Ajax gained little ground in Sunday’s match against PSV which was tied, 0-0. The match, which was at times entertaining but mostly awkward, resulted in another costly loss of points for Ajax in the race for the national title.
Coach Frank de Boer gave Vurnon Anita a spot on the squad, relegating Daley Blind to the side lines. Demy de Zeeuw warmed the bench as well. Gregory van der Wiel, of course, was part of the starting line-up. In his one hundredth Eredivisie match, the right back was expected to go head to head with Balázs Dzsudzsák, the star of the Eindhoven team. The Hungarian native had played a key role for his club against Lille on Thursday. Just like Ajax, who defeated Anderlecht on that same night, the league leader reached the UEFA Europa League round of sixteen. Miralem Sulejmani had played a critical role on Thursday night, scoring both goals against Anderlecht (2-0). The Serbian Ajax player’s performance on Sunday was anxiously anticipated.
The team from Eindhoven put the pressure on Ajax from the start, resulting in a first half in which the home team had the greatest opportunities. Ola Toivonen sent the ball just wide of Ajax captain Maarten Stekelenburg’s goal. Dzsudzsák also saw his shot go wide. The Ajax keeper continued to be rock steady during the rest of the match. Before the break, Stekelenburg was outstanding, blocking new attempts from both Toivonen and Dzsudzsák. The Swede and Hungarian players got close range shots, but just couldn’t make good. When the going was tough, the Haarlem native did an excellent job to keep his team in the game.
Ajax just barely made it through to the break under the pressure from PSV. Christian Eriksen was threatening, but his shot went wide. Stekelenburg’s fellow goalie across the field, Andreas Isaksson, had considerably less work to do. A Jan Vertonghen header, from a Sulejmani corner, was deflected by Erik Pieters. With a 0-0 score midway through, the match remained lopsided.
“Both teams played very conservatively today”, was Frank de Boer's assessment at the press conference. “Neither PSV or Ajax wanted to lose. We especially didn’t, as the gap would become very big if we did. But I was quite satisfied with the first half. For example, Sulejmani completely dominated Pieters.”
It wasn’t until the second half that Ajax was able to pave a decent path towards Isaksson. Van der Wiel was often seen further up front. The right defender was involved in several good opportunities, specifically in the closing phase when the field was more wide open. Van der Wiel’s offensive approach resulted in more defensive work for his opponent, Dzsudszák, neutralising one of PSV’s offensive weapons. But the Hungarian striker counteracted the Ajax player’s attempt to score with a slide tackle. Soon after the break, Van der Wiel could have been free in front of Isaksson if he had been expecting Erikson’s through pass. The Ajax player was left completely free in the centre. With Rasmus Lindgren in for Eyong Enoh, and Demy de Zeeuw for the battle weary Mounir El Hamdaoui, Ajax tried to strengthen its attack. But it wasn’t enough to win. Substitute Genero Zeefuik found Stekelenburg – the strongest player on Ajax’s side – in his way.
“At times, it was a chess game for both teams”, continued De Boer from behind the coach’s table. “The central defence were still able to pass, but sending the ball further, to the midfield, was more difficult.” The coach brought in Lindgren to get more guiding at midfield. “The guys needed to move further ahead. They needed to push up earlier. That went better. We gave away some space, but we were hoping for three points. At the end, I’m satisfied with the approach. And less satisfied with the way we played in the second half. 0-0 is a justified score, I think. Fortunately, we have one of the best keepers in the world.”
Unfortunately, Ajax gains little ground with one point. League leader PSV reinforced its lead and nurses a six point advantage against Frank de Boer’s team. FC Twente lost the tumultuous game at AZ. The number 2 ranked team now stands two points ahead of Ajax.