Twente can show their title winning credentials with a win over Ajax
Five years have passed since FC Twente last beat Ajax in the Eredivisie and a great deal has changed since then. The capital club have gone on to become an incredible force in Dutch football, winning each of the last four seasons, while the Enschede side have lost some of their grip on the league. However, Alfred Schreuder has put together a very impressive squad and they have already been labelled a side who could go on to challenge Ajax and PSV for the title this year and they can make a real statement of intent on Saturday by beating the reigning champions when they meet on Saturday.
In finishing third last season, the Tukkers enjoyed a bright and prosperous year domestically, but with two of the best players in the league last term in Dusan Tadic and Quincy Promes, there is a feeling that Alfred Schreuder’s team should have done better. The second highest shooting team in all of last season and the team which conceded less shots than anyone else in the league, they were well balanced, but lacking the killer instinct up front. Playing with mobile and versatile striker Luc Castaignos ahead of Promes and Tadic simply didn’t work, as the former Feyenoord and Inter player’s style was at odds with the two wingers, who were playing balls into areas in which he was not getting to. As a result, Twente often failed to see out games or gain the upper hand against weaker opponents. Only two teams in the Eredivisie drew more games than Twente last season – PEC Zwolle and NEC.
The summer departures of the two stars was seen as a huge blow to the club, but in a way it could work out in their favour. Schreuder bought well in the summer, making two impeccable signings in Kamohelo Mokotjo for a measly €1.5 million despite the South African’s remarkable season with PEC Zwolle, while Hakim Ziyech, one of the brightest prospects in the league, joined from Heerenveen after choosing Twente over Feyenoord.
Those two have slotted into the midfield alongside Kyle Ebecilio to make a very impressive and effective trio – giving Twente arguably the best midfield in the league this year. However, it has also shifted the team’s focus, making for a potentially much more effective attack. With Ziyech and Mokotjo, there is considerable talent down the middle to help link up with Castaignos, a more accommodating style for the striker. The void in the flanks left by Tadic and Promes has been filled so far by the impressive Jesus Corona and Youness Mokhtar, who have kept the team strong on the flanks too.
As a result, the team have got the best out of Castaignos this season. The Netherlands Under 21 forward has scored five goals in eight games this season and looks set to beat last season’s return of 14 in 33.
Schreuder’s team, though, are still not as efficient and effective as they should be. They remain unbeaten, just four points behind leaders PSV and two behind Ajax, but they are underperforming immensely so far. Twente have already drawn five games this term, more than any other team in the league, and have only won three games. Furthermore, they have had no massive challenges so far this year. Worryingly, they have already collected six points less this year than they did in the same fixtures last term, as we can see from Simon Gleave and Infostrada’s SCoRe graphic. There have been improvements, though, in the last few weeks. Beating Go Ahead Eagles, Heracles and Utrecht in successive weeks gave them a sizeable boost and the 2-2 draw against AZ two weeks ago was a good result from a strong performance.
Seen by many as a potential title candidate, Twente simply must be more effective and Saturday’s game provides them with a chance of making a huge step forward in that respect.
With the excellent Ziyech, Mokotjo and Ebecilio, Twente should be looking to dominate the midfield in De Grolsch Veste Stadion as they face an Ajax side which is still out of sorts. Mokotjo was on top of the likes of Daley Blind and his South Africa team-mate Thulani Serero when PEC Zwolle trounced the league champions 5-1 in the cup. He will be expected to hold his own once again against Serero and Niki Zimling, but he and Ebecilio must pay special attention to Davy Klaassen. The young midfielder is beginning to look capable of adding creativity to his side’s attacks and unlock defences.
With Klaassen in behind Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, Anwar El Ghazi and Lasse Schone, Twente’s easily-stretched defence is going to be under a lot of pressure and at severe risk, meaning Mokotjo and Ebecilio are going to be crucial in protecting the back line.
Ajax tend to give away too much space in midfield, but their defensive record so far has been respectable and they will make it difficult for the home side, but Ziyech’s link up with Castiagnos and the width provided by Corona and Mokhtar should be able to threaten them. With Nicolai Boilesen missing, Nick Viergever will likely move from midfield to defence.
Twente might be able to build chances, but it is absolutely crucial that they take them. In several games this season, Ajax have been able to get a good result from games they have failed to dominate. Feyenoord, Vitesse and even Heracles were somewhat unlucky not to get a point from their meeting with Frank de Boer’s side but it is their own inefficiency up front which has been their undoing each time. Twente, then, must buck the trend of the last two seasons and take their chances.
It has been five years since they last beat the capital club and they have the squad and the style to get the upper hand in Saturday’s game, but they need to be clinical if they are to make the difference in Enschede.