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FM20 AFC Ajax - the best youth system in Eredivisie


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The Story and terms of the save

 

I’m starting with the usual introduction to my save. I play with AFC Ajax only, with Premier League, La Liga, Bundesliga, Serie A and Ligue 1 loaded, and additionally Belgium divisions and South Africa Premier League (because Ajax CT).

The rule is simple - no transfers in, except from the feeder clubs that I have first option clause included. I use and develop only my own youngsters and concentrate on the youth system. The aim is to dominate Eredivisie and see how far I can take this team in Europe. My best season in FM 16 in 20 years gave us Europa League title and some places in the quarter final of the Champions League, but generally transition from Eredivisie to Champions League level proved to be difficult for the players and tactics alike.

 

My policies fit well within existing Ajax philosophies, so agreeing terms with the board wasn’t difficult.

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Achievements

 

Eredivisie: 2020, 2021, 2022

Dutch Cup: 2020, 2021, 2022

Johan Cruijff Schaal: 2020, 2021, 2022

 

Champions League

2019/2022 - Quarter Final

2020/2021 - Group Stage

2021/2022 - Quarter Final

 

 

Europa League

2020/2021 - Quarter Final

 

Edited by Draakon
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July 2019

The pre-season was a little bit bumpy road. I experimented with tactics, tried to get the players match fit and while we won the majority of our friendlies (incl. Friendly Cup) we couldn’t create too many chances and it took time to get things right on the pitch. It didn’t help that many international players were allowed longer vacation and they returned just late in July.


 

The Squad

The first team looks strong enough with adequate cover in most positions. The main problem for me are the fringe players in the squad. When experienced player is not good enough to start regularly or be at least in rotation, I tend to sell him or release him when his contract is due, to free up the place for any younger talent, but in the first year we have several players who I’d like to move forward - if not in this Summer, then at least a year later.

  • Bruno Varela: he got to play a lot of friendlies, because Andre Onana returned to the team later in July, but in truth he’s just a backup and I could select Benjamin van Leer or any other young prospects from Jong Ajax to his place. The only reason he stays is his loan agreement that says - loan can’t be terminated. Bummer.
  • Zakarya Labyad: not sure what a 26 years old fringe player is doing in the team when our philosophy is to develop our own youngsters. His contract lasts until 2022 - wow. Should find a way to offload him for at least some money.
  • Ryan Babel: experienced Ajax favourite - mixed feelings about him. What’s positive is that we won’t be paying his wages, so whether he stays or goes doesn’t affect our budget. So, he could as well stay for a year. He certainly ain’t a starter, but considering his experience and skills with the ball he could be useful in our Champions League campaign

 

I’m going to make a more detailed squad post later, but what I noticed first is the huge squad of Jong Ajax - a lot of talented youngsters and the second similar list coming up from the U-19 team. We should not have a problem of new prospects in this team. Instead, we should try to trim this squad a little.

Next to it, the first team squad consists just over 20 players and with Hakim Ziyech leaving in next Summer, Babel and Varela going back from loan and Klaas-JanHuntelaar surely retiring we have some openings in the first team coming up. But of course, we also have six players returning from loan and Antony joining the team in Summer 2020, so the choices could be more difficult than it looks.

 

Staff

At the start of the save we were a bit short in the coaching department, so I felt that we need some additions here. We have enough vacancies and money to sign a few new coaches and I did exactly that. Dennis Bergkamp, Paul Robinson and goalkeeping coach Hugo Oliveira joined the backroom staff in July.


 

Tactics

I’ve played a lot of friendlies and tested two versions of tactics - one was my familiar 4-1-2-2-1 DM Wide which worked well for FM16, but later I settled for Ajax 4-2-3-1 with some tweaks that I’ve found in this forum. The main reason being that Ajax have just too many good AMC-s in the team to waste that position and try to use/retrain those players in MC. The usual setup (with first team) looks something like this:

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27.07.2019 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 1:0 (Johan Cruyff Schaal) - 90. Dusan Tadic

After friendlies, the first test of competitive football. To my disappointment, PSV and Feyenoord look much weaker in FM20 than they did in FM16, so we’re clear favourites for the final which is held at Amsterdam Arena. Not all of our first team players are back from the Summer holiday and some that returned just a day or two ago are not really match fit, so some choices about squad selection.

Squad: Varela, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Tagliafico (90. Pierie), Marin (90. Eiting), van de Beek, Promes, Ziyech, Tadic, Huntelaar (67. Babel)

The game itself was fairly even and although we controlled possession and midfield, we didn’t make it count and couldn’t find a goal from our set pieces, either. I was almost prepared to go all the way to extra time and penalties, but in the very last minute Hakim Ziyech delivered a long ball behind PSV defensive line for the run of Dusan Tadic. Tadic looked very composed when he finished his one-on-one opportunity with a placed shot and delivered the first piece of silverware to my managerial career here in Amsterdam. Not a bad start.

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August 2019


 

04.08.2019 - VVV Venlo - AFC Ajax 1:6 (ED) - 75. Jerome Sinclair - 22. Hakim Ziyech, 38. David Neres, 40. and 44. Dusan Tadic, 47. Quincy Promes, 73. Noussair Mazraouit

The first league game is not too difficult (on paper) and we have our first team fit and ready, so no problems there. What I like the most in FM20 is that you can name 12 substitutes for the league games - so that you can always include younger players to the match squad and decide as you go, which players you need to use in the second half.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Tagliafico (65. Pierie), Marin (55. Gravenberch), van de Beek, Neres, Ziyech, Promes, Tadix (65. Traore)

The game started a little slowly and we struggled to create chances, despite our domination in midfield. It took a little bit of individual skills and brilliance, but Hakim Ziyech opened scoring from the direct free kick - a wonderfully curled ball over the wall that went in off the post. You can’t score those any better than that. It opened the floodgates and we went to half-time break with an impressive 4:0 lead - the second goal from David Neres and a brace from Dusan Tadic put us firmly in control of the game. My positive feed-back at half-time encouraged the squad further and Quincy Promes scored his first goal for Ajax with a wonderful close-range volley and right-back Mazraoui added another goal with a great shot from 15 meters that could make any striker proud. We didn’t get too many simple clear cut chances, but our shooting and finishing was outstanding, so VVV didn’t have any answer. They did get their consolation goal, though - a hopeful looking long shot hit the post and rolled along our goal line and while Blind was the first to get there, VVV striker was also present to get his foot in and take it over the line. A little disappointed not to keep a clean sheet, but the final result was really impressive and it’s a great start to our league campaign. The only downside of the game was the fact that Hakim Ziyech suffered a groin injury in 80’ - that left us with 10 men at the end of the game and Ziyech will be a big miss in our coming weeks.

  • Outstanding performances: David Neres, Dusan Tadic
  • Player of the game: David Neres - scored a goal, dribbled well and was always dangerous in attack
  • Quincy Promes scored his first ever goal for Ajax
  • Hakim Ziyech suffered


 

07.08.2019 - AFC Ajax - APOEL Nicosia 7:1 (Champions League 3rd qualification round 1st leg) - 9. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 14. and 45. Dusan Tadic, 57. David Neres, 59. Joel Veltman, 63. Giorgos Sielis (og), 68. Donny van de Beek - 71. Björn Bergmann Sigurdardson

Our Champions League campaign begins with a home game against APOEL. Not the biggest club and we’re clear favourites for the home game, but we need to be sure not to mess it up in the first leg. APOEL came through the previous round after some difficulties against Wales club - they lost the first game 1:2, but made amends in Cyprus and won comfortably in aggregate. 

Our biggest question before the game was - how to make up for Ziyech’s injury. One way was to push Donny van de Beek to AMC and use either Carel Eiting or Ryan Gravenberch in MC position, but I didn’t want to lose control in midfield, so I opted to bring Dusan Tadic back to AMC and start with Klaas-Jan Huntelaar in attack, instead.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman (78. Martinez), Blind, Tagliafico (24. Pierie), Marin, van de Beek, Neres, Tadic, Promes, Huntelaar (70. Traore)

I expected a tougher game. I really did. But from the start to finish APOEL didn’t even put up a real fight. Razvan Marin saw his free kick hit the post in 6’ and David Neres tested their goalkeeper with a shot on target in 9’. This initial attempt was saved, but Huntelaar was at the right place to collect it and slot it home. Dusan Tadic increased our lead five minutes later and we looked firmly in control after that. Nicolas Tagliafico had to come off with injury in 24’, but we went to half time with a 3:0 lead after Tadic scored another goal. Excellent first half performance continued after the break - David Neres scored from the counter, Joel Veltman added another goal with a header from a corner and APOEL’s Giorgos Sielis added to their misery with an own goal. APOEL finally got something out of this game in 71’ when our defensive mistake allowed Sigurdarson too much space in the box, but it was just a consolation goal, really. The final score marked the complete destruction of our opponents and there’s no hope left for APOEL for their home game. Those 81 fans that travelled all the way from Cyprus probably had the worst trip ever.

  • our shooting was 36/17 in this game
  • we enjoyed 61% possession
  • our average rating was 8.53
  • Dusan Tadic, David Neres and Donny van de Beek had a great game
  • Player of the game: Dusan Tadic - 2 goals and 2 assists for him tonight
  • Nicolas Tagliafico will be out for 4 weeks with a groin strain

 

10.08.2019 - AFC Ajax - RKC Waalwijk 4:1 (ED) - 9. and 48. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, 37. Donny van de Beek, 45. Noussair Mazraoui - 37. Clint Leemans

It’s good that our schedule balances Champions League games with fairly easy league fixtures - home game against much smaller RKC team should not be too difficult. We chose an attacking approach for this game, but our squad selection was affected by injuries - Nicolas Tagliafico was out with Hakim Ziyech and Sergino Dest, but at least Perr Schuurs was back in training.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Blind, Pierie, Marin (61. Eiting), van de Bee, Neres, Tadic (64. Gravenberch), Babel, Huntelaar (75. Traore)

We started well and took the lead in 9’ when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar scored with a solid header. Noussair Mazraoui was tripped in the box in 14’ and after consulting with war, a penalty was awarded for us. Huntelaar is usually so good from the spot, but this time he missed his penalty and the shot went at least 1,5 meters wide of the post. That made me raise my eyebrows at the sideline. For a moment this missed penalty looked like a costly one, because RKC equalized from a set piece in 37’ - Clint Leemans headed it home from a free kick and things were level. But it didn’t last long - Donny van de Beek scored with a good strike after a clever run into the box and Mazraoui finished the first half with a wonderful volley from the edge of the area - what a goal that last one was! Incredible strike from a right-back just before half-time. We took that goal to our dressing room and so did RKC - their spirit was broken after that. If there was any fight left, that fire was put down soon after the second half kick-off - Huntelaar scored another header in 48’ and that was the game. Masraoui and Traore were unlucky to hit the framework in the second half, but that didn’t matter. It was a convincing win for us and I got to test our youngsters in the second half.

  • our shooting was 37/19 in this game
  • we had 64% possession
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - outstanding performance and a wonderful goal from a right-back
  • Andre Onana played his 100th game for Ajax
  • Edson Alvares made his debut for Ajax in this game

 

After this game we agreed with a contract extension with Noussair Mazraoui - he deserved a better deal and he has shown as much with his performances of late. He’s now earning £13,250 p/w until 2023.

 

14.08.2019 - APOEL Nicosia - AFC Ajax 1:1 (Champions League 3rd round 2nd leg) - 68. Nikos Stavrou - 53. Lassina Traore

Mandatory trip to Cyprus, but both teams probably knew that there’s very little on balance in this second leg game. Still, we didn’t want to lose this match, but tight schedule and travelling called for some changes in the squad - I was more bold to make them because of our lead.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Marin (76. Eiting), van de Beek, Neres, Dadic (62. Schuurs), Promes (56. Jensen), Traore

We had a chance to take the lead from the penalty - Quincy Promes was tripped in the box and Dusan Tadic steadied himself, but his shot went straight into the middle and the goalkeeper managed to save it. It was our second missed penalty in a row. Lassina Traore had a half-chance just a minute later, but his shots went inches wide and after the first 15 minutes of our pressure, things levelled out and the game settled. First half finished with 0:0 and although APOEL didn’t create anything dangerous in our half, we couldn’t find a goal either. 

We took the lead in the second half and it was a gifted goal. APOEL goalkeeper Boy Waterman went to catch the cross, but dropped the ball and Traore was there to finish it from close range. Our position got much worse in 62’ - Edson Alvarez was sent off for a silly two-footed challenge in midfield - there was no need for that kind of action - and I had to make changes. Dusan Tadic came off and Perr Schuurs came to replace Alvarez’ position in defense. APOEL then found an equalizer from a set piece - their centre-back Nikos Stavrou was the first to get to the ball in our box and he finished it from close range. It looked like Onana should have come out to collect it, but he hesitated and was punished for it. Final score 1:1 was probably good enough for both sides - we held on fairly well with 10 men, but couldn’t put enough bodies forward to find another goal. However, there were a lot of moments in that game I didn’t like - missed penalty, red card and conceded goal from a set piece.

  • our shooting was 28/14 in this game
  • APOEL made just one shot in the whole game, but it was enough for a goal and a draw
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui
  • Lassina Traore scored his first ever goal for Ajax

 

17.08.2019 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 6. Hicham Faik -  58. and 72. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Before we could take on Young Boys, we had a trip to Heerenveen. Away game against sc Heerenveen could be a tricky fixture for us - a solid mid-table side with some good players in their squad and Warner Hahn looks like a competent goalkeeper between the sticks. What I was concerned about was their danger man Chidera Ejuke and if our attacking formation on our right wing would leave that side too open for him to exploit. Despite those doubts I stuck to our tactics and hoped for the best. It’s interesting to see our loan player Sven Botman in action for sc Heerenveen - he will start in central defense for our opposition.

No good news from physios - Hakim Ziyech and Nicolas Tagliafico are still out and while Sergino Dest is close to returning, Mazraoui has to carry the load in DR for at least a couple of games.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Neres, Tadic (Gravenberch), Promes (Babel), Huntelaar (Traore)

We didn’t have too much time to get into the game when we were stunned by sc Heerenveen goal - Hicham Faik delivered a daisy cutter from 24 meters out that surprised Andre Onana and went into the goal. sc Heerenveen took the early lead and to be fair I have to praise Faik, because it was an incredible shot. You could argue that our midfielders gave him some space and his long shot attribute (14) was good enough to take notice. That goal gave confidence to sc Heerenveen and made us a little anxious, so for the rest of the first half we searched for an equalizer. However, sc Heerenveen looked fairly well organized and their defense wasn’t easy to break. We got a couple of long shots on target, Razvan Marin took one really good free-kick, but those attempts were eventually dealt by Warner Hahn and the teams went to half time with 0:1 score.

I needed to change something for the second half and I did - we switched to attacking mentality and I asked Quincy Promes to attack (instead of support) in the final third. Promes looked rather quiet for the most of the game and he was soon taken off, but our attacking approach brought the goal soon enough. We tried to put sc Heerenveen defense under pressure and at one moment David Neres did well enough to win the ball back and instantly we were up there in numbers. Neres squared the ball to Huntelaar, who finished calmly with a placed shot. 1:1. And when you score an equalizer, you believe that you can score the winner too. Neres was always dangerous with his runs from the right and one of those solo dribblings ended up in the box - however his shot from the clear cut chance was too soft and was held by Hahn. That’s a shame - that move deserved a goal for the finish. But the winner came and it was again Neres who created chances for others - his cutback from byline found Huntelaar in the box and the poacher finished well into the near post, after turning quickly in the box. Good striker’s finish. We had the lead and we held onto it until the end and the final whistle saw me smiling at the sidelines. We were tested in this game, but the team reacted well and turned things around in the second half, so I was really happy with that performance and determination, and obviously with the result too.

  • our shooting was 26/16
  • Player of the game: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar - his brace brought us the win and his calm finishing was extremely valuable in this game


 

20.08.2019 - Young Boys - AFC Ajax 0:3 (Champions League Champions Playoff 1st leg) - 59. Dusan Tadic, 74. Quincy Promes, 77. Donny van de Beek

Only three days later we were in Switzerland, going against the Young Boys. It wasn’t the most difficult draw for us and we were favourites even for the away game, but the team didn’t react well to my pre-match tactical briefing. It looked like the majority of the players considered our formation and approach too attacking for the away game, whereas I was thinking about scoring away goal(s) in the first leg. What was more concerning was our physical fitness prior to this game - half of the first team squad looked fairly tired going into the game and I supposedly overlooked something in our training schedule and didn’t give them enough rest. Noussair Mazraoui looked really tired and David Neres equally so. Edson Alvarez was suspended because his dismissal in the APOEL game, Tagliafico, Dest and Ziyech were still injured and all that affected my squad selection, so the eleven players I sent out were nowhere near the actual best eleven that I would have fielded in other circumstances.

So, I made a lot of changes - moved David Blind to DL (Kik Pierie was too tired), Lisandro Martinez and Joel Veltman were the central defense partnership and I took the risk with Mazraoui on the right. Ryan Babel started on the left flank and Quincy Promes moved to the right, with David Neres rested for this game.

Squad: Onana, Masraoui (72. Schuur), Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Marin (72. Eiting), van de Beek, Promes, Tadic, Babel, Traore (70. Huntelaar)

The first half was promising - we dominated possession (68%), but couldn’t crack their defense open. Ryan Babel and Quincy Promes had half chances, but APOEL goalkeeper dealt with those and we went to half time with 0:0.

I made tactical changes at half-time - asked Babel to attack more down on the right wing and hoped that we could find an away goal that would give us advantage in the second leg. At the same time we couldn’t afford to forget our defense, too - in 51’ van de Beek’s mistake in midfield gave a chance to Nicolas Ngamaleu, but Andre Onana came out of his line and made a good save in a one-on-one situation. We continued to press, but in those moments when opponents defend well and you can’t find a clear cut chance, you often need something magical from a player to make it happen, and in this game Dusan Tadic provided just that. His shot from 26 meters curled past the goalkeeper and landed in the goal - an incredible strike and sheer brilliance from the midfielder. That goal was a massive relief for the players and things started to come our way. Quincy Promes added our second goal with a good strike from 15 meters and just three minutes later it was 3:0 - Donny van de Beek again timed his run perfectly and fired it in with a real striker’s finish. I believed that this is it, but Young Boys had another chance to score - our high defensive line was exposed by a long ball and Ngamaleu chased it down, only to be beaten again in one-on-one situation by Onana. Two great stops from our goalkeeper in a game where he didn’t have too much to do, that’s a sign of a great player and it shows what  kind of confidence he can add to the team. The final score 3:0 was a great result from an away game for us - Young  Boys have to score four in Amsterdam if they want to overturn this and I don’t believe they can do that. I’m really happy with our second half and relieved that in the end of the game there were no injuries to our players.

  • our shooting was 23/14 in this game
  • we had 62% possession
  • Dusan Tadic, Quincy Promes and Donny van de Beek had a great game
  • Player of the game: Dusan Tadic


 

25.08.2019 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 3:0 (ED) - 21., 30. and 37. pen. David Neres

Between two Champions League fixtures we had a league game against FC Emmen. Home game (it’s been a while since we played at Johan Cruijff Arena) and not the biggest club, so I allowed us some rotation and rested some players - Noussair Mazraoui, Donny van de Beek and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar were on the bench. I continued to give minutes to Lassina Traore, Carel Eiting started in midfield and Joel Veltman took Mazraoui’s place as a right-back.

Squad: Onana, Veltman (73. Schuur), Alvarez, Blind, Pierie, Eiting, Marin (69. Ekkelenkamp), Neres, Tadic (46. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

Things started to happen right away. In 2’ Quincy Promes darted in between FC Emmen centre-backs and had a great look, but his shot was parried. Lassina Traore headed over in 19’ after a free-kick when it looked like it was easier to score from the far post where he was standing. But the goal came and it came through David Neres - our right winger was back in action and his skills with the ball were too much for FC Emmen defense. Razvan Marin found him with a great assist and Neres finished with a good shot. Another great strike from Neres doubled our lead in 30’ and when Neres was tripped in the box by FC Emmen defender, he completed his hat-trick from the spot. It was a one-man show in the first half and a dominating performance overall - we hardly gave FC Emmen any time with the ball.

The second half continued in similar fashion. Quincy Promes, David Neres and Lassina Traore had shots on target, but couldn’t find a goal. Traore and Promes were a bit wasteful today and those easy chances that they missed in the first half probably haunted them a little. Joel Veltman was forced off with injury in 73’ and my fears about his fitness and injury-proneness came alive in this game. We kept things under our control in the end and I had a chance to play some youngsters in the second half, plus try some tactical tweaks to make our left flank a little more dangerous than it has been in this season so far. Very happy with the outcome and the fact that some key players got a day off before our next Champions League game.

  • our shooting was 27/18 in this game
  • we had 66% possession
  • we made 32 dribbles
  • we didn’t give FC Emmen any scoring chances in this game
  • Player of the game: David Neres - outstanding performance from the right winger, he walked away with the match ball. His dribbling and skills with the ball were a constant threat to FC Emmen, he made 16 dribbles in this game
  • Joel Veltman will be out for at least 2-3 months with a torn hamstring
  • Kik Pierie suffered pulled groin in this game and he will be out for a week

 

28.08.2019 - AFC Ajax - Young Boys 4:0 (Champions League Champions Playoff 2nd leg) - 31. Noussair Mazraoui, 35. Lassina Traore, 59. David Neres, 88. pen. Quincy Promes

We have a strong lead from the away game, so no real pressure for us in this second leg, but we’re still trying to win in front of home fans. We’re favourites for a reason and I’m happy that our squad selection is helped by players who are returning from injuries - Hakim Ziyech is ready for that game and Sergino Dest is also back in full training, but we miss Kik Pierie and Joel Veltman. Nicolas Tagliafico is also close to returning and I’m sure he’ll be back after the international window in September.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez (60. Schuurs), Martinez, Blind, Eiting, van de Beek, Neres, Ziyech (60. Gravenberch), Babel (67. Promes), Traore

We knew that Young Boys wanted to play long balls over our defense and they did that very well twice in the first leg, so we should have been better prepared for that, but they still managed to surprise us in 19’ - Nicolas Ngamaleu was too quick for Edson Alvarez and went one-on-one against Andre Onana, but our keeper once again mastered that situation and made a great save to parry the shot. We found our first goal scoring chance in 30’ - Donny van de Beek made a smart run into the box, but his attempt was parried by the goalkeeper. Goals came, though, and soon Mazraoui showed his finishing skills with another shot from the edge of the area - that was already his third goal of the season and all of those have come in a similar fashion - late run into the box and a really good strike from 12-15 meters out. Lassina Traore doubled our lead after a good counter-attack four minutes later and we went to half time with a 2:0 lead after a really good first half.

We could play without pressure in the second half - David Neres had been really dangerous on our right wing and his strike in 59’ made it 3:0. I took off Hakim Ziyech and gave minutes to youngsters after that. Late in the game Lisandro Martinez was pushed in the opposition area when we had a corner and after consulting with VAR, the referee awarded a penalty. Quincy Promes finished from the spot to make it 4:0 and the final score looked really convincing. 7:0 win on aggregate takes us to the group stage.

  • our shooting was 34/15 in this game
  • we had 60% possession
  • Noussair Mazraoui, David Neres and Donny van de Beek were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui


 

August has gone really well for us - four straight wins in Eredivisie and we’re through to the group stage in the Champions League. I’m really happy with our number of goals and overall team character - sc Heerenveen game showed it well, how determined this squad is and how we’re able to fight for the result, if we have to. We have had a tough schedule, a lot of games in August and some injuries, but the international break is coming and I hope that most of the players are back in full fitness after that.

Our Champions League group draw was held at the end of the month and we were drawn into group E with FC Chelsea, Bayer 04 Leverkusen and Atalanta. Tough group, no easy opponents in this list and lets see how it goes from there. it’s possible that I have to rotate more in Eredivisie to keep our key players fit for the Champions League games.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re leading the table. PSV and Feyenoord haven’t been able to keep up after the first 4-5 games, but surprisingly Heracles Almelo is really high up there. VVV Venlo never really recovered from the beating they received from us in the first match day and they have lost all confidence, it seems.

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Squad Update 2019


 

So, this is the squad we’ll be going to the full season with. While initial squad is rather small, considering Champions League football and league games, I try to limit it between 22-25 players and, if necessary, bring a prospect or two up from Jong Ajax


 

Goalkeepers

Pretty obvious there - Andre Onana is our first choice and I’m happy with his contributions. I don’t like having a loan player (Bruno Varela) in the team - I’d give his place to any of my youngsters instead, but his loan contract can’t be terminated, so he’ll stick around until the next Summer. But he won’t be happy with his playing time, I can assure you that.

I promoted Benjamin van Leer from Jong Ajax - because of his age he won’t get playing time in the league there. On paper he looks like a decent backup and he’ll be in the team for another two years, so there might be times when I need him.

 

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Defenders

Very solid. I feel that we have enough depth in this department. There’s a question of left-back, but I decided to use Kik Pierie in this position, because we need a cover for Tagliafico and to be fair, we’re really packed in the centre-back department. I feel that we have two good options for both full-back positions, plus Daley Blind can play DL and Joel Veltman or Perr Schuur can be DR, so we should be fine even in case of the worst injury crisis. 

I feel that we have even too many players in DC - Daley Blind is my number one choice and he will be paired with Joel Veltman or Edson Alvarez. Lisandro Martinez also looks good, with Perr Schuur being the breakthrough prospect who also needs some playing time. And on loan we have Lisandro Magallan coming back next Summer. Many of the players are young (19-23 years of age) and I’m a little worried if we can find enough playing time for all of them. Yes, Joel Veltman’s injury list is rather terrible and he looks like a liability fitness-wise, but five DC-s a bit too many in my eyes, because we are not going to make too many substitutions in this position.

 

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Midfielders

In my 4-2-3-1 formation I use DLPd - B2Bs partnership in midfield. Razvan Marin and Donny van de Beek have worked well in those roles. van de Beek can play in AMC, too, but we have Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic in those roles, so I’ve found that van de Beek can contribute a lot in B2Bs position.

We have two younger prospects in midfield - Carel Eiting can offer minutes to Marin in DLPd. He looks like a decent option for Eredivisie games, although not good enough for the Champions League level. Ryan Gravenberch is a 17 years old youngster who is still developing and finding his most suitable position. He’s not really defensive (tackling just 4) and not really a B2Bs, so he might be a good understudy for Ziyech and Tadic in AMC as an attacking playmaker. 

We also have Zakaria Labyad, who is surplus to requirements in my eyes - he’s 26 years old, unlikely to develop and well behind Ziyech and Tadic in the AMC position. Better to give those minutes to Gravenberch. Labyad has two more years left of his contract, so perhaps it’s the best if we find a way to move him on from the club.

So, while our AMC options look good, I feel that we’re a bit shallow in deep midfield and we don’t have adequate cover for Donny van de Beek. Yes, we can play Razvan Marin as B2Bs and use Eiting in DLPd position, but for the Champions League it might not be good enough. So one focus of our youth development is to try to find B2Bs and train young midfielders for that position.

 

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Wingers

David Neres and Quincy Promes are the first team options, with Ajax favourite Ryan Babel who is on loan, will provide cover for them. We can move players around a little - Dusan Tadic can play AML if really needed, but we don’t have a solid fourth player in this position. Victor Jensen in Jong Ajax is on the brink of breakthrough, but his inconsistency is something that worries me. Let’s see how he’ll develop during this first season.

It looks like we need more strength on wings after Babel returns to Turkey next Summer, but we have plenty of young players coming back from loan to compete for those positions: Nicolas Kühn, Noa Lang, Dennis Johnson etc. There are enough places for them, so motivation should be high to maximize their loan experience and make me notice their skills.

 

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Strikers

Up front we have the most problematic position in my eyes. Ideal would be to play Dusan Tadic as ST (preferably DLFs) and Hakim Ziyech behind him in AMC. While Ziyech has been out with injury, I moved Tadic to AMC and that exposed how shallow we are in ST position. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar is 36 years old now and is surely playing his final season in Ajax. His experience has allowed him to score some important goals despite his age, but his speed is disappearing with almost every fortnight and he won’t be offered a new contract.

Second to him, we have Lassina Traore - 18 years old forward from Burkina Faso. He’s fairly talented and because he has got a lot of game time, he’s developed well in the past two months, but surely he’s not good enough for the Champions League, at least not against big teams. So while we might get by with what we have in this season, we definitely need to find a solution in the long term (or even - mid-term), to avoid problems in the 2020-2021 season.

 

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September 2019

 

Our schedule looks a lot lighter in September - only five games and the first half of the month is lost to the international window. For the first time in this season I turned my close attention to our training schedule. August has been so packed with games that my main concern was player fitness and how well we’re able to recover from those games to prepare for the next one, but in September I have full two weeks to work with the players who are not part of any international squad.

So, I made it a training camp - each day includes at least one physical session and one ball session + some lighter sessions in evenings. Let’s see if it works out and helps to improve players and hopefully I’m not overdoing things and injuries won’t pile up.

 

01.09.2019 - Sparta Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 20' Quincy Promes

Before the international window we had one more game to go - away trip to Rotterdam to play with our feeder club Sparta. Although Sparta should be a bottom-half club on paper, they look solid enough and shouldn’t be underestimated, at least in their own stadium. The main threat looks to be their tall German target man Ragnar Ache - his height, jumping reach and heading ability surpasses any of our defenders and that’s probably how they’re going to play - long balls forward and headers down towards the surging attacking midfielders. He’s their obvious target in set piece situations, so for us it is important not to concede too many free kicks.

We chose an attacking formation for this game. I was delighted that I had several players healthy - Nicolas Tagliafico is back in the starting line-up, Hakim Ziyech looks fully fit and I had every intention to give Sergino Dest some minutes in the second half.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. Dest), Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico, Marin (84. Eiting), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (72. Huntelaar), Promes, Tadic

Slow start for us and the first noteworthy moment came in 13’ when Quincy Promes dribbled into the box and pulled the trigger - this attempt was saved, but Promes was eager to show that he, too, can score goals and he did exactly that in 20’ - a fairly uncharacteristic header from a corner langed in the goal and we took the lead. Soon after that Sparta almost equalized - Andre Onana had some problems with saving the header from a free kick and when the ball got loose there was a moment of mayhem in our six yard box - the ball landed to Sparta’s Dante Rigo, but his close range attempt was met by determined block by Tagliafico. We were leading at the half time, but the first half wasn’t the most convincing performance from us.

Sparta sensed that there are ways to find an equalizer and in the beginning of the first half Patrick Joosten found a half chance. We couldn’t put them under considerable pressure and looked the most dangerous in counter-attacks. While David Neres had a fairly quiet game, Quincy Promes made things happen - in 68’ he snatched the ball in midfield and ran towards the goal, but the shot from a clear cut chance was all but clinical. Poor soft attempt was easily held by the Sparta goalkeeper. Two heart stopping moments happened in injury time - first it was Sparta’s Jeffry Fortes who had a good attempt toward our goal that clipped the crossbar. In 90.+5 Klaas-Jan Huntelaar saw his header bounce back from the crossbar as well. So - a narrow win for us and our attacking players didn’t look at their best in this game. We relied on a set piece goal, but that was the difference tonight.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • Sergino Dest made his league debut for Ajax, but his second half performance was troubled by another injury after rough tackle - gashed leg will keep him out ofr the next 1-2 weeks
  • Player of the game: Edson Alvarez - very solid defensive performance and he marked Ragnar Ache well throughout the game, looking good in the air and making seemingly easy interceptions to cut out Sparta attacking moves

 

That win led us to the international window with high spirits - we had won our first five league games and prepared for our Champions League games. A lot of players went to their international squads and the ones who remained to Amsterdam, trained hard for 10 days. My fears about injuries didn’t materialize and it looked like a good period of training.

I used those two weeks to improve our coaching team - I found a number of good coaching staff to follow in the coming years and created a shortlist for the possible future coaches and managers. For the first time in three months I took a look at Michael Reiziger and understood that he’s completely unqualified for his position - not sure he can give me any kind of valuable advice at all. I’m too good a person to sack him right away, but I’m surely finding another assistant manager once his contract runs out.

To finish this search with something to show for, I signed unemployed Argentinian coach Rodolfo Cardoso for Jong Ajax.

 

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14.09.2019 - Vitesse Arnhem - AFC Ajax 2:3 (ED) - 28. Tim Matavz, 55. pen. Billy Gilmore - 57. Dusan Tadic, 61. Edson Alvarez, 76. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Back to Eredivisie action - our physical training schedule didn’t cause any major problems to the squad, but Daley Blind was the casualty of international football - he returned from Holland team with a twisted knee - fortunately he’s just out for a week or so, but unfortunate that he has to miss our first Champions League game in this period. Ryan Babel had a tight calf right before the Vitesse fixture and it’s also better not to play him for the full 90 minutes.

Our opponents were at their best possible shape - strengthened by two more loans from their parent club FC Chelsea - although they don’t boast with incredible talent, Vitesse are still a good tea with enough depth and predicted to finish 6th in this season. Breaking them in their own home will not be walk in a park

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (82. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez (14. Schuurs), Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (56. Tadic), Promes, Huntelaar

The start of the game was marred by injury to Lisandro Martinez. He had to come off and Perr Schuurs replaced him. Quincy Promes was our most active player on the left wing and he found a clear cut chance in 22’, but his shot went wide. It looked like both teams tried to play high tiempo football and move the ball quickly in the transition phase. We didn’t look bad in the first 25’, but Vitesse took the lead in 28’. Their free-kick was cleared from our box, but the ball found its way to Tim Matavz, who scored with a good shot - fine strike from the forward, but it made our position worse. Vitesse slowed down tempo after their goal and we couldn’t create another really good chance in the first half.

I demanded better performances from the players in the second half, but instead, we gave up a penalty in 55’. There was some shoving in our box during Vitesse corner and VAR confirmed that Edson Alvarez was a culprit in this situation, so Billy Gilmore converted his spot-kick and we were 0:2 behind. Things started to look desperate and that called for action - Dusan Tadic came on and just two minutes later it was his header that brought us back into the game. Another five minutes and Tadic’s corner found Edson Alvarez at the near post. Mexican centre-back headed it in to level the score and make up for his mistake in the other end of the pitch. We were back in the game, full stadium was roaring and all the momentum in this moment was on our side. Vitesse started to get nervous and it eventually cost them - Quincy Promes got his foot into their backpass and the ball went to Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, who finished his clear cut chance from a point blank range. We looked good for the most part of the final minutes too, but Vitesse still got their chance to equalize in 87’ - Matus Bero made a good run into our box, his shot was saved but Bryan Linssen got two back-to-back clear cut chances to finish him off. Fortunately our defenders were there and Razvan Marin was the one to make a determined block. The final whistle called and what a game that was! Superb fightback from the whole team and Dusan Tadic was the one substitution that turned things around for us.

  • our shooting was 20/11 in this game
  • we had 62% possession
  • Donny van de Beek made his 100th league appearance for Ajax
  • Lisandro Martinez will be out for 2-3 weeks with a pulled calf muscle
  • Player of the game: Dusan Tadic


 

I continued to make improvements to our backroom staff and finalized the signing of the coach Miguel D’Agostino.

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18.09.2019 - Atalanta Bergamo - AFC Ajax 2:0 (Champions League Group E) - 22. Duvan Zapata, 52. Alejandro Gomez

It was our first Champions League test - away game against Atalanta. We were slight favourites, despite being the away team, and I remained true to our 4-2-3-1 formation, but switched my individual instructions a little. We had Joel Veltman and Lisandro Martinez injured, so less options in the DC position, but otherwise we fielded our best eleven for this game. Atalanta came against us with a 5-3-2 WB formation that was unfamiliar to us.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres (52. Schuurs), Ziyech, Promes (75. Babel), Tadic (72. Huntelaar)

The first half was fairly quiet, not too many chances for either team, but Atalanta took the lead in 22’ - their striker Duvan Zapata managed to find the net with a long shot from 20 meters and that was a bummer. I knew we didn’t deserve to be behind at half-time, but what can I do… Atalanta looked too comfortable with possession and I knew that we needed to take more risks to get the ball back or they’ll just play catenaccio for the rest of the game. I set the team up to attack in the second half, but instead we were stunned by Alejandro Gomez’s solo run into our box - Donny van de Beek lost possession in midfield and his mistake was used well by Gomez, who darted past defenders and finished his chance expertly. I switched to 4-1-4-1 DM Wide after that goal and we got our defense in order, but still couldn’t find decent opportunities in the final third. With the game starting to end there was a great chance for Razvan Marin in 83’, but his close range attempt went well over the crossbar. The final result was obviously frustrating and it was a big learning experience for the whole team (manager included) that Champions League football is something else. It was my first defeat in a competitive game and it didn’t look good.

  • we lost possession 43/57
  • our average rating was just 6.63
  • Player of the game: Duvan Zapata (Atalanta)



 

21.09.2019 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 3:0 (ED) - 20. and 48. Quincy Promes, 72. Ryan Gravenberch

We didn’t have too much time to brood about that defeat, because we had another league game coming up right away. That was also a good opportunity to bounce back with a win. PEC Zwolle at home should have been an easy game, and for sure, our opponents looked pretty much rubbish when I looked at the scouting report. But ultimately, results don’t lie and PEC Zwolle have started their season with 5 wins and 1 draw from their first six league games, which must be recognised as a great run of form and taken for a sign that they shouldn’t be underestimated.

We didn’t have another game coming up until the next weekend, so I could send out pretty much our best first eleven, but I still wanted to rotate a little, because we’re a home team against a much smaller opponent and some players needed some game time. Joel Veltman was obviously still injured and Donny van de Beek was rested after  the Atalanta game.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Alvarez, Schuurs, Tagliafico (75. Pierie), Eiting, Marin, David Neres (67. Ziyech), Tadic (66. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

We played with a positive attitude and it looked like Quincy Promes was the one who was most active in the first half. His first run to the box ended with a shot that was saved by PEC Zwolle goalkeeper, but he found himself unmarked at the far post in 20’ and Sergino Dest delivered a brilliant cross right onto his foot, so it was an easy finish from close range for Promes. The first half finished with 1:0 and it looked decent performance to me so far - we controlled things fairly well, tried to attack and cross the ball, created one good chance and used it well. I asked players to avoid complacency in the second half and Promes took notice - his run into the box early in the second half led to his second goal and we could relax a little. Promes also delivered an assist to our third goal - a clever run into the box by substitute Ryan Gravenberch, and the 17 years old fired it in to score his first ever goal for Ajax.

The only problem that we faced in the second half was injuries. David Neres pulled up while sprinting for the ball and I had to take him off. In 80’ Sergino Dest also picked up a knock (another injury to him - he looks increasingly like he’s made of glass), so at least two players missing for the coming weeks. Despite those frustrating moments, the final score 3:0 looked fairly solid and the game as a whole looked like a routine win - nothing too exciting, but still a few chances and three goals in the home game - can’t complain.

  • our shooting was 25/12
  • we didn’t allow PEC Zwolle to create any chances in this game
  • Quincy Promes and Sergino Dest had a great game for us
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - his two goals and assist were crucial in this win
  • David Neres will be out for 3-4 weeks with a pulled thigh muscle and Sergino Dest is out for 2-3 weeks with a damaged foot.

 

28.09.2019 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 14. Kristoffer Peterson - 79. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

We have won our first 7 league games in this season. Confidence is high and we’ve created a small gap in the table, so we could afford dropping some points, if it comes to this. I’m writing this because while preparing for the rival game against FC Utrecht, what was looming in the distance for us was the match with FC Chelsea that is about to come up just three days later and that looked so much more important.

FC Utrecht are a fairly good team, predicted to finish 5th in the pre-season, but we’re still favourites for the away game and I had to find a good squad for this game - to win, but still try to find a way to keep our key players fresh for the Chelsea game.

That task was not made easier by our long injury list - Joel Veltman was still out, Lisandro Martinez returned to full training, but I needed caution while using him, David Neres and Sergino Dest were out and just a day before the match Ryan Babel complained about a thigh calf. With David Neres already out I had no other option than risk it and play him anyway.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Blind, Pierie (84. Tagliafico), Marin, van de Beek, Promes (72. Gravenberch), Ziyech, Babel (50. Huntelaar), Tadic

It was a poor first half from us. A couple of shots on target, but FC Utrecht took the lead in 14’ - Kristoffer Peterson won a header in our box and directed it towards goal, against the movement for Andre Onana and it was 0:1 with less than 15 minutes played. It was Daley Blind’s missed interception that led to the goal. We had to push more players to attack after that and FC Utrecht played for counter-attacks. Gyrano Kerk had one half-chance in 18’ - Blind missed his tackle in our box, but Kerk couldn’t use the opportunity and Andre Onana made a good save to stop his shot. What frustrated me the most at half time was our lack of chances in the final third.

Things didn’t improve in the second half and FC Utrecht almost doubled his lead in 49’ - Peterson skipped way too easy past Edson Alvarec, but sent his shot wide from a clear cut chance position. It was a wake up call for us and I started to make substitutions. With Huntelaar up front, it looked for a period that we could even create some sort of pressure on Utrecht defense. That didn’t lead to a goal, but Huntelaar eventually did - his half-volley from 20 meters landed in the bottom corner and stunned the opposition goalkeeper. A brilliant shot from an experienced striker and we were level, although it looked like we didn’t deserve to be. Our defense looked to be fragile and counter-attacking runs from Gyrano Kerk too much to handle for defenders. Fortunately for us, he was really wasteful with his chances and both 84’ and 90’ shots were well parried by Onana. Youngster Ryan Gravenberch got his close range shot on target in injury time, but that, too, was saved and the final result was 1:1.

I was relieved that we could save a point from this game, but our overall performance wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t create almost anything up front and kept giving away easy chances to FC Utrecht. On another day we could have been 1:4 down and we can count ourselves lucky that we didn’t get beaten.

