Charlie Pritchard is back with his weekly Eredivisie column, looking back at the major talking points from the weekend’s action.

Hakim Ziyech announced his return to form yesterday afternoon with a 10 out of 10 performance at the Johan Cruyff ArenA. In his first league start for over a month, the Moroccan was spellbinding, terrifying the De Graafschap defenders until his withdrawal in the 72nd minute. Ziyech had missed a handful of matches due to injury but returned to the fold last week as Ajax drew 3-3 to FC Bayern Munich in the Champions League.

Yesterday’s game provided the perfect platform for the forward to kick into gear and announce his return. He grabbed himself a hat-trick and provided an assist for Ajax’s opening goal courtesy of Dušan Tadić. Ziyech could have had more, forcing debuting Graafschap goalkeeper Agil Etemadi into a series of good saves. If his team-mates’ finishes were slightly better, Ziyech could also have had a hat-trick of assists, laying on chances for Matthijs de Ligt and Kasper Dolberg.

Aside from the stats, Ziyech was simply a joy to watch. At times, he danced around the Graafschap defenders like a kid toying with his inferior peers in a school playground. His two long-range strikes in the second half were executed as if he was conducting shooting practice. He left Etemadi flat-footed with two excellent strikes which arrowed precisely where he intended them to. Ziyech essentially captured everything good about Ajax’s all-round performance. “It was fun and wonderful to watch,” trainer Erik ten Haag declared.

Ziyech was not the only player taking home a match-ball. Daley Blind not only scored his first goal since returning to Amsterdam last summer, but also netted his second and third since his transfer from Manchester United. Blind’s first was the pick of his goals, thumping a trademark left-footed strike in off the bar from over 25 yards out. Blind’s second and third goals were more akin to striker’s finishes. The defender was afforded an embarrassing amount of time and space by De Graafschap’s defenders. 

Blind’s hat-trick demonstrated the utter dominance Ajax had over De Graafschap from back to front. Right-back Noussair Mazraoui’s curling left-footed finish sent Ajax 2-0 up, his first league goal of the season. Nico Tagliafico was unlucky not to get on the scoresheet as his early effort was kept out by Etemadi. Most telling was De Ligt’s involvement in Ajax’s impressive attacking play. De Ligt had the most touches of any Ajax player in the Graafschap penalty area during the first half, a telling indication of the Amsterdammers’ complete superiority.

Ajax led 3-0 at half-time, recording 19 attempts on goal. However, De Graafschap could feasibly have taken the lead when Daryl van Mieghem raced in on goal from an Ajax corner. The hosts had committed almost every player to the Graafschap half and when the ball broke for Van Mieghem, he bared down on André Onana. However, his lack of pace and composure thwarted the visitors and his tame effort was kept out comfortably by Onana.

Even if Van Mieghem had scored, it would have been a stay of execution for De Graafschap. De Graafschap trainer Henk de Jong admitted this, claiming that his team were powerless in stopping Ajax. “No matter what we did, whether we played with seven or eight defenders, we were in a rondo and were not out of the middle,” De Jong declared. “I hoped that the clock would start ticking faster but unfortunately that was not the case.”

Ajax are clearly now enjoying the title race against league leaders PSV Eindhoven. It has become clear in recent weeks that with qualification to the last 16 of the Champions League, where Real Madrid await, that Ten Hag’s team have plenty to be positive about. “We stay eager and stimulate ourselves,” Blind said after the game. “It is not that we stop at 3-0. We continue to attack, pressurise and search for more goals.” Ten Hag demanded more from his players not so long ago but now there is a ruthlessness to Ajax.

Perhaps the only negative after thought from yesterday’s victory is regarding Dolberg. The Dane laid on Blind’s second goal but hardly contributed to the goal-fest. There is no doubting the Dane’s talents but Ten Hag will reflect upon his failure to grab a goal yesterday. What is not in doubt is that Ziyech is back and raring to go for Part Two of Ajax’s title push.

Ajax take a trip to De Kuip to play Feyenoord and travel to Almelo to take on Heracles in their first two away matches after the break. They will be tough tests but Ajax victories will surely result in the title race going down to the wire. Before all that, Ten Hag must ready his players for the visit to in-form FC Utrecht next Sunday. If Ajax get all three points, the second half of the season promises to be even more enthralling than it already has been.

Talking Points

Increasing optimism at De Kuip comes crashing to a halt as Sittard stun Feyenoord.

