Usually when the last “De Topper” of the season is played, it’s often a title decider, but not this year. PSV came into the game with 14-point lead, and most pundits had already sent the title to Eindhoven before the game. Ajax knew if there should be even a little glimmer of hope, then they needed to claim all 3 points at the Phillips Stadium this Sunday. In a game dominated by PSV, Ajax managed to grab a 3-1 victory, and maybe put a little bit of doubt into the heads of the Eindhoven players.
PSV 1-3 Ajax
PSV: 1. Zoet // 4.Arias – 5.Bruma – 2.Mirin – 15.Willems // 18.Guardado – 6.Maher – 10.Wijnaldum // 11.Narsingh – 9.Jong – 7.Depay
Ajax: 1.Cillesen // 2.van Rhijn – 3.Veltman – 26.Viergever – 5.Boilesen // 25.Serero – 10.Klaassen – 27.Bazoer // 21. el Ghazi – 19.Milik – 11.Kishna
Goals: de Jong 77’ // Kishna 29’, Schöne 83’, el Ghazi 91’
Ajax close down the wings
Ajax’s approach to the game was a lot different from their usual style of play. De Boer had definitely told his player to become a bit tighter in defense and then explode into counterattacks. Especially in the first half, Ajax succeeded in closing down PSV. The game plan suggested closing down the wide areas of the pitch and thereby eliminating crosses from PSV wingers and full backs. This problem was solved by letting Bazoer und Klaasen from the midfield, assist the fullbacks in closing down the wide areas. Often you would see Klaasen leaving the midfield and helping Boilesen closing the fast running Narsingh. On the right side for Ajax, they made sure never to leave Depay 1v1 against a defender. These to moves helped Ajax eliminate a lot of dangerous crosses from both of PSV dangerous wingers in the first half.
By closing down the wing play of PSV, Ajax allowed a lot of space in the middle of the pitch. This made space for combination play between Guardado, Maher and Wijnaldum, who often found themselves being 3v1 in the middle of the field.
When allowing PSV to play in the middle of the field, Ajax had to make sure that they couldn’t combine their way into the penalty box. The man to make sure this didn’t happen was 24-year-old Serero, who filled the role as the defensive midfielder perfectly. His positioning and hard tackling made sure PSV couldn’t enter the penalty box through the middle of the pitch, which meant that PSV ended up taking their chances via a lot of long range shots in the first half (6).
Ajax took the lead through Kishna in the 29th minute, where he tapped home a great cross from the right-winger Ghazi. Ajax’s plan for counterattacking and attacking in general was to exploit the missing defensive abilities from the PSV fullbacks. When recovering the ball Ajax would play very direct, trying to exploit the space behind the PSV full backs, who often was caught going forward. Kishna’s goal came after a Veltman interception at the middle of the pitch. Veltman quickly played it out wide to Ghazi, who went dribbling against Willems and Wijnaldum, ending up sending a beautiful cross into the penalty area for Kishna to convert. Perfectly planned and converted with style by the Ajax team.
Cocu mixing it up
After a first half where PSV had dominated possession, but failed to really threaten the Ajax-defense, second half was going to be a bit different. By adding some tactical changes to his side, Cocu managed to make sure PSV dominated from the first minute of the second half. Maher and Wijnaldum was pushed a bit higher, leaving Guardado with plenty of space to dictate the play and break enemy lines with some wonderful passes. By freeing up Guardado, PSV made it easier to switch the play from one side to another. Building up through the right hand side, using Guardado for a change of side, and then putting in crosses a bit earlier allowed PSV to rattle Ajax. The equalizer came after 77’ minutes from exactly such a move. Small combination play on the right side, drawing the Ajax players closer, then finding Guardado, who slashes it to the other side of the pitch, where Willems smashes a cross into the head of De Jong, who makes 1-1. At the equalizer PSV was 4v4 in the danger zone, leaving the Ajax-defense in a lot of trouble. This was possible because they had pushed Maher and Wijnaldum up higher, and PSV could therefore easily fill up the penalty area every time there was cross. You would often see 4-5 players running into the dangerzone, making it hard to defend for Ajax.
Ajax never really had a counter-move to Cocu tactical change, and they conceded 24 crosses throughout the second half, and were only lucky that PSV didn’t show themselves from their clinical side.
Eine Schöne Comeback
Even though being totally dominated through the second half, Ajax managed to get themselves into some counterattacks with various successes. Often the 2 wingers Kishna und Ghazi would help the defense, by moving a little inside and closer to the midfielder. When Ajax collected ball, they would run toward the open space behind the PSV fullbacks and try to go direct towards goal. PSV’s defender Mirin and Bruma were good at picking these runs up, and PSV only allowed one shot from open play throughout the second half. Occasionally Mirin and Bruma would find themselves giving away unnecessary free kicks in dangerous position. Already before the equalizer by Jong, they had been warned not to give a free kicks within kicking distance, when the Danish substitute Lasse Schöne smashed a free kick onto underside of the bar, giving a taste what was to come. In the 83th min one of these unnecessary free kicks was given after an Ajax throw in, where Bruma found himself out of position, and ending up fouling Ghazi for a freekick. The freekick was converted by Schöne, whose kick was deflected and in. A stupid foul to give away, and the result was that PSV found themselves trailing again, despite being the dominant force.
After the 2-1 goal PSV pushed men forward, and tried to launch long balls after the head of Jong. This led to sporadic chances, until Ajax went to the other end to make it 3-1 through a counterattack move, finished beautiful by Ghazi. PSV was caught with too many men going forward, and Klaasen broke out of midfield, to field a forward pass to Ghazi, who rounded Mirin and finished in the top corner.
Where does this leave them?
Even though Ajax managed to reduce the gap to PSV to 11 points, the likelihood of PSV ending up as Champions is still pretty big. PSV left the Euro League on Thursday and can therefore fully concentrate on the Eredivisie, meanwhile Ajax is still on for some Euro matches. On the other side, PSV played a fine game, where they just didn’t manage to convert their chances and at the same time made some sloppy errors in defense. So if they can keep up to gear and eliminate the sloppy defending, they will easily claim the trophy for the first time since 2008. Ajax on the other hand should focus on claiming the second place and doing well in Europe. The recent signs has been good from Ajax, and with a great run of form they can maybe their first European trophy since the golden days of 1995.
Written by Morten Lanng
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