With the Champions League match against Real Madrid coming up, Ajax has made a costly misstep. At Heracles Almelo, Erik ten Hag’s team went down 1-0 on Saturday night. The national title has now moved further out of sight. PSV could potentially increase its lead to 8 points if they win at FC Utrecht on Sunday.
Ajax also lost at Almelo last year (2-1) and during the season opener in Amsterdam, the team also struggled with Heracles (1-1). Ajax had difficulty this time as well with the team.
Heracles made a lively start, putting Ajax under pressure immediately. Heracles’ penalty in the 6th minute was the first serious warning. Frenkie de Jong took a risk in the build-up, lost possession, after which Daley Blind pulled the emergency brake. Brandly Kuwas took his spot behind the ball, but saw his penalty hit the post.
Onana was important, but played a starring role later to his team’s disadvantage. The Cameroonian keeper sent the ball to Mohammed Osman in the build-up; the player gratefully accepted this gift and made good. At 17 minutes, Ajax was down and could only blame itself. Their playing was sloppy and lacked sharpness and liveliness.
Opportunity for De Jong
Ajax created one good opportunity before the break, via De Jong. The midfielder saw his shot get turned away by Janis Blaswich, Heracles’ keeper.
After an hour of play, Ten Hag stepped in with a double substitution. He pulled Lasse Schone and Donny van de Beek out, and brought in Noussair Mazraoui and Zakaria Labyad. This could have had an immediate impact, as Klaas Jan Huntelaar was sent in by Ziyech shortly after. The striker had his 100th Eredivisie goal at his feet, but stumbled on keeper Blaswich.
Chance for Labyad
Ajax built up the pressure during the second half, but this didn’t result in many opportunities. Substitute Labyad almost scored the tying goal, assisted by Rasmus Kristensen, but his shot went over. On the opposite side, Ajax escaped when Kristoffer Peterson was unable to take advantage of a communication glitch between Onana and Blind.
Ten Hag’s last trump card was Kasper Dolberg, who went in for the struggling De Jong with 11 minutes left. But this switch didn’t provide the fervently desired tying goal. Czyborra almost sent the ball into his own goal when he intercepted it, and a surprising shot by Dolberg from outside the box was simple prey for Blaswich.