Strong Ajax kicked out of Champions League

The visitors were played off the pitch in the first half of the game but were silenced in the second half.

“Being better in possession” was Ten Hag’s mantra after the disappointing draw in Portugal. In order to not fall into the counter-knife of Benfica, Ten Hag made some subtle changes to his system. The left flank, where Ajax suffered most in Lisbon, was set up differently this time, with a leading role for Ryan Gravenberch.

Tactically, this is a different match altogether. In Portugal, supported by the crazy Benfica fans, they pressed high at times.This time around, the Benfica coach used a 4-2-3-1 with a strong defensive block. Ramos played more like a midfielder than an attacker. while Silva and Everton also played more like wingbacks than winger. Benfica’s most important mission: do not concede, hoping Ajax will somehow stumble in the second half.

In order to stop the opponent from being dangerous, Ten Hag has used some more certainties. Daley Blind was out of position a number of times in the away game, when Benfica countered. This time around, he played more like a third centre back.

In the build up, Blind constantly joins Timber and Martinez at the back, which usually means that Ajax has 3 defenders around striker Nunez. Ten Hag before the match: “We need to bring our style to the pitch. Which is cool and collected on the ball and recognising the moment to accelerate. When we do this, it usually means our rest defence is top. In this way, we can manage the game and pounce when there is space.”

Blind as third central defender does indeed offer more on two aspects of the Ajax game: there is more composure on the ball at the back and Ajax’ rest defence is already there when needed. To keep a threat on the left hand side, it’s Gravenberch who is playing wide on the left, with Tadic.

The Benfica defenders have difficulty with this. Their defence is zonal based. Ajax will lure the right winger Silva in the direction of Blind, which means right back Gilbero is faced with Tadic and Gravenberch, at times.

This image above demonstrates the confusion at Benfica. Taarabt and Weigl are both pointing and coaching team mates. Taarabt doesn’t want to pulled away from the centre of the pitch, by Gravenberch, while Weigl is dealing with two opponents: Berghuis and Mazraoui. Taarabt ends up the man to cover for Gilbero in some cases.

Ajax’ most threatening attacks do all come from their left flank.

In the 36th minute, Blind also joins into the attack. But the defensive organisation doesn’t change, as Mazraoui will drop back, and Ajax still has three at the back. Blind’s presence confuses Benfica and Gravenberch finds the space to dribble inside and release a good attempt on goal.

Three minutes later, Gravenberch starts a move that results in a big chance for Berghuis. This time, the attack starts on the right. Martinez with a good cross pass to Gravenberch, who is in a 2 v 1 situation with Tadic. Gravenberch waits till Gilbero bites and plays Tadic in. His pull back into the box offers Berghuis a golden opportunity, but the south paw wants the ball on his left foot and fumbles the chance.

This attack is exactly what Ten Hag wants. Be patient, push the opponent back, create a man more situation and pounce!

Benfica coach Verissimo is not happy with the first half and hooks Taarabt at half time. The playmaker is replaced by a defensive mid, as direct opponent for Gravenberch.

In situations where Gravenberch would have been free on the left, now Meité comes with him. Benfica is able to neutralise the Ajax threat. With 19 minutes to go, Benfica thinks they have enough control to bring more heading capabilities in Yaremchuk, he’ll take the central role and Nunez will move to the left.

With 13 minutes to go, the ref gives a soft free kick to Benfica. Nunez beats Timber in the air and Onana’s timing mistake results in Ajax conceding a goal in a game in which they hardly gave anything away.

Ten Hag responds by bring Brobbey and midfielder Klaassen. Blind first move to left central defender but shifts back to the wing, while Timber takes a more midfield role. Benfica’s speciality is to kill time and Ajax’ final thrust never really takes place.

Ajax played a double ticket against an opponent who rolled out the red carpet in the first leg. In Portugal, Ajax lost the tie, by opening themselves up needlessly. The draw in Portugal was what Benfica needed to completely disrupt Ajax’ game in Amsterdam. A better organisation did help Ajax to stop Benfica from countering but shooting blanks up top and making mistakes with a dead ball was all it needed for Ajax to disappoint in Europe yet again.

Sunday, arch enemy Feyenoord awaits.

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  1. Good analysis Jan.

