As the Dutch Eredivisie returned from its extensive winter break, a match up between the nation’s two fiercest rivals awaited. AFC Ajax played host to Feyenoord Rotterdam, with the former chasing other rivals PSV Eindhoven atop the league. Debuting Ajax manager Erik ten Hag poached the sideline opposite Giovanni van Bronckhorst at the Johan Cruijff Arena, quite the kickoff to a managerial tenure. De Klassieker ended in a similar fashion as the reverse fixture in Rotterdam, with Ajax Amsterdam running out 2-0 winners.
Both squads featured liberal changes from the lineups seen in October. New purchase Nicolás Tagliafico lined up as Ajax’ left-back and put forth a man-of-the-match performance, while youngsters Frenkie de Jong and Justin Kluivert started as well. For Feyenoord, wholesale changes to the backline saw Sven van Beek, Renato Tapia, and 18-year-old Tyrell Malacia play a majority of the 90 minutes.
A scoreless first half saw Ajax presented with many opportunities; Hakim Ziyech’s spectacular passing was key to creating chances and would carry over after halftime. The visitors struggled to create any sort of space in the midfield, shown by their 34% ball possession throughout the entire match. On 50 minutes, new boy Tagliafico found space in the opposition box, cutting back to Donny van de Beek for Ajax’ first goal. It took only three minutes for De Godenzonen’s second, with captain Joël Veltman crossing to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar to double the home side’s lead.
Danish forward Nicolai Jörgensen was shown a second yellow card for a tackle on Veltman in the 58th, basically stunting any chance of a Feyenoord comeback. Erik ten Hag will be extremely satisfied with his team’s ability to control the midfield, using their full-backs to support and finish attacking moves. Ziyech proved himself once again as the most important player in the league, while Nicolás Tagliafico seems like a bargain purchase for a mere (reported) €4 million.
On the other end of the spectrum, Feyenoord’s failure to pick up a result in De Klassieker sees them drop further behind the league leaders – 17 away from league-leaders PSV. Karim El Ahmadi was the only player to provide any sense of stability in the midfield, leaving the forward line with very little to work with.
PSV retain Eredivisie margin
In Almelo, leaders PSV Eindhoven took on Heracles in a bid to re-establish their five-point lead above Ajax. Phillip Cocu’s squad kept on pelting the home side’s goal but didn’t find a goal until added time in the first half, when Steven Bergwijn finished a Luuk de Jong cross in behind the Heracles defence. Hirving Lozano was the creator, sending in a lofted free-kick as the Mexican looks to reignite his world-class early season form.
In the second half, Heracles received a questionable penalty after Santiago Arias battled with Brahim Darri. Jeff Hardeveld converted the penalty in the 66th minute to equalise the score. Nothing was coming off for the away side until late on, when PSV achieved another miraculous victory this season. In added time, a counter-attack left substitute Albert Gudmundsson free on the right wing. He crossed low in front of goal and rejuvenated striker Luuk de Jong scored the winning goal. PSV, somehow, annulled Ajax’ Klassieker victory with a stunning three points of their own.
Elsewhere around the league, PEC Zwolle continue their phenomenal performance in fourth place with a close 1-0 victory over NAC Breda. An early goal from Youness Mokhtar proved enough to see off a pesky, relegation-threatened side.
Sparta Rotterdam’s attempt at revitalisation under new manager Dick Advocaat is yet to show in terms of results. Feyenoord’s smaller neighbours played two matches – making up for a cancelled fixture a few weeks ago – losing both. However, Sparta can take solace in the fact that the losses, to Vitesse and Excelsior Rotterdam, were only by the scores of 0-1 and 2-3, respectively. Nevertheless, Advocaat’s men are languishing in dead-last.
Vitesse Arnhem also played two matches, winning the aforementioned tie with Sparta and drawing at home to SC Heerenveen. Vitesse are hovering around the European places in seventh place, but Heerenveen absolutely must improve their form to stand a chance at doing the same. Jurgen Streppel’s side are in ninth and have been relying on lots of youngsters to provide quality in the team.
FC Utrecht drew 1-1 with AZ Alkmaar in their first match without Erik ten Hag, having hired club legend Jean-Paul de Jong to take over the team. AZ defender Jonas Svensson fired in a blistering long shot, but Utrecht striker Cyriel Dessers equalised to gain a somewhat undeserved point.
Roda JC 1-1 FC Twente
ADO Den Haag 1-1 VVV-Venlo
Willem II 1-1 FC Groningen