Jan 162014
 

KO: Sunday 19th January 2014.

Eredivisie action returns after the festive break and 2014 kicks-off with an absolute belter at the Amsterdam Arena as two Dutch powerhouses compete for bragging rights once more.

The table suggests it should be three points for the hosts and the impetus should be with Frank de Boer’s side following their recent run of six straight league wins.

However, if recent history is anything to go by then fans should be prepared to expect the unexpected when these two meet.

Whatever happens it should be a fascinating affair.

Holland’s Biggest Rivalry

It might not be a city derby but this is easily the biggest match in Dutch football. The rivalry is known as ‘De Topper’ and pits the country’s two most successful clubs against one another.

Ajax, Holland’s number one side in terms of trophies, have won the Eredivisie crown on 32 occasions. Historic achievements have been mirrored by their recent accomplishments, with the club claiming the Dutch crown in each of the past three seasons; they are favourites to make it a fourth consecutive championship this term.

Meanwhile, PSV have 21 Eredivisie titles to their name with their most recent triumph coming in 2007-08. At that moment, Eindhoven were the dominant force in Dutch football – winning seven of the first eight league campaigns of the 21st century – but have since fallen away from the top boys in recent years.

On their day, though, PSV are certainly capable of causing an upset – as Ajax found out in September.

Nevertheless, Ajax are the superior outfit currently. As well as sitting top of Erediversie, some eleven points clear of seventh placed PSV, the Amsterdam club are through to the Champions League knockout stage once more.

Conversely, Eindhoven bowed out of Europe altogether by finishing third in their Europa League group and have failed to reach the Champions League knockout stages since 2007. In fact, even their last participation in the group stage of Europe’s elite competition was back in 2009-10.

As well as being the most successful club on the domestic scene, they are joint 5th on the list of European Cup winners. Only Liverpool, Bayern, Milan and Real Madrid have won Europe’s biggest prize and that is another source of pride for the current Dutch champions.

Both sides boast proud traditions and, come kick-off, the Amsterdam Arena will be buzzing.

Ajax v PSV Head to Head

De Topper is not only a rival between two clubs; it’s a battle between footballing philosophies.

Ajax set a precedent in how to play football and after over 50 years of success their approach to the game was adopted by a host of other clubs across Holland. In fact, sides across Europe began to borrow from the Ajax philosophy; PSV were not one of them.

Instead, the Eindhoven outfit – with financial assistance from the Philips Corporation – were able to acquire the services of finished products rather than follow the Ajax model of focusing on home-grown talent. These contrasting styles serve as driving force behind this bitter rival.

Whilst Ajax can boast a fuller trophy cabinet it is PSV who hold the advantage in this particular fixture. Of 115 Dutch League encounters, Eindhoven lead 48 wins to 44 – with 23 draws. Since 1993, the record reads 20-14-12 in the favour of PSV once more.

However, when playing in Amsterdam, Ajax have enjoyed a far greater record. In 57 matches, the home side have won 30 and lost just 19. That run includes last season’s 3-1 triumph for Frank de Boer’s men.

In September’s reverse fixture, PSV humiliated the visitors in a 4-0 demolition. That result will provide the home side with motive for revenge and the away team a source of confidence.

They might have contrasting views on a number of matters but what they do share is a common appetite for success – as well as the club colours of red and white.

With the addition 50,000 fans creating an intense atmosphere, it’s set to be an enthralling contest.

Manager Watch

Both Phillip Cocu and Frank de Boer are legends of their respective clubs and that will undoubtedly have a positive effect on their players heading into this pivotal contest.

De Boer made over 400 appearances in an Ajax shirt in a playing spell that spanned over a decade prior to trading Holland for Spain courtesy of a ’99 switch to Barcelona.

In addition to playing for the club, and lifting the Champions League in 1995, he also managed the youth team before a spell as the assistant coach of Holland’s national team. De Boer took over as Ajax boss in 2010 and has led the club to three consecutive Eredivisie titles.

As a player, Phillip Cocu had two stints with PSV in which he made over 150 appearances and won four Erediversie winners medals as well as two Dutch Cups. Now head coach, he is trying to lead the club back to the summit of Dutch football and his vast experience will be a huge help to his inexperienced squad.

