Tuesday: Play for U19’s v Dinamo Kiev. Win.
Friday: Play for Jong Ajax v Eindhoven. Win.
Sunday: First team v Heracles. Score first Ajax goal. Win.
It’s been somewhat of a momentous week in the life of 17 year-old wonderkid Matthijs de Ligt. Even the most clued-up Ajax fan, aware of the young centre-half’s already impressive CV, wouldn’t have foreseen his rapid rise from youth player to first-team scorer over the past 5 days, not least the impact he would make on the Heracles game. But de Ligt barely put a foot wrong in his 45-minute run-out in the Arena yesterday, and like fellow academy-product Justin Kluivert, only needed one opportunity to show exactly why he is sure to now be a regular feature in Peter Bosz’s side.
It has been a fantastic 7 days for the club. First, on Thursday night, passage to the last 16 of the Europa League was secured with a hard-fought 1-0 win over Legia Warsaw. 24 hours later, the stars of the future were excelling as a 1-1 draw with FC Eindhoven at de Toekomst was enough to wrap up the third period-title for Jong Ajax in the ever-confusing system deployed by the Jupiler League. And then, a fine long-weekend was rounded off with the explosive debut of de Ligt, and a thumping 4-1 win against a stubborn Heracles side. We could’ve hardly asked for more- well, maybe for the leaders to drop some points in ‘de topper,’ but let’s not be greedy.
It's a party up in this! #ajaleg #ajax pic.twitter.com/nKvJCfmAxu
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) February 23, 2017
Returning to Thursday night, it was a performance typical of what we have come to expect under Bosz. Defensively resilient, creative in attack and solid throughout the midfield, yet wasteful of chances and unable to punish an opponent leaving themselves exposed, especially in the dying embers of the game as they went all-out for that crucial away goal to turn the tie on its head.
After 138 minutes of goalless action against the Polish champions, the deadlock was eventually broken by the unlikely Nick Viergever, who bagged just his second goal in two years.
The game needed a moment of magic and after some scintillating passing, the ball found Davy Klaassen in the box who laid it into the path of Hakim Ziyech.
His first time effort was beaten away by the keeper but right into the path of Viergever to poke home three minutes into the second-half.
From that point, de Godenzonen might have been expected to punish their opponents on the counter as they surged forward in search of a response. Several times Legia were caught short at the back, but try as they might Ajax could just not kill them off. Bertrand Traore curled an effort just past the post while Lasse Schone was also off-target with a decent effort.
Even a 5-on-1 counter-attack, with Traore leading the charge, failed to result in a goal that would’ve wrapped up the tie, and eased the pressure in the final 10 minutes of the match.
Without that killer second goal, the pressure began to mount and the nerves increased amongst the Ajax ranks as Legia grew more and more dangerous. Andre Onana had to deny both Valeri Qazashvili and Maciej Dabrowski, whilst the Poles came within inches of grabbing a vital away goal when Vadis Odjidja-Ofie couldn’t poke home Michal Kucharczyk’s cross five minutes from time.
It was a stark warning for the Dutch giants who were up against a side that held Real Madrid to a thrilling 3-3 draw earlier in the campaign.
As the clock struck 94, the full-time whistle was blown and Peter Bosz and his side could finally celebrate victory. For the second time in as many years, Ajax had knocked Legia out and advanced into the next stage of the competition, where we now know we will face Danish powerhouses FC Copenhagen.
Hakim Ziyech ? #ajaleg pic.twitter.com/dxrtUL24or
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) February 23, 2017
And so to Sunday, where attentions turned back towards the Eredivisie. What could have turned up to be a pivotal day in the title race, instead turned out to be rather inconsequential- at least from an Ajax perspective.
Feyenoord’s 2-1 win thanks in no-small perfect to a Zoet howler meant a win against Heracles was imperative. But after Kasper Dolberg reacted quickly to net on the rebound after Bram Castro saved from Davy Klaassen, Heracles came roaring back to level within a minute as Samuel Armenteros glanced in a header, the first goal Andrey Onana had conceded in 8 matches to end the club record-breaking run.
With the score locked at 1-1 at the break, it was beginning to look like a nightmare after for the Amsterdammers, with the title slipping ever closer towards their great rivals.
Enter Matthijs de Ligt.
Coming on for the injured Nick Viergever, and the 17-year-old, fresh from success with both the clubs U19 and U21 sides, made an instant impression with a 30-yard strike that was just tipped over the bar. On 56 minutes, the centre-back netted his first Eredivisie goal with a powerful header from a corner to put Ajax 2-1 ahead. Bedlam.
From there, Ajax never looked back. Davinson Sanchez then got himself on the scoresheet with a low strike from distance into the bottom corner on the hour mark. David Neres was brought off the bench for his Ajax debut before Bertrand Traore wrapped up the win late on with a lovely close-range finish.
And those of 17-year-old gamechanger Matthijs de Ligt. #ajax pic.twitter.com/mbPv9RG7oR
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) February 27, 2017
Other chances came and went, but it was a sublime second-half performance from the side, and- in particular- star of the show de Ligt, to clinch all 3 points and at least remain within reach of Feyenoord who remain 5 clear at the top of table.
Although Ajax are now firm underdogs for the title, with the emergence of young stars such as Kluivert, Sanches, Onana, Neres and now de Ligt, it is those in Amsterdam who can really feel that the future is brightest.