In a thrilling show at Manchester City, Ajax leaves Etihad Stadium with one point. After seventeen minutes, Frank de Boer’s team had taken a surprising 0-2 lead, thanks to two goals by Siem de Jong. After Yaya Touré’s goal, and certainly after Sergio Kun Aguero’s, the Amsterdam team struggled. But with a hefty dose of willpower, Ajax managed to limit the damage to 2-2. Ajax thus holds on to third place in pool D of the UEFA Champions League.
After his suspension from the national competition, Niklas Moisander naturally returned to the defensive heart. Stefano Denswil was thus relegated to the bench. De Boer had a surprise in store at the front for Manchester City. Derk Boerrigter would ensure the feed from the right. Christian Eriksen was once again the ‘shadow centre forward’.
Compared to two weeks ago, when City lost 3-1 in the ArenA, coach Roberto Mancini had made a few changes, some due to injuries. Not Lescott or Richards, but Zabaleta and Nastasic were on defense. Javi Garcia was in midfield and Carlos Tévez got the nod over Edin Dzeko, who had started in Amsterdam.
The game seemed to be heading in the direction of another stunt by Ajax in the UEFA Champions League, as a 0-2 lead was on the scoreboard after just seventeen minutes. Two Christian Eriksen corners delivered the maximum return. In the tenth minute, the ball came from the right to Niklas Moisander’s feet, and he passed to Siem de Jong. The captain slid the ball well past Hart. Eight minutes later, Eriksen’s corner landed directly with De Jong. The captain simply moved away from Touré, and then went on to send a hard header straight into the goal: 0-2.
It was a dream start for the young team from Amsterdam, in a turbulent opening phase during which City was also on attack. This offensive mode of play resulted in a goal for the English team. Touré scored in the 22nd minute – after a great pass from the outside right from Nasri – with a half volley. Ajax held on to its lead until halftime, partly due to Kenneth Vermeer’s outstanding save on a header from the completely free Nasri.
After the break, City coach Roberto Mancini brought in Mario Balotelli instead of midfielder Garcia, in an attempt to get Ajax’s back against the wall. Ajax was under pressure and was fortunate when Aguero, a true artist with the ball, slid in the 47th minute when he was in prime scoring position. City had the bulk of ball possession, and Ajax couldn’t seem to break out. It was only due to fouls around its own box that Ajax kept the home team at bay. It was only a matter of time before he tying goal would come. Nasri seemed poised to score it in the 54th minute, but he did it from an offside position, and Ajax thus remained in the lead. Ajax kept fighting which resulted in another opportunity for De Jong in the 57th minute. His hard shot was just barely saved by Hart. In the 60th minute, Vermeer came out of the goal dangerously, giving Aguero another opportunity to score. But the Argentine star slid.
City continued to hunt for the next fifteen minutes, and then Ajax seemed to pick itself up. Mancini then brought in the next world class striker: Dzeko for Tévez. De Jong sent his free kick in the 71st minute perfectly between the posts, but once again the English national team’s keeper nipped an Amsterdam party in the bud by making a great save. Just as City seemed to be played out, the home team actually scored. Aguero took advantage of sloppy work by Ajax’s defense by staying on his feet this time and scoring the tying goal in the 74th minute: 2-2.
City’s confidence had returned. The match became a true test on manliness, something that De Boer had recently complained about. With Eyong Enoh in for Lasse Schöne, the coach hoped to win the physical battles at midfield. Twelve nail biting minutes followed, during which Vermeer beautifully kept a Balotelli header out of his goal. After that, Kompany’s header grazed his own goal, and De Jong sent his own header too high over the goal. Things almost went south again when Aguero scored, but his goal was disqualified due to offside.
The Ajax players were disappointed afterwards in the locker room – they had after all given away a 0-2 lead. De Boer: “It’s a good sign that the players are disappointed with this result. We could have taken a big step and we gave those goals away too easily. City scored that second goal out of the blue. It was really disappointing for us. But you know that if you play here, it’s going to be tough. Beforehand, I would have signed up for 2-2. We had a hard time in the first ten minutes of the second half, and after that things got better. If we’d been more careful with the opportunities we got, like Eriksen at the end, we could have won. Although the other side could have scored just as well.”
“If we beat Dortmund at home, then we’re assured of third place. We’re going for survival in the Champions League, but Dortmund is very strong. But we showed them that we can play well. And we’ll have our own crowd with us, which was also fantastic tonight, when we play Dortmund at home.
So Ajax held its own very well in Manchester and stays ahead of City in the group D rankings. On Wednesday November 21 the home game against Borussia Dortmund follows. They tied Real Madrid 2-2 last night.