Ajax swinging; Ajax fighting….

It’s as if it is the most normal thing in the world. Discussing Ajax’ performance at CL level. How quickly do we get used to this success… Away vs Spurs, the #3 in the EPL, with a budget 6 times that of Ajax, we all think it’s a disappointment that Ajax “only” won by one goal difference…

How different life was, a mere year ago. Or two years ago. When Ajax struggled to get through the qualifiers and Oranje struggled to get into a big tournament.

Today, Virgil van Dijk is considered the best EPL player. Frenkie de Jong is considered the most exciting midfielder in Europe. Oranje is up to win the Nations League this summer and Holland is oozing talent again, everywhere you look.

The 0-1 vs Spurs in London was indeed a disappointment. As Spurs was suffering from the loss of Kane, Lamela, Dier, Winks and in particular Son and simply not in a good spell, the expectations in Holland were that Ajax would win this easily, 0-3.

But the game was a very interesting lesson in tactics, for Ajax mainly, as Spurs was able to stop the footballing onslaught Ajax brought to them, and found a way to contain Ajax, without becoming threatening themselves, by the way.

But this game will have taught the young Ajax team a lot! So thanks, Spurs!

The first Phase – From start to minute 21

Ten Hag wasn’t sure how Spurs would start. They can play different systems, and the 5-at-the-back system was one of the systems Ten Hag was prepared for. Spurs used this to abysmal effect vs Liverpool, so most people felt it was unwise to start like this vs Ajax, but that is what Pochettino ended up doing. Ten Hag was not too concerned: “I believe Blind, De Jong, Tadic and Ziyech will be able to recognise what they need to do once we start the game.”

It is Daley Blind who is gesticulating and pointing from minute 1, when he recognised what kind of intent Spurs brings to the game. Eriksen will be De Jong’s counterpart, while Llorente and Moura will put pressure on Blind and De Ligt, keeping Tagliafico and Veltman free to build up. Once the Ajax backs have possession, Spurs springs the trap to push up. Ten Hag was prepared for this. He actually discussed this in details before the game: “When Spurs play with 5 at the back and they start pressing our backs, we will find a lot of space behind their defence.”

Ajax found the easy solution. Both De Jong and Schone would make themselves available for the defenders to play out and at times, even Veltman would squeeze into midfield to allow for the outball. Tottenham starts to doubt their action plan and Ajax takes control of the game.

The openings goal of Van de Beek has everything contained in it: Ajax control of the centre of the pitch, wih Veltman pushing inside. Ziyech attracting players to him, allowing for a 1 v 1 elsewhere on the pitch. When Neres is found with feel, Schone can keep the ball under pressure finding Ziyech who slots the ball into Donny’s feet who is just onside. A little dummy follows, he sits Lloris down and it’s 0-1.

The second Phase – from minute 22 to 45

When Tadic is injured on the pitch, Pochettino uses the time to instruct his players to abandon the 5-3-2 and Danny Rose is pushing into midfield. Hakim Ziyech was enjoying a lot of free space and with this move, the space in midfield becomes sparse. Tottenham also starts to play more direct balls. Llorente finds Daley Blind and he is the target man for the long balls. The tall Spaniard wins 7 aerial battles and allows Spurs a way out from trouble.

Minute 46 – 90

Ajax has demonstrated to be quite comfortable under pressure. They showed this vs Real Madrid. They can keep the pitch small and compact and play themselves out of trouble with their quick passing. At times a long ball towards the speedy Neres or Van de Beek can work as well. But Spurs forces Ajax into fighting mode. Tottenham puts more pressure on the ball and Ajax decides to avoid risk but to play a compact defensive game, absorbing the pressure and counting on a break. Even Neres and Ziyech are putting in a shift.

This image above shows what happened. The Spurs forwards make it hard for Ajax to play out from the back, and Onana is forced to play the long ball. Tottenham does have a lot of trouble creating any real chances though. The siege of the Ajax half doesn’t really result in open chances. And Pochettino simply doesn’t have the options on the bench for a breakthrough.

