Ajax has nothing to complain about after tying its match with Feyenoord. The current national champion was spared a defeat, although the team did have opportunities to decide the game in its favour in the final minutes. After a 0-0 final score, the team is down 6 points on PSV.
Frank de Boer was forced to amend his tactics two days prior to the Classic. After Jairo Riedewald’s injury – early in the week- Davy Klaassen also retired early from Friday’s training due to an injury. The Ajax coach kept his cool and shuffled his men around. Riechedly Bazoer got the nod for the spot normally reserved for Klaassen. “Midfield will be important, as it is in every top match”, said De Boer, looking ahead to the home game against Feyenoord. The Ajacied was right.
A large part of this Classic was played out on the no man’s land between both goals. Although, in the spirit of full disclosure, Jasper Cillessen did face most of the attacks that came his way. The Amsterdam middle line had a hard time keeping the Rotterdam midfield at bay.
The Rotterdam team was out for revenge. Earlier this season, Ajax’s victory in the Kuip was, to put it mildly, a case of good fortune. Ricardo van Rhijn gave the Amsterdam team their 1-0 win on a free kick. The fact that the Rotterdam team hasn’t won in the ArenA since 2005 is – from the Rotterdam perspective, painful. Of course, Ajax wanted to preserve that statistic. The Amsterdam team managed to do this with a dose of luck, art and contortions. “Feyenoord was better than us twice this season. But we have four points”, summarized Frank de Boer afterwards. In the words of the Ajax coach, the disappointment was audible. It was disappointment in the poor level showed by his Ajax team in both Classics.
With Mike van der Hoorn (once again) standing in for the injured Joël Veltman, the current national championship had a difficult time getting into the Classic. The Amsterdam team was only able to force a single opportunity until deep into the second half. The most dangerous moments played themselves out in Jasper Cillessen’s penalty kick area. Former Ajax player and Feyenoord keeper Kenneth Vermeer had a relatively quiet return to the club that trained him and which he left surprisingly at the start of this season.
The fact that Fred Rutten’s team didn’t strike before the break was mainly thanks to Cillessen’s good work. The Ajax player especially saw striker Colin Kazim-Richards appear in front of him. The Feyenoord player was forced to recognize, several times, the Ajax keeper’s superiority. An attempt by Jean Paul Boëtius was, with a stroke of luck at the goal line, turned away by Arek Milik, playing defensively. Thus Ajax had nothing to complain about when they found themselves at a draw at halftime.
The lack of opportunities was surely a concern for De Boer at halftime. De Boer (undefeated in Classics both as a player and a Classic) attempted to reinforce the Ajax offense by bringing in Kolbeinn Sigthórsson midway through. The Icelander took over from Milik. With Sigthórsson on attack, it was still the visitors who determined the pace of the game. Right at the one-hour mark, Jens Toornstra sent the ball straight into the hands of an alert Cillessen.
“I used the word miserable in the locker room”, continued De Boer in his retrospective. “Perhaps that was due to the fact that the team was young and that it was the first Classic for some of the players. There was no liveliness in the team. You need to take initiative. We weren’t daring enough. Perhaps that was due to the tension with some of the players.”
Sigthórsson left his calling card in the 69th minute. The centre forward was served from the right, but his shot was turned away by Vermeer. It was also the first Ajax opportunity that truly challenged Vermeer. The Ajacieds also avoided a seemingly unavoidable goal eight minutes later. Boëtius sent a header back to Kazim-Richards right in front of Cillessen, but the British-Turkish player managed to miss the Ajax goal from only 1,5 meters away. Former Ajax players Daley Blind, Toby Alderweireld (who were thanked and bidden farewell for their services during halftime) and Jan Vertonghen saw Ajax come away unscathed.
However strange and unpredictable Sunday’s Classic was, was evidenced by the opportunities that Ricardo Kishna and Lasse Schöne had in the final fifteen minutes. Vermeer had had the last word against his former team mates. Ajax could have won the Classic at this point. But because the Classic remained without a winner, PSV was this weekend’s big victor. The Eindhoven team jumped to a six-point lead on Ajax. “If we want to be champion, we need to get much better”, said De Boer about his Ajax team’s level. “We didn’t suffer much damage. In the end, we should be happy with this tie.”
The most charged match of the Eredivisie thus ended scoreless, which is quite unique for a Classic. This has only happened once before, in 1978. So this difficult football afternoon ends with a historic tinge.