Benfica – Ajax: heavy-pressing Benfica dominates initially, but moment of Ziyech magic gives Ajax crucial point (1-1)
For the second time in two weeks, Ajax and Benfica prove to be very evenly matched teams. Where the first meeting between these two sides was an end-to-end, dynamic affair, the return-leg in this crucial Champions League group stage game was more of ‘a tale of two halves’.
In the two weeks since their first meeting, Ajax and Benfica have experienced very different situations in their respective domestic leagues.
Ajax booked two home wins on cruise control. First, the highly-anticipated Klassieker, Ajax’ rivalry game against Feyenoord, was basically decided after five minutes of play, when Feyenoord’s right back Jeremiah St. Juste eliminated any of the away team’s chances by grabbing a red card. Ajax converted the ensuing 85 minute man-up advantage into an easy 3-0 win.
Last weekend, Willem II made it an even easier outing in the Johan Cruijff ArenA, by using a man-oriented 3-5-2-system that gave Ajax chance after chance in the opening half hour, which led to a 2-0 lead that was played out in a boring exhibition-type fashion.
Benfica, on the other hand, have severely hurt their chances of winning the domestic title in the past two weeks. Losses at Belenenses (2-0) and at home against Moreirense (1-3) – both mid-table sides, at best – mean that Benfica see FC Porto and surprisingly strong Sporting Braga slowly drift away from them at the top of the league standings.
Benfica blitz early on, Ajax have no response
These two very differing run-ups to this key group match made for an extremely interesting opening phase of the game. Benfica’s coach Rui Vitoria has been . . .