Ajax registered a third consecutive win over Feyenoord and continued the pressure on Eredivisie leaders PSV on Sunday.
A game of two halves, it looked as if both sides were going to share the spoils before the Amsterdammers took the game away from their fiercest rivals shortly after the interval.
It means Ajax, now under the auspices of Erik ten Hag, extended their current winning streak to five matches while Feyenoord’s championship aspirations are all but over.
So, with the 189th edition of De Klassieker now consigned to the history books, here are five things we learned.
Donny van de Beek: a man for big occasions
Both club’s are today renowned for their dedication to youth development. Ajax, in particular, fielded no fewer than four academy graduates in their starting line-up.
It goes without saying, fans enjoy seeing “one of their own” come through and subsequently doing well.
Of the quartet, one is fast-becoming a cult favourite with his own catchy chant (sang to the tune of ‘Give It Up’ by KC & The Sunshine Band), and for good reason. Donny van de Beek, who succeeded Davy Klaassen after their ex-
captain left for Everton last summer, is starting to build a reputation as a big-game player.
No matter how big the occasion, he’s seemingly in his element. In the Amsterdammers’ recent impressive 3-0 win over title rivals PSV he was here, there, and everywhere. That game also marked his most recent league goal (sixth of the season) before Feyenoord arrived in the Dutch capital.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) January 21, 2018
A game that had ‘stalemate’ written over it finally came to life in the 50th minute when Van de Beek timed his run into the penalty area well before slotting the ball under Brad Jones.
Van de Beek, who never fails to express a sense of honour at playing for the club he grew up supporting, immediately ran towards those behind the goal, enhancing his popularity in the process.
Feyenoord’s wait for a win in Amsterdam goes on
The run now stretches to 12 matches. You have to go back to August 2005, when the Eredivisie season was three matches old, for the last time Feyenoord left Amsterdam with all three points. On that day, the deadly ‘K2’ partnership – consisting of Salomon Kalou and Dirk Kuyt – were the difference.
Kuyt assisted Kalou for the opener after 16 minutes, before Kalou repaid Kuyt 31 minutes later to give them a two-goal lead. Angelos Charisteas, who’d leave Ajax the following year to join Feyenoord, pulled one back for the hosts but it didn’t lead to anything more.
Since that summer’s day, the Rotterdammers had few better chances to break the streak than was the case today. Minutes from the half-time break a ball from Jean-Paul Boëtius found Steven Berghuis inside the penalty area, but his powerful diving header wasn’t enough to beat André Onana as it came straight at him.
If he’d directed his effort either side of the Cameroonian goalkeeper then an often second-best Feyenoord side could have secured a morale-boosting win. Instead the Amsterdammers regrouped and put Giovanni van Bronckhorst’s men to the sword inside the opening 10 minutes of the second half.
Erik ten Hag’s successful baptism of fire
It doesn’t get any bigger for an incoming manager of Ajax or Feyenoord than to make their official debut in a Klassieker.
That is what Erik ten Hag, who swapped Utrecht for Amsterdam after the 33-time champions parted company with Marcel Keizer last month, was facing when the Eredivisie resumed this week.
The challenge, though, would have been a lot more daunting had it come at De Kuip instead of the Amsterdam ArenA (yet to be renamed after Johan Cruyff the club’s greatest son).
Inheriting a squad five points behind league-leaders PSV, it would have been foolish to make wholesale changes. If it’s not broke, don’t fix it.
Ten Hag, who is naturally getting to know his players, made the sensible decision to retain 10 of those who started in the Amsterdammers’ final game of 2017, with left-back Nicolás Tagliafico, who arrived from Argentine outfit Independiente this month, debuting.
His performance, in a position that has caused Ajax managers headaches in years gone by, was encouraging.
The question now is what a Ten Hag Ajax side will look like going forward. From this first showing, the club’s traditionalists should not be too worried.
A forward-thinking proactive coach – one who seeks exciting, entertaining football and has Pep Guardiola’s seal of approval having worked under him as Bayern München’s reserve-team manager – he’s tailor-made to be in the Amsterdam hotseat.
Gio’s problems mount up
In contrast, it’s a game Giovanni van Bronckhorst will want to forget in a hurry: another miserable performance which sees the gap between them (in fourth) and rivals Ajax (second) extended to 12 points.
The feel-good moment of ending an 18-year to become Dutch champions once again is starting to wear off. A fourth defeat of the season, at this stage, isn’t necessarily terrible, but there’s something missing.
Feyenoord looked meek, which their passionate fanbase will not tolerate. Their midfield was at times nonexistent, and frustration of being second-best spilled over when leading goalscorer Nicolai Jørgensen was given his marching orders moments after Ajax went 2-0 up.
Going into this weekend’s high-profile fixture, there was the announcement of Robin van Persie’s return to where it all began. It remains to be seen whether he’s fit enough and will be trusted to fill Jørgensen’s boots when they visit FC Utrecht this upcoming Wednesday.
But Van Bronckhorst, after seeing Klaas-Jan Huntelaar on the scoresheet, might be hoping Van Persie is to have a similar effect.
Frenkie de Jong continues to embrace his current role
Heading into this season, Frenkie de Jong knew it was going to a big one, after being gradually assimilated into Ajax’s first team under Peter Bosz during the 2016/17 campaign.
A modern playmaker who can play in a multitude of midfield role, De Jong, who started in three of the Amsterdammers opening 13 matches, has not been able to dislodged Lasse Schöne, who plays in his coveted ‘number six’ role.
As a means of involving him, and partly out of necessity given Ajax’s defensive injuries towards the end of 2017, former manager Marcel Keizer began to field De Jong alongside centre-back Matthijs de Ligt.
However, it’s fair to say De Jong hasn’t been utlised like a traditional centre-back. In fact, the Arkel-born midfielder performs the duties of a deep-lying midfielder, with Ajax’s shape more of a 3-4-3 diamond.
De Jong, playing at the base of the lozenge, is able to play his natural game – retaining and recycling possession effectively – as well as being encouraged to run past his fellow midfielders.
Consequently he becomes central to Ajax’s build-up play and that was again evident against Feyenoord: the 20-year-old attempted 99 passes with all but one succeeding, giving him a passing accuracy of 97%.