Ajax’ success and the youngsters…

Truth be told, 20 years ago we would not be ecstatic and celebrating the fact that a Dutch team would make it into the CL group stages. It’s true. We sank deep so now we are delirious with joy if Ajax beats some lesser clubs and makes it in the millionaire’s ball. And, before you know it, PSV might follow suit!

The Golden Age returns, or so it seems.

But, such is reality now. After some dry years, Ajax demonstrated a panache and arrogance and quality that does remind us all of the early days of Van Gaal’s Ajax in the early 1990s. But let’s not get carried away.

The best is yet to come.

And with more good news coming on the night of Ajax’ victory (well, a draw) in Kiev, Frenkie de Jong declared before the camera not to move away from Ajax, this season. “Well, everyone would love to play for Barcelona and I hope one day I will, but not this season. I will stay for at least one more season. This will be a very fine season indeed!”, were his words. Boom!

And it seems Hakim Ziyech, the maestro playmaker will remain an Ajax player too. Good and happy times in Amsterdam, where Marc Overmars and Erik ten Hag have constructed a winning combination.

And it was Ajax’ offensive power that appeared to be their best defense. Dinamo Kiev claimed before the game to be going at Ajax from the start. That promise only came true in the first ten minutes of the game, when the fowards of Kiev press the Ajax defense and their wide backs push up immediately to create a man-more situation.

It forces Onana to some early saves and brings a couple of corner kicks to Dynamo. But Frenkie de Jong, midfielder last night, finds the response to all this huffing and puffing. He drops between Blind and De Ligt and offers himself as an option to play out of the pressure. At the same time, full backs Wober and Mazraoui push up, forcing the two Kiev backs to cover much more ground than initially planned. And they are therefore forced to make choices. Do I stay or shall I go, as the Clash proclaimed. When the backs push up, De Ligt, in this example below, has the ability to find Mazraoui, free on the right hand side (and again playing a perfect game).

It is this pattern that brings Ajax a huge opportunity, when Schone pulls one of the backs out of position and Mazraoui can steam forward. His pass finds Donny van de Beek going in behind who plays a cross to Huntelaar. All the veteran striker needed to do was lift the ball over the goalie and he could have scored.

A second tactic Ajax used was the third-man tactics. Whenever De Ligt or Blind play the forward pass or dribble into midfield, Van de Beek or Huntelaar will make themselves available. Once played in, they will bounce the ball straight into the feet of a team mate on his way to the opponent goal. This is how the penalty situation is manifested. Blind plays a fast ball into Van de Beek, who passes direct to Tadic. Wober is completely free on the left and his cross is turned into a corner.

Ziyech to take, De Ligt to attack, were it not for a Kiev player pulling Mathijs to ground clearly visible for all to see. No VAR needed.

Sadly, Tadic hits the post.

Time again Ajax finds the free man and the Amsterdam team pushes Kiev back to their own half. And as Kiev needs to take more risks, Ajax can also counter attack, allowing for loads of good opportunities. It’s actually a miracle that the end result was 0-0. And it’s not just the lack of good finishing, left back Wober had many opportunities to give a good final pass, but failed to do so. The centre back clearly had to get used to his new role, replacing the suspended Tagliafico.

Despite the misses, Ajax reached the group stages in style. Defending without the ball is still a bit of a chore for the Sons of Gods but in possession, Ajax is simply breathtaking at times. The holy trinity of De Jong, De Ligt and Blind made sure Ajax had the balance to keep the ball ticking along. With Tadic and Ziyech as the creative playmakers, it seems this youthful Ajax side gets the opportunity to prove they can do this at top level as well.

One of the key players for Ajax, is 19 year old captain Mathijs de Ligt. What a tremendous surge into the lime light for the youngster. Every top club in Europe wants his signature. And he’s one of the few players to be very consistent, both in Oranje and in Ajax.

It was more than half a year ago, when De Ligt received the band.