  • we had 61% possession in this game, but allowed FC Utrecht to create 3 clear cut chances
  • 6.86 average rating was clearly below par
  • Player of the game: Klaas-Jan Huntelaar



 

I had mixed feelings about our September. August looked really good and straightforward as we moved from win to win, but September offered more difficult challenges - with some we coped well, with others we did not. Our come-back and win over Vitesse was the highlight of the month for us - a real manager’s win and I was happy with the kind of determination I saw from our players. Defeat to Atalanta was a big disappointment this month, more importantly because it left me puzzled and without a good idea what to do with our tactics so that we could do better in the Champions League level.


 

Eredivisie

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Fairly strong position after two months from us and neither PSV or Feyenoord have been too impressive with their form, so it gives us some sort of cushion for the next few weeks.

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October 2019

 

Another month that balances easy with difficult. Important phase of the Champions League will be coming up, with two games in October. In Eredivisie, we will meet AZ Alkmaar in the Noords-Hollandse derby, but the schedule balances tough with easy - Fortuna Sittard and TOP Oss are the games where I could rotate and give my youngsters some chances to impress.

What disrupted things in late September and early October were rumors about possible board takeover. That made me a little nervous, because a new manager’s position is never too certain in a big club, but for a while those talks broke down.

 

01.10.2019 - AFC Ajax - FC Chelsea 1:1 (Champions League Group E) - 10. Quincy Promes - 82. Willian

After being beaten by Atalanta, I knew that we needed something different against a big club like Chelsea. So I opted for 4-1-2-3 DM Wide formation instead of our usual 4-2-3-1 and changed some team instructions as well. One good thing about that formation was that we didn’t miss David Neres as badly. Hakim Ziyech took his place in AMR and Dusan Tadic started in ST. Chelsea came against us with their standard 4-2-3-1 which looked pretty attacking to me. 

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Tagliafico, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (90.+2 Gravenberch), Ziyech (78. Huntelaar), Promes, Tadic (85. Babel)

 A little bit surprisingly, we took the lead fairly early in the game. Quincy Promes cut inside from left and found himself some space. His shot from close range found its way in from the near post and made home fans cheer. Chelsea recovered fairly quickly and started to dominate possession, but besides Willian half-chance in 17’ they lacked good goalscoring opportunities. We could be fairly pleased with our formation and defensive setup. Indeed, we were truly unlucky in the end of the first half not to score our second goal, as both Lisandro Martinez and Razvan Marin hit the frameworks inside just a couple of minutes. That was encouraging going for the break and I was satisfied with our overall performance. Chelsea held possession (45/55), but shots were 10/5-4/4 to our favour.

Chelsea looked a little better in the second half. Tammy Abraham hit the post in 64’ and their pressure increased, until Willian finally made it 1:1 from the corner in 82’. That was a huge disappointment, because we played so well until that point. Quincy Promes tried his luck from 30 meters, but Kepa made a great save to deny his attempt and so the teams settled with a draw.

I was a little disappointed with the goal we conceded, but overall can’t complain too much about that result. It was a good learning experience to play against big club and try new formations and tactical instructions, so I felt that we learned a lot in that process.

  • we lost possession 41/59 in the end
  • our shooting was 16/9 - not bad at all
  • Player of the game: Cesar Azpilicueta (FC Chelsea)

 

05.10.2019 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 1:0 (ED) - 82. pen. Dusan Tadic

AZ Alkmaar should be one of the top teams in Eredivisie, brimming with young talent. However, their form has been inconsistent so far and they’re sitting in the middle of the table. Despite that they shouldn’t be underestimated. In the pre-match analysis my data analyst pointed out that AZ has had the most possession in Eredivisie so far (61%) and scouts drew my attention to their playmaker Fredrik Mitsjo, who holds the highest average rating in the league so far and has collected 5 player of the match awards in the first 8 games. That’s really impressive. Limiting his space and time on the ball in midfield is the key to our success in this game.

AZ used 4-1-4-1 DM Wide against us. I expected them to be more cautious in the away game and fielded our usual 4-2-3-1, aiming to secure possession and put them under pressure. 

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez (88. Schuurs), Blind, Tagliafico, Gravenberch, Marin, Promes, Ziyech (77. Babel), Tadic, Huntelaar (68. Traore)

We kept AZ under pressure from start to finish in the first half - dominated the midfield and had some good shots on target. Dušan Tadic hit the post with his half-volley in 28’ and Hakim Ziyech saw his good attempt being saved in 38’ when I thought he’ll surely finish from that opportunity.

The same continued in the second half - AZ defended fairly well and I switched from positive to attacking in 70’. AZ’s Owen Wijndal received his second yellow card in 74’ and that increased pressure for us to get the result. It finally came through VAR-decided penalty in 81’ - Tadic converted the spot kick after Lassina Traore was tripped in the box and that was enough to secure all three points. 

Full time verdict - I’m happy with three points, but our lack of creativity almost landed us in trouble. We were saved by AZ’s red card and VAR for the penalty and we have to be much better in the future. So, players heard constructive criticism rather than praise in the dressing room. There were few positives to take with us, too - our youngsters performed well. Ryan Gravenberch played full minutes in DLPd and I have to say he did a fairly good job leading our attacks from deep, moving the ball around and picking up runners on the wings. That could be a good position for him in the future, at least against smaller teams. Lassina Traore came on, looked determined and his physical presence in the box eventually led to penalty.

  • our shooting was 25/12
  • we didn’t give AZ Alkmaar any real scoring opportunities
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Tagliafico


 

Two weeks of international football have (again) passed and a lot of players went away to their international teams. Who remained, got to train hard during this period. More buzz in the office happened because the takeover finally took place. German-based investor Clemens Tönnies took control of AFC Ajax for £264m and club director Edwin van der Sar left the club as a result.

What it meant to me? Err… nothing, at least for now. My objectives remained the same, no big changes in expectations and I haven’t really had a chance to sit down with the new management to discuss things. So, for now it’s best to keep my head down and work towards our goals.


 

19.10.2019 - Fortuna Sittard - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 28. Ryan Babel, 37. Lassina Traore

We will resume Eredivisie football with a trip to Sittard - the small border town in the South-East is home for the local football club. What I would like to do is to play our younger/rotation players here and keep our key players fresh for the upcoming Champions League fixtures. But, as usual, what faces me on the squad sheet is an incoherent mess - several players (especially U-21 players) look exhausted after all that international football and travelling. Hakim Ziyech and Ryan Gravenberch are tired, Dusan Tadic almost equally so. It looks like I have to balance with at least some of the first team choices and hopefully they’ll recover for the Bayer 04 Leverkusen game.

The good news is that David Neres is back in full training and I probably need to start him in this game right away, although preferably not for the full ninety minutes.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (60. Martinez), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Eiting, Marin, Promes (71. David Neres), van de Beek (60. Labyad), Babel, Traore

Our high pressing has caused some problems to smaller teams and Fortuna almost gifted us a goal in 24’ - Lassina Traore put their defender under pressure, stole the ball and should have scored from the chance, but his shot was saved. That was a blunder from our young striker, but it didn’t matter too much, because four minutes later Ryan Babel headed in from the corner and Traore himself added another goal in 37’ - good volley from 15 meters this time. I was happy with the result at half time and allowed some substitutions in the second half, but complacency started to appear in our team’s body language and that almost cost us a goal in 76’ when Lisandro Martinez lost a challenge and allowed Fortuna’s Vatialie Damascan to get away with the ball. Andre Onana stepped up and saved another one-on-one situation in this season to keep a clean sheet.

Final result 2:0 was OK, but our second half performance looked below par to me, so not much praise for the team after the full time whistle.

  • our shooting was 21/11
  • we had 65% possession
  • Lassina Traore scored his first ever league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Ryan Babel

 

22.10.2019 - AFC Ajax - Bayer 04 Leverkusen 2:0 (Champions League Group E) - 9. Daley Blind, 64. Hakim Ziyech

We look fairly equal to Bayer 04 and were slight favourites for the home game. Because of that (and also because our pre-match scouting report said that Bayer had struggled against 4-2-3-1) we used our standard attacking formation in this game and hoped for the best. We really needed a win and home games are more valuable in this regard. More importantly - David Neres was finally back in the line-up and Sergino Dest was also fit enough to start on the bench.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (83. Dest), Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico, Gravenberch, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (73. Babel), Tadic (76. Huntelaar)

We had a good start to the game and took the lead in 9’ when Daley Blind headed in from the corner. From this point on we controlled matters and were the more attacking side and Bayer 04 only found one half-chance in the whole first half. We, at the same time, had several shots on target and Quincy Promes wasted his clear cut chance in 44’ - that was a shame, because a dressing room goal could have killed this game for Bayer. I was happy with what I saw on the pitch and our work with set pieces paid off again.

The second half was equally good and we could relax a little after Ziyech increased our lead - easy finish from close range, after Lars Bender missed his interception in front of the goal. We controlled matters until the final whistle and it was a fairly frustrating game for Bayer. I was certainly happy with our first win in the Champions League and hopefully those three points can help to secure our progression from the group.

  • our shooting was 27/11 in this game
  • we made 31 dribbles (12 from David Neres)
  • David Neres gave his 10th assist of the season, creating a chance for Ziyech
  • Ryan Babel made his 100th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind

 

28.10.2019 - TOP Oss - AFC Ajax 1:4 (TOTO KNVB Beker 1st round) - 69. Pieter Langedijk - 10. and 50. Quincy Promes, 38. Lassina Traore, 90.+4 Zakaria Labyad

Our first cup game looked fairly easy on paper - TOP Oss was rock bottom in the lower division and they were just recently beaten 3:0 by Jong Ajax, so it didn’t look much of a challenge. Rotation players got their chance to impress and there were a few youngsters on the bench as well.

Squad: van Leer, Dest (39. Alvarez), Schuurs, Blind (50. Salah-Eddine), Pierie, Eiting, Marin (50. Regeer), Promes, Labyad, Babel, Traore

It was an easy game from start to finish and Quincy Promes especially was too good for TOP Oss defenders - his dribbling and movement were just too good and he often found himself open in a good position. He wasted some chances, but scored twice and we could send out the youngsters already in 50’. The worst moment for us in the first half was another injury for Sergino Dest who was forced off with a gashed leg. In the second half complacency was obvious and we allowed our opponents to score a consolation goal - Pieter Langedijk found the net with an excellent header. But we finished strong and in injury time Zakaria Labyad scored a wonderful strike from 23 meters - great performance from the attacking midfielder.

It was a decent result, but I was not happy with the attitude and chose to remind that to the players after the final whistle.

  • our shooting was 28/15 in this game
  • we had 64% possession
  • we didn’t give TOP Oss any real chances
  • Sergino Dest suffered a gashed upper leg and will be out for a week - I feared worse at first, so it’s a rather good news
  • 16 years old Youri Regeer became the youngest ever player to play for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - wonderful performance from the winger, two goals, 14 dribbles and TOP defenders made 10 fouls against him



 

So, pretty solid October for us. I wasn’t happy with our performance in all of the games, but results have come our way and I was delighted with the win against Bayer 04 Leverkusen.

I also decided to sort out some staff questions and hired Stephen Hoskins as our new loan manager to aid with development options for our youngsters, starting from the next transfer window.

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Eredivisie

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Things start to look more and more comfortable for us, as our undefeated run goes on and the gap increases behind us.

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November 2019

 

Six games in November include pretty regular league games, but our focus is clearly on the remaining Champions League fixtures and the end of the month will bring our first Kassieker Derby 

 

03.11.2019 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 65. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar

Our first opponents FC Twente are overachieving in this season and find themselves in 6th place at the moment. Their 4-2-2-2 DM formation with 2 DMC-s look like an excellent bus-parking formation and difficult to break down.

Our defensive line was still a little affected by injuries, but Joel Veltman is really close to returning and Lisandro Martinez was back in full training.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (75. Schuurs), Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico, Marin, van de Beek (72. Gravenberch), David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (63. Huntelaar), Tadic

FC Twente defended deep, as expected, and they were really difficult to break down in the first half. We couldn’t find space in the final third and didn’t create any real chances in the first half. David Neres managed to find the goal in 34’ but this was chalked off after VAR decided that he was offside in that situation.

We started to increase pressure after 50’ - Quincy Promes saw his shot being saved, Edson Alvarez should have scored from IFK, but his close range header went over and substitute Klaas-Jan Huntelaar broke the deadlock with a well-directed header. Huntelaar had a chance to extend our lead from the spot after Edson Alvarez was fouled in the box in 68’, but he missed his penalty (the second miss in this season) and so the final score remained 1:0.

When the final whistle called I felt that we missed too many easy chances in the second half, but kept our defense in order and I was satisfied with the win.

  • our shooting was 24/12
  • no real chances for FC Twente
  • Player of the game: Edson Alvarez - 5 key headers in this game


 

06.11.2019 - Bayer 04 Leverkusen - AFC Ajax 2:3 (Champions League Group E) - 43. Moussa Diaby, 57. Kai Havertz - 16. Perr Schuurs, 32. David Neres, 42. Dusan Tadic

One of the most important games in this month - away match against Bayer 04. Leverkusen were eager to prove that they could beat us after their defeat in Amsterdam, so we were prepared for the difficult match.

Leverkusen welcomed us with a heavy rain in the evening. We approached this game with our usual 4-2-3-1 formation, but balanced mentality. Edson Alvarez was suspended for this game, but the rest of the first team squad were available. Perr Schuurs got his chance in our central defense.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Tagliafico (80. Pierie), Marin (86. Gravenberch), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (66. Huntelaar), Promes, Tadic

In the first 15 minutes we abandoned our ‘balanced’ instruction and went to ‘positive’ in search of goals. And the goals came - first from the new man in our line-up: Perr Schuurs with a header from IFK. David Neres cut in from our right wing and fired it in when over 30’ were played - a great left-footed strike and when Dusan Tadic made it 3:0 from a narrow angle, it looked like we were cruising here. However, it was too soon to celebrate, as Leverkusen answered right in the next attack - Moussa Diaby found the net with a header and we went to half-time with 3:1 lead.

I was happy with our first half performance, except, obviously, the late goal that we conceded. Both Leverkusen centre-backs were booked and that meant we could test them with runs and dribbles.

Leverkusen had a good moments in attack in 56’ - two headers from corners found the target and Andre Onana had to make good saves to keep them away, but a minute later Kai Havertz got his chance after Perr Schuurs dangerously lost possession in our box and that time our goalkeeper couldn’t save us. It was 3:2 and game on - Leverkusen searched for an equalizer and we tried to find space from counter-attacks. The rest of the game offered really entertaining football, with better chances falling for us. Quincy Promes had the best chance from a counter, but he sent his shot just wide and just a minute later Leverkusen’s Daley Sinkgraven hit the post with his volley. That was a close call, but the final whistle called and we were safe. Crucial win for us from the away game, but really nervous in the end.

  • our shooting was 21/11, but Leverkusen had 19/11, so fairly even game
  • Player of the game: David Neres - outstanding performance from right winger - a goal, assist and 12 dribbles

 

09.11.2019 - AFC Ajax - Heracles Almelo 2:0 (ED) - 34. Hakim Ziyech, 90.+5 Edson Alvarez

Morale was excellent after our return from Leverkusen, but the legs were tired. Noussair Mazraoui was rested for this game, but Lisandro Martinez, Joel Veltman and Sergino Dest were ready to start. Lassina Traore was in my line-up, but he told us about a tight thigh in training and I thought it better to rest him.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman (87. Alvarez), Martinez, Tagliafico, Gravenberch (70. Eiting), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (70. Babel), Huntelaar)

It was a decent game in both halves for us. We controlled possession, but Heracles defended well with their 4-4-1-1 formation and we relied on set pieces to score goals. Hakim Ziyech won his aerial duel in the first half to score from a corner and substitute Edson Alvarez added another goal from a corner in injury time. Not the most convincing performance and I expected better chances from the team, but solid result in the end and with that much rotation in the line-up it’s good enough.

  • our shooting was 30/14 in this game
  • Player of the game: Hakim Ziyech - a goal and assist from attacking midfielder


 

23.11.2019 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 7. pen. and 68. Quincy Promes, 12. Hakim Ziyech, 47. Nicolas Tagliafico

International window passed and offered a chance to regroup after a series of games. Our season continued with a trip to Groningen - FC Groningen are a mid-table team, but we were clear favourites for this game. I wanted to rotate, because the upcoming Atalanta game was much more important for us and I wanted to keep our key players fresh.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman, Martinez, Tagliafico (72. Pierie), Eiting, Marin, David Neres (57. Babel), Ziyech (57. Tadic), Promes, Traore

The game was over for FC Groningen in the first 15 minutes. Quincy Promes scored from the spot after David Neres was tripped in the box and Hakim Ziyech added another goal after stealing the ball from a defender. FC Groningen tried to keep possession and pass the ball between defenders - in fact they managed to win possession 56/44 in the first half, but it didn’t matter, because we had the lead and at least once we punished them with our high pressure.

Nicolas Tagliafico added our third goal with a fine strike right after second half kick-off and Quincy Promes scored his second after a long run with the ball from our right wing. FC Groningen couldn’t get the ball into the final third and their first ever shot came in 77’, but it was a fairly dangerous one. A through ball found Daishawn Redan in our box, but Andre Onana was ready and made a great save to keep a clean sheet. It was a convincing win at the end and I was delighted with the result.

  • our shooting was 29/15 in this game
  • Quincy Promes scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Tagliafico


26.11.2019 - AFC Ajax - Atalanta 3:0 (Champions League Group E) - 20. and 84. Quincy Promes, 85. David Neres

This could be easily our most important game of the month. It was a must win game against Atalanta and a chance to take revenge for that uninspiring defeat that we suffered in Bergamo. I still had just a vague understanding how to counter their 5-2-1-2 WB formation, but I was determined to give our best effort. Atalanta started their season well, but recently their form has been inconsistent and I hoped that our good run and high confidence will help us at home.

I opted for 4-2-3-1 formation and asked the lads to shoot on sight.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico (85. Pierie), Marin (75. Gravenberch), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (84. Huntelaar), Promes, Tadic

We made a positive start to the game and took the lead in 20’ - David Neres found Quincy Promes at the far post with a cross and the left winger headed it home. Atalanta looked a little downhearted from that, but their moment came in 36’ when Josep Ilicic’s shot deflected off our crossbar and went over. We went to half time with a narrow lead and I was fairly satisfied with events so far, but our attack looked a little impatient, so I removed ‘shoot on sight’ instruction and hoped that more patient attacks could give us better chances. It took some time and tweaks of player instructions (mainly Dusan Tadic’s role as a striker) to give us another clear cut chance. It happened in 64’ when Tadic had a great look, but his attempt was blocked by the arriving defender. We had initiative in the game, but we needed another goal to make things sure and that happened in 84’ - Quincy Promes cut in from the left wing and curled a brilliant shot in from 24 meters. What a wonderful strike! I relaxed a little and just a minute later David Neres answered with a carbon copy of that goal, this time from the right and his long shot was too good for the goalkeeper as well. Two brilliant goals inside 2 minutes and Atalanta were undone. Excellent result for us and that win secured our progression from the group and put us in the first place at the moment.

  • our shooting was just 22/5 - difficult to get shots on target and we made 11 attempts from long range
  • we made 30 dribbles in this game and both David Neres and Quincy Promes were too technical for Atalanta defenders
  • Player of the game: David Neres - outstanding performance from the winger, a goal and assist to him tonight

 

30.11.2019 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 2:0 (ED) - 27. Steven Berghuis, 73. Nicolai Jorgensen

The win over Atalanta took a lot of pressure off and it looked that for the last game of the month we were a little short of motivation and desire, even though it was the first Klassieker Derby to me. The players looked a little tired too and focus was not the best.

I chose to continue with 4-2-3-1 formation and balanced mentality, as the game was held at De Kuip.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (30. Dest), Veltman, Blind, Tagliafico, Gravenberch, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (71. Babel), Tadic (58. Traore)

Did I say that the focus wasn’t right in this game? It was evident in the first 20 minutes when both Daley Blind and Joel Veltman lost possession to Nicolai Jorgensen (Feyenoord used high pressing) and one of those mistakes led to a one-on-one situation where Andre Onana did just enough to parry Jorgensen’s shot. But Feyenoord looked more hungry and they eventually found the goal - Steven Berghuis scored after our clearance was a little short and fell to him in the box.

I asked the lads to be more attacking and search for an equalizer, but then Noussair Mazraoui picked up a knock and came off and at half time it was still 0:1.

Things didn’t get better in the second half - Sergino Dest too was injured, but he had to remain on the pitch, as I had no good replacement for him. I tried different tactical instructions and approaches, but nothing seemed to work and our attacking game looked just futile. When Jorgensen scored the second goal for Feyenoord, it was all over for us. Disappointing defeat in a derby and I felt that we just fell short - both the team and the manager. It was probably my first time to really raise my voice to players in the dressing room after the game, but our performance was indeed poor.

  • our average rating was just 6.79
  • we won possession 62/38, but shots were 10/5 vs. 14/7 to Feyenoord
  • despite all that possession we couldn’t create a single decent chance in this game
  • both Mazraoui and Dest have to skip a couple of days due to small knocks
  • Player of the game: Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord Rotterdam)


 

To be fair, I’m not too concerned about Feyenoord defeat. We still have a decent lead in the table and I know that Champions League games were the big test in November and we played our best games when it mattered the most. We could give up some points here or there in Eredivisie, even though fans and the board are obviously unhappy about the rival defeat.


 

Eredivisie

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December 2019

 

Another six games in December and our fixture list offered good variety - on paper our league opponents were not too strong and there was a cup game against lower division FC Volendam in the list. The big test was obviously FC Chelsea at Stamford Bridge - although our place in the knockout stages was secure, this game determined the winner in our group.


 

03.12.2019 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 4:0 (ED) - 15., 19. and 77. pen. Omar Bogle, 72. Aaron Meijers

This game offered me challenges in squad selection. There were some tired legs and neither Mazraoui or Dest weren’t fully fit after the Feyenoord game. So I made a decision to start with Joel Veltman in DR and in retrospect it probably was my biggest mistake coming into this game.

Squad: Onana, Veltman (60. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez, Tagliafico (60. Pierie), Gravenberch, Marin, David Neres, Tadic, Promes, Traore (54. Huntelaar)

ADO Den Haag striker Omar Bogle is currently leading the goalscoring charts and while his attributes are not really impressive, his stats are. We were aware of that, but should have been better prepared against him. After a positive start for us and a couple of missed half-chances it was Bogle who stunned us with a great strike from 18 meters. It shook us a little, but before we could compose ourselves, it was 0:2 - again Bogle with a header from IFK and now we were in trouble. We were trailing at half time, looked a little out of ideas and ADO obviously gained a lot of confidence from those two goals.

Things went from bad to worse in the second half. David Neres had a brilliant chance to get one goal back for us, but he missed an easy chance in 63’ and when Aaron Meijers scored another goal from IFK it was game over for us. Alvarez’s foul in our box gave Bogle a chance for a hat-trick and he converted the penalty to humiliate us further. In the end we suffered an embarrassing defeat in a game that was better to forget quickly. The fans obviously didn’t forgive us quickly and I saw some puzzled faces in the board lounge too. Game stats looked to favour us at first glance, but tactically we were outplayed by ADO and their finishing was much more clinical.

  • we won possession 66/34
  • our shooting was 23/9
  • our average rating was just 6.60
  • Player of the game: Omar Bogle (ADO Den Haag) - well deserved, a wonderful performance from the striker and a hat-trick


 

06.12.2019 - AZ Alkmaar - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 13. David Neres

So, we were in the hole. Very good season until that point, but two defeats in a row and we haven’t been able to score a goal in consecutive games, so obviously our confidence has started to shake and the players start to look around for someone to lead them out from this rough patch. I knew that our next game could be important and we really needed to get a good result, to raise morale and get some confidence back, and that next game was the away match with AZ Alkmaar.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (68. Dest), Veldman, Blind, Tagliafico (68. Pierie), Eiting, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (76. Babel), Traore

It was a decent first half from us and the most important thing - we got a goal! Lassina Traore’s shot was blocked, but David Neres collected the rebound and finished into the empty goal. Despite our lead I wasn’t entirely happy with our attacking formation - Lassina Traore looked often too isolated up front and we lost possession too often.

I made some changes in the second half, but without much success. We couldn’t score another goal, but at the same time our defense looked solid enough and we managed to get the narrow win from an away game. Despite our small margin of victory I was really happy with our clean sheet and with the opportunity to praise players and raise morale. It was exactly what we needed after those two defeats and before our trip to London.

  • our shooting was 17/10 in this game
  • we didn’t allow AZ Alkmaar to create any real chances
  • Player of the game: David Neres - his goal was the difference between two teams

 

11.12.2019 - FC Chelsea - AFC Ajax 2:0 (Champions League Group E) - 46. Tammy Abraham, 77. Olivier Giroud

Our task looked clear enough for this game - a draw was good enough to secure our first place in the group, while FC Chelsea needed to win to overtake us in the table. Clear as it might have been, getting the result at Stamford Bridge was never easy. I opted for 4-1-2-3 DM Wide formation with a balanced approach and more disciplined instructions.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (81. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Tagliafico, Blind, van de Beek (62. Marin), Ziyech, David Neres, Promes (71. Babel), Tadic

The first half looked a little slow, careful and even boring. Both teams looked to cancel each other out and while it was tedious to watch, I was pleased with our first half - it was exactly what we needed to do against the big team, away from home.

But Chelsea raised their game after the break and Tammy Abraham scored right after the second half kick-off. It looked like we were slow to start and weren’t really ready for that attacking move and from there it was a much more difficult task for us. We had to open up our game and it gave Chelsea more chances. Tammy Abraham sent his free header over from point blank range in 56’ and when substitute Olivier Giroud extended Chelsea’s lead in 77’, it was game over. We tried our best, but we fell short in a difficult game and there was no shame in that. Dusan Tadic had a great opportunity to score a consolation goal for us in injury time, but his attempt was saved and we remained goalless. A bit disappointed, but not downhearted. The one learning experience I take from this defeat is that Dusan Tadic was not effective as DLFs against a big team like Chelsea, but found much more space and created chances when he started to play as trequartista. Food for thought for our next games.

  • our shooting was just 12/3 - I asked the players to shoot on sight, but it wasn’t very effective
  • Player of the game: Olivier Giroud (FC Chelsea) - outstanding goal and a good performance from the French striker

 

14.12.2019 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 2:0 (ED) - 71. Quincy Promes, 86. Ryan Babel

Back to Holland and our next game is a pretty routine fixture in Eredivisie. Willem II are surely a top half team, but I was confident because of our home advantage. Our squad selection raised some problems, as some of the players looked tired after the Chelsea game and Joel Veltman managed to pick up a knock in training. Twisted ankle will keep him sidelined until January and I had to rotate wisely to replace tired players.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Alvarez, Martinez (74. Schuurs), Pierie, Gravenberch (81. Eiting), Marin, Promes, Tadic (74. van de Beek), Babel, Traore

The game started with a dangerous moment in our half - Willem II had a counter-attack  in 2’ and both Alvarez and Martinez looked too passive to stop him and in the end he found himself in our box with the ball, but this clear cut chance was wasted when the ball landed in our side-netting. We were more alert after that moment and quickly took control of the game, but in turn could not finish our own goal scoring chances in the first half. Quincy Promes wasted two great opportunities and when the first half finished goalless, I could just state that our tactics work well, but we need to be more clinical in front of goal.

Promes finally made up for his first half mistakes in 71’ - he took the ball down with a great first touch and found the net. Decent strike this time around. Ryan Babel added another goal in 86’ and secured us all three points from this game. Babel’s shot went through the soft hands of Willem II goalkeeper and I believe that those replays were rather embarrassing for the keeper. 2:0 was a solid result for us in the end, that looked like a routine win in Eredivisie.

  • our shooting was 21/12 in this game
  • Quincy Promes was out for a week with a pulled groin that he suffered in the second half
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes


 

We’ve now played 17 games in Eredivisie and collected 43 points. I believe that 40 points marks a good first half to the season, so we’re a little above expectation in this regard and we’ve opened up a healthy gap in the table.

 

18.12.2019 - AFC Ajax - FC Volendam 2:1 (TOTO KNVB Beker 2nd round) - 67. Kik Pierie, 94. Donny van de Beek - 84. Nick Rundenkamp

Next up - a cup game against FC Volendam from the lower division. Shouldn’t be too difficult and as we played at home, I rotated freely and expected fringe players to step up and use their chance to impress. I also brought up young goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen from Jong Ajax to give him the first start for the first team. Joel Veltman and Quincy Promes were injured, but that didn’t worry me, really.

Squad: Scherpen, Dest, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Gravenberch (73. Taylor), van de Beek, David Neres (109. Ziyech), Tadic (73. Labyad), Babel, Huntelaar (70. Traore)

The first half was a usual story for us - we dominated midfield, but couldn’t create clear cut chances. Both Lisandro Martinez and David Neres hit the post, but that was the closest we got to a goal despite having 73% possession in the first half.

The same continued after the break. David Neres found the frameworks with his header in 49’ and we generally struggled to make our chances count. It was left-back Kik Pierie who finally scored in 67’ and his first ever goal for Ajax broke the deadlock. Lisandro Martinez hit the post again in 70’ - we couldn’t find the second goal to secure the result and that finally cost us when Volendam’s Nick Rundekamp surprised Scherpen with a shot from 20 meters. A goal out of nowhere - that’s always a danger against smaller teams and I was furious not so much with our defense, but with our strikers. Zakarya Labyad missed his clear cut chance in injury time and with that proof of our poor finishing the game went to extra time.

In extra time, however, we firmly made things clear. Donny van de Beek scored from 20 meters with a shot that went in off the bar and then FC Volendam had no answers. A little bit frustrated with this game, because we should have been better against a much smaller side and our poor finishing caused us to play 30 more minutes than necessary. The final result, however, was positive and we’re still in the competition.

  • we had 71% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 43/23 
  • we didn’t allow FC Volendam any real chances in this game
  • Kik Pierie scored his first ever goal for Ajax
  • Kjell Scherpen and Kenneth Taylor made their debuts for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - great midfield performance and outstanding goal from the midfielder

 

22.12.2019 - AFC Ajax - Fortuna Sittard 4:0 (ED) - 7., 10. pen. and 28. Quincy Promes, 38. David Neres

The last game for us - another must win game against a smaller team at Amsterdam Arena, although I was made aware that Fortuna Sittard have won their last four games in a row, so confidence was obviously high in their camp. We had a luxury to field pretty much our strongest team (expect injured Joel Veltman), so there was no room for complacency.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Blind, Tagliafico, Gravenberch (61. Taylor), Marin, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (62. Babel), Traore (75. Huntelaar)

We made a great start to the game and Quincy Promes was too much to handle in the first 30 minutes for Fortuna defenders. He scored his first goal in 7’, added another from the spot after David Neres was pushed in the box and completed his hat-trick in 28’. David Neres added our fourth goal with a header from IFK and we went to half-time with a convincing 4:0 lead.

Fortuna Sittard offered little resistance after the break and we could give opportunities to youngsters. Kenneth Taylor got another 30 minutes of first team football. Despite our domination, the game had no more goals and the best chance in the second half was David Neres’ opportunity in 89’ - his volley was well saved by Fortuna goalkeeper. In the end I was really happy with the win and our overall performance. It’s a good feeling when you can get to Christmas when your team is topping the table and is performing well on the pitch.

  • we enjoyed 69% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 29/18
  • Fortuna players made 26 fouls against us
  • David Neres scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Quincy Promes, Noussair Mazraoui and David Neres were outstanding in this game
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - hat-trick hero tonight


 

In retrospect, the month began poorly for us, but we managed to turn things around, got the results in the next games and regained our confidence.

 

Eredivisie

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It’s pretty much a two-horse race at the moment. Feyenoord are the only club with a realistic chance of catching us and their undefeated run since August has been impressive enough. PEC Zwolle are still very high in the table and at the bottom, three clubs in the relegation battle are also clear.

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January 2020

 

I spent my New Years Eve in the office with my staff, working out contract extensions for coaches, physios, sport scientists and scouts. Long story short - 70% of them deserved a new deal, but at least some of the people left me wondering if we could do better in that area and I’ll try to look for more qualified replacements in Spring.

The transfer window opened and I made my first move right in the first of January, cancelling Ryan Babel’s loan and he returned to Galatasaray immediately. He was a rotation player for me and while he was a decent choice, he fell down in the club hierarchy and I saw no point in keeping him around any further. It’s better to give his minutes to younger players.

Then I just waited in my office. Two days passed and the phone rang and it was Tottenham on the other end. Their decent offer for Nicolas Tagliafico was quickly negotiated to £42m + clauses (up to £50m) and I accepted it. I knew that Nicolas probably wanted to move to Manchester, but if either City or United wanted to get him, they had to at least match Tottenham’s bid. I was prepared for life without our best left-back. Kik Pierie looked good enough to take over, Daley Blind could offer cover in that position and we had a couple of youngsters who looked talented enough to get some minutes towards the end of the season. Tagliafico reached an agreement with Spurs and left in the middle of January.

The rest of the transfer business I concluded can be summarized by “getting rid of the deadwood”. I needed to trim my squads (both first team and Jong Ajax) and it’s nice to get at least some cash for the players who had some years left of their contract, but weren’t good enough to really contribute to our first team in long term.

Zakarya Labyad moved on to Lokomotiv Moscow for £1,8m and Benjamin van Leer went to Torino for £1,4m.

Several youngsters from Jong Ajax went on loan and usually the purpose for them was to trim my squad. I prefer to promote my most talented players to the first team or look for the best loan alternative for them personally, but my  newly-appointed loan manager needed to do something and so he was in charge of the ones who I wanted to send away until their contracts ran out.


We played two friendlies in January - both against strong German clubs. We destroyed Borussia Dortmund 5:1 in Johan Cruijff Arena and played an entertaining 3:3 draw with Bayern in Munich, so I was fairly happy with what I saw on the pitch and how the players performed.



 

18.01.2020 - RKC Waalwijk - AFC Ajax 0:5 (ED) - 8., 31. and 90.+3 Quincy Promes, 33. Lassina Traore, 85. Hakim Ziyech

So, back to our Eredivisie campaign and there are some must win games against smaller teams in January. First of those is the away trip to Waalwijk. RKC is in a miserable position - they’re 7 points behind everyone else and look like sure relegation material in this season.

We missed just one player due to injury - Joel Veltman injured his calf in the Bayern game and he’ll be out for 4-5 weeks.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (58. Dest), Alvarez (56. Schuures),  Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres (56. Gravenberch), Ziyech, Promes, Traore

The game was fairly easy to us - we took the lead early on and when Promes scored his second with a header from a corner and Lassina Traore added our third goal after a good attacking move, it looked like a game over for RKC. We dominated midfield and possession and RKC had hardly any ball in our final third. We were patient enough with our attacking game and used our chances well.

The second half continued in the same fashion - Hakim Ziyech missed his easy chance, but later on scored a wonderful goal from 20 meters and Quincy Promes completed his hat-trick with a fine strike from 17 meters to make it 5:0. Those two were not really great chances, but rather brilliant individual goals. With that convincing win RKC morale got another heavy blow and we could continue our campaign with high spirits.

  • our possession was 67% in this game
  • we had 30/16 shooting
  • we had 8.04 average rating
  • Quincy Promes and Hakim Ziyech were outstanding for us
  • Quincy Promes scored his 20th goal of the season in this game
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - hat-trick hero for us

 

22.01.2020 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 1:2 (TOTO KNVB Beker 3rd round) - 52. Luka Adzic - 70. Lassina Traore, 90.+3 Hakim Ziyech

We went to this cup game without two defenders - Kik Pierie was suspended and Joel Veltman injured, but overall I was bold enough to make some changes to rotate the team. Emmen stadium welcomed us with heavy rain (again) and it didn’t make things easier for our possession based technical football.

Squad: Scherpen, Dest (88. Mazraoui), Alvarez, Martinez, Blind, Gravenberch, van de Beek (69. Marin), David Neres, Ziyech, Tadic (60. Promes), Traore

We put Emmen under pressure in the first 15 minutes, but that stopped there and we couldn’t find a goal in the first half. Our attacking game was just disappointing and Dušan Tadic namely played below his usual level. 

In the second half David Neres found our first clear cut chance in 50’, but this close range shot was saved and two minutes later FC Emmen took the lead - completely against the run of the game. It was a header from IFK and obviously set pieces are always dangerous, but we were under pressure now and had to find an equalizer. I made changes and sent out Quincy Promes. Our attacks resulted in an equalizer in 70’ - David Neres played a nice cutback to Traore and the striker passed it nicely next to the post. But the second goal kept itself waiting - David Neres hit the post in 86’ and while I was preparing for the extra time, Hakim Ziyech finally scored after a good counter-attack and the assist was again delivered from David Neres. Excellent finish to the game and we avoided the extra 30 minutes of tough work - I was especially relieved with that. The overall performance should have been better, but we managed to turn the game around and so I can’t complain too much.

  • our shooting was 28/16
  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • Player of the game: David Neres - two assists from him, 4 chances created and 18 dribbles

 

26.01.2020 - AFC Ajax - VVV Venlo 1:0 (ED) - 86. Ryan Gravenberch

VVV Venlo were in 17th position and I expected an easy game for us. Joel Veltman was injured, but the rest of the players were fit, although I rotated the team heavily (again).

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Gravenberch, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (72. Marin), Promes (20. Traore, 72. Huntelaar)

The first half was pretty typical for us - dominated possession, but couldn’t create chances. Things got worse in 20’ when Quincy Promes came off with injury. David Neres hit the post in 36’, but that was all we had to show for the first period. 

I lost my patience in around 58’ in the second half and changed to attacking mentality, but poor attacking display and especially poor choices in the final third continued. We finally broke through with a help of a set piece goal - Ryan Gravenberch headed in from IFK and that was a massive relief. We took all three points in the end, but honestly it was a really poor display in front of our home fans.

  • we had 64% possession
  • our shooting was 31/12 in this game
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - solid defensive display from him


 

31.01.2020 - AFC Ajax - ADO Den Haag 3:2 (ED) - 29. Lassina Traore, 34. Dušan Tadic, 53. Lisandro Martinez - 63. Tom Beugelsdijk, 72. Shaquille Pinas

I still remember that humiliating 0:4 defeat that we got from ADO in the first game and it was time for revenge. We missed some players for this game - Joel Veltman was still injured, David Neres was ill and Daley Blind suspended - but the ones who could play looked really determined and motivated.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (73. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek (58. Eiting), Promes, Ziyech, Tadic, Traore (88. Brobbey)

We had a good first half and although we didn’t create too many chances, we went to half time with a solid 2:0 lead. Both goals came from headers, so we won aerial duels in the ADO box and that was our strength in this game. We also managed to hit the woodwork twice in the first half, so I felt it was a fully deserved lead at half time. Now ADO had to open their game and we could find space behind their lines. Our opponents made 15 fouls in the first half, but didn’t receive a single yellow card, so I had serious questions about refereeing in this game.

I relaxed a lot more in 53’ when Lisandro Martinez scored our third goal (another header, this time from IFK), but then we got too relaxed, probably, and ADO started to find chances. They took advantage of their own set pieces and both Tom Beugelsdijk and Shaquille Pinas scored from IFKs. Our defending in those situations was just non-existent. Fortunately the final whistle was called and we held on to that win, but what started as a revenge finished as a narrow escape. 

  • our shooting was 14/10, but we had just a couple of good chances
  • Dušan Tadic scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Lisandro Martinez scored his first ever goal for Ajax
  • Brian Brobbey made his debut for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic


 

Overall I could be pleased with our January games - results have come our way even though our performances have not been the best in all games. In fact I feel that we could improve a lot and play much better, so I’m eager to see better football from the team.

 

Eredivisie

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February 2020

 

Six games in February and honestly - that’s a much tougher fixture list. We will meet with bigger clubs in Eredivisie, another Klassieker derby (this time in the cup) and the month finishes with the first leg game against Juventus. At first sight it’s even difficult to spot any games where we could give our first team players some rest.

 

05.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 0:1 (ED) - 35. Donyell Malen

The first game in this month and we host PSV Eindhoven. Not the easiest game and our job is not made easier by the fact that Joel Veltman is still injured and David Neres is ill. From those two I’m afraid that we miss David Neres the most. On the other hand - Daley Blind is back in the line-up and bolsters our defense.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (77. Dest), Alvarez, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Promes (78. Gravenberch), Ziyech, Tadic, Traore (66. Huntelaar)

It was a frustrating first half for us - we started more carefully, but held possession and things looked okay until 35’ when our defense started to make costly errors. Edson Alvarez allowed Donyell Malen through too easily and PSV’s young striker finished with a great shot. Just five minutes later he was just allowed to walk through our defense and hit the post from close range. Those two errors allowed PSV to go on the break with 1:0 lead, even though it looked like the goal came against the run of the game. We had no real chances in the first half, so it was clear that we needed to make changes at half time.

We went to the second half with the attacking mentality and it started to work around 60’ mark. We started to find chances, but our finishing was too poor to make a difference. At first Lassina Traore headed against the crossbar from point blank range and then Quincy Promes should have scored, but his shot was well blocked by a late-arriving defender. We piled up the pressure, but PSV almost added another goal to their lead - Donyell Malen was on the run after a counter-attack, but his attempt in 82’ was well saved by Andre Onana. Despite that, PSV left from Amsterdam with a valuable 1:0 win and we were left to rue our missed chances. I was especially disappointed because I felt that we did well in the second half and deserved to get at least something out of this game, but 0:1 was surely not good enough.

