Benfica – Ajax: two faced match

Ajax could and should have beaten Benfica in the first leg in Portugal. In a time where a draw away versus a Portuguese top team is lamented as a disappointing results (have we forgotten that we hardly ever won against Portuguese teams, home or away??), Ajax can look back on a decent first half.

Ten Hag explained his choice for Gravenberch over Klaassen in geometrical terms: “With Klaassen I can play vertical, Davey loves his forward runs. But i want to put the emphasis on the width of the park. And Gravenberch is the player for this.” Huh??

Before the half time break. Ten Hag appears to get it right. What Ten Hag described worked. Seb Haller scores the 1-2, and like Ajax’ first goal, it is the result of the tactical hocus pocus of the bald maestro.

In the first half, Benfica is trying to pressure Ajax with a 4-4-2. When that fails, Ramos drops back into midfield to make life hard for Alvarez, trying to stop Ajax finding the free man in the midfield.

In defensive terms, Ajax plays man to man on midfield, as per usual. Alvarez on Ramos, Berghuis makes life hard for Weigl and Gravenberch is up against Adel Taarabt. The pressure play is done by Antony. The right winger is constantly pushing towards Vertonghen, from his position vis a vis Grimaldo. Mazaroui pops up behind Antony in the half space whenever he can.

That patterns is clear to see right before the first Ajax goal. Antony leaves Grimaldi open to push Vertonghen. Goalie Odysseas opens to his left back, assuming he’s got time and space. But Mazraoui pounces like an eagle and pushes the Spaniard off the ball, he combines with Antony and assists the Tadic goal. Seven seconds between the turn over and the ball in the net. It happens so often: the high press resulting in a goal for Ajax.

The way Ajax gifts the equaliser to Benfica must have Ten Hag pulling out all his hair. If he had hair. Martinez is paired with Vertonghen but due to a block, the Argentinian loses him and Mazraoui takes over his duties. But the right back slips and Vertonghen finds himself with time and space. The ex Ajax defender hits the ball in, where Pasveer fails to stop the cross in. And Haller doesn’t count on the goalie’s omission and stands on his heels, not able to move his feet: 1-1.

Still, Ajax gains control swiftly again. The second goal demonstrates why Gravenberch is in the team. Ten Hag has been harping on about pulling the opponent wide. Using the width to create openings in the opponent set up. Another aspect to focus in on, is Timber’s runs into midfield. His opponent Nunez is not one to defend and he allows Timber to become and extra midfielder. Benfica plays zonal and has two player on their right hand side. Ajax puts three players opposite these two. With winger Tadic, left back Blind and midfielder Gravenberch almost hugging the line. Silva is pulled towards the ball by Blind, Berghuis took the left winger role for a bit while Tadic is in the centre and the former Feyenoord talisman crosses the ball into Haller who has two bites of the cherry: 1-2.

This is not a coincidence, because just before the break, this same situation results in another chance for Haller. Timber is in midfield again and Gravenberch plays like an extra left winger and the Benfica defence is getting confused. Ajax opens with a cross ball to the right, where Antony has space one on one. He launches Alvarez and the Mexican hits the post with his shot. The rebound is just to hard for Haller to control with his left.

In the second half. Benfica coach Verissimo plays the joker. Yaremchuk comes as an extra striker. Now, there are three central strikers on the pitch for Benfica and Ajax starts get countered more often, with four Benfica forwards threatening the Ajax goal.

In an attacking sense, Ajax’ wing backs have more space to attack but when the ball is lost, the Benfica forwards have space and time and the game opened up massively.

This is the lead up to the Benfica equaliser: Timber is in the opposing box and in my view, he makes a mistake by simulating an injury, to get a penalty. The slow-mo shows he wasn’t touched. He’s down though and as Gravenberch, Tadic, Blind, Haller and Antony are also up field, the rest defence consists of Alvarez, Berghuis, Martinez and Mazraoui. The Mexican is played out by Silva and the move ends with a distance strike by Ramos. Usually, a low percentage option. Pasveer blocks the shot but the ball drops right in front of the empty goal where Yaremchuk is simply quicker than Berghuis: 2-2.

