With its narrow win against Legia Warsaw (1-0), Ajax did itself a favour for the return match in the round of thirty tow of the UEFA Europa League. But Ajax cannot rest assured of a good outcome. “It’s going to be a hell of a fight”, warned Frank de Boer afterwards.
De Boer saw his Ajax players exchange a solid first half against Legia for a notably weaker second one. It was only when Legia abandoned its defensive approach that the Amsterdam team came under pressure. “We controlled the first half”, said the Ajax coach in retrospect. “From our side, it was a good first half. Legia played in a 5-3-2 formation. It’s always tough to find space then. We were threatening. Milik scored a fantastic goal. And you hope to continue in the same way for the second half.”
The coach gave a starting spot to Nick Viergever (‘always brings energy’) and Arek Milik. De Boer estimated, rightly, that seeing his former Polish team mates would bring out the best in the Polish Ajacied. "Arek scored the winning goal. He worked very hard and was threatening.”
De Boer saw the Polish champion take the match into their own hands right after halftime. Jasper Cillessen was a wall for the players from De Boer’s fellow coach Henning Berg. “Legia was more daring after the break, and it was tougher for us”, continue De Boer. “Three, maybe four dicey moments in front of our own goal resulted from that. Fortunately, Cillessen made the saves.” The coach saw, to his relief, that the narrow lead was preserved until the end.
De Boer: “I’m satisfied with this 1-0 win. The clean sheet is important. Legia proved itself to be a strong and experienced team. We need to make sure we score a goal next week. Then Legia needs to score three. But it’s going to be a hell of a fight in Warsaw.” The Grootebroek native precisely recalled the two matches against Steaua Bucharest from two seasons ago. After a promising 2-0 win at home, elimination came anyway in the Romanian capital. Ajax conceded the match in penalty shots.
“I feel positive, but we need to wait and see”, said De Boer. Ajax can indeed expect a hell of a fight if Legia reaches the same level it did in the second half of the ArenA match. “But if we play the same game we did in the first half, they’ll have a hard time. It’s in our advantage that we kept a clean sheet. It’s in our own hands now and we need to ensure we go through. I give us a 60% chance, and Legia a 40% chance.” Ajax’s coach would have loved to play the return in a lively Polish stadium, but a UEFA sanction will force the Polish team to play two home games without a home crowd. De Boer also sees an advantage: “I can coach very well in an empty stadium.”