The Cooling Down: Ajax crumble in first big test against PSV

Ajax may have been top of the table having dropped just two points in the run up to their week eight match against PSV in the Amsterdam ArenA on Sunday. But Frank de Boer’s side had failed to light up the Eredivisie, with some laboured, underwhelming and outright turgid displays in the league and in Europe.

The home side had the chance to take a massive step ahead of their rivals. Victory would have given them an eight point gap over PSV and maintained their three point lead over Feyenoord. Coming up against a team missing its star striker, in form winger and one of Europe’s brightest left backs, the odds were stacked heavily in Ajax’s favour.

But under the challenge of Phillip Cocu’s men, last season’s runners-up completely crumbled.

Defensively shoddy, owned in midfield and totally useless up front, Ajax were finding it difficult to hold onto possession and at times struggling to keep up with the game. Essentially a shambles for 90 minutes, they completely failed their first big test.

“We had a really bad day and were not in a position to turn it around,” De Boer told Fox Sports afterwards. “It’s difficult for me to put my finger on it.

“I think it was an off day, because I cannot name one player who had a positive performance.”

PSV were a new machine. Their deficiencies have been plentiful still this term. Joshua Brenet is finding life difficult in the left-back position as the absence of Jetro Willems lingers over him. He had a hard time again on Sunday, but once PSV were able to ensure Anwar El Ghazi was kept at a safe distance, he was rarely troubled.

The Eindhoven side’s midfield has shown to be a bit of a problem at times when under pressure. Jorrit Hendrix and Davy Propper have not offered substantial protection to the backline in recent displays, but the surprisingly quick return of Andres Guardado helped form a dominant trio.

They were completely at odds with their Ajax counterparts. Davy Klaassen – who picked up a few knocks in the first half – suffered blow to the head after 27 minutes which left him concussed, but still saw out the 90 minutes. He and Nemanja Gudelj failed to have any massive influence on the game, and while Riechedly Bazoer looked bright on the ball, there wasn’t enough ahead of him.

Hendrix and Propper sat deep on occasion, tracked runs well and marked their men well. PSV pressed Ajax up the pitch when they needed to but kept the space tight when the ball was moved into their half, though that was not difficult.

PSV were able to count on Gaston Pereiro scoring with both of his shots on target, but he gave PSV no more than they deserved.

Ajax’s movement was utterly atrocious. Too often their players had time on the ball but were given absolutely no passing options because of the desire to have two lines in attack. The need to attack in small triangles is gone and it is sorely missed.

“It’s not a huge disaster,” El Ghazi said after the game. “We need to just look ahead, that’s life. Sometimes you win and sometimes you lose.”
The winger has come under criticism already this term, despite being the joint top goalscorer in the league with seven goals. Ajax have been unable to get the best out of him and they starved him of the ball in the second half before his substitution, despite him being the most decisive players in the team. The lack of support he received in the game has been a problem throughout these early stages of the season as he has often been isolated in the wing and left to face two or three players on his own.

One key aspect of Ajax under De Boer has been to play as a sound unit with the way they move the ball around, press high up the pitch and have move forward with intelligence. However, there has been no sign of that this term. There have been some key personnel changes – most noticeably in defence – and so it is understandable that the team may lack cohesion, but the issues go far beyond that.

Not once this season have Ajax played like a team capable of winning the league. AZ, Willem II, NEC, ADO, Excelsior and Groningen gave them an easy ride in their first games. Only Twente offered a reasonable challenge thanks to the wonderkid Hakim Ziyech.

Sunday’s game gave the Ajacied a chance to show their worth in a big game. Fate had even made it easy for them with PSV themselves hardly looking anything special and with a weakened team. Their failure to put up a decent fight puts more pressure on Frank de Boer to prove his capabilities and the questions over his side’s title worthiness increases.

It’s the M-A-R-V-E-L-O, U-S you just lay down slow
“Recognize a real Don when you see one,” Vitesse’s young midfielder Marvelous Nakamba certainly is that and while he wasn’t “Sippin on booze in the House of Blues” on Sunday, he was drinking the tears of Erwin van de Looi and his FC Groningen team in the Gelredome.

The 21-year-old has looked awesome in the midfield for Peter Bosz’s team this season since breaking into the starting XI. Slotting in alongside Chelsea loanee Lewis Baker and Valeri Qazaishvili, he has been a key part of the team.

Composed on the ball and a sound passer of it, his thoroughly impressive display was at the heart of his side’s 5-0 trouncing. Nakamba has an excellent reading of the game and his movement on and off the ball is sound, as is his tackling ability.