Ten Hag responds by bring a better defender for left back with Tagliafico. The Argentinian can bomb up the flank too and Klaassen is coming in for Gravenberch. Ajax wants control back. But Benfica is happy with the draw and switch back to a 5-4-1 system and starts to run out the clock.

Benfica ends up being joyous with the draw which is another indication of the big chance Ajax missed to get one leg into the next round. Benfica can now play defensively in Amsterdam and play on the counter attack.

Oh, and it has to be said…. Daley Blind played a terrible game….

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  1. Volledige voorselectie

    Doel: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord), Joël Drommel (PSV), Mark Flekken (SC Freiburg) en Tim Krul (Norwich City).

    Defensie: Nathan Aké (Manchester City), Daley Blind (Ajax), Virgil van Dijk (Liverpool), Denzel Dumfries (Internazionale), Jeremie Frimpong (Bayer Leverkusen), Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus), Tyrell Malacia (Feyenoord), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), Stefan de Vrij (Inter) en Owen Wijndal (AZ).

    Middenveld: Jordy Clasie (AZ), Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona), Davy Klaassen (Ajax), Teun Koopmeiners (Atalanta), Marten de Roon (Atalanta), Guus Til (Feyenoord) en Georginio Wijnaldum (Paris Saint-Germain).

    Aanval: Steven Berghuis (Ajax), Steven Bergwijn (Tottenham Hotspur), Memphis Depay (Barcelona), Cody Gakpo (PSV), Arnaut Danjuma Groeneveld (Villarreal), Luuk de Jong (Barcelona), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund) en Wout Weghorst (Burnley).

  2. Luuk de Jong
    Clasie -both a waste of space.

    De Roon not so much. But would have been a perfect opportunity to see what a player like Struijk can do against the big guys in that role. Instead same ole same ole.

    Veerman should have been given a chance. Clasie is not better. Instead same ole same ole.

    Frimpong was a good call-up and maybe signifies a change of attitude. But then you ask, where is Karsdorp?

  3. From the past it has to be noted some of them are just there to make numbers and will be dropped out and the jury know whom that will be but still they call them up. There is never that genuine intentions to look out of box. Clasie for me even though I have showed affection for him in the past has done anything to get a call up. I agree Veerman should have been called up and I wont be suprised if clasie gets the chop. De Roon and Koompmeiners will get the nod over him. Again this what it is and how the jury sees it.

    Karsdorp situation is nothing new, he was never in the picture from day 1 and no matter what he does, he will not get selected. Its evident the jury want Timber to lay his stakes in team which again comes down to preference. Nothing to do with performances. Frimpong inclusion I hope is genuine call and wont be chopped off. He deserves to be there.

  4. Erwin van de Looi named provisional Jong Orange squad with Jan Paul van Hecke (Blackburn Rovers), Elayis Tavsan (NEC) and Thomas Buitink (Vitesse) all earning their first call-ups.

    Goalkeepers: Fabian de Keijzer (FC Utrecht), Calvin Raatsie (Ajax), Kjell Scherpen (KV Oostende), Bart Verbruggen (Anderlecht).

    Defenders: Mitchel Bakker (Bayer Leverkusen), Sepp van den Berg (Prestorn North End), Devyne Rensch (Ajax), Sven Botman (Lille), Ian Maatsen (Coventry City), Melayro Bogarde (FC Groningen), Neraysho Kasanwirjo (FC Groningen) ), Ki-Jana Hoever (Wolverhampton Wanderers), Lutsharel Geertruida (Feyenoord), Jan Paul van Hecke (Blackburn Rovers).

