Ajax.nl. This could not be more true.
Ajax.nl. This could not be more true.
Welcome to Amsterdam. We hope you are unsuccessful despite your best efforts.
This Wednesday, tomorrow, Ajax will kick off their UEFA Champions League campaign against French giants Olympique Lyonnais, OL, Lyon, Les Gones, whatever you will call them. They are a strong team, as everyone knows. They have veterans who have been tested and passed at the domestic, european, and international levels, i.e. Lisandro, Gourcuff, Michel Bastos, Reveillere, Lloris, Kallstrom, Cissokho, etc. More importantly though, they are far from invincible, especially in the tight and dangerous confines of the Amsterdam ArenA, where Ajax will likely enjoy a majority of the possession and the passion of 50,000+/- fanatical Dutchmen and women.
Both teams are strong, and therefore the game will be open, which heavily suits Ajax’s young, quick, and aggressive attacking approach. Lyon has a few more heavy legged senior citizens, but also has infinitely more UCL experience amongst their ranks. The game should be a cracker, as both teams (but hopefully Ajax more so) will be looking to start the group stage off right.
Lets check out potential line-ups for this to-be thriller in Holland.
Van der Wiel - Alderweireld - Vertonghen - Anita
De Jong - Janssen - Eriksen
Sulejmani - Sigthorsson - Boerrigter
Reveillere - Lovren - Kone - Cissokho
Gonalons - Kallstrom
Briand - - Bastos
Lopez - Gomis
Comment: Lyon’s longtime captain Cris is injured and will not play, barring unusual circumstances or return. Additonally for OL, Gourcuff has been out all year and is not expected to play. Ajax’s line-up should not surprise anyone, but AfcA predicts Anita will get the start at LB due to his experience over Blind and Boilesen, and since he received less minutes than Boilesen got on the weekend.
Key Players for Ajax
Kenneth Vermeer, GK - Kenny and his defensive line will likely need to stay a bit more alert than they do in Eredivisie play. Although Ajax will likely have plenty of possession, players like Kallstrom and Gonalons can start the counter attack quick as anyone, and with speedy wingers like Bastos and Briand, and deadly finishers like Lopez and Gomis, OL may only need one or two good chances to put points on the board.
Christian Eriksen, MF - Eriksen has proven that he can unlock the best the Eredivisie can offer, but can he work his magic against one of the biggest clubs on the continent? He was still green to UCL play last season, despite getting some good minutes, but this season all eyes will be on the young Dane, suitors and opponents alike watching carefully to see if Christian can excel at the highest level of club competition. I think he can. De Jong, Janssen, and Sulejmani are all more established professionals, they will play like they play, but if Eriksen can really impress than Ajax has quite a good chance of getting 3 points here.
Key Players for OL
Kim Kallstrom, MF - The veteran Swedish midfielder will likely provide the dead balls and the key passes that could be enough to unlock the young Ajax defense. If Kallstrom is on his game, Janssen, Eriksen, and De Jong could be a bit distracted in the midfield, perhaps too much so to perform their offensive duties as well. Watch the Swede closely, and pray that Ajax does too.
Bafetimbi Gomis, ST - The young French striker is as dangerous as they get, with 5 goals to his name already this year in all competitions. Although many would list Lisandro as OL’s danger man, Gomis seems to be playing a bit better this year, young as the season is. His finishing is second to none in Ligue 1, and as mentioned previously, one good counter attack could hurt Ajax’s chances at 3 points if the final strike comes off Gomis’ foot. Luckily for Ajax, Alderweireld and Vertonghen are two of the Godenzonen’s most experienced professionals, and will be watching Gomis and Lopez with extreme caution.
Ajax 2 - 1 OL
Its difficult to imagine that Lyon leaves this game without a goal, but its also difficult to imagine that Ajax leave the ArenA without a few. It’s how Ajax’s defense can shrug off a set-back and how their talented midfield and forward line respond to it all that will determine who get the crucial 3 points for grabs in this Group D encounter.
Heracles Almelo 2 - 3 Amsterdam FC Ajax
It’s lonely at the top, but who needs company anyways? Ajax now lead the Eredivisie, and don’t have to share the spotlight with Twente or PSV or AZ or any of those jokers (although they are all, as usual, biting at the Godenzonen’s heals). Like I said, this will not be my usual in depth coverage of the game, but I will comment on the action a bit. Nico Boilesen got the start at LB, the only position that seems to have any question mark after it in the Ajax line-up. Blind and Anita could only check things out from the sidelines at the outset.
