The day following the last minute win against PEC Zwolle (2-1), Erik ten Hag looked ahead to the next task. The head coach was joined by Daley Blind. On Sunday, the North Holland derby awaits against AZ in Alkmaar.
The win against PEC wasn’t secured until late in the game. A few minutes before time, Daley Blind scored the winning goal with a header past keeper Diederik Boer. The match winner was asked about his reaction to the liberating 2-1 goal. “I don’t score very often in the last minute”, said Blind. “It was just pure emotion that was released, especially looking at the F-Side. It was definitely not frustration.”
Raise the game
AZ is the next hurdle. “AZ is doing well. They’re not allowing many goals against, and they have good scoring capabilities”, analysed Blind. Ten Hag agreed with the veteran’s assessment. “We’ll need to be at our best to win there. We can’t afford to squander any points in this competition. We’re on the hunt. We need to raise our game sometimes to secure the win.”
Before the kick-off in Alkmaar, the first lessons from the game against PEC Zwolle were discussed. “Before the break, we should have scored the 2-0 goal. We played much worse in the second half” , said Ten Hag, looking back. “We lost control for about fifteen minutes. We were sloppy with the ball, and as a result, the match almost slipped away from us. Fortunately we were able to turn it around.”
'The medical staff is doing everything they can to get them ready on time'
Many onlookers speculated afterwards that the absence of Frenkie de Jong and Hakim Ziyech had been acutely felt against PEC. “Frenkie and Hakim are definitely two of our pillars”, continued Ten Hag. “Our aim is to have them back on Sunday. If not, then we’ll need to win with other players. The medical staff is doing everything they can to get them fit in time.”
'I don’t think the players are tired'
In thisphase of the season, fatigue can play a role. Many games have been played, and several more great, but potentially gruelling, matches await. Ten Hag: “We’ve played many games, and we’ll be playing many more. If we are missing players, we’ll need to cater to that. But we’re developing as a team, and the same goes for players on a individual basis. I don’t think the players are tired, you just saw what they can do in the final minutes. We pushed the opponent back and forced the win. This shows that we’re both mentally and physically fit.”
It’s especially at this point of the season that everything needs to work in order to convert good performances into tangible results. Ajax wants to win prizes now. Ten Hag emphasizes: “ We’re playing for titles now. The players realise this too, of course. You want to have wins in your career.”
'We’ll need to be good on Sunday to grab three points against AZ'
At the same time, the coach was realistic: “It’s not possible to be great in all 34 competition games. But you need to win them. That’s what everyone is striving for now. Everything needs to work in order to stay in control. We’ll need to be good on Sunday in order to grab three points from AZ.”
One misstep against PEC was detrimental in the last minute. Heading into the AZ game, there’s a question mark behind Noussair Mazraoui’s name. “He got a know to his ankle against PEC”, continued the coach. “We need to check how that develops. Tadic is suffering from stomach issues. I’m hoping that will be resolved by Sunday.”
De Jong was on the bench on Wednesday. “That was in case of emergency”, emphasized Ten Hag. “He can play but then the risk is that the problem will get worse. We need to prevent that from happening. I can’t guarantee that he’ll play on Sunday.”
“Obviously, there’s a reason we’re keeping Frenkie off. The player also needs to make his own decisions around that. A player’s health is number one. It’s important to advise him, but a player needs to make his own decisions. If a player is fit, I’m always in favour of him playing. Then they should play, I think.”
AZ – Ajax kicks off at 14:30 on Sunday, under the leadership of Serdar Gözübüyük.