“The good feeling we have been growing in the last few weeks is gone now,” Feyenoord trainer Gio van Bronckhorst lamented last night. He had just seen his team succumb 2-0 to newly-promoted Fortuna Sittard in a shock home defeat. The Rotterdammers had lost for the first time since their poor show in Amsterdam against Ajax on Matchday 10, ending a five-match winning run. It was Feyenoord’s first home defeat since PSV beat them 3-1 last February. “We were not creative enough today,”Feyenoord winger Steven Berghuis bemoaned. “The team had a good feeling about the last few weeks. We had started to play better and better.”

Sittard were brilliant at De Kuip, hurrying and harrying the hosts, creating many good chances. Jordy Clasie was forced off with an injury for the second half and Sittard swarmed forward with a real threat. Andrija Novakovich was terrific up front for Sittard and he set up their first goal. The American cut the ball back to Lars Hutten who expertly whipped his shot away from Justin Bijlow for 1-0. Bijlow made another important save soon after but Feyenoord grew back into the game. Robin van Persie was brought on by Van Bronckhorst as Feyenoord searched for the equaliser. However, chances wouldn’t fall perfectly for the striker as he looked to rekindle his partnership with Berghuis.

Ultimately, Sittard’s Ahmed El Messaoudi killed the game off in stoppage time. The substitute shuffled around the Feyenoord box and found just enough space to swing a shot past Bijlow. Van Bronckhorst deemed the loss a hefty blow heading into the winter break. “In advance, I told the boys: everything we have accomplished already has gone as soon as the first whistle sounds,” he told FOX Sports. “You have to show it every time. We have failed in that sense today. We never throw in the towel. But we make it difficult for ourselves. We were not in the game at all.”

Bergwijn draws comparison with Romário with wonderful solo goal in Almelo.

Valentijn Driessen of De Telegraaf was quick to laud Steven Bergwijn after yet another magnificent individual performance. “Bergwijn is reminiscent of Romário at PSV,” Driessen wrote as PSV humbled Heracles 4-0 in Almelo. Bergwijn latched onto Jorrit Hendrix’s defence-splitting pass and finished with aplomb. Although Stephen Sama caught up with the flying Dutchman, Bergwijn dragged the ball back and poked past Janis Blaswich.

“The development of Stevie is faster than normal with a talent of his age,” PSV trainer Mark van Bommel gladly noted. “He is a player who is very consciously involved with his development and knows where to run, when to receive the ball and read between the lines.” It was a comfortable Saturday evening for PSV on the whole. Luuk de Jong nodded Erik Gutíerrez’s corner into the path of Daniel Schwaab who finished from close range to give PSV a two goal lead going into half-time.

Heracles’ woes continued as Jesper Drost was sent off for a studs-up challenge on Pablo Rosario in the second half. PSV took advantage of the extra man as Denzel Dumfries rose to head in his third goal of the season. Although Gaston Pereiro missed a stoppage-time penalty, the Uruguayan scored another header for PSV to make it 4-0. Lennart Czyborra’s red card for handballing on the line reduced Heracles to nine men in the dying moments. Heracles are now enduring a torrid run with just one win in their last seven matches. They have shipped 16 goals in the process and have fallen from 4th to 7th in a matter of weeks.

FC Utrecht blow Heerenveen away in another blistering first-half display.

Heerenveen have won just once at home this season. Their woes at the Abe Lenstra Stadion continued yesterday as they fell victim to yet another fast start by FC Utrecht. The visitors raced into a 3-0 half-time lead, a typical story of recent weeks under Dick Advocaat.

Heerenveen have the third worst home record so far this season and have now conceded 21 goals in eight matches in front of their own fans. Their fortunes mark a distinct contrast to Utrecht’s. Since Matchday Six, Utrecht have lost just once, winning seven of their last ten league matches. Their run of form is currently the third best in the league, behind only Ajax and PSV.

Yesterday afternoon in Friesland, Utrecht were so clinical. They converted all three of their shots on target and the half-time deficit they inflicted on Heerenveen proved unassailable. Gyrano Kerk extended his brilliant goal-scoring run as he netted for the fourth league game in a row. Kerk smashed a near-post strike through the legs of Warner Hahn who should have done better. Emil Bergström’s header from Oussama Tannane’s corner had sent Utrecht into an early lead on 14 minutes.

Tannane had a day to remember, scoring his first of the season to add to his early assist for Bergström. Simon Gustafson picked the Moroccan out to the left of the Heerenveen box and Tannane thumped a left-footed shot past Hahn’s near post. Heerenveen hit back through Michel Vlap and Pelle van Amsersfoort but Utrecht held out for another victory. 

Charlie Pritchard (9 Posts)