Patience is the key for Ajax’s latest crop of young guns

Ajax’s 5-1 demolition of NEC Nijmegen on Saturday night saw them draw level on points with Eredivisie leaders Feyenoord for the first time since the season began.

The rout was the Amsterdam side’s 10th win in an unbeaten league run of 14 games, stretching back to the 11th of December.

In fact, it was their 22nd win of a season that has seen them lose just twice.

But ultimately, Ajax face a third consecutive season of the runners-up blues – this after famously winning four titles on the bounce under Frank de Boer.

Feyenoord, chasing their first title in 18 seasons, hold a one-point lead and most of the aces.

 

Interestingly, with 72 points in the bag already, ‘the Lancers’ have already eclipsed their points total for their last title winning season of 2013/14 and will surely surpass the 76-point high water mark of their other three recent Eredivisie successes.

In fact, if they can win their four remaining games, they will equal PSV Eindhoven’s 84-point league winning tally of last season. And yet, Ajax look set to fall agonisingly short again.

The rise in the points totals required to secure the Eredivisie title since Ajax last won it is a testament to how their traditional rivals have upped their own standards in recent seasons.

Phillip Cocu certainly worked wonders in turning around PSV’s fortunes and delivering them back-to-back titles in 2015 and 2016, their first in seven years.

And now Giovanni von Bronckhurst looks set to repeat the trick at Feyenoord, bridging a much greater gap for the men from Holland’s second city.

Feyenoord have actually lost one more game than Ajax, but it’s the fact the Peter Bosz’s boys have drawn twice as many games as their title rivals – six to Feyenoord’s three – that looks like preventing them nicking the title.

This will have a familiar ring to it for Ajax fans – they lost the title to PSV last season by virtue of the fact that they drew just one more game than the champions.

That said, they shouldn’t be too downcast. Still learning, still growing – their dashing side looks to be the coming team.

Their burgeoning potential was there for all to see in the recent Der Klassieker – where Ajax completely outclassed the league leaders.

The 2-1 scoreline was flattering on the visitors, who only scored deep into injury time and could easily have lost by five or six.

But if their football is eye-catching, then Ajax’s age profile is eye-popping. Against Feyenoord, Justin Kluivert and Brazilian Devid Neres lit up the Amsterdam Arena – they are 17 and 20, respectively.

And they did so in a game where top scorer Kasper Dolberg, who is just 19, did not even figure.

Incredibly, the average age of the side that destroyed Nijmegen on Saturday evening, where 24-year-old Moroccan playmaker Hakim Zyech was simply electric, was a tender 21!

Compare that to experienced nature of the Feyenoord side with an average age of 28 that put eight past hapless Go Ahead Eagles in midweek.

For the Rotterdam side, and aging players like Dirk Kuyt, Eljero Elia and Karim El Ahmadi, you feel it’s this year or bust.

With Ajax, you feel if it’s not this season, it’ll be next and probably the one after that, provided they can keep their talent out of the clutches of Europe’s big guns.

For now, Feyenoord remain in the hot seat. Although only a single point separates them from Ajax after their 2-2- draw with PEC Zwolle on Sunday, a superior goal difference and the fact that they face no other distractions could well tip the scales in their favour.

Their destiny is in their own hands, and their devastating midweek response to their Der Kalssieker disappointment and their gritty fightback from two down at the weekend suggests they are in no mood to let things slip.

Ajax, by contrast, also have the small matter of a Europa League quarter final with Schalke to negotiate this month, and they face a potentially season-defining trip to third-placed PSV Eindhoven on the 23rd.

Cocu’s men have not given up on claiming the runner’s up spot and the vital Champions League berth that goes with it.

Any Ajax slip up at the Philips Stadion will surely have them rocking in Rotterdam.

Author Details

Paul Little

Freelance football columnist. European Football with the Irish Daily Star. Hold the Back Page podcast regular. Family and Renaissance Man. Dublin born, Wicklow resident.

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