The best chance in the second half is actually for Ajax. Nazraoui, not 100% fit, is back in the game for Schone, who was spent. Nazraoui, a former playmaker, knows how to play midfield and when Ziyech puts pressure on Alderweireld he sends Mazraoui deep, who bombs past Eriksen and drives into the box. Tadic does get a chance from the same spot that got him his goal vs Madrid but the false striker decides to square to Neres, who mishits the ball a tad, and hits the post.

And thus, we saw two Ajax faces. The Ajax that can swing, dominate and tear opponents apart with blistering football and the Ajax that can battle and fight.

This shrewdness might well be another skill in the toolbox for Ajax, to achieve that historical ticket for a Champions League finals…

Elsewhere in Europe, Virgil van Dijk had to concede 3 goals, while his team played a very good game! But where luck and skill worked in tandem for Barca, Liverpool hit the post and missed their key opportunities to surprise the Spanish champs, even with Wijnaldum as false striker…

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  1. Great stuff, Jan. I knew something changed, but couldn’t quite make out exactly what was happening. You make it very clear. Thank you.

    Three questions:

    (1) As you point out, in the 2d half, whenever Onana took possession, Spurs took away the easy short pass, forcing Onana to play long. Spurs continually won the long balls in the midfield, taking possession again and again, essentially keeping the ball away from Ajax. (I think the early time possession stat was 66-34 Ajax, but by the end of the game it was close to 50/50) What does Ajax do to deal with that?

    (2) Ajax came out flying in the first 30 minutes. even when they lost possession, they were hunting the ball in packs, putting constant pressure on Spurs. No way to sustain that energy over 90 minutes, and it seemed to me that they tired a little a bit, allowing Spurs to push back hard. I also think Spurs will start with a real push in the first 15-20 min. in Amsterdam. How do you thinkTen Haag will play it: Come out with their foot on the gas again, or anticipate that they will have to absorb pressure in the first phase of the game?

    (3) If Mazrouai is fit, him or Veltman at rb? (I’ve liked Maz. all year, but Veltman played well.)

    1. I actually liked Veltman and Mazrouai playing in the team together in a 3-4-3.

      —-Veltman—-De Ligt—-Blind—-

      Mazrouai-van de Beek-de Jong-Tagliafico


      Tottenham will likely play a 4-4-2 in the return leg, and the back three will really nullify Alli and Son.

    2. As for 1. I think Ajax lost some energy and wasn’t able to execute the new plan in the second half. The midfield was in Ajax’ hands in the first half of the first half and Ziyech and Frenkie were having fun.

      When Sissoko came on and Spurs went to a more 4-5-1 or 4-4-2 I think the physical aspect started to kick in and Ajax went with it. It’s sometimes something that happens particularly with young players. I think Ajax should have been able to pass the ball out of harms way and counter with glee.

      2. Yes, Agree. I think Spurs will not fire on all cylinders. I think they’ll know that they’re vulnerable with counters. They only need 1 goal. So why be hasty. The only difference will be that Eriksen will have willing runner in front of him to play the ball into, which will help Eriksen’s game. Ajax will probably start the game less frantic as they don’t want to run into trouble. As it is, the game is Ajax’ to lose.

      3. I hope Mazraoui. He’s quick and tall. He can cope with Son I think. Veltman is a decent passer but not the quickest.

  2. Jan:

    Thanks for this tactical analysis. Very helpful!

    What interests me is that Alli and Eriksen, who are likely Spurs’ two most talented players during this match, were extremely limited in their contributions. Did they have bad games, did Ajax neutralize them with tactics, or did Spurs’ own tactics to neutralize Ajax limit their two best players’ attacking contributions?

    Also, I just have to say that I love watching this Ajax side play and I hope they come out guns blazing again! My only concern is that Frenkie just seems to continually play with fire. When it’s just young, free-wheeling Ajax taking on the world’s best with no expectations and nothing to lose, his impudence and confidence is kind of cool. But now that the stakes are raised and a CL trophy is possible, I’m just worried that he’s going to cost us a dumb goal at some point along the way…

    Finally, Ziyech and Neres were fantastic in their defensive contributions, tirelessly tracking back. Without their efforts, I do believe that Tottenham would have scored in that match.