“It was weird. I remember it well. I was asked to see the coach in his office. I thought he wanted to give me some more instructions for the Heerenveen game. But he said I would be his captain. A big surprise. I love challenges and this was a challenge and something to be proud of. It felt weird, that first match, but now, I’m used to it.”

So he is now the leader in the team?

“Oh no, not at all. All the Ajax players have a tendency to coach and to be present. And we have some experienced players, like Huntelaar, Schone, Blind and Tadic. They are real leaders and very present verbally. I play like always, but as I’m playing at the back, I naturally can spot more and see more and use this to coach, but all the players at Ajax have this. I did talk a lot in the youth teams as well, and it’s a selfish thing. The better my midfielders handle situations, the easier for me, hahaha.”

De Ligt wasn’t always a defender though.

“I played most of my games in midfield. I think my football skills were built there. I loved playing as a midfielder. But in the B junior team, coach Peereboom pulled me a line back. I remember being off it a bit. Why? I love midfield? And he explained his reasons. The physicality needed at the back. I did notice my body changing and I started to enjoy playing centrally at the back. My technical skills helped me a lot. Ajax also worked and works on the mental side a lot. I think all over Holland, youth development is great, but I do believe Ajax is just a tad ahead with the mental side of things. You know how Ajax debutants often score a goal? I think it has to do with the preparation. You’re drilled to believe that performing is all that matters. So when you finally make it into the first team, you’re fully poised to make a difference.”

De Ligt was being guided by ex Ajax defender Barry Hulshoff but he made the change to uber agent Mino Raiola. And everyone believed De Ligt would be on his way to a big club.

“No that is not how it works with me. I am still with Barry. He coaches me and guides me more on the football-side of things. But Raiola has other strengths. But my dad is super important too. I need a good mix of people and I’m not focusing on leaving Ajax per se. I’m still young and with players like Tadic and Blind coming in and Ziyech staying, I don’t see why I would have to leave the club now? The signings have given me some peace and quiet. The level at training now is sensational. And, dont forget, I can want to leave all I want, but Ajax plays a role in it too. I want to reach the top, the highest I can, but I have time. It’s more important that I get to play football. And now, we made it into the CL so that is really cool. The podium we all long for.”

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  1. CL Draw:

    Group A: Atletico Madrid, Dortmund, Monaco, Club Brugge
    Group B: Barcelona, TOTTENHAM, PSV, Inter Milan
    Group C: PSG, Napoli, LIVERPOOL, Red Star Belgrade
    Group D: Lokomotiv Moscow, Porto, Schalke, Galatasararay
    Group E: Bayern Munich, Benfica, Ajax, AEK Athens
    Group F: MAN CITY, Shakhtar, Lyon, Hoffenheim
    Group G: Real Madrid, Roma, CSKA Moscow, Viktoria Plzen
    Group H: Juventus, MAN UTD, Valencia, Young Boys

    Very difficult for PSV. Won’t be easy, but Ajax has a real chance to get through.

  2. PSV can easily beat Barcelona they just arent what they were 3-4 years ago. And I feel Tottenham just idnt good as long as you can shut down kane and PSV will probably get around least 1 win from inter so they should easily be through

  3. I like your optimism, Depay, but…PSV will be a solid underdog in every game they play. As afar as Ajax goes, I do think they can get at least second in that group, but there has never been anything easy about away games in Greece and Lisbon, and those teams will be buttoned up and difficult to play against when they come to Amsterdam. Hard, hard games for Ajax…

    …but that is good for Ajax and the NT because for the development of players like De Jong, De ligt, Mazraoui, Eiting, Van De Beek, one game in the CL atmosphere (especially away) will be worth a dozen matches against the likes of Venlo, Emmen, etc. Same with PSV for the Rosario, Bergweijn, Dumfries, Mallen.

    1. agree and the best part is this will also give them the opportunity to market themselves with all the eyes on them during the the duration they are alive in the CL.