  • we had 63% possession
  • our shooting was just 10/3 in this game - need to get those shots on target
  • our average rating was just 6.77
  • Player of the game: Donyell Malen (PSV Eindhoven)

 

09.02.2020 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 21. Hakim Ziyech, 29. and 64. David Neres

We wanted to bounce back with a win, but I knew that the away game against Heracles is a tricky tie. I opted for a balanced 4-2-3-1 in this game and we took encouragement from the fact that David Neres was back in the line-up.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. Dest), Schuurs, Martinez, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (64. Taylor), David Neres, Ziyech (64. Gravenberch), Promes, Tadic

We weren’t well prepared for the kick-off and in the very first minute Heracles’ Daleney dos Santos Souza ran circles around Mazraoui on our right wing, ended up in our box and fired it on target. Fortunately Andre Onana was ready and saved his shot. After that moment, we slowly took control of the game, but relied on set pieces to score goals - Hakim Ziyech curled his free kick around the wall and next to the post to give us the lead and David Neres added the second goal from a corner. When David Neres doubled his tally with a great strike from the edge of the area in the second half, the game was wrapped up and we could send out youngsters to get some playing time. The final result was exactly what we needed - clean sheet and three goals, but it left me with mixed feelings. We were only dangerous from set pieces and relied on individual brilliance. On the other hand, we played all 90 minutes with a ‘balanced’ mentality, so perhaps there’s no reason to expect fireworks (and to be fair we didn’t need it that night).

  • Player of the game: David Neres - outstanding performance from the right winger, who scored the brace

 

12.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 1:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Quarter Final) - 120. Dušan Tadic

The derby game and another revenge match for us - having lost the last Klassieker derby we wanted to show that we could beat Feyenoord two. We continued with 4-2-3-1 and balanced mentality, as it looked good enough against Heracles and we had to be wary of Feyenoord attacking ability.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (91. Dest), Alvarez, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek (100. Gravenberch), David Neres, Ziyech (58. Traore, 120. Huntelaar), Promes, Tadic

We dominated possession for the full 90 minutes, but Feyenoord defended well and it was difficult to break through. I was too careful to open things up too much and continued with a ‘balanced’ mentality throughout the normal time. We had our best chance in 78’ when space opened up for Quincy Promes, but his clear cut chance was well saved by Feyenoord goalkeeper and when the final whistle was called, the game went to extra time.

After 90 minutes of football I felt that the game was ours to win and we’re more likely to lose it in the penalty shoot-out, so we began to attack more in extra time. Chances remained rare, however, until the very last moment when Dušan Tadic was the man of the hour - his attempt from 25 meters surprised the goalkeeper and won the game for us in the very end of the extra time. What a goal! What a moment to score! I was already celebrating the win, but the game wasn’t over just yet. Feyenoord’s Orkun Kökcü found some space behind our defensive line and got a clear cut chance before the final whistle, but Andre Onana made a great save and averted the danger. Final score - 1:0 and we just edged it in the game that mattered so much to our fans. It was a well-deserved win, too, because I felt that we wanted it more throughout that 120 minutes.

  • our shooting was just 21/7 - didn’t get too many shots on target
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic

 

16.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Groningen 0:0 (ED)

Back to Eredivisie games and we hosted FC Groningen next. I chose to test some new roles in midfield and used Ryan Gravenberch as mezzala (while usually Donny van de Beek plays as BBMs) and van de Beek was moved to AMC.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez (70. Veltman), Blind, Pierie, Gravenberch, Ziyech (77. David Neres), van de Beek, Promes, Tadic (70. Huntelaar)

The game was a huge disappointment - we controlled midfield, but couldn’t create good chances and couldn’t find a goal in the 90 minutes. I made some changes throughout the match, but whatever I made, things didn’t work properly in our attack and it was just a futile struggle against FC Groningen defense. It remained goalless until the end and we lost two valuable points. Very frustrating. The only bright moment was Joel Veltman’s return to the pitch after his injury.

  • our shooting was 28/13 - stats look flattering, but we couldn’t create a single clear cut chance
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - solid effort from the right-back

 

22.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Utrecht 1:1 (ED) - 34. pen. Dušan Tadic - 89. Adrian Dalmau

We hosted FC Utrecht next and we knew that the task is to create better chances and finish them better. We had no excuses, too, as we had six days to prepare and that looked like luxury in our otherwise very tight schedule. We missed Joel Veltman who was injured again - this time with hernia - and we had to keep one eye on the Juventus game that was just three days away.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (74. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Blind, Marin, David Neres, Ziyech (65. Gravenberch), Tadic, Traore (80. Huntelaar)

The first half looked like a very familiar story - we controlled possession, but managed to create only half-chances. However, we were helped by VAR - Lisandro Martinez was pushed in the box and video replays showed that it was a penalty. Dušan Tadic scored from the spot and we went to half time with a 1:0 lead.

The second half continued with a same fashion - we controlled things, made substitutions and prepared to hold onto our win, but in the very end FC Utrecht equalized - Adrian Dalmau headed in from a rare FC Utrecht attack, but the replays showed that it was just a ridiculous error from referees - linesman was just not watching and VAR didn’t bother to watch the replay, even though it was clear that Dalmau was offside.

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Needless to say - I was furious with the referee, but at the same time I have to admit that our game was once again dull and lacked passion. We dominated the game, but relied on the penalty to score and that was not good enough from the creative side. 

  • our shooting was 28/20 in this game - unbelievable how we couldn’t win this
  • Player of the game: Adrian Dalmau (FC Utrecht) - completely undeserved

 

25.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - Juventus 2:2 (Champions League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 80. and 84. Quincy Promes - 1. and 73. Paulo Dybala

We knew that Juventus games were going to be tough, but we didn’t go to this first leg with the highest of spirits. Our morale was mediocre and form was poor, so it was difficult to inspire the players to fight against much bigger opponents. Juventus were clearly the favourites and they had a formidable team. We tried to counter them with 4-1-2-3 DM Wide formation and balanced mentality.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie (65. Marin), Blind, van de Beek, Ziyech (79. Gravenberch), David Neres, Promes, Tadic (73. Traore)

Our tactics didn’t work and it was evident very early - Paulo Dybala header found the net in the very first minute after the kick-off. Our game plan went down the drain and we had to change things, but I remained patient. At half time I had to admit that despite that early goal we didn’t look too bad on the pitch - we limited Juventus’ chances fairly well and it looked almost even game in certain periods.

I decided to change to our usual 4-2-3-1 and positive mentality in the second half. It didn’t bring desired results at first and Dybala scored his second goal of the game - another header from the attacking midfielder and again it looked like nobody dropped back to mark him in our box. But then we suddenly started to fight back - Noussair Mazraoui found Quincy Promes with his cross and we scored a goal with a simple finish from close range. Promes was the man of the moment four minutes later, too, when he fired in from 15 meters and we were level! Juventus got one more chance in this game, but Gonzalo Higuain managed to hit the post from a great opportunity and we finished the game with 2:2 draw. It was a good fightback and I was delighted with the team - surely two away goals have given Juventus a huge advantage in this tie, but at least we showed that we’re no pushovers and maintained our face in front of our home fans and that’s what matters, too.

  • our shooting was 17/11 in this game - not too bad
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - outstanding game and a brace from our left winger


 

Our form has been inconsistent in February and I feel that those poor draws against FC Groningen and FC Utrecht hurt us even more than the defeat from PSV. We have given up a lot of points and Feyenoord are closing the gap in the table. What’s worse - I have no clue where we have gone wrong and how to make things work on the pitch.

 

Eredivisie

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March 2020

 

01.03.2020 - PEC Zwolle - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 49. Dennis Johnsen - 67. and 72. Lisandro Martinez

We were in desperate need for a win after poor February and I was sick of dropping so many points with disappointing draws that we had in February. We had some players missing in the defensive line - Noussair Mazraoui was suspended for the game and Kik Pierie will be out for a month with a fractured cheekbone. With Joel Veltman still injured that’s three defenders out.

We started with a positive 4-2-3-1 formation and I expected a comfortable win for us in this game.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Alvarez (71. Schuures), Martinez, Blind, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (71. Gravenberch), Promes, Tadic (63. Traore)

We controlled the first half in midfield, had some half-chances, but in 37’ David Neres blew our best goalscoring opportunity when he messed up his shot from open position. At half time we were still searching for goals and I was getting furious with all those missed attempts.

And when we don’t score, opponents often do. That was the case in the second half when our own youngster Dennis Johnsen headed in and we were chasing for the equalizer. I switched for an attacking mentality, but our chance creation didn’t improve much. Despite that, we turned the game around and it was central defender Lisandro Martinez who was the man of the hour - his two goals from corners within five minutes gave us the lead. In the final 15 minutes Zwolle needed to attack more and we started to find chances again, but our strikers were wasteful as usual. David Neres missed his second clear cut chance of the night and his game was a disappointment, but in the end we got all three points and that’s what matters the most.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 29/16 - good amount of shots on target, good number of chances; we should have scored more, definitely
  • we gave 22 key passes
  • we didn’t give PEC Zwolle any real chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Lisandro Martinez - outstanding game from the centre-back and his two goals were vital in our come-back

 

04.03.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Groningen 1:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Semi Final) - 20. David Neres

Our possession and chance creation was good against PEC Zwolle, so I didn’t see the reason to change things too much in our cup game against FC Groningen. I continued to rotate the team as well - younger players (like Sergino Dest and Kenny Taylor) got their chance to impress.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind (75. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, Marin (69. van de Beek), David Neres, Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore (69. Huntelaar)

It was a one-way traffic in the first half - we attacked and FC Groningen were desperate to defend. Our set pieces were especially dangerous - Perr Schuurs headed against the crossbar in 4’ - but it was David Neres who scored the only goal with an exceptional strike in 20’. The second half was rather boring and uneventful - we couldn’t create opportunities, but FC Groningen didn’t try too hard to equalize, either. In the end it was a bit of a dull win, but we moved on to the final and I was happy with that.

  • our shooting was 21/11 in this game
  • we gave only 5 key passes in this game - that’s too few to our standards
  • Razvan Marin came off with injury in the second half and he suffered from groin strain; that will leave him sidelined for 4-5 weeks
  • Player of the game: David Neres
  • we will play FC Utrecht in the final in April

 

08.03.2020 - Vitesse Arnhem - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 51. Oussama Tannane - 7. Quincy Promes

Third game in eight days - we will visit Vitesse. We took a good come-back win in Amsterdam back in Autumn, but we need a better first half this time. Vitesse have a lot of loan players in the team and I expected them to play 4-1-2-3 DM Wide against us. We missed Kik Pierie, Joel Veltman and Razvan Marin due to injuries.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (76. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez, Blind, Gravenberch (33. Eiting), van de Beek, David Neres (60. Traore), Ziyech, Promes, Tadic

We started better, indeed, and in 7’ Quincy Promes scored with a simple tap-in after Mazraoui’s cross found him at the far post. Ryan Gravenberch was forced off with injury in 33’ and that hurt us a little, but we were clearly the better team in the first half. Promes had another great chance to score in 35’, but this time his attempt was blocked. We went to half time with a narrow lead, but I was happy with our display - there was some good logic and movement in our attacking patterns and we had 67% possession.

All of that good first half performance was undone in 51’ when we allowed Vitesse to equalize - Oussama Tannane did well to take the ball past Daley Blind and he fired it in from 14 meters - great strike, but I feel that we should have done better defensively. I tried to make a difference with substitutions and change our formation more attacking to find a winner, but it didn’t come. Quincy Promes hit the post in 71’,  but that was as good as it got. In the end it was an extremely frustrating draw for us, especially because Vitesse got just one shot on target, but that was good enough for them and we could just rue our missed opportunities from the first half. We’ve now dropped so many points in recent weeks and Feyenoord have been on a winning streak, so with that draw we lost our position in the table and allowed Feyenoord to take over (on goal difference, for now, but even that looked unexpected a couple of months ago). 

  • we had 67% possession
  • our shooting was 29/12 in this game
  • Ryan Gravenberch will be sidelined for 3-4 weeks with sprained ankle ligaments
  • Player of the game: Oussama Tannane (Vitesse Arnhem)

 

14.03.2020 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 3:0 (ED) - 12. and 39. pen. Dušan Tadic,  87. Quincy Promes

sc Heerenveen are clearly underachieving in this season and we were strong favourites for the home game. We had some players still missing and most importantly Ryan Gravenberch and Razvan Marin injured in midfield. Defensive problems are getting better, as both Joel Veltman and Kik Pierie returned to training this week and Veltman looks almost ready to come back.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (69. Dest), Alvarez (72. Schuurs), Martinez, Blind, Taylor, van de Beek, David Neres (69. Traore), Ziyech, Promes, Tadic 

The star in the first half was Dušan Tadic. First he slid himself to get a touch to Mazraoui’s cross and get it over the line. Then he converted the penalty after Lisandro Martinez was pushed in the box. We went to half time with a solid 2:0 lead and things looked rather good for us. David Neres was the one who created moments from our right wing, but couldn’t find a goal from those and he once hit the post, too. Hakim Ziyech wasted our only clear cut chance in the first half, so we created moments and looked good. We had 67% possession in the first half and I was confident that if we continue in this manner we don’t give sc Heerenveen any chance to get back into the game.

The second half was much more boring and didn’t offer too many scoring opportunities, but Quincy Promes scored our third goal with a fantastic curling strike from around 20 meters. Superb effort from the left winger and the final score 3:0 looked quite convincing. It was exactly what we needed - some goals, a clean sheet and a lot of good emotions to take from this game.

  • we had 67% possession and sc Heerenveen struggled to keep hold of the ball
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - two goals and assist to him

 

18.03.2020 - Juventus - AFC Ajax 2:4 (Champions League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 3. Cristiano Ronaldo, 73. Paulo Dybala - 33. Dušan Tadic, 54. and 90.+3 David Neres, 56. Lassina Traore

After the 2:2 draw at home I knew that we needed to be bold in the away game and score goals, or it would be the end of our journey in the Champions League. We continued with our 4-2-3-1 formation and balanced mentality and our starting line-up was pretty much our best possible team.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez (68. Schuurs), Martinez, Blind, Eiting (71. Taylor), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Tadic, Traore (83. Huntelaar)

We received a cold shower fairly quickly - Cristiano Ronaldo scored with a header in 3’. Juventus took control of the game and it looked like it’s going to be a long and miserable evening for us. Paulo Dybala had a clear cut chance in 24’ but Onana made a great save and kept us in the game and in 33’ Dušan Tadic scored an equalizer! He had just a small space in the edge of the area, but delivered his shot just next to the goal post and surprised the goalkeeper. Fine strike and I was fairly happy to go to the half time break with a 1:1 score. Juventus were more attacking in the first half and my main concern were set pieces - we gave away too many fouls and our players had three yellow cards, so we had to be more careful with our tackling in the second half.

Things changed in the second half, because Juventus’ Danilo received the straight red card in 51’ after he made a reckless tackle on Tadic. We were one man up and quickly took advantage of that. Dušan Tadic continued to create moments on our left wing - he took the ball past three defenders in 54’ and finished his move with a shot that bounced back from the goal post, but David Neres was there to finish from the rebound. Two minutes later Lassina Traore extended our lead with a header and we were cruising there! We were leading 3:1 and Juventus were down to 10 men, but the game was far from over. The squad with the quality like Juventus will often find a way and they showed it in 73’ - Cristiano Ronaldo found Paulo Dybala with a long pass forward and Argentinian forward was clear on the goal - calm finish and it was 3:2. Juventus tried hard, but space opened up for us and they needed two goals - that was a tall order and in injury time David Neres finished from a counter to bury it in the end. 4:2 from the away game was a wonderful result for us and to be honest, I didn’t expect that result before the game. Surely, we were helped by their red card, but that’s football and you have to respect the rules. With that fantastic result it was great to go back to Amsterdam.

  • David Neres and Dušan Tadic were excellent for us in this game
  • Player of the game: David Neres - two goals from our right winger
  • we will play Real Madrid in the quarter final - that doesn’t get any easier now, does it?


 

21.03.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 3:0 (ED) - 35. and 39. pen.  Promes, 46. Traore

The last game in March and I wanted to finish strong before the international break. Morale was superb after we beat Juventus and I wanted to continue in that fashion. The legs were tired, though, and both Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech went to this game with some fatigue.

FC Twente came against us with their usual 4-2-2-2 DM formation, virtually parking the bus in front of their box, but we countered it with 4-2-3-1 attacking formation.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (69. Dest), Alvarez (65. Veltman), Martinez, Pierie (69. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes, Traore

It was a back and forth game - both teams looked for a goal and at times I thought if our attacking mentality is perhaps too… attacking, but we kept the pressure high and finally broke through. Hakim Ziyech was very active in midfield and it was his through ball that found Quincy Promes on the run. The left winger finished his chance well and we took control of the game. FC Twente clearly lost some spirit after the goal. It got worse to them a few minutes later when David Neres was tripped in the box and VAR awarded the penalty for us. Promes doubled his tally from the spot and we went to half time with confident spirit and two goal lead.

Whatever plans FC Twente made in their dressing room at half time, were fruitless, because right after the second half kick-off we added another goal - this time Lassina Traore with a header from IFK. The rest of the match was a damage limitation for FC Twente and we could enjoy our win in front of home fans.

  • our shooting was 27/14 in this game
  • Player of the game: Hakim Ziyech - excellent performance from the midfielder, who gave two assists. His passing and set piece deliveries were always dangerous up front and despite fatigue he was the best player on the pitch.


 

Our form has been a little inconsistent in March, but we’ve improved a lot through those weeks. Beating Juventus over two legs was, in truth, a little unexpected surprise, so we’re still in the Champions League in April.

The main concern is our league position - we’re behind Feyenoord because of our goal difference (although we moved closer with that 3:0 win over FC Twente), but it’s really tight battle and Feyenoord have been in such a great form that we can’t relax in Eredivisie. Fighting on multiple fronts could be too exhausting for us in April.

 

Eredivisie

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It’s a two-horse race at the top, but at the bottom RKC are officially relegated.

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Youth Intake 2020

 

We had our first youth intake in March and while the preview from Said Ouaali looked fairly promising, the actual bunch of youngsters was a huge disappointment to me. Only one fairly good talent, a handful of decent players and ⅔ of the candidates were pure rubbish. What astonished me was their character (or lack thereof) - low determination, unambitious figures who would never make it in professional football, let alone in Ajax. I signed youth contracts with 4-5 players and sent off the rest of them.

 

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Marco Ferreira

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Only good prospect of this year’s intake - good attacking midfielder, rated 4* PA and could make it in the first team as well. He has excellent team work and decent corner taking ability, but overall doesn’t show too many weaknesses in his game. With some tutoring he could turn into a great player for us.

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  • 2 weeks later...

April 2020

 

We have six games in April and in our difficult situation in Eredivisie I feel that two games against Real Madrid are more of a distraction than challenge. Honestly - I see ourselves with almost no real chance against them and we really need to be at our best in domestic games. There’s also the cup final coming up later in the month and that’s another important game in this ‘must win’ list.

 

03.04.2020 - PSV Eindhove- AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 46. Jorrit Hendrix

The month began with a really difficult fixture - away game against PSV Eindhoven. Before the match we received news about Daley Blind - our captain was out with sports hernia before the game and our defensive line was weakened because of that, but at least Razvan Marin and Ryan Gravenberch were fully fit for this game. We went against PSV with balanced 4-2-3-1 formation and hoped for the best.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (75. Dest), Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (72. Gravenberch), Promes (75. Traore), Tadic

We dominated the first half in possession, but couldn’t find a goal before the break. Chances were rare, just a couple of moments in attack, but our attacking movement and chance creation needed to improve to break down PSV. I made changes at half time and switched our mentality to positive, but it immediately backfired when Jorrit Hendrix scored right after the second half kick-off. The goal came from IFK and after an extremely poor touch from Noussair Mazraoui - he practically played it on the foot for Hendrix and it was an easy finish for him. We then went on for attack, but that didn’t get us the goal either. Lisandro Martinez had the best chance of the game after our corner in the 70’, but the centre-back couldn’t finish from point blank range. When the final whistle was called, I was in despair - what the hell do we need to do to win games?! We had possession, we created chances, but still find ourselves 0:1 behind after 90 minutes of football. Why can’t we score when we really need to??! To make things worse, it seemed that the title was lost here - Feyenoord have a really strong goal difference and they have to slip at least twice in the remaining four games for us to have a chance, but it’s really unlikely that it will happen - they’re undefeated since August and are looking really strong in the second half of the season.

  • we had 64% possession in this game
  • Player of the game: Jorrit Hendrix (PSV Eindhoven)

 

08.04.2020 - AFC Ajax - Real Madrid 2:1 (Champions League Quarter Final 1st leg) - 24. Hakim Ziyech, 32. David Neres - 87. Gareth Bale

As I already said, we looked a little bit out of depth here and after our defeat to PSV our morale was already low enough, so I didn’t expect us to win. I just hoped for a decent performance and respectable score line in the end. We didn’t make any big changes in our line-up and went to this game with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation, with mixed passing and tempo.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (80. Gravenberch), Promes (71. Tadic), Traore (87. Huntelaar)

Against all odds we started really well and perhaps it was Real who made a mistake, coming to this game with way too cautious mentality. Lassina Traore got two good chances in the first five minutes and one of those was a clear cut chance - Quincy Promes found him with a good pass, but our young striker couldn’t finish his attempt properly. The danger that Real posed in our box came from their full-backs, who timed their runs into the box perfectly and overrun our defense in numbers. We took the lead in this game in 24’ after Hakim Ziyech scored from IFK with a good volley. David Neres hit the post three minutes later and found the mark in 32’. His trademark move - cutting in from right wing and firing it next to the post with a lovely strike - caught Real Madrid by surprise. So, at half time we were leading 2:0 and I was delighted.

The second half was a little bit of a different story. Real Madrid started to increase pressure and Eden Hazard’s individual skills with the ball were too much for us - he constantly found space and created moments for his teammates. Dani Carvajal hit the post in 69’ and it always looked like Real’s goal was just a matter of time. In the end it came in 87’, from a corner and Gareth Bale was the goal scorer. Sergio Ramos’ header in injury time equalized the score for Real, but that goal was chalked off because of an  offside call, confirmed by VAR. We were relieved to win in the end, but Real could be happy with an away goal from the first leg. That means they have a good chance to turn things around in Santiago Bernabeu.

  • Player of the game: David Neres - great goal from our right winger

 

11.04.2020 - AFC Ajax - Sparta Rotterdam 5:3 (ED) - 1. and 25. Lassina Traore, 56. Dušan Tadic, 62. Quincy Promes, 88. Lisandro Martinez - 22. and 61. Dante Rigo, 39. Mohamed Rayhi

The next game was supposed to be fairly easy, at least on paper. Home game against Sparta Rotterdam, who are battling against relegation. We have some tired legs after the Champions League games, but morale is high after this win and we’re clear favourites for the game. Daley Blind is still out for this game and Edson Alvarez injured himself in training and has to sit out at least 2-3 weeks of games. Joel Veltman will take his place in defense.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (70. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, Marin (70. Eiting), David Neres (55. Promes), Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore

We had a great start to the game and Lassina Traore scored for us after just 22 seconds of football. His shot took a small deflection from the defender, but it was enough to surprise Sparta goalkeeper. Traore had an excellent chance to double his tally in 10’, but he wasted that opportunity with a poor finish and Sparta slowly started to get into the game. Dante Rigo equalized with an accurate shot from the edge of the area. Traore replied quickly, but Mohamed Rayhi’s goal made it 2:2 before half time. We looked good in attack, but poor defensively and needed to improve that in the second half.

The second half started better for us - Dušan Tadic restored our lead with a good strike and Quincy Promes extended our lead, but then Dante Rigo scored his second goal, after finding himself completely alone in front of goal in an IFK situation. I was furious with our defenders and 4:3 looked very nervous until the very end, before Lisandro Martinez headed in from a corner in 88’ and clinched the result for us.

The match was undoubtedly really entertaining to watch, but I feel that we should have been much more convincing and our defense was really poor in this game. Scoring five goals was obviously looking good and at least in attack we were doing something right.

  • we had 63% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 22/14 in this game
  • Lassina Traore scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Lassina Traore’s goal in 22 seconds is the new Ajax record
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - a goal and assist - superb performance from him tonight

 

14.04.2020 - Real Madrid - AFC Ajax 3:0 (Champions League Quarter Final 2nd leg) - 14. Eden Hazard, 53. Karim Benzema, 90.+4 Eder Militao

The dreaded trip to Santiago Bernabeu. On the positive note - we were underdogs with nothing to lose, so real pressure to execute was on Real players. We went to the game with cautious 4-2-3-1 and hoped it could hold Real attacks.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (61. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (81. Gravenberch), Promes (57. Tadic), Traore

The tactics didn’t work. We gave all initiative to Real and after Eden Hazard made it 1:0 in 14’ we switched back to a balanced mentality. We were trailing now on aggregate and needed to score and in the end of the first half we found some half-chances and got some shots on target, so overall that looked promising and showed that our tactical switch was working well. The end of the half looked more promising and we had some good shots on target, but we went to half time, trailing 0:1 and in the second half Real extended their lead. Again it was Eden Hazard who caused problems for us with his dribbling and even though his attempt was well parried by Andre Onana, Karim Benzema finished from rebound and the outcome was never really under question after that. Eder Militao added the third goal from a corner in injury time and that summed it up - 0:3 defeat from Madrid. We didn’t have answers to Real’s superiority and were outclassed in the away game.

The hindsight - cautious mentality at the beginning was a mistake, but I didn’t believe that it changed the outcome tonight. Andre Onana made a number of good saves and deserves praise, but the rest of the team were rather mediocre.

  • our shooting was just 6/4 in this game - can’t win games like that
  • Player of the game: Eder Militao (Real Madrid) - solid defensive performance from the centre-back, and a goal too

 

19.04.2020 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 2:2 (TOTO KNVB Beker Final) - 90.+3 Vaclav Cerny, 112. Bart Ramselaar - 21. Dušan Tadic, 120.+1 Donny van de Beek

We were now out of the Champions League, but wanted to win trophies, so the cup final was an extremely important game for us. The match was held at De Kuip and FC Utrecht was seeded as the home team (which is important in FM). We stuck to a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation as we expected them to be more attacking and I knew that we would have some space to attack into. Daley Blind and Edson Alvares were still injured and that affected our squad selection.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (73. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, David Neres (82. Promes), Ziyech (68. Gravenberch), Tadic, Traore (120. Huntelaar)

We had a decent first half and were leading at half time thanks to a brilliant goal from Dušan Tadic. We had a counter-attack in 21’, Lassina Traore crossed it for Tadic and the Serbian who was our captain for the night, volleyed it in from 15 meters. Sheer brilliance and exactly what I hoped from the player of his ability and experience.

The second half was more quiet, but we looked more in control and comfortable with our lead. No clear chances, but keeping possession and taking the game to FC Utrecht. Substitute Ryan Gravenberch headed it against the crossbar in 82’, but we couldn’t score the second goal and ultimately that cost us in the end. An ex-Ajax player Vaclav Cerny found the target from 15 meters, deep in injury time and that took the game to extra time. I was really disappointed with that late equalizer - it wasn’t the first time that we conceded a late goal when playing against FC Utrecht and I know that we should be able to avoid that in the last minutes.

Things got worse in the extra time when Bart Ramselaar’s volley gave FC Utrecht the lead and in the final minutes we started to attack desperately. It looked like we couldn’t find a way through, but Donny van de Beek was the man of the hour and his brilliant shot in the very last moment equalized the game and took us to the penalty shoot-out. What a drama it was for the final! Two injury time goals, extra time and now the penalty shoot-out! You can’t script that. I made a quick substitution to send out Klaas-Jan Huntelaar for the shoot-out and hoped for the best.

We held our nerves at the shoot-out and scored all four penalties, while Andre Onana saved two attempts and 4:2 penalty shoot-out gave us the cup win. I was delighted with our late equalizer and the way things worked out for us, even though watching that extra time was a nerve-wracking experience.

  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic

 

26.04.2020 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 8. Lisandro Martinez, 82. David Neres

After tough games in this month, the away fixture against FC Emmen looked like a fairly routine match, but there was an added pressure on this game after Feyenoord dropped points and we were again level with them on points! It means that the FC Emmen game was a must win for us and we couldn’t afford to slip up.

Edson Alvarez, Razvan Marin and Daley Blind were still out (although Blind was back in light training).

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Gravenberch (78. Taylor), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech, Promes (58. Tadic), Traore

We made a good start to this game - Lisandro Martinez scored from a corner and we took control of the game. FC Emmen players looked nervous and they lacked leaders who could inspire the team. Quincy Promes wasted a clear cut chance in 43’, but we went to the half-time break with a 1:0 lead and some confidence.

FC Emmen found their chances in the second half and the first of those came soon after the kick-off. In 47’ Lisandro Martinez’s poor pass gave an opportunity to Shani Tarashaj, who blasted it wide from an open position. Miguel Araujo headed it on target from an IFK and I had to make some tactical changes to react to what I saw on the pitch. Lassina Traore had a great chance for us from a counter in 60’ and it was his turn to put his shot wide from open position. David Neres couldn’t finish his clear cut chance in 72’ and it took a lot more time than I expected to clinch this win. Finally, David Neres found the net with a classic move - he cut in from the right and sent it next to the post from 20 meters - a brilliant strike after he wasted much easier scoring opportunities. In the end it was a solid win for us, but I wasn’t happy with our finishing - three clear cut chances in one game was just too much.

  • we had 60% possession
  • our shooting was 24/12 in this game
  • Player of the game: David Neres - outstanding performance from the winger, with a great goal and 13 dribbles


 

At the end of April I was in a good mood. I was disappointed with how our month started, but it turned out fairly well - we played one good game against Real Madrid, we won the cup after the dramatic final and in the end of the month we’re still in the fight for the Eredivisie title.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re now level with Feyenoord on points. They have much better goal difference, but we have another Klassieker derby to come in May and that’s the decider in the title race.

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May 2020


 

03.05.2020 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 4:0 (ED) - 25. David Neres, 47. Kik Pierie, 62. Lassina Traore, 88. pen. Quincy Promes

That was the day. That was the moment we have been waiting for - to prove ourselves against Feyenoord and show that we deserve the title more than them. A true title six-pointer and the derby within it.

We had all the injured players back for this game, too - Razvan Marin, Daley Blind, Edson Alvarez were in full training and that was a huge difference for us.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie, Marin (75. Taylor), van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (73. Gravenberch), Tadic (81. Promes), Traore

The game started slowly, but we always looked more in control of the midfield and had initiative. We also took the lead in 25’ - David Neres scored after a great pass from Ziyech to put us in control and he continued to be the most active player in the final third until half-time. He had numerous shots on target that required good saves from Feyenoord goalkeeper, but couldn’t add to his tally and at half-time our lead remained 1:0 - it was a solid start, but too narrow to start to celebrate just yet.

For some of the players pressure of this game looked to be too much. Kik Pierie was one of those players who looked nervous in the first half, but it was a completely different story after the break. It was his volley from 25 meters that landed in the goal to make it 2:0 and I’ve rarely seen a better goal from any player, let alone left-back. I believe that he surprised himself the most, but even more his teammates and, of course, Feyenoord defenders. That goal really lifted the team and shook Feyenoord confidence.

Lassine Traore added another goal with a header in 62’ and surely that was game over then. Ryan Gravenberch wasted his clear cut chance in 75’ and it was now a matter of goal difference (remember - that could turn out important in the end). Feyenoord found their best opportunity of the game in 80’, but Andre Onana saved Steven Berhuis’ attempt from a clear cut chance. Quincy Promes came on and made an impact - he earned a penalty and converted it himself in the end and the final whistle called our 4:0 win. That was a brilliant win for all the fans, a statement in the title race and put us in control of the proceedings ahead of the last match day. I couldn’t have wished for a better result and performance from the team and I was truly happy with everyone involved.

  • our shooting was 27/19 in this game
  • we created 10 chances in this game - I can’t remember a game with so many scoring opportunities
  • Noussair Mazraoui, David Neres and Kik Pierie had an outstanding game for us
  • Player of the game: David Neres


 

10.04.2020 - Willem II Tilburg - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 55. Hakim Ziyech, 60. pen. Dušan Tadic

We had done well to put us in control of the title race, now it was time to clinch it. We needed one point to make sure that we’re the Champions, but the away game with Willem II was not the easiest possible fixture for us. Feyenoord hosted VVV Venlo at the same time and we could be certain that they’re able to work with their goal difference in this game.

We continued with our balanced 4-2-3-1 formation and while all players were fit, I didn’t rush to change our starting line-up.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Alvarez, Martinez, Pierie (73. Blind), Marin, van de Beek, David Neres, Ziyech (78. Gravenberch), Tadic (70. Promes), Traore

The first half was a little bit nervous, as expected. Both teams had one half-chance, but couldn’t score. We enjoyed 67% possession and controlled midfield, but didn’t look too attacking.

The second half worked out a little better. Hakim Ziyech headed in and gave us the lead. It was his last game for Ajax before departing to Chelsea and I was delighted that he could celebrate that with a goal. Five minutes later Lisandro Martinez was fouled in the box, and VAR gave us the penalty that Dušan Tadic converted. That looked to secure our title and while we couldn’t score another goal (despite hitting the woodwork twice), we came away with a comfortable win and Eredivisie title celebrations could begin.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • Player of the game: Hakim Ziyech

 

I was extremely happy with our finish to this season and although it was a close race until the end, we managed to beat Feyenoord fair and square to take the title away from their hands.

Our future also looks bright, because the Ajax U-19 team were dominant in the youth league and won it in comfortable fashion.


 

Eredivisie

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The final standings look like this. RKC Waalwijk were relegated long ago, but Sparta Rotterdam couldn’t make it through the play-offs and will go down, too. That’s a bit harsh for them, because they certainly looked like a team that should be able to play at Eredivisie level.

 

Ajax goals: Quincy Promes 28, David Neres 18, Dušan Tadic 18, Lassina Traore 12

Ajax assists: David Neres 18, Dušan Tadic 15, Hakim Ziyech 14, Noussair Mazraoui 12

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Season Summary 2019-2020

 

That has been a huge learning experience for me - how to get that team playing, what are the best roles for each player and how to score goals. The last point turned out to be the most difficult, because in the middle of the season it became evident that possession alone doesn’t help us score. We’ve relied so much on set pieces in this season that we looked like a bottom half team instead of Eredivisie giants.

But the manager learned and the team evolved and some youngsters with it. Developing our youth was my own aim in Ajax and that’s the requirement of the board as well, so to see players like Kik Pierie, Sergino Dest, Lassina Traore and Ryan Gravenberch step up and contribute is a delight.

 

We achieved what was expected of us, and more. We won the league and the cup, and Johan Cruijff Schaal. In the Champions League we weren’t expected to reach the quarter finals, but I believe that we surprised everyone with our good performances against Juventus, so we can be proud of that achievement.


 

Fans Player of the Season

  1. David Neres
  2. Hakim Ziyech
  3. Quincy Promes

 

Goal of the Season

  • Dušan Tadic vs. Young Boys 19/08/2019

 

Young Player of the Season

  • David Neres



 

Eredivisie Awards

 

Golden Boot

  1. Fredrik Midtsjo (AZ Alkmaar)
  2. Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord Rotterdam)
  3. David Neres (AFC Ajax)

 

Top Goalscorer

  1. Quincy Promes (AFC Ajax) -19
  2. Steven Berghuis (Feyenoord Rotterdam) - 19
  3. Myron Boadu (AZ Alkmaar) - 18

 

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Sergio Padt (FC Groningen)
  2. Marco Bizot (AZ Alkmaar)
  3. Andre Onana (AFC Ajax)

 

Manager’s Manager of the Year

  1. John van den Brom (FC Utrecht)
  2. Me
  3. Frank Wormuth (Heracles Almelo)



 

Champions League Awards

  • Quincy Promes received an award for the best goal in Champions League for his strike against Atalanta in 26/11/2019
  • David Neres was named the best midfielder of the season - 7 goals, 8 assists and 7.90 average rating looks really impressive
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  • 2 weeks later...

Offseason

 

The first news came from the board. As Almere City were promoted to Eredivisie for the next season, the link between two clubs was terminated with immediate effect. It’s now a little bit more difficult to find good loan options for our players.

The second piece of news in Eredvisie came from Feyenoord. Their manager Dick Advocaat chose to retire after the season, so our rivals are now looking for a new manager and it’s interesting to see who will be appointed.


 

Players

Our title celebration was not yet over when Klaas-Jan Huntelaar announced his plan to retire from football following this season. His contract was about to run out anyway, but he decided not to take the next step in his career. Instead, he’s completed coaching courses and has the Continental B licence, so perhaps he’ll be around in the background staff for some teams. With Huntelaar leaving, we needed to appoint the new vice captain and Donny van de Beek was selected to that position.

Bruno Varela loan will also finish and Hakim Ziyech’s transfer to Chelsea was finalised in the beginning of the transfer window.

Players started to return from loan, but some of them didn’t and we agreed to extend their loans for the next season. Noa Lang remained in FC Twente, Dennis Johnsen will continue in PEC Zwolle. Hassana Bande and Victor Jensen will also remain in their loan clubs. From those players that spent their last season on loan, Nicolas Kühn returned from Bayern and he’s the one player that I expect to bolster our attacking lines in the wake of Hakim Ziyech’s departure.


 

Transfers

There was a lot of interest in our players, but I was prepared to accept only significant transfer fees from big clubs for our first team players, because we were already a little bit weakened by departures.

  • Lisandro Magallan played for Alaves in the last season and when Alaves came with a £4,1m bid in June, I didn’t hesitate to accept it. 26 years old centre-back was surplus to our requirements and to get £4,1m for him was a good business.
  • Carel Eiting was another fringe player who received limited game time in Ajax. We have several talented youngsters in his role (DLPd) and I’m more inclined to give Kenneth Taylor more starts in the next season, so when Charleroi SC came with a £6,25m bid, it was too good to decline.
  • Edson Alvarez left to Newcastle for £27,5m and that is a transfer that I regret a little. Arsenal was interested in him, but weren’t offering more than £17-18m and we agreed with Alvarez that I’ll accept the next bid that comes in around £25m. Well, it came, but it came from Newcastle and in the end it looked like he agreed to Newcastle’s contract offer even though he didn’t want to go there, exactly. I understood too late that I could have turned this bid down without upsetting the player, but I couldn’t turn back time then. £27,5m is a solid fee, though, and we have options in DC even without Alvarez. Perr Schuurs has been patient enough to wait for his first team chances.
  • Antony joined the team. Yes, the Brazilian whose transfer was agreed long ago finally came to Amsterdam. He looks like a really promising player, but at the same time I feel that we have too many options in the AMR position - David Neres, Antony and Nicolas Kühn.
  • then PSG came with a £58m bid for David Neres. This was the most difficult decision for me and I accepted with a heavy heart, because the player himself wanted to join PSG. In my mind I knew for a while that a player like David Neres is too good for the Eredivisie level. At the same time Antony could replace him in the AMR position and perhaps it’s better that one replaces the other.

 

Those deals summed up mean that we’ve sold over £130m worth of players and trimmed our first team squad a lot. I feel that we now have a decent 18-20 players in the first team and I will add some youngsters to the mix to provide substitution minutes and starts against smaller teams.



Staff

A lot of staff members announced their retirements after the season. Scouts John Steen Olsen and Urbain Haesart retired and I needed to replace them, so Grads Fühler and Italian Oscar Erriu came in to join our backroom staff.

I also made a decision that has been on my desk for too long and named Jong Ajax coach Rodolfo Cardoso as the new manager for Jong Ajax.


 

Contracts

With a lot of player movements we didn’t have to extend too many new contracts this Summer. Most of the players have existing deals until the 2022-2023 season, but Andre Onana signed a contract extension until 2024. He now earns £28,000 p/w which reflects his value for the team.



 

25.07.2020 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 3:0 (Johan Cruijff Schaal) - 26. Lisandro Martinez, 50. and 51. Nicolas Kühn

We were well prepared for this fixture. Our pre-season friendlies went well and in the last match we demolished Dynamo Kyiv 5:0, so confidence was high, our goal scoring ability with it and we were ready to give Feyenoord a serious beating.

It was the same old Feyenoord than in the previous season - no big transfers so far in this Summer transfer window. Only one change and it was in the manager’s seat -   took over after Dick Advocaat retired in June. Our last encounter was in August last year when he managed Young Boys and we knocked them out of the Champions League, so it’s safe to say that there’s no love lost between us.

While Feyenoord line-up was pretty much the same, we probably looked much weaker to them, after all of our transfers and departures. In addition to that, we missed Razvan Marin, Sergino Dest and Antony who were all away in the Olympics with their national teams, so I had no difficult choices while choosing the first team. At least to me we didn’t look weaker and I was fairly confident that we were favourites for this match, especially because it was held in Johan Cruijff Arena.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (Salah-Eddine), Blind (Taylor), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch, Promes (Tadic), Traore

The first half was pretty close, as expected, and both teams cancelled each other out. We had possession and we had the ball 64% of the time, but chances were rare and we relied on set pieces to score our first goal - Lisandro Martinez won a header from a corner and found the net in 26’.

My words at half time encouraged the team and in the beginning of the second half we looked in full control of the game. Nicolas Kühn was nervous in the first half, but it was his quickfire double that dismantled Feyenoord defense and after our third goal it was game over. Feyenoord never got too dangerous - some shots were on target, but Andre Onana dealt with those comfortable. The final result marked a convincing derby win for us and was a sign that Feyenoord have a lot of work to do in this season if they really want to challenge for the title.

  • we had 60% possession in the game
  • our shooting was 20/10
  • Feyenoord couldn’t create any real goal scoring chances against us
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - outstanding performance from German winger who scored a brace in his first game for Ajax


 

August 2020


 

02.08.2020 - Willem II Tilburg - AFC Ajax 0:0 (ED)

Our Eredivisie campaign begins with a trip to Southern Netherlands. Small town of Tilburg and Willem II hosted us in this season opener. Our opponents haven’t changed their squad too much over Summer and look like an average mid-table team, so we’re clear favourites, but need to make sure that we return with all three points.

