With top place of Europa League group G already in the bag, manager Peter Bosz selected a much-altered squad for the match against Standard Liege. A match with little consequence for the team, but a golden opportunity for out-of-favour players.
Ajax kicked off for a short stint at the beginning of the match, until a select few of the travelling Ajax fans decided to throw flares onto the pitch and into the crowd. As much as it’s nice to see passion from the fans, this is not the way to show it, and a disappointing show from our travelling fans.
After a short break to clear the pitch, the game got underway in the smoke. It was Standard who had kept themselves awake in the break, with Jean-Luc Dompe’s shot saved by Boer. De Ligt had his own chance at the other end, but the 17-year old’s header looped over the bar.
Standard, needing a win to progress along with Ajax, were definitely on the front foot for the early parts of the match. The only shots of any true danger came from the Belgian side, though they couldn’t find a finishing touch. Ajax were happy to sit with possession, inviting their opponents to close down the ball before making any forward moves.
Ajax appeared to be unlucky not to go a goal ahead in the 25th minute, when Davy Klaassen’s header was cleared from what appeared to be behind the goal line. The officials thought otherwise, and the game continued.
The frustration didn’t last long, however, with an incredible half volley shot from Anwar El Ghazi, beating Hubert from the edge of the box. The winger, who has been in some form for Jong Ajax of late, saw the perfect opportunity to prove his quality, and took no chances. The assist came from Donny van de Beek, who had arguably been the best man on the pitch so far.
El Ghazi vs Standard pic.twitter.com/kKW1FagAD1
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Dompe came close to levelling the score with a long range shot, curling just wide of the left post. Kenny Tete picked up a yellow for putting his studs into Fiore’s ankle. The following free kick found itself in a dangerous area, but Ajax cleared it without issue.
Despite Standard needing the win to stand any chance of progressing to the knockout stages, the Belgian side were no match for Ajax in any part of the pitch. It wasn’t quite a dominant half from Ajax, but it was an easy one, and one moment of brilliance from El Ghazi gave them the lead into the second half.
Half Time Score: Standard Liege 0 – 1 Ajax
Anwar El Ghazi continued to terrorise the right wing as soon as the second half began. Just a minute into play he came close to doubling the lead. Fiore was having a torrid time handling him.
Standard responded with their own close attempt, with the ball fizzing through Ajax’s box, but nobody would get themselves onto the end. Enoh’s follow up shot was fascinatingly far from goal.
Nouri came agonisingly close to scoring his own wonder goal – picking up the ball in midfield, dancing through the Standard defence, and firing an impressive shot just wide.
Still in desperate need for a goal, Standard made a double change. Dompe came off for Benito Raman, while Fiore was swapped for Elderson Echiéjilé. Fiore more or less forced off before he picked up a red for his constant tussles with El Ghazi.
Mateo Cassierra had a fantastic opportunity to go two ahead, but goalkeeper Hubert beat him to the ball. Younes provided the inch perfect ball through the defence.
Standard were now looking stronger than they had so far in the match. Plenty of shots gave Boer much to think about, but none really challenged him or forced him to save. They were getting closer, however, and Ajax were at times struggling to keep them at bay.
Kasper Dolberg came on for Younes in the 66th minute.
With time running out for Standard’s chances in the Europa League, it was clear they had found another gear, as they were finally playing with the intensity with which they needed to start the game. Ajax were stuck in their own half, defending play after play from the Belgian side. For the first time, the one goal lead looked shallow.
Nouri had his second big chance go to waste, firing over the crossbar after an excellent bit of skill to get himself in a shooting position. Shortly after he was subbed for Hakim Ziyech.
Standard’s steam was just appearing to run out when they gave themselves a lifeline to stay in the competition. Geroux crossed in from the right wing, and Raman nodded it past Boer to bring it level. Too easy a goal for the Belgian side, but Ajax had been falling asleep, and the goal had been coming.
They left it late, but Standard found the form to dominate possession and control the game. Ajax came close to punishing them on the counter, but El Ghazi somehow failed to find the net when Ziyech put him one-on-one with the keeper.
The action came thick and fast in the final few minutes of the game, and Standard came close on a couple of occassions, but they couldn’t grab the win. Too little too late from the Belgian side, and they dropped out of the Europa League, while Ajax sailed through top of the group.
Full Time Score: Standard Liege 1 – 1 Ajax
Two very different halves of football, and moments of dominance from both teams. A wobbly end to the match for Ajax can’t take away the great performance to go top of the group and through to the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League.
Man of the Match: Donny van de Beek