Charlie Pritchard is back with his weekly column looking at the weekends Eredivisie action.

Ajax were far from their sparkling best against PEC Zwolle on Saturday night. Despite securing a 4-1 away win from home, Erik ten Hag’s men somewhat struggled for rhythm on the artificial pitch in Overijssel. Ten Hag, Lasse Schöne and Matthijs de Ligt all came out after the match and criticised the pitch in light of Donny van de Beek André Onana’s injuries.

PEC Zwolle deserve credit for a battling display, their tactics to disrupt Ajax working during large phases of the match. They could have got something from the game after a mixed first half, but as expected, Ajax ultimately came through. However, the game was all about Ajax’s shining star Frenkie de Jong. 

De Jong scored Ajax’s second goal midway through the first half, feinting one way, then the other as he bared down on the PEC defence. He proceeded to cut inside, whipping a glorious curling finish across the ground and into the bottom right corner. He dribbled with such confidence, deceiving PEC’s defenders as he glided towards goal. De Jong came across the ball beautifully, finding the net with deadly accuracy. 

After a pre-match build-up which centered around questions about his future, De Jong was glad to respond with a decisive goal. “I was looking for the shot,” De Jong said. “Fortunately, I scored. It was a little busy around me in recent days, you feel like you are being watched more. Maybe I wanted to show something more than usual, that I can play football.”

De Jong let his feet do the talking after a week of conjecture linking him with a move away from Amsterdam. Gossip turned confirmation last Thursday De Telegraaf reported that De Jong was on his way to PSG. A €75 million transfer fee is set to be accepted by Ajax next summer. What became clear on Saturday was that De Jong may be worth every penny. He was classy on a night when Ajax were slovenly. Dick Sintenie of Het Parool said Ajax were “sloppy and uninspiring” during phases of the match in the face of PEC’s aggressiveness.

On Saturday, De Jong took it upon himself to and get a goal, grabbing the headlines for his endeavours on the pitch. With two goals and one assist in 22 appearances in all competitions this season, De Jong’s strengths clearly lie in his ability to keep the ball and to pass the ball. He looks after the ball and has superb dribbling ability, manipulating the tempo of a game as opposed to operating as a traditional goal-getting, assist-providing Number 10.

How De Jong aspires to play the game is reminiscent of Andrés Iniesta, a man who needs no introduction. The way Iniesta would play, twisting and turning from deep and then bursting into space, is more the kind of midfielder De Jong could be.

Robby Hendricks worked closely with De Jong at Under-11 and Under-13 level at Willem II He loves watching De Jong at Ajax and talks about him being more of a deep-lying midfield playmaker. “His running actions and assumptions were always in space so that the opponent never came close to him,” Hendricks told De Telegraaf. “He was seen as a great talent, was pushed into the light.”

Nonetheless, the manner in which De Jong created and executed his goal on Saturday night illustrates how well he can capitalise from midfield attacking bursts. It demonstrated perhaps a personal sense of having to prove a point. We saw a different side to him as he scored against PEC.

De Jong has shown why he is vital to Ajax’s prospects looking ahead to the rest of the season. Ajax fans must savour the midfielder while they can. “Everything is still open,” De Jong admitted. “One thing is certain. I definitely do not leave in the winter.” Although the signs are ominous, De Jong will be desperate to leave Ajax on a high note, ideally helping the club overcome PSV to lift the Eredivisie title for the first time since 2014.

In Zwolle, Ajax went 1-0 up when Dušan Tadić’s heavy touch in the box was pounced upon by Klaas-Jan Huntelaar with an intuitive finish. De Jong added his sublime second only for PEC to get one back before half-time when Zian Fleming headed against the bar, cannoning inadvertently off Ajax’s Schöne.

The Dane made amends just before the 70th minute when he met Tadić’s floating corner with a well-taken volley, too powerful for Mickey van der Hart in goal. Defensive disorganisation resulted in Ajax’s fourth goal. De Jong flicked the ball up to Zakaria Labyad, who then found Tadić. The Serbian proceeded to calmy chip the ball over Van der Hart to make it 4-1.

Injuries to Van de Beek and goalkeeper Onana may be concerning moving forward. Van de Beek had to leave the pitch with a knee injury after half an hour. Onana suffered a hamstring strain ten minutes later. With Kasper Dolberg suffering a knee injury of his own, the return of Hakim Ziyech will be welcomed by Ten Hag as Ajax host FC Bayern Munich tomorrow evening. Mike Verweij for De Telegraaf summed it up rather well: “Tadić completed the Amsterdam party but it was temporary joy for Ajax, because today the physical damage was made.”

                                              Talking Points 

• Debutant Kökcu stakes claim as Feyenoord fend off FC Emmen.