Early on, Sigthorsson showed that great strikers can also be good defenders, with a ridiculous two legged, extremely dangerous tackle to save a potential Heracles goal in Vermeer’s 6 yard box.
Overtoom threatened with the first real good chance, an absolute cracker a few minutes before the half hour mark. Vermeer had the read and put it aside. Quite an athletic keeper the Dutchman is.
Overtoom, quite a player, would also claim the first goal of the match too, off an excellently driven low corner from Marko, the Heracles #10. Willie hit it with confidence, and Vermeer never had a chance. Perhaps Ajax could have marked better in the box.
Sulejmani tried to make a quick response, but his hard shot was blocked well.
Eriksen is just so freaking good. He magically dribbled through quite a few Heracles players before testing the keeper excellently. Such magic.
Immediately before halftime, it was Sulejmani’s hard shot from an even harder angle that was just too much for the keeper to deal with. It deflected right to Siem De Jong’s feet, and he easily leveled the match. Go Siem!
De Jong had another good chance just after half, going just to the left. He thought he deserved a corner, but perhaps the ref disagreed.
De Jong claimed the brace, when first Eriksen and then Van der Wiel both displayed excellent vision to move the ball out to Boerrigter on the left wing. His hard shot was deflected, and De Jong, always in the right place, made easy work of it. Heracles 1 - 2 Ajax.
Eriksen and Sulejmani created the third goal, with Eriksen starting the counter attack immediately, and finding Mickey on the wing. Sulejmani skillfully chipped the keeper, Ajax had their 3rd goal.
Glynor Plet would score Heracles 2nd with only a minute or two left in the match, perhaps not enough to get any points as it turned out. He used good hustle play to capitalize on a bouncing ball in the box, and put it past Vermeer. The Ajax netminder had very little chance on the play.
Ajax’s win put them into first place in Holland, an excellent 3 points in a tough venue.
AfcA Player of the Weekend: Siem De Jong - The brace makes this an obvious choice, but what makes it even easier is that he is my favorite Amsterdammer, and will forever be in the right place at the right time. It’s amazing he hasn’t won the lottery or something. But then again, the lottery is luck, and the beautiful thing about Siem, is it’s all skill and intelligence. Great game from the #10.
I’ve just completed a strenuous and stressful (but rewarding) move from my home in Boston to Edinburgh, Scotland, so my apologies for the absence, and my apologies for a shorter coverage of Ajax’s win over Heracles Almelo. Moving to another country is time consuming..
Amsterdam FC Ajax 4 - 1 Vitesse Arnhem
This was the best that Ajax has played yet this season. Thats a great thing too, because they could’ve either made their disappointing 2-2 draw with VVV Venlo the norm, or they could’ve gotten back on track, and they certainly did. It seemed Boerrigter, Sigthorsson, and Eriksen were the main danger men today, providing goals and excitement from start to finish in the ArenA. Although the scoring didn’t start until the second half, the scoring chances certainly came in the first half too, and the match overall pulsed with great football for 90 minutes (great, because it was mainly from Ajax—I’m biased). Goals were from Eriksen, Boerrigter, and Sigthorsson (brace). The Vitesse goal was a putback from Alexander Buttner.
Van der Wiel - Alderweireld - Vertonghen - Anita
De Jong - Janssen - Eriksen
Sulejmani - Sigthorsson - Boerrigter
Van der Struijk - Kashia - Drost - Buttner
Van Ginkel - Van Der Heijden - Propper
Chanturia - Bony - Hofs
The action started in the 8th minute, when Derk Boerrigter’s dangerous hooking cross couldn’t be headed on target by Siem De Jong. Boerrigter was certainly the danger man in the opening half.
Just a bit later, Vurnon Anita demonstrated his incredibly hustle, when he intercepted a Vitesse ball, and sprinted the length of the field to try and create a scoring chance. His touch was heavy, and Meerits could make the clearance, but not for the lack of trying.
Boerrigter had another fantastic run down his left-flank later, that culminated with a shot directly into Meerits arms on the 12th minute mark exactly. Boerrigter’s direct and explosive running style has been a terror for Eredivisie RB’s so far this season.
On the 16’ Christian Eriksen and Boerrigter (again) decided to make life nervy for Vitesse supporters, a small contingent cheering up in the corner of the ArenA. Eriksen rounded Kashia and Drost after receiving one of Alderweireld’s long, direct balls up from the back, and fired a shot, deflected by Meerits. Boerrigter seemed sure to score off the rebound, despite not even being the closest footballer to the ball, but his shot rattled the left post. Dangerous.
