CAPE TOWN - Ajax Cape Town head coach Stanley Menzo knows exactly what is wrong with his struggling team - the challenge is to find solutions to the problems.
The former Ajax Amsterdam goalkeeper highlighted two issues he believes are at the root of Ajax’s woes: “We have to create more chances and we have to defend better.”
Next up for Ajax will be a tough, tricky trip to Goble Park in Bethlehem to take on an improving Free State Stars on 18 October, and Menzo is hoping to have infused the team with a touch more confidence by then.
After last week’s disappointing defeat to the noisy neighbours, Cape Town City, Menzo has an opportunity during the international break to try to get into the heads of his players. Because, talent and ability are certainly not the problem, it’s the mentality and the tactical discipline which are at fault.
Ajax are definitely going to have to find a way to turn things around, and quickly too. It may still be early in the season, but that’s no consolation to cling to. The thing about football is that struggling teams are easily seduced into a negative rut and, before they know it, they are dragged down into the abyss.
If anything, Ajax should be keenly aware of the situation. They’ve been in similar positions over the last few seasons, when they’ve started badly and the players battled to regain their confidence and composure. Now, after six games and just five points, the Cape side finds itself in 13th position on the 16-team PSL standings, and experiencing another dose of deja vu.
In fact, even in a friendly against new NFD side Ubuntu Cape Town on Wednesday, the same defensive frailties were on show. Ajax were 3-0 up and cruising and then allowed the opposition to rally and finish the contest at 3-2.
“I don’t think our defence, as such, is bad, it’s just that we need to defend better as a team,” said Menzo. “Against Ubuntu, we scored three goals, but then we allowed the opponents to score twice - that was unnecessary.
"We have to learn to control the game when we are leading and not allow the opposition to play between our lines. As could be seen in the Ubuntu friendly, again it was a case of the players dropping their mental focus.”
As for the team’s offensive play, Ajax are struggling to get any fluency to their game. When they are at their best, in terms of their intended philosophy, when the constant mobility of the players allows them to build up well and create opportunities, then they are a joy to watch. Unfortunately, that hasn’t been happening too often.
“I don’t think we don’t have to change too much, we just have to work harder at it,” said the Ajax coach. “We have to get in the opponent’s penalty area more, we need make better runs and better passes, and we need to be more clinical in the final third.”
As for the derby defeat, while not ideal, Menzo is hoping the players take note of how they are feeling at the moment, and that the loss inspires them to start playing to potential.
“I hope the players are disappointed in the derby defeat, I hope they see it as a missed opportunity,” said Menzo. “It was a chance for us to beat City. But we have to go on and keep working on things. For me, I want to forget the derby as quickly as possible. We have to put it behind us.
"As I said, the loss was about our mistakes, but that’s football Everybody makes mistakes. The first goal was our fault when we gave the ball away. I thought we were better in the second half against City when we pressed more, were organised and we won the second ball.
"The breaking point for me was the penalty. At that moment when it happened (City defender Taariq Fielies fouled Tercious Malepe), we were in the game. Having watched it on television now too, it was a clear penalty and that could have changed the course of the game.”
But all that’s in the past. The horse has bolted and Ajax now need to put it behind and move on. In football, there’s always an opportunity to atone. And that opportunity is in two weeks’ time when, no doubt, a good result away to Free State Stars is paramount.