The international break is over, time to get back to business! Ajax starts the so-called block 4 with a big lead over of AZ and PSV. They will want to mount the pressure on them with a win versus Heracles. This might be easier said than done, though. Ajax doesn’t have the greatest track record when it comes to matches just after international breaks and Heracles has proven to be a difficult opponent in recent years.
The first thing Erik ten Hag makes clear during the press conference on Friday is that Joël Veltman will be absent due to a muscle injury. Also, Alvarez is a question mark: “He has a jet lag.” is all ten Hag is willing to share about his Mexican defender. On to the opponent: “Heracles is performing above expectations, with a manager that has a clear vision.” is how ten Hag describes Heracles. “They play football in a way that isn’t very Dutch, especially with their drive. They give it their all for 90 minutes.” Ajax is the massive favourite but that can work to the advantage of Heracles. “No chance is our chance.” Heracles manager Wormuth stated, they’ll hope that Ajax takes it easy and underestimates them.
The game versus Heracles will have an unique start. Both teams will not play the ball in the first minute after kick-off to make a statement against racism. ‘Racism? Then we won’t play.’ is the message of the campaign all Eredivisie clubs support this weekend. Racism isn’t an issue at Ajax according to ten Hag: “Of course we totally support this message, but there’s no racism at this club.”
Not an easy opponent
Heracles has become a real angstgegner in the last few years. Looking back Ajax has only won 4 of the 8 previous games versus Heracles. Last season Ajax didn’t win either away (1-0) or at home (1-1).”That was mostly our fault.” ten Hag said on Friday. This season Heracles has been one of the highlights of the Eredivisie as well, 7th place at the moment and only 3 points behind 3rd placed PSV. They’ve only lost one of their last 5 Eredivisie matches so they’ll be wanting to continue on that vibe versus Ajax.
The threats of Heracles
The real star of Heracles is Belgian striker Cyriel Dessers who came over from FC Utrecht this season. The attacker is as devastating with his right as his left foot. He’ll pose a real threat to Ajax’ backline, already scoring 8 times in 13 games so far. PSV-loanee Mauro Júnior is another player to keep an eye on. The Brazilian attacking midfielder is quite rapid and could make the difference for Heracles. Heracles also has some ex-Ajacieden in the squad: Navajo Bakboord and Teun Bijleveld both came over from the Ajax Reserves this season. Right-back Bakboord has been playing almost every game as a starter but Bijleveld hasn’t really gotten any minutes so far. Ajax doesn’t have to fear Bakboord however as Heracles coach Wormuth stated that Breukers will play instead of the injured ex-Ajax player.
Champions League Variant or strongest XI?
So Joël Veltman won’t be available for the match and the same goes for David Neres who’s still recovering from his meniscus injury. The most likely replacement for Veltman as a CB will be either Schuurs or Alvarez because they are both right-footed players like Joël.
Ten Hag stated during the press conference on Friday that he won’t experiment with a different XI with an eye on Wednesday when Ajax plays Lille in the Champions League. That game both Blind and Veltman will be suspended. “Of course Blind will play [versus Heracles], we need to become champions. Every game is important – we can’t take it easy so that’s why we will field our strongest team.” Also if Ajax will have a big lead ten Hag will not try another variant: “If we’re leading with 3 goals they won’t learn anything anyway because then Heracles won’t put them under pressure.” This means we can probably expect a similar line-up as versus Utrecht just without Veltman.
Mazraoui and Eiting are back
Mazraoui got subbed off during the Morocco – Burundi game with what appeared to be an injury but according to the manager, he’s fit and ready to play. He has high expectations of the Moroccan international: “Mazraoui needs challenges, he has a lot of potential but he has to give everything every game to reach it.”
Carel Eiting will be part of the match squad, coming back on the bench after a long injury. “He started the pre-season really well but when the first XI took shape he got injured.” ten Hag explained his absence at Ajax 1. “Now he’s fit again and ready to fight for his place.”
Expected line-up Ajax: Onana; Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico; van de Beek, Martínez; Labyad, Ziyech, Promes; Tadic.
Expected line-up Heracles: Blaswich; Breukers, Pröpper, Knoester, Czyborra; Merkel, Klomourtzo; van der Water, Mauro Júnior, dos Santos; Dessers.