    1. I think having Llorente in the team really changes things. The game plan was to play long balls to the forwards, and it really stretched the size of the field. Eriksen thrives with short passes in closed spaces and Alli prefers running onto passes rather than receiving them on his chest or at his feet.

    2. I think Spurs are not in a great way, despite what ajax did. They look leggie. They had some setbacks in the past week. They lack confidence. Also Trippier was playing pretty bad and so was Wanyama. If you have 3 or 4 problem players in your team at CL semi final level, you’ll be in trouble.

  3. Also, I only saw a little bit of yesterday’s match, but having seen them several times this year, this iteration of Barcelona is not their best. Messi is obviously Messi, but Valverde is not Guardiola and their midfielders and outside backs are no longer anywhere near the same level as peak Barca.

    Ajax should not look too far ahead, but behind the scenes we should start analyzing Liverpool’s tactics and where their success and failure has come. Obviously Liverpool is a much different team, but their pressing and their front line interplay are things that Ajax can replicate if necessary / appropriate…

  4. Tnx jan. But why frenkie and danny not good relation with each other?? I feel it before and now i see frenkie didn’t like van der beek in instagram and vdv is also dont like frenkie pic.

      1. No, I think you are not crazy, but I don’t think there is a problem. I am not sure where you get your info from? I havent heard this….

    1. I watched the whole game. It’s a good squad, arguably as good as last year’s.






      Could have won the game 4 or 5 nil, Taylor and Taabouni both hit the post. To me, Hoever, Taylor, Maatsen, Taabouni and Brobbey are all world-class. Unuvar good for his age but average in the competition, I actually thought Bannis did well after replacing him.

  5. Tagliafico has just signed with Ajax for 1 more season. This is very good news I hope Ajax can keep more players and buy some interesting new players with the money the got for De Jong and the money they will get from De Ligt.

    1. Technically, he didn’t sign for one more season. His ongoing contract has been augmented and he said he’ll stay at least one more season.

    1. The fact that he has broken into the groningen first team at his age speaks his volume. A team like barcelona wont coming knocking on the door for nothing. Barca intention is buy and send him out on loan to real betis.

    2. Probably not. He’s not a second Frenkie. Reis is a superb destroyer. He is like Kante without the qualities n the ball. He is quick, tough as nails, and only eyes for the ball. On the ball however, he is weak. his passing and his decision making need to improve. He will be signed for Barcelona B, who play 2 levels below La Liga, so don’t get your panties all wet people.

  6. Nathan ake also started in the midfield for bournemouth and scored the winner vs Tottenham. not to say spurs are a depleted side due to injures but he certainly looks more ambitious in a forward role.especially during set pieces.

  7. First time I saw Ake was on that youth WC team with Depay, Willems, Kongolo, Rekik, etc. He was playing MF. But he has been used almost exclusively as a defender/wingback in the EPL. It would be nice to see what he can do in the mf at that level.

    Know nothing about Maatsen, but recently you hear his name. He’s at Chelsea, correct? Always good to have players in the pipeline.

    Re: Brobbey. Admittedly I don’t see him much, but from what I’ve seen on the U17 highlights, he looks more agile and has better movement than last year at the same tournament. Big athletic kid; probably just growing into his body.

    1. the trio of redan, castillo and maatsen were active for chelsea in the youth league which they lost in the final to porto. maatsen has been deployed in back 3 there. a good partnership also coming up in the midfield between him and taylor.

    2. Ake is top notch DM..Just an amazing player…We dont have to waste him in Defense when we have Virgil,Devrij,Deligt,Mensah,Bruma,Reikik,kongolo,Vandroglen…its a sin..

  8. Lazio has secured the signing of Liverpool winger bobby adekanye on free transfer after he successfully completed medical in rome. remember this name.

  9. Wow what just happened. If you missed the liverpool and Barcelona game then you missed one of the most trilling comebck game of the season. Atmosphere was like 1000 roaring lions with klopp having all the goose bumps in the press conference. Even he never knew this would be the outcome. What a comeback. Another beak down for messi.

  10. The number of people who have been talking about getting Wijnaldum out of the National Team on this forum has been shocking. This guy is world class at a world class club.

