BRUTAL GAUNTLET TESTS VAN BOMMEL’S METTLE
Champions League (H) : PSV 2 - Celtic 2
After dispatching Willem II 2-1 at home and ADO Den Haag 4-1 in a tricky road game, van Bommel would find himself managing his first Champions League group game. While the ADO Den Haag game wasn’t too taxing, it would contribute to some tired legs so close to this game. Add in a looming visit from Ajax and a potentially tricky road game in the KVVB Cup and van Bommel would seem to be facing three must-win games in quick succession.
With the first team ready to go, and the home crowd buzzing with excitement, things would start out well despite being down a team leader. Gastón Pereiro would have to watch this one from the stands after coming down with a tight hamstring that would keep him out for 1-3 days. Mauro Junior started in his place, and for the most part it was a seamless hand off. Almost from the start of the game it looked like Celtic were the ones who had no business getting this far, and de Rood-Witten were dominating the game. Luuk de Jong would take a free kick from a few yards past the corner of the goal area, bending it tightly over the wall and arcing toward the near side of goal. Craig Gordon looked to have decent position, but Filip Benkovic took it upon himself to step in and try to clear the ball. Instead of thumping the ball out it glanced off his raised calf, beyond Gordon’s reach, and found the inside netting for an unfortunate own goal and a 1-0 lead to PSV.
PSV continued their good form late into game, with Steve Bergwijn scoring at 48’, when the clock hit 80’ their 2-0 advantage made it seem like they had this locked up. PSV players were clearly tired, and Celtic was starting to find more space in their defensive third, and then things started to fall apart. Van Bommel could be seen gesticulating wildly from the technical area for some time before they broke, when Moussa Sissoko made it 2-1 on a corner it only got worse. Just as stoppage time was announced Sissoko scored again at 90’ and their advantage had completely evaporated. He was left unmarked on the back side and Celtic switched the ball to him, hammering it in at a tight angle. They managed to stiffen up and staunch the bleeding, but they were clearly tired and neither team seemed motivated to try and break the deadlock. Luuk de Jong came close, in the waning moments of the game, but he blew a clear cut chance to win it and the whistle blew soon after. What looked like an inspiring victory had quickly vanished into thin air, and with Ajax waiting they wouldn’t have any time to dwell on it.
“That was unacceptable.” snapped van Bommel as he passed reporters in the tunnel, his only statement directly following the game.
Reports are that van Bommel elected for the hairdryer treatment as the team locker room was closed to the media immediately following their exit. Assistant Coach Jurgen Dirkx handled most of the post game interview with van Bommel dispassionately interjecting when directly addressed by the media. It was clear this type of result was not going to be tolerated, even if they walked away with a point.
Eredivise (H) : PSV 4 - Ajax 3
If the Celtic game felt important, this game felt like the World Cup final. Both fan bases came out in force, and the singing inside and outside the stadium created an incredible atmosphere befitting a bitter rivalry. After the Celtic game and the league lead on the line, with the rest of the field starting to fall behind, this game suddenly felt very important.
Despite being tied in the league standings, and home field advantage, PSV were clear underdogs. Ajax certainly have some bigger names, even if Matthias de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong weren’t going to be around much longer they were on the field today. Things were tense right up to kickoff, and luckily for PSV it would quickly tip in their favor.
Nicolas Isimat-Mirin started the scoring through an unfortunate series of events for Ajax. Léo Dubois would launch a free kick from outside the box into the far area of goal and find the side of Donny van de Beek’s head. Instead of being ejected clear it was more of a glancing blow that put the ball in the path of the oncoming Isimat-Mirin who headed into the lower right hand corner for a 1-0 lead. After review it would be called an own goal on van de Beek, either way they were now down.
Ajax did not come prepared for this game, and Erik ten Hag’s sullen mood on the sidelines was not helped by van Bommel’s activity in the adjacent area. Despite a 4-0 lead in the first half, van Bommel was shouting at his players like they were down by the same score. He must have known something, or perhaps he was the only one that still remembered the Celtic game, because tired legs and late game hubris came to haunt PSV. Ajax, perhaps watching the Celtic game at halftime, started a last ditch onslaught that broke through and shocked the hosts to break the shutout. Rasmus Nissen Kristensen would launch the ball into the box from quite deep and nearly on the sidelines, perhaps it was tiredness that had PSV’s entire defensive line beat by three Ajax players or Joeren Zoet failing to come out, but Zakaria Labyad was waiting when the ball came down at the far side of the goal area. Labyad only needed to hold his foot out to make it 4-1 at the 84’ mark.
Isimat-Mirin, visibly annoyed by the scoring decision 8’ into the game, would end up on the reverse end just two minutes after letting Ajax slip by him on a cross. Kristensen would hammer a low cross right through the box that would find the back of Isimat-Mirin’s calf and deflect into the goal. If that wasn’t bad enough, after a corner and series of passes where PSV had Ajax pinned deep, van de Beek would have his revenge just a minute after Ajax would pull closer at 4-2. A long ball from the top of the arc would find Hakim Ziyech deep in PSV’s half, and a two-on-one would be formed against a helpless Trent Sainsbury. With PSV still lingering in Ajax’s third, Ziyech would tap the ball to Dusan Tadic on the penalty spot who didn’t miss. 4-3 Ajax, all in the span of three minutes, and now van Bommel was spewing fire. Luckily for PSV, that was all Ajax could muster and the whistle finally blew.
Isimat-Mirin is starting to feel the heat.
Despite the smile, which even van Bommel could not hide, there was definitely an air of concern. Beating a hated rival, especially one hated on a personal level, is definitely an excuse to indulge. No doubt van Bommel will be working hard on closing up those late game holes opening up for opponents. The victory puts PSV three points clear of Ajax at the top of the league, a position that the team will not want to surrender.