On Sunday, the two giants of the Eredivisie face off in a match where both the points and a battle for supremacy are on the line. The latter is more mental than table related as Ajax are 5 points ahead of PSV in the table and would still be top even if PSV win. This match will grasp the attentions of most of the Eredivisie spectators as it provides many intriguing subplots.
PSV are facing an injury crisis which is not in number but rather in players of importance. The heart of their midfield Andres Guardado is out and although he is recovering well, he still won’t be fit for the match. Luuk De Jong was on the wrong end of a Marcel Ritzmaier stamp versus NEC and will be out for the game which is a huge blow for the side from North Brabant. Jurgen Locadia is the only other recognised striker in the side and although he possesses the ability to score goals and towering height, he lacks the aerial initiative to win the integral aerial battles and hold the ball up for his side as this was a major problem versus CSKA Moscow in mid-week.
Adam Maher has returned from injury and will reclaim his spot as PSV’s chief creator and in the second half vs CSKA, he showed remnances of the immense talent he possesses creating two goals for Maxime Lestienne. The most intriguing battle in midfield will be between the upstarts in Jorrit Hendrix and Riechedly Bazoer. Both brought through PSV’s academy as centre-backs now making names for themselves in midfield roles. Bazoer is still a bitter pill to swallow for PSV fans as he left for rivals Ajax at 16 and is now an influential member of their side. Hendrix is the man tasked with sweeping up in front of the PSV defence while also being good at providing through balls and playing the ball forward from deep.
Hendrix can play many roles, just like his manager Phillip Cocu when he was a player, as he can play left-back, centre-back and after Arias’ sending off vs CSKA, he seemed comfortable deputising at right-back. However, according to Cocu his future lies in midfield as his impeccable calm on the ball and keen sense of danger while being able to be delicate and creative in an attacking sense makes him one of PSV’s biggest talents out of their academy. Bazoer on the other hand, drifts between being a defensive midfielder and box to box midfielder in a double-pivot with all-round midfielder Nemanja Gudelj. The player is strong and labeling him as comfortable with the ball is an understatement as he has been influential for Ajax this season.
He can beat his man and drive forward or create play from deep with his ability to play beautiful passes forward as he is becoming more comfortable with his shooting. He is a modern-day midfielder in the Paul Pogba mould in which his lumbering size and technical ability make him an irrepressible force in midfield.
Frank De Boer has faced a crisis of choice with a squad littered with young talent which are keeping the elder statesmen of the squad on the outskirts. This is best exemplified by his choices on the left wing. Winter transfer window signing from Heerenveen, Daley Sinkgraven held the starting role at the beginning of the season and was impressive in his position, challenging fullbacks and bringing more creativity and fluidity to his role. However, De Boer has been trying out an extremely faulty system where Fischer plays as a left winger and Sinkgraven is played in midfield in order to create a higher and more energetic press while Sinkgraven recycles the ball from deep.
This system has been a failure as a loss to Austria Wien which resulted in Ajax failing to qualify for the UEFA Champions League and a draw with Celtic in their Europa League opener in which Sinkgraven lost possession deep and was at fault for goals in both games has left the system as a non-starter while leaving his position at left-wing in jeopardy. Fischer has scored five goals in his last six games as he hasn’t missed a step since returning from injury at the end of last season. He brings a hunger for goals to the Ajax front-line while holding a a fine trait in which he doesn’t over-elaborate on the ball as he plays neat and simple passes and crosses.
German youngster Amin Younes signed from Borussia Monchengladbach in the summer is the third man vying for this role as his fleet-footed dribbling ability while being able to start quick attacking plays from wide gives De Boer a selection headache. All these youngsters are keeping Lasse Schone on the bench as the Dane will be looking for a way out of Amsterdam in January. It will be interesting to see who plays to the left of captain Davy Klaassen who is the capital side’s creative force in midfield.
The option for left wing will be so important for Ajax as whoever plays there goes up against an out of form Santiago Arias. The Colombian has conceded two penalties in his last two games as he has struggled to deal with skillful widemen. Against NEC, it was the Belgian in Anthony Limbombe who caused him problems and eventually baited him into a silly foul in the box while against CSKA, Ahmed Musa with his searing pace, had his number till he got sent off in the second half.
The battle on the flanks will be an entertaining spectacle as young fullbacks and dangerous wingers face-off in a clash which could define the match. Anwar El Ghazi who is the Eredivisie’s joint top-scorer with De Jong with 7 goals and is well on his way to matching his 9 goals for the whole of last season will face-off against Joshua Brenet or the experienced Simon Poulsen. Brenet was sensational against Manchester United in a position that he is deputising in till the return of Jetro Willems but has looked clumsy and cumbersome since the Champions League opener. Poulsen who was signed from AZ Alkmaar in the summer showed against CSKA that there is still some gas left in his tank as he joined in attacking plays to great effect and was resolute in defence.
Maxime Lestienne will provide a challenge test for 19 year-old Kenny Tete who has swept the rug from under Ricardo Van Rhin. Lestienne is, at the moment PSV’s best player and makes Memphis Depay seem like a distant, happy memory. Tete received his first callup to the Dutch National Team last month and will look to shackle him on Sunday. Luciano Narsingh will face-off against Mitchell Dijks who is strong going forward with his searching crosses but lost his man for Molde’s first goal on Thursday in the underwhelming 1-1 draw in the Europa League.
Both teams play high-lines and possess dangerous quick players so it will be interesting to see which team relinquishes possession in order to win the match. In their last match, it was Ajax who allowed PSV to control the possession and create more chances while they looked to break quickly and directly. Ajax’s defensive duo in Joel Veltman and 18 year-old Jairo Riedewald are elegant on the ball but is yet to be seen if they can be nasty and step out to make important challenges. Jeffrey Bruma and Hector Moreno seem unsure on whether to play an offside trap or leave a man behind to sweep up when playing a high-line as it is easy for teams to get in behind them, Cocu will need to sort this out sooner rather than later.
Ajax are unbeaten in the Eredivisie so far while PSV need to regain initiative in their football but all bets are off for this battle of Dutch giants. The many sub-plots provide interesting lyrical to a contest littered with some of the finest young players as both teams possess the talented personnel to gain a win on the other.