Another Boerrigter cross on 30’ just barely missed the feet of a streaking Sigthorsson.
A few minutes later, Theo Janssen joined the action, with a blast that Meerits couldn’t quite hold onto, shot from 25 yards out maybe. Sulejmani tried to get on the end of the rebound, but the Vitesse ‘keeper persisted.
Vitesse finally decided they wanted to play in the 35’, as Hofs put an excellent ball through to a cutting Van Ginkel. The only obstacle in their way? Kenneth Vermeer made a massive save from point-blank range to keep the match even. Vermeer demonstrated so much focus on the play, so difficult for a player who had been out of the action for more than a half hour. Thats certainly what Ajax needs in its GK.
A Sigthorsson blast on 39’ sailed just over the bar, the young Icelander looking good throughout.
On the most athletic play of the day, Toby Alderweireld, beaten unfortunately by Bonno Wilfried, Vitesse’s leading scorer through four games, made an absolutely ridiculous goal-line clearance. Vermeer rushed out intelligently, and made Bony’s shot quite difficult, so he floored the ball, allowing Alderweireld the time to tricycle kick the ball out of danger. Amazing.
The shot wasn’t much to brag about, but on 44’ Eriksen absolutely embarassed Davy Propper, lulling him to sleep before simply dragging the ball through his legs, and exploding towards goal from the LW. He made it look so easy, unbelievable demonstration of skill.
Now Ajax could start scoring goals. They’re a second half team anyways.
On 53’, Christian Eriksen received a layoff at the top of the 18 and selected placement over power. He put the ball in the precise corner of Meerits net, just out of the ‘keeper’s reach. The young Dane insured Ajax took the lead first, 1-0.
On 55’ Vitesse won a set piece, an a Kashia header looked bound to go in. Vermeer disagree though, and made a fantastic diving save, palming the ball away. Van Ginkel had a great chance to level the scores on the rebound, but the ball hit his thigh and went directly up, onto the roof the net. Quite comical really.
A sweet Alderweireld ball on 62’ was just out of the reach of Kashia’s forehead, and just onto the foot of the streaking Boerrigter. The Dutchman, secured from RKC this offseason, absolutely blasted his finish to Meerits near post, the GK had no chance whatsoever, Ajax 2-0 Vitesse.
Just a minute later, a perfect Van der Wiel cross from his LB spot looped around the Vitesse CB’s and found Sigthorsson’s perfect run. The Icelander slammed the shot home deliberately. Ajax 3-0 Vitesse. The game was getting out of hand for Vitesse Arnhem, a traditional ArenA outing.
Sigthorsson made up for his own mistake on 71’ when he attempted to backheel one into the box for Eriksen, but it was blocked by the Vitesse defense. He scrambled, and re-obtained the ball only a moment later, and deciding to go it alone this time, fired a rocket into the lower left corner of Meerits goal. Ajax 4-0, certainly a traditional ArenA outing.
Vitesse’s loan goal o 89’ came from a great Wilfrield run, in which he absolutely embarassed Nicolai Boilesen—who Vermeer had an earful after—and chipped the keeper. His shot hit the post however, but was smashed home by Buttner, rushing towards goal. Ajax 4-1 Vitesse.
Jan-Arie Van der Heijden didn’t get his name called much.
Ajax cruised. They can’t be stopped.
AfcA Player of the Weekend: Derk Boerrigter - When Ajax needed to start looking dangerous the young Dutchman absolutely started to make it happen. His goal was well taken, his runs were extremely sharp, and he’s overall looking great this season. Honorable mention, Kenneth Vermeer, for making sure Vitesse stayed off the board when it mattered.
The day has finally come, when Ajax fans everywhere finally learn whether our beloved club is headed to a disappointing early exit/Europa League-Round-of-32, or the insanely lucrative and prestigious UEFA Champions League Knockout Rounds!
Last year, we learned the former, drawing a group with Real Madrid, AC Milan, and French runner-ups Auxerre. Hope was thin, but they did well with what they were given.
This year, we may have learned nothing yet though, and here’s why:
Real Madrid (SPA)
Olympique Lyonnais (FRA)
Amsterdam FC Ajax (NED)
Dinamo Zagreb (CRO)
It seems foolish to say that Real Madrid will not be able to handle this group, so for arguments sake, lets say they finish first. They will have trouble in the ArenA and at OL, but all three of their opponents will simply have to bunker down and try to not get destroyed in the Bernabeau, and Dinamo will offer little resistance in Zagreb, one might imagine.
