Tactics and Personnel
Markus Weinzierl made two changes to the team that beat VfL Wolfsburg 4-1 on Saturday afternoon. Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting missed out through a knee problem and did not travel with the team, with Alessandro Schöpf replacing him. Although initially named in the starting eleven, Sead Kolasinac dropped out late due to an adductor problem. He was replaced at left back by Dennis Aogo, with the team remaining in a 4-2-3-1 system.
Klaassen scores from the spot
The Dutch record champions started at a high tempo and put the Royal Blues under a lot of pressure from the early stages. S04 did have phases in which they threatened but they did not turn them into cohesive attacking play, and Ajax asserted their dominance when they went ahead in the 23rd minute. The referee gave the home side a penalty after Schöpf and Amin Younes had a coming together just inside the area, and Klaassen made no mistake from twelve yards, sending Ralf Fährmann the wrong way. The goal breathed further life into the home side, who attacked with more and more vigour, while Schalke struggled to get themselves back into the game after going behind.
Ajax maintain the pace
Ajax sustained the pressure and momentum they picked up in the first half, clinching a second just minutes after the restart. Klaassen was the scorer again, smashing the ball beyond Fährmann after getting on the end of Justin Kluivert's low ball out to the edge of the area. In the end, S04 were left to be thankful for an exceptional Fährmann performance, as the goalkeeper went on to make a number of fantastic and vital saves to prevent the team from conceding more. He ended the match with eleven stops - a record in Europa League play. However, his brilliance in his own quarter was not matched at the other end, as Schalke remained unable to get themselves on the scoresheet and grab a vital away goal.
Conclusions and Outlook
Ajax ended the game as clear and deserved winners on their home turf. They were dominant throughout the match and could quite easily have scored far more than they did but for the magnificent showing from Fährmann. The goalkeeper's exploits mean the Royal Blues are still within a fighting chance of turning things around in the second leg.
The return encounter will be played on Thursday 20th April at 21:05 CEST at the VELTINS-Arena. Before that, though, Schalke face an away trip to Bundesliga side SV Darmstadt 98 on Sunday. The match will begin at 17:30 CEST.