Antony is still away at Olympics, but Razvan Marin and Sergino Dest returned to the team in the past week and we had all the other players fit and ready for this opening game. Willem II came against us with their usual 4-1-2-3 DM Wide formation.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (57. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Blind, van de Beek, Kühn (17. Tadic), Gravenberch, Promes, Traore

We looked fairly good in the first half - created a couple of good chances and limited Willem II attacks well. Quincy Promes had an early opportunity to score in 3’, but his attempt was saved and Ryan Gravenberch sent his header over the crossbar from a point blank range in 33’. Our finishing could have been a lot better and those missed chances hurt us in the second half, because Willem II got their defense in better order and our chances dried up. There was a moment of hope in 85’ for us - Sergino Dest was tripped on the line of the box, but VAR showed that the foul was indeed committed just outside of the area, so no penalty. The final whistle marked a goalless draw in the first game of our Eredivisie campaign - nothing too troubling, because we were able to create chances and did well defensively - but I feel that we should have done better in this game.

  • Nicolas Kühn came off in 17’ with pulled knee ligaments and he’ll be out for around 3 weeks
  • Player of the game: Kik Pierie - solid game from our left-back


 

09.08.2020 - AFC Ajax - De Graafschap 3:0 (ED) - 30. pen., 54. and 63. Dušan Tadic

One week later we hosted newly-promoted De Graafschap at Johan Cruijff Arena. Our opponents looked every bit like relegation material, based on our scouting reports, so I expected us to record a comfortable win in the home game. Nicolas Kühn was out with injury, but Noussair Mazraoui, Antony and Razvan Marin had returned from Olympics and were starting in this game.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman (63. Schuurs), Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Promes (63. Antony), Gravenberch (70. Hansen), Tadic, Traore

It was one way traffic from start to finish. It took some time and we needed a penalty in the first half to break the deadlock, but Dušan Tadic converted the spot kick after Lassina Traore was pushed in the box and the Serbian attacking midfielder added two more goals in the second half to complete his hat-trick. It was game over after the third goal and we could send out substitutions. Antony came on to make his debut for Ajax, along with young midfielder Sontje Hansen. In the end it was a solid home win for us and I was satisfied with what I saw on the pitch.

  • our shooting was 22/10 in this game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - hat-trick hero for us 


 

14.08.2020 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 1:0 (ED) - 82. Lisandro Martinez

Next up - the Topper derby and probably the toughest challenge for us in August. Playing at home should give us a small advantage, but PSV should not be underestimated in any circumstances - they look formidable and our scouting report doesn’t show too many weaknesses in their team.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (88. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch (63. Antony), Tadic, Traore

PSV tactics were clear from the beginning. Their 4-1-4-1 formation with Donyell Malen acting as a lone striker meant that they planned to surprise us with long balls behind the defensive line and it almost worked out in 26’ when he got through and one-on-one against Andre Onana. Our goalkeeper was better in that situation and made the save. Other than that moment it was a rather quiet first half - PSV was very well organized and our possession didn’t lead to too many chances.

We did better in attack after the break. Antony came on and instantly found a great scoring opportunity in 63’, but his attempt was saved - that’s a shame, because scoring a debut goal in a derby game could have been an easy way to win fans’ hearts. With the game nearing to end, Lisandro Martinez had a great look from a corner, but his shot was blocked, but the following corner finally led to a goal. Joel Veltman flicked it on to the far post where Martinez poked his head out and knocked it over the line. Late winner was no less than we deserved after the moments we created in the second half and I was delighted with a narrow win. It could be important!

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 15/11
  • Player of the game: Lisandro Martinez - his header secured us three points


 

22.08.2020 - PEC Zwolle - AFC Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 88. Dennis Johnsen - 3. pen. Dušan Tadic, 6. Lisandro Martinez, 29. Antony

With that massive win against PSV under our belt, we continued our August with two away games against smaller teams in the league. First stop - PEC Zwolle. Zwolle have started poorly - only one point and one goal from their first three games - so, I expected a comfortable win and made some changes to our line-up. Sergino Dest started in DR, because Mazraoui has been showing signs of nervousness and complacency in the past games. Ryan Gravenberch was benched after his poor display against PSV and I shuffled my attacking trio so that Dušan Tadic moved to AMC and Quincy Promes to AML, granting Antony his first start for the club. And Daley Blind replaced Kik Pierie in DL.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman (63. Schuurs), Martinez, Blind (63. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek, Antony, Tadic (70. Hansen), Promes, Traore

We started well - Antony was tripped in the box soon after the kick-off and after the referee consulated with VAR, the penalty was awarded. Dušan Tadic converted from the spot and we were in the lead. We doubled our lead three minutes later, again from a set-piece. Lisandro Martinez headed in a free kick by Tadic and we were cruising. Antony got off the mark for us in 29’ after a good cross from Promes and we went to half-time with a good lead and confident spirits.

Lassina Traore had a crack on goal in 48’, but his shot was brilliantly blocked in the last minute, Antony blew his second great chance of the game after van de Beek found him with an excellent through ball and I started to make substitutions. To give Zwolle some credit - they tried to fight back and find a goal in the second half, but it didn’t look to happen, even though we were left to 10 men after Quincy Promes collected his second booking of the game and was sent off in 73’. Perr Schuurs almost gifted Zwolle a goal, losing possession dangerously close to our goal, but the shot went past Onana and came back from the post. We needed to work hard with 10 men, but Zwolle only managed to crack our defense open once, and this goal came too late for them. Dennis Johnsen scored with a simple tap-in from the far post, but this was just a mere consolation goal for them. In the end it was a comfortable win for us, although I didn’t like the way that this game ended for us.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 18/11 
  • Player of the game: Lisandro Martinez - the centre-back made 7 interceptions and played well in defense, but got himself to score sheet once again in the other end

 

30.08.2020 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 2:2 (ED) - 38. Sergio Pena, 88. Anco Jansen - 57. Lisandro Martinez, 74. Dušan Tadic

The last game before the end of the transfer window. The last game before the international break. FC Emmen have done well so far and they’re in top five at the moment, so we need to be prepared, but obviously we were big favourites for this game.

We missed some attacking players and it was a worry for us. Quincy Promes was suspended, Antony looked doubtful after suffering a small knock in training and I needed to select my attacking four carefully.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman (75. Schuurs), Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Antony (56. Kühn), Gravenberch (67. Marin), Tadic, Traore

We started well and both Traore and Tadic got a shot on target. Lisandro Martinez’s header from a corner in 33’ was parried by a great save from FC Emmen goalkeeper, but in the end of the first half it was FC Emmen who took the lead. Good counter-attack and a cross from Anco Jansen found Sergio Pena in our six yard box and it was an easy finish for the midfielder. I felt that Onana could have been more decisive in this situation and come out for the cross, but no point to ponder about it - instead, we switched to attacking mentality and started to search for an equalizer.

The equalizer came in the second half and it was Lisandro Martinez (again!) who headed in a free kick and we were level with time to spare. Ryan Gravenberch came off, Razvan Marin came on and Donny van de Beek went to the AMC position and those changes led to another goal in 74’ when van de Beek started an attacking move, Mazraoui crossed and Dušan Tadic sent a fine header into the top corner. But the game wasn’t over and we couldn’t hold onto our lead. Mazraoui’s poor clearance was collected by Jansen in our box and his finish into the near post equalized the game for FC Emmen. 

The final result was a huge disappointment - I’m not happy that we conceded a late goal like that. In fact, to concede two goals against FC Emmen is not good enough in itself and to drop two valuable points could be costly.

  • Player of the game: Anco Jansen (FC Emmen)


 

In conclusion, our August can be rated as fairly OK. We’ve gone unbeaten so far, have played some good games and without a doubt our win over PSV was the key match in this month. Our form has been a little inconsistent - match fitness of some players has improved, new players have used this time to gel with teammates and most importantly - our players are fit. Hopefully September will be better - at least it’s time to finish all transfer speculations around our key players and concentrate on football.

We continued to negotiate and deal with player contracts and Kik Pierie agreed to sign a contract extension until 2025.


 

Champions League

The groups were drawn, we were seeded 2nd for the draw, but the group that we got was everything else but easy.

 

Group C

  1. Juventus
  2. AFC Ajax
  3. Valencia
  4. RB Leipzig

 

No easy opponents. Not a single team from small Scandinavian or Balkan leagues. Only big teams, big leagues and a lot of skills and depth in their line-up. That’s a big challenge for us and I was a lot more worried than I revealed in the following press conference. The board expects us to progress to the knockout stages, but it could be too difficult this season.

 

Eredivisie

[img]https://i.imgur.com/uoTHlDk.png[/img]

All big teams have dropped points - Feyenoord are in shambles, AZ Alkmaar and FC Utrecht look nowhere like title challengers and ADO Den Haag have been impressive in those first weeks into the season. It’s wide open and maintaining consistent form into Autumn could be crucial.

Edited by Draakon
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Transfer Window Update - Summer 2020

 

This Summer’s transfer window was extremely busy for most clubs in Eredivisie. Dutch football is known by developing and selling talented players, so it is expected that clubs thrive on income generated from transfers, but the amount of cash that flooded in this Summer exceeded even my wildest expectations. 

Firstly, I knew that we would make some big deals. Let’s keep in mind that Nicolas Tagliafico moved to England in January, but Summer transfers added another £120m to our bank balance. But there was one club that made even more profit and that was AZ Alkmaar - they sold some of their wonderkids and managed to create £130m transfer income, with the most notable deal being wonderkid Myron Boadu’s transfer to PSG. At the same time they made well-selected deals, adding new players for transfer fees that rarely exceeded £10m.

Most of the other clubs were also active in selling players, with only PSV Eindhoven spending some serious money in August, attempting to bolster their ranks and challenge for the title.

 

The biggest transfers in Summer 2020

  • Myron Boadu from AZ Alkmaar to PSG for £70m
  • David Neres from AFC Ajax to PSG for £58m
  • Hakim Ziyech from AFC Ajax to Chelsea for £34,5m
  • Teun Koopmeiners from AZ Alkmaar to Inter Milan for £28,5m
  • Edson Alvarez from AFC Ajax to Newcastle United for £27,5m
  • Maximiliano Romero from PSV Eindhoven to Borussia Dortmund for £25,5m
  • Fredrik Midtsjo from AZ Alkmaar from SSC Napoli for £18,5m
  • Erick Gutierrez from PSV Eindhoven to Leicester City for £13,75m
  • Wesley Hoedt from Southampton to PSV Eindhoven for £12,25m
  • Oussama Idrissi from AZ Alkmaar to Eintracht Frankfurt for £12m
  • Arnaut Danjuma from Bournemouth to AZ Alkmaar for £11m
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Squad Update 2020

 

The usual overview of our squad. I know that we have a lot of games in our schedule (probably more than 50, if we do well enough in the Champions League and the cup), but I prefer to start with a little bit smaller team and include one or two youngsters over the season, so my target is to keep the team between 20-25 players.

We have experienced leaders in most areas - Daley Blind, Dušan Tadic, Donny van de Beek - but 16 out of the 25 players currently in my roster are under 21 years old. That’s not a lot of experience, but massive potential for the coming years and we can be certain that we are much stronger towards the end of the season than we look in August.

A lot of players have developed well in the past 12 months and established themselves in the first team - I rely more on Ryan Gravenberch, Kik Pierie, Lassina Traore and Kenneth Taylor than I did in the last season.

 

Departures of some high earners like Hakim Ziyech and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar have freed up a lot of funds in our wage budget. While we have extended some players contracts and given a raise here or there when game time and role in the squad has improved, we’re now around £300,000 p/w for all the players in the team. My own limit I’d like to follow is well above it (around £400,000 p/w or £20m per annum), so we have money and options to negotiate in case some players will feel that they need a new and improved deal.

Most of the players have some time left in their contract. Only Ryan Gravenberch, Nicolas Kühn and Sontje Hansen from my first team squad expect to receive a new offer this Autumn and I hope to sort those deals out sooner rather than later.



 

Goalkeepers 

 

Bruno Varela is gone, but no big changes compared to the last season. Andre Onana is still our number one choice between sticks.

 

[img]https://i.imgur.com/TF4iyAL.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/ak8HOIc.png[/img]


 

Defenders

 

I feel that Edson Alvarez’s departure shouldn’t have too much of an effect on our defensive line. We have competent replacements (Perr Schuurs) and players like Anass Salah-Eddine have come up from youth ranks and can be relied on to provide cover, if necessary. Daley Blind’s experience offers versatility and we can use him in DC, DL or DLP.

 

[img]https://i.imgur.com/uS5WB19.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/URxiSrj.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/AuTcO96.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/5Fu1zs1.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/QIpNCJd.png[/img]

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[img]https://i.imgur.com/n0rK0T4.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/S1H31iO.png[/img]



 

Midfield

 

That’s the area that was most affected by this Summer’s transfer window. Hakim Ziyech and David Neres are difficult to replace. Antony arrived to show his skills and he looks like a great player after the first couple of games. Dušan Tadic is now our best set-piece taker and eyes are now on Ryan Gravenberch and Nicolas Kühn. 18 years old Gravenberch needs to show why he’s regarded as the biggest talent in the team and Nicolas Kühn should prove if he’s good enough to play in the Ajax first team.

 

[img]https://i.imgur.com/82Z10eF.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/Zb5YKKm.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/U1T25jF.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/5VWkdJZ.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/dOOmIAm.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/hu8Nnyl.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/Gxn6gZj.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/wr1JLX8.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/36Zk4Yl.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/leYu4MX.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/K5f6q4u.png[/img]



 

Strikers

 

Lassina Traore has improved a lot in the past months, but depth is the problem in that area of the pitch. Klaas-Jan Huntelaar retired, Brian Brobbey went to loan and although Tadic could play as ST, we lack solid options who could replace Traore in case of injury. At least there’s nobody else who could play on the Champions League level.

 

[img]https://i.imgur.com/ajaOopL.png[/img]

[img]https://i.imgur.com/5ux9aej.png[/img]

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  • 2 weeks later...

September 2020

 

We’ve got five games in September - two very difficult Champions League games against Juventus and RB Leipzig, but the schedule balances tough with easy and we have fairly easy run of games in the Eredivisie - VVV Venlo, Almere City and Fortuna Sittard should be easy prey for us even if we rotate our squad.

 

12.09.2020 - AFC Ajax - VVV Venlo 5:1 (ED) - 13. Joel Veltman, 25. and 90. Lisandro Martinez, 45.+1 Antony, 68. Dušan Tadic - 73. Johnatan Opoku

For the first team in September we needed to find a balance between youth and experience, and I planned to give some of our key players a day off, because we have a trip to Turin just three days from here. Most of the younger players got some games during the international window, too, so it wasn’t the easiest choice to make. Because we played at Johan Cruijff Arena, we went to this game with a 4-2-3-1 and attacking mentality.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman (61. Schuurs), Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, Marin, Antony (61. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes (46. Tadic), Traore

We started well and after Antony and Quincy Promes each had an attempt on target, Joel Veltman was the one to open scoring for us. His header from a corner made it 1:0. Lassina Traore has been struggling to score in this season - he has not been getting too many chances, but he got one in 16’ - free run towards goal, but he put his shot just wide from a one-on-one situation. That didn’t matter, though, as Martinez extended our lead with another set-piece goal and Antony added the third game with a well-placed shot in injury time.

At half time it looked like it was all Ajax in this game - VVV hadn’t found a breather and had no attempts in the first half and we’d scored three already, so I replaced Promes with Tadic for the second half.

Lassina Traore continued to fight his battle for a goal and framework was not his friend either - he headed once against the post and once against the crossbar in this game. Despite that, we continued to score. Tadic scored his third penalty of the season after Perr Schuurs was pushed in the box. VVV Venlo finally found their goal in 73’ - even though we looked good defensively, every team will usually get at least one chance in a game and this time it was Johnatan Opoku’s great strike from the edge of the area that was just too good for Andre Onana. Lisandro Martinez capped his superb game with another goal from IFK right before the end and the final score was 5:1.

I was very pleased with the performance and result - obviously a clean sheet would have been nice, but 5:1 is a very convincing win, even though four of the goals came from set pieces and three of those were scored by our centre-backs.

  • our shooting was 35/13 in this game
  • we didn’t give VVV Venlo any real chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Lisandro Martinez - outstanding performance from the centre-back; he won 8 key headers and scored two goals in this game


 

15.09.2020 - Juventus - AFC Ajax 2:0 (Champions League Group C) - 18. David Silva, 39. Matthijs de Ligt

We’re drawn into the same group with Juventus and I’m certain that they haven’t forgotten the defeat in the first knockout round that we handed them in February, so there’s certainly an element of revenge in this game. This Juventus team is one year older now and their management has to be aware that at one point experience will be replaced by lack of pace and stamina, so some younger players are needed to rebuild the team. Instead, they sold one of their best strikers Paulo Dybala to Manchester United and continue to rely on the old guard - Bonucci, Chiellini and Cristiano Ronaldo.

We have pretty much our best eleven ready and fit for this game. Tactically I was true to our well-proven 4-2-3-1 balanced formation.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Marin (74. Blind), van de Beek, Antony (79. Kühn), Tadic (63. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

Juventus had initiative in the first half. Some clever passes caught our defenders by surprise and in 8’ Cristiano Ronaldo had the first clear cut chance of the game. Andre Onana managed to make a save this time, but ten minutes later David Silva moved behind our defensive line and was again found with a good pass and this time Juventus’ forward didn’t hesitate to finish properly. We had our best chance in the first half in 22’ when Kik Pierie crossed for Antony at the far post, but the winger headed over from a point blank range. Andre Onana did what he could, but after saving Cristiano Ronaldo’s attempt in 23’ we conceded the second goal. This time it was an ex-Ajax player Matthijs de Ligt who headed in from a corner and we went to the break with 0:2. I wasn’t too happy with our first half performance, because Juventus looked clinical enough and we couldn’t create enough chances to compete with them.

The second half was much better from us - I dropped ‘be more disciplined’ instruction and our creative freedom was more evident in the final third. Dušan Tadic found our first clear cut chance of the game after our counter-attack in the 60’, but his shot from point blank range was saved by Juventus goalkeeper. In injury time substitute Ryan Gravenberch ran to the counter, skinned two Juventus defenders to find himself one-on-one with the goalkeeper, but his shot was saved, too and so the game finished 0:2. We improved a lot in the second half, created two great chances, but our failure to finish them off cost us the game.

Some would say that we weren’t favourites anyway and 0:2 defeat in the away game wasn’t too bad. It’s true that I can’t complain too much about our performance, but our finishing needs to improve. I learned something about our tactics, too, and I hope it will benefit us in the future.

  • Player of the game: Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus)


 

20.09.2020 - Almere City - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 63. Damon Mirani (og), 65. and 90.+4 Donny van de Beek

We continue with a short trip to Almere to play against newly-promoted Almere City. It’s expected to be a much easier game and I planned to rotate some players, but not too much, because it’s important to keep winning in the league against smaller teams.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (70. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek, Antony (70. Kühn), Gravenberch (61. Tadic), Promes, Traore

The first half was a disappointment - we had shots on target, but couldn’t create chances and our attacking play didn’t offer any noteworthy moments. However, we improved a lot after some harsh feedback in the dressing room - Lassina Traore was unlucky to hit the post in 47’ and Ryan Gravenberch missed a clear cut chance after our free kick. We were helped by the fact that Almere’s Danny Holla received a straight red card in 53’ after going into Gravenberch with a very late tackle and soon after that our pressure resulted in an own goal by Damon Mirani. It was a fortunate moment for us - Mirano got a touch to Antony’s cross and the ball rolled past their goalkeeper - but we had initiative in the second half and so it wasn’t a completely undeserved lead. Just two minutes later Donny van de Beek doubled our lead with a wonderful shot - a daisy cutter from 25 meters. That fabulous strike settled the result. van de Beek added another goal in injury time and it was another scorcher from distance - this time driven low from 18 meters. Two excellent long shots to cement our lead and in the end the final score was pretty convincing, even though the first half was a bit of a struggle for us.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 26/12
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - two outstanding goals from the midfielder tonight and excellent performance otherwise

 

27.09.2020 - Fortuna Sittard - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 26. John Verhoek - 46. Donny van de Beek, 76. Lassina Traore

After a full week to prepare, another away game against Fortuna Sittard looked fairly easy on paper. Our scouts warned me about John Verhoek, though - Fortuna striker had managed to score 8 goals in the first 7 games of the season and our defenders needed to take notice. Fortuna have used 4-2-3-1 formation - that’s bold for a small team, but has given them results when they needed them. We continued with our usual 4-2-3-1 and I asked the players to be more attacking in this game. I also changed our line-up - Kenneth Taylor, Perr Schuurs and Sergino Dest started in this game.

Squad: Onana, Dest (69. Mazraoui), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Antony (85. Kühn), Tadic (67. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

The first 15-20 minutes didn’t look good. Fortuna anticipated our attacking tactics and they found space for counters too easily, so I switched back to balanced in 10’. In 13’ Dušan Tadic sent a free kick towards goal that cannoned back from the crossbar, but it was Fortuna Sittard who found the only goal in the first half - it was a brilliant through ball that split our defense, Andre Onana hesitated perhaps too long to come out from the line and that man John Verhoek was the first to get to the ball and finish off the good chance. Another goal to him in this campaign and we were left with the difficult task to overturn that deficit in the second half.

The beginning of the second half was much better and, most importantly, we scored a quick equalizer. Donny van de Beek with a goal again, but this time he was a bit lucky that his shot took a deflection from a defender. Daley Blind’s poor backpass gave another chance to John Verhoek, but this time Onana stopped his attempt. When the final 15 minutes started, we finally scored a winner, and of all the players it was Lassina Traore! Our young striker has been goalless for more than 9 full games, but this time he was ready when Antony laid it on his path and finished well from close range. It wasn’t our best performance in this game, but we did well to turn things around in the second half and I like that sort of fighting spirit that I witnessed tonight.

  • Player of the game: Antony - Brazilian winger gave assists to both of our goals and created attacks from our right

 

30.09.2020 - AFC Ajax - Red Bull Leipzig 1:1 (Champions League Group C) - 17. Quincy Promes - 26. Dani Olmo

Juventus defeat was… expected, but Leipzig should be more or less our equals (despite the fact that Timo Werner is a really, really good striker) and with home advantage, taking our first win in this game should be possible. However, we don’t know too much about our opponents, so our approach is just to play our usual game and hope for the best.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (84. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Marin (60. Taylor), van de Beek, Antony, Tadic (73. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

We took the lead in 17’ and it was the most awkward goal I’ve seen so far in my career. We applied high pressure without the ball and Leipzig goalkeeper Peter Gulacsi was perhaps a bit nervous when he tried to clear the ball, so he hit it right towards Quincy Promes who got his head to it and blocked it into the Leipzig goal. A bit fluke, but well deserved from Promes because of his work rate. However, Leipzig equalized from a counter in 26’. Lisandro Martinez did well to block the first attempt from Dani Olmo, but the ball went back to the Leipzig player and this time he had an open goal in front of him, because Onana had already gone down. Joel Veltman’s mistake led to this counter attack, so individual errors led to both goals and otherwise it was a quiet first half. 

The second half looked fairly equal, too. Both teams were more disciplined defensively and in the end 1:1 looked like a fair result. I felt that it was OK, but just one point from this home game might not be good enough if we want to progress from this group. It is much more difficult to get a win from Germany and we should do a bit better in those big games if we want to fulfill our board’s expectations.

  • Player of the game: Dani Olmo (Red Bull Leipzig)


 

That final result sums up our September, too. We’ve had a good run in the Eredivisie and, even though we played three games against small teams, we collected three straight wins and that streak has brought us right into the first position in the table. However, our Champions League form has not been good enough and after two games are played, our chances of reaching into the knockout stages are starting to get smaller than they were in August.

The best player of the month has been Donny van de Beek - he has been a revelation and led us to wins against Almere City and Fortuna Sittard and he’s been finally converting his ability to goals as well. Antony has started to contribute well and his number of key passes and assists has been very important for us.

I’m happy that younger players (Gravenberch, Martinez, Pierie, Traore, Taylor) have progressed really well in training and both Ryan Gravenberch and Sontje Hansen extended their contracts until 2024 in September. Negotiations with their agents were difficult, but we reached an agreement and signing the new deal with Gravenberch was probably the most important off-pitch achievement in September. And, of course, Lassina Traore finally scored! I’m so delighted for him and I hope that he can now be a lit more relaxed and composed in those one-on-one moments after finally finding the net.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re now leading the table and that’s important. Feyenoord has been struggling and dropped points numerous times. sc Heerenveen are doing extremely well so far and from the favourites PSV Eindhoven and AZ Alkmaar looked the most likely contenders for the title. At the bottom of the table Heracles Almelo are still without points and with a form like that they find themselves relegated sooner rather than later.

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October 2020

 

Our schedule in October includes only five games, but the first three of those needed our full attention. Easy games in the Eredivisie had run out and both FC Utrecht and AZ Alkmaar were more formidable opponents, and our Champions League campaign continued with an important trip to Valencia.


 

03.10.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Utrecht 2:0 (ED) - 36. Lassina Traore, 69. Dušan Tadic

We started off with hosting our rivals FC Utrecht at Johan Cruijff Arena. Donny van de Beek, Kik Pierie and Quincy Promes looked a little tired since our match with RB Leipzig, and I chose to rest them. That meant some rotation in our starting line-up.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (69. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Blind (73. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, Marin, Antony (73. Kühn), Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore

We created an excellent chance early on, but Ryan Gravenberch sent his header over the crossbar from a point blank range. FC Utrecht players looked nervous from the kick-off, but it took us almost the full first half to take the lead. Lassina Traore finally found the opportunity - his work rate was awarded, as he put FC Utrecht defender under pressure with the ball, won the possession and went one-on-one to finish his chance well. The first half finished with our 1:0 lead, but FC Utrecht hadn’t taken a single shot so far, so it was a fairly easy game for us.

We almost made things difficult for ourselves in the second half. Daley Blind made an uncharacteristic error in 66’ - his poor pass was intercepted by Jean-Christophe Bahebeck and Andre Onana had to  make a great save to deny his shot. Three minutes later Dušan Tadic doubled our lead with a wonderful strike from 19 meters that landed in the top corner and that was it. FC Utrecht gave up the fight and we took a comfortable win. I was happy with the result and our performance - that was better than I expected.

  • our shooting was 25/12 in this game
  • we made 33 dribbles with the ball
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - wonderful goal from the playmaker to make it 7 for him in this season

 

Perhaps that win impressed the board or our overall improvement in the recent weeks, but I was finally offered the new contract - I agreed with a £38,000 p/w deal until 2024. That’s a good deal that gives me time to plan longer ahead.

 

18.10.2020 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 1:0 (ED) - 67. Antony

The international window passed and, as usual, our younger players looked more tired after it, because they were used extensively in U-21 national teams. We continued our Eredivisie campaign against AZ Alkmaar - another strong team and likely contenders for the title. However, AZ looked weakened because both their first choice goalkeeper and striker were injured for that game and that should have made our task much easier.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (67. Dest), Veltman, Blind, Pierie (79. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Antony, Tadic, Promes, Traore (59. Kühn)

We looked very attacking in the first 20-25 minutes. Lassina Traore was in the center of the action for us - his header hit the post in 12’ and he managed to waste two clear cut chances in the first half hour of football. I looked in disbelief at the sidelines how chance after chance was just blown and it could have cost us dearly in 26’ - Noussair Mazraoui was careless to give away possession and Arnaut Danjuma got through to go one-on-one against Andre Onana. Our goalkeeper made another good save and also parried Danjuma’s second goalscoring opportunity five minutes later. Onana has been really good in the past few games - he’s stepped up when we needed him. At half time it was still 0:0 and I had to admit, begrudgingly, that both teams had good chances and it was a more less equal contest in the first half. Lassina Traore had looked nervous, but Andre Onana was easily our best player in the first period.

AZ continued to find chances in attack, even after the break, and in 52’ Jürgn Locadia’s shot was parried by Onana. I replaced Traore with Nicolas Kühn, but our finishing didn’t improve and in 65’ it was German’s time to waste a clear cut chance. We finally broke through with a help of set piece goal - Daley Blind did well to head our corner back towards the goal and Antony was there to tuck it in from the line. That one goal was enough to secure all three points that day and we held onto our lead until the final whistle.

For the fans it was a very entertaining spectacle and both teams offered very attacking football. We were a little bit lucky, perhaps, to come out on top, but we were helped by our confidence and, of course, our goalkeeper.

  • surprisingly, we lost possession 47/53
  • our shooting was 24/10 in this game and we created 4 clear cut chances
  • we allowed AZ to make 23 dribbles - there were some quite technical players in AZ squad
  • Player of the game: Antony - it looks like the commentators gave out that award for his winner, but my man of the match was clearly Andre Onana, who saved three clear cut chances and kept a clean sheet

 

21.10.2020 - CF Valencia - AFC Ajax 2:1 (Champions League Group C) - 61. and 79. Rodrigo - 44. Razvan Marin

After an expected defeat and a draw, we needed a win in our next Champions League game, but Valencia looks strong. At least strong enough to beat Juventus in the previous game and so our chances in the away game looked rather small. Valencia use a 4-4-1-1 formation and their striker Rodrigo looks a handful. 4-4-1-1 could be a tad too defensive in the home game for them, so that could be our chance.

Donny van de Beek looked tired for this game and I decided to rest him. Razvan Marin and Daley Blind make up our midfield.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (76. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Blind, Marin, Antony (68. Kühn), Tadic, Promes (71. Gravenberch), Traore

It was Valencia who created the best chances in the first half. We tried to play possession football, but our ball playing defenders were vulnerable to high pressure, so it happened that both Lisandro Martinez and Daley Blind were caught in possession by Rodrigo. It was our fortune that Andre Onana was on hand to save us on one occasion and Rodrigo sent his second shot just wide of the goal. Valencia’s Goncalo Guedes saw his attempt hit the post in 36’ and in the end of the first half we were just lucky that it was still goalless. However, in 44’ Razvan Marin surprised everyone (perhaps even himself) by hitting a scorcher from a distance that blasted in from 25 meters - outstanding goal from him. It was a volley from the pass of Quincy Promes and Valencia were stunned by that dressing room goal.

We hoped to hold onto our lead in the second half, but unfortunately, it didn’t happen. Rodrigo made up for his missed chances - at first he tackled the ball in and then took the ball from Joel Veltman and finished with a fine strike. I was disappointed with our second half, because we couldn’t create anything remotely dangerous in the Valencia box, but in truth we didn’t deserve to win this game - Valencia were so much better team over the ninety minutes.

  • we didn’t create any real chances in this game, while Valencia had 3 clear cut chances
  • we managed to make only one key pass in the 90 minutes
  • Player of the game: Rodrigo (CF Valencia)


 

27.10.2020 - EMS Roermond - AFC Ajax 0:12 (TOTO KNVB Beker 1st round) - 5. Perr Schuurs, 9. pen. and 46. Nicolas Kühn, 15. and 28. Ryan Gravenberch, 22. Lassina Traore, 49. Sergino Dest, 54. Anass Salah-Eddine, 59. and 66. Naci Ünüvar, 67. and 71. Lisandro Martinez

For our first cup game we travelled some 200 km to Roermond. The opponents were an amateur side from a small town and we sent out our youngsters and rotation players.

Squad: Scherpen, Dest, Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Ekkelenkamp, Kühn, Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore

It was a bloodbath. To say that we hammered Roermond was a huge understatement. We practically camped in their area and just sent shot after shot towards their goal. When we were leading 3:0 after the first 15  minutes it was virtually game over, but we continued to attack and score goals and all the players enjoyed themselves.

In the beginning of the second half I witnessed some brilliant goals - Sergino Dest, Anass Salah-Eddine and Naci Ünüvar all scored lovely strikes to get their names on the scoreboard and when the final whistle called it was 12:0. I even felt kind of sorry for the EMS Roermond team, because they were just rolled over with a tank, but that’s football. Roermond didn’t have a single shot in this game (in fact, I’m not sure that they even got a single attacking move).

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 66/37 in the end
  • we had 9.25 average rating
  • we created 5 clear cut chances and 10 half chances
  • we made 26 key passes
  • 12:0 is our biggest ever win
  • Anass Salah-Eddine and Naci Ünüvar scored their first ever goals for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Ryan Gravenberch

 

31.10.2020 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 12. and 41. Quincy Promes

The good thing about those early cup rounds is that big wins increase morale and it’s easy to keep the key players fresh and rested for the next game. Away fixture against ADO Den Haag could be a tricky game for us, so I was happy that our best line-up was available and fit. I made two changes, though - Sergino Dest earned his place in the first eleven after his performance against Roermond and I hoped that his crossing ability could make a difference for us against ADO as well. Ryan Gravenberch started in the AMC position so that Dušan Tadic could be fresh against Valencia in three day’s time.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman (64. Schuurs), Martinez, Pierie (64. Salah-Eddine), Marin (73. Taylor), van de Beek, Anytony, Gravenberch, Promes, Traore

We started well and Sergino Dest showed that he deserved my trust. It was his cross in 17’ that found Quincy Promes at the far post and our left winger directed his header well against the movement of the goalkeeper. We had other good chances to extend our lead - Lassina Traore forced the goalkeeper to make a great save in 17’ and Ryan Gravenberch headed over from point blank range. In 34’ ADO got their best chance of the game when Razvan Marin lost possession in midfield and Rodney Antwi took it towards our goal. Andre Onana came forward to stop him and made a great save to parry the shot wide. And before the half time whistle it was the same duo again who doubled our lead - Sergino Dest crossed and Quincy Promes finished with a simple tap-in from the far post. At half time I was fairly pleased with our performance and the score. We had created chances and Promes had hit home twice.

We continued well in the second half - our passing and creativity was top class, but our finishing wasn’t. Traore, Gravenberch and Antony wasted their chances in succession and in the end it remained 2:0. Despite our poor finishing I was pleased with our overall performance and three points from the away game.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 24/13 in this game
  • we created 6 clear cut chances and made 22 key passes
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - his brace led us to win and his overall game was pretty much faultless


 

In retrospect I was really happy with our October. Defeat from Valencia was a small disappointment, but we weren’t favourites in the away game, so I can’t be too harsh about that. At the same time we’ve collected straight wins from all three Eredivisie games, held clean sheets in all of those, and these were tough games against difficult teams, too. That winning streak cements our place at the top of the table and gives other title contenders a challenge.

 

Eredivisie

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sc Heerenveen have dropped some points and at the moment PSV Eindhoven, Vitesse and AZ Alkmaar are the ones who try to keep up. At the bottom of the table Heracles have finally started to pick themselves up - they started their season with 8 straight defeats, but they are too good to go down and in the past few games have started to play like a mid-table team they really are.

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November 2020

Another five games in November and it’s a little bit surprising that we play all five games at home! No travelling for a full month - that’s a rare treat. However, we have some tough games in those five, especially the Champions League fixtures against Valencia and Juventus.

 

03.11.2020 - AFC Ajax - CF Valencia 2:0 (Champions League Group C) - 68. Lassina Traore, 90. Antony

We haven’t been too poor in our first three games, but we have only one point to show from those games, so we really needed a win and no matter what the opposition. I hoped we could do better against Valencia at home - our best eleven were fit and ready and we had full support of the Johan Cruijff Arena behind us.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (67. Dest), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (71. Blind), Marin, van de Beek, Antony, Tadic (89. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

We had a small initiative in the first half, but Valencia looked well organized with their 4-4-1-1 formation. Lassina Traore found our best chance of the first half in 14’, but his close range attempt was parried by the goalkeeper and so we went to the half time break without goals. The second half continued in similar fashion until I made our first substitution and sent out Sergino Dest. The young American made an instant impact - his cross found Traore at the far post and the striker’s header found its way past the goalkeeper - 1:0. Kik Pierie was forced off with injury in 71’ and Valencia started to look for an equalizer, but instead Antony finished things off after a counter - smart assist from Ryan Gravenberch to find him on the move and Brazilian finished it calmly with a placed shot. That marked our first win of our Champions League campaign - it was a vital win for us and a great result against a strong team.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was just 19/4 - not a lot of good chances, but at least we finished our attacking moves with shots
  • Kik Pierie came off with pulled ankle ligaments and he’ll be out for around 3-4 weeks
  • Player of the game: Antony - outstanding performance from him tonight - a goal, two chances created and 8 dribbles


 

07.11.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 4:0 (ED) - 3., 28. and 43. Dušan Tadic, 6. Antony

After beating Valencia, FC Twente’s game looked relatively easy, but we were bitten by the injury bug before that match. Kik Pierie was out, but goalkeeper Kjell Scherpen managed to injure himself in training and will be sidelined for almost two full months. Razvan Marin also suffered a small knock in training, so my squad selection was somewhat affected by the injuries.

FC Twente had injury problems of their own and they came against us without a popper right-back. In the final solution they sent out a 18 years old youngster to fill the spot.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Antony (69. Kühn), Tadic (60. Gravenberch), Promes (53. Ünüvar), Traore

We had a great start to the game and FC Twente’s error prone right defense was quickly evident. Quincy Promes delivered two good crosses from our left - the first one was headed home by Dušan Tadic and the second one by Antony. After that we were in control of the game and although chances were less frequent, our win was never in doubt. Dušan Tadic had a chance to show his ability to take free kicks and he scored two beautiful goals from DFK’s in the first half, both curled nicely around the wall and the second one marked his 10th goal of the season. After Tadic completed his hat-trick, we went to half time with a 4:0 lead and I was really happy with our first half performance.

The second half was quieter and the first noteworthy moment came in 78’ when Lisandro Martinez saw his header come back from the crossbar. FC Twente tried to create something in attack and in the end of the game they got two attempts on target, but nothing too dangerous, so the final score marked our pretty impressive win.

  • somehow we lost possession 48/52 in this game
  • our shooting was 26/10
  • Naci Ünüvar made his league debut for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - impressive performance from the midfielder - a hat-trick and two beautiful free kicks to add to his personal highlight reel


 

21.11.2020 - AFC Ajax - Heracles Almelo 1:0 (ED) - 65. pen. Dušan Tadic

The international window went by and we returned to Eredivisie football with our next home game - this time against Heracles Almelo. Heracles had a terrible start to the season - they lost their first eight games, but since then their form improved and in the recent games they’ve played like the regular mid-table side they should be. I kept in mind that we have a big game against Juventus in midweek, so at least some key players (Mazraoui, Veltman, Tadic, Marin) started on the bench.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch (62. Tadic), Promes (70. Ünüvar), Traore (70. Kühn)

I have to say that Heracles were defensively impressive in this game (or, for some reason, we were really poor), but for the most of the game we couldn’t create anything noteworthy in front of their goal. In the second half I started to get more and more upset with our game, so in 62’ Dušan Tadic went in and three minutes later he had a chance to score from the spot, after Lisandro Martinez was pushed in the box. The Serb calmly scored another penalty for us and that was enough to secure all three points that time. Antony had a great chance to finish things off after a counter in injury time, but his attempt was saved and right before the final whistle Kenneth Taylor had to come off with injury, so despite the three points the end of the game wasn’t too good for us.

In the team talk I decided to address our poor performance rather than the result. We lacked creativity and in the home game should have been a lot better. Antony was underlined as the worst performer (5.9 rating) and deserved direct criticism (plus fine for 1/2 week wages) , but I was happy to see that the team reacted well and looked more determined as a result.

  • we had 63% possession in this game
  • our average rating was just 6.77
  • Kenneth Taylor will be out for 3-4 weeks with a groin strain
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - out of all those average performances, Schuurs took his opportunity well and gave a solid defensive display


 

25.11.2020 - AFC Ajax - Juventus 3:0 (Champions League Group C) - 25. Quincy Promes, 39. pen. Dušan Tadic, 78. Ryan Gravenberch

That was the biggest test in November - Juventus. We were beaten at Turin, but I expected us to be better at home. Before the game I even made some calculations and found that perhaps it’s not the end of the world if we lose this one, because the last game against Leipzig could be much more important in regard to our standings in the group. But I didn’t want to give up, especially because since we knocked out Juventus in the last season, I’ve developed a fierce personal rivalry with Maurizio Sarri (or his alter ego, Giampiero Raimondi). I’m usually fairly polite and try to keep a sporting mentality in my interviews and comments to media, but it looked like Raimondi couldn’t take a defeat and so he’s bad mouthing in every opportunity how he doesn’t like the way we play or behave, so that makes it a little more personal.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez (66. Blind), Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Antony (79. Kühn), Tadic (74. Gravenberch), Traore

Juventus looked more attacking in the first 15 minutes, but the game balanced out after that and in 25’ we took the lead. Quincy Promes was the man of the moment who placed his shot into the near corner and did beat Juventus goalkeeper. Before the game my assistant Michael Reiziger advised us to pressure Giorgio Chiellini and I listened to him. So did Lassina Traore and in 38’ he put Chiellini under pressure with the ball, won it back for us and went clean on goal. Chiellini came from behind, but arrived late and brought Traore down in the box - clear penalty and for a moment I expected to see a red card for a professional foul, but Chiellini escaped with a booking. Dušan Tadic converted the penalty and we were leading by two goals! The red card came five minutes later, however. Juventus’ Miralem Pjanic boiled over and his two-footed tackle on Tadic earned him dismissal before the half time whistle. Traore had a great chance to add the third goal, but his attempt was well saved by the goalkeeper.

At half time I was delighted - Juventus were down to 10 men and we had a solid lead and all chances to take this game to us.

Juventus tried to fight back with 10 men, I give them that. Cristiano Ronaldo had a couple of shots on target in the second half, but we controlled the proceedings. In 75’ Quincy Promes wasted his goalscoring opportunity, but three minutes later substitute Ryan Gravenberch scored from the corner and that settled it. We took a massive win against a big team and I was delighted with my personal revenge for Raimondi’s insults. Juventus manager couldn’t keep his cool in the post-match press conference, slamming his team’s performance and my conduct..