    The triangle of Blind, Gravenberch, Tadic looked so good and it’s good to see that Gravenberch earned his way back into the starting 11 and was really rising to the occasion. Berghuis was nearly invisible, but was playing in a crowded area of the field.

    The interesting thing will be to see what happens with this Ajax team in the summer. Ten Hag has openly said that he is looking to leave, so I think that’s nearly guaranteed, as long as there is a good suitor. I do hope he doesn’t go to Manchester United, I feel like there’s not enough on his resume yet to survive the blackhole at Old Trafford. I think a good step up would be a team like Dortmund who aren’t the happiest with their manager.

    I imagine that Tadic, Haller, Berghuis, Klaassen and Blind will all be in Ajax next season. I think they’re starting to look like lifers. Mazraoui, Onana and Tagliafico are certainly going to leave. I imagine Antony, Gravenberch, Alvarez and Martinez will all be on the block, but I don’t think Ajax will lose both Alvarez and Martinez in the same season. I hope that Gravenberch stays one more season, becomes a real dominant midfielder before making the jump.

  2. Agree with anaylsis. The only thing I will add is it was evident Benfica had a plan as they played compact and deep. I mean Rafa silva and Blind compared to last week and then blind consistently bombarding forwarding in this leg.

    Ajax dominately playing on the flanks through Tadic and Antony and creating space in the middle for haller, Berghuis and others to pounce on was getting predictable and sooner or later they would have been crushed by big teams. Other wise and aslo agree the creativity from midfield and especially berghuis was zero and there has been calls here for him to start at 10 in NT. He shouldnt be in NT at all. Hard criticism but he is simply not up to it and will suffocate in compact/ high tempo games.

    Benfica did their homework and they sat deep waiting to pounce on counters. Thet sat deep and closely double teamed on antony and to lesser extent on Tadic who did manage to get in crosses in the box

    Gravenberch looked dangerous when drifting to the left flank again as mentioned and teaming up with blind and tadic. Benfica were quick to sub off Taarbat at HT and threw in meite to counter that which to some extent did. Gravenberch did look lively and did put in a good shift offensively.

    On the goal and I have said this before, it was Timber who was marking Nunez and he exploited his arieal vulnerability by shrugging him off to head in the goal. Timber looked to have been sandwiched between Nunez and outcoming ohana which obstructed him and leaving nunez in clear to get a clean header.otherwise the anylsis is spot on.

    Either way I dont think neither Ajax or Benfica would have gone beyond the next round

  3. As Mentioned earlier about Frimpong’s injury, its now confirmed he is out for the season.karsdorp needs to be called up to replace him and if he doesnt, then the whole jury is bloody corrupt.

  4. So I’m first and foremost an Ajax fan. Secondarily a Barca fan, but then I actually like to cheer for all of the Dutch teams afterwards. I cheer for Feyenoord and PSV in the conference league despite the rivalry.

    Watching every Dutch team is so stressful. Watching Ajax in the closing minutes was stressful. Watching AZ this afternoon was stressful. Watching Vitesse this evening was stressful. Dutch clubs with a few minutes left it just never works out for.

  5. How van gaal and blind concluded frimpong is better than karsdorp???.. I hope malen and berjwin doesnt get dropped for danjuma and lang both has zero impact in NT..

  6. “Zero impact in NT.” How many games have they played for NT? Danjuma has 2 goals in 5 games, Lang so has around 3 caps. What are you trying yo prove here. As usually your idiosyncratic assumptions contradict the reality of rational argument. Just like many other times, when they will start burning all their clyinders with more games and will probe you are wrong , then you will start cutting corners and start singing their tunes. But dont worry I will be there to back you up my friend.

    1. luuk de jong has scored more goals than Danjuma and lang together..with 10 minutes playing time in several games…wat does that mean???wilson…Danjuma work rate is pathetic for a team lke ajax or bayern or NT…he is not good for one touch wall pass fast football..while Malen and Berjwin are joy to watch…they play when it really matters..

  7. Bergwijn should come back to Ajax if they come back for him in the summer transfer window. He will always be a impact player of the bench at spurs.

    Other player Ajax should look at bringing back is Jairo Riedewald. He seens to out of favour at Palace but still has gained valuable experience playing 4-4-2 under Hodgson and could be a good addition to the mid and backline.

