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Champions League Football

Ajax strive for European dominance despite high-profile departures


Ajax shocked all of European football last season, when they marched to the Champions League semis against all the odds. The standout players of that squad were seemingly the Dutch duo Frenkie De Jong and Matthias De Ligt. The duo have of course moved on to Barcelona and Juventus respectively. 

A star-studded season for sides lacking financial stability results in the squad being picked apart by the elite teams. Much to the dismay of the local fans, Monaco experienced the same in the 16/17 season. The Ligue 1 club reached the final 4 of the UEFA Champions League, which spelled the beginning of a massive sale.

The likes of Benjamin Mendy, Tiemoue Bakayoko and Bernardo Silva were immediately sold. Kylian Mbappe and Fabinho were amongst others who followed further down the line.

Ajax’s supremacy hampered by high-profile transfers:

Erik Ten Hag lost fewer stars with the aforementioned Dutch pair being the only major losses. Attacker Kasper Dolberg joined Nice. Lasse Schone further signed for Genoa, as the only other major transfers.

Their outgoings collated to nearly 200 million euros, while they spent about fifty to fill the holes. The pacey Quincey Promes was brought in from Sevilla. The other eye-catching acquisitions were Lisandro Martinez and Mexican defender Edson Alvarez.

All three started in the latest Champions League gameweek against Chelsea. However, the clash badly as Ten Hag’s team was finally defeated in the 19/20 season. In the Eredivisie, the only two times they have dropped points this season have been away from home against second and third; PSV and Vitesse.

Ajax vs Chelsea

After ten games they have won eight and drawn two. However, the absence of the metronomic De Jong in the middle of the park has stood out like a sore thumb in major clashes. The midfield three against the Blues was led by Donny Van de Beek. De Beek had scored the only goal in the first semi-final against Spurs last year. The two summer signings; Martinez and Alvarez further made their presence felt alongside.

This trio didn’t perform poorly per se. However, Frenkie De Jong is such a generational talent that he would walk into any team in world football, no questions asked.

Frenkie De Jong’s absence costs Ajax dear against Chelsea:

Frank Lampard set his side up with a clear appetite to take the game to Ajax in the iconic Johan Cruyff Arena. This is where the hosts struggled in De Jong’s absence. The Barcelona midfielder is so composed on the ball that he can soak up the pressure whilst on the ball. De Jong can further turn it into an attacking advantage for his side.

Countless times he would drop deep to take the ball off of the centre-halves or even Onana in goal. The midfielder would then drive forward and progress his side up the pitch. Mason Mount is such a key player to Lampard’s game-plan in this sense. Mount seems to be the focal point of the press, that forces the opposition to make errors.

The notion of Lampard playing his youth has been shoved down our throats. However, you have to pay the legend his dues for the way he uses Mount expertly.

For one to expect Alvarez or Martinez to be anywhere near the level Frenkie reached just before his famous switch is ludicrous. What cannot be denied is that he was a key asset in their stellar 18/19 season.

Ajax rue lack of composure in defence without Mattias de Ligt:

The other big miss is Mattias de Ligt who is surely going to be the successor to Leonardo Bonucci for the Bianconeri. His partner of last season Daley Blind is still present in the backline. Right-back Joel Veltman has been converted to join him in the middle. This allows young American Sergino Dest a chance to break into the side.

De Ligt became the youngest captain in the club’s history when he was bestowed the honour in 2018, the same year in which he won the Golden Boy award. Like with De Jong, the 20-year-old is the sort of talent that doesn’t come along very often. Hence he had the world’s best sides snapping at his heels in the summer.

His confidence on the ball in bringing it out of defence and the way he generally bossed it in both boxes is something that they will certainly miss. In the league, Ajax have conceded just seven times in their ten matches played so, thanks to the quality of the league, the loss of De Ligt isn’t something that will be the difference between them winning the title or not. Yet, he is, of course, one of the best defenders in the world and will surely be the out and out best.

Can Ajax maintain their intensity?

The clash with Chelsea saw Ajax operate in a 4-2-3-1 but equally it could double up as a typical 4-3-3. Moroccan international Hakim Ziyech and Promes dropped very deep when their side were out of possession. However, they were clearly wingers when attacking with Van de Beek holding that attacking midfield role behind false nine Tadic.

Ajax were contained well by Chelsea. Substitute Michy Batshuayi scored the only goal of the game, as he tucked away a Pulisic cross off the underside of the bar. It is being touted as Lampard’s best and most important/complete win as Blues boss.

The likelihood of Ajax reaching the heady heights of last season is comparatively lesser with the departure of De Jong, De Ligt is taken into consideration. Ten Hag’s tactical outlay will have to be slightly different in the long run. Maybe Van de Beek will have less license to roam forward due to the lack of De Jong’s presence on the ball, gliding across the turf effortlessly. Either way, we will always see Ajax play the beautiful game in a way that honours their historic roots, in a way it should be played. 

Written by: Jamie Rooke


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