Ajax-Feyenoord: De Boer’s men cannot slip up against solid visitors
Sitting at the top of the Eredivisie for the entire season, the Eredivisie title race is very much down to Ajax and PSV.
With four points separating the Amsterdam giants and league leaders heading into the weekend, a slip up from Phillip Cocu’s men would be costly, for Frank de Boer’s reigning champions, it would be devastating.
For that reason, there is one team who could have a massive say in the title race this weekend – Feyenoord.
When the capital club line up against Feyenoord on Sunday, the Eindhoven team could already be seven points clear if all goes well against Cambuur the previous night.
Ajax have failed to win in only one of the last nine league Klassieker matches in the Amsterdam ArenA and already beat the Rotterdam giants at De Kuip this season. However, across those years, Feyenoord have changed drastically and despite selling off their best assets in the summer, including coach Ronald Koeman, have emerged as a new machine under Fred Rutten.
After a miserable start to the campaign in which they slipped to 15th place with one win in their first six games and had crashed out of the Champions League qualifiers as well as the KNVB Beker, Feyenoord are now an impeccable beast who can be more than a match for PSV and Ajax.
That much was evident from the two matches they have played against the front runners this season – both defeats for the Rotterdammers. That notion may seem bizarre, but Rutten’s team are extremely unlucky to be as much as 12 points adrift of PSV.
In De Kuip, Ajax were lucky that Ricardo van Rhijn’s fourth minute free kick from over 30 yards which hit the back of the net was enough to see them to victory. Before and after that strike, Feyenoord were the dominant team, creating chance after chance, hitting the bar three times and seeing Colin Kazim-Richards miss a one on one opportunity from close range.
It was phenomenal that Ajax left Rotterdam that day with three points and it wasn’t the mark of a champion that they did so, it was luck.
Feyenoord’s clash with PSV was even more bizarre. A 4-3 end-to-end thriller that probably won’t be topped by any game in the league this season in terms of pure excitement. The visitors to the Philips Stadion twice took the lead, but were pulled back each time, once thanks to a foul from Luuk de Jong on Terence Kongolo which went unpunished. The Dutch striker’s aerial ability saw him net another two to complete his hat-trick and give his side the lead, but there were calls of a foul on Vermeer for the final one. Feyenoord thought they had earned a draw in the 89th minute through Kazim Richards, but a crazy game in a crazy league needed a crazy ending and it was Memphis Depay who won it in injury time.
The final results were harsh on Rutten’s team, but they showed that, in the ability of individuals and the team, the side who have lost only two of their last 17 games in all competitions are on a par with the only real title contenders.
That, then, poses a real worry for Ajax boss De Boer. While PSV sit top, they have obvious flaws in their defensive set up, ones which can easily be taken advantage of. The Godenzonen themselves do too and without Joel Veltman and possibly Davy Klaassen, there are extra concerns. Feyenoord, though, are strong throughout. They have a centre-back partnership in Sven van Beek and Terence Kongolo who are the best in the league, despite being only 20 and in their first full seasons in the starting XI. Jordy Clasie is enjoying his best season in the team and is an incredible ball winner who can also run the midfield, while Karim El Ahmadi has been hugely influential upon his return. Kazim-Richards has improved his accuracy immensely since the first meeting between the sides and in each of his last eight games in all competitions he has either scored or set up one goal.
Meanwhile, not enough can be said of Feyenoord’s other three main acquisitions this season – Kenneth Vermeer, Jens Toornstra and Rutten himself.
Vermeer, bought from Ajax in the summer, has been an absolute star in goal and has spiced things up a bit by declaring himself a real Feyenoorder heading into this game. Toornstra, a midfielder purchased from FC Utrecht, has adapted well to being put on the right wing and has made the team more clinical in the final third. Rutten has done incredibly well to come through such a brutal and rough start to the season, keep the faith of the dressing room and, for the first time since his appointment, gain the respect of the fans, pundits and watching public.
Sunday’s clash, though, is infinitely more important for Ajax than it is for the visitors. If PSV win in week 19 and Ajax don’t, the title race might be done. If PSV slip up, Ajax can set us up for an incredibly intense second half to the campaign.
That pressure is something Ajax will relish.
Ajax are lacking a player who can stamp authority in the midfield like Clasie, the heart of their defence is not as balanced or strong as Kongolo and Van Beek, neither individually or as a partnership, while their striker is not in as good form as their opponents’.
But De Boer has an ability to make his side play above themselves for the big games and they will certainly need that here. Sloppy and not nearly clinical enough, Ajax have several issues when it comes to individual areas of the pitch, but their system works well to fill in holes, or at least mask over them. The swapping of positions, the technical ability of their entire team, the importance of width and the need to dominate possession, it all allows Ajax to keep their opponents at bay while making it difficult for the opposition to truly keep them under control.
Klaassen, should he not play, will be severely missed in the Ajax midfield, but Nicolai Boilesen is welcomed back into the starting line to add to their attack from the left-back position. Lucas Andersen, Lasse Schone and one of Anwar El Ghazi and Ricardo Kishna will link up with the mobile Arek Milik and give the Feyenoord backline a tough time. However, chances will be harder to create than those they carved out against the likes of Excelsior and Groningen in the last two league games, so they must be more clinical and remain aware defensively.
This is the second immense test facing Ajax at home this term. They lost to PSV, which only further intensifies the severity of this one. Feyenoord can lose and still recover quickly enough to secure a Europa League spot in the Eredivisie. PSV dropped points in only three of their first 18 games and despite their flaws, there’s no guarantee they will let slip as many in the second half of the campaign.
For the Godenzonen it might just all be on the line on Sunday.