankings, was a tough opponent. The French system (5-4-1) was especially difficult for Ajax. The French team was not shy to attack, but there weren’t any real opportunities before the break. The Ajax opportunities in the first half were equally scarce. Striker Arek Milik met his master in ‘ASSE’ keeper Stephane Ruffier twice. Right before the break, the Polish Ajax player even had a free kick opportunity. Ruffier boxed the attempt away from the goal. Sandwiched between Milik’s scoring opportunities came an attempt by Daley Sinkgraven, which Ruffier ticked over the goal. The Ajacieds lacked a good, decisive last pass each time.
In France, De Boer stayed with virtually the same squad as the home game against German cup winner Wolfsburg. Only Viktor Fischer was absent in Valence. The Dane was granted some rest as a precaution, with an eye on the upcoming matches against Rapid. Brand-new Ajacied Amin Younes was Fischer’s replacement on the squad. Kenny Tete was Ajax’s starting right back once again. Jairo Riedewald was on the squad, too. The central defender found Mitchell Dijks at his side at left back, just has he had against the Germans. The other names on the list - keeper Jasper Cillessen, Joël Veltman, midfielders Davy Klaassen, Riechedly Bazoer and Sinkgraven plus de forwards Milik and Anwar El Ghazi were all obvious choices.
In the first fifteen minutes of the second half, the ‘Verts’ – the greens – failed to convert on their biggest opportunity. Kevin Theophile-Catherine (free kick wide) and Lore Perrin (header over) didn’t make good, and neither did striker Nolan Roux. He sent a great opportunity over Jasper Cillessen’s goal. By the one hour mark, only Klaassen had had a good scoring opportunity for the Amsterdam team. The Ajax captain slid El Ghazi’s pass just wide.
In the last half hour, many substitutions took place, giving the team a new face. Yaya Sanogo finished the match as centre forward. Lasse Schöne was a fresh new connection on attack (first at left, then right), while Nemanja Gudelj took over the honours as right back. In a subsequent wave of substitutions, Queensy Menig got some playing time on forward. Ricardo van Rhijn was the new right back for the last fifteen minutes. Lucas Andersen and Nick Viergever replaced Jairo Riedewald and Davy Klaassen in the final minutes.
Saint-Etienne struck gold in the final minutes. Four minutes before time, substitute Jonathan Bamba lifted the ball over Cillessen, into the goal, from afar. The Amsterdam team thus suffered a last-minute loss. The pre-season thus ended in disappointment, although the rest of the preparation phase has gone relatively well. This loss may also be a setback on the road to the important matches against Rapid Wien.