    1. You see this is just what you call fire without smoke . There was nothing special about wijnaldums goal. Yes he scored for a fact and yes it had taken them to the final but it was typical wijaldum goals. Right time at the right place. Every body knows his strength is when he is losse in the box. On a day thats how klopp uses the depth in the squad. It worked. if you are saying Gini was world class,then origi also has to be world class which is literally not the case.

      1. His first goal was a late run into the box. That requires losing your man and perfect timing, plus the finish. The best players make finishing look easy, they’re not always scoring wonder goals. I would rather take a midfielder who knows how to be “right time at the right place” then someone who scores a worldie every 10 games.

        Consistency at the top level is what defines world class, otherwise we’d be talking about guys like Januzaj or Macheda as world class, because they scored some top level goals.

        1. Exactly now you are talking.consistency.this is what defies a world class from a regular player and this is why I brought origi in the picture as well.what would have been the odds for wijnaldum and origi to score the goals. Origi has barely had minutes, wijnaldum came of the bench. At the end of the day the opportunities came and they nailed it. In the first leg they had the opportunities but they were not clinical enough. Mane, Salah,firmino,van dijk have been consistent players for liverpool.every second game you atleast expect them to score. I dont think lossing his marker and raising above higher to head in a goal has something to do with being world class. If this was the case wijnaldum would have been in the same boat as mane and salah. Yes the goals were important and crucil ones at the same time but as far as wijnaldum goes it doesnt change the fact that he is not a midfielder who can go out of his comfort zone. This is why I said he is lethal if given opportunity inside the box. Outside forget it.

          Also I still dont think he is a all rounded midfielder.well klopp has tried to mould him into one but now with Fabinho and ketia finding their feet, that is also diminishing.with some teams it works but come big games it comes down more to who is best suited for execution job.

  11. @Wilson, not sure you are being fair to the commenter here. He didn’t write that Wijnaldum was a world class striker/scorer. He wrote “world class.” I take that to mean as a guy who can be on the field in a game at the highest level and not be out of place, and if the opportunities arise take them; and that is Wijnaldum basd on his body of work. He is a terrific all around mf, and he can come forward and stick the ball in the net. If his run on to the ball to score the first goal, and his excellent header for the second goal were “typical Wijnaldum goals” we should celebrate that we have such a player who can do that as well play the mf role that he does for Liverpool. “Right time at the right place” seems like damning with faint praise, and its not fair. He wasn’t just hanging around and got a “look what I found.” He was where he was supposed to be and read the plays to get there, and then took his chances when got there in the middle of a huge pressure match.

    So, I’m with derekvdberg, here, I have no problem with the world class designation.

    1. The term “world class” and the explanation you have given of being able to play at highest level……is quiet contradictory.do you need to be a world class to be able to play at the highest level? I mean you look at spurs or even ajax.there is whole lot of another things that comes into play.the players around, atmosphere, hunger coaches etc. If you look at the game itself players lik trent Alexender arnold, henderson, Fabinho, Van dijk were masterclass in their department. I still wouldnt say they were world class.

  12. @Wilson, I understand, fair point, but I think we have different definitions. Of course you don’t have to be world class to play at the highest level, you just have to have a manager write your name on the team sheet, or be the only one available when someone gets injured.

    Perhaps my term “no out of place” at the highest level wasn’t definitive enough. I use it to mean someone who always looks like they belong, that you can see the other players respect and can trust. Who takes his fair share of chances in big moments. Who day in and day out plays the game consistently at a high level, not just the 3-4 minutes he has the ball, but the other 86 minutes, who you know won’t be overwhelmed if the opposite jersey is France, Germany or Barcelona, and who that other team has to think about and account for whether on the ball or off the ball. I’m not looking at one game, but over the course of the season, and more than one season. Wijnaldum fits those criteria (for me). You have different criteria (perhaps you’ll share). That is fair.

    You wouldn’t say that Van Dijk, the PFA Player of the Year, is World Class? That is a high bar you have, and this probably speaks to our difference of opinion. I think there are a number of players that are World Class (as I’ve defined), and then there are players among that category who are more special, still.

  13. Wijnaldum was amazing last night!!! Not only because of scoring twice but he actually played magnificent!. So now we have 2 Dutch in the final I hope Ajax also wins!!!!

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