Ajax 1-0 PSV: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson makes the difference in close battle
The Eredivisie kicked off the new year with an exciting clash between Ajax and PSV in the Amsterdam ArenA. Frank de Boer’s side were out for revenge after the 4-0 drubbing PSV handed them in Eindhoven earlier this season, while Phillip Cocu’s men were looking for a fresh start after the horrendous run of form which followed that Sunday afternoon in the Philips Stadion.
It was Ajax who came out on top of a very close affair between the two Eredivisie powerhouses as Kolbeinn Sigthorsson’s second half header took the champions back on the top of the league, ahead of Vitesse on goal difference.
The first-half was a battle of an insipid, congested Ajax up against a more vibrant and quicker, but altogether inefficient, PSV. In those opening 45 minutes, the visitors were more direct and brave. However, despite Jurgen Locadia twice firing inches wide from the edge of the box, the Eindhoven side struggled to get into good scoring positions as they returned to the shooting on sight attitude which has hindered them throughout a large spell of this current campaign.
Ajax, on the other hand, were much more conserved throughout the first forty five minutes, they were wasteful in possession and overall saw much less of the ball than they are used to in the Amsterdam ArenA and struggled to get forward and create chances. They even had to resort to the occasional aimless long ball to get them out of danger.
When PSV lost the ball they reacted quickly tracked Ajax’s runs well to keep their opportunities limited. The visitors’ movement going forward was impressive, too. Bryan Ruiz covered a lot of ground on the right flank but also drifted in towards the centre while Maher was always an option in advanced areas and Locadia willingly dropped deep to retrieve the ball.
The second period was completely different, however. For most of the half, PSV were happy to sit back and allow Ajax to put pressure on them, Cocu’s men also struggled to build momentum and found it remarkably difficult to get near the Ajax box. Locadia was rarely in the Ajax danger zone after the break while Ruiz and right-back Santiago Arias were pegged back more often too.
Memphis Depay was the brightest spark of an overall dull PSV team. His speed and skill is exceptional and he is always a threat. However his insistence on cutting inside and shooting is infuriating. While on three occasions on Sunday Jasper Cillessen was the only thing preventing him from hitting the net, his shooting position is rarely ideal. Too often he shoots from an angle which is too tight or a distance which is too great. The young winger and left-back Jetro Willems combined well a few times down that flank, however, while the attacker did threaten going forward, the defender gave the ball away too much and was sloppy and weak when pushed back.
Ajax’s midfield had much more freedom throughout the second-half. While Daley Blind remained deep and cut a lot of PSV’s attacks out in the middle of the park, Thulani Serero and Davy Klaassen linked everything up well and were, as ever, comfortable going forward.
While the midfield did a lot to keep PSV at bay, it had no influence on the pivotal moment of the match. The deadlock was broken 19 minutes into the second period when Niklas Moisander sent a long diagonal ball to Lasse Schone on the right wing and the Dane put it into the box at the perfect height with his first touch for Sigthorsson to head past Jeroen Zoet. It was a divine goal. The accuracy and speed of the diagonal pass was exemplary, Schone put the perfect weight behind his cross and Sigthorsson did remarkably well to drift in between Karim Rekik and Jeffrey Bruma and his header was very well placed.
Throughout the final 15 minutes, PSV showed a lot more urgency, but Ajax were again able to contain them as they dropped back to limit the space and protect the goal. De Boer even threw defensive midfielder Christian Poulsen on to sit alongside Daley Blind for good measure.
De Godenzonen were able to see it through and take all three points, stretching their current league win streak to seven games. While they didn’t trounce PSV in the way Cocu’s side demolished Ajax earlier this season, De Boer’s team dealt a hard strike which knocks their fierce rivals out of the title race altogether and also puts a severe dent in their hopes of finishing in the top four.