    Also If Ihattarren can get back to his old form and prove himself to the ajax hierarchy, Ajax can be a good team next season.

  8. CL Quarters.

    Chelsea-Real Madrid

    Bayern- Villareal

    Man City – Atletico Madrid

    Liverpool – Benfica

    Like I said even if Ajax would have won vs Benfica, dont think they would have gone past this stage.

  9. Volledige voorselectie

    Doel: 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), Jordan Teze (PSV), Matthijs de Ligt(Juventus), Hans hateboer (Atalanta), Tyrell Malacia (Feyenoord), Jurriën Timber (Ajax), 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), Noa Lang (Club Brugge), Donyell Malen (Borussia Dortmund) en Wout Weghorst (Burnley).

  10. On Ajax V Benfica. Ajax lacked the cutting edge upfront. They played good football as usual but just missed the final goal. The triangle between Blind-Gravenberch-Tadic was good. Berghuis missed a gilt-edge opportunity.

    On the NT selection. Just puzzled me why Karsdorp is overlooked, and instead Jordan Teze and Hateboer are called up. I am not impressed with the latter in Atalanta games I watched. Very heavy foot I feel.
    Did LVG answer to any question on Karsdorp’s omission in the press conference?

    1. I agree with you. Hateboer is not a starter anymore at Atalanta. Karsdorp played 27 matches this Serie A season already and 34 matches last season, and he is overlooked for Hateboer who played 11 matches this season and 22 matches last season.

      The only reason I can think of is that Karsdorp did something bad in the dressing room last time he was in NT. But if that was the case, he would not be in the pre-selection for Euro.

      How could NT call up is so easy for players in the Eredivisie like Rensch, Teze and Karsdorp back then in Feyenoord? At the same time, it is so hard for players playing abroad, Weghorst, Danjuma, Lang, Frimpong and Karsdorp now? It looks like a double standard to me.

      1. This doesn’t come across as shocking to me. Dumfries is the guy for Holland, he has the spot.

        It’s not dissimilar to the issue with England and Trent Alexander Arnold, who is competing with Reese James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier. Amazing with his club but struggling to get minutes in the National Team.

  11. @Derekvdberg91 I can feel your pain by reading the last moment comment. I think most Dutch fans will understand this feeling. Nice analysis by Jan but i think the mentality issue is missing in the analysis. If you look at the broader picture, it is not just Ajax but all Dutch teams fail in 50/50 games. They need to learn that they can win even if they did not play well. Right now, when the game get tough, they will press the mistake button.

    1. Kevin, you are right. Mentality is a big thing and it is indeed missing in the analysis. As if we almost expect it to be always like this. Portuguese, Turkish and Italian clubs have it in spades. The Dutch lack it. We either play really well if we are allowed and if not, we resort to silly physical play (Oranje 2006 and 2010, Feyenoord), resulting in agitation and red cards.

      On another note: WHERE IS KARSDORP?? This really bugs me.

      1. I just laugh when I read this “Mentality is a big thing and it is indeed missing in the analysis. As if we almost expect it to be always like this.” It is sad and funny at the same time. We know this flaw in our system for so long and it keep going on.

  12. @ Emmanuel

    “luuk de jong has scored more goals than Danjuma and lang together..with 10 minutes playing time in several games…wat does that mean??? Wilson…”

    This meams nothing and by 31 both lang and damjuma will have piled up double of what luuk has scored in his entire outings for NT. Like just wait when both lang and start burning all the cylinders with more games coming up. Dont worry we both will ne singing together.

    “Danjuma work rate is pathetic for a team lke ajax or bayern or NT…he is not good for one touch wall pass fast football..while Malen and Berjwin are joy to watch…they play when it really matters”

    Again hold on to your pans tight, at Club level danjuma is proving himself at the highest level and in NT, let them tighten their grip like to that of bergwijn and Malen whom have clocked considerable minutes and caps as well.

    Also any comments on the Ajax and Benfica game since you your boasting they were up to par with Liverpool and others.

    1. @ Derekvdberg91

      Can you rephrase this part or mean by this,

      “It’s not dissimilar to the issue with England and Trent Alexander Arnold, who is competing with Reese James, Kyle Walker and Kieran Trippier. Amazing with his club but struggling to get minutes in the National Team”

      What I know Southgate has being rotating with who ever is avaliable

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