On Sunday, Ajax made some familiar mistakes and were disappointing, playing a mediocre match against Feyenoord. The team from Amsterdam didn’t come to life (and into the game) until after a traditional goal against and a red card for Kenneth Vermeer. “This was the worst match this season”, concluded Frank de Boer after the 1-1 tie.
The question beforehand was whether Ajax could stay on the same positive track after their UEFA Champions League win against Dinamo Zagreb (0-2) for this Klassieker. The answer came before halftime. With Dico Koppers making his debut, and Vurnon Anita (replacing the suspended Eyong Enoh) as controlling midfielder, Ajax barely made a mark during the first half. Feyenoord coach Ronald Koeman hit the nail on the head in his analysis prior to the match; if you can derail Ajax early in their build up, you have a shot at defeating the current national champion.
“You assume that everyone starts at one hundred per cent. But that doesn’t seem to be the case”, said De Boer, looking back on Ajax’s poor play. The Ajax coach was clear about his own team’s performance, without taking anything away from the Rotterdam team’s smart one. “Now, I can live with 1-1. Beforehand, I would have said that I’d be very disappointed with that. But I’m also raging inside. Going 0-1 down, getting a red card, and still winning the game…that’s a strange phenomenon; you go down, and only afterwards seeing your team react. You waste a lot of power like that. It’s obvious that we need to do better.”
Ajax had a hard time with their build up with the Rotterdam team, who pushed from the get-go. Ajax was unable to force any opportunities. A rare Ajax opportunity, a header from Toby Alderweireld (crossbar), was facilitated by a mistake by keeper Edwin Mulders. The goalie made a mistake on a deep ball towards centre forward Siem de Jong, and gave Ajax a corner. Feyenoord’s pressure resulted in several opportunities. Saves from Kenneth Vermeer on attempts on Cabral (onto the post) and Guyon Fernandez kept the damage to a minimum before 52.316 spectators in the fully sold out ArenA.
For the first time in many seasons, Ajax-Feyenoord was finally an exciting Klassieker. In recent years, Ajax made easy work of their historic opponent in the ArenA. On Sunday, a real match was played. Beforehand, the team from South Holland stood out on the ranking list. Feyonoord started off as number four, one point above number 6 Ajax.
After the break, Ajax had a narrow escape on a header from Kelvin Leerdam. Vermeer jumped under the corner, after which the right back aimed. De Boer had changed his line up, by bringing in Jody Lukoki (for the mildly injured Miralem Sulejmani) and Dmitry Bulykin (for the disappointing Christian Eriksen). With the Russian as centre forward, De Boer clearly hoped to place a reliable target man in front. De Jong would ensure extra possibilities at midfield.
Soon after Theo Janssen – playing at left half once again – had sent the ball over Mulder’s goal, things went badly once again for the home team. After Ajax’s defence made a poor play on a blocked Ron Vlaar shot, Stefan de Vrij scored in the 61st minute from close by: 0-1. Three minutes later, things became even more difficult for Ajax after Kenneth Vermeer got a red card. The keeper came far out of his goal and hauled down centre forward Fernandez, who was on a breakaway. Referee Bas Nijhuis couldn’t do otherwise than to send the Ajax player off the field. Jasper Cillessen took over the spot between the posts, and Gregory van der Wiel was substituted.
“In that situation, we basically abandoned our keeper”, said De Boer, using harsh language once again. Fernandez was let through too easily, and Vermeer was put into an impossible situation. “After the 0-1, we were more alive, but not completely there yet. After that red card, we dared to take more risks.”
After the defeat to FC Groningen (1-0), and the tie against AZ (2-2), De Boer had also expressed his surprise at his team’s late reactions. In both matches, the champion was at its best with one man down, and behind in the match. “It seems that something needs to happen before we react”, observed the coach in past weeks. Ajax only reacted against Feyenoord after a goal against, and a red card. This resulted in a quick goal for Ajax against the Rotterdammers. Jan Vertonghen was finally in front of the opposing goal and saw his attack rewarded with a goal. The Belgian Ajax captain’s header, on a Jassen corner kick, was spot on: 1-1.
Ten Ajax players didn’t manage to make life hard for Feyenoord’s eleven after that. Ajax fell into old patterns, after which Feyenoord were able to celebrate their point as if it were a victory. After all, it doesn’t happen very often that Feyenoord leaves Amsterdam with a point. “We didn’t play the perfect match, not by any means”, said De Boer.