The statistics didn’t offer Willem II much hope at the outset, and this remained true after their fortieth visit to the Amsterdam ArenA. The Brabant team was once again the weaker team, although not by as much as in previous years. After two 5-0 home wins in a row, Ajax only won by 3-0 this time. Arek Milik and Anwar El Ghazi (2) scored the goals. Vaclav Cerny made his Ajax 1 debut in the last minutes.
Despite the big win, Frank de Boer wasn’t completely satisfied. “I thought we played the first half in a slow pace. After the 1-0, we gave too much room away and weren’t applying pressure very well. In the second half, we had much more control and we were more present in their half. In the end, we didn’t give too much away, except that header opportunity by Wuytens and that escape by Zivkovic.”
Even the most optimistic Willem II fans must have been somewhat skeptical for this away game at Ajax. The statistics were clearly not in the Tilburg team’s favour. In short, Willem II has never won at Ajax. After 39 visits to the capital city, the counter was only at four points. Moreover, the team has the most goals against at Ajax compared to the average goals against of all of the other Eredivisie teams.
But past results don’t necessarily guarantee future ones. Three players in particular must have had fresh courage, maybe four. Richairo Zivkovic, Lesly de Sa and Ruben Ligeon have been loaned out by Ajax to Willem II. Dico Koppers also has a past in Amsterdam.
Zivkovic’s words before the game didn’t lie. The forward called it the ‘best game of the year’. If he performs well in a Willem II jersey, Zivkovic might enjoy the same good fortune as Mitchell Dijks. In the Willem II Stadium, the left back had been working towards a well-deserved, and well-earned, return to Ajax.
Seeing his old team mates again had a crescendo effect on Dijks, from an Ajax point of view. The home team started off with fury and within the first five minutes had already created danger twice on their opponents’ side of the field. Riechedly Bazoer sent a shot into the hands of keeper Kostas Lamprou in the opening minute, and minutes later, Davy Klaassen’s shot was blocked.
Ajax keep taking the initiative and this was rewarded in the eighteenth minute of play. Willem II’s loss of possession was punished. Nemanja Gudelj intercepted, and passed to Davy Klaassen on the right side of the penalty kick area. His pass was perfectly received by Milik, who scored with a header: 1-0.
It was the Polish player’s twelfth Eredivisie goal and a special one as well. Milik had produced the previous eleven with his favoured left foot. But the hope that Ajax would continue to produce was a vain one. Ajax wasn’t dangerous for the rest of the first half. In fact, Ajax escaped a tying goal right before the break. Keeper Jasper Cillessen saw, to his great relief, Stijn Wuytens’ header land on the crossbar.
Shortly after the break, Willem II did create danger, with the loaned out Ajax players in the starring role. First it was Zivkovic, but Jairo Riedwald acted as the guardian angel. Later on, Cillessen acted similarly with a long distance shot from De Sa.
Ajax realised that it needed to shift into higher gear in order to avoid losing face. And that is what they did. El Ghazi was the initiator of the Amsterdam rising. One minute after he had made a shot against the post, the forward scored a beautiful 2-0 goal. His shot from the edge of the box exploded high into the goal. The third time was a charm in this case, as El Ghazi had had another opportunity earlier on in the second half. And Daley Sinkgraven had also had the chance to score.
The 2-0 seemed to be the final blow for Willem II, and the hope of beating Ajax on its home turf needed to be shelved for another year. The dice had been thrown and this gave Frank de Boer the opportunity to bring in three more attacking players: Lasse Schöne, Yaya Sanogo and Vaclav Cerny. For this last player, it was an amazing substitution. The 17 year-old Czech made his Ajax 1 debut. It was the first time in the match selection for Cerny, who is doing well in the Ajax Reserves.
With fresh blood on the field, Ajax pressed on shortly before time. This led to the 3-0 goal by El Ghazi, who, after a quick transition, was freed up by Schöne. El Ghazi’s shot was half-turned away by Lamprou, but rolled slowly over the goal line: 3-0.
Ajax may have won with relative ease, but there is much room for improvement. De Boer emphasized this. “I feel like our level definitely needs to be higher. In certain areas, like ball possession and midfield choices, we should have made better decisions. That’s a matter of playing lots of matches, and looking at footage. We’ll have more chances.”