After a close 2013/14 Eredivisie season, Ajax kicked off the campaign in style, with a resounding 4-1 demolition of Vitesse. Starting their defence of the title in front of a home crowd, Ajax showed real determination and class against, what many consider to be, a strong Vitesse side, who could make their own title push this season.
However, today’s match would offer up a different challenge. Ajax had to travel to a very strong AZ Alkmaar team, who pushed Ajax right up to the final weeks of the last season, before dropping off slightly and eventually finishing in third place.
It was bound to be an interesting match from the off, with two Ajax icons at both helms – Frank de Boer for Ajax and Marco van Basten for AZ.
The match began in a very timid fashion, with neither team looking to push too many men forward within the first 10 minutes. However, AZ’s lack of tight marking and inability to hassle their opponents would lead very quickly to an Ajax counter attack, which handed Ajax the lead in the 14th minute.
After some very quick build up play, a pass from Daley Blind to Lasse Schone seemed to flummox the AZ midfield, and Schone made a pin-point pass through to the on rushing Davy Klassen, who produced a tidy finish into the far corner.
The Ajax youth player of the season (2013/14) was handed the number 10 shirt at the beginning of the campaign, famously worn by Dennis Bergkamp, and has so far lived up to expectations.
AZ began hassling the Ajax players shortly after, showing the weaknesses that Van Basten pointed out before the heavyweight clash, and seemed to worry the Ajax defence somewhat. But without their talisman Aron Johannsson, the attack seemed to be like a bee with no sting, and Jasper Cilessan in the Ajax goal was rarely tested throughout the first half.
The second half appeared to be going the same way, until a sloppy goal kick from Cilessan allowed AZ to spring an attack on a surprised Ajax defence. The ball was rolled to Steven Berghuis, who showed great control and composure to put the ball into the bottom corner, making the score level at 1 – 1.. Game on.
This desire we had seen from the AZ team was short lived however, as Ajax soon responded in a fashion that showed why they are the strongest Dutch team.
Nikolai Boileson had appeared to retake the lead for Ajax, hitting a ferocious left-footed strike from 30 yards out, only to see the ball rattle the crossbar and bounce out. This warning was not heeded by AZ, and some shocking defending in the 68th minute provided a determined Schone with the space to run at the AZ defence, taking the ball around a few defenders and smashing it low and hard into the bottom corner.
From here on Ajax continued to force the issue, with Andri Sigporsson squandering a good one-on-one situation, and Schone having a shot cleared off the line by an impressive Simon Poulson.
But the pressure continued, as Ajax led an onslaught against a struggling Alkmaar defence – which allowed Celtic to add another – which proved to be the best goal of the game – in the 88th minute.
Substitute Anwar El Ghazi let rip a right-footed thunderbolt into the top left corner from 25 yards out; a definite challenger for goal of the month, if not season.
However, the game would take a sour twist late on, with a frustrated AZ team seemingly throwing themselves into challenges. A scuffle erupted in injury time between all of the players, with the referee booking the Ajax captain for reacting to a hard challenge on the goal-scorer El Ghazi – which on replays appeared to be a dive from the Ajax youngster.
Van Basten and De Boer appeared to find the scuffle more amusing than worrying, appearing to share a joke on the touchline after the incident.
It was a solid win from a very strong Ajax team, however the question now posed is will they be able to keep this team together during the transfer window? Blind still appears to be on the radar at Old Trafford, while Sigporsson is reportedly a transfer target for Q.P.R.
If the rumours prove to be true, this Ajax team could be significantly weakened by the time the window closes, which will surely test their title credentials as they push to win a sixth consecutive Eredivisie title.