A lot of attention is being paid to the excellent talent Kevin Diks as well as Baker and his Chelsea colleagues Dominic Solanke and Izzy Brown. But in Marvelous, Vitesse have a very promising midfielder whose development this season is going to be wonderful to watch.
Groningen are the latest side to suffer from a marvellous Marvelous display, but they will not be the last.

Groningen’s away troubles continue
The only team in the Eredivisie yet to score an away goal, FC Groningen have had a truly tumultuous start to the season. Van de Looi’s men may be in fine form at home – having won all but one of their matches in the Euroborg this term – but their record on the road is becoming increasingly worrying.

They had a couple of good chances to bring an end to their bad away spell in the Gelredome on Sunday, but ultimately succumbed 5-0 to the home side. Groningen’s away matches have been fairly tough – with PSV, Utrecht, Ajax and Vitesse responsible for their misery – but they have looked completely toothless for the most part.

For a team looking to finish in a Europa League qualifying spot, that record is becoming worrying. Their upcoming matches on the road against NEC, Cambuur and De Graafschap will give the Trots van het Noorden ample opportunity to finally find the net and perhaps rack up points.

Elia showing class for Feyenoord
Eljero Elia’s career has been anything but straightforward. Always a talented player, he has struggled to fulfil his promise and remain a consistent threat for the sides he has played for. His move to Feyenoord this season has presented the winger a chance to rebuild his career and the early signs are positive.

In five appearances, Elia has scored three goals and has become a pivotal part of Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s attack. After impressing in substitute appearances, the Netherlands international has earned his place in the first team, keeping Bilal Basacikoglu out of the starting XI.

Elia’s skill and pace make him a real danger on the flank as he adds to Feyenoord’s wing-heavy style, to which he and right-back Rick Karsdorp are pivotal.

After Quincy Promes’ withdrawal from the national team through injury, Elia has returned to the set up at Oranje ahead of their upcoming Euro 2016 matches.

“Many people said Feyenoord was a step back for me, but I don’t feel too big. I’ve taken a step back to take two steps forward,” he said recently and that he has catapulted himself into Danny Blind’s plans is a positive sign for the 28-year-old.

More bright displays for the Rotterdam side could see him become a regular feature in the national team – a great development for a player who has generally been seen as a wasted talent.

Janssen finally off the mark
The departure of star striker Aron Johannsson and quality winger Steven Berghuis in the summer amongst other first-team players has left AZ with a depleted attack and coach John van den Brom with a big rebuilding job.

The signing of Vincent Janssen, who impressed last term at Almere City, came with much anticipation, with the 21-year-old seen as backup to Johannsson before eventually succeeding him. However, the USA international’s move to Werder Bremen thrust Janssen into the limelight to lead his side’s attack.

The forward failed to impress in the first weeks of the campaign but he finally got off the mark on Sunday with a double in a 3-1 win over FC Twente.

Janssen was a promising threat throughout the game on Sunday and the pairing of him with Tankovic in the last two games has suggested that a good partnership could be in the works.

After a poor first few weeks of the campaign, AZ have won two in a row and Van den Brom will be hoping Janssen can build on his breakthrough and help fire them back up the table. With a game against Cambuur coming up next, he will have ample opportunity to fire his side to victory once again.

Heracles Almelo 2 – 0 sc Heerenveen
N.E.C. 4 – 1 ADO Den Haag
Willem II 0 – 1 PEC Zwolle
Roda JC 1 – 1 SC Cambuur
Excelsior 1 – 0 FC Utrecht
De Graafschap 1 – 2 Feyenoord
Ajax 1 – 2 PSV
Vitesse 5 – 0 FC Groningen
AZ 3 – 1 FC Twente

# Team Games Points +/-
1 Ajax 8 19 15
2 Feyenoord 8 19 7
3 Heracles Almelo 8 18 10
4 PSV 8 17 11
5 PEC Zwolle 8 17 7
6 Vitesse 8 14 11
7 N.E.C. 8 13 1
8 Roda JC Kerkrade 8 12 0
9 AZ 8 11 0
10 FC Groningen 8 10 -5
11 FC Utrecht 8 9 -1
12 Excelsior 8 8 -4
13 sc Heerenveen 8 7 -4
14 Willem II 8 6 -4
15 ADO Den Haag 8 6 -6
16 FC Twente 8 6 -7
17 SC Cambuur Leeuwarden 8 4 -16
18 De Graafschap 8 1 -15

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