Ajax has suffered its first loss in its quest to extend its title. On Sunday, the Amsterdam team set the pace for an hour in the competition top match against PSV. In the last half hour, things went badly awry for Ajax, who saw their 1-0 lead become a 1-3 loss.
At the beginning of the third round of play, PSV and Ajax were the two top teams in the Eredivisie. Ajax had defeated Vitesse (4-1) and AZ (1-3) in the previous two rounds of play. PSV had defeated NAC Breda (6-1) and Willem II (1-3). Since the Eindhoven tem had scored two goals more in these matches, PSV held the top spot in the rankings. Whatever story the numbers told: after a smooth start of the competition Ajax and PSV were full of confidence before this top Eredivisie match of 2014-2015.
Ajax – PSV was a match within a match between the World Cup players. Which international(s) were able to give this top competition match even more flair? Or, otherwise put: which players, seasoned by a World Cup experience, would impact the match the most? Just like Frank de Boer had announced before the match, his friend and fellow coach Philip Cocu would also be expecting a lot from his World Cup players. The expectation prior to the match was that internationals can make the difference.
At Ajax, Jasper Cillessen, Joël Veltman and Daley Blind were all on Ajax’s squad together for the first time this season. The visitors had high expectations of World Cup players Memphis Depay and Georginio Wijnaldum. These Eindhoven stars were also present at the 16:45 kick-off of the (almost) sold out match. Especially this first has been impressive in the past week with his beautiful football feats. Ajax, it seemed, would be well advised to keep Depay at bay.
In Frank de Boer’s line-up, one of the most surprising names was Ricardo van Rhijn. One week after his return (back from a hamstring injury) with the Ajax Reserves against Fortuna Sittard, Van Rhijn was back in Ajax 1 as right back. The other noteworthy names were starting centre forward Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Anwar El Ghazi, on the squad for the first time. One week after his first official Ajax goal, the starting spot for El Ghazi was undoubtedly meant as a reward.
In part thanks to El Ghazi’s threatening play, the Amsterdam team opened strongly against the Brabant one. PSV keeper Jeroen Zoet was forced to reach for a sharply aimed header by Davy Klaassen. Klaassen also played a key role seven minutes later, when Ajax made it 1-0. The midfielder launched a deep ball towards El Ghazi. The lightning quick winger appeared cleverly in the free space between the keeper and Jetro Willems. From this no-man’s-land, squad debut-er El Ghazi sent his header past Zoet, who had come out too far: 1-0. The fact that Ajax had narrowly escaped a deficit just one minute earlier was immediately forgotten. Captain Niklas Moisander prevented Wijnaldum from scoring after a rare Eindhoven counter.
It wasn’t until half an hour later that PSV seemed to get more of a grip on the home team. This produced opportunities for Wijnaldum and Adam Maher. In any event, Jasper Cillessen consistently got his finger or fist behind the Adidas match ball. PSV centre forward Luuk De Jong, at times lonely at the front, sent a header wide of the goal. In the closing minutes before halftime, Ajax had the chance to double its lead. Joshua Brenet prevented Klaassen from scoring from close by. Sigthórsson saw his attempt land on Zoet.
Shortly after the break, two key moments occurred in rapid succession in front of each goal. One minute after Lasse Schöne saw his attempt saved by Zoet, Depay struck in the counter attack. After a take-off by right winger Luciano Narsingh, the international was able to score simply: 1-1. The PSV players had taken advantage of a brief confusion in the Ajax defense during transition. The tying goal wasn’t representative of what was happening on field. In a phase during which Ajax was coming close to scoring a second goal, the Eindhoven team struck slyly. The fatal moment was also representative of the strength and (individual) attributes of PSV.
“I thought that we were fairly equal in the beginning”, Frank de Boer looked back. “After the break, we should have made it 2-0 or even 3-0 quickly. I felt like we had PSV by the throat. But we didn’t manage to score. And we were also watching for the transition. The 1-1 goal came, in just a sloppy moment. After throwing in, the ball was back at our goal a few seconds later. It was a moment of distraction on our side. We need to improve on that.”
Things would get worse for Ajax, who saw its lead and dominance go up in smoke. Twelve minutes after the tying goal, Schöne’s loss of possession inadvertently led to the 1-2. Luuk de Jong covered half the field, after which Narsingh was served perfectly. The right winger kept his head about him and rounded off with a low shot: 1-2. The Amsterdam ArenA became eerily quiet.
As Niklas Moisander also failed to make good on a massive opportunity (the Finn came face to face with Zoet), Ajax suffered its first loss in 24 undefeated Eredivisie matches. Former Ajax player Florian Jozefzoon robben Ajax of its last hope of a tie shortly before the end: 1-3. Ajax lost to PSV in the ArenA for the first time since January 30, 2008. After that loss came five consecutive wins for Ajax, and one tie. Ajax will now need to rebuild a positive home record against Einhoven. Ajax suffered its first setback in its quest to hold on to the title. Fortunately, there are still 31 matches remaining in this season.
“Despite everything, I think this was the best match of the four that we’ve played so far”, said De Boer hopefully. “If we hadn’t been so distracted in a key moment, and reach the level that we did today, I’m convinced that we’ll take away three points very often.”