Magic from Dolberg enough to make Liege challenge disappear

A lone Kasper Dolberg strike in the 28th minute of their Group G encounter with Standard Liège was enough to see Ajax make it two wins from two in group play in the UEFA Europa League reports Steven Davies.

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Following an indifferent performance against Panathinaikos that nonetheless yielded all three points from a tricky trip to Greece, former four time European Champions, Ajax welcomed Belgian side Standard Liege to the Amsterdam ArenA on the back of a six game winning streak that has seen Peter Bosz’s charges reassert themselves into the title picture in the Eredivisie while also recording wins in both domestic and continental cup competitions.

Peter Bosz named a largely unchanged side from the weekend victory over PEC Zwolle –the inclusion of Serbian international, Nemanja Gudelj at the expense of Hakim Ziyech being the only change for the hosts – Chelsea loanee, Bertrand Traore continuing on the right with Kasper Dolberg preferred once again down the middle of the front three while Daley Sinkgraven was again deployed at left back.

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Recently appointed Standard Liege coach, Aleksandar Jankovic named the same starting eleven that had begun the 2016 Belgian Cup winners’ 3-0 win over Eupen on Sunday – a line-up that included a return for former Ajax midfielder, Eyong Enoh who spent six years in Amsterdam and was a part of two title winning sides under former coach, Frank de Boer while also lifting the KNVB Beker under Martin Jol in 2010.

In front of a sparse yet vocal crowd, it was the visitors who were out of the blocks the quickest – Benito Raman, high on confidence – having netted in each of his last three games in all competitions, flashing a shot wide of Andre Onana’s right hand upright with just two minutes on the clock while Mathieu Dossevi tested the Cameroon international’s handling four minutes later.

The hosts gradually began to find their feet in the match and it was Traore – looking far more comfortable in his wider role, who carved the host’s first clean cut opportunity in front of goal – cutting in from the right before sidestepping two defenders and testing the handling of Catania loanee, Jean-Francois Gillet in the Liege nets with a low drive with twelve minutes gone.

The man on loan from Chelsea continued to pull the strings for the Amsterdam giants – playing a neat slide rule pass for Amin Younes who then fed Davy Klaassen – the Dutch international drawing a point bank save from the Liege ‘keeper just past the quarter hour before Dolberg worked the Standard glovesman with a neat headed flick on from the resultant corner from Gudelj.

The hosts, who tasted success in the UEFA Cup – the previous guise of the UEFA Europa League, in 1992, continued to turn up the pressure as the game neared the half way point of the first half – Colombian centre half, Davinson Sanchez – who bagged a brace in the weekend victory over PEC Zwolle, dragging an attempt from the edge of the visitor’s area wide of the mark.

The pressure told a couple of minutes short of the half hour mark when Traore picked up the ball from Gudelj on half way before finding Dolberg, who evaded the attentions of Standard skipper, Adrien Trebel – whose wayward pass Gudelj had initially intercepted, before slotting the ball past Gillet for the 18-year-old, Dane’s sixth goal of the season to give the hosts a deserved lead.

The hosts should have extended their lead a minute before the half time break when Traore cut in from the right, finding Klaassen on the edge of the Standard area whose perfect one touch pass found goal scorer, Dolberg who attempted to return the favour as Gillet rushed out to narrow the Dane’s angle of opportunity –Klaassen being beaten to the punch on the line by Cameroonian defender, Collins Fai who cleared the danger to keep the visitors in the game.

Following a quiet opening to the second stanza, the visitors unexpectedly almost found themselves on level terms when a miscommunication between centre half, Nick Viergever and Onana sent the Cameroonian stopper scrambling – managing to stick out a leg to avoid a calamitous own goal twelve minutes after the resumption.

But the Ajax ‘keeper was off his line smartly in the 67th minute to deny Dossevi a goal scoring opportunity when, following a flick on from Algerian target man, Ishak Belfodil, the Togo international had found himself in acres of space at the back post.

The host’s awoke from their slumber as the game entered the final twenty minutes – Nemanja Gudelj sending a free kick from just outside the area inches wide of Gillet’s right hand post with eighteen minutes to play.

Three minutes later, substitute Mateo Cassierra broke free and teed up his captain who in turn laid the ball on for an onrushing Younes whose shot was deflected wide of Gillet’s left hand upright from just inside the area.

Despite time rapidly running out for the visitors, the game was by no means safe for de Godenzonen – just a minute later Standard substitute, Jean-Luc Dompe cut in from the left and burned off the attentions of Dutch international, Joel Veltman before seeing his goal-bound shot blocked by Sinkgraven

Then, with six minutes remaining, Isaac Mbenza picked up the ball on the edge of the Ajax area and bent a wicked curling effort onto Onana’s left hand upright with the home ‘keeper well beaten.

The game continued to seesaw from one end to the other when the hosts again threatened to make the game safe in the 89th minute – substitute, Jairo Riedewald threading an incisive ball through the centre of the visitor’s defence into the path of Cassierra but Gillet was quickly off his line to clear up the danger on the edge of his area.

Then, just seconds after the Colombian forward had fluffed an attempted volley from just outside the box, following a cushioned header from fellow substitute, Anwar El Ghazi, into the grateful hands of Gillet, the visitors threatened to snatch a point from the jaws of defeat – Dompe seeing his right-footed curling effort from just outside the area clawed out of the top left hand corner by Onana in the third minute of stoppage time.

However, try as they might, the visitors couldn’t force a breakthrough and, with six points from six in UEFA Europa League group play, Peter Bosz’s charges next face a trip to Spain to face Celta Vigo on 20th October.

Man of the Match: Bertrand Traore


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