  • we created 3 clear cut chances in this game - against Juventus that’s a massive success
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - excellent game from our left winger, who scored a goal himself and delivered a corner to Gravenberch’s goal


 

29.11.2020 - AFC Ajax - FC Groningen 3:0 (ED) - 20. Donny van de Beek, 25. Lisandro Martinez, 90.+2 Razvan Marin

The morale was really high after the Juventus game, but FC Groningen could be a difficult opponent in our next league game. They spent £13m in the Summer transfer window and have to be respected, because their current league position (4th) is well above expectations. Groningen came against us with a 4-5-1 formation and that was a bit of an unfamiliar test for us.

I made some changes in the line-up: Sergino Dest started in the right defense and Dušan Tadic was rested for the game.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek (69. Regeer) Antony (61. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes (69. Ünüvar), Traore

We started well and due to Tadic’s absence Razvan Marin took our free kicks in this game. He was really unlucky in the first half to see two of his free kicks curl around the wall and hit the post - really good attempts, but just short of a goal. Most of our shots came from a distance, but the attempts looked really dangerous nevertheless and in 25’ Donny van de Beek sent a well struck effort into the goal from 24 meters. Five minutes later it was 2:0 - Lisandro Martinez the goalscorer from IFK and we went to half time with a 2:0 lead. I was pleased with our performance and the game looked well under our control.

Razvan Marin continued to dictate the game from midfield in the second half. His free kick found Joel Veltman at the far post in 53’, but the centre-back headed over from a point blank range. FC Groningen’s position got worse in 74’ when Ajdin Hrustic received his second yellow card and was sent off and I used a chance and sent out youngsters Youri Regeer and Naci Ünüvar. In injury time Razvan Marin got a deserved reward for his efforts in this game - he scored a goal from a corner and the final score 3:0 marked our convincing win in what I expected to be a tougher challenge for us than it really was.

  • we had 64% possession
  • our shooting was 29/12 in this game
  • we didn’t give FC Groningen any real chances in this game and they couldn’t give a single key pass either
  • Youri Regeer made his first league appearance for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - really outstanding performance from the midfielder and well deserved goal in the end. He made 8 key passes and created 3 chances in this game, so I was really delighted with him



 

Summary

We had a really impressive November - five home games, five wins, no goals conceded and  goal difference 13:0 makes it my best month as a manager. We’re in a serious purple patch of good form and we need it to continue just a bit further to secure our progression in the Champions League. Our European campaign will come down to the last game - we need a win against Leipzig to go through.

The players have done well, even though the first injuries have creeped in. I’ve tried to rotate the squad in a balanced fashion and some players like Sergino Dest have really stepped up and stated a claim to the first team place. Players have trained hard and improved because of that and as a team we’re much better than in the last season.

Dušan Tadic has become our most important player and a true leader on the pitch. He’s leading our goalscoring charts with 12 goals (yes, that includes 5 penalties and 2 free kick goals, but his ability to take set pieces is one of his best attributes) and Quincy Promes has also picked up his form in the recent weeks. Antony could definitely improve his game - his last goal came almost a month ago and while he’s often visible in our attacking moves he hasn’t been able to finish his chances or find enough goalscoring opportunities to himself.

 

Our U-19 have played their own Champions League and went through to the knockout stages after finishing 2nd in their group. That makes our head of youth development happy and is a proof of the good work that manager John Heitinga has done with this group of youngsters.

 

Off the pitch issues haven’t troubled me lately, but there’s a hanging question about Nicolas Kühn contract, which is about to end in the next Summer. I’m still not yet convinced if he’s good enough to remain in the team and challenge for the first team places, or should I go and look for someone from U-19 instead. He certainly offers us more depth in attacking positions, but not too much extra quality. This is a decision I need to make probably before Christmas.


 

Eredivisie

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We have a small gap, but just small - only five points between us and PSV Eindhoven (who have had a really impressive first half of the season, too). Vitesse, FC Groningen and AZ Alkmaar make up the next trio who look really strong and Feyenoord are still stuck in 9th position. At the bottom of the table there are small teams (as expected), fighting against relegation.

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December 2020

 

We enjoyed a relatively easy schedule in October and November. Five games in a month is not a problem to any team, but in December we have no less than eight games. Those games include some more challenging opponents in Eredivisie, win-or-die match against RB Leipzig and (fortunately) easy training match against the next amateur club in the cup.

 

02.12.2020 - Vitesse Arnhem - AFC Ajax 0:0 (ED)

We started with a tricky away game against Vitesse. Perhaps surprisingly, Vitesse have done really well so far and hold the 3rd position in the table. They have avoided major injuries and got their team playing well on the pitch, so they have to be considered as serious opponents, especially at GelreDome. 

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Blind, van de Beek, Antony (71. Kühn), Tadic (84. Gravenberch), Promes (68. Ünüvar), Traore

We looked better in the first half and were definitely more attacking, but our best chance came in 15’ and it came from a corner - Tadic delivered an outswinging cross and Quincy Promes headed it over from a point blank range. At half time I felt that we deserved to lead, but in the second half Vitesse changed formation and got themselves more organized, so our chances in attack were limited and two of the best goalscoring opportunities after the break fell to Vitesse. Noussair Mazraoui did extremely well in 52’ to get back on time and block Thomas Buitink’s attempt and Vitesse had few more attempts on target. In the end it remained 0:0 and ultimately the result was fair. Vitesse could be pleased with that result, but we feel that we dropped two points and could have done better in the first half. 

  • our shooting was 23/9 in this game - good in stats, but only few of those shots were really dangerous
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - average performance from the whole squad, but Tadic stood out with his chances created


 

05.12.2020 - AFC Ajax - Fortuna Sittard 7:1 (ED) - 3. Razvan Marin, 5. and 51. Ryan Gravenberch, 8. Naci Ünüvar, 47. pen., 67. and 90. Nicolas Kühn - 69. Andre Vidigal

The most important game in December - the one with RB Leipzig - was approaching, but before that we hosted Fortuna Sittard. Fortuna started their season well and their striker John Verhoek quickly reached to 10 goals in Eredivisie, but later their form dropped, goals dried out and so they arrived in Amsterdam with four straight defeats behind them. We were clear favourites and I knew that we should be able to win this game easily and wanted to give our key players a day off before the Leipzig game, but at the same time we needed to bounce back with a win after dropping points against Vitesse. 

Squad: Onana, Dest, Schuurs, Martinez (46. Regeer), Salah-Eddine, Blind, Marin (46. Ekkelenkamp), Antony (46. Kühn), Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore

We came out of the gates storming and in the first ten minutes we had overrun Fortuna. Razvan Marin opened things up with a beautiful strike from 20 meters, Ryan Gravenberch doubled our lead and after Ünüvar finished from a lovely through ball it was all over for Fortuna. The best they could do was damage limitation. We missed a few more good chances in the first half, but at half time it was clear that we were in full control and I was bold enough to make all three substitutions. Razvan Marin and Lisandro Martinez could sit down and rest for the next 45 minutes, but on came Nicolas Kühn who had a lot to prove. He started off with a penalty after Daley Blind was pushed in the box. Then Gravenberch added a goal to his name, but in 67’ Kühn scored another goal that went down to season highlights. Fortuna goalkeeper Alexei Koselev was taking a free kick quite wide out of the goal and his kick landed in the midfield where Kühn volleyed it back towards the Fortuna goal. Koselev wasn’t quick enough to get back on time, so Kühn’s strike from 42 meters bounced over the line - it was probably a goal that was scored from the longest distance that I’ve seen in my career as a manager. 

Between the hammering Fortuna found their consolation goal in 69’. Anass Salah-Eddine made a foolish foul just outside our box and Fortuna had a free kick from a dangerous position. Jari Schuurman curled it over the wall, the ball hit the post, but bounced across the goal and Andre Vidigal was the first to react and finish from the rebound. Despite that mishap, we continued well and Nicolas Kühn completed his hat-trick in the end of the game - his third goal coming from IFK - and so we wrapped things up with an emphatic 7:1 scoreline. It was an impressive reaction to the Vitesse result and I was really happy with it. I was also delighted with the youngsters who got first team experience and actually performed really well. That win restored our morale and we could use that confidence against Leipzig.

  • our shooting was 36/23 in this game
  • we created 6 clear cut chances
  • our average rating was 8.35 in this game
  • Naci Ünüvar scored his first career league goal
  • Nicolas Kühn, Ryan Gravenberch, Naci Ünüvar, Anass Salah-Eddine and Perr Schuurs were all outstanding in this game
  • before Vidigal’s goal we managed to keep a clean sheet for 641 minutes - over seven games it was the first goal that we conceded in all competitions
  • Fortuna dropped to the relegation zone after this defeat and as a result their manager Sjors Ulter was sacked. I wonder if they could turn things around under the new management
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - impressive hat-trick in the second half. While questions about his new contract are still unanswered, it was a huge statement to show that he deserves to be in Ajax

 

Before the Leipzig game I took care of another off-pitch issue. Lisandro Martinez has been our star player and the best defender for a while now and all my coaching staff rates him as 4,5* defender. He clearly deserved a new deal and so we signed the new £21,000 p/w contract until 2025. It has a minimum release fee clause, but that’s high enough to actually accept it and allow him to move on if any big club would come and put a serious bid forward.

 

08.12.2020 - RB Leipzig - AFC Ajax 1:0 (Champions League Group C) - 71. Timo Werner

The big day has come. I tried to make different calculations about the points in our group. We’ve done well to beat both Juventus and Valencia on aggregate, so in (rather unlikely scenario) we’re at level with any of the other teams we should have advantage, but the most important thing was to get a win from Germany.

We had our best eleven available for the game and fairly well rested, too. Kjell Scherpen and Kenneth Taylor were still injured, although both are starting to get close to returning, but they’re not the players that I particularly missed before that game. The player I did really miss was Joel Veltman, who had to sit this one out after collecting three yellow cards in the competition. Perr Schuurs played well against Heracles in November and looked really good in a win over Fortuna, but I’d have preferred a well-proven partnership of Veltman and Martinez.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (65. Dest), Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Antony, Tadic (76. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore (84. Kühn)

Leipzig started with their typical 5-2-1-2 WB formation. The first half was fairly even game and both teams were careful not to concede. The best opportunity fell to us in 22’ - Lassina Traore won the ball from a defender, went one-on-one, managed to beat the keeper, but hit the post. What a moment and terrible miss in a game where chances were rare. Leipzig started to show some attacking football in the last 15 minutes of the first half and got their first attempts on target, but we went to half time with 0:0.

The second half continued in a  similar fashion until Leipzig finally broke us down in 71’ - Kik Pierie lost possession, Lisandro Martinez missed his interception and when the ball found Timo Werner in the box, there wasn’t anybody marking him. Werner needed just one look and that was it. We couldn’t change the game in the last 20 minutes and that narrow defeat erased our hopes of reaching the knockout stages. In retrospect - a draw would have been good enough, because Juventus won their match against Valencia and we had better goal difference than Leipzig, but that doesn’t mean anything now. Very disappointed to go out like that.

  • our shooting was just 8/1 in this game and it has to be said that for the most of the game Leipzig shut us down well
  • our average rating was just 6.74
  • Player of the game: Dayot Upamecano (RB Leipzig) - solid performance from the centre-back who was rock in their defense

 

Champions League Group C

  1. Juventus 12
  2. RB Leipzig 10
  3. AFC Ajax 7
  4. CF Valencia

 

That was the first time I failed to fulfill board expectations. Our consolation is Europa League and the board will believe that we should at least reach the quarter finals there. Our first opponent is Kayserispor. We’re clearly the better team in that pair and should get to the second knockout round without much fuss.


 

12.12.2020 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 0:0 (ED)

We try to leave our disappointment behind and perhaps it’s good that games come just after a few days, so we don’t have too much time to grieve our failures.

sc Heerenveen started their season really well, but in recent weeks their form has been up and down and it looks like they’re not exactly at the same level with us, PSV and Vitesse. However, in their own stadium they should be regarded as difficult opponents. Our job was made harder by the fact that some players looked really tired from the midweek game and I had to rotate more than I would have liked. Good news is that Kenneth Taylor passed the fitness test before the game, but Anass Salah-Eddine was sent home for a week with flu.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (66. Dest), Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Gravenberch, Ekkelenkamp (66. van de Beek), Antony (66. Kühn), Tadic, Ünüvar, Traore

The first half was a really closed up game, without much chances and low number of shots. For a reason I couldn’t understand for a while, sc Heerenveen dominated midfield and it was clear that we couldn’t continue in the same fashion after the break.

We played slightly better in the second half, true, but there wasn’t much creativity in our attack. Our best chance came in 57’ and Antony had a good look, but it happened after his long solo run from the right wing and his attempt was tipped over the crossbar by the goalkeeper. Traore  had some half-chances, too, but in the end it remained goalless.

I was unhappy. A draw against sc Heerenveen in away game wasn’t too bad of a result on its own, but it was our third goalless game in the past four fixtures and so it looked like goalscoring could become a problem for us. We couldn’t allow too many dropped points or PSV would close down the gap in the table and poor results and harsh team talks could hurt morale if this kind of form continues. It has to be said that sc Heerenveen looked very spot on tactically and responsibility for the result was mine, too, as I had no ideas (or players) to change it with.

  • we lost possession 45/55 and that was surprising
  • it was our 17th game in the league - half of the season is over and we’ve collected 43 points - much more than expected, but at the same time PSV Eindhoven have had a great first half of the season, too
  • Player of the game: Daniel Hoegh (sc Heerenveen)

 

16.12.2020 - AFC Ajax - TEC 11:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker 2nd round) - 9. pen., 29. and 47. Nicolas Kühn, 19. Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, 31. and 62. Perr Schuurs, 37. Anass Salah-Eddine, 55. Joshua Pynadath, 56. and 65. Lassina Traore, 60. Ryan Gravenberch

Next up - a training match against an amateur team in the cup and that could be exactly what we needed at this point - a chance for an easy win and opportunity to score goals and get some flow and confidence back.

Squad: Scherpen, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (46. Regeer), Ekkelenkamp, Kühn (47. Pynadath), Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore

We did exactly what was expected and rolled over poor TEC with an 11:0 goal difference. Nicolas Kühn was the hat-trick hero and he was indeed very clinical with his finishing. The best goals of the game came from Anass Salah-Eddine, Jürgen Ekkelenkamp and Lassina Traore who all scored brilliant goals, because we had always enough time and space with the ball and the players often looked for a shot from around 20 meters. That big win was expected, but the impact on morale was the most important thing for me and I was happy that our youngsters could get some first team experience.

  • we had 68% possession
  • our shooting was 52/26 in this game - including 20 long shots
  • we had 8.96 average rating
  • TEC didn’t get any goalscoring chances
  • Steven van der Sloot and Joshua Pynadath made their debut for Ajax, with Pynadath getting to score sheet in the process
  • Lassina Traore finally scored and finished his goal drought that had continued for 716 minutes
  • Nicolas Kühn scored his 10th goal of the season - important milestone, even if most of those goals have come in the cup games
  • we will play Willem II Tilburg in the 3rd round
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - a hat-trick from him and a great performance with it

 

20.12.2020 - AZ Alkmaar - AFC Ajax 3:3 (ED) - 15. Arnaut Danjuma, 28. Dani de Wit, 45.+1 Jürgen Locadia - 21. Donny van de Beek, 22. Nicolas Kühn, 82. Lassina Traore

Back to Eredivisie after this big win and improved morale. Noord-Hollandse derby was a fiery affair the last time around (we won it 1:0 at home), so I was prepared for a very tough game. AZ were 4th in the league standings and looked like a good team on paper.

We had to get by without Joel Veltman, who served his suspension, but the rest of the team was fit enough. I made one change in the line-up and replaced underperforming Antony with Nicolas Kühn.

Squad: Onana, Dest, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Kühn (70. Antony), Tadic (74. Gravenberch), Promes (70. Ünüvar), Traore

AZ took the lead in 15’ and the first goal came from a corner. We allowed Dani de Wit to send a strong header towards our goal and Arnaut Danjuma was there at the post to tuck it in. Not good enough, but we reacted well - Donny van de Beek equalized with a great strike from the edge of the area and soon it was 2:1 after Kühn added another goal with a well-placed shot. Dani de Wit looked really fired up and he was making all the difference in the game - it was his shot from 20 meters that was just too good for Andre Onana and disappointingly we conceded another goal late in the first half, so we went to the break with 2:3 score line. It had been a really entertaining game so far, with some great goals, but to be honest our chances count was zero and our defense was leaky. We had allowed AZ to take 58% possession in the first half, so it wasn’t really surprising that they had initiative as a result.

We had to change something for the second half. I cancelled counter-press and asked the team to pass into space to catch AZ high line napping. It looked to work better in the second half, as we had more attacks and some good set pieces. In 74’ we suffered a blow, when Dušan Tadic had to come off with an injury, but in 82’ Lassina Traore scored an equalizer from a counter-attack. Ryan Gravenberch did well to win possession and he laid it on a plate for Traore. The final score was 3:3 and to be fair neither team deserved to lose this one. I was happy that we rescued a point, and as a derby it was an absolute classic to watch.

  • our shooting was 19/11, but this was a bit flattering stats
  • we made only 6 key passes in the game
  • we allowed AZ players to make 24 dribbles
  • Dušan Tadic injury was way worse than it looked at the first sight - he’ll be out for at least 3-4 months with a broken foot
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - great long range goal from our midfield marshal

 

23.12.2020 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 1:0 (ED) - 61. Noussair Mazraoui

The last game of the year was held at Johan Cruijff Arena and I expected us to win and hoped that we could win our year with a good result. We went to the game with attacking 4-2-3-1 formation. Without Tadic, of course, but Joel Veltman was back in the team and Antony, too.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Sala-Eddine (74. Blind), Taylor, van de Beek (74. Ekkelenkamp), Antony, Gravenberch, Promes (66. Ünüvar), Traore

The first noteworthy moment in the game came in 21’. Joel Veltman was careless and left his tackle late, making a foul in our box and giving away a penalty to Willem II. Okyere Wriedt stepped up, but Andre Onana did exceptionally well to save his penalty and so kept us in the game. The first half as a whole looked like a struggle for us - we didn’t get our attack going and in 41’ Antony’s long range attempt touched the crossbar, but that was the closest we got to the goal.

The second half looked the same and our inability to create chances started to frustrate both me and the players. However, Noussair Mazraoui came to rescue and his great strike in 61’ was just a moment of individual brilliance that we needed in such a tightly contested game. That was just too good for Willem II goalkeeper to save and that one goal was enough today to secure all three points with it.

I wasn’t really happy with our performance, because we just scraped it and I expected a much better display at home.

  • our shooting was 28/13 - good stats, but football didn’t reflect it
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - outstanding performance and a great goal from our right-back


 

Summary

Our good run in this season witnessed the first serious bumps on the road. We fought some closely contested games and had to settle with draws instead of wins, but I’m not too disappointed with our run in domestic competitions. Vitesse, AZ and sc Heerenveen are better teams than average and it’s almost inevitable to drop some points against them in away games, but what really bothers me is how we exited the Champions League. That Leipzig match really hurt - it had some sort of final’s aura around it and we failed with the prize so close to us. We need some time to cope with that loss, still.

The second blow, obviously, was Tadic’s injury. To lose a player like him for months is a huge blow. Yes, we had a competent replacement in Ryan Gravenberch, but he doesn’t have the leadership and set pieces that Tadic offers to the team. It is more difficult to cope than it looks. Things will be especially worse in January, as the upcoming African Nations tournament caught me by surprise - when I got the notice that Noussair Mazraoui, Andre Onana and Lassina Traore were all expected to be 2-3 weeks away with their national teams it sent cold shivers down my back. Onana and Mazraoui? OK, but I had no real striker to replace Traore with and my second best option was… Tadic. So, keeping our attack sharp, creating chances and finding goals could be a real challenge in January and February.

 

But more positive matters - Nicolas Kühn’s contract situation was finally settled and he signed an extension until 2025. £7,250 p/w isn’t too greedy for a player who has scored 11 goals before Christmas for us.


 

Eredivisie

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It is us and PSV Eindhoven in the title race (we had a bumpy December, but PSV lost to PEC Zwolle 0:1 from an injury time goal), but then comes the wolf pack - Vitesse, AZ, sc Heerenveen, FC Utrecht. All fairly strong teams that perhaps lack a bit consistency, but on a good day could beat anybody in the league.

The bottom of the table looks predictable - four teams struggle to avoid the relegation zone. At the same time I’ve been impressed by VVV Venlo who have done really well to collect points exactly when possible and have won most of their six-pointers against other small teams. Good for them.

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January

 

We started our new year with new problems. Some sort of virus lurks around in the club house and near the training ground. Not exactly COVID, but several of our players have caught cold or sit some days at home in a row. With African players away and some players injured, we had a fairly small squad available to play friendlies with.

We played two matches - the first one with Club Brugge (that we won 3:0) and the second one with Bayer 04 Leverkusen (that we lost 0:3). I tried some new things, tested some youngsters and generally took it easy. Some things worked out well, the others didn’t.


 

Staff

Over time I’ve added younger players to first team training, but at some point I noticed that coaches suffer from too heavy workload, so I asked the board to allow more coaching positions and the request was swiftly granted. That increased my coaching team to 11. 

I didn’t waste much time and signed two new coaches - Thomas Caers and Rene van Eck for - the first team and also added Jose Antonio Pozanco as the fitness coach for Jong Ajax.

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Players

We had two players returning from loan at the end of December - Alexis Mendez and Danilo Pereira - but several others moved on loan. Most notably Jurgen Ekkelenkamp joined Championship side Swansea until the end of the season. He didn’t get enough playing time in Ajax and I was encouraged by the progress of another youngster Brian Brobbey at QPR, so Championship looked like a solid option for our youngsters and most probably we’ll send some players there in the future, too.

 

There were some serious transfer talks, too. Borussia Dortmund made a bid for Noussair Mazraoui, but their £18,5m offer couldn’t match my expectation financially. A Chinese club made a ludicruous £61m offer for Donny van de Beek, but as the player had no intention to move to China, I turned that down, too. For any European giant (like ManU) it would have been accepted. Wolverhampton came sniffing around Quincy Promes and some football journalists were already talking about a £47m deal, but I warned them to back off and no official bid was made. I wasn’t willing to let him go.

But then came the blow. Atletico Madrid took a serious interest in Sergino Dest and after negotiations were willing to match his minimum release clause which was set to £56m. Honestly, I didn’t expect any club to make a bid that big for a while, but to be fair to Dest - he has improved a lot in the last 6 months and looks better right back than Mazraoui. There wasn’t much wrong with that transfer under normal conditions, but as Mazraoui was away at African Nations, I was seriously short in right-backs. We had 18 years old Steven van der Sloot willing to take his chance in the first team, or Joel Veltman and Perr Schuurs - the latter pair lacking any considerable quality that is required from attacking full-back. So I pressed ‘accept’ and just hoped, fingers crossed, that the Dest deal wouldn’t come back and hurt me later in January.


 

20.01.2020 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 3:1 (TOTO KNVB Beker 3rd round) - 12. and 68. Daley Blind, 75. Donny van de Beek - 60. Vangelis Pavlidis

Yes. Another game against Willem II - this time in the cup - and now I was more prepared and didn’t expect anything easy. But our team was in serious disarray. Kjell Scherpen took Onana’s place between sticks (at least he has recovered from his injury - he played against TEC in December and two good friendlies prior to this match), Steven van der Sloot was given a chance in the first team and Nicolas Kühn starts in attack with youngster Jaymillio Pinas was sitting on the bench, hoping to get at least some minutes in the game. Joel Veltman was also not fully fit.

Squad: Scherpen, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Antony (67. Promes), Gravenberch (67. van de Beek), Ünüvar, Kühn (76. Pinas)

We started well and took the lead in the first half. Our captain Daley Blind scored his first goal of the season with a good header from point blank range after Razvan Marin delivered a IFK. We played pretty good football and I was positive at half-time, but unfortunate events helped Willem II to equalize. Anass Salah-Eddine made a good tackle in our penalty area, but the ball was kicked right on to the path of Vangelis Pavlidis, who scored an easy finish. We responded well and substitutes also made an impact. In 68’ Blind doubled his tally with another header from IFK and then substitutes Quincy Promes and Donny van de Beek teamed up for our third goal. To that, Willem II had no answer, so we secured our win and moved to the next round. Young striker Jaymillio Pinas made his debut in the second half, but his game didn’t offer any noteworthy moments. I was satisfied with the result and pleased with how we responded to Willem II’s goal.

  • our shooting was 20/13 in this game
  • Jaymillio Pinas made his debut for Ajax
  • we will play FC Emmen in the next round
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind - outstanding game from the captain - 7 key headers and two goals

 

24.01.2020 - De Graafschap - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 48. Nicolas Kühn

That should have been an easy game - De Graafschap are in 18th place in the table and have suffered seven straight defeats in Eredivisie games. At the same time it’s curious that they have had the most possession in the league (57%), so it’s evident how they play - not a lot of goals and penetration in attack, but careful, possession-oriented game at the back.

We rotated the team to be more fresh for the upcoming Klassieker derby and decided to use a 4-2-3-1 attacking formation. Joel Veltman was fit again after a small injury, but the rest of the team remained the same.

Squad: Scherpen, van der Sloot (71. Veltman), Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (71. Marin), Promes, Gravenberch (65. Antony), Ünüvar, Kühn

The first half was… terrible. We couldn’t get a hold onto the game and in the first 23 minutes De Graafschap managed to create two clear cut chances. Their first attempt by Cas Peters was blocked by van der Sloot and the second went wide, fortunately for us. I then understood that this will go south quickly if we don’t react. We changed to a balanced 4-2-3-1 and that gave us more control in the midfield, but our attack was still fruitless and the first half finished with a disappointing 0:0.

I tried to motivate the team with my half-time talk and it seemed to work. Ryan Gravenberch had a good attempt on target in 46’ and then Nicolas Kühn stepped up. German winger again replaced Lassina Traore in our attack and in 48’ he just took the ball and fired it into the top corner from 20 meters. What a howitzer! Absolutely outstanding goal from Kühn. The rest of the game remained rather boring - I tried something different after 71’ and mirrored by tactics (Veltman in DR as IWBs and Kik Pierie as attacking full-back), but De Graafschap managed to weather our attacks and so we returned from away game with a narrow 1:0 win. The performance was disappointing, of course. We should have been much better against the bottom team, but the result was important - even more so, as PSV lost 0:1 to AZ Alkmaar at the same time.

  • we lost possession battle 48/52 - it was much worse (42/58) in the first half, but after the break we had more control over the game
  • Steven van der Sloot made his league debut for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - German was the man of the hour with his winning goal, although the rest of his game was quite unremarkable

 

27.01.2021 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 3:3 (ED) - 6. Lisandro Martinez (og), 43. Jens Toornstra, 45.+2 Marouan Azarkan - 19. pen. Quincy Promes, 83. Razvan Marin, 89. Donny van de Beek

The time for the first Klassieker derby of the season. This game was extremely tricky for us, because we played at home and we still missed Andre Onana. Lassina Traore and Noussair Mazraoui returned from the African Nations, but Mazraoui looked too tired to take part in this game, Traore was back, however, and looked to ease our attacking problems.

I had to use mirrored 4-2-3-1 with attacking left-back and IWBs on the right, because Kik Pierie looked more like an attacking player than Joel Veltman

Squad: Scherpen, Veltman, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie (70. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch (75. Taylor), Promes (83. Ünüvar), Traore

It was an unfortunate start of the game for us - Lisandro Martinez made an extremely poor touch in our six yard box to score an own goal and give Feyenoord the lead. Quincy Promes equalized from the spot after Antony was tripped in the box, but for the rest of the first half Feyenoord looked to get better chances in this game - their transition football and silky running was just too good for us. Marouan Azarkan wasted his clear cut chance in 29’ (although Kjell Scherpen deserves credit for his save), but in 43’ we conceded a goal from a corner and then allowed Mazarkan to add another injury time goal. I would have been OK with 1:1 at half-time, but 1:3 with two late goals conceded was clearly not good enough. We had given four clear cut chances to Feyenoord in the first half and our defense looked in disarray.

So, with an uphill task for the second half, we tried to make a come-back, but it got worse in 54’ when Ryan Gravenberch wasted his clear cut chance. Being down with two goals, you just can’t miss those opportunities. Feyenoord continued to play for counter-attacks and their best chance to bury this game came in 77’, but Naoufal Bannis was again denied by Kjell Scherpen. I sent Kenneth Taylor on and moved Donny van de Beek to AMC and that made all the difference. At first Razvan Marin scored a beautiful free kick from 30 meters that lifted our morale and then Donny van de Beek equalized from a counter, with an excellent strike to make it 3:3 late in the game.

What a game it turned out to be! Very similar to another derby with AZ (that ended 3:3, too), surely a classic remembered some years later. I was proud of the players, because we made such a great come-back in the second half and for a while I could even forgive our poor defense.

  • we allowed Feyenoord to create 5 clear cut chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - one of the best free kicks I’ve seen in this season inspired our come-back

 

31.01.2020 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 64. Nicolas Kühn

The last game of the month and it should be a lot easier. FC Twente are 15th in the table and just suffered a 0:2 defeat at the hands of PSV. PSV with two late goals in injury time and that must have hurt FC Twente. In addition their best goalkeeper Joel Drommel is out with an injury and we had Mazraoui back in the line-up again, so I was fairly optimistic. Lassina Traore looked tired and I chose to rest him, so with all injuries we had only seven substitute players for this game.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (49. Martinez), Taylor, van de Beek (74. Marin), Antony, Gravenberch, Promes (74. Ünüvar), Kühn

The game was a big disappointment for us. We struggled in attack and couldn’t create any good chances both in the first and in the second half. In 49’ Kik Pierie was forced off with a knock and that added to an already poor afternoon, until Nicolas Kühn stepped up and scored with a header in 64’. That was one of our rare half-chances in the game and it was enough to secure three points. Nicolas Kühn the man of the moment again, just as he was against De Graafschap.

  • we lost possession 48/52 - can’t really understand, how
  • our shooting was 27/8, bust most of the shots were not dangerous enough
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - quiet game for him, but scored the winner and that was enough


 

Summary

We had a really difficult January, with players missing and three away games, but we managed to get the results when we needed and did enough to secure enough points to get us through this 10 days’ period. Player of the month for me was clearly Nicolas Kühn - he scored two winners, showed that he can score in the league, too, not just in the cup against amateur teams, and replaced Traore well enough.

 

Transfer window

In addition to Sergino Dest moving to Atletico Madrid, we allowed few other players to go in the last days of the window. Danilo Pereira was sold to TOP Oss for a small fee of £325k. The transfer was obviously disappointing for our board, because in the past we’d paid around £1,8m for the Brazilian, but in my eyes he wasn’t good enough for the first team and better to get at least something back for him, financially. Kjell Scherpen agreed to go on loan to Millwall until the end of the season. First team football would be good for him and he’s shown himself to be a capable goalkeeper, so I’m sure he will excel in the Championship.

 

Transfers

  • Sergino Dest to Atletico Madrid for £56m
  • Danilo Pereira to TOP Oss for £325k
  • Quinten Timber to FC Utrecht for free

 

Loans

  • Kjell Scherpen to Millwall
  • Jurgen Ekkelenkamp to Swansea City
  • Devyne Rensch to Beerschot VA
  • Christian Rasmussen to FC Nordsjaelland

 

Eredivisie transfer window looked more quiet than usual. Most of the clubs didn’t spend a lot of money, but PSV Eindhoven was an exception. They made two big signings in January and brought in an ex-Ajax midfielder Riechedly Bazoer from Vitesse for £10,75m and Joey Veerman from sc Heerenveen for £8m. Both were decent signings, but overpriced in my opinion and PSV could have done better going for some younger talents. Joey Veerman has been a key player to sc Heerenveen in this season, so I believe that Heerenveen have lost more with this deal than PSV have gained. Feyenoord made one noteworthy transfer and sold Tyrell Malacia to KRC Genk for £5,75m. Decent fee for a squad player.

Because of Sergino Dest transfer and the fact that PSV deals were internal, Eredivisie net income from transfers in January exceeded £64m. That’s good enough for a Winter transfer window.


 

Contracts

After we agreed to an extended contract with Nicolas Kühn in December, we had sorted out almost everything that we needed to do in 2021, so I turned my attention to players whose current deals were about to end in 2022. Most notable talents in that list were Kenneth Taylor and Steven van der Sloot.

With van der Sloot it was easy. Breakthrough prospect enjoyed his brief time in the first team and was eager to sign a new deal of £6,500 p/w until 2024. I also renewed the contract of Perr Schuurs - the centre-back has proven to be a good choice and he’s carried more of the first team responsibilities while Joel Veltman was injured, so he too signed a new deal - £13,250 p/w until 2024. With Taylor, however, it was a different story. Our talks with his agent broke down and we had to put this matter aside for a while. Hopefully we’ll reach a new agreement in Spring or Summer.

More difficult matter was the question of Lassina Traore. He’s been developing well in training, but his match performances haven’t been so good this season, so his contract (£2,500 p/w) could be too low for his role, but his player value was decreasing. For us, however, he was invaluable because we lacked good strikers for the first team. So I declined the Schalke bid that came in (around £10m) and that upset him deeply. He wanted to move on, but I refused to back down, so he was disappointed in me and the club for declining his move. So far, it’s an internal matter, but I’m afraid that it affects his game and for the future of the club it would be good if we’d solve this matter well in the next six months. 


 

Eredivisie

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Not much has happened after three match days. There’s five points between us and PSV - that should be enough of a cushion for now. Four teams battle to avoid relegation, but it looks like De Graafschap will go down this season and in my view FC Twente look good enough to improve their form and retain their place in the league.

Edited by Draakon
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February 2021

 

Seven games in February - in a short month it means that we have three weeks that include two games. However, we should have plenty of rotation opportunities, because we’re clear favourites for the Europa League fixtures with Kayserispor and I can give younger players a chance in the cup game against FC Emmen, too.


 

05.02.2020 - AFC Ajax - ADO Den Haag 3:0 (ED) - 8. Perr Schuurs, 15. Antony, 76. Lisandro Martinez

The biggest problem going into this game was the goalkeeper issue. Kjell Scherpen moved to Millwall, but Cameroon made a great run in African Nation, reached the final and won the title in the end. Congratulations, Andre Onana!

However, we had without a decent goalkeeper, so I called up Dominik Kotarski from Jong Ajax and he took the place for this game.

Squad: Kotarski, Mazraoui (70. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Marin (77. Regeer), van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch, Promes, Traore (77. Kühn)

We had an early penalty in the game - Quincy Promes was tripped in the box and Promes himself went to take the spot kick, but his penalty was saved - it was our first missed one in the season and a wasted chance. However, Perr Schuurs headed it in from the following corner and so ADO’s delight was quickly vanished. In 15’ Antony fouled our lead with a fine header that went in off the post and we were in control of the game after 15 minutes. Both teams looked most dangerous from set pieces in the first half and although ADO didn’t get any good chances, Kotarski had plenty to do, coming out for high balls or punching them away. Antony had a great chance to double his tally from another IFK in 40’, but this time his attempt was met by a great save from ADO goalkeeper.

We had the second half better under our control. Lassina Traore had some good shots, but his header hit the post and his one-on-one opportunity was tipped wide by the goalkeeper. In the end it was Lisandro Martinez who secured us the result with a header - again from an IFK. It was his 10th goal of the season - a great achievement for a centre-back.

In conclusion it was a really good game and I was happy with the result. Dominik Kotarski did well enough in the goal and secured the clean sheet for us. Our finishing should improve, but overall it was a confident performance.

  • our shooting was 22/14 in this game
  • we didn’t allow ADO to create any chances
  • ADO Den Haag committed 30 fouls in this game - that’s partly the reason why we could get so many set pieces
  • Perr Schuurs scored his first career league goal
  • Lisandro Martinez scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Dominik Kotarski made his debut for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - 6 key passes from the playmaker and an assist to Martinez’s goal


 

09.02.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 3:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Quarter Final) - 19. Naci Ünüvar, 67. Antony, 70. Joel Veltman

Next the cup quarter final against FC Emmen. Compared to some other pairs, we were lucky and the draw has been easy enough for us. I expect our rotation players to be good enough against FC Emmen. Andre Onana came back from African Nations, but he instantly fell sick in the cold Netherlands, so we have to continue with Dominik Kotarski in our goal, but now I have enough confidence in him to get the job done.

Squad: Kotarski, Mazraoui (66. van der Sloot), Veltman, Blind, Salah-Eddine (70. Pierie), Regeer, Marin (70. Campagne), Antony, Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Kühn

It was a strange game. FC Emmen defended very deep and our players were reluctant to move into the box, so a lot of shots came from the distance, but from one of such attempts we took the lead - young Naci Ünüvar finished with a lovely strike from 21 meters. We didn’t create any real chances in the first half, but I was fairly satisfied with how things were going.

FC Emmen continued in the same fashion - they left some space in front of their box and in the second half Antony extended our lead with a brilliant shot from 21 meters and soon after Veltman made it 3:0 with a header from a corner. It was game over after that and we secured our place in the cup semi finals. I was pleased with the performance and our clean sheet. It’s always great to see two great goals in one game.

  • our shooting was 22/9 in this game, but we took 12 long shots and no real chances in this game
  • FC Emmen had no real chances in this game and no shots on target, so Dominik Kotarski had an easy game
  • we had to make only 4 tackles in the whole game
  • Jenno Campagne made his debut for Ajax - 18 years old midfielder another youngster with a chance in the first team in this season
  • we will play FC Utrecht in the semi final
  • Player of the game: Antony - outstanding goal and 14 dribbles from him


 

14.02.2021 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 82. Cyriel Dessers - 90.+2 Nicolas Kühn

Heracles doesn’t offer anything new for us - usual 4-4-1-1 cautious tactics with Cyriel Dessers up front in attack. We fielded our usual 4-2-3-1 formation, but mirrored tactics. Quincy Promes started in AMR and Naci Ünüvar on the left flank.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine (68. Pierie), Taylor, Marin, Promes (46. Antony), van de Beek, Ünüvar, Traore (73. Kühn)

It was a drab first half - we couldn’t create anything noteworthy and to be fair Heracles did well enough to keep it equal in the midfield. Quincy Promes suffered a knock in the end of the first half and I had to take him off at half time, but the second half wasn’t better at all from us.

Heracles found the first good chance of the game - it was a mistake from Perr Schuurs, who lost the challenge and allowed Cyriel Dessers to break. Heracles’ striker finished off with a lovely strike and we had only 10 minutes to rescue the game. We switched to attacking mentality and found an equalizer late in injury time. Perr Schuurs gave a clever free kick deep from our own half that found Nicolas Kühn on the run and the German executed a great finish. I was overjoyed with our late equalizer, so perhaps in my post-match team talk it was overlooked that 1:1 result from Almelo was not good enough to our standards.

  • our shooting was 21/10 in this game
  • our average rating was just 6.77 - everyone else was rather poor, except Kühn
  • we created only 6 key passes in this game
  • Quincy Promes will be out for a week with a twisted knee
  • Player of the game: Cyriel Dessers (Heracles Almelo)

 

18.02.2021 - Kayserispor - AFC Ajax 0:3 (Europa League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 26. Lassina Traore, 32. Naci Ünüvar, 73. pen. Antony

The first knockout round in Europa League takes us against Kayserispor and to be fair it looks easy enough - average-looking Turkish club shouldn’t be a match to us over two legs.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (59. van der Sloot), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (67. Marin), 67. Antony, Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore (67. Kühn)

As predicted the match was indeed very one-sided. Lassina Traore opened the scoring with a good header and Naci Ünüvar doubled our lead in 32’, so we were in control of the game at half time.

Antony was trying hard in the second half to get onto the score sheet and in the end he did - earning a penalty and converting it himself. The final score 3:0 meant that we’re in control of the tie and should progress from this pair easily.

  • we had 61% possession
  • our shooting was 25/14 in this game
  • we didn’t give Kayserispor any real chances
  • Player of the game: Ryan Gravenberch - he had a great game for us, gave six key passes and provided two assists

 

21.02.2021 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 29. pen. Adam Maher - 34. and 73. Quincy Promes, 77. Nicolas Kühn

I could relax about Kayserispor, but between two European games we travelled to Utrecht and that was a different kind of challenge. FC Utrecht look really good and in the away game they should be regarded as tough opponents. Good news was that Quincy Promes returned to the line-up after his injury.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (60. Salah-Eddine), Veltman, Martinez, Blind (78. Schuurs), Marin, van de Beek, Antony (70. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes, Traore

The first half was fairly even - we tried to attack, but our shots went mostly off target and while we couldn’t break through, FC Utrecht took the lead. It was a mistake by Lisandro Martinez who fouled Özcan Yasar in our box and Adam Maher converted the penalty. We reacted well and equalized five minutes later - Quincy Promes celebrated his return from injury with a great goal. I was happy with our determination, but the first half wasn’t good enough in attack - our shooting was just 11/2 and if we wanted to win, we needed to get more shots on target.

We did improve in the second half - Promes’ well-placed shot in 73’ gave us the lead and substitute Nicolas Kühn secured all three points with his header four minutes later. I was very happy with the final result and the second half looked much better and well controlled from us.