    Midfielders: Ryan Gravenberch (Ajax), Kenneth Taylor (Ajax), Wouter Burger (FC Basel), Daniël van Kaam (FC Groningen), Quinten Timber (FC Utrecht), Ludovit Reis (Hamburg), Jurgen Ekkelenkamp (Hertha Berlin).

    Attackers: Vicente Besuijen (Aberdeen), Brian Brobbey (Ajax), Myron Boadu (AS Monaco), Crysencio Summerville (Leeds United), Daishawn Redan (PEC Zwolle), Joshua Zirkzee (Anderlecht), Anthony Musaba (SC Heerenveen), Thomas Buitink (Vitesse), Elayis Tavsan (NEC).

    On paper it looks a very strong squad but you really have to question if Van der looi can get the best out this talented of squad.

  5. Believed Frimpong will be included in the final squad. He will be tested tonight Vs Bayern.
    Karsdorp probably will never be called up. No sure why exactly, maybe the press can pose this to LVG.

    Jordy Clasie’s inclusion a surprise to me. Still remembered he and a certain Adam Maher were once touted as future big name.
    Joey Veerman will probably need an extended run of good performance to be called up.
    Ryan Gravenberch for all the hype around him ain’t really imposing himself in Ajax games I feel. Need to develop more.

    1. Gravenberch has his upside and downside which he needs to improve on. I have said this before, his defending lethargic. He doesnt commit himself defensively as much he does offensively

  6. Watched Frimpong and Karsdorp in action for Bayer Leverkusen and Roma. Both played really well I feel. Frimpong kept his direct opponents, incl. Serge Gnabry quiet. Gnabry was substituted in the game. Karsdorp sent good crosses in, and threatening bringing the ball forward. He reminds me of Trent with his raking crosses.
    And with Dumfries and Rensch, our RB position is well covered.

  7. Bit in detail. Watched some good games over the weekend. Atalanta vs Roma and as pointed out by ycsng0822, karsdorp was at his best. In the absence of Mourinho, Roma started 343 with Abraham and Zaniolo two man upfront and pellegrini behind them. I have been watching Roma games for quite some time now and will say it was job as usually for Karsdorp. It was from his cross to Zaniolo that resulted in the build up to Abraham goal and like I have mentioned before both karsdorp and Zaniolo complement each other very well and on counters they cause havoc on the oponents. This is bascially how they scored. Quick counter, pinpoint cross to Zaniolo and then on to Abraham who scored the only goal of the game.

    The Dutch contingent in Atalanta didnt make much impact as the midfield was shut out by Roma with Abraham consistently dropping deep as extra men in the midfield and disrupting Atalanta build up from the middle. This was a decsive factor in this game.

    Koopmeiners again started in the advanced role but failed to stamp any authority in the game. Was mostly on end of lateral and back passing and only came into picture on set pieces or if not occasionally when in free space put in few over the head balls. Was subbed of around 60′. De Roon was as usually doing the dirty job when he could other wise like Koopmeiners was running trying to commit themselves. Hateboer looked no where near to karsdorp’s level. Had few interventions but wasnt as dangerous as karsdorp.

  8. Watched PSG lose to Nice 1-0. Will say was a very good game and credit to Nice Coach Christopher Galtier and his tatical 4-4-2 system. There is a video on this and how he used the same system to win last season at Lille. They play in threes or in triangles, any where on the park and above all you have to keep running in this system. If you are a player who wants the ball to come to you, then you wont survive in this system. If you watch Nice games you can instantly recognise this.

    Nice played really well and defused neymar and Messi working in pairs and during counters where the Nice players showed good workrate running back and closing down PSG attack. Mbappe was injured

    The Dutch contingent had very good game. Kluivert started on the right and was lively on his flank. Was always a threat when on the ball and in space. PSG had to commit two players on him and that often stretched the defense. I would say this guy is growing with confidence and will break into NT soon .Had one good chance towards the end of game one on one but buckled underneath his feet before firing straight at the GK. Was subbed around 82′

    Pabolo Rasairo put in a good shift in the midfield as well. Him and Lemina were like beast and like I said the nice players played in threes and were constantly providing outlets for each other. Provided arieal threat as well on set pieces and like lemina was always doing the dirty job.