Ajax V PSV – The Key Men

Swiss midfielder Siem de Jong remains sidelined through injury and is joined on Ajax’s casualty list by 21-year-old defender Mike van de Hoorn. Meanwhile, Stijn Schaars is on the absentee list for PSV.

A return of 41 goals in 18 league outings signals an impressive showing from Ajax’s attacking unit and Frank de Boer has the enviable task of choosing from a number of talented players.

The emergence of 20-year-old midfielder Davy Klaasen has unquestionably had a positive influence on Ajax’s fortunes. The youngster has returned 7 goals from just 10 appearances this term and could be a great outlet for de Boer, whether from the start or as an impact sub.

Perhaps the most familiar name amongst Ajax’s squad is that of Bojan Krkic. The ex-Barcelona striker moved to Amsterdam this summer and the 23-year-old certainly has the potential to cause problems for the PSV defence. After struggling in Italy, the Spaniard is still trying to rediscover his best form and perhaps a goal in this colossal clash could kick-start his career in Holland.

Another reason for Ajax’s position at the Eredivisie summit is their defensive record. In a league notorious for goals, shipping just 17 in 18 matches is very good going and leaves de Boer’s men with the tightest defence in the division so far.

Having been sent off against AZ in August, Ricardo van Rhijn has since put in a number of superb performances at the back and has been instrumental to Ajax’s defensive success. Apart from the one match missed through suspension, the 22-year-old has started every game and even chipped in with 2 goals in the first half of the season; he could be pivotal to his side’s triumphs not only on Sunday but for the remainder of the campaign.

As Schaars is injured, Park Ji Sung could be an important figure of the PSV line-up.

The former Manchester United midfielder has only made 8 appearances for the club but is the only fit player over the age of 30 and his experience could make him the key in this pivotal clash. He did also score one of his two PSV goals in the reverse fixture earlier this season.

Dutch defender Jeffrey Bruma has been a consistent performer for PSV this campaign and may need to be at his best if the away side are to come away from the Amsterdam Arena with a result.

Chelsea finally let the defender depart Stamford Bridge on a permanent basis this summer, although they did install a ‘buy back’ clause, and Phillip Cocu has certainly benefited from the 22-year-old’s talent. Bruma has missed just one match this season, through suspension, and has been a catalyst for most of PSV’s good defensive work.

There are a number of top stars on display for both sides and the first goal could set the tone of the afternoon. It could be a classic.

Eredivisie Matchday 19 Fixtures

Friday:

  • FC Twente V Heracles

Saturday:

  • AZ Alkmaar v NAC Breda
  • FC Zwolle v Vitesse Arnhem
  • RKC Waalwijk v Groningen
  • Heerenveen v Roda JC

Sunday:

  • NEC Nijmegen v ADO Den Haag
  • Cambuur Leeuwarden v Go Ahead Eagles
  • FC Utrecht v Feyenoord
  • Ajax v PSV Eindhoven
Oct 272012
 

Ajax and Feyenoord. Feyenoord and Ajax. The two biggest rivals in Dutch football. Since the first game in 1921, it has always been a grudge match. Ajax won that game with 3-2 but after protests of Feyenoord, the full time score was officially set at 2-2. It’s also a game between the two biggest cities of Holland: Amsterdam and Rotterdam. In Spain it’s El Clasico, in Scotland it’s the Old Firm derby, in Argentina it’s Superclásico, and in Holland it’s De Klassieker, the biggest game of the season. The main football rivalry of the Netherlands, the most important game of the year, that’s Ajax vs Feyenoord. But is it still like it has been before? No, unfortunately not.