  • our shooting was just 15/5 - we didn’t have a lot of chances in this game, but our finishing was clinical
  • we allowed FC Utrecht to make 22 dribbles - small detail, but did draw my attention
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - left winger celebrated his return from injury with outstanding performance and a brace

 

25.02.2021 - AFC Ajax - Kayserispor 4:0 (Europa League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 45.+2, 71. pen. and 78. Antony, 87. Ryan Gravenberch

To be honest - after our 3:0 away win I took this game fairly easy and sent out younger players, expecting them to be good enough to secure the result for us.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (46. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Martinez (62. Salah-Eddine), Pierie, Taylor, Marin (62. Campagne), Antony, Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Kühn

It took some time for us to take the lead, but Antony headed in from IFK in injury time of the first half and we went to the break with a 1:0 lead. Antony doubled his tally from the spot in the second half and completed his hat-trick in 78’ - a header, left-footed and right-footed goal in the same game. Ryan Gravenberch completed the rout with a good shot in 87’ and that was it. We took it easy indeed and youngsters Steven van der Sloot and Jenno Campagne got some game time in the second half, but that didn’t change the outcome.

  • we had 68% possession
  • our shooting was 34/19 in this game
  • we didn’t give Kayserispor any real chances in this game
  • Antony scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Antony and Ryan Gravenberch gave outstanding performances
  • we will play FC Porto in the next round
  • Player of the game: Antony - fine goalscoring form and a brilliant hat-trick from the Brazilian

 

28.02.2021 - AFC Ajax - Almere City 2:0 (ED) - 14. Naci Ünüvar, 37. Nicolas Kühn

Our February ends with the home game with Almere City. That one, too, looks easy and I felt confident enough to rotate the line-up. The great news is that Dušan Tadic is back in light training following his rehabilitation after a broken foot, but he’s nowhere close to returning yet. Maybe in April.

Squad: Kotarski, Mazraoui (69. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (65. Regeer), Marin (69. Campagne), Kühn, van de Beek, Ünüvar, Traore

Young winger Naci Ünüvar gave us the lead in 14’ after an assist from Nicolas Kühn and in 37’ Kühn himself scored to give us a 2:0 lead at half-time. Almere City didn’t look up to the fight and I sent out the youngsters in the second half. We weren’t too sharp in attack, but held control of the midfield and saw this game out without much fuss. Daley Blind headed against the post from an IFK, but otherwise the second half was quiet and there isn’t much to report. It was a decent 2:0 win and I was satisfied. The performance wasn’t impressive, but it didn’t need to be - we saved our energy for more important fixtures and there are plenty of those coming in March.

  • we had 66% possession in this game
  • we didn’t give Almere City any chances in this game
  • Jenno Campagne made his league debut in the second half
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - a goal and assist for the German in this game


 

Summary

I was really happy with our February - we’ve looked strong in the games, came through the month undefeated and secured our lead in Eredivisie. Perhaps surprisingly, Heracles proved to be our biggest test, but we fought back in this game, too and got away with a point.

Confidence in the team is high, rotation keeps the players fit and I have had a chance to give youngsters plenty of game time, so everything looks to work out right for us.

Things are not so bright in other clubs - AZ Alkmaar sacked Ron Jans in the final days of February, after he apparently lost the confidence of his players. AZ were predicted to finish 2nd in this season, so the 5th place in the tabel surely is a disappointment for them, but worse than position is the fact that they’re not really challenging us and PSV to the title.


 

Eredivisie
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We’ve opened up the gap of six points over PSV Eindhoven and the wolf pack of other big clubs follows in tight competition. There are still four relegation candidates and FC Twente struggles to collect enough points to get away from that dogfight.

Edited by Draakon
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March 2021

 

Our fixture list in March looks much more difficult than in February. We have two difficult games against FC Porto in the Europa League and I’m aware that the board expects us to reach the Quarter Finals, so there’s some extra pressure in these games. We also have the cup semi final with FC Utrecht (who proved that they are a difficult team to beat in away games) and the title six-pointer with PSV Eindhoven just before the international break.

 

04.03.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Porto 0:0 (Europa League 2nd knockout round 1st game)

We had a small home advantage coming to this game, but at least on paper both teams looked fairly equal to me. We had two notable absentees - Dušan Tadic was still injured and Lisandro Martinez suspended - but otherwise I fielded our best possible eleven.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek (78. Taylor), Antony (64. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes (78. Ünüvar), Traore

We played very well for the first 22’ and in the end of this period Antony got our best chance of the game. His close range shot was saved with a foot by FC Porto goalkeeper, however, and after some time the game balanced out. Kik Pierie made a terrible mistake in 24’ and his poor pass was intercepted by Arkadiusz Milik. The ex-Ajax striker went one-on-one with Andre Onana, but our goalkeeper made a great save to deny him and the game remained goalless.

Chances dried up in the second half and while we had the most of the possession, we couldn’t find a way to break FC Porto defense. The final score 0:0 left me with mixed emotions - I was pleased with the clean sheet and the fact that we didn’t allow Porto to score an away goal, but at the same time I knew that we should have turned our midfield advantage to goals in the home game. It would be a much more difficult challenge in the second leg.

  • we had 61% possession
  • Player of the game: Kik Pierie - a bit puzzling, because he made 5 mistakes, including this potentially costly misplaced pass, but at the same time he probably was solid enough to deserve a slightly higher rating than others

 

07.03.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 3:0 (ED) - 28. pen., 51. and 71. Antony

Going to this game I was much more confident. FC Emmen were 11th in the table, but clearly overachieving and their squad report didn’t look threatening at all. Besides that, we did beat them easily in February, so there were no reasons why we couldn’t repeat it here in March, so my squad selection reflected all that.

Squad: Onana, Veltman (71. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin (62. Campagne), Antony, Gravenberch (62. van de Beek), Ünüvar, Kühn

FC Emmen did fairly well to limit our threat to set pieces in the first half. Antony converted a penalty after Gravenberch was pushed in the box, but in the second half FC Emmen fell apart. Antony added another goal from IFK and then completed his hat-trick in 71’. It was a one-man show and that was good enough to beat FC Emmen comfortably.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 24/9
  • we didn’t give FC Emmen any scoring opportunities
  • Player of the game: Antony - great game and a hat-trick from him

 

11.03.2021 - FC Porto - AFC Ajax 3:3 (Europa League 2nd knockout round 2nd leg) - 3. Moussa Marega, 5. Shoya Nakajima, 34. Arkadiusz Milik - 29. Ryan Gravenberch, 55. and 67. Lassina Traore

Going into this game I knew that draw would be good enough. Some away goals could make our position much stronger in this game and so we couldn’t be too defensive-minded. We had to get by without Lisandro Martinez, who was sidelined with a bruised thigh. Dušan Tadic was still injured, but the rest of the first team was available.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Taylor (75. Marin), van de Beek, Antony (86. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes (81. Ünüvar), Traore

The first minutes were good enough and Antony tested FC Porto goalkeeper with a decent shot in 3’, but then followed the nightmare. Our defense was all over the place and within two minutes FC Porto scored two goals and grabbed complete control over this game. I couldn’t get a grip on it, what exactly was wrong - was it individual class of FC Porto strikers, our poor marking or just our overly confident tactics, but things were not looking great. FC Porto dominated the next twenty minutes and scoring two goals against them seemed like an impossible task with every passing moment. Then, a glimmer of hope for us - Donny van de Beek found Ryan Gravenberch with an excellent through ball and, even though the angle was narrow, Gravenberch squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper. Game on! That lasted for only five minutes, though - Arkadiusz Milik found enough space between our centre-backs to score a good header and at half time it was 3:1 to FC Porto. I was really unhappy with our defensive performance and needed to find a way to stop those attacks. Based on intuition, more than knowledge, I lowered our line of engagement and tried to squeeze our lines more compact in midfield. That seemed to be working in the second half. Antony made a good attempt on target, but then the kid up front - Lassina Traore - stepped up and took over. His header in 55’ made it 2:3 and in 67’ his instinct to take an ambitious shot from 23 meters when on a counter attack was the right one and it surprised the goalkeeper. A brilliant strike and that really stunned FC Porto. We were level, but leading on away goals and suddenly our opponents looked nervous. They couldn’t mount another push in attack and we held onto that draw, so the final result saw us go through into the quarter finals. I was delighted with the come-back and obviously relieved, because I knew how important this result was to the board. Lassina Traore really proved himself and showed that he could be the man in the big games.

  • our shooting was 23/11 in this game - not bad for away fixture
  • Lassina Traore scored his 10th goal of the season
  • we will play Wolfsburg in the quarter final
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - his brace made the come-back in the second half possible

 

14.03.2021 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 2:4 (TOTO KNVB Beker Semi Final) - 47. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, 86. Bart Ramselaar - 52. Daniel Hoegh (og), 69. Antony, 74. Ryan Gravenberch, 82. Razvan Marin

We couldn’t really celebrate the FC Porto result, because in a few days we travelled to FC Utrecht for the cup semi final. Our players looked fairly tired from the previous game and all of the travelling, so I had a difficult choice to make while selecting our line-up. Lisandro Martinez was almost fit for the game, but I didn’t want to risk him and saved him for the PSV game instead.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine (61. van der Sloot), Taylor (74. Regeer), Marin, Antony, Gravenberch, Promes (73. Ünüver), Kühn

It was a quiet first half. We had one good moment in 18’ when Quincy Promes had a great goal scoring opportunity, but his weak shot was easily held by the FC Utrecht goalkeeper. I knew that we were able to play better football, but in the beginning of the second half it was FC Utrecht who took the lead. From all of the players it was Andre Onana’s mistake that led to the goal - his short kick to midfield was intercepted and following attack led to a clear cut chance for Jean-Christophe Bahebeck, that he easily turned into 1:0 lead. We were fortunate that only five minutes later we equalized through an own goal by FC Utrecht defender Daniel Hoegh. His poor touch surprised their goalkeeper and it was 1:1 even though we did little to deserve this goal. But our attacking moves were indeed better in the second half and soon this vision and skills started to turn into opportunities. Razvan Marin found Antony with an excellent through ball and Brazilian made it 2:1. Soon after Ryan Gravenberch won the ball back from FC Utrecht defenders (again Daniel Hoegh - he just had a miserable game) and finished his chance and when Razvan Marin added another goal with a fine strike from 18 meters it was game over for FC Utrecht. They had one more happy moment in this game, though - in 86’ their substitute Bart Ramselaar scored a consolation goal with a brilliant strike from 25 meters. A wonderful shot that landed in the top corner and could have been a winner on another day, but this time it made no difference. 4:2 was a good enough score line for me and I was pleased with our reaction to FC Utrecht’s goal.

  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - good assist and excellent goal for him

 

19.03.2021 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 28. Donyell Malen

So, there it was. The Topper derby, but more importantly - title six pointer against PSV Eindhoven. I knew that they were on a good run and incredibly difficult to beat, but we had the upper hand and could settle with a draw, whereas PSV needed to win at all cost to maintain a chance for the title. The biggest challenge for us was stopping Donyell Malen - PSV striker had scored 20 goals in Eredivisie before the game and his pace and skills on the ball made him a formidable threat in this 4-5-1 formation.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch (75. Marin), Promes (88. Ünüver), Traore (65. Kühn)

We knew the threat of Malen, but couldn’t stop him scoring even with all that pre-match work and tactical briefings. He took the ball within PSV half, brought it all the way into our box and was just too fast and skillful to be picked up or brought down by any of our defenders and his finish was superb. The first half finished with 0:1, but I was really frustrated - partly because of that goal we conceded and partly because we couldn’t create anything dangerous in attack ourselves.

The second half continued in similar fashion - PSV defended well and looked very organized, trying to break on counter-attacks and the runs by Malen were always dangerous (although we did a bit better marking him in the second half). Our own chances remained to be limited and substitute Nicolas Kühn got the first crack on goal, but it was late in the game (87’) and his shot was parried. Very frustrating and disappointing performance. PSV played it out by the book and did exactly what they needed. When the final whistle called, we had to accept our first defeat in 32 games in the league. Incredible run, while it lasted.

  • Player of the game: Wesley Hoedt (PSV Eindhoven) - centre-back did well to lead his defense against us



 

Summary

In the end of the March I felt upset, browsing through international results and brooding, but I then realized it’s all because of just this one defeat to PSV. It was a crucial game, but as a whole nothing’s wrong or broken just yet. We’re still leading the table, we survived the FC Porto battle and are still competing in the Europa League and reached the cup final, too. Everything is still possible and up for grabs, and it’s too soon to be disappointed.

It was a special month for Kik Pierie, though. The 20 years old defender made his debut for Holland in the international window and was clearly delighted with his first cap.


 

Eredivisie

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PSV have done really, really well to get that far, but we still have a game at hand and better goal difference, too. FC Groningen have established themselves in the third position - while AZ Alkmaar suffer from manager change, sc Heerenveen have dropped their form and Feyenoord are battling in both cup and the Europa League, too, Groningen have taken a chance and moved into top three.

At the bottom of the table FC Twente have dropped to relegation zone and De Graafschap escaped the bottom. Now it’s Almere City who are the main relegation candidates.

AZ Alkmaar was without a manager for the best part of two weeks and they finally hired Philip Cocu in the middle of March. Could have done better, but could have done a lot worse with that appointment.

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Youth Intake 2021

 

I hoped for better youth intake this season than we had a year ago. At least it couldn’t be worse. However, the preview in December wasn’t too promising.

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I let it go until March, when the youngsters finally arrived, and what I saw on the team sheet looked like this.

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As promised, one good centre-back and one decent goalkeeper and… that’s pretty much it. The positive side of things is that at least this time we have less unambitious players (what have they done playing football so far, anyway, if they don’t have any ambition?), but the overall level of talent is mediocre or low. Many of my current U-19 players have turned 18 in this season and I’m promoting them to Jong Ajax and/or am trying to loan them out, so I had to sign a number of youth candidates only to have enough bodies in my U-19 team, but I sincerely doubt that we could build a similar team that we had when I took charge of the club.

 

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Young centre-back from Cape Verde. Looks really good - great teamwork, brave, very good tackler and solid in the air. He could easily make it into the first team in the future. His footwork and technique could be better, but this is a small matter to take care of by our coaches.

 

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Decent goalkeeper. Somewhat talented, but his unambitious nature makes it difficult for him to reach higher levels of professional football. 

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April 2021

 

Six games in April, and really tough games. We begin with the game with Vitesse, continue with Europa League fixtures against Wolfsburg and then back to back Klassieker derbies against Feyenoord. The cup final is one of those games.


 

04.04.2021 - AFC Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 2:0 (ED) - 36. Daley Blind, 76. Lassina Traore

Good thing it’s a home game. Vitesse are a fairly strong team and they shouldn’t be underestimated, but playing at home should give us the advantage that we need. We need a win here, and not only because of three points, but we need to get some confidence and momentum back after the PSV defeat, so I fielded pretty much our best eleven.

Young players (Naci Ünüvar, Anass Salah-Eddine, Kik Pierie) are still injured (and perhaps ready to return for a week), but Dušan Tadic is back in the starting line-up. Antony is sidelined because of a small knock he suffered in training.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (80. Schuurs), Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Taylor (62. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (71. Tadic), Promes, Traore 

The first half drab from both teams. Vitesse sat so deep with their 4-1-2-2-1 formation and we controlled the midfield, but it was difficult to create chances. In moments like this the team needs a moment of brilliance from an individual and this time our captain Daley Blind was the one to offer it - his brilliant strike from 24 meters broke the deadlock and gave us the edge at half-time. Vitesse had one good scoring opportunity from an IFK, but Lisandro Martinez did well to block Tim Matavz’s shot and saved us from conceding, so we held the narrow lead at half time.

Lassina Traore found some great chances in the second half - at first he saw his shot from IFK to be blocked by arriving defender, then he wasted his one-on-one attack (Nicolas Kühn released him with a great forward pass), but in the end it was him who secured our win with a goal. Vitesse centre-backs messed it up royally in 76’ - one of them missed a header and the other failed to react quickly enough, so the ball fell to Traore who didn’t hesitate and finished from a good position. 2:0 was enough for us and Vitesse didn’t look to have enough creativity and attacking threat to come back from this.

I was happy with the result, because we got three points, kept our clean sheet and delivered a good confident performance in the second half. It was great to see Dušan Tadic back in the line-up again. Our table position was helped by the fact that PSV somehow lost against FC Twente, so we’re now three points ahead with a game in hand. 

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind - great goal from the captain to lead us through this game
  • it was my 100th game in football management


 

09.04.2021 - VfL Wolfsburg - AFC Ajax 3:0 (Europa League Quarter Final 1st leg) - 24. Yannick Gerhardt, 54. Josip Brekalo, 89. Felix Klaus

In the Europa League quarter finals we’re up against Wolfsburg, who look to be our equal in terms of size, squad and reputation, so this tie could be decided by the smallest of details, a set piece or a penalty, so I decided to use our most experienced and proven players in those games and rotate youngsters for Eredivisie fixtures in between.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (73. Taylor), Antony, Tadic (58. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore (70. Kühn)

There wasn’t too much difference between the two teams in the first half, but Wolfsburg took the lead after a corner in 24’. Razvan Marin lost his header and the ball fell to Yannick Gerhardt, who drilled it into the bottom corner from 15 meters. The second half, however, was much worse - we wanted to score, but couldn’t create anything dangerous in attack and Wolfsburg were clinical to use their chances. At first I watched Noussair Mazraoui just follow Josip Brekalo on the counter and look how the Wolfsburg’s winger finished his half-chance into the second goal. Late in the game it was Andre Onana who made an awkward save to deny Felix Klaus’ header and that gave Klaus the second opportunity to finish - that he took without a second thought. After the final whistle we were clearly beaten - Wolfsburg players had an excellent work rate and they covered the space on the pitch well. That didn’t allow us to play our usual football and in the defense we were too error-prone. 3:0 home win gives a huge advantage to Wolfsburg and I doubt that we could rescue anything in Amsterdam in the next week. What bothered me the most was lingering feeling that it was a manager’s defeat - I know that we should have approached the game differently or changed something at half time, but I couldn’t figure out where I went wrong and as a result, we stood no chance.

  • our shooting was just 7/2 in this game
  • we made just 5 key passes
  • our average rating was just 6.67
  • we couldn’t create a single goal scoring chance
  • Player of the game: Xavier Schlager (VfL Wolfsburg)

 

11.04.2021 - VVV Venlo - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 37. Nicolas Kühn, 46. Quincy Promes

We needed to get something positive out of this game before our next match against Wolfsburg. We were favourites without a doubt, but away games are always tricky and we had to play without Kenneth Taylor and Donny van de Beek in midfield - both were suspended because of collected yellow cards. That made my team selection easier - Daley Blind started as DLPd, Anass Salah-Eddine was attacking full-back on the left and Joel Veltman on the right. Naci Ünüvar was fit enough to start from the bench.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Blind (60. Regeer), Marin (71. Campagne), Kühn, Tadic, Promes (71. Ünüvar), Traore

It was a slow first half - we didn’t create too many dangerous moments, but were leading 1:0 at half time. Nicolas Kühn didn’t take the best shot in 37’, but somehow Venlo goalkeeper couldn’t get his hand behind it properly and it went in. Right after the second half kick-off Quincy Promes doubled our lead (good assist from Kühn) and that erased Venlo team talk and gave us full control of the game. I sent in youngsters in the second half, so Youri Regeer and Jenno Campagne got the necessary minutes. Some complacency creeped into our game in injury time Venlo got their best chance to get one goal back - Roy Beerens got the pass into our box, but Onana made a good save and so the massive chance for VVV was wasted. Lassina Traore returned the gift in the next attack - he found himself one-on-one after a counter, but couldn’t beat the goalkeeper. With that cracker in the end it was game over and we did exactly what I hoped - won the game, kept our goal intact and got some confidence back in the process.

  • we had 69% possession
  • our shooting was 17/10 in this game
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - a goal and assist again to the German


 

15.04.2021 - AFC Ajax - VfL Wolfsburg 1:0 (Europa League Quarter Final 2nd leg) - 74. Dušan Tadic

I didn’t think that overturning our 0:3 defeat is actually possible, so it was difficult to decide how much effort we should put into this game. We have the cup final against Feyenoord coming up in just three days, so I didn’t want to leave my key players exhausted. In the end I figured that we should put at least a decent performance in front of home fans and a win in this second leg game could be our realistic aim against Wolfsburg. The big change was in attack - Ryan Gravenberch started as AMCa and Dušan Tadic in front of him.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind (77. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek, Antony (70. Kühn), Gravenberch, Promes (65. Ünüvar), Tadic

Our best chance came in 6’ - Tadic delivered a free kick to the far post where Gravenberch was left unmarked, but the youngster sent his header over the crossbar. It’s the biggest flaw in his game - this constant inability to finish clear cut chances. To score in 6’ could have made a huge impact on the rest of the game, but we didn’t take the chance and so the rest of the first half Wolfsburg were able to limit our attacks better and we went to half-time with 0:0. It was a decent performance from us, but we should have been more clinical to take the lead.

Wolfsburg got their best chance in 56’, but this time Josip Brekalo couldn’t beat Andre Onana. Dušan Tadic turned out to be the man of the hour in 74’ - his attempt from 21 meters was driven low and landed right next to the post, so the goalkeeper couldn’t reach to save it. That strike was good enough to win the game, but not good enough to make any difference on aggregate. Wolfsburg went into the semi final and we concluded our European season. For a home game it was a good display from us - a win and a clean sheet. Too bad that we couldn’t play like that in Wolfsburg.

  • our shooting was 20/8
  • we made just 6 key passes - finding space and attacking moves was difficult in this game, too
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - brilliant strike from the Serbian


 

18.04.2021 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 4:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Final) - 45. and 65. Lassina Traore, 62. Quincy Promes, 90.+3 Naci Ünüvar

So, here we were. Back to back derby games against Feyenoord and the first one was the cup final that was held at De Kuip - hostile territory for us. We had a team meeting before the game and it went well, so morale was good and I expected us to give a good game. If it was to be anything like our last match against Feyenoord (that one finished 3:3 in January) the spectators were up for a treat.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (64. Taylor), Antony (65. Kühn), Tadic, Promes (73. Ünüvar), Traore

It was evenly contested first half - both teams had a set piece goal chalked off for offside and chances were difficult to find, but right before half times whistle Lassina Traore found a goal - his header beat Justin Bijlow in Feyenoord goal and that dressing room goal gave us the edge at half time. It looked like Traore’s goal shook Feyenoord players a little, because in the second half we took control of the game and goals started to follow. Quincy Promes doubled our lead with a good strike, Traore added another with a header from Mazraoui’s cross and that was game over for Feyenoord. Substitute Naci Ünüvar finished them off with a fine strike from 21 meters - a brilliant goal to wrap things up and the final score marked an emphatic win. Feyenoord players looked really disenchanted in the end and that must have been a terrible night for them.

  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - outstanding performance from a striker - he scored a brace and set up Ünüvar for a goal


 

21.04.2021 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 2:0 (ED) - 1. Lassina Traore, 21. Dušan Tadic

The same game, but this time we were in Amsterdam. We had some tired players in the squad after a number of games in a short time period, so I rotated boldly.

Squad: Onana, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie (46. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de beek (74. Campagne), Antony (74. Pynadath), Tadic, Ünüvar, Traore

It looked like the defeat in the cup final disheartened Feyenoord and they weren’t really up for this game. We scored a flyer in the first minute - Traore continued his good goalscoring form and finished after a cross from Antony. Robert Bozenik tested Andre Onana in the other end, but in 21’ Dušan Tadic extended our lead with a placed shot that followed our excellent counter attack and that was it - Feyenoord didn’t pose a real threat after that. We controlled midfield, built up some attacks and got shot on targets. Couldn’t score, though, but we didn’t need to. Perr Schuurs was very close to a goal in 63’ when his header touched the crossbar, but the second half was goalless and after 74’ I sent out the youngsters. Very confident win in the end and a big step towards the title.

  • we had 63% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 18/12
  • we didn’t allow Feyenoord to create any real chances
  • Dušan Tadic scored his 50th league goal for Ajax
  • Joshua Pynadath made his league debut in this game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - it looks like old Tadic was back after his injury - he passed the ball, led attacks, created chances and got himself to score sheet - good game

 

Those two defeats must have hurt Feyenoord badly. We were on fairly good terms with Feyenoord manager Gerardo Seoane before the cup final, but he found those defeats difficult to accept, so war of words emerged and the media took advantage of this eagerly-anticipated rivalry between two managers. I felt that I had the upper hand so far, because ultimately results don’t lie, but I should be ready for more remarks from Seoane in the future.



 

25.04.2021 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 3:1 (ED) - 26. Lassina Traore, 66. Razvan Marin, 83. Nicolas Kühn - 59. Zian Flemming

That should be a really easy game. Zwolle had the perfect December when they won all of their five games, shocking PSV in a 1:0 victory in the process, but they haven’t won a single game after Christmas and are in a really poor form in the second half of the season. They should be able to keep their 14-15th position and avoid relegation, but their performances have been abysmal and recent 1:6 beating by Heracles must have hurt a lot. So, we face a fragile team that is in poor form and I’m confident that we’ll do well in Amsterdam Arena.

We have another incentive in this game - PSV once again dropped points (this time against De Graafschap) and it means that beating Zwolle would secure our league title with two games to go.

We missed Kenneth Taylor in this game - he suffered food poisoning earlier this week and wasn’t fully fit for the game. Dušan Tadic got a day off after his excellent performances in the past three games.

Squad: Kotarski, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Salah-Eddine, Marin, van de Beek (73. Campagne), Antony (63. Kühn), Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore (73. Enem)

The first half was fairly good. Lassina Traore got his first clear cut chance of the game in 10’ when Donny van de Beek delivered a great looking pass 45 meters forward right onto the run for him. Zwolle goalkeeper came out of his line at the right time and managed to make a good save to parry the attempt, though. Traore finally scored in 26’ and this time it was just inadequate defense from Zwolle players. They allowed him to receive the ball, look around, put the ball calmly past the goalkeeper and to do all that just 6 meters away from their goal. Criminal defending. Traore almost doubled his tally in the end of the first half, but his header smashed against the crossbar. We went to the half time with a narrow 1:0 lead, but had full control of the game and felt confident.

Things changed in the second half. In 59’ Zian Flemming was left alone with a ball for a second too long and his attempt from 25 meters caught Dominik Kotarski off guard. Questions about his positioning, but to be fair - you shouldn’t give the player so much space and time with the ball in this area. With that strike Zwolle were level and it was game on. Not for long, though - in 66’ Razvan Marin restored our lead with a header from a corner and Nicolas Kühn finished things off with a well-placed finish. The final result was good enough for him and I was happy with our reaction to Flemming’s goal. With that win we secured the Eredivisie title with two games to go.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 21/12
  • we made 20 key passes
  • we didn’t give PEC Zwolle any goal scoring chances
  • young striker Jay Enem made his senior debut in the second half
  • Antony was forced off with a sprained ankle in the second half and he needs 2-4 weeks to recover, I believe that he won’t return to action in this season
  • Player of the game: Zian Flemming (PEC Zwolle) - his outstanding strike was the highlight of the match


 

Summary

We fell short to VfL Wolfsburg, but had a great month in all domestic competitions. Two wins over Feyenoord were really impressive and we delighted both fans and the board with the league title and cup win. Our defense was in order and we scored good goals.

The player of the month for me was Dušan Tadic - he returned from injury and showed what we were missing without him. Smooth playmaking in midfield, dangerous set piece deliveries and overall leadership on the pitch - can’t overestimate his value for us.


 

Eredivisie

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FC Groningen are looking to secure 3rd place. Feyenoord have dropped to mediocrity following the beatings from us and they’re likely to finish in the middle of the table. FC Twente are still battling against relegation and it looks like Almere City can’t get their way out of the last place.

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May 2021


 

02.05.2021 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 15. Ramon-Pascal Lundqvist

I knew it’s going to be a tough game - away against FC Groningen. Our opponents have been real overachievers in the second half of the season, holding 3rd place at the moment and they’re unbeaten in their last 12 games! Yes, FC Groningen really are the team to beat at the end of the season, especially in their home.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs (60. Veltman), Martinez, Pierie (76. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic, Promes, Traore (60. Gravenberch)

We were close to scoring in 11’ when Lisandro Martinez saw his header from a corner clip the crossbar on its way over, but FC Groningen took the lead in 15’ - probably against the run of the game. Ramon-Pascal Lundqvist was the man of the hour when he sent his free kick into the top corner from 30 meters - ambitious strike and fabulous goal from a player with mediocre free kick and long shots attribute, but there it was and we could not do anything about it. At the end of the first half I felt that we’ve had a fairly good control of the game, overall, but that one strike gave FC Groningen the edge.

Our opponents managed to limit our chances well in the second half - I tried to change things by sending Gravenberch on and pushing Tadic to ST, but it made no difference. We put them under some pressure in the last 20 minutes and their goalkeeper Sergio Padt looked in difficulties when saving some of our shots, but we couldn’t break through and FC Groningen had another impressive win in this season. To me they played like Leicester City - very organized at the back, playing for counters and using those limited number of chances they had. Fair win to them, but obviously not good enough from our point of view.

  • our shooting was 16/11 in this game
  • our average rating 6.74 was a crappy one
  • Player of the game: Ramon-Pascal Lundqvist (FC Groningen) - obviously


 

09.05.2021 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 2:4 (ED) - 4. Kenneth Taylor, 34. Naci Ünüvar - 19., 33. and 71. Teun Wilke Braams, 27. Moreno Rutten

The last game of the season and, following the FC Groningen defeat I wanted to finish our season with the better feeling. At the same time I rotated boldly and tried to avoid suspensions in the beginning of the next season, so that affected my squad selection. Lisandro Martinez was suspended anyway, so he got a day off.

Squad: Kotarski, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (81. Regeer), Marin, Kühn (71. Promes), Gravenberch (71. van de Beek), Ünüvar, Tadic

We started really well, got a counter-attack in 4’ and Taylor finished that move with a great strike from the edge of the area - his first senior goal and what a goal that was. We took control of the game, but it didn’t last long - Kik Pierie’s mistake gave Teun Wilke Braams a great chance and young sc Heerenveen striker calmly rounded Kotarski  to send the ball into our goal. Momentum swung to sc Heerenveen and Moreno Rutten scored with an excellent strike from 14 meters and in 33’ Teun Wilke Braams doubled his tally with a good header from IFK. We were in serious trouble then, but Naci Ünüvar reacted well and a minute later his incredible shot landed into the goal. Incredible shot from the youngster that went in off the post and after the half time whistle called it was 2:3 - incredibly poor defending from us in this first half, but at least we responded well in attack and we had a feeling that it is possible to overturn this deficit.

That hope was extinguished in 54’ when Razvan Marin was sent off for a frustrated two-footed tackle and that effectively sealed the result. Teun Wilke Braams completed his hat-trick in 71’ to pile up to our misery and that was it.

The game didn’t decide anything, but the final score started to upset me with each minute that brought us closer to the final whistle. Our defensive line really was a mess in this game and Kotarski didn’t impress either. We couldn’t handle Teun Wilke Braams and the young 19 years old striker had a game of his life against us.

  • our shooting was 22/11 - unfortunately our chances were not good enough
  • Player of the game: Teun Wilke Braams (sc Heerenveen)


 

Summary

Nothing good to report from those two games - poor results and this season deserved a better finish. 

 

Eredivisie

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FC Groningen couldn’t hold onto their 3rd place. In the final matchday AZ Alkmaar stole it and I was curious if it would have been a different final position for AZ without their manager change in this season.

Perhaps surprisingly, all bottom three teams were relegated, as De Graafschap failed in the relegation play-offs.

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Season Summary

 

Summed up shortly - excellent season in all domestic competitions, but we could (and should) have done better in Europe. We continue to give away cheap points in the Champions League group and put ourselves into difficult positions, so it’s always a struggle to qualify to the knockout stages. Need to do better in that regard in the future. PSV looked like a formidable foe in this season, but their success was mainly based on Donyell Malen who is in my opinion the best footballer in the Eredivisie at the moment. Let’s see if they can keep him or what sort of team they’re able to build for the next season. AZ Alkmaar climbed themselves up to 3rd place, but they’re always prone to sell their biggest talents. Feyenoord could be dangerous, but they made a mistake with their choice of manager and try to make things up in this Summer.

Three teams were relegated to Eerste divisie, so we have three new teams in the higher division in the next season and it’ll be interesting how this plays out. Almere City and De Graafschap probably deserved relegation, but Fortuna Sittard was, perhaps, good enough to be in the top flight, so for them to finish 17th is a tough to swallow.

In European competition it was a season for English clubs. Liverpool walked through the Champions League and dismantled PSG in the final - 4:0 looks like a beating. Manchester United won the Europa League. We did well enough to collect 18.00 ranking points and that raised us 12th in the European club rankings - pretty good and another sign why we’re expected to finish in the top 16 in every season.


 

AFC Ajax Season Awards

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Ajax goals: Nicolas Kühn 18, Lassina Traore 15, Antony 15, Dušan Tadic 14, Lisandro Martinez 10

Ajax assists: Quincy Promes 15, Ryan Gravenberch 12, Antony 10



 

Eredivisie Awards

 

Golden Boot

  1. Donyell Malen - PSV Eindhoven
  2. Mohamed Taabouin - AZ Alkmaar
  3. Roman-Pascal Lundqvist


 

Top Goalscorer

  1. Donyell Malen - PSV Eindhoven - 23
  2. Tomas Necid - ADO Den Haag - 17
  3. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck - FC Utrecht - 16

 

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Peter Leeuwenburgh - sc Heerenveen
  2. Andre Onana - AFC Ajax
  3. Marco Bizot - AZ Alkmaar

 

Young Player of the Season

  1. Mohamed Taabouni - AZ Alkmaar
  2. Kenneth Taylor - AFC Ajax
  3. Nicolas Kühn - AFC Ajax

 

Manager’s Manager of the Year

  1. Fred Rutten - Vitesse Arnhem
  2. Ernest Faber - PSV Eindhoven
  3. Adrie Koster - Willem II Tilburg
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June 2021

 

Celebrations are reached to an end, the awards have been given out and it’s time to get to work and prepare for the next season. In June, before the transfer window, it should be the time where most of the work gets done - decisions made about transfers, players’ contracts renewed and other players released. So that the transfer window finally kicks off in July, you are well prepared and one step ahead of everybody else. One personal decision - I turned down FC Bayern’s invitation to job interview - the first sign that my job here in Ajax is being noticed in Europe.

 

Staff

Staff decisions were the key in this Summer. Some of them forced and some of them voluntary. We had a lot of departures in the backroom staff list - scout Tonny Bruins Slot and physio Pim van Dord retired. Assistant manager Michael Reiziger’s contract was about to end and I made a key decision not to offer him a new one. His attributes are just not good enough for an assistant that I need (and this club deserves, in my opinion). Coach Christian Poulsen also moved on after his contract finished. Some of my staff were lured away, too. U-19 assistant manager Dennis van den Ijssel was appointed as De Graafschap manager.

I needed to fill those blanks and the first key decision was appointing U-19 manager John Heitinga as my new assistant. I signed Italian Bruno Sciuto as scout and Jasper Steen as physio to fill two vacant positions. Next I signed Nathan Rutjes as the new assistant manager for the U-19 team and appointed Jordi Melero as data analyst to the first team. I feel that all those appointments were well selected and increased the quality and competence in the backroom staff.

 

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Contracts

Tieing down key players for the future was my next task. We had no problems with this Summer - all the players who had their contracts running out were set to release and wouldn’t be missed by the club. But my eyes were already on 2022 and there were two deals I needed to make. The first one was Kenneth Taylor. Honestly, the lad probably has the worst agent ever - the guy just walked off because of the slightest alteration I made to his terms during negotiations, so we came together and walked away at least 6 times during this season, but in June we finally agreed with a new deal until 2024. Taylor will earn £16,750 p/w and it’s a fair price for his ability and talent. The second one was Lassina Traore - Burkinabe striker wanted to move on to Schalke in January and was unhappy because I blocked his transfer, but he got over it in May and agreed to extend his deal until 2024 - £21,500 p/w means a hefty raise for him, but he’s played over 40 games in this season, scored 15 goals and we need him for the next few years.

I also extended the contract of Jay Enem.

 

Eredivisie

The Eredivisie transfer window started slowly, but there were signs that PSV Eindhoven is looking to strengthen their squad (again) and some new players were added to push for the title. The key question for PSV would be if they could keep Donyell Malen around - superstar striker

is hunted by Tottenham, PSG and other big clubs so I doubt he’ll continue in Eredivisie after this Summer. More important decisions were made by the board and managers. Feyenoord sacked Gerardo Seoane after this season - their final league position was clearly not good enough and they felt that they needed a change. Willem II Tilburg will need to find a new manager, too, after their boss Adrie Koster announced his retirement from football.

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July 2021

 

July began with heavy training camp and friendlies, but also international competitions for different youth levels. The Holland U-20 team finished third in European U-20 Championships and no less than 9 of my players were part of this team. At the end of June 16 loan players returned to the club and I had to start making decisions about their future, too. On a personal note, another European giant asked me to a job interview, which I declined. This time it was FC Barcelona.

 

The Club

Before the new season kicked off, I got news from the board that our links with Sparta Rotterdam, Sydney FC and Sagan Tosu have been terminated. I anticipated the announcement about Sparta, because they were promoted back to Eredivisie and the deal between clubs stated that this would be a cause of termination, but I’m still not sure why our affiliates in Japan and Australia had to be cut off.


 

Staff

Two new additions in July. We had a coach position to fill after Christian Poulsen left and I signed Italian Emilio De Leo to fill that place. I also brought in Martijn van Ingen as our U-19 sports scientist.

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Contracts

Two more major decisions this Summer. First, I triggered Daley Blind’s contract extension. He had one year extension clause in his contract and I needed him for longer, so now he’ll stay at least until 2023. Secondly, Andre Onana asked for a new contract and I reluctantly agreed, knowing that those are going to be tough negotiations. So they were, and in the end we agreed to a £49,000 p/w deal until 2025, making Onana the highest paid player in the squad.


 

Transfers

  • Dennis Johnsen to Brescia for free
  • Noa Lang to Go Ahead Eagles for free
  • Eric Llansana to Vitesse Arnhem for free
  • Dick Abbring released
  • Jasper ter Heide released
  • Victor Jensen to Cardiff for £3,4m (£4m)
  • Dominik Kotarski to SC Cambuur for £400k (£500k)
  • Sven Botman to SC Cambuur for £675k (£825k)


 

Loans

  • Julius Dirksen to Charlton Athletics
  • Neraysho Kasanwirjo to Charlton Athletics
  • Jay Enem to Royal Excel Mouscron
  • Youri Baas to SV Zulte Waregem
  • Rio Hillen to Charleroi SC
  • Christian Rasmussen to De Graafschap
  • Kjell Scherpen to KVC Westerlo
  • Hassane Bande to FC Emmen
  • Joshua Pynadath to De Graafschap
  • Jurgen Ekkelenkamp to Real Zaragoza


 

24.07.2021 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 3:0 (Johan Cruijff Schaal) - 28. Antony, 37. Perr Schuurs, 77. Lisandro Martinez

Yes, the Johan Cruijff Schaal - the first test to see where we are in comparison to PSV. Just a week before the game came the news that PSV had accepted bids for Donyell Malen and allowed their star striker to join Chelsea for a hefty £66m fee. That’s a huge deal and good amount of money, but they haven’t signed any replacements yet and against us their squad looked much weaker without Malen. We, on the other hand, looked fairly well prepared and our first team remained the same compared to the last season.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor (65. Regeer), van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch (69. Tadic), Ünüvar (69. Promes), Traore

We controlled possession in the first half, but had to wait until the first great goal scoring chance happened. It was PSV goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall who gifted it to us - he dallied on the ball and Antony snatched it away. The Brazilian hit the post with his first attempt, but made amends from rebound into the empty net. Perr Schuurs doubled our lead with a header from IFK and at half time we looked well in control.

PSV didn’t offer anything different in the second half - to make up their two goal deficit, they should have been much more attacking. Instead, we remained in control of the midfield and Lisandro Martinez added another goal from a corner in 77’ to make it 3:0. In the end it was an emphatic win for us and honestly, it looked like the real PSV never really showed up - their attacks weren’t dangerous and their usual 4-5-1 counter-attacking formation was easy to control. Sam Lammers in the position of lone striker looked out of his depth and it’s obvious that they were still coping with the loss of Malen. However, we took a good amount of confidence from this win and were ready to begin our new season.

  • our shooting was 20/12 in this game
  • PSV couldn’t create any chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Antony - he had an outstanding game, scoring a goal and adding an assist
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Squad Update 2021-2022

 

The first good thing about our squad - no big departures in this Summer. I’m always willing to accept good transfer bids to my star players if it gives them a step forward in their career, but we didn’t accept any bids that were good enough this Summer. At least not in June and July. PSG was close to triggering Lisandro Martinez’s minimum release fee clause, but only close.

The second thing is - our squad looks strong. Really strong compared to any other team in Eredivisie. We won the title in the last season, but we have a full year of training under our belt and much more experience. And even though my coaching staff keeps complaining that we don’t have enough depth - this time I believe that we have.

The third note - our squad is young. We have more than half of the players still under 21 years of age. That’s just incredible how young this team really is, but the talent is evident and we have leaders in every area of the pitch, so that’s the recipe of our success.


 

Goalkeepers

 

Andre Onana is still our number one. Kjell Scherpen is away on loan and youngster Calvin Raatsie will be a back-up in this season. He’s likely to get a few cup games, though.

 

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Defenders

 

Lisandro Martinez is our best centre-back and there’s fierce competition for the second place between Veltman and Schuurs. Devyne Rensch came up from U-19 in this season, although we had a bit of a let-off with him after I refused to accept PSG’s £4m bid and decided to keep him in the team.

 

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Midfielders

Kenny Taylor has developed well in recent months and I think I prefer him to Razvan Marin as DLPd. Youri Regeer looks really talented, too, and Jenno Campagne might get his minutes. New addition to the team is Kian Fitz-Jim, who will look for his minutes in AMC.

