Ajax can be happy because they will play two games at the top right after the winter break. Jan van Halst recounts this in the lead up to the second half of the season in an interview with Ajax Showtime. The team from Amsterdam will start in 2022 with away matches against FC Utrecht and PSV Eindhoven.
For Van Halst, the duel between FC Utrecht and Ajax is always a private battle. The former midfielder was born in Utrecht and made his club debut from Domstad as a professional footballer. Later, Van Halst played three seasons with Ajax and with FC Amsterdam celebrated winning the national title in 2002. What was applied and still applies today: Ajax matches against FC Utrecht are always loaded.
Away matches in Utrecht are never easy for Ajax, while the Amsterdam side also face growing problems with the Utrecht home side. Yes, this has also appeared over the years in Amsterdam. A kind of idea arose in Utrecht: It’s the big cities against each other and we have to fight against Amsterdam. Some kind of poison always comes with the fans, which brings derby-like feelings.
The poison comes mainly from FC Utrecht. On the Ajax side, the rivalry is much less, as Van Halst also knows. “There is also a danger in that,” said the former midfielder. ‘You think we’re going to play a game. But players have to realize, especially if there is an audience, that the poison from Utrecht is still alive.
The crowd will not be present at De Galgenwaard on Sunday and according to Van Halst, that is an advantage for Ajax. “When you get there and aren’t fully aware of this rivalry, it’s like a knife suddenly in your throat. Players often get shocked by this. Usually you get on the bus and you’re shocked. That wouldn’t be the case now.
Earlier this season, Ajax lost 0-1 to Utrecht. It was then – at the beginning of October – that Van Halst saw that the Utrecht club was well organized. “They were in good shape then too. It’s less now. They’ve had a bad month. That means this is going to be a hit-or-break contest. They want to get rid of the bad period in the first half of the season.
“Ajax has problems with teams like FC Utrecht”
When Ajax lost to Utrecht in that period, there was talk of an accident. During the first half of the season it turned out that the defeat against Utrecht was no accident. Erik Ten Hag’s team has often left points in the Eredivisie. This often happened against teams that gave Ajax as little space as possible and teams that allowed Ajax to play as little football as possible.
The question is: How can Ajax arm itself against these kinds of teams? Does the club have players for that? “Well, they have a problem with that,” says Van Halst, noting that more and more clubs are understanding how to deal with Ajax. “A good example, two years ago, is Getafe. I don’t like it, but it’s a way to disrupt a good football team. These kinds of things will appear again with this poison from FC Utrecht. So Ajax has to be one hundred percent focused and keep the rhythm of the ball. High not to get into duels.Yes, that’s nice football talk, but it’s true.I think you’re going to have a hard time 98 percent.
“Ajax is the biggest candidate without the presence of the audience”
According to Van Halst, the fact that there will be no audience in Utrecht is an advantage for Ajax. Therefore, Ajax is the biggest candidate. anticipatory? 0-3. Utrecht is a good football team, they will get their chances, but naturally and especially because there is no audience, Ajax is simply much better.
If Ajax lose points again to FC Utrecht, there won’t be much turmoil right away in Amsterdam, van Halst believes. ‘He will be fine. A massive store of trust and support has been built. There is a lot of stability in management and around the entire sporting picture. Although it kind of feels like a crisis when Ajax lose points.
“As a player you are more intense in the second half of the season”
This has happened a lot this season. Where Ajax lost a total of fourteen points last season, the counter is already at 12 losing points this season. However, Van Halst is confident Ajax will be more consistent in the second half of the season. “Do you know what kind of advantage it is? As a player you know: the trophies are coming. Then it subconsciously becomes more intense. In the first half of the season, there is something subconsciously about it: during this period we will not get the trophies.
“The match against FC Utrecht is the beginning of the stage in which it has to happen,” continued Utrecht. Pricing, transfers and starting positions are all at stake. As a coach, you don’t have to do much during this period to motivate your players. It’s a psychological and subliminal game that helps a little.
“Really an advantage you already have against FC Utrecht and PSV”
Van Halst, who became champion with Ajax in 2002 after an excellent second half of the season, expects Ajax to perform even more intensely after the winter break. Players take less candy, so to speak, during the Christmas meal. You also know: With FC Utrecht and Eindhoven as the first contenders, I have to be sharp. If there is no lack of sharpness, Ajax is the best team. It’s really an advantage to play against FC Utrecht and PSV Eindhoven. If you now have to play against Cambuur and RKC, you players are like: this will work. Now they are immediately alert.
Martinez excels, Gravenberch must wake up
The one who is always on guard at Ajax is Lisandro Martinez. The Argentine gave a consistent performance in the first half of the season and the defender is the Ajax player who impressed Van Halst the most. I think this is very clever. All the way, huh. First in midfield and now as a central defender. With his shorter height, he is very clever in duels. His death is gradual at the level of the blind: tight, intelligent, with accurate speed and often between the lines. Truly a beacon of peace.
The player Van Halst expects more from in the second winter break is Ryan Gravenberch. “You can tell he struggles with his standing and his expectations. That also makes sense for the talent, but it can’t take long. He was less dominant in the first half of the season. But he has to pay attention, because when prices go up he will get impatient. There will be someone else. At your place at any given time.
“At Gravenberch it is really about getting up more. Sometimes you wake up when you suddenly get on the bench, says van Halst, who sees a lot of potential in the midfielder. “He has proven that he can perform under pressure. He is a great player. But “staying awake” and meeting expectations are also adjectives. I’m curious about that in the second half of the season.
Choosing a strong enough Ajax
With matches in the Champions League and TOTO KNVB Cup, Ajax could wait for a busy second half of the season. Van Halst explains that you can make some matches physically at eighty percent. “If you are mentally present at one hundred percent,” he warns. Ajax also has a wide assortment so that you can also craft other players. Schuurs or Klaassen, who are often next to him, could easily be placed in the Eredivisie.
With Brian Proby, Ajax have already secured a new striker this winter transfer window and, according to Van Halst, no other player is necessarily in demand. “Or Neres hasn’t left yet. Bergwijn would be an excellent alternative in that case. But with this choice, Ajax is bound to take the title.”