Ajax and Feyenoord have had many clashes on the football pitch since 1921, but not just the teams, the supporters too. ‘The Battle of Beverwijk’ in 1997 was infamous. To cut a long story a short one: One Ajax fan, Carlo Picornie, was beaten to death by rival supporters. It wasn’t on match day. It was a meeting of supporters with the only goal to fight. As a result of the incident, the two Klassiekers in 1997/98 were played without away fans. In April 2004, Ajax supporters attacked players of Feyenoord during the Reserves game, kicking and hitting them, and Ajax players and their coach had to jump and protect their opponents. A year later, in April 2005, riots took place around Feyenoord’s ground De Kuip. Travelling Ajax fans had demolished the trains transporting them to Rotterdam, and were forced to wait outside the stadium until the match was over. Meanwhile, Feyenoord supporters who had just seen their team lose, were determined to clash with the rivals from Amsterdam. Because of this, the mayors of both Amsterdam and Rotterdam made an agreement with the KNVB to ban visiting fans from the away games for the next five seasons in an effort to curb the violence. In February 2009, Feyenoord supporters sung offensive chants towards Ajax and their players during a Reserves game, so now, even the Reserves fixtures are played without away fans. Only last season people of both clubs, supporter groups and cities started to talk about letting away fans in at each other’s ground again.

De Klassieker without away fans isn’t a real game any more. They still sing songs to humiliate the other team, they still abuse the other team, they still make funny banners, but something is missing, and supporters of both clubs agree on that one. Banners with ‘De Klassieker is dead’ are shown from both sets of fans. You need two sides to make a great atmosphere. Even though they hate each other with a passion, Ajax supporters need the Feyenoord supporters and the other way around to make it a real football match.

It’s not only the fact that supporters aren’t allowed in each other’s grounds any more though, it’s also the difference in the league table. Feyenoord aren’t the top club they used to be and haven’t won a league title since 1999. Feyenoord had years of struggling and finishing outside the top 3. Last season was the first season that showed signs of recovery and the club got rewarded with a second place finish behind Ajax.

Ajax vs. Feyenoord was supposed to be a top game, a game that could maybe decide who would win the league, a game with high expectations. Ajax have won 80-90% of the games in the last 10 years. The tension is gone. It’s more like a normal game these days. Like Jan Vertonghen said two seasons ago: “It’s still De Klassieker but in my opinion it’s not a top game any more like the games against PSV and Twente are.” That doesn’t mean it’s not an important game, it’s still Ajax vs Feyenoord, and both sets of supporters are desperate to win it. For the fans, for the players and for everybody that’s involved with one of the clubs it’s still a special game, it’s just that it’s not the same as it was.

Ajax vs Feyenoord is like a pie without whipped cream nowadays: it’s nice but not irresistible.

 

Oct 262012
 

Against Manchester City, Ajax started with the same XI as in the second half against Heracles Almelo last weekend (in which they threw away a 3-1 lead).  The only change was a tactical one: Christian Eriksen played as a deep-lying striker and Siem De Jong dropped back in midfield. The idea behind it was that a roaming striker would cause the strong centreback pairing of Lescott and Kompany much more trouble than a target man. It proved to be a genius move by Frank de Boer.

From the first minute Ajax were the stronger side. The team played in their own philosophy with courage and guts, not afraid of the big names in Manchester City’s team. The Ajax players know their playing system inside, always a 4-3-3 with out and out wingers. Mancini’s tactics were, simply put, poor. He began with Sergio Agüero on the left wing then abandoned his 4-2-3-1 system early in the first half, tried out 4-4-2 and then ditched that for 3-5-2. With so many changes, it was not entirely surprising the team looked so dishevelled. After the game, Micah Richards revealed the players prefer 442 and weren’t entirely comfortable with just three at the back.

In my eyes, City had no idea how to dominate and make the game their own, whilst Ajax are used to having the ball a lot and can be patient for a moment to strike. The club from England are more of a ‘counter team’ in an Italian way. Sitting back, waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.

Before City scored the opening goal Ajax had two good chances through Christian Eriksen. Their goal came out of nowhere after Ajax had been on top, meaning they were briefly unsettled after Nasri’s goal. Discontent could be heard in the home stands with the fans afraid that Ajax would wilt. It wouldn’t be the first time this season. Yet the game lurched back in Ajax’s favour in the final minutes of the first half. Ricardo van Rhijn, one of the seven academy graduates in the Ajax side, put in a low cross and De Jong lashed it past Joe Hart.

