Besides a solid match, Ajax – AZ delivered four goals for the Amsterdam team. AZ was left hopeless in the Amsterdam ArenA on Sunday afternoon. Coach Frank de Boer could only be satisfied when looking back on the 4-0 win against the opponents from Alkmaar.
The day after both PSV and FC Twente both won their competition matches, it was clear what Ajax needed to do against AZ: win this duel against its opponents in this North Holland derby. Vurnon Anita played a new role in the late afternoon match (kick off was at 4.30pm), as controlling midfielder. The self-taught right footed player took over Eyong Enoh’s spot. Daley Blind was positioned on left back. Two days after coach Frank de Boer sent Mounir El Hamdaoui to Jong Ajax, Siem de Jong started as centre forward. Ajax’s number 10 was supported by Demy de Zeeuw and Christian Eriksen on offensive midfield duty behind him. “Anita’s been a team player; his spot on the squad was a reward for his hard work”, was De Boer’s compliment to his controlling midfielder after the game. “Vurnon stands his ground, and is a powerful and intense player, not only here but also at the European level in Europa League.”
De Zeeuw brought Ajax into the lead after five minutes. Ajax’s number 20 – formerly of AZ – took advantage of left winger Ebecilio’s high pass. De Zeeuw was free in the heart of Alkmaar’s defence, and slid the ball past keeper Esteban Alvarado Brown from close by. After an unlucky streak, the Ajax player finally made good with his goal, earning him well deserved applause.
The Costa Rican keeper wasn’t tested much for the rest of the half. Alvarado intercepted a long distance shot from Eriksen. A Jan Vertonghen free kick was just as easily stopped by the South American AZ player. Across the field, Maarten Stekelenburg wasn’t taxed much either. However, the international was relieved to see Blind arrive just in time to block Brett Holman, who was storming in, right before the break. Had the Australian made it through, he could have shot at close range. Last Thursday, ‘Steek’ was among the Ajax players who were granted an evening’s rest during the 5-1 cup match win against RKC. For Stekelenburg, it was also a break to recover from a light injury. Fortunately, the Haarlem native was in top form against AZ.
After the musical break by de Rootsriders, which was ended by referee Kevin Blom, it was Eriksen who came closest to scoring the second Ajax goal right after the break. The midfielder appeared before Alvaredo, got the ball past the Costa Rican, but to his disappointment, saw the keeper turn away his shot right before it passed the goal line. The intermediate score remained the same as the result that Ajax posted at the end of December in the same stadium against this opponent. At that time, Ajax beat AZ 1-0 in the cup match. Things were more difficult for Ajax on Alkmaar soil. The team, then under the leadership of coach Martin Jol, lost its match there, 2-0 in November.
It was De Jong who made it 2-0. The centre forward laid the groundwork personally in the 56th minute, when he passed to Sulejmani from the edge of the box. The Serb had contact with the ball, and Alvarado, who had come out, sent the ball straight to De Jong’s foot. It was then child’s play for the Ajax player: 2-0. With Ebecilio’s goal fifteen minutes later, North Holland’s derby was decided. After Alkmaar’s loss of possession in the middle circle, the left winger was the last stop of a quick Ajax attack. Ebecilio’s controlled shot went in via the second post: 3-0. AZ substitute Graziano Pelle couldn’t accept this blow. Three minutes after coming in, referee Blom judged that the Italian was too hard on fellow substitute Dario Cvitanich, earning him an immediate red card.
The experiment with Anita as controlling midfielder on Sunday afternoon was considered a success, although the Ajax player wasn’t tested much. With his 4-0, Anita made an important contribution, and booked a nice personal success.
“After the 2-0, the writing was on the wall”, said De Boer in retrospect. “AZ weren’t threatening after that. We built up well in terms of possession, and were good defensively. We transitioned well in the first half and we looked for depth quite well. So I’m a satisfied coach. We have many young players who can still take steps. We’re now at about 70 per cent of our potential.”
The quartet of Ajax goals, plus the way the team played, was enough to ensure a successful dress rehearsal for the upcoming midweek Europa League match against Spartak Moscow. On Thursday, Ajax will face the Russian team in the Amsterdam ArenA.
Keep watching Ajax TV for a summary of Ajax – AZ, and interviews with Frank de Boer and several Ajax players afterwards.