    Stengs came on around 80′ and had the all important assist on the winning goal around 88′. His cross was a beauty and pinpoint one.The reason why he has dropped to the bench is because his defensive game is not up to par with his offensive game and this is where he fallsout of tatical play that Galter demands.

    Lastly I had my eye on Wijnaldum through out the game and must say he only came into the picture when veratti and him changed flanks which was around 70′. Till then he was a ghost just running and trying to commit himself in defense in attack and so forth. In terms of creativity he couldn’t do much either as Messi and Neymar were pulling all the strings and the only thing he could do was position himself in box where he is usually decsive but that too went in vain as he never saw the ball. I dont think we will get to see anything different from him in NT.

  9. Also watched Bayern Munich and Bayern Leverkusen. BM showed their class and were the dominant side. They attacked from all fronts and BL were forced to defend most of the game.Leverkusen did look dangerous on counters otherwise both team missed some good scoring chances.

    Bakker and Frimpong had a torrid time containing coman and Gnbary but I would say they did well. They did get rounded off few times but but not always.For frimpong this would have being the first game where he had to do alot of defending and didnt venture forward like he normally does.

    Bakker also was in the same boat as frimpong but surprisingly he put a good shift offensively. Coman did get better of him on few occasions but not always.was subbed of around 75′.

  10. Joey Veerman has 4 goals and 3 assists now and if he continues on this trajectory, he will force his way into NT. Schmidt has been deploying him in that advanced role and it seems to be working well.

    1. Thank you for the article. I am shocked by the last image. It looks like 6 players were walking back from the attack leaving the others dealing with the entire Benfica team. I hope Ten Haag will pay more attention to those detail. As we see in today’s match between Real and PSG, CL is tricky and anything can happen so these detail could mean a win or a loss.

  11. Hi @Jan. I read this article the moment it was posted, as usual, very good analysis, just like your other articles.
    I agreed with what you had written, except the part on “Daley Blind played a terrible game..” 😬

  12. I think its fair to say Ajax is currently going through what you can say a hangover or niggling (slight) decline. Can be attributed to the # of games they are playing and the impact it is having players.again vs RKC they looked slugglish only for tadic to bail them out through last minute penalty.

      1. I was wondering if Ajax’s recent dip in league form had to do with the management issues. Seems like everyday, of late, there is another article popping up about Ten Haag going to MU; Overmars is out, Van Der Sar may not survive the Overmars scandal. Players could be looking ahead at an entirely new management team next year—meaning a high degree of uncertainty and distraction for the players; especially the veterans who may be wondering what their future looks like. Not an optimal environment.

        Re: the article. Apologies, Jan. I meant to thank you for it. Good, concise explanation of the in game adjustments and their effect on the game. My initial take was that Benfica came out with alot more energy and pace in the second half, the crowd really got behind them, and that knocked Ajax off their game. But your description of the tactical changes show that it was much more than that.

    1. It is crazy that he has been good for 2 seasons now and never get a call. In that time frame, we have seen makeshift RBs like Veltman and Timber and then we also see Tete. Of those 3, only Timber could be better but again he is not an RB.

        1. Because Rensch is all about skill and he will prove you wrong. I am joking with you. Rensch is too early to tell but yeah, it is weird that some players get the call so easy and others need to prove too much.

  13. Luis Openda is absolutely fantastic for Vitesse. They easily could’ve had three or four goals in the first half. Were unlucky to go into the break down 1-0.