The start of the second half wasn’t as attractive as the start of the first one. It was Ajax who took the lead in the 58th minute though as Eriksen swung in a corner and centerback Niklas Moisander out-jumped Lescott to divert the ball inside an unmarked far post. City left the Finn completely unmarked in their own box. Ajax’s lead meant City had to attack with real penetration which left more space for the home team. City had trouble creating any real chances and it was Ajax that extended their lead through Eriksen. The young Dane had a fantastic game against a team that was interested in signing him last summer. Incidentally, his agent said it took just ten seconds for Eriksen to hear Man City’s offer and reject it. He didn’t even think about a move to the club because he’s not interested in their money.

The team from Amsterdam never really came into trouble and defended their lead comfortably. A great win. A starting XI that cost combined €4.4 million beat a starting XI that cost over €200 million. That put the win in some perspective. Ajax still have every chance of surviving in Europe: CL or EL. I’m already looking forward to the next meeting with City in the Etihad Stadium. Why wouldn’t Ajax get another three points?

Oct 252012
 

On the pitch, Ajax might not have shown any sympathy for Manchester City last night, comfortably beating them 3-1 as the group stages reach the half-way mark, but off the pitch they were united in their thoughts about the price of tickets.

Ajax, knowing that English fans would certainly sell out the away end, charged City fans an incredible £65 for their ticket. Fans of Real Madrid and Borussia Dortmund, who join them in the ‘group of death’, were charged almost £15 less for the same seats.

An Ajax spokesman denied that they were taking advantage of English fans and insisted the price difference was simply because this match was ‘the most interesting of the group stage’.

“We admit that it is a lot of money,” he said. “But the champions of the best league in the world are visiting Amsterdam. Of course, Real Madrid is top class as well, but this is the third year in a row that we are in the same group as Real. Therefore they are one level lower in terms of the price scheme.”

During the game last night the home end unfurled a banner showing their support for Manchester City’s plight.

“€80 for the away section is ridiculous!”

Oct 252012
 

During Manchester City’s surprising 3-1 defeat against Ajax, Roberto Mancini opted to play three at the back

“It’s something that we’ve not worked on a lot,” he said. “We’re used to a straight back four. It’s twice we’ve done this and conceded but the manager likes it and if we’re going to do well with it we’re going to have to work on it a little bit more. It’s a hard system because we’re not used to it. I think the players prefer a 442. But he’s the manager and we’ll do what he says.”

Oct 022012
 

I don’t need to introduce AFC Ajax to you. I’m pretty sure you all know this club, its rich history, its world famous youth academy, the legendary players the club has produced. You are all football fans with knowledge in your bags, you know your stuff.

But if I asked you to name three players in Ajax’s current starting XI, could you? Can you name two? You’ll no doubt be familiar with Christian Eriksen but how well can you do after naming him?

The Eredivisie is not as popular as Europe’s biggest leagues, such as the Premier League, the Bundesliga, La Liga or the Serie A. Despite the fact Ajax is one of the biggest clubs in football history, not many people are interested in the club and its league nowadays. They rather follow a club from one of the bigger leagues. It’s a shame if you ask me but I’m not writing a plea why more people should follow the Eredivisie. I’m here to write about by far the greatest team the world has ever seen: AFC Ajax.

Since Frank de Boer took over from Martin Jol in December 2010, a fresh wind is blowing through the club. The focus is back on developing talents and on giving talents the opportunity to have a shot in the first team. The goal on the long term is to replace players with players from the academy. Buying a player only happens when there’s no youth player ready to make the step yet. Youth academy De Toekomst (The Future) is literally our future. So the new philosophy is also about spending as less money as possible. Players must want to play for Ajax because of the club, its philosophy, its ambition, the fans, the stadium etc. Not because you can earn a lot of money.

Former players such as Marc Overmars (Director of Football), Dennis Bergkamp (assistant-coach) Wim Jonk (head of the youth academy) and of course Frank de Boer have important roles at the club. It’s fantastic to see such names returning to their boyhood club to give something back to Ajax. That also defines our rich history.

