Ajax could do no better than a 1-1 draw at Willem II. In this week, which included a midweek duel against Legia Warsaw, the Tilburg team proved to be a more than worthy opponent. Arek Milik gave the team an early lead but Ali Messaoud then tied the game for Willem II in the 52nd minute.
Coach Frank de Boer elected to switch some of the positions for this match against Willem II, compared to last Thursday’s match against Legia Warsaw (1-0 win). Captain Niklas Moisander returned to the defensive line, Nick Viergever moved over to left back as Nicolai Boilesen wasn’t one hundred per cent fit. Midfield consisted of Riechedly Bazoer, Davy Klaassen and Daley Sinkgraven. Up front, there was one change after the midweek European match. Lasse Schöne got the nod over Ricardo Kishna.
Ajax hasn’t had many uncomplicated matches in this calendar year – especially when it comes to away matches. They lost 1-0 in Arnhem, and in Deventer they eked out a win thanks to a lucky goal. Ajas also had a tough time in Tilburg. Willem II, surprisingly in ninth place in the Eredivisie, started out well. Jurgen Steppel’s team had a few opportunities via Ben Sahar, among others, but it was Ajax who was in control in the first half. Anwar El Ghazi was one player who had some good opportunities. After a good, fast attack in the eighth minute, the right winger’s shot hit the post. In the rebound, Lasse Schöne sent an out-of-control ball just wide of the goal. Eleven minutes later, there was another chance for El Ghazi and Schöne. The Dane’s beautiful pass wasn’t controlled well enough by El Ghazi, and the opportunity was lost.
But Ajax knew how to hurt Willem II when they had possession. This resulted in a well-earned lead in the 37th minute. It was again Schöne, who had been excluded from the squad on Thursday by De Boer, who served Arek Milik. The Pole, who was successful against Legia but who hadn’t scored a goal in the Eredivisie since the home game against Willem II, scored via Freek Heerkens: 0-1. Soon before, Ricardo van Rhijn had been in a great position, but the defender didn’t manage to score. Being down 0-1 was hard for Willem II to get used to, as they hadn’t been down at home at all in this calendar year.
The home team wasn’t fazed in the least, and it showed in the way they came out of the locker room. Applying pressure early on and transitioning quickly almost resulted in a goal in the 47th minute for the hosts when substitute Terrell Ondaan made a beautiful overhead shot. The ball narrowly missed the goal but five minutes later, it didn’t. Armenteros pushed forward, and when Viergever mistakenly sent the ball to Messaoud’s feet. The midfielder didn’t hesitate for a moment and took the shot: 1-1. Ajax attacked on all fronts, and El Ghazi had the chance to bring Ajax into the lead again after the tying goal. Unfortunately, keeper Lamprou was in his path. This happened to him again in the 63rd minute. Although Ajax was being trumped at midfield, the team did manage to hand out a few jabs.
De Boer took action in the 65th minute. Thulani Serero was brought in to restore balance at midfield, which cost Bazoer his spot. With fifteen minutes on the clock, the coach brought in Richairo Zivkovic for Schöne. The centre forward has scored eighteen goals in the Jupiler League this season and should help Ajax pull the trigger. His last substitution came soon after. Davy Klaassen, with a yellow card in his pocket, retreated to the sidelines and Lucas Andersen made his comeback after a short illness. The three fresh players were, unfortunately, unable to make a difference. Ajax even came close to losing when Willem II had three forwards against two defenders. Armenteros curved the ball just wide of Cillessen’s goal in the 89th minute.
Next week, Ajax travels to Poland to defend its small 1-0 lead on Legia Warsaw. After that, a duel at leader PSV follows next weekend. Ajax can then attempt to decrease the big lead that the Eindhoven team has on them.