  14. I was behind Feynoord match…vittese match was also running on same time, was flipping arround between these two matches..vittese played very good,they should have won the game by 4-1 or so….nice to see karsdorp at half time..i spend more time with feynoord game…Jens toonstra is so under rated.He plays for the team and works hard..amazing player …
    stunning game from Geetruida at RB and Malacia at Lb both were bombing forward…Both Malacia and Geetruida looked better than Blind and Dumfries..Geetruida, s dribbling capability is excellent and miles ahead of Dumfries…He is Strong,fast,….what a player..
    RB spot is stuck with talents and makeshift ones…
    karsdorp-Geetruida,Dumfries..Rensch…thats luxuray….when to add Timber i think we have players at RB for next ten years..Geetruida can play left also..i feel Geetruida and Malacia would be better for NT than Blind and Malacia at LB..

  15. @ Kevin
    Re: Resnch

    I will agree its still early stages but looling at his recent games he doesnt look to be Mazzouri sucessdor if he leaves. His average runs at ajax continues in the recent games. This is from his ratings.

    1. He has his up and down, it is normal for most young players. This season, he has not been at his best. But it is too early to write him off. Karsdorp had terrible season at Roma before but look at him now.

  16. Frimpong got injured over the weekend. Was subbed of early 13′ what looked like an ankle injury. Extent of injury not known yet but if he doesnt recover in time for NT friendlys, karsdorp needs to be called up.

  17. @Jan: Do you have any insight on the development pipeline for attacking players in the Netherlands? It has been very bad for the last 10 years and I do not know why. It seems that our defending players could perform well when going abroad but our attacking players just lack skill to make any difference in big leagues.

    Look at our attacking players:
    _ Stengs and Boadu are just sad, bench material at best in Ligue 1 and will be shipped out soon given what they are doing
    _ Malen has many minutes at Dortmund because Haaland is injured but his goal return is low
    _ Bergwijn is not getting any minutes at Spurs
    _ LDJ is bench player at Barca

    Only Depay and Danjuma are getting some decent goal+assist return but this is far from what we used to have.

    How could a country that used to play attacking football now only produce decent defending players?

    1. @Kevin, Nervous about it. The last few years they have been in a similar spot—home game, seemingly with an edge, needing a result—and didn’t get it. The recent form isn’t great. That said, I see a win. Could/should be by more than one goal—especially if they get one early.

  18. We never got much luck whenever facing Portugal / Portuguese clubs eh ?

    I think the English media can stop dreaming about ten Hag Being Man Utd coach for a moment cos he isn’t as good as some people think

    1. Yan have you seen the match>>>>???benfica wa sparking the bus all the time,they were only threat set peices as they had taller players with aerial ability than ajax..No wonder Nunes jumped over Timber and scored one..i thought vertoghen also would score….Ajax played them off the park…even last minute brobbey wasted a tap in…Ajax contrlled the game…simply they could not break yesterday…i was happens with Mancity,Liver pool and bayern…ajax plays to dominate and win..2 fluke golas/careloss goals conceded at first leg cost Ajax..

  19. Same like every year!!!!
    Losing to a Portuguese team as usual even when Ajax this year is far superior to benfica!!!!! Nothing will ever change….. very frustrating !!!

  20. @ kevin
    We are no short in attacking players. Depay, Danjuma,Gakpo,Lang are a lock. For lang, the incoming schruder doesnt seem to deploy him in that free role like what Clement used to do and which brought the best out of him but he remains a player of high quality.. He will depart in the summer with both Milan and Arsenal showing concrete intrest in him. his future looks good. I would also say, kluivert is also lurking in background on the back of some good performances at Nice. he could also be an option on that RW. Bergwijn with some more playing time will be back

    Its the midfield that needs an overhaul. Im so hoping Ihattaren can make big comeback.

    1. @wilson..steven Berjwin is way better than Lang and Danjuma…No comparison at all..Berjwin had stunnng games at PL..Berjwin was 1million times better that both at NT…Berjwin was stunning Vs Turkey,Montenegro and Norwaay,He carried us to Wc 2022..

      1. Let me refresh you. Do you remember what you said about Ajax being on par with Liverpool and Man city. Its the same syndrome of what you are talking above.

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