 

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Strikers

Attacking department looks much the same, but Naci Ünüvar has really impressed with his training and development. He looks better than Quincy Promes already. Antony is clearly our star player in attack and Brian Brobbey is back from QPR to give some rest to Lassina Traore. We didn’t have a proper replacement to Traore in the last season and hopefully Brobbey will be that cover in this year.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

August 2021

 

I love August - the excitement of the new season is something different and I enjoy the fact that we have five games in the month, but no international break or European games, so we have full week to prepare for each game, which is a luxury.

The new Eredivisie season began exactly on the 1st of August, so I start with Eredivisie news. As you might remember, Feyenoord sacked their manager Gerardo Seoane after the last season and they appointed Vitesse manager Fred Rutten in this Summer. Vitesse, in turn, signed Vladimir Ivic as their new manager.

The problem with Eredivisie was that the league looked weaker to my opinion. We had three new teams (and that’s always a problem, because promoted teams are usually not at the same level with the rest of the pack), but top teams were weakened, too. PSV lost Donyell Malen and was yet to spend that huge transfer fee. Feyenoord had experienced leaders in Steven Berghuis and Jens Toornstra leaving this Summer and they relied on younger players who looked like they’re not quite ready yet. AZ and sc Heerenveen struggled to keep their most talented youngsters, who were always eager to move on to bigger clubs. I would have liked to see that more Eredivisie clubs play in European cups, but their journey often stopped in the play-offs, so we were all alone in the Champions League. Too bad. We were expected to retain our title, but looking at our team I’d say it should be easier than in the last season. Donyell Malen scored 23 goals in the last year and he brought PSV so close to the title, but without him? Not so much.


 

01.08.2021 - NEC Nijmegen - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 5. Antony, 13. Perr Schuurs

The first game in the league and the trip to de Goffert - NEC home stadium was sold out for their return to the top division, but we were clear favourites. All of our players were fit for the game, but we had several suspensions - Razvan Marin, Noussair Mazraoui and Anass Salah-Eddine had to sit out this game because of their bookings in Spring. That made some alterations in our starting line-up and tactics.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Schuurs (60. Rensch), Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (60. Campagne), Antony (60. Kühn), Tadic, Promes, Traore

We had a good start and we scored two goals in the first fifteen minutes. Donny van de Beek found Antony with a nice through ball and the winger made it 1:0 when less than five minutes were played. Perr Schuurs added his second goal of the season from a corner and so we were in full control after the first half. We didn’t put NEC under too much of a pressure in the second half and were just happy to control things in midfield. I sent out youngsters in 60’ and that also gave NEC some breathing room. We could have scored more, but Lassina Traore was just unlucky - he first missed his clear cut chance in 61’ and then saw his good volley hit the crossbar in 83’. It could have been 3:0 or 4:0, but honestly - I didn’t really mind. I was more concerned with our overall game and I was fairly pleased with what I saw on the pitch - we controlled midfield, we passed the ball and didn’t give NEC any chances in attack. Good solid start to the season.

  • we had 67% possession
  • NEC didn’t get any goal scoring opportunities
  • our shooting was 26/11 in this game
  • young centre-back Devyne Rensch made his debut for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - good passes and chances created

 

08.08.2021 - AFC Ajax - Heracles Almelo 3:0 (ED) - 3. Lassina Traore, 67. Naci Ünüvar, 82. Lisandro Martinez

Our first home game was against Heracles - a bottom half team and at home it was a must win game for them. However, what puzzled me was the fact that our scouting team couldn’t produce a team report about our opponents and I was furious that I needed to do Henk Veldmate’s job and assign scouts to take a look on our next opponents. Because of this we had only vague understanding about Heracles tactics before this game.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (70. Salah-Eddine), Taylor (68. Marin), van de Beek, Antony, Gravenberch (79. Hansen), Ünüvar, Traore

We started really well and Traore’s header in 3’ made it 1:0, so for the rest of the first half we controlled the proceedings and had a couple of half-chances in the process. There weren’t too many goal scoring opportunities, but at the same time Heracles didn’t take a single shot in the first half, so I was pleased with our performance at half time.

Heracles needed to improve their game and I knew that they would get at least 1-2 good shots, and one of those opportunities came in 66’ - their counter led to an attempt and Yorbe Vertessen saw his shot hit the post. That was a close call, but we reacted well - Naci Ünüvar scored our second goal from the very next attack and that was a beautiful strike, driven low from 19 meters. Lisandro Martinez added another goal from a corner and Antony hit the frameworks in 84’, so in the end we took a comfortable 3:0 win.

  • our shooting was 27/16 in this game
  • we didn’t allow Heracles to create any real chances
  • Player of the game: Lisandro Martinez - solid defensive performance and a goal in the other end

 

15.08.2021 - Go Ahead Eagles - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 23. Antony

That one should be easy. Newly-promoted Eagles are destined to struggle in Eredivisie. Good news is that all of our players are fit and ready for this game, so it’s our best line-up against a small team.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Salah-Eddine Marin, van de Beek, Antony (70. Kühn), Gravenberch (62. Tadic), Ünüvar (70. Promes), Traore

Much to my surprise, the Eagles got the first chance in the game. Long ball found a way behind our defense and Mohamed Hamdaoui had a great opportunity to take the lead in front of home fans, but his shot was well saved by Andre Onana. Antony showcased his skills on our right wing and his dribbling and technique were just too good for the Eagles defense. His solo run in 23’ led to our goal and we took the lead. Two minutes later Naci Ünüvar missed a clear cut chance and throughout the first half, Antony continued to cause all sorts of problems to our opponents, making a number of runs and shots on target. We really dominated that period between 20’-30’ and even though our lead was just 1:0 at half time, I was fairly pleased with our performance in the first half.

The second half was more quiet, but we didn’t need to attack too hard. Lassina Traore was the most motivated player on the pitch, but he didn’t have enough luck to get to the score sheet. His attempt from distance hit the post in 67’ and he blew his clear cut chance in 85’. That didn’t change the outcome of the game - 1:0 was enough to get all three points and our third win in a row. I feel that we could have been more clinical in front of goal, but otherwise it was good enough.

  • we had 63% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 33/14
  • Player of the game: Antony

 

20.08.2021 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 3:4 (ED) - 8. Marcos Senesi, 18. Marouan Azarkan, 43. Orkun Kökcü - 4. Kik Pierie, 41. Quincy Promes, 48. Lassina Traore, 90.+4 Ryan Gravenberch

Here it is, the first Klassieker derby of the season and we travel to play at De Kuip. To be fair, we were pretty confident before the game, because we beat PSV 3:0 just a month ago and this Feyenoord team looks much weaker without Steven Berghuis and Jens Toornstra who left this Summer. I have a fully fit squad at my disposal, so that also plays to our favour.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (81. Marin), Antony (74. Ünüvar), Tadic (81. Gravenberch), Promes, Traore

Things started well for us. In 4’ Kik Pierie stunned all of the Feyenoord fans, the players and myself with a wonderful shot from 25 meters that whistled into the net and we took the lead. That was a real blow to Feyenoord and I’m not sure that anyone in this stadium expected that from a defender. To Feyenoord credit, they composed themselves well and in 8’ Marcos Senesi equalized with a header from IFK and ten minutes later it was already 1:2 - we allowed Marouan Azarkan to run into the counter-attack and didn’t challenge him properly before he finished with a well struck effort. The pressure was now on us and it took us all the way into the end of the first half to find something - finally it was Quincy Promes who headed in from a corner to equalize, only to see Feyenoord’s Orkun Kökcü score another goal right before the half time - a brilliant strike from 22 meters that went past Andre Onana and sent the teams to half time with 2:3 score line. It had been a tough first half - we didn’t do too many things wrong, but everything seemed to work out for Feyenoord in this game and two of their three goals were really good shots, so I can’t blame Onana either. I rallied the troops in the dressing room and hoped we could get at least a draw in the second half. 

The team reacted well and offered an answer right after the second half kick-off. Lassina Traore equalized with a header. It was an end to end game until the end - Feyenoord were searching for the winner and I was contemplating whether we should be happy with a point from away game. Lassina Traore had a great chance to score the winner for us in 86’, but his shot was too soft and comfortably held by Justin Bijlow. However, in the end it was substitute Ryan Gravenberch who made the difference - in the very last attack he got the ball and put it past Bijlow to score an injury time winner and snatch victory from the derby game. 

That was a brilliant game, absolute classic and joy to watch for the fans. I don’t know why, but our derbies with Feyenoord have lately turned out like that more than once (remember 3:3 draw in January last season), so it looks like those games are worth waiting for and both teams are willing to fight until the end. That’s obviously what derby means by definition.

  • we had 67% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 23/13
  • we made 20 key passes - good stats
  • Player of the game: Orkun Kökcü (Feyenoord Rotterdam) - in a game of several outstanding attacking performances, his strike was the most memorable one


 

29.08.2021 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 3:0 (ED) - 55. Quincy Promes, 72. Perr Schuurs, 84. Brain Brobbey

After such an emotional rollercoaster that we had at De Kuip, I was worried that our concentration might drop in our next game against sc Heerenveen, but it was important to remain focused, because a win here would mean that we start with a perfect five-out-of-five record. Heerenveen had a good start to their season as well - 10 points out of 4 games mean they’re not an easy team to beat, so we had to be ready and try to stop their danger man Chidera Ejuke in attack. What could help us a little was the fact that Heerenveen players looked a little tired - they played a continental game in midweek and they aren’t used to such a tight calendar. We had all players fit, but one important part of our team was still missing because prior to this game I made a big decision and allowed Antony to move on and join Manchester City. We received a good transfer fee for him, but he is difficult to replace in attack. I put Quincy Promes to our right wing in this game and started with Naci Ünüvar on the left flank.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind (60. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Promes (72. Kühn), Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore (67. Brobbey)

Both teams had a few half-chances in the first half, but our best opportunity came in 33’ - Quincy Promes was fouled in the box and with the help of VAR, a penalty was awarded. Promes himself stepped up to take it, but his spot kick was saved and so the opportunity was lost. The first half finished 0:0 and I was a little upset in the dressing room. Our attack wasn’t as good as I’ve used to - we clearly missed Antony, but I know that we should have scored the penalty, too.

The second half was much better. Promes opened scoring after a good run into the box and his placed shot was finally good enough to beat Heerenveen goalkeeper. Perr Schuurs added another goal from a corner and substitute Brian Brobbey completed the rout with a shot that went in off the post. The final score was a good 3:0 win and it looked like we broke sc Heerenveen’s resistance in the second half - whether it was their fatigue or our determination that made the difference.

  • our shooting was 20/10 in this game
  • Brian Brobbey scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - a good game both defensively and in attack



 

Summary

I have to be pleased with the results - five straight wins to start our Eredivisie campaign and derby win in the last minute was obviously the cracker this month. We’ve looked good on the pitch, have been solid defensively (except against Feyenoord) and scored some goals. One more important thing - all the players have been fit and healthy and look in good shape - that could be crucial in the long term.

Player of the month: Antony - he made a difference more than once and sparked our attacks.

 

Champions League groups were drawn and after quite a difficult draw in the last season, this year’s group stage looks much more promising. We were seeded into the second group and were drawn into Group A with SL Benfica, Celtic Glasgow and Galatasaray. Benfica looks our equal on paper and we should be able to beat Celtic and Galatasaray, so if we won’t make it into the knockout stages, we have only ourselves (or, more precisely, me) to blame.

The rest of the Dutch clubs did not do especially well in the continental competitions. PSV Eindhoven fell in the Champions League play-offs (they lost to Sporting after a penalty shoot-out) and they joined AZ Alkmaar in the Europa League group stage. My hope that clubs like Heerenveen and Groningen could reach to group stages were not fulfilled and it looks like we’re again alone to collect coefficient points for the whole league.


 

Staff

One addition to our backroom staff in August - we appointed Rudy Heylen as our new U-19 manager.

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Transfers and contracts

Transfer window was busy until the final day. You know about the Antony transfer, we also sent out a lot of players on loan and tried to get rid of some deadwood - players who have reached  20-22 years and do not look good enough to make it into the first team, so it’s better to sell them while we can. I didn’t have enough time to deal with contracts, but we triggered one year extension of Daley Blind’s contract - to keep his leadership around is extremely important to our young team.

 

AFC Ajax transfers

  • Antony to Manchester City for £58m
  • Victor Jensen to Cardiff City for £3,4m (up to £4m)
  • Dominik Kotarski to SC Cambuur for £400k (£500k)
  • Sven Botman to SC Cambuur for £675k (£825k)
  • Eric Llansana to Vitesse Arnhem for free
  • Dennis Johnsen to Brescia for free
  • Noa Lang to Go Ahead Eagles for free
  • Dick Abbring for free
  • Jasper ter Heide for free


 

AFC Ajax loans

A lot of our loan deals were agreed to in the last few days of the transfer window. Belgium teams were especially active when making offers and Jupiler Pro League actually looks like a good destination to our youngsters. As a result our Jong Ajax squad looked rather thin and I became even worried about our games in the lower division.

  • Nordin Musampa to Beerschot VA
  • Sontje Hansen to Waasland-Beveren
  • Alexis Mendez to TOP Oss
  • Devyne Rensch to Royal Excel Mouscron
  • Kian Fitz-Jim to KAA Gent
  • Donny Warmerdam to Monza (Serie A)
  • Terrance Douglas to Waasland-Beveren


 

Eredivisie transfer window update

As I’ve already said, it was very active last week in August and a lot of moves were made between teams. PSV Eindhoven added some good players to their squad (and offered big contracts to them, £40,000-£50,000 p/w salaries are getting regular in their squad), but to my eye they haven’t really replaced Donyell Malen in their attack.

  • Donyell Malen from PSV Eindhoven to Chelsea for £76m
  • Antony from AFC Ajax to Manchester City for £58m
  • Calvin Stengs from AZ Alkmaar to Atletico Madrid for £30,5m
  • Renato Tapia from Feyenoord Rotterdam to PSV Eindhoven for £11,5m
  • Jonas Svensson from AZ Alkmaar to PSV Eindhoven for £8,75m
  • Chidera Ejuke from sc Heerenveen to AZ Alkmaar for £8,25m (£10m)



 

Eredivisie

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We’ve looked good, but everybody else dropped points here and there, so in the end of August we have a four point gap in the table and everything looks good. Newly-promoted teams have struggled to get points (as expected), but perhaps surprisingly ADO Den Haag have lost several games in a row and find themselves close to the relegation zone.

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September 2021

 

September began with the international window and that went well, mostly. We had several players in the Holland national team (van de Beek, Pierie, Blind) and younger players turned up for U-21 and U-19 teams. Only unfortunate news was that our young left-back Anass Salah-Eddine was in the wrong end of the poor tackle and returned with a broken leg. That is indeed much worse injury than it sounds and my medical team announced that the 20 years old will be out for at least 6-8 months. That’s pretty much the better part of this season, so there’s not much else to do than feel sorry for the lad.


 

11.09.2021 - AFC Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 1:2 (ED) - 45. and 47. Thomas Buitink, 69. Quincy Promes

sc Heerenveen were 2nd in the table before we defeated them two weeks ago, now Vitesse took the second position and it was their turn to travel to Johan Cruijff Arena. Vitesse look fairly good according to our scout report, but we were expected to win at home. Nice and comfortable August is now over and we’re in September, with two games in a week, so we had to keep in mind that the first Champions League game is just three days away.

Anass Salah-Eddine is obviously out because of his injury, but Noussair Mazraoui looked a bit tired after international games and I fought it better to give him a rest for this game.

Squad: Onana, Veltman (46. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch (62. Tadic), Ünüvar, Traore (75. Brobbey)

Vitesse surprised us with unfamiliar formation. 5-1-2-2 WB means that they parked the bus and they did that fairly successfully in the first half. It was a drab football and we couldn’t find a way through. Instead, it was Vitesse who scored a goal pretty much from their first attack right before the half-time whistle. Good cross from our right found Thomas Buitink, who sent a fine header past Andre Onana. I was upset with the team, but my harsh team talk at half-time was rendered useless quickly after the second half kick-off. Vitesse found Buitink on the run with a long forward ball - a defense-splitting pass right between our two centre-backs and Buitink finished his chance with a good shot. 0:2 and we had no clue how to turn things around. I asked the team to play wider and we started to get some more opportunities and in 69’ we scored a goal of our own. Quincy Promes finished with a nice shot into the far post after Kik Pierie found him with a diagonal ball. Naci Ünüvar’s attempt from distance clipped the crossbar in 75’ and in injury time Tadic had a good opportunity to equalize, but his attempt was held by the goalkeeper and we had to accept our first defeat of the season.

I was very upset with the team and the result. It has to be said that Vitesse are a fairly good team in Eredivisie terms, but we should have done better. It looks like we’re not coping well with the departure of Antony players are not taking initiative in attack, but just look around instead. And, on top of it, I feel that perhaps I was overplayed tactically as well - we couldn’t react properly until we were 0:2 behind and it was too late then to save the game.

  • we had 61% possession
  • our shooting was just 14/5 in this game
  • Player of the game: Thomas Buitink (Vitesse Arnhem) - used his chances well and his brace secured Vitesse the win



 

15.09.2021 - AFC Ajax - Celtic Glasgow 1:1 (Champions League Group A) - 68. Donny van de Beek - 19. Leigh Griffiths

Celtic looks to be the weakest team in our group, so it looks especially important to start with a win against them in the home game, but we received some bad news from physios prior to this game. Apparently Quincy Promes suffered a damaged foot in the Vitesse game (never saw it happen during the match!) and he’ll be out for a couple of weeks. That limited my options in attack and Nicolas Kühn had to start on our right wing.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind, Taylor (71. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic, Ünüvar (58. Gravenberch), Traore (82. Brobbey)

We had possession in the first half, but our attacking threat was easily limited by Celtic defenders. They looked tall and powerful in the air, so our crossing didn’t work and Kühn couldn’t offer the kind of dribbling and individual skill set that we’ve used to get from Antony or Promes. Naci Ünüvar saw his header scrape the bar in 12’, but that was the closest to the goal that we got in the first half. Instead Celtic took the lead in 19’ - long ball forward caught our defense off guard, Perr Schuurs was on his heels and couldn’t catch Leigh Griffiths, who finished his one-on-one opportunity well enough.

The second half was a little bit better. Naci Ünüvar had a quiet game and I took him off. Substitutions didn’t change the game too much, but in the end we were rescued by Donny van de Beek’s brilliant low drive from 21 meters. That’s the kind of goal that sometimes happens, but underlines the fact that we couldn’t create anything in terms of good chances. In the end we rescued a draw, but I wasn’t happy with our attack and overall performance. Naci Ünüvar and Lassina Traore were invisible on the pitch, Nicolas Kühn looks like he needs more games to contribute more and our set piece deliveries were cleared easily by tall Celtic defenders.

  • we had 60% possession in this game, but couldn’t convert it to chances
  • we made only 8 key passes in this game
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - mostly because of his brilliant strike


 

19.09.2021 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 50. Joel Veltman

After two disappointments, we need a win and to get that we need to improve our attacking game. However, our options are limited, as Quincy Promes is still injured, so the best I can do is to tweak roles and personal instructions.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor (65. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (76. Tadic), Ünüvar, Traore (65. Brobbey)

Unfortunately, I’ve got nothing to report from the first half. We had possession, but our attacking game lacked (again) sharpness and too many of our shots were blocked or went wide. FC Utrecht could be pleased with the goalless first half, but I knew that we had to improve. Midfield and attacking players took my criticism the right way and I saw more motivated body language after the second half kick-off. I asked Naci Ünüver to get more attacking (IWa) and asked Kühn to move more inwards (IFa). I brought dividends in 50’, but via set piece goal - Ryan Gravenberch delivered a corner to near post, it deflected from Utrecht defender and fell to Joel Veltman who had the easiest finish. In 58’ Gravenberch found Kühn on the run, but the shot was blocked by the arriving defender. That was an easier chance than it looked. We started to look in control of the game and had the lead, but almost gave it away in 74’ - goalscorer Veltman was the one who dallied on the ball for too long and Özcan Yasar took it away to go for one-on-one against Andre Onana. It should have been 1:1, but our goalkeeper made a great save and kept us in the game. The final score remained 1:0 and we had the valuable win in the end. I have to admit it was a struggle and we weren’t nearly as good as I expect us to be, but sometimes those narrow wins can give you momentum, and getting points on the board was important for us. 

  • we made only 5 key passes in this game and that’s not good enough, even though we managed to create two clear cut chances
  • Player of the game: Joel Veltman - he scored a winner and FM chose him as the player of the game, but in my eyes Ryan Gravenberch played the most important part. He was the only player creating anything in our attack and deserves praise for that


 

25.09.2021 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 1:0 (ED) - 40. pen. Razvan Marin

Almost full week to prepare for that game, but it doesn’t make that easier. AZ Alkmaar are an exciting young team and even though they sold (again) a good number of players (transfer fees exceeded £50m this Summer), they also added quality players (most notably Chidera Ejuke from sc Heerenveen), so their pace and technical ability is something to be wary about. What played for our advantage was Johan Cruijff Arena and the return of Quincy Promes - the winger was back from injury, although he didn’t train properly and started on the bench, it was still at least an option for the second half. At the same time we lost Kik Pierie to injury - sprained ankle in training leaves him out for a couple of weeks, so Daley Blind begins in left defense.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind, Marin, van de Beek, Kühn (87. Promes), Gravenberch, Ünüvar (74. Tadic), Traore (66. Brobbey)

AZ surprised us with an unorthodox 4-2-1-2-1 formation, with two defensive midfielders and one MC (BWM) in front of them. So, they sat deep and expected us to pile up pressure. That gave us full control in midfield, but the difficult task to break through their lines. Positive side of things was that AZ didn’t get too close to our goal, but the challenge was that we needed individual brilliance or a set piece goal to break through. Lassina Traore wasted one half-chance in the first half, but our attacking game lacked creativity and penetrating moves, so in the end of the first half we needed help from VAR to get a penalty and Razvan Marin converted it to 1:0 lead.

I expected AZ to change something in the second half, but they didn’t. Their best midfielder Mohamed Taabouni possesses good technical skills with the ball, but he was too often isolated up on the pitch and usually one or two defenders were back on time. However, AZ got some good counters in the beginning of the first half and it looked like they surprised us in transition, but Chidera Ejuke fired wide. In the second half our creativity was a little bit better, but our finishing wasn’t. Ryan Gravenberch hit the post in 61’ and substitute Dušan Tadic wasted his clear cut chance in 80’, so in the end it remained 1:0 and we grabbed another narrow win. 

As a whole our performance was a little bit better than against FC Utrecht, because we controlled the game better and didn’t make foolish mistakes in defense, but our attack still needs some work.

  • our shooting was 25/11 in this game
  • AZ didn’t get any real chances and in fact all their 7 attempts were off target
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - solid game and calm finish from the spot

 

29.09.2021 - Galatasaray SK - AFC Ajax 0:2 (Champions League Group A) - 53. Lassina Traore, 68. Nicolas Kühn

Trip to Istanbul was important. I knew that we needed to get a good result here, to gain confidence and, of course, points. Otherwise we’d be under pressure before our third game (away at Lisbon) and things could be sour after just three games. Good news is that Quincy Promes is back from injury and match fit, too, so he’ll start on the right wing.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez, Blind, Taylor (66. Marin), van de Beek, Promes (66. Kühn), Gravenberch (77. Tadic), Ünüvar, Traore

The first half was fairly even and a little bit boring. Both teams were careful and although there were shots on target, there weren’t any real chances until Lassina Traore got a crack in 43’ and saw his shot being comfortably held by Galatasaray goalkeeper Fernando Muslera.

I encouraged the players at half time and things improved a little. Traore has not been scoring too many goals lately, but his attempt in 53’ found its way past Muslera and landed in the goal. Substitute Nicolas Kühn started his game well - he cut in nicely from the right and finished into the near post to make it 2:0. When the game was so tight as it was, 2:0 looked like a comfortable lead and it was - Galatasaray looked nervous and didn’t react well to mount a serious come-back, so we secured our result and returned from Turkey with a good win and three points in the table.

  • our shooting was 13/10 in this game - we didn’t have too many attacks, but our accuracy was really good
  • we didn’t allow Galatasaray to have any real chances in this game
  • Noussair Mazraoui suffered pulled groin in this game and he’ll be out for a week
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - a goal and assist to him



 

Summary

It has been a struggle, but at least we’ve won two difficult games after Vitesse defeat. We haven’t got our attack in order and injuries haven’t helped, too. It’s good to have Quincy Promes back, but our lack of good wingers could become a serious problem. Naci Ünüvar and Lassina Traore have been really below par in this month and I’m looking to make some changes to their instructions to make it work for us in attack. The goals have come from set pieces and long shots, not so much from open play, after a good pass or cross.

What I am fairly satisfied with is our start in the Champions League. Four points from two games is much better than in the previous seasons and a good start could give us the platform we need to progress from this group.


 

Eredivisie

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We dropped points against Vitesse and now both Vitas and PSV are right behind us in the table. Feyenoord are still in the middle of the pack. VVV Venlo has been the most overachieving team so far and they find themselves in the top half.

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October 2021

 

03.10.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 4:0 (ED) - 13. Quincy Promes, 15. Dušan Tadic, 53. Naci Ünüvar, 70. Brian Brobbey

To be fair, FC Twente don’t look like a strong team, but we need to be wary of their strikers who are tall and powerful target man type of forwards. We hardly have a centre-back to match them in the air, but I hope that we can limit their crosses in our side of the pitch.

We have to get through without Noussair Mazraoui and Kik Pierie - both are back in light training, but it’s better to give them more time. Anass Salah-Eddine still has a long way before he could return to action.  Youngster Steven van der Sloot will get his chance in the right defense.

Squad: Onana, van der Sloot, Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Marin (61. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes, Tadic (69. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore (65. Brobbey)

We had a good first half - controlled the midfield and limited chances to FC Twente. We weren’t too good in attack, though. However, we found a lot of space right in front of FC Twente box and our long shots were lethal. We scored two fabulous goals inside the first 15 minutes as a result - both Quincy Promes and Dušan Tadic took a shot from 24 meters and scored with outstanding strikes and FC Twente defensive plan was undone fairly quickly.

The second half was much more comfortable. We still found space around 20m from their goal and in 48’ Donny van de Beek saw his attempt rattle the crossbar. Naci Ünüvar had a good game (finally!). I used him as IFa in the second half and he looked much more comfortable with the ball and cut in from our left flank with better results. His attempt in 53’ hit the post, but Ünüvar was first to react and finished it from point blank range with the second attempt. Young midfielder Marco Ferreira made his debut in the second half and his assist set up another substitute Brian Brobbey for the fourth goal and that was it - excellent win to begin our month with and a really good performance from the whole team. I was very happy with what I saw and improvements of individual players (Ünüvar, Promes, Brobbey).

  • somehow we lost possession 47/53, but it didn’t show on the pitch
  • our shooting was in this game was 22//8
  • we didn’t allow FC Twente to get any real goal scoring chances
  • 17 years old Marco Ferreira made his debut for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - magnificent individual goal in the first half and overall a great performance from our right winger


 

19.10.2021 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 86. Hilary Gong - 28. Quincy Promes, 31. Lassina Traore, 90. Lisandro Martinez

The international break went by and was fairly uneventful this time. Some news about smaller injuries to our players who stepped up for their international teams, but when they all returned, we had Perr Schuurs missing with a sports hernia (he’ll be out for around 3-4 weeks) and some players looked really tired after a streak of tough games. I reckoned it’s better to give Noussair Mazraoui a day off in the game against FC Emmen to keep him fit against the upcoming trip to Lisbon and there were few others I needed to follow closely to avoid tired legs in midweek. There was good news, too. Kik Pierie was fit again and he’ll start in the left defense. The game itself looked fairly tricky, but I expected us to be good enough to beat FC Emmen. Our youngster Hassana Bande has played fairly well for them so far and it’s good to see him in the action as well.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Blind, Martinez, Pierie (46. van der Sloot), Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic (72. Ferreira), Promes, Traore (72. Brobbey)

The game started slowly, but we took control when around half hour was played - a good combination between Quincy Promes and Lassina Traore led to a half-chance, Traore found Promes with a good pass and the left winger scored his 5th goal of the season to make it 1:0. Three minutes later Traore doubled our lead with an outstanding long shot from 23 meters. It was an ambitious attempt, but it was right on target and FC Emmen goalkeeper Indy Groothuizen couldn’t reach to save it. It was a beautiful goal and with that, we went to half time with a solid 2:0 lead. I had to make a change at half-time - Kik Pierie came off with a tight calf and Steven van der Sloot went on to take his place in the right defense, while Daley Blind moved to DL.

The second half offered less good scoring moments - we didn’t have to push too hard and FC Emmen couldn’t create chances from open play. However, their set pieces were dangerous enough and we weren’t convincing in defending their free kicks. My assistant John Heitinga reminded me continuously that we need to take notice and practice defending against set pieces in the future, but it didn’t help us in this game. All the action in the second half was packed into the final ten minutes. Youngster Marco Ferreira got a good header on target from IFK in 82’, but Groothuizen made a great save to tip it over the crossbar. FC Emmen got a number of good opportunities from set pieces. Lisandro Martinez lost the aerial duel in 84’ and that led to a great chance to Hilary Gong, but Andre Onana made an outstanding save to parry his close range shot. In 86’ FC Emmen finally found a goal - another free kick and Tom Boere headed it against the crossbar, the ball bounced back and Hilary Gong tackled it into the net before Onana could react. So it was 1:2 with four minutes to go and FC Emmen was back into the game - they started to take more risks and space opened up for us to counter-attack. Those risks didn’t pay off - instead, we had a corner and Lisandro Martinez headed it in to wrap things up and secure us all three points from the away game.

In the end I felt it was a good win for us - it wasn’t our best eleven on the pitch and we did fairly well to score goals and defend in the game. Our set piece defending clearly needs attention and I made quick alterations to our training schedule in the next couple of weeks. Our loanee Hassana Bande failed to impress for FC Emmen - he had a couple of nice touches on the ball, but generally it was a quiet game for him and he failed to make a clear impression on the pitch.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 20/10 - that’s good
  • Quincy Promes made his 100th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Joel Veltman made his 200th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - an outstanding goal and assist to him. It’s great to see him finally in good form.

 

20.10.2021 - SL Benfica - AFC Ajax 0:0 (Champions League Group A)

That’s probably the toughest game in our group, because Benfica is the strongest team and away games in Europe are never easy. Most of our players had recovered physically - Noussair Mazraoui and Naci Ünüvar were fit to start. Kik Pierie’s calf strain wasn’t too serious, but it looked better to start him on the bench for this game. Perr Schuurs and Anass Salah-Eddine were still out with injuries.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (63. Pierie), Veltman, Martinez, Blind, Taylor, van de Beek, Promes, Tadic (60. Gravenberch), Ünüvar, Traore (79. Brobbey)

We had two close moments inside the first five minutes. Lassina Traore headed against the crossbar and then Dušan Tadic hit the post with his attempt from 15 meters - incredibly unlucky and I held my head between my hands at the sidelines. After the first 15 minutes Benfica got their defense in order and chances dried up, but I was happy with our first half performance - we controlled most of the possession and looked good on the pitch.

In the second half Benfica took initiative and their attacking moves were more dangerous. We couldn’t get shots on target, but they were more accurate and Andre Onana had to make a couple of really good saves to maintain our clean sheet. But their chances never got too good and in the end we held onto that goalless draw. 0:0 from away game is actually a good result and I was fairly satisfied with how the game turned out.

  • our shooting was just 11/2 in this game and 7 of our shots came from distance, so chances were rare in the second half
  • we gave only 8 key passes in this game
  • we made 25 individual mistakes - a little bit too much
  • Player of the game: Tiago Djalo - Benfica centre-back had a solid game and he looked good in defense

 

26.10.2021 - HHC Hardenberg - AFC Ajax 1:3 (TOTO KNVB Beker 1st round) - 50. Rutger Etten - 11. Joel Veltman, 20. Naci Ünüvar, 77. pen. Dušan Tadic

The easiest game for us - an amataur team HHC is our first cup opponent. It’s obviously a big moment for them - to host the Champions and gain a lot of match day income from it, but for us it was a good moment to give our first team players a day off and use youngsters for this game. Bad news is that Nicolas Kühn picked up an injury before the game and he’ll be sidelined for a while. I didn’t want to play Quincy Promes, so I invited young attacking midfielder Alen Karahasanovic into the first team for this game.

Squad: Raatsie, van der Sloot, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (71. Blind), Regeer, Campagne (71. Marin), Karahasanovic, Ferreira, Ünüvar (71. Tadic), Brobbey

I knew we were going to win this one, but the question was - by how many goals? We started well and soon shots started to get on target. Joel Veltman tested HHC goalkeeper from IFK and Kik Pierie saw his attempt from 30 meters hit the post, before Veltman opened scoring from a corner. Alen Karahasanovic did well to create an opportunity for Naci Ünüvar in 20’ and Ünüvar scored into the empty net with an easy finish. The first half was wrapped up with a 2:0 scoreline - not too impressive, but calm and controlled from our part.

HHC stunned us in the second half - Rutgen Etten curled his free kick over the wall and it landed in our goal. It was a wonderful strike from 30 meters and the HHC player could be really proud of this strike, but the game remained in our hands. Substitute Dušan Tadic wasted a clear cut chance in 74’ before earning us a penalty and converting it himself. The final score was 3:1 and it was good enough, although not impressive. I had a chance to see the youngsters in action and we generally did what was necessary, but I expected more goals.

  • we had 75% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 34/11 - not enough shots on target
  • we didn’t give HHC any real chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Alen Karahasanovic - well, look at that - the youngster made an impression by creating two clear cut chances and offering good opportunities from our right wing

 

30.10.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Groningen 4:0 (ED) - 12. Quincy Promes, 19. Naci Ünüvar, 63. Lassina Traore, 78. Brian Brobbey

So, our last game in October and we host FC Groningen - the team that is currently in 5th position. When taking a look at the scouting report, they looked like a fairly young and talented team with some interesting hot prospects and it started to show in their results, too, so we had to be ready for a tough game.

We still had three players injured - Anass Salah-Eddine, Nicolas Kühn and Perr Schuurs - so that affected my squad selection.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Martinez (63. Blind), Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch, Ünüvar (63. Tadic), Traore (72. Brobbey)

We didn’t start this game well and in the first ten minutes FC Groningen had all the initiative. We specifically struggled to win headers in our box and that led to a chance for Remco Balk - the winger got his shot on target and Andre Onana did well to tip it over the bar. Several headers went on target and we had to work hard to get into the game at all, but in 12’ we scored our first goal and it came against the run of game - Quincy Promes made a good run and sent his shot from 19 meters into the goal - a fabulous strike and great individual goal. That settled things for us and instilled some nervousness to Groningen players. Naci Ünüvar doubled our lead after a counter in 19’ and with that we gained control of the game. Quincy Promes’ skills on the ball were too much to handle for most of Groningen defenders - his runs and dribbles caused them all sorts of problems and often finished with a shot, but teams went to half time with a 2:0 score line - despite our numerous shots on target, we didn’t actually had a single goal scoring chance in the first half, so 2:0 was a really good score for us.

FC Groningen tried to change things in the second half and in 53’ they got the best chance of the game - Romano Postema found space between our two centre-backs and went for a goal, but Onana came out well and made his angles smaller, so the shot was turned away by the goalkeeper and the chance was wasted. Lassina Traore has scored some great goals in recent weeks and he added another one in 63’ - his run after a counter took him into the box and his attempt from 15 meters landed right next to the far post - a magnificent goal and real strikers’ finish. That secured the result for us and I could give rest to some of the players. Substitute Brian Brobbey header in 78’ completed the rout (actually it was our first half-chance of the game) and the final whistle marked our 4:0 win. Looks really convincing, but in fact the difference was our clinical finishing.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 28/17 - only one half-chance, but plenty of shots on target and otherwise good attacks
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - an outstanding performance with a great goal, assist and 18 dribbles


 

Summary

October has been a really good month for us. I’m satisfied with our draw against Benfica and in Eredivisie we’ve gone undefeated. The opponents were not too strong in the past weeks, but we’ve found our goal scoring form and we’ve finally seen games with 3 or 4 goals, so I’m happy with that streak. The goals have been well distributed within the team, too - Quincy Promes is our leading goalscorer with 6 goals, but many players have scored at least once and we haven’t relied heavily on one or two strikers. One statistic that stands up in the league is our 6 goals scored from corners - we’ve used our set pieces well and made them work for us.

Our injury list is not too long and I have rotated the team well - youngsters like Marco Ferreira (our first regen in this save) and Alen Karahasanovic have had their chances, Calvin Raatsie stood in the goal for the cup game and Brian Brobbey has had good minutes from the bench.

Player of the month for me is Quincy Promes - really good performances from him. Three goals (two of them from long shots) and two outstanding games (9.0+ rating). We really missed him in September and he showed what a difference he could make in attack.


 

Eredivisie

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The top three are still the same. PSV made a 2:2 draw against PEC Zwolle and they dropped two points there, so the gap is now a bit bigger, but it’s still just one game. There are several surprise packages in this table - newly promoted Sparta Rotterdam find themselves in 4th place (they have really done incredibly well) and VVV Venlo have played some attractive football to get into the mid-table position. At the same time, some big teams like AZ Alkmaar and FC Utrecht are rather mediocre and I’m wondering how long does it take before any of the boards lose their patience with the manager. The bottom of the table is still close and all of the teams have their chance to climb higher. Some of the games between those teams have a real relegation six-pointer aura already in October.

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  • 2 weeks later...

November 2021

 

Five games in November - the schedule isn’t too tight - and we start with a really important game against SL Benfica. The Eredivisie fixture list is not too difficult - we should be comfortable favourites against smaller teams, so our focus is on the Champions League this month.

 

02.11.2021 - AFC Ajax - SL Benfica 2:2 (Champions League Group A) - 21. Lassina Traore, 57. pen. Quincy Promes - 78. Rafa, 84. Chiquinho

Tough 0:0 draw in the away game and I hope that Johan Cruijff Arena will give us the necessary advantage to scrape a win in this one. Benfica lost to Celtic in their previous game, so it looks like Celtic Glasgow is the team to beat in this group and our games with Benfica could be crucial to determine who’s second and who’s third in the end. Noussair Mazraoui will be sidelined for this game because of yellow cards and we have to make changes to our defensive line because of that, but otherwise it’s our regular eleven.

Squad: Onana, Veltman, Blind, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor (73. Marin), van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch (73. Tadic), Ünüvar, Traore (85. Brobbey)

We took charge of the first half after our first goal in 21’. Naci Ünüvar found Lassina Traore with a nice through ball and the Burkinabe striker fired it in with a fierce shot. The goalkeeper had no chance to save it. Benfica started the game slowly, but after our goal they stepped it up and actually had initiative in the rest of the first half - Rafa had a great chance to equalize in 27’, but he fired it wide and Carlos Vinicius’ shot in 43’ was parried well by Onana. We went to half time with a 1:0 lead and that was a good sign, even though nothing was granted.

Benfica continued to press in the second half - Vinicius got another half-chance after a counter and Morato’s header from a corner was well held by Onana. Things started to look dangerous for us and I had to change something. I switched our line of engagement to ‘normal’ to avoid chasing the ball and keep our formation defensively. Things got better in 57’ - Quincy Promes moved to the box in a counter and had his shirt pulled by the defender, so after consulting with VAR, the referee awarded a penalty. Promes converted it himself and we were 2:0 ahead. I hoped that we could hold onto that win and take a valuable three points, but it wasn’t the case. In the last 20 minutes Benfica started to attack better and finally found a way through our defense - Rafa scored after a corner, in 81’ Haris Seferovic found a great chance on a counter, but his shot landed against frameworks and in 84’ Chiquinho played himself through Kik Pierie’s tackle and equalized with a great strike into the bottom far corner. The final score was 2:2 and I was clearly a little disappointed - Benfica could rightly say that they deserved to get something out of this game and before the kick-off I would have accepted a draw, but to give away our two goal advantage is not good enough. Better individual skills of Benfica players made the difference in the final 15 minutes and that is hard to take.

  • our shooting was just 7/3 in this game - very clinical, but we rarely got a shot in after Promes’ penalty
  • our crossing didn’t work at all (just 1/26)
  • Player of the game: Chiquinho (SL Benfica) - scored the best goal of the game and generally looked dangerous in attacks

 

Our Champions League group is getting really interesting now - we split the points, but Galatasaray managed to beat Celtic 2:1 in Glasgow and they got their first points on the board. Celtic still leads the group with 7 points, but we follow with 6, Benfica has 5 and Galatasaray 3. The group is wide open and every team has a chance when there’s two games to play.

I took some time to sort out our contracts and made decisions about some younger players. Joshua Pynadath, Alen Karahasanovic, Kik Braspenning and Christian Rasmussen signed new deals with the club. 

 

07.11.2021 - Willem II Tilburg - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 81. Quincy Promes

Our next game takes us to Southern Netherlands to play against Willem II. Our opponents are 15th at the moment, but on paper they look like a solid mid-table side and in fact they’ve won their last three games, so perhaps they’re picking it up and start to play according to their standards after a poor start to the season. Their team report says that they’re thoroughly average, but it’s not criticism in itself - ‘average’ meaning that they have decent players in all positions and no obvious weaknesses in their team.

We had problems of our own going into this game: Anass Salah Eddine and Nicolas Kühn were still injured, Perr Schuurs is close to return, but failed his fitness test, Jenno Campagne complained about pain in stomach and abdominal strain will keep him out for 2-5 weeks and Ryan Gravenberch injured himself badly in training - he’ll be out for 6-7 weeks with a sprained knee ligaments. That last one is pretty bad and makes our squad even thinner. We have some 23-25 players in our squad and to this game we have just 7 substitutes. Hopefully the international window that follows this game will allow the players to heal and doesn’t add any new injuries.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. van der Sloot), Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Promes, Tadic, Ünüvar (73. Ferreira), Traore (73. Brobbey)

It was a drab first half. Quincy Promes got his shot on target in 4’ and after that there was little to report. I watched the game in comprehensive highlights, but minutes went past so fast that I couldn’t even react. Willem II defended well and we couldn’t create much in attack, until we found our first good chance in 40’. Joel Veltman’s header from IFK hit the crossbar and bounced back into the six yard box. There were a lot of bodies in front of the goal and Quincy Promes had a chance to bury it, but his shot was blocked and then cleared by defenders. That was it - a rather disappointing first half and I had nothing much to praise at half time.

