Ajax suffered another loss on Sunday. One week after losing to PSV, Ajax lost in Groningen, 2-0. It was a memorable loss considering that Ajax hasn’t lost two Eredivisie matches in a row in over two and a half years. Frank de Boer: “We played in too low a gear.”
The statistics showed that Ajax has indeed struggled in the Euroborg in the past few years. In its last six home games against Ajax, Groningen has won eight points. Just as many as in the twenty previous meetings. The average went up on Sunday by three points against the current national champion. For Ajax, it meant the second setback in one week.
It was strange to see Ajax without Daley Blind in action. The international has also missed some games this season due to the World Cup, but as of Saturday, he had definitely left Ajax. The 24 year-old Blind will continue his career in the Premier League, at Manchester United. He wasn’t present for the game between the two clubs for whom he has played a total of 122 Eredivisie matches. It was the end of an era during which Danny and Daley Blind were both successively involved with Ajax.
Thulani Serero was Blind’s replacement at midfield. Frank de Boer had made no other changes to the line-up following the home loss to PSV (1-3). That meant that Anwar El Ghazi and Kolbeinn Sigthórsson were both in the starting line-up. The home team included five players with an Ajax past. Two of them (Danny Hoesen and Rasmus Lindgren) had reached Ajax 1. Sergio Padt, Johan Kappelhof en Jarchinio Antonia went off before that point to pursue their professional football careers.
As Richairo Zivkovic, and around 22.000 other spectators watched on, Ajax had two good opportunities in the first fifteen minutes. The Ajax forward (suspended due to his red card with the Ajax Reserves) watched from the stands as his former employer almost gave Ajax a goal in the thirteenth minute. Defender Eric Botteghin sent a header back in such a dangerous way that keeper Padt had to make a save. Two minutes later, El Ghazi fired a long distance shot to the Groningen keeper. Later in the first half, Ajax, who was the stronger team, had two more good chances via Davy Klaassen and Nick Viergever, among others. Groningen came close to scoring before the break, but Hoesen’s pass was missed by Nick van der Velden.
Straight after halftime, Groningen came out flying. First, Antonia tried to surprise Ajax keeper Cillessen with a high ball, but his attempt ended up on top of the goal. Several minutes later, the home team did score. After preparation work from Van der Velden and Chery, it was Botteghin who sent the ball into the goal from nearby. Completely contrary to the relative strength of each team on the field, Groningen had pulled ahead. This was to Frank de Boer’s disappointment: “There wasn’t anything wrong. But then you see how easily a couple of guys can free themselves up. That just can’t happen.” It was good that Cillessen was attentive a few minutes later otherwise Chery would have doubled the score in the 53rd minute.
Although the green – white storm died down shortly after the first goal, Ajax didn’t manage to come up with anything in reply. There were no real good opportunities to tie the game, and substitutes Ricardo Kishna, Lerin Duarte and pinch hitter Mike van der Hoorn were all unable to turn the tide in Groningen. Ajax’s attempts were simply not enough to take one point back home to Amsterdam. Three minutes before time, the hope was completely gone. Substitute Michael de Leeuw made good with a header on a pass from the left: 2-0. Ajax thus passed Ajax in the rankings. Frank de Boer’s team will have to wait fourteen days before their next chance at redemption against last-placed Heracles Almelo at home.
De Boer: “We simply played in low gear today. Before the break, we stayed stuck in fourth gear and in the second half, we didn’t get past third gear. That’s now how you make a difference. Several of our players played beneath their level today. And the way in which we gave away both goals was very amateurish. That really needs to get better.”