“ This is what youve become a football player for. This is what youre a trainer for. They are great challenges and I think its fun for people at home.”
Ajax trainer Erik ten Hag cant wait to start the super month of January. Games against PSV, Feyenoord and AZ, all in one month. Thats what Ajax wants: to play top matches.
Joep Schreuder spoke extensively with Erik ten Hag in the run-up to the top Ajax-PSV:
The fact that the entire top-4 only meets now is partly due to the initiative of the boss of Ten Hag, Edwin van der Sar. The director of Ajax came in June, when he was a guest at CCEit Studio Sport, with the plan to plan all the top players after the winter stop, so that there could be an audience.
The situation is well known, public will still not be there. And so people get served at home for a month with no less than six toppers. As a bonus, AZ and Ajax were also linked together in the KNVB cup.
Whether a decision has already been made in the title race after this month? Ten Hag wont talk about that. However, the rehearsal master thinks the coronapandemic is still going to affect. But will the club that best cope with the pandemic conditions be champion?
“ Thats going to play a role, yes. Undeniably. Sometimes you lose a player. A quality player. That could be a detail thats decisive. Thats what every club is bothered by. You have to deal with that as best as possible.”
The 50-year-old Ten Hag realizes that Ajax has already dropped stitches a few times this season. “We had a dip around the Champions League final in the group, against Atalanta. The focus against Twente was clearly not there (1-2 loss red.) and we had another setback against Willem II (1-1). But we should not speak of a big dip,” he says.
“ But we got the maximum out of it in the first half of the season. It didnt come along with us. If it were to sit down, it would be nice…”
Ten Hag refers to the comparison with the top season 2018/2019, which is regularly made. “Everything then fell well together. In the Champions League, for example. If Noussair Mazraoui had not scored against Benfica in the last second, it will be a completely different story.”
“ And when Mazraoui was injured, Joël Veltman was back from an injury. Everything went well, until the semifinals against Tottenham Hotspur, when David Neres had to drop out injured. Everything has to be right if you want to succeed in those kinds of competitions.”
Stay in Europe
That was different this season, emphasises Ten Hag. “It was not supposed to be like this. In the matches against Liverpool we had our own goal and an unfortunate moment of Onana. In the run-up to the duel with Atalanta, players fell away and in the match a striker fell out. It was not easy,” he explains.
“ But in the end, what matters, who you have or do not have: you have to perform. That just didnt work out,” concludes Ten Hag about the Champions League, to conclude positively: “We wanted to stay in Europe, we did. And in the top division, we are in the position where we want to stand, namely first.”
And then that top month waits, with Ajax-PSV as the first squatter. PSV is already eleven games undefeated and has started to play better throughout the season. “Its good,” says Ten Hag about that. “But”, he adds directly, “we look at ourselves. We dont have much to deal with the competition in that respect.”
Hes bringing in the stats. “We have played excellent matches. We have created the most goals and by far the most opportunities. Not a little bit the most chances, but by far the most chances. That suggests our assault game is well put together. And then our offensive players, Mohammed Kudus and Neres, had also fallen away.”
Ten Hag has the facts in order. Ajax creates an average of 16.7 odds per match this season. PSV ranks at 11.3 odds per match, according to Statistics Office Opta Sports. And to underline the numbers: if VVV-Ajax (0-13) is not counted, then the difference is still large: 15.1 to 11.3.
But what about that middle year, which was discussed earlier this season at Ajax. Thats not des Ajax, youd say. Why was that said? Did that have anything to do with covering?
“ No. Thats the reality. We lost seven, eight base players. Core players. We even lose our second rightback, which I think is a top talent,” says Ten Hag at Sergiño Dest, who left for FC Barcelona last summer.
Expectation pattern mega-high
“ You cant possibly replace them all. We set the bar very high internally, but actually that is not necessary. These players are very ambitious. They want to win every game. Shecertainly wanted to stay on the podium of the Champions League, but they are still very eager to show something in Europe and of course to become champion.”
“ The expectation pattern is mega-high here. Higher than other clubs. And we dont run away from that either.”