It also seems foolish to say that Dinamo Zagreb, with no disrespect intended to the Croats, will not finish last. They are tasting their first Champions League experience in quite some time, and the Prva HNL (Croatian Premier League) cannot be compared to La Liga, Ligue 1, or the Eredivisie.
But who takes the second spot? OL have lost a rock-solid CDM in Jeremy Toulalan to Malaga, but their squad has a similar look to the side that finished 2nd in a good group won by Schalke 04 and also containing Benfica, the Portuguese giants. Furthermore, they are looking great in Europe so far anyways, making quite easy work of a good Russian side in Rubin Kazan, cruising 3-1 at home and drawing 1-1 away, quite comfortably. In that last game in Russia, their lineup was the following:
Hugo Lloris (28); Reveillere (59), Kone (0), Lovren (6), Cissokho (18); Gonalons (7), Kallstrom (21), Briand (7), Gomis (9), Bastos (15); Lopez (39)
The numbers in parenthesis represents the players’ UCL appearances, demonstrating that Lyon has been around the block. Kone, Lovren, Gonalons, and Briand’s numbers are low due to youth, certainly not lack of quality. Thats also ignoring their captain Cris (49), and French International star Yoann Gourcuff (26) who didn’t play in that game. Now lets look at the Ajax equivalents for the lineup that faced VVV Venlo on Sunday, except with Anita in for Daley Blind (which could certainly be argued as their best lineup, despite the results).
Vermeer (0); Van der Wiel (6), Alderweireld (5), Vertonghen (5), Anita (4); De Jong (4), Janssen (5), Eriksen (1); Sulejmani (4), Sigthorsson (0), Boerrigter (0)
The most experienced player on the Ajax roster, as far as UCL appearances, would be Andre Ooijer (28), the only player that has more than Van der Wiel’s 6. But the 37 year-old Dutchman cannot be considered a better option at CB to Alderweireld or Vertonghen by any means. Meaning? Ajax’s current squad is quite green when it comes to meaningful European competition, especially when compared to the likes of OL or Real Madrid.
What Ajax does have on their side that Lyon does not, is boundless youth, energy, 51,000 roaring Dutchmen (and women), and the fresh memory of a Championship to their name. We all know this Ajax side is talented, perhaps the most talented they have compiled in recent years, it just remains to be seen if the young Amsterdammers can grow up enough over the course of three home and homes to finish second in the group behind Real Madrid. It certainly can be done, so lets see if they can do it! Go Ajax!
Anglophone FC Ajax Group Predictions
Group A: This might be the toughest crew, but if FCB can play up to their standards, its theirs. Man City must be viewed as more dangerous than Napoli, and Villareal looked unconvincing except for about 30 minutes vs. Odense BK.
1. FC Bayern Munich
2. Manchester City FC
4. Villareal CF
Group B: If Inter lose Sneijder and Eto’o, this group could certainly be CSKA’s. Trabzonspor was dominant in Turkey (forgetting Fenerbahce and their cheating ways), but Lille lost a crucial piece in Gervinho to Arsenal, so they may struggle despite winning France.
1. CSKA Moscow
Group C: There is almost 0% chance that Man U don’t finish first, and Benfica can certainly handle their Swiss and Romanian group-mates.
1. Manchester United
3. FC Basel
4. Utelul Galati
Group D: (see above)
1. Real Madrid CF
2. AFC Ajax (why not?)
4. Dinamo Zagreb
Group E: When Juan Mata jumped from Valencia to Chelsea, Valencia lost the crucial puzzle piece that may have allowed them to beat a strong German side like Leverkusen. Genk looked extremely weak in the play-off rounds, despite advancing.
2. Bayer Leverkusen
3. Valencia CF
Group F: The BVB side that simply owned the 2010-11 Bundesliga is back, and brilliant tactician Juergen Klopp has all the same tools minus Nuri Sahin at his disposal to make a real impact in Europe. Arsenal look as weak (or weaker) than they have in years, but could still top OM in the standings. Olympiakos could play spoiler.
1. Borussia Dortmund
Group G: This group is extremely tough to call, the top three sides all relatively even. Shaktar are quite experienced in Europe, as are FC Porto, but Porto no longer has the services of the amazing Andre Villas-Boas to guide them. Zenit could crack the top two, but APOEL look less likely to do so.
1. Shaktar Donetsk
2. FC Porto
3. Zenit St. Petersburg
4. APOEL Nicosia
Group H: Barcelona will win the group and Milan will finish second. End of conversation. The only real question is who will move into the Europa League Round of 32, and Viktoria Plzen smashed a strong FCK side in the play-offs, so they get the AfcA nod.