Fans say Ajax is Ajax again. We’re playing or trying to play attractive, attacking football with out and out wingers in a 4-3-3 system. The system that belongs to Ajax. The system that is Ajax.

The club’s worth nothing without the players on the pitch who have to do the job. Ajax’s current squad is a very young and inexperienced one. There’s one player who breaks the 30 barrier: Christian Poulsen (32). All the other players are 26 or younger. Ajax have the youngest squad in European competitions (Champions League/Europa League) this season.

In the first games of this season, there’s been rotating a lot in the starting XI. Only the keeper and the back four are pretty sure of their place in the team. Kenneth Vermeer is the one who will been seen between the posts. At 5ft9, he’s not the tallest keeper but his jumping power and cat-like reflexes compensate for his height.

The back four is formed by right back Ricardo van Rhijn, whose style of play can be compared to Van der Wiel’s : a modern full back. A young player who still has to learn a lot but his future looks bright. He has already made his debut for Oranje.

Toby Alderweireld and Niklas Moisander form the core of the defence. Alderweireld has been a regular starter in the last three seasons. The Belgian is a centre back who has a drive to go forward when possible. His passes from deep and goals from a long range are his speciality. Alderweireld is a strong, technical defender with a massive will to fight. His challenge this season will be to take that final step, as Jan Vertonghen did in the past two seasons, becoming a defender that barely makes mistakes and is rock solid. Niklas Moisander came to Ajax as Jan Vertonghen’s short term successor. The Finnish player can be compared to the Belgian. He’s strong in the build up, a good defender and adds a welcome experience to this team.

The left back position belonged to Daley Blind in most of the games this season. Blind is the weakest player in this team. In my eyes he’s not good enough to play for Ajax. He’s strong going forward but you can query his defensive skills. Let’s hope Nicolai Boilesen is back soon after being out with a hamstring injury for almost a year.

Who form the defence is out of question, who form the midfield and attack is a surprise every game. The ideal midfield and attack would be: Siem de Jong/Lasse Schöne – Christian Poulsen – Christian Eriksen
Tobias Sana – Ryan Babel/Siem de Jong – Derk Boerrigter/Ryan Babel.

Our midfield would have the best balance with Siem de Jong (captain) on the right, Christian Poulsen as a defensive midfielder and Christian Eriksen on the left, cutting inside to the middle. Poulsen is someone who’s mostly known as being a flop at Liverpool FC. He can be an important player for Ajax with his experience. His game is basically retaining and recycling possession, he’s capable of playing as a No. 6. A key spot in Ajax’s game of high pressuring and circulating.

Siem de Jong, Eriksen and Schöne are the creative midfielders. I don’t need to introduce Eriksen, who is one of the biggest talents in Europe and wanted by the biggest club on this continent. An attacking midfielder with a creative mind and a sublime technique. A star in the making. He’s needs to step up his game this season though and become more decisive. Siem de Jong is a player who does a lot of dirty work when playing as a midfielder but he’s more dangerous in his role as a striker. Schöne came over on a free from NEC Nijmegen and is a perfect squad player. A creative player with a good technique and an eye for the goal.

Tobias Sana is a newbie at Ajax. The born Swede came over from IFK Göteborg for just a couple of hundred thousand euros. He’s a winger who’s capable playing on both the right and left. He has pace, a good technique and capable of delivering excellent crosses. A ‘tropical suprise’. Derk Boerrigter is a classic left winger with an superb acceleration and an even better cross. Both wingers are also good finishers.

Last but not least: Ryan Babel, who actually needs no introduction. At Ajax he’ll be focusing on the spots on the left and middle of the attack. From the left he’s most dangerous cutting inside. As a striker he’s a strong player who can hold a ball and lay if off to his team mates. His pace, experience and talent will hopefully lift his career and help Ajax achieving great things.

So far this season hasn’t been spectacular from a fan’s point of view. Ajax are currently sitting three points behind FC Twente, who they beat 1-0 on Saturday. Despite that they are still unbeaten (4 wins, 3 draws) but that’s not good enough when you are Ajax.

Let’s hope this season can end as good as the past two. The squad is talented enough to do so.