On Friday evening, 8.15 PM local time, Ajax will welcome Willem II at the Johan Cruijff Arena for round 16 of the Eredivisie. It is a fixture that hasn’t provided many close and exciting matches throughout history, as Ajax have always been one or two weight-classes above Willem II. This season, however, Ajax have more reasons than ever to not underestimate the team from Tilburg. Ajax will obviously be the favorites to win on their home turf, but below is a list of facts that could indicate a possible upset.
1. Willem II’s impressive start to the season
You could argue that Ajax – Willem II is actually a big match this season because it will be the league leaders facing off against the team in fourth position. Willem II have gathered 26 points in the first 15 games of the 2019-2020 season. While that number is of course dwarfed by Ajax’ 41 points, it is extremely high by Willem II’s own standards. Their goal from the start of the season has been to reach the play-offs for a spot in the Europa League, and they are projected to accomplish that with ease if they hold on to their current form. The only two teams between Ajax en Willem II on the Eredivisie table, AZ and PSV respectively, have both already fallen victim to the Tilburg side. AZ still managed a draw, but PSV lost 2-1. While Willem II played both those games at home, it still shows that they’re not easily intimidated by bigger clubs.
2. Ajax is running low on forwards
Erik Ten Hag has stated on many occasions that having a wide arrange of players is so important for success over the course of a full season. He has already been forced to rely on bench players a lot this season, as Ajax have been plagued by injuries big and small. David Neres underwent surgery to his knee and isn’t expected to return from injury soon. Zakaria Labyad, who was praised for his performance as Neres’ replacement, also picked up a knee injury and won’t play before the end of the calendar year. Quincy Promes is also unavailable against Willem II because of a seemingly less serious injury. Now that Noa Lang has made his debut in the starting line-up, Ajax are essentially depending on their sixth-choice winger. Lang scored a hattrick on his debut, and all seems fine at the moment. But if anything were to happen to one of Ajax’ forwards against Willem II, Erik Ten Hag is likely to be out of good options. Could Ajax’ goal-scoring machine finally be put to a halt?
3. Vangelis Pavlidis shines away from home
Willem II has been represented by a number of very good strikers throughout the years. Before the summer, both Alexander Isak and Fran Sol wrapped up their 2018-2019 season with 13 goals behind their names. Both strikers have since departed the club, however, and now there is a new man in town: Vangelis Pavlidis. It is his second season at Willem II and he has already bagged eight goals before the winter break. Seven of those eight goals were scored away from the Koning Willem II Stadion. The Greek scored twice away at PEC, ADO ánd Fortuna Sittard and will be trying to beat Onana in the Johan Cruijff Arena too.
4. Ajax have Valencia on their minds
Every professional footballer or coach will tell you that they don’t look past the next match and that they take every game seriously. Yet, when one of the most important matches of the season is just around the corner, it’s not unthinkable that one or two players won’t give 100% when Willem II comes to visit. Four days after Willem II came and went, Valencia will be knocking on the doors of the Johan Cruijff Arena. The stakes couldn’t be higher: both teams are still competing for a spot in the knock-out stages of the Champions League. Ajax need at least a draw to accomplish that, and the players know that they might have to give it their all on Tuesday. This is the type of match you really don’t want to miss, so everyone will be cautious not to pick up an injury against Willem II. On top of that, it is a lot easier to start underestimating a club like Willem II when you’re preparing to face a club like Valencia.
5. Nunnely on fire
In a way, the fifth and final reason why Willem II are so dangerous right now was created by Ajax themselves. Sprinting up and down the right flank of Willem II is a youngster named Ché Nunnely. The 20-year-old winger spent seven seasons at Sportpark De Toekomst and was a key player of the Jong Ajax team that won the championship of the second division in 2018. In the end, he was deemed not good enough to ever push through to Ajax’ first team, and he joined Willem II last summer as a result. So far, things have been working out for Nunnely in Tilburg, where he is visibly growing more comfortable in the Eredivisie with every game he plays. He happens to be in the best shape of his young career now that he is about to face his former club. Ché Nunnely scored three goals and assisted three goals in his last three matches. He will undoubtedly have had dreams about his first goal in the Arena, but I doubt he ever thought he would be on the other team.