It has been a tough last couple weeks for Ajax Amsterdam and their fans. After a promising start to their season which saw them open with a 3-0 win at the Amsterdam ArenA against Roda JC, followed two weeks later with a 2-1 win in the Klassieker against Feyenoord, they have hit a rough patch.
The troubles began on August 23rd, with a 3-3 tie in Friesland against Heerveneen. While Abe Lenstra Stadion is considered one of the toughest venues in the Eredivisie, Ajax had many opportunities to come away with three points. They opened the game with a 2-0 lead inside of 15 minutes, yet ended up going down 3-2 in the second half before a late Christian Eriksen strike saw them go level to save a point.
It was announced soon after that Christian Eriksen would be leaving Amsterdam for Tottenham Hotspur of the EPL. While it was unlikely Eriksen would stay at Ajax longterm, it was still a blow to to see Eriksen leave in the fashion he did, for a non-Champions League side, so close to the transfer deadline.
In addition to poor recent domestic performances, Ajax was drawn into what many consider to be the toughest Champions League group. Ajax is joined by the likes of Barcelona, AC Milan and Celtic in Group H.
Just when Ajax fans assumed it could not get any worse, their stalwart of a center back, Belgian international Toby Alderweireld left Ajax for Atletico Madrid.
In the first mach without Eriksen and Alderweireld Ajax tied Groningen away 1-1 to drop them to 4th in the table with 8 points after 5 matches played. Not exactly where Ajax expected to be after 5 matches played this season.
However, things seem to be getting better for the Amsterdammers. Before the transfer deadline, Ajax was able to sign playmaker Lerin Duarte from Heracles Almelo, whom director Marc Overmars and Ajax had been following for quite some time. While a replacement for Eriksen such as Adam Maher or Marco van Ginkel would have been preferred, neither option came to fruition, as Maher moved to PSV from AZ earlier this summer and Chelsea refused Ajax’s loan inquiries. In addition to Duarte, Ajax get their heart, soul, and captain back in the form of Siem de Jong. Siem de Jong is now back to full training after suffering a collapsed lung.
In terms of fixtures things do not get much easier for Ajax, who’s next three matches see them play league leaders PEC Zwolle at the ArenA this weekend, followed by their Champions League opener against Barcalona at Campu Nou on Wednesday. The following weekend sees them travel south to the province of North Brabant to take on PSV at the Phillips Stadion.
This tough slate of fixtures comes at a good time for Ajax. The recent international break has given Ajax some much needed time to get healthy. Along with Siem de Jong, defender Daley Blind, who has been nursing a sore groin, and outside back Ricardo van Rhijn (ankle) are back for Ajax.The international break saw also saw winger Viktor Fischer play well for Denmark, and striker Kolbeinn Sigthorsson score for Iceland. Two of Ajax’s key players in the attacking third. An unseen advantage it provided was giving Frank de Boer a chance to re-evaluate his squad and decide what young players will be of essential importance going forward. While Ajax did sign Duarte, a product of Sparta Rotterdam’s youth system, the lack of other signings might have less to do with Overmars frugality and more with the confidence he has that de toekomst is producing some class talents.
Ajax will learn quickly whether they have truly weathered the storm. Luckily, they get PEC Zwolle at home in an attempt to get the ship back on course before heading to Catalonia for a match that football fans worldwide have been enthusiastically anticipating.