Ajax and coach Marcel Keizer will face their first big game of the season on Wednesday. They would like to book a good result against OGC Nice in order to reach the UEFA Champions League play-offs next week at home. On Tuesday, Keizer, who is making his debut, talked about how his team is doing in the Allianz Riviera.
Two months and two days after the Europa League final, the first game of the season has arrived. And yet another European achievement is expected. The squad has changed in three places. Captain Davy Klaassen has gone to Everton, Bertrand Traoré is now playing with Olympique Lyon, and Jairo Riedewald – who had replaced the suspended Nick Viergever – has gone to Crystal Palace.
‘We talk about Appie every day'
A bigger blow has been Abdelhak Nouri’s situation. The coach had said earlier that he would understand if any of the players felt that they weren’t ready to play, due to this difficult situation. “Nobody stayed at home”, said Keizer on Tuesday evening. “I think that we’ve managed to deal with it, but that remains to be seen tomorrow. We’ve had help from within the club, but I also called on people from outside the club, people who have experience with this type of situation. The fact that an update about Appie was published today doesn’t really affect us, in terms of timing. We talk about him every day.”
Captain Joël Veltman reiterated his coach’s comment about having dealt with it. “It’s still very difficult, and for some it’s more difficult than for others. We’re trying to help and support each other. But I think we’re ready. It’s really become more obvious in the past few days. Before, if there was a disappointment in training, the guys would hang their heads. Now, everyone is going for it 100 per cent, and we would all walk through fire for each other.”
Keizer expects that his team will be able to keep up with OGC Nice. “I think we’ll have a decent chance, but that they’ll be very good on transition. We need to ensure that our defense is on point, otherwise we’ll be facing many counters. Nice is a good team, they ended in third place in a pretty strong league. I find it hard to pick a favourite. We have a young team, they have a very talented one. We could potentially have two great matches, and I see the chances being 50-50.”
'Lessons from last season’
Veltman was asked why there is such a difference between Ajax’s performances at home, and away. “I was just thinking about that today. It’s strange, but when you’re playing in front of 50.000 people and you score, everybody’s behind you. You really feel like you’ve got a twelfth player on the team. In away games, the opponents benefit from that. The great thing is that last season, we built up the experience of losing when we played away. I can’t be 100 per cent sure, but I think we’ve learned our lessons from that.”
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