PSV 4-0 Ajax: Cocu’s men thrash the champions to top the Eredivisie
Winless in each of their previous seven matches against Ajax, Phillip Cocu’s PSV made a strong and convincing statement on Sunday when they routed the reigning Eredivisie champions 4-0. Asserting themselves well and truly as title contenders this season, de Boeren put on a strong display as they tore apart their rivals with relative ease.
The result, Ajax’s second consecutive 4-0 defeat following that against Barcelona in midweek, in no way flattered the hosts. Cocu’s men were by far the more competent force throughout the game. The Amsterdammers, on the other hand, were a tame, flat and toothless version of the team which has lifted the Eredivisie title in each of the last three seasons. Punished extensively for their horrendous defending, there wasn’t a single positive for the capital club to take from the encounter.
While there is still plenty of time to go this season and the significance of this result is minimal when considered in the wider context of the entire campaign, it made clear that PSV have the ability and attacking potency to take the dominant force of Dutch football on toe-to-toe throughout this season. Ajax’s lack of creativity and defensive strength, two aspects which recently departed Christian Eriksen and Toby Alderweireld fulfilled, were well exploited by the Eindhovenaren. The voids left by the sale of both players remains, in the coming weeks De Boer must use his tactical excellence to cover for these gaps in the team.
Conversely, though, with his team now sitting top of the league, the start to Cocu’s second spell in charge of the Eindhoven club has been incredibly bright. Sunday’s clash in the Philips Stadion was PSV’s first real test of the league campaign so far and they dealt with it more comfortably than anyone could have expected. He has found a balance to this team now and that he could afford to drop teen sensation Zakaria Bakkali and 20-year-old star Adam Maher and still field a strong team, shows that the squad has strength in depth. Park Ji-Sung, Tim Matavz, Memphis Depay and Ola Toivonen were all included in the starting XI. Ajax, meanwhile, also opted for an attacking set-up with Siem de Jong, Lasse Schone and Thulani Serero making up the midfield in behind the front three of Bojan, Viktor Fischer and Kolbeinn Sigthorsson.
It was the champions who started the game the brighter of the two sides. Playing the typical Ajax style, De Boer’s side passed the ball around inside PSV’s half and pressed forward. That didn’t last long, however, as they soon found themselves under pressure. Niklas Moisander foolishly gave the ball away in his own half and PSV then burst forward and Toivonen was put through on goal but his shot was saved by Kenneth Vermeer. It was the first of a small series of shaky moments for the Godenzonen. Depay’s neat one-two with Park put him clear on goal with Toivonen available to receive a square pass, but the youngster opted to go alone, sending his shot well over the bar. Then, a diagonal cross from Joshua Brenet was met by Depay inside the box but his header went wide.
Ajax soon regained their composure and began to push forward once again, but PSV’s intense pressure kept them at bay and at times made it difficult for the Amsterdammers to build from the back. A Ricardo van Rhijn shot from distance, which was parried away by Jeroen Zoet, was the visitors’ first real threat of the game. Later, Fischer’s well-timed through ball was latched onto by Bojan and he looked set to fire a shot towards goal, but Jeffrey Bruma’s strong tackle denied him. The Barcelona loanee had a few chances as he was able to play through the centre in spells, however, he is yet to open his goalscoring account with his current side.
It was an interesting and fairly even first-half, but the second period would be completely different.
The first key incident following the restart was the opening goal. Vermeer tried to catch a simple cross but fumbled it and the ball fell to Tim Matavz who knocked it home for his first league goal of the season. It was the kind of blunder which the Ajax keeper used to make on a regular basis and, although over the past year or so it has become a rarity, it seems the potential for howlers hasn’t completely left the 27-year-old.
The Eindhoven giants were in the ascendancy following that goal and it took just eight minutes for them to double their lead through Jetro Willems. The distance the Ajax defence let Willems charge was simply unacceptable. Schone’s challenge on the teenage left-back was laughable, but he evaded him and cut in from the left before firing towards goal. He was lucky to see it bounce off of Moisander and deceive Vermeer on its way in.
The game was put beyond doubt when Park’s low cross into the box found Oscar Hiljemark totally unmarked and the Swede tucked it away easily. For the defence of the champions to be so easily duped was startling, but it was a smart move from PSV. To further compound the misery of the away side, Park made it 4-0 when a long ball was headed on by Matavz and the player capitalised on the high defensive line and took it on before picking his spot and burying it to round off the scoring. So plentiful was the time afforded to the South Korean that he could have taken until the end of the game to stroll towards the goal and knock it in.
It was a thoroughly horrendous 15 minute spell for Ajax, but a perfect one for Cocu and his charges.
From then on, the game was done and dusted. PSV had chances to make it 5-0, but were undone mostly by their own incompetence than any sudden revival of Ajax.
Although both these teams are title contenders, they were polar opposites this afternoon. PSV were the more effective and ruthless side who took the chances they created. Ajax, who created nothing, lacked urgency and defended nonchalantly, paid for their mistakes and were deservedly thrashed. PSV though, went far ahead of Ajax in the first-half of last season, before capitulating and giving way to eventual champions Ajax. The real test for Cocu will be to ensure this momentum continues to build and the consistency remains throughout the season. For De Boer, the obvious flaws of the team must be fixed. He’s shown himself to be a tactically excellent coach throughout the last three years, now, without the two key components of his team in Eriksen and Alderweireld, he must recover once again and get the team back to their best.