1. FC Barcelona
2. AC Milan
3. Viktoria Plzen
4. BATE Borisov
VVV Venlo 2 - 2 Amsterdam FC Ajax
Despite late heroics by Kolbeinn Sigthorsson and Theo Janssen, this must be looked at as a disappointing match. Disappointing that Ajax let VVV put two goals in Vermeer’s net before they could get anything, and perhaps even more disappointing that with almost 20 minutes left and the game even, Ajax couldn’t get over the hump and get the crucial three points. The likes of Twente, PSV, Feyenoord, and AZ will be thrilled at this result, as two points can certainly matter around title-decision time (anyone else remember last year?). Nevertheless, important and convincing result for VVV, displaying resilience at home and dangerous qualities in the face of a much stronger opponent. Apparently, do not mess with VVV.
Alex Nkume - Yoshida - Mei - De Regt
Linssen - Maguire - Meeuwis (c) - Cullen
Musa - Uchebo
Van der Wiel - Alderweireld - Vertonghen - Blind
De Jong - Janssen (c) - Eriksen
Sulejmani - Sigthorsson - Boerrigter
The first sequence of the game was relatively uneventful. Derk Boerrigter had the first chance on goal (as is tradition, this season) with a set of splendid moves from his LW spot. Eriksen attempted a free-kick after Sulejmani drew the foul (wide left), Sigthorsson had a nice shot but was whistled offside, and Boerrigter put another one into the side netting at 21’. Boerrigter looked the most active in the opening third of the game, by far.
On 28’ VVV indicated that they wished to play too, with a fantastic shot by Meeuwis, the captain, barely missing the back of the net.
As the game moved on, De Jong displayed an excellent turn/shoot in the box, and Ajax certainly looked primed to go on the board first - It’s still hard to believe they didn’t. Blind rocketed forward a wonderful ball for Sulejmani, who blasted the finish just inches poor.
Ahmed Musa, the dangerous 18 year-old VVV striker from Nigeria, had his own shot blocked in the box at 39’. Vertonghen’s slip-n-fall a minute later suggested he may nto be accustomed to game speed just yet.
After Eriksen’s curling shot sailed just wide, the halftime score was 0-0.
Within a minute and a half, VVV got on the board. The dangerous Musa finished easily, with Toby Alderweireld lapsing defensively, just as he did when Bas Dost was able to sneak in for Heerenveen’s lone goal last weekend. Musa worked for and deserved everything he got in this match. Goal 47’.
Two minutes later, Alderweireld took a great shot, perhaps trying to make amends. Boerrigter had a nice attempt as well, as did Sigthorsson, all within ten minutes.
None of it mattered however, as the shot in this part of the game that would end up mattering was Ahmed Musa’s 2nd strike, on 60’, the Nigerian looking too much for the Ajax backline by far.
Thulani Serero came on for Miralem Sulejmani and Vurnon Anita came on for Daley Blind between the 62’ and 66’. In the same time, Musa missed a chance to bag a hattrick, and what would’ve been three shocking points for VVV. Only time would tell if the substitutions from the Amsterdam bench would make any difference.
Ajax did start to make some moves: Christian Eriksen, looking quite active, laid off a nice little ball for Theo Janssen, who powerfully drove it into the back of the net, as he often does. 68’, one goal down, one to go for a point, two to go for three.
Just one minute later, Kolbeinn Sigthorsson performed an incredible sliding strike, to put a second goal into VVV Venlo’s net, 70’ on the clock. Ajax very quickly erased VVV’s hopes of getting three points, but one was still realistic for the home side.
In the last twenty minutes of the match, Ebecilio would enter for Boerrigter, the referee would use his own feet to create a great scoring chance for VVV (jerk), Musa would be subbed off (finally), and Alderweireld took a dangerous shot from distance, but no cigar. Overall, Ajax looked quite lifeless though, and Frank de Boer must’ve had a lot to say after the match.
If Ajax wants to complete Frank de Boer’s stated pre-season goals of winning the 31st and getting out of their UEFA Champions League group, they will have to not replicate this performance again.
AfcA Player of the Weekend: Kolbeinn Sigthorsson - The young Icelandic international plays like a player with five more years experience than he has, making dangerous runs, never giving up on plays and shot attempts, and getting on the board when his team truly needed goals. He was unlucky not to get more than one goal in this game, but that’s life. Either way, great game from the young #9.