Somehow they only had two Davy Klaassen goals to show for the dominance of the match, with Ralf Fährmann making a series of vital saves, especially in the second half, to even keep Schalke in the tie at all ahead of next week’s second leg in Gelsenkirchen.
Kolasinac withdrawn before kick-off
Ajax had beaten Legia Warsaw and FC Copenhagen in the past two rounds to reach this quarter-final, whilst Schalke overcame POAK FC and German rivals Borussia Mönchengladbach.
The hosts, second in the Eredivisie, made three changes from their 5-1 weekend thrashing of NEC Nijmegen. Daley Sinkgraven, Donny van de Beek and Justin Kluivert, the 17-year-old son of Patrick Kluivert, came in for Matthijs de Ligt, Lasse Schöne (who was suspended) and David Neres.
Schalke, whose most realistic chance of making Europe next season is winning this competition, intended to make just the one alteration from their 4-1 win over VfL Wolfsburg, with the injured Eric Maxim Choupo-Moting replaced by Alessandro Schöpf. However an injury in the warm-up to Sead Kolasinac meant Dennis Aogo had to come in as well.
Klaassen penalty gives Ajax much deserved lead
Ajax’s young side was by far the better in the first half. Their dominance didn’t bring many chances early on, coming closest when a header from Klaassen was cleared by Daniel Caligiuri, only to find van de Beek. He volleyed towards goal, with Fährmann just about managing to block and eventually take the ball.
They took the lead from the spot, after Amin Younes, once of Gladbach, won a penalty after being brought down by Schöpf. The skipper Klaassen stepped up and emphatically fired it in, which would have left Fährmann with little chance of stopping it even if he had gone the right way.
Younes was giving Thilo Kehrer nightmares down the Ajax left, but it was on the right that he came close to creating Ajax’s second. After Davinson Sánchez failed to connect with van de Beek’s headed cross, Younes crossed back in with Sánchez competing for the header with Matija Nastasic, with the Ajax man sending it on to the bar.
Schalke’s only shot of note in the entire half came in the final minute of normal time. After Max Meyer’s free-kick was cleared, it was played back in and Benedikt Höwedes, of all people, launches an outrageous overhead kick on goal, but it was saved by goalkeeper André Onana.
Fährmann keeps the score down after Klaassen second
Ajax might have been ruing failing to get a second goal for all their first half dominance, but they soon put that right after the break. Bertrand Traoré found Kluivert on the right, and his cross was skilfully converted by Klaasen, who managed to curl it round Fährmann and in.
Fährmann would though be the only reason Ajax didn’t pull further out of sight. Traoré capitalised on a mistake from Nabil Benteleb, but after running through his attempt was saved. Some great football led another save from Fährmann off the Chelsea loanee, who then teed up Younes for a chance. Saved, again, by the Schalke keeper.
Schalke brought on Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, a former Ajax icon, to cheers from right around the ground, and they had their first chance of the second period just after, although it was Caligiuri who forced Onana into a rare save.
Huntelaar would not make any real difference, with Fährmann again having to make two more important saves within the space of a few minutes. He made the slightest of contact on van der Beek’s shot to ensure it only hit the bar, whilst another headed chance, this time from Nick Viergever, was also taken by Fährmann.
If not for the 28-year-old, this tie would have been well beyond Schalke’s reach. They will have to find a way to keep Ajax’s young guns quiet if they are to have any chance in the second leg though.