Gio van Bronckhorst rightly believes that his Feyenoord team are getting better and better. Not only does their league position (3rd) reflect this, seven points behind leaders PSV Eindhoven, but the way the Rotterdammers are playing is constantly improving. In their 4-1 away win against FC Emmen on Sunday afternoon Feyenoord had to be patient. Once they broke through the hosts’ defence they began playing some wonderful, incisive football.

“Compared to a few weeks ago there is now more dynamism and joy in the team,” van Bronckhorst affirmed midweek. That was plain to see in Drenthe as Steven Berghuis and Tonny Vilhena rose to the challenge for Feyenoord. Berghuis hit a well-struck volley, glancing off J-A van der Heijden who claimed the first goal after an hour. Berghuis missed a penalty but made amends to make it 2-0 when he sumptuously controlled the ball in the box, nutmegging Keziah Veendorp and lashing the ball past Kjell Scherpen in goal.

Two of Feyenoord’s best players in their 2-1 victory at home to PSV on Matchday 14, Jeremiah St. Juste and Jens Toornstra, were forced off with first-half injuries (rib and hamstring respectively). Of the substitutes, debutant Orkun Kökcu dazzled. With Emmen having pegged Feyenoord back to just a 2-1 lead after 70 minutes, Kökcu restored Feyenoord’s two-goal advantage with a decisive strike. Berghuis glided down the right and cut the ball back to Kökcu, calmly sliding the ball home.

The young Dutchman rose to the occasion and was again key in creating Feyenoord’s fourth. He slalomed into the penalty area and found Vilhena who was tripped and won a penalty. Vilhena then converted the spot-kick to finish Emmen off. “This is what we wanted,” Van Bronckhorst declared with glee. “It was an excellent week for us,” he concluded. The 4-1 victory over VVV Venlo in last Thursday’s rescheduled match at De Kuip was also hugely important. 

PSV respond to first league defeat of the season as they hit Excelsior for six.

“There is no sudden panic. You do not win 13 in a row for nothing. Feyenoord is a game that you can lose.” Berry van Aerle is a PSV legend and he knows exactly what it takes to be in an impervious team. In 1987/88, Van Aerle was part of a PSV team which won 17 matches in a row. After the run ended with a 2-2 draw against FC Twente, PSV responded by thrashing FC Den Haag 9-1. “If PSV win 9-1, everything is forgotten and forgiven,” Van Aerle said. 

It was not quite nine, but six will do nicely for Mark van Bommel and his team. The PSV trainer vowed that he wouldn’t ever change after defeat at De Kuip. “I will always protect my players,” Van Bommel stoically proclaimed. PSV went about their business on Friday as they had done all season before losing in Rotterdam. Angeliño dominated the left flank and found Luuk de Jong for PSV’s first after seventeen minutes.

Two Excelsior own goals arrived in between De Jong’s strike and Donyell Malen’s 80th minute goal as the match settled. PSV hit their stride in the last fifteen minutes as Erik Gutierrez began creating in midfield. Steven Bergwijn finally executed his trademark move, blistering through the defence and unleashing an unstoppable strike past Sonny Stevens. Some terrific work from Malen on the left created De Jong’s tap-in for 6-0. 

• FC Utrecht up to fourth with brilliant first half display at home to Heracles.

Urby Emanuelson was the star man on Sunday afternoon as FC Utrecht defeated Heracles 3-1. The 32-year old midfielder scored Utrecht’s third goal after just twenty minutes, the hosts racing into an unassailable lead. After just four minutes, Simon Gustafson scored a penalty following Maximilian Rossmann’s foul on Timo Letschert. Gyrano Kerk scored a thundering second when his strike flew past a stunned Janis Blaswich after eighteen minutes.

Yet it was Emanuelson who impressed the most, his volley shortly after Kerk’s strike the pick of the goals. Utrecht held on to their strong lead and ultimately ran out 3-1 victors. “The trainer wants me to play a lot,” the Emanuelson said after the game. “He keeps pushing me despite my age to get the best out of me.”

Advocaat has done a thoroughly good job at Utrecht since his appointment in September, taking them up to 4th. Utrecht are also scoring a lot of goals now and there is plenty to be optimistic about moving forward. “Urby has already had fantastic career,” Advocaat claimed. “He is 32 and can still do a lot for Utrecht. We are happy he is with us and if you see how he plays the game, then that is great for the team. It stimulates the boys.”

Emanuelson is now assuming the responsibility to lead Utrecht forward. “I’ve never really been a leader, but I think it’s nice to help the other boys with my experience,” the Dutchman continued. “Advocaat does not do crazy things, but keeps it simple and provides clarity. Despite his age and that he has been around for so long, he is still fanatical.”

Charlie Pritchard (9 Posts)