    2. Yes Andrew , exactly my thoughts !

      Every single game is very crucial for the young lads

      Just very unfortunate that PSV doesn’t make up any players for Oranje . Luck De Jong is no oranje material but I do have hopes for Donyell Malen

      We only got Depay currently which can be “ WorlD class . We need another 3 more …. which I think and hope Kluivert can grab one

      We don’t have any problems at the Back for at least 4-6 more years

      Midfield is another area were we need to rebuild

      Van de Beek and Frankie de Jong are the two were we need to start rebuild ; no strootman please ) and I think wiijnaldum can be the other one ( if he plays good )

  4. I think Ajax need to be playing for the knockout round and PSV need to play for 3rd. Those are realistic goals. Though with that god-awful group in their, if Ajax is lucky enough to draw any of them in the knockout round we could go even deeper.

    On a side note, our UEFA Coefficient has moved passed Denmark and Austria, so now our Champion will automatically qualify. Hopefully Ajax can do well here, and PSV can make a run at Europa to keep that trend going.

  5. It seems we are losing talents again. Mazraoui has chose Morroco over Netherland. And England U16 just called up two players who played for Netherland U15, Malcolm Ebiowei (Arsenal) and Noah Ohio (Man City)

    1. I’m not too bothered about this
      As I have said many times here , we have more than enough talent at the back . More than enough ! Even though we got two centre backs injured , we still have Wesley Hoedt or delay Blind who can fit those positions

      It’s the front and midfield where we need talent . No to strootman and I just don’t see wijnaldum playing the same level where he performed at Liverpool .

      What I do feel pity about is ziyech’s choice

  6. Malcolm Ebiowei is a attacking midfielder and Noah ohio has scored two goals netherland under-15. So KNVB must keep a tab on all the youngsters and get in touch with them so that you don’t lose talents

  7. Lyon and Nice , Roma and Milan lived up to expectation as the international break approaches for nations league. Nice welcomed back Mario Baloteli while Depay started as centre forward for Lyon after mariano Diaz loan spell was not extended by Madrid. First Lyon and Nice, both Nice strikers Balo and saint Maximin caused havoc upfront and eventually Maximin proved to be decsive with the only goal of the game. Lyon had their chances but finishing was not there. Depay particularly was drifting to the left as usually with no one in the middle. Both fekir and him tried their usually tricks from the outside of the box but were not on the target. Looking from this game its evident, Depay wont fit in at 9 or as lone centeal striker. His best position is on that left as wing forward like salah and Mane at Liverpool with false 9. If you look at last season, lyon put in the shift when Depay and Traore were deployed upfront in that 4-3-1-2 formation and now with fekir back they should go back to the same formation.lyon has also signed celtic striker Moussa Dembele and it will remain to seen if Bruno Génésio will go back to 4-3-3 to accomdate everybody or he sticks to the more vibrant 4-3-1-2 which favours Depay the best.As a coach,in the best intrest of the team it would be be,the team not be centre around just one player like what we have seen in NT in the past and effort is made to build the team around the all 11 players. Lyon is up against city in the first round of CL and this is where it could cruical for them to have roundness in all department. With the arrival of jason Denayer and Moussa Dembele, lyon have increased their depth and they jus need to find the right balance going forward.

    Roma and Milan, Eusebio Di Francesco decided to start with Schick and Dzeko upfront in 3-5-2-with Karsdorp at wing back. .milan dominated the possessions and which resulted in Roma switching back to 4-2-3-1. Karsdorp looked rusty but he did make some good forward runs and delivered crosses in the box. Defensively his flank was raided by milan throughout the game. Patrick Cutrone scored the winner late in injury time afer fazio had cancelled out frank kessie opener. Karsdorp needs more playing time and with Florenzi injured he needs to get back and running fast before florenzi gets back. There is no way he will be able to bench florenzi.

  8. Club brugge also thrashed Zulte Waregem 5-2. the dutch contingent, all started the game with Arnaut Groeneveld continuing his scoring form. Vormer was replaced by Amrabat late in the game. Club brugge also captured Kylian hazard on loan from chelsea which will add further depth into the squad. They have a good squad this season and with CL hopefully the dutch contingent will also make the most of it.

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