Frank de Boer wants his selection to realize that each duel of the second half of the season must be approached with utmost concentration. “We need to feel that we still have seventeen finals to play”, said Ajax’s coach during Thursday’s press conference. “Our expectation is that our main competitors won’t waste many points. That’s why we need to treat each match as a very important one.”
Ajax and FC Groningen will kick off the second half of the season on Friday evening in the ArenA. This needs to be a starting sign for the Amsterdam team that the race to make up its four point deficit on PSV has started. De Boer believes in a fifth straight national title.
“If we do what we need to do, we have a good shot. We have the experience to perform well in the second half of the season, although that’s not guarantee. If we think that it will just happen, we’ll be in for a nasty surprise. We need to fully realize – and it’s our job as the staff to make sure that this message gets across clearly - that each match counts.”
De Boer expects his team to feel responsible. This was one of the points he emphasized during the winter break. “Players need to think for themselves. The staff shouldn’t need to repeat everything.”
The match against Groningen is steeped in the desire for revenge. In August, Ajax suffered a 2-0 loss in the fourth round of play. De Boer holds Erwin van de Looi’s team in high regard. “They’re a talented team and they have a good, broad selection. That away game was not one of our best games. Van de Looi had them on the right track then, and still does.”
Back in August, Groningen hurt Ajax in the transitions. De Boer wants to avoid that his team repeats the same mistakes and knows how to fight the Groningen team. “Against a team like that, you need to play clean in the first and second phases. In the third phase, the end, players are usually in the right place. But in the first and second phase, often six or seven players are going for the ball. And if you lose possession, the players can’t get back to their positions fast enough and the spaces then become too big. They can take advantage of that.”
Ajax needs to make do without the injured Joël Veltman. Mike van der Hoorn will be his replacement at the centre of defense. De Boer has ‘full confidence’ in his new defensive duo. “I think that it’s a good combination: a killer like Van der Hoorn and a technical player like Niklas Moisander. That was the same during the De Boer and Stam era.”
To close, De Boer expressed his pleasure at the arrival of Andre Onana. The 18 year old Cameroonian player comes from Barcelona. “I’m very pleased. We are just waiting for a work permit and hopefully he’ll be able to play in ten days. Andre will play a lot with the Ajax Reserves, even though Diederik Boer will also have his time. In 2016 he, or Peter Leeuwenburgh, Indy Groothuizen, Stan van Bladeren and Mickey van der Hart will need to be the second man. And maybe by that time, even first keeper, since Jasper Cillessen may be gone by that time.”