After Feyenoord defeating Rotterdam rivals Sparta with 6-1, Ajax were up against FC Groningen in the title race. By winning, Ajax would not only keep up with the side from Rotterdam-Zuid but also have the chance to enlarge the gap with PSV, as the Eindhovenaren drew 0-0 against Roda on a freezing Saturday night.
Starting line-up Ajax:
Starting line-up Groningen:
Padt; Hateboer – Reijnen – Larsen – Van Nieff; Tibbling – Jenssen – Bacuna – Rusnak; Van Weert – Mahi.
After an impressive minute of silence for Chapecoense, Dolberg kicked off to start the game. An early long ball forward led to Mahi controlling the ball and putting it in Jenssen’ feet, the Norwegian’s shot being diverted wide. The following corner posed no danger.
A failed Groningen clearance on the edge of the box led to Ajax’ first chance, but Ziyech’s shot was blocked by Larsen and cleared further by Tibbling. Following the opportunity, Groningen were pushed back further into their own half, Ajax dominating possession as predicted.
In the 9th minute, a cross by Younes was fended off by Van Nieff, launching the ball perfectly into Schöne’s path. The experienced midfielder didn’t doubt for a second and volleyed it at goal, forcing a brilliant save from Padt. During the corner that followed, Groningen’s defence looked eerily vulnerable as Sanchez was allowed to head it into the back of the net within the 5-yard box. 1-0.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) December 4, 2016
After the goal, Ajax picked up the tempo and frequently pressurised the Groningen defence, providing chances for Younes, Van de Beek and Cerny. Not much later, Cerny tricked himself past Van Nieff with a sombrero, falling over after doing so and losing possession. Luckily for the Czech Republican, his error did not lead to a dangerous situation in front of Onana.
Strong defending from Sanchez stopped an impressive Groningen attack in the 20th minute, with Tibbling, Mahi and Jenssen combining their way through. The Colombian defender eventually managed to put a foot against the ball, fending off a dangerous situation. Younes, playing a stronger game than the last two, got past his direct opponent numerous times and it showed. His shots were, unfortunately, stopped by Padt though and his pass to Dolberg also didn’t lead to an assist, as the Danes fantastic effort was caught by the goalkeeper.
Late in the first half, Bacuna skipped past Ziyech in midfield and released a shot from outside of the box, which was blocked by Sanchez. After that move Bacuna made a ridiculous foul on Ziyech’s ankle, but the ball skipped forward and Cerny looked to be clear at goal. Referee Gözübüyük whistled it off though, returning to midfield to card the offender.
The last minutes of the first half, Ajax clearly let their foot of the gas and allowed Gronngen to get forward more; resulting in a few crosses across the box and some shots from distance. At the brink of half time, both fullbacks (Veltman and Sinkgraven) released shots at goal but they were of no threat to Padt.
Groningen conducted one substitution at half time, with Faber showing he had learned from a previous mistake as Bacuna, carrying a yellow, was taken off for Hiariej. The away side came out guns blazing, putting pressure on Ajax’ midfield and defence. Their biggest chance of the game up till then followed but Onana showed great responses as he handled the ball well, despite the whistle blowing for off-side.
Not much later, a free kick was awarded to Groningen and Yoell van Nieff lined up to take it. The left-footed defender released a thunderous kick which took Onana by surprise but, luckily, ended up hitting the post and pinging back into play, thus keeping the 1-0 lead alive in a periode of time where Ajax looked hapless and without any real drive to get forward.
After that huge chance for the visitors, Ajax came back to life and ventured forward quite a bit. On one instance Younes cut inside and curled a typical Younes-ball onto the top of the bar, leaving Padt petrified and Groningen wiping their foreheads in fear. Terribly bad luck for the German winger, who looked to play a fair bit better than past days.
On the other side of the pitch, Cerny was struggling against Van Nieff and didn’t play well at all; losing possession frequently and none of his runs really getting off. The youngster was eventually taken off to be replaced by Anwar El Ghazi, the winger whom marked his return to the first team squad after a months of exile at the Reserves. It sparked a bit of life back into the boring game, El Ghazi bringing pace and goal-mindedness to the side.
His incisive forward running led to a chance right away, being sent into space by Ziyech, but Anwar’s penalty calls weren’t rewarded. A few minutes later, the exact same situation came into play and Gözübüyük pointed towards the spot. Ziyech took charge of it and slotted the ball into the bottom right corner, making it 2-0.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) December 4, 2016
It could’ve been 2-1 soon again though, as in the following attack Groningen managed to catch the Ajax defence off-guard and combined freely on the left. The ball eventually ended up at Rusnak’s feet but luckily for Ajax, he wasn’t wearing his shooting boots on the night and skied the huge chance in front of Onana’s face.
During a corner kick, Viergever was man-handled by Reijnen and Gözübüyük awarded another penalty to Ajax, with Ziyech stepping up against. This time, his kick through the middle proved to be an easy prey for Padt though; the rebound that followed being saved yet again by the former Ajax-goalie as Van de Beek launched it at goal. At the end of the second half, Dijks was subbed in for the injured Sinkgraven (ankle) and Younes came off for Nouri as Ajax recorded yet another win.
FULL TIME SCORE: Ajax 2 – 0 FC Groningen
Despite scoring twice, Ajax weren’t playing the best football we’ve seen this season; quite often dropping back and leaving the ball up to Groningen during the second half of the game. Nevertheless, three points are three points and it means the gap with PSV is six now whilst we’ve managed to keep up with Feyenoord atop the table.
Man of the Match: Lasse Schöne