SUNDAY 24TH AUGUST
AJAX vs. PSV (15:45 BST)
This Sunday, Ajax Amsterdam face PSV Eindhoven in a crucial early season match-up at the Amsterdam ArenA. Both sides are red-hot after two matches and the winner will have the upper hand in the hunt for the Eredivisie title, which looks to be a two horse race between the two clubs writes Alex Pieter.
The PSV attack is firing on all cylinders after defeating NAC Breda by a count of 6-1 last weekend. The Ajax attack has not been too shabby itself, tallying seven goals in two matches. This match will come down to which side can defend better.
PSV has a strong central-defensive duo in the likes of Karim Rekik and Jeffrey Bruma. Jetro Willems is also a capable left-back however; the weak spot that Ajax must exploit is right-back Santiago Arias. NAC had success going at the young Colombian and Arias will face a much stronger attack this weekend. Whether he can hold up against the likes of Lasse Schöne, Thulani Serero, Davy Klaassen, Ricardo Kishna and Daley Blind will go a long way in determining the result for PSV.
The biggest question mark for the Ajax defence heading into this weekend’s showdown is the fitness of right-back Ricardo van Rhijn. Van Rhijn has been battling a hamstring injury throughout the summer, but hopes to make his comeback this weekend. Frank de Boer will have a big decision on his hands determining whether Van Rhijn is fit to start. The replacement is Ruben Ligeon, who has looked shaky at times in the first few matches. Another question facing the Ajax coach is whether to stick with Mike van der Hoorn at centre-back or go back to Joël Veltman. Veltman will be the starter in due time, but Van der Hoorn has looked solid in his first two matches. Ajax will line up with Niklas Moisander and Nicolai Boilesen as the other central defender and left-back, respectively.
Another question for Ajax is the striker situation. The plans Samuel Eto’o seems to have fallen through. As a result it will be up to Arkadiusz Milik, Kolbeinn Sigthórsson and Zivkovic to carry the load. Although Sigthórsson’s future in Ajax is in question, as a move to Queens Park Rangers looms, and his status for this weekend is still up in the air. Ajax will need big performances out of their wingers and attacking-midfielder Davy Klaassen.
The uncertainty in the Ajax camp is nothing new, as they are more than used to transfer rumours and injury problems. Last year’s captain Siem de Jong spent much of the season battling various injury problems as did Nicolai Boilesen. Frank de Boer is a seasoned coach who always seems to find a way to get the job done.
PSV have yet to reach their full potential. Adam Maher has not played like he is capable of, Luuk de Jong is still finding his feet in a new environment and coach Philip Cocu is still perfecting his rotation. They look to be Ajax’s biggest title challenger this year, with some even coining them the league favourites. If they are to be considered legitimate contenders, they will need to get at least a point in Amsterdam this weekend.
By now most people know of Blind and what he is capable of. It is blatantly obvious Ajax are a much better team when Blind is in the starting line-up. They looked lost without him in the Johan Cruyff Schaal match against PEC Zwolle. He allows Klaassen to play further up the pitch, where he is most effective. Blind’s distribution also gives Ajax many added dimensions going forward and with the striker situation still in flux, Blind will be the key to unlocking the PSV defence. If he is able to find the likes of Ricardo Kishna, Anwar El-Ghazi, Klaassen and Schöne in space, it bodes well for the Amsterdammers. Blind is also adds extra protection in front of the backline, something that will be crucial against the high powered offense of PSV.
There is no bigger name in the Eredivisie at the moment. Depay is on the radar of the top clubs from leagues across Europe and his future at PSV has been in constant flux. He is under contract at PSV until 2017, meaning if a club wants him they will have to pay up, likely in excess of €20 million. Depay is the focal point of the PSV attack, though they have other talented players in support, they will look to Depay to shoulder the load. It is not a matter of shutting down Depay for Ajax, he will get his chances, he is that good, it is a matter of controlling those chances and limiting them. If Depay is able to make the most of his chances and pick out his teammates it could spell big trouble for Ajax.
Both teams are facing distractions, with each club dealing with transfer rumours regarding their star players. Additionally, PSV faced a Europa League playoff match on Thursday night. On paper, PSV has more talent than Ajax and there is little evidence to say otherwise. However, football is not played on paper and Ajax have a better team than PSV. Frank de Boer is the best manager in the Eredivisie and he has the Amsterdam giants headed in the right direction. Also, Ajax has home advantage, where they are extremely tough to beat.
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