Charlie Pritchard takes a look back at Ajax’s 3-0 victory over Feyenoord last weekend and the De Klassieker’s effect on the title race. 

Erik ten Hag’s Ajax effortlessly dispatched of Gio van Bronckhorst’s Feyenoord last Sunday with a 3-0 victory in a truly one-sided affair. The result was effectively in no doubt after five minutes when Feyenoord right-back Jeremiah St. Juste was sent off for a stamp on Nicolás Tagliafico.

The first period saw Ajax carve open chance after chance, with the breakthrough arriving in the 22nd minute when Frenkie de Jong’s shot was fumbled by Justin Bijlow, the ball trickling in from under his legs. Hakim Ziyech’s curled effort make it 2-0 and Dušan Tadić added the third and final goal of the game with ten minutes left to play.

Yet there was a sense that Ajax failed to hit top gear in this historic fixture. Overall, Ten Hag’s side were unsuccessful in telling us anything we didn’t already know about their prospects for title contention. Their build-up play was measured and easy on the eye, but at times lacked the incisive edge that Mark van Bommel’s PSV Eindhoven side boasts, for example. Indeed, Ajax scored three times, but there was a strange feeling that this was not indicative of their dominance in the match.

Ten Hag said after the game “you have to make more goals” against ten men, even when those men play for a team the stature of Feyenoord. Ten Hag’s side ultimately failed to make a genuine statement in De Klassieker despite the convincing manner of their victory over their Rotterdam rivals.

Ajax trail Eredivisie leaders PSV by five points after ten matches so far this season. They have conceded the same number of goals [four] but PSV have won all of their matches so far, hitting the back of the net ten more times than Ajax. When the two teams met in September, PSV swept Ajax aside 3-0 at the Philips Stadion with three goals arriving in quick succession during a captivating first half for the hosts.

PSV edged past Groningen on Matchday 10 to maintain their 100% start to the season building upon a gritty 2-2 draw against Tottenham Hotspur in Eindhoven.

Going back to De Klassieker, the fixture ultimately failed to live up to its fabled billing. The stupidity of St. Juste was a source of profound frustration for Van Bronckhorst, who admitted post-match that his defender’s dismissal effectively killed the game. The Feyenoord trainer said that he was “angry” with St. Juste and that “you have to play with your mind” to win these big football matches.

Van Bronckhorst has failed to defeat Ajax either during his playing or coaching career, and it may be a long time still until he can enjoy such a feat and stop the rot against the Amsterdammers.

Van Bronckhorst set his team up against Ajax to nullify their attacking pre-eminence, focusing on midfield disruption instead of wide attacking play, starting Jens Toornstra over Sam Larsson. Van Bronckhorst also demanded more defensively from Steven Berghuis, evidenced by the winger’s tracking back. However, Berghuis went too far in trying to obey Van Bronckhorst’s orders, picking up a fourteenth-minute booking after a foul on Frenkie de Jong, hacking the Dutch star unashamedly to disrupt Ajax’s rhythm.

Feyenoord midfielder Jordy Clasie admitted to FOX Sports after the match, “maybe we were too aggressive”. Feyenoord certainly were destructive, setting a precedent in the first ten minutes that they were not coming to Amsterdam to match Ajax pass-for-pass. Clasie also maintained: “It was no longer a match after the red card”, echoing the sentiment of the majority who watched the latest Klassieker.

Referee Björn Kuipers not only punished Feyenoord’s players for their hostility but stated post-match: “I expected that there would be fierce play [from Feyenoord]. Ajax is, of course, a beautiful football team that can be stopped in this way. But that was the other side of the coin”.

Ajax were indeed attractive in possession in the latest edition of De Klassieker. However, they left many of their fans wanting more, and trainer Ten Hag was frustrated with his team’s failure to score more goals than their three. In response to a game which began to drift away from Feyenoord, Ten Hag substituted the enterprising David Neres on for the controlling midfield man Lassa Schöne at the beginning of the second half looking to add some stimulus into Ajax’s offensive play and take advantage of the Rotterdam outfit’s shortcomings.

Neres provided attacking vigour for Ajax’s third goal, slicing his way down the right-hand side, checking back in the penalty box and floating his ball into the direction of Tadić, who powerfully headed past Bijlow. Nonetheless, De Telegraaf identified Ajax as “sloppy and unconcentrated in the second half”. Of course, this was because Feyenoord were in no feasible position to be dangerous going forward and were thus unable to win their first match at the Johan Cruyff Arena since 2005, perhaps contributing to Ajax’s contentment for the rest of the match.

De Telegraaf also echoed the sense of unfulfillment that pervaded from Sunday’s Klassieker, noting that Ajax demonstrated a complacency during the 85 minutes following St. Juste’s sending off. De Telegraaf noted: “Ajax played at too low a pace and seemed to be easy going”, which could be a reference to the contrasting style of fellow title-challengers PSV, who have punished teams for hapless performances with six or seven goals at times this season.

Feyenoord reinforced their position as the third best team in the division. If Ajax had been more clinical, Sunday’s game would have been the most chastening in modern Klassieker history for Feyenoord. Indeed, Ajax had 28 attempts on goal, with ten on target, but overall the match told us nothing new about either team.

Feyenoord are well coached, but in an attacking sense remain too reliant on their captain Robin van Persie who will retire at the end of the season. With 20 goals scored this season, their goal-tally pales in comparison to PSV, who have struck almost twice as many. Heracles, who sit 4th and are level on points with Feyenoord, have scored four more goals than the Rotterdammers, a far better watch this season. Furthermore, Feyenoord have conceded 13 goals in the league this season, more than Europa League hopefuls Vitesse, and VVV Venlo and Utrecht.

The season is just under a third of the way through its length, so there is still plenty to play for. Ajax, despite their shortcomings, are the primary rival to PSV for the title and have played some sumptuous and lethal attacking football so far. The abilities of captain Matthijs de Ligt and midfielder protege De Jong are huge positives for Ten Hag, with Daley Blind and Schöne providing key experience to the starting XI. It is hoped that as Kasper Dolberg returns to goal-scoring form with a long run of games after an injury and that Ajax’s attacking line can continue to score at will and make further statements of their intent as the campaign rolls on.

What we learned from De Klassieker was that Feyenoord continues to be flaky in many areas, Ajax are manipulative in possession but must be clinical in big matches, and that the title race we can expect this season, if we did not know it already, will be of two horses.

This weekend in Matchday 11 of the Eredivisie, Ajax host a Willem II side without a win in seven, Feyenoord host a solid and in-form VVV Venlo side who currently sit 6th place, and PSV host the Vitesse Arnhem, whom they have beaten in their last nine meetings in the league. With a win on Saturday, PSV will make Eredivisie history by winning an eleventh straight game, a testament to the exceptional work of Van Bommel and co. so far this season.

Charlie Pritchard (9 Posts)