The second half continued in a similar fashion. Daley Blind saw his 51’ goal being disallowed due to offside and our attacking movement was continuously not good enough. At the same time I had little options from the bench. Naci Ünüvar came off, Tadic moved to AML and Marco Ferreira came on to AMC. That, finally, made a difference. In a counter-attack in 81’ Ferreira was the one to find Promes with a good pass, the winger was finally through to one-on-one and finished his chance calmly. Ferreira skewed his half-chance wide of goal in 84’, but that one moment three minutes earlier was good enough to scrape a win from this game. To be fair, it was a struggle and we can’t be happy with the performance, even when we kept a clean seet and secured all three points.

  • we made only 8 key passes in this game
  • we made 21 individual mistakes
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - he had too good chances and converted one of them, that was good enough today


 

That Eredivisie season has brought some surprises and as I anticipated, we saw the first sackings earlier than usual. FC Utrecht lost another game this weekend and their manager Nenad Bjelica was out of his job on Monday. We didn’t get along too well, so I’m not too sorry for him.

The international break followed and it was a great week for Kenneth Taylor, who earned his first cap for Holland and was delighted to be part of the national squad. Dušan Tadic, however, decided to call it quits after the games and announced his retirement from international football. His 93 caps and 13 goals for Serbia is a great achievement. I hoped that he’d reach 100, but it looks like it’s not the case.

 

19.11.2021 - AFC Ajax - ADO Den Haag 0:1 (ED) - 49. Shaquille Pinas

Two weeks have passed and we host ADO Den Haag - another team that has started terribly in this season, but have picked their form up in the recent weeks and gained some positions in the table.

As always, our players were heavily utilised in international teams and some of them returned more tired than others. Noussair Mazraoui was exhausted before that game and it was clear we needed to give him a day off. Naci Ünüvar suffered a small knock while being with Holland U-21 and it’s better for him to skip that game, too. Good news is that Nicolas Kühn and Perr Schuurs are fully fit again and both players even played for Jong Ajax during the break, so at least some match fitness was gained before that match. Marco Ferreira has a small muscle trouble, so in conclusion it’s a difficult choice, which attacking midfielders and where to start with.

Squad: Onana, van der Sloot, Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (50. Blind), Taylor, Marin, Promes (26. Kühn), van de Beek, Tadic, Traore (79. Brobbey)

It was a drab first half for us - no goals, no good chances and to make it worse, Quincy Promes came off in 26’ after suffering a knock. Well, come on! Our best creative force in our attacking three is again out of action and we looked even worse without him.

And ADO Den Haag exploited it in the second half. Kik Pierie allowed his man through too easily and the following pass found Shaquille Pinas in our box. It was pretty much the first chance that ADO got in this whole game, but it was enough and our lack of creativity meant that we failed to respond until the end of the game. Nicolas Kühn found a half chance and Dušan Tadic got one good shot on target, but that was not good enough. Our second defeat of the league campaign and so we allowed PSV to get a little closer to us once again.  Promes’ injury adds another layer of misery to our defeat.

  • we had 60% possession, but we couldn’t convert it to goals
  • our average rating was just 6.74
  • we made only 6 key passes
  • Quincy Promes will be out for 3-4 weeks with a twisted ankle
  • Player of the game: Shaquille Pinas (ADO Den Haag)

 

The first teams started to lose patience with their manager and Misha Salden was the second casualty this season. FC Twente board sacked him in the middle of November. At the same time FC Utrecht made a decision and hired Henk de Jong from VVV Venlo to replace Nenad Bjelica.

 

24.11.2021 - Celtic Glasgow - AFC Ajax 0:3 (Champions League Group A) - 69. Naci Ünüvar, 76. Noussair Mazraoui, 90.+2 Lassina Traore

That was a do-or-die moment for us. We needed to bounce back from ADO defeat, but at the same time we desperately needed a win to secure our qualification from the group stage. I made quick calculations before the game and found that we needed a win and draw from our last two games. If we draw with Celtic, we definitely need to win against Galatasaray, but I prefer it another way around. However, our attack is definitely hampered without Promes and we need to find a way to score against Celtic’s solid defense. The Scots came against us with a 5-3-2 WB formation, which is difficult to break down anyway, and against their tall defenders we’re not to win too many headers from set pieces.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Martinez (76. Pierie), Blind, Taylor (69. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic (76. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore

The first half looked fairly even and a closed game from both sides, but when I checked my notes at half time it looked like Celtic got two better chances of the game. Ryan Christie had an easy opportunity from IFK, but his attempt landed in the hands of Andre Onana and in 28’ Onana made a brilliant save to deny Leigh Griffiths.

We improved somewhat in the second half, but it took time until it showed in attack. Naci Ünüvar had a good attempt on target in 60’ - that one was tipped over by Celtic goalkeeper, but Ünüvar’s header in 69’ finally broke the deadlock. It went in off the bar and for once the young winger had created something out of nothing. Noussair Mazraoui doubled our lead with a fierce shot from 15 meters and then Celtic was in trouble - 15 minutes to go and two goals to score looked too much to ask in such a game. Lassina Traore headed in our third in injury time (the second assist to Noussair Mazraoui) and we wrapped things up with an excellent second half and a great win.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • we couldn’t create any chances, but ended up scoring three goals
  • we secured qualification to the knockout stages - the board must be pleased with that
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - outstanding performance from the right-back, a goal and two assists to his name and his crosses were the key in this game

 

28.11.2021 - PEC Zwolle - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 56. Lassina Traore

The mood was buoyant after our return from Scotland and I hoped that it would carry on to our Eredivisie games. PEC Zwolle was our last opponent in November - a decent mid-table side who were predicted to finish 12th, but occupy 8th place in the table and look fairly confident and attacking with their 4-2-3-1 formation.

I had to give Lisandro Martinez and Naci Ünüvar a day off after our Champions League game, because their match load had been too much and they started to look increasingly exhausted. It meant that Dušan Tadic started on our left wing and 18 years old Marco Ferreira was handed his first league start of his career. Some good news from physios - Ryan Gravenberch and Jenno Campagne are back in light training. They’re not ready for this game, but getting closer to return for us.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (80. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor (65. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Ferreira (74. Brobbey), Tadic, Traore

The first half was extremely poor from us - we created nothing and our shooting was just 2/1 in the first 45 minutes. The best moment of this half came from Zwolle - Mike van Duinen had a half-chance in 19’, but his attempt was well parried by Onana.

Poor display (football-wise) continued in the second half, but at least we got a goal. Tadic’s pass found Lassina Traore in front of the goal and the Burkinabe striker made it 1:0 from close range. That was it - our only chance of the game and luckily we used it well. Marco Ferreira offered little in the AMC position and I replaced him to Brian Brobbey - Brobbey went to the left wing to play as IFa and Tadic moved back to central role, but it made a little difference. In injury time Zwolle had a chance to equalize, but Onana held Jarno Westerman’s shot and that was it - narrow win, a poor win, but good enough to claim another three points to the table.

  • we had 67% possession
  • our shooting was just 9/5 in this game
  • we made only 6 key passes
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind - solid defensive performance from the captain


 

Summary

I am rightfully worried with our performances on the pitch, but the results have come our way  this month. We have grabbed three points with poor wins more than once and improved our lead. Obviously, injuries have contributed to that, but I hope that this gets better in December when Promes and Gravenberch return. Attacking options are getting thin and in most games I had almost nobody but Brian Bobbey to bring on from the bench and that’s something that bothers me a lot.

The highlight of the month was our win over Celtic and securing the qualification in the Champions League group. We’ve worked hard for that and it’s great to see those things work out for a change. The margin of victory is so often so thin in those games and to get the results feels like winning the title.

Player of the month for me was Lassina Traore - he scored three goals, but two of them came in the Champions League and the third was a winner against Zwolle. No player of the match awards for him, but he scored when it mattered and that’s great to see.

 

Eredivisie

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We’re back in the lead with a small gap between us and PSV Eindhoven. Vitesse look like a solid third and the rest of the pack follows. AZ Alkmaar have been a disappointment and they’re somewhere in the middle with Feyenoord. FC Utrecht are surprisingly in the relegation zone, but I expect them to move further up after their manager change. Go Ahead Eagles look like  relegation material, but as for the rest of the smaller teams, the jury is still out there. At least some teams (like ADO Den Haag), had a terrible start, but improved their form after that, while others (VVV Venlo) had a great start, but now started to lose games).

Edited by Draakon
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December 2021

 

Six games in December - that’s not too many - and I have to admit that at least in Eredivisie we’re against smaller/bottom half teams, so we’re clear favourites in all of those fixtures and I expect us to win them all. The challenge in December is our home game against Galatasaray - we could win our Champions League Group if we win this one, so I count it as our most important game of the month.

 

04.12.2021 - AFC Ajax - VVV Venlo 4:0 (ED) - 34. Nicolas Kühn, 59. Daley Blind, 72. Naci Ünüvar, 89. pen. Kenneth Taylor

We start with hosting VVV Venlo in Johan Cruijff Arena. The club who had a great start in Eredivisie and for a while they had scored the most goals in the league, but their defense leaked goals, too. At one point they were 4th in the table, but then their form started to decline - goals dried up, but defensive problems remained - and finally their manager Henk de Jong left for FC Utrecht job, so it’s a worrying period for VVV Venlo. In fact, they’ve been without a win in their last seven league games, so I was confident to add another three points to the table.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (69. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Martinez, Blind, Taylor (66. Regeer), Marin, Kühn, Tadic (66. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Brobbey

The first half was OK from us, but I wouldn’t say it was good. We went to half time with a 1:0 lead thanks to Nicolas Kühn’s goal in 34’ and what a goal it was. Kühn cut in from the right and curled it in from 21 meters - an outstanding finish and pure inspiration from the German.

The second half continued in similar fashion - we didn’t create many chances, but our attempts from distance were still dangerous. Daley Blind sent a thunderous strike in from 24 meters and Naci Ünüvar added another beautiful goal in 72’. VVV defense looked clueless how to stop that bombardment. They secured their area, but left space in around 20-25m and we just hit a shot after shot onto target. The last goal came at the end of the game - after Naci Ünüvar was fouled near the edge of the area and VAR confirmed it was really inside the box, Kenny Taylor converted the penalty. The final whistle called and VVV players looked disenchanted. Even I had to admit that it was a curious game - never ever have I seen so many beautiful long shots in one game and relied on scoring from the distance, but the final result looked obviously convincing.

  • we had 64% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 23/10
  • VVV Venlo had no chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind - an outstanding game from the captain and a brilliant goal to cap it with


Other Eredivisie clubs continue shuffling their staff around and FC Emmen hired Jan Korte as their new manager - Korte previously held the position of Director of Football in FC Emmen, so it’s a familiar club for him, but new position.

 

07.12.2021 - AFC Ajax - SK Galatasaray 0:0 (Champions League Group A)

That was the game that decided if we’re going to be first or second in the group. I expected SL Benfica to be too good for Celtic, but in theory it was a possibility that if Celtic won, our draw would be enough to retain the first place.

Our injury list is still long and while Quincy Promes and Ryan Gravenberch are both in light training, they’re not fit enough to start against Galatasaray. Marco Ferreira suffered a small knock in training and Perr Schuurs and Naci Ünüvar complained about exhaustion, so we had to rotate a lot and be creative with our starting eleven.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (71. van der Sloot), Veltman, Martinez, Pierie (77. Blind), Marin (77. Regeer), van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic, Brobbey, Traore

The first half was fairly positive from us, but we needed better chances to score. Brian Brobbey was active in attack and he got a couple of shots on target, but nothing too dangerous and we went to the half time with 0:0.

The best opportunity for us came in 78’ - Dušan Tadic found a chance in the six yard box, but his attempt was blocked and that moment was wasted. In the end it was a boring draw - we had a small initiative in the game, but needed more penetration in attack and so we fell short of our goal.

  • our shooting was just 12/3 in this game
  • we had 6.79 average rating - mediocre performances from most of the players
  • Razvan Marin made his 100th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Joel Veltman - solid game from defenders

 

Champions League Group A

  1. SL Benfica 11
  2. AFC Ajax 10
  3. Celtic Glasgow 7
  4. SK Galatasaray 4

The knockout stages draw happened some days later and we drew Atletico Madrid in the first round - not an easy team to face, but not the worst we could get.

 

12.12.2021 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 32. Kevin Diks - 10. Dušan Tadic, 86. Nicolas Kühn

Back to Eredivisie and we visit FC Twente, who are at the bottom third in the table and currently without a proper manager, so I expect us to win this one easily. No big changes to our team.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (46. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic (79. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore (79. Brobbey)

The Grolsch Veste stadium welcomed us with a heavy December rain. FC Twente were the first to get an opportunity - Ondrej Mihalik’s 6’ shot after a free kick was met by a good save from Andre Onana. We then picked up our game and took the lead in 10’, after a good passing play on the right and working the ball into the box. Dušan Tadic applied the finishing touches. However, FC Twente equalized after Noussair Mazraoui lost an aerial duel against Kevin Diks and so we went to the half time with 1:1. I was not happy with that conceded goal and felt that we could play a lot better in the second half, so my half time team talk was mostly made of criticism.

The second half was better. Lassina Traore got some good headers on target, Nicolas Kühn also looked lively on the right win and eventually it was he who scored the late winner. Kik Pierie delivered an excellent cross from left that found Kühn at the far post and he executed his clear cut chance well. I was happy with the fighting spirit that we showed and with the late winner. I genuinely felt that we deserved to win after the second half performance.

  • we had 61% possession
  • our shooting was 21/11 in this game
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - deserved award after the late winner

 

15.12.2021 - ASWH - AFC Ajax 0:4 (TOTO KNVB Beker 2nd round) - 12. Joel Veltman, 48. Nicolas Kühn, 59. pen. and 66. Dušan Tadic

Our schedule was fairly tight before Christmas, but this easy cup game against an amateur ASWH team offered a small breather for the first team players. There was encouraging news about Quincy Promes and Ryan Gravenberch - both were back in full training (and got some minutes from the bench in this game to get match fitness back).

Squad: Raatsie, van der Sloot, Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Regeer, Campagne, Kühn (65. Promes), Ferreira (65. Karahasanovic), Tadic (72. Gravenberch), Brobbey

We dominated the game from start to finish, but the team was mostly bench players and partnerships on the pitch were not perfect, so it took some time before we got our attack going. The only goal in the first half came from Joel Veltman and it was a typical set piece goal - a header from a corner.

The second half was much better. Nicolas Kühn extended our lead. Marco Ferreira wasted his clear cut chance and Joel Veltman sent another header against the crossbar in 58’. Kühn was tripped in the box and Dušan Tadic converted from the spot and Tadic completed the rout with an excellent free kick from 24 meters. Great game in the end and the second half was pretty much what I expected from the team.

  • we had 68% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 46/25 - pretty impressive
  • ASWH limited our goals, but couldn’t take a single shot in the whole game
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - outstanding game from the Serbian - scored two goals, created chances for others and always dangerous with his set piece deliveries

 

18.12.2021 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 1:0 (ED) - 49. Donny van de Beel

Two more games to go before Christmas and, on paper, those matches look fairly easy - home games against Eredivisie smaller teams. I was encouraged by the fact that Quincy Promes and Ryan Gravenberch were back in the team and it looked like the worst injury crisis was behind us. FC Emmen has our loanee Hassana Bande in the team, but unfortunately he was injured for this game, so I hadn’t a chance to check his progress. By all reports that our scouts have given me during this season he’s not going to make it in Ajax - his performances for FC Emmen have been below par and he’s scored just 5 goals in 17 games so far - doesn’t look very impressive.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (13. Veltman), Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie, Taylor (65. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes (75. Kühn), Tadic, Ünüvar, Traore

We have a bad habit in recent games to pretty much waste our first half. Just a couple of good shots on target, only a few chances and not enough good attacks. Our job was made easier in 36’, as FC Emmen’s striker Runar Espejord made an unnecessary two-footed tackle on Joel Veltman and was sent off.

That allowed us to control the second half and in 49’ Donny van de Beek scored our winner - nice attack, good move and assist by Ünüvar to late-arriving van de Beek who put his shot right next to post. We controlled the rest of the game, but couldn’t add more goals. Narrow win left room for improvement, but I was pleased with our clean sheet and three points on the board.

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 32/19 - plenty of attacks
  • FC Emmen had no shots
  • we lost Noussair Mazraoui due to twisted ankle in the first half - he’ll be sidelined for 4-5 weeks
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek
  • we’ve now played 17 games in Eredivisie and collected 45 points - that’s really impressive

 

22.12.2021 - AFC Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 4:1 (ED) - 5. Naci Ünüvar, 6. Razvan Marin, 61. Ryan Gravenberch, 81. Marco Ferreira - 35. John Verhoek

Home game against NEC Nijmegen should be rather easy and I hoped to finish our year with a good win. So, I made some changes to our line-up and younger players had their chance.

Squad: Raatsie, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Martinez, Pierie (67. Blind), Taylor, Marin (70. Campagne), Promes, Gravenberch (67. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore

We started the game really well - Naci Ünüvar opened scoring and Razvan Marin added another goal just a minute later. It was a brilliant goal from Marin, smashed into the top corner from 24 meters. Those two goals gave us a comfortable cushion in the first minutes and we needed that. It was an important game for Calvin Raatsie, to prove if he could play for the first team and he impressed in 33’ - NEC striker John Verhoek found space behind our defensive line, but his clear cut chance was well saved by Raatsie. The mistake came in the following corner situation. Raatsie missed his interception to collect the ball and Verhoek was unmarked at the far post to head it in from a close range. The first half finished 2:1 - it was a good enough start, but the win wasn’t secured yet.

Despite that mistake, we controlled the second half comfortably. Ryan Gravenberch added our third goal from an IFK and substitute Marco Ferreira scored the fourth goal with a placed shot. Good second half marked a fairly convincing win and we could go on to holidays with a great mood.

  • Calvin Raatsie made his league debut for Ajax
  • Marco Ferreira scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin


 

Summary

December was a fairly good month for us. Our game against Galatasaray didn’t go as planned, but we collected four straight wins in Eredivisie and extended our lead in the table. I was also pleased that our players started to get fit and the worst injury crisis is now behind us.

I also dealt with some contract issues that were left to solve in Autumn. Jenno Campagne extended his contract with Ajax. I am happy to see him in our midfield for some more seasons. The end of the year brought personal recognition for Andre Onana - the Cameroonian goalkeeper was selected African Goalkeeper of the Year.

It was a busy month for Eredivisie clubs and there were a lot of manager movements. The ex-Twente manager Misha Salden took charge of VVV Venlo, Heracles Almelo appointed Jimmy Floyd Hasselbaink as their new manager.

I also received our youth intake preview from our HoYD. As it looks, we have a solid French winger coming up in March, but it’s a fairly average intake overall.

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Eredivisie

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Clear top three remains the same and as the season progresses, early good starters and Autumn surprise teams are starting to drop down in the table. It’s surprising to see FC Utrecht still struggle in the relegation zone and Go Ahead Eagles look like serious relegation material.

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January 2022

 

So, holidays are over and we’re all business. The first task at hand - renew staff contracts that are about to end in Summer. Most of the decisions were easy, only few were delayed - it could be that we might look around and improve one or two areas, but overall we’re starting to look pretty solid in the backroom staff - physios, coaches and scouts look all fairly good (on paper) and most of the other Eredivisie clubs are well behind us.

The next order of business was expected, but still a bit sad. Manchester City came and triggered Lisandro Martinez’s minimum release fee clause (£44m) and our defensive leader left for England. I was prepared for it, because there was some speculation about his future already in November and December, but it’s still sad to see him go. Daley Blind will be our first choice in DLC now, Kik Pierie can also play there and hopeful news about Anass Salah-Eddine - he started his rehabilitation plan in January and will hopefully be back in full training and matches in March, following his broken foot. I still needed another body in central defense, so I recalled Devyne Rensch from loan and he might now get some games in the second part of the season.

Generally our injury list looks pretty good - Quincy Promes and Ryan Gravenberch were fit. Tired players got some rest during the holidays and we had only Anass Salah-Eddine missing, until the thunder struck. Andre Onana broke his hand in training and he’ll be out for at least 7-8 weeks. Wow. What a blow right before the second half of the season. He’ll certainly miss both Champions League fixtures against Atletico Madrid and I really need him there. Our second goalkeeper Calvin Raatsie is perhaps good enough to gain match experience against bottom clubs in Eredivisie, but not nearly good enough for the Champions League. I reacted by recalling Kjell Scherpen from loan. He has done okay in the Belgium league, but far from exceptional. Hopefully he can improve in Ajax, because we really need the best of him in the next couple of months.

 

 

19.01.2022 - AFC Ajax - Go Ahead Eagles 3:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker 3rd round) - 17. Ryan Gravenberch, 62. Joel Veltman, 77. Nicolas Kühn

Without Martinez and Onana, we restart our season with the cup game against Go Ahead Eagles. Our opponents are too busy fighting against relegation and probably concentrate on Eredivisie, so I expect us to win this one comfortably (and in retrospect, we did).

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Pierie, Taylor (70. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes (63. Kühn), Gravenberch, Ünüvar (63. Tadic), Traore

We took the lead in 17’ - Lassina Traore delivered a forward pass to Ryan Gravenberch and the attacking midfielder took the ball into the box and finished with a great shot. That was our only good chance in the first half, but we controlled the game and the Eagles didn’t get any shots before half time. 

The second half was better. Quincy Promes found the early chance, but his close range attempt was met by a fine stop from the Eagles goalkeeper. Then our opponents almost equalized - Kik Pierie lost possession in midfield and the Eagles quickly countered, finding Jaroslav Navratil behind our defense. It was one-on-one between him and Kjell Scherpen and our young goalkeeper made a great save to deny the opportunity. Lassina Traore stood out in this game, providing opportunities to teammates - his IFK found unmarked Joel Veltman in the box, but the centre-back sent his volley over the crossbar. Veltman did find a goal though - his header from another IFK extended our lead to two goals and after ex-Ajax man Noa Lang received his second yellow card in 70’, it was all too easy for us. Substitute Nicolas Kühn completed the rout (another assist from Traore) and we went through to the quarter finals. It was a fairly comfortable win and we created enough chances, so I was pleased with our second half.

  • we had 71% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 29/13
  • Player of the game Ryan Gravenberch - scored the best goal, but I’d like to note Lassina Traore’s good performance - he created three chances to others, collected two assists (not his fault that Veltman couldn’t convert the chance) and linked up our attacks exactly like I expect from a DLFs.

 

23.01.2022 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 33. Yorbe Vertessen - 15. Naci Ünüvar

Back to Eredivisie and we visit Heracles Almelo. Not the longest drive. Heracles are clearly underachieving in this season - they find themselves in 17th place, although they should be a decent mid-table side. No big changes in our line-up, as most players are fresh and match fatigue has not started to mount just yet.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui (46. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Marin, van de Beek, Promes (26. Kühn), Gravenberch (78. Tadic), Ünüvar, Traore

We took the lead in 15’ - Naci Ünüvar found the net with a fierce shot that was just too strong for Heracles goalkeeper. Our positive first half was marred by injury to Quincy Promes - the winger once again had to come off with a knock and Nicolas Kühn went on. Not sure if Promes injury distracted us or not, but soon after Heracles found an equalizer. Kik Pierie lost possession in midfield and long ball forward found Yorbe Vertessen on the run behind our defensive line. His good chance was well executed and Scherpen didn’t have much to do against it. We went to half time with 1:1, but the scoreline wasn’t the worst part in the first half - the fact that both teams had just 3/2 shooting, was. We needed to get our attack going and needed to do it without Promes.

However, things didn’t improve in the second half - Nicolas Kühn had some shots on target and he was active on the right wing, but he was the one who blew our best chance for the winner in 89’ and so we had to return from Almelo with a frustrating draw. The second half was slightly better for us in terms of possession and overall control of the game, but it didn’t help us to secure the necessary result.

  • we had 62% possession
  • Quincy Promes suffered damaged achilles tendon and his season is pretty much over
  • Player of the game: Noni Madueke (Heracles Almelo)

 

26.01.2022 - AFC Ajax - Sparta Rotterdam 3:2 (ED) - 32. and. 40. pen. Dušan Tadic, 59. Ryan Gravenberch - 33. Mohammed Tahiri, 36. Elmo Lieftink

Back to Amsterdam and I hoped that we could do better against Sparta Rotterdam. We were clear favourites for the game, but Sparta shouldn’t be underestimated. They were predicted to finish 16th before the season, but currently sit in the 7th position and have invested around £8m into new players in this year.

Squad: Raatsie, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (71. Campagne), Kühn, Gravenberch (78. Ferreira), Tadic, Traore (67. Brobbey)

We had initiative in the first half - Nicolas Kühn wasted his clear cut chance, Lassina Traore hit the post from distance and when Dušan Tadic finally headed in our first goal, it was no less than we deserved. However, we lost all concentration after our goal and allowed Sparta to equalize in the very next attack, from their first shot in the game. I was furious at the sidelines, but even more so three minutes later - Elmo Lieftink was left completely unmarked in a free kick situation and his header went in off the bar to give Sparta a lead. Surprise result was about to emerge from this game, but when we needed it the most, experience showed itself. Dušan Tadic took charge of our attacking game and before half time he both earned and converted the penalty to make it 2:2 after a very entertaining first half. I was really unhappy about our defending, and somehow we managed to lose possession 41/59. At the same time 2:2 wasn’t too bad. At least we had a full second half to find a winner.

We managed to control the game better in the second half and at least we got our defense in order. Dušan Tadic continued to be our creating force and his cross led to our third goal - Ryan Gravenberch headed it in to give us the win and three points in the end. Despite the final result I wasn’t too happy about our performance.

  • we lost possession 47/53 in this game - slightly better in the second half
  • our shooting was 22/11
  • we made only 8 dribbles and allowed Sparta to make 21 runs with the ball - a sign that we need more creativity and flair in attack
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - clearly our best player with two goals and assist to his name

 

30.01.2022 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 40. Kik Pierie (og)

January has not been too easy for us and it finished with a tough away game in Groningen. Our injury list is not too long, but we have key players missing - Andre Onana, Quincy Promes, Nicolas Kühn and Anass Salah-Eddine. Two right midfielders out - it means that Dušan Tadic started in the AMR position.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek, Tadic (71. van der Sloot), Gravenberch (65. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore (75. Brobbey)

Dušan Tadic as AMR was not my worst choice - the experienced Serbian showed that in 16’ with a deep cross that led Naci Ünüvar to one-on-one against FC Groningen goalkeeper. The youngster couldn’t use his chance, unfortunately. FC Groningen then showed that they, too, have come to win this game - Lassana Faye’s attempt was tipped wide by Kjell Scherpen and our goalkeeper made another save to turn away Romano Postema’s shot. In the end FC Groningen got their goal and it came from the corner - Ferdy Druijf won a header and directed the ball on target. Kik Pierie stood at the post and got his head to it, but not properly, so it landed in the goal anyway. Petty. With that conceded goal from a corner we went to half-time with 0:1 deficit and needed to improve a lot in the second half.

That improvement kept himself waiting, however. FC Groningen looked organised and were difficult to break, but at last our substitutions started to make impact - Marco Ferreira had a couple of chances and his opportunity in 80’ was probably the best one we got in the whole game. Steven van der Sloot saw his shot being tipped over in injury time and with time running out, Naci Ünüvar sent the ball wide of the goal. The final whistle marked another defeat for us and I was disappointed. We were not good enough. We can say that we deserved a point (and we did), but as the champions we should have done better. Our attacking play was out of sync most of the time and I lacked good options to come on from the bench.

  • our possession was 61% in this game
  • we made 21 key passes - good number, but needed to create chances and lacked that final move in attack
  • Dušan Tadic made his 100th league appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Ryan Gravenberch suffered a knock and he’ll be out for 2-3 weeks with pulled knee ligaments
  • Player of the game: Xavier Mbuyamba (FC Groningen) - solid game from the centre-back


 

Summary

We’ve been very inconsistent and we’ve dropped points in away games. I can’t be happy with our form at all and with two away games coming up against PSV Eindhoven it’s not a good omen. Injuries have started to reappear after it looked like we’ve passed the worst injury crisis. Losing Quincy Promes and Andre Onana has hit us hard in January and we’ve missed Promes’ skills and experience in the attacking phase.

Difficult to choose our player of the month, but the award goes to Dušan Tadic. Four games were filled by inconsistent performances, but Tadic carried us against Sparta Rotterdam and at did well in other three games.
 

Eredivisie

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Despite our problems in January we still have four points cushion in the table. Bottom half of the table is really tight - only five points separate the 18th position from 12th. VVV Venlo downfall continues and they’ve dropped to 17th position.

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February 2022


 

02.02.2022 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 2:0 (ED) - 25. Joel Piroe, 77. Timo Baumgartl

We started our February with the away game against PSV Eindhoven. Pretty much the title six-pointer, but looking at our squad before the game, I had to admit that this club was a mess. Our morale was hurt by the defeat from FC Groningen and our injury list was huge - Andre Onana, Anass Salah-Eddine, Ryan Gravenberch, Quincy Promes and Nicolas Kühn were all out with injuries and our midfield leader Donny van de Beek was suspended for the game. So it was a ragged team that we had against PSV and that was a bad omen before our trip to Philips Stadium.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Blind, Taylor (75. Regeer), Marin, Tadic (77. van der Sloot), Ferreira, Ünüvar, Traore (77. Brobbey) 

The first half was a drab football, but we went to half time with 0:1 deficit. Joel Piroe was the single striker in PSV formation, but he managed to put our defenders under pressure and won the ball from Perr Schuurs in midfield. Following run into our box resulted in one-on-one opportunity against Kjell Scherpen and Piroe executed his chance well to give PSV the lead.

In the second half we were under pressure to score, but PSV could strike us with counter-attacks and that suited them well. Michal Sadilek almost doubled their lead from a transition attack, but this time Scherpen did well to parry his attempt. We didn’t get too many chances in this game, so our finishing was critical, but my frustration was obvious when Lassina Traore wasted his clear cut chance in 64’. So, when PSV centre-back Timo Baumgartl scored another goal from IFK i knew it was all over. We didn’t have enough to score two goals inside the final fifteen minutes and had to accept another defeat. Two losses in a row and the one from PSV hurt us a lot. We desperately need our injured players to recover and regain some confidence and form back to hold onto our first position in the table.

  • we had 63% possession in this game, but it didn’t help us a lot
  • we conceded 3 clear cut chances in this game
  • our shooting was just 8/2
  • we made only 6 key passes
  • our average rating was just 6.70
  • Player of the game: Joel Piroe (PSV Eindhoven)

 

05.02.2022 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 4:0 (ED) - 16. and 78. pen. Dušan Tadic, 50. Nicolas Kühn, 82. Marco Ferreira

We really needed a win from here after our two consecutive defeats. Willem II were 14th in the table, so we were clear favourites, but needed to make sure to take all three points. We started with a 4-2-3-1 positive formation and looked for goals. Nicolas Kühn was back in the line-up and that helped us with attacking formation.

Squad: Scherpen, Veltman (74. van der Sloot), Schurrs, Pierie, Blind, Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic, Ünüvar (69. Ferreira), Traore (65. Brobbey)

The first half was pretty uneventful, but Dušan Tadic scored a beautiful free kick and that goal was the difference at half-time. What that goal did, at least, was give us some momentum and confidence, so we continued well in the second half. Nicolas Kühn got his foot to Daley Blind’s cross and directed the ball over the line to make it 2:0. Things looked pretty good for us for a while, but in 65’ Perr Schuurs gave away the penalty after a push to an opponent during their set piece, so Willem II had a penalty. Kjell Scherpen did exceptionally well to make a save and keep our clean sheet, and in 77’ we had a penalty in turn, after Brian Brobbey was fouled in the box. Tadic converted that confidently and that settled the score. Marco Ferreira headed home our fourth goal to complete the rout and in the end it was an emphatic 4:0 home win for us. I was really happy with that and we really needed this kind of win - many goals, a clean sheet and a chance to get some confidence back to stop the bleeding.

  • we had 66% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 21/8
  • Dušan Tadic and Nicolas Kühn were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - two set piece goals and he was the leader in attack


 

08.02.2022 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 1:3 (TOTO KNVB Beker Quarter Final) - 89. Ritsu Doan - 35. Kik Pierie, 60. Naci Ünüvar, 85. Lassina Traore

That was our chance to prove something. Second game in the Philips Stadium and we were eager to take revenge for the defeat just a week ago. It was a cup game, but both teams treated it equally important - no rotation, no youngsters, full first eleven from both us and PSV to compete for honour.

Our injured starters - Onana, Gravenberch - were back in light training, but we needed to get through without them, so I sent out the same line-up that did well against Willem II.

Squad: Scherpen, Veltman, Schuurs, Pierie, Blind, Taylor (46. Regeer), van de Beek (75. Marin), Kühn (46. van der Sloot), Tadic, Ünüvar, Traore

It was a fairly even game in the first fifteen minutes, but then PSV got the first good chance - loose ball in the box fell to Steven Berghuis and he fired from close range, but was met by an excellent reflex save from Kjell Scherpen. PSV took initiative after that chance and it looked like we needed to change something. I lowered our line of engagement and intensity of pressing, and it gave us better organisation without the ball. Kik Pierie’s header from a corner gave us the lead in 35’ and despite the feeling that we may not have been the better team, we went to the half time break with a 1:0 lead.

PSV came out for the second half with motivation and Jorrit Hendriks saw his header from a free kick scrape our crossbar in 56’. Naci Ünüvar added another goal in the 60’ after PSV defenders failed to clear the ball from their area and the 2:0 lead was already much better for us. PSV now had only 30 minutes to save the game - they started to push forward and it suited us much better than their usual counter-attacking gameplay. Lassina Traore added the third goal after a brilliant pass over the top by Perr Schuurs and even though Ritsu Doan scored a beautiful consolation goal for PSV (a wonderful volley from 30 meters - I’ve probably never seen a better goal in FM) it was too late. Convincing 3:1 win for us - that certainly gives some confidence and settles some nerves of the fans who fought if we’re getting soundly beaten by PSV twice.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was just 8/4, but we were pretty clinical
  • Lassina Traore scored his first goal after 847 minutes of football - that’s a long draught for a striker
  • Nicolas Kühn injured himself in the first half and he’ll be out for 3 weeks with pulled knee ligaments
  • we will play AZ Alkmaar in the semi final
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - the best goal of the game and we’re all delighted for him

 

12.02.2022 - AFC Ajax - FC Utrecht 2:0 (ED) - 46. Marco Ferreira, 80. Brian Brobbey

Our morale was high after two consecutive wins and it looked like we’d found our goalscoring form again. We might have dropped points in the recent games, but all poor performances came in away games and we were still on the long winning streak in the Johan Cruijff Arena.

FC Utrecht look like a decent side, but they’re 16th in the table and the worst underperformers in this season, so I was pretty confident going against them at home.

Ryan Gravenberch is good to go for about one half of football, while Andre Onana still needs some work to do before returning to full action. We missed Nicolas Kühn due to injury and I had to make some changes because we had a big match against Atletico Madrid coming up in three days.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (81. Taylor), van der Sloot, Ferreira, Tadic (77. Ünüvar), Traore (69. Brobbey)

We had a good first half and controlled midfield, but for some reason most of our shots went off target, so it was a little bit frustrating to watch. Our best chance came in 6’ when Lassina Traore moved to counter, skinned two defenders (fairly skillfully for him), but then sent his fierce shot right at the goalkeeper. We couldn’t create real chances in the first half and so it looked like we might change something tactically, but I relied more on my team talk and that had the desired effect in the beginning of the second half. Youngster Marco Ferreira moved into the box with the ball and fired it into the top corner - a fabulous strike from the 18 years old and a chance to show that he really listens at half time what the manager has to say. Ferreira was pivotal on our second goal, too, as it was his pass that found Brian Brobbey in open position and Brobbey completed the game with a good finish. We didn’t allow FC Utrecht to make a single shot in the second half, so I was pretty happy with what I saw after the break.

  • we had 63% possession
  • our shooting was 24/9 in this game
  • we didn’t give FC Utrecht any goal scoring chances
  • we had 15 corners
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - outstanding performance from the 18 years old, his first 9.0+ rating in the league game. He’s starting to become a valuable player in our line-up

 

15.02.2022 - AFC Ajax - Atletico Madrid 1:0 (Champions League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 32. Lassina Traore

We were underdogs in this pair, so we went for this game without any pressure, but at the same time I didn’t want us to lose big to avoid any impact on our confidence. We still missed a number of players - Quincy Promes, Nicolas Kühn, Anass Salah-Eddine and Andre Onana were still injured, but at least Ryan Gravenberch was fit again. Our weak spot was on the right - Steven van der Sloot continued to play as a right winger, but in truth we knew he’s not too familiar in that position and needs better skills with the ball to have any effect against the team like Atletico. I set the team up with a somewhat adjusted balanced 4-2-3-1 formation. 

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Blind, Taylor, van de Beek (74. Marin), van der Sloot, Tadic (65. Gravenberch) Ünüvar, Traore (77. Brobbey)

We had a decent start and managed to get hold of the game. Atletico’s attacking partnership was dangerous and found some half-chances in the first half - the best of those came in 9’ when Alvaro Morata found a crack, but Kjell Scherpen made a great save to deny him. Perr Schuurs had a good solid game in defense - he won key headers in the box and managed to get back on time to block a couple of shots that could have been dangerous. And in 32’ the thunder struck - Lassina Traore silenced Atletico fans with a great strike from 23 meters that landed in the bottom corner. Nobody expected that and it was a goal out of nowhere, but it helped us to get some confidence and finish the first half with 1:0.

I hoped to keep hold of our lead in the second half, but didn’t have to wait too long for help. Atletico’s Joao Felix was sent off in 50’ after his second yellow card and it made controlling the game much easier. I didn’t dare to get too aggressive with our tactics, so we were rather careful and tried to keep our defense in order (and not to concede an important away goal) and we managed to do that in the end. 1:0 was a good win for us, especially because of the clean sheet and I was pleased with the team.

  • our shooting was just 8/6 - not too many shots, but good accuracy
  • I have to admit that we couldn’t create a proper chance in this game
  • Kik Pierie made his 100th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Lassina Traore scored his 10th goal of the season - the first Ajax player to reach that landmark
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore

 

18.02.2022 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 90. Evan Rottier - 19. Daley Blind, 77. Naci Ünüvar

Our schedule was tough, but morale was high because we had a good winning streak going. Our injury crisis got worse, though - Steven van der Sloot suffered from blisters prior to this game and there was another right wing option unavailable for us. I had to start with Dušan Tadic in AMR because of that, but at least we had Ryan Gravenberch back to fill the AMC position.

Our opponents ADO Den Haag have their own problems - in November and December they surprised everybody by beating PSV, Ajax and Feyenoord in a row, but now they’re seven games without a win and their danger man Tomas Necid sprained his ankle in training just a day before this match. 

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui, Veltman, Pierie, Blind, Taylor (70. Regeer), van de Beek (77. Marin), Tadic, Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore (77. Brobbey)

ADO Den Haag started with a 4-2-3-1 formation and looked pretty good in the beginning of the game. They have a great young talented striker in Splinter van As who I really admire and he started in this game as well and almost got his name to the score sheet with a close range header in 13’. I almost expected it to go in, but Kjell Scherpen was ready and made a great reflex save. We couldn’t create much in the first half, but took the lead after Daley Blind sent a fierce shot into the goal from 21 meters - a fabulous goal, perhaps out of nowhere (if you’re ADO fan), but I didn’t mind. That first goal had an effect on ADO players - they became nervous and downhearted. Splinter van As had another great chance in 41’, but his soft shot lacked confidence and was easily held by Scherpen, so we went to the half time with a 1:0 lead. It was good to have an advantage, but I wasn’t too happy with our performance in the first half - we lost possession too many times, allowed ADO to break and create chances. We made 13 defensive mistakes in the first period and that’s way too much, and our attack didn’t produce any chances.

Because of that I made changes to our setup at half time - asked players to work the ball into the box and switched Tadic’s role to APs on our right wing to provide Mazraoui some space for overlaps. ADO made some changes too - they switched to 4-3-3 in around 60’ and started to take more risks and that finally gave us some space and opportunities in attack. Lassina Traore wasted his golden opportunity in 67’, Ryan Gravenberch saw his close range shot being tipped over in 70’ and Naci Ünüvar finally doubled our lead in 77’ after another good attack. ADO scored a consolation goal late in the game, after Noussair Mazraoui missed his interception on the right and allowed the cross in. Evan Rottier used his chance well and his shot went in off the post. There wasn’t much that Scherpen could do about that. In the end 2:1 looked like a fair result - we were a slightly better team in the second half and deserved to win, but at the same time we had no reason to be too happy and complacent about our performance.

  • our shooting was 21/12 in this game
  • Naci Ünüvar scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Daley Blind - team captain scored a beautiful goal and was solid defensively

 

27.02.2022 - AZ Alkmaar - AFC Ajax 0:0 (ED)

We had nine full days to prepare for this game - real luxury compared to the rest of our schedule in February. We trained well, Andre Onana and Steven van der Sloot returned to full training and improved our squad selection. Anass Salah-Eddine was also back at 100% and he played full 90 minutes for Jong Ajax. I was delighted to see him back. We still missed Quincy Promes and Nicolas Kühn was also not yet fit (although close to return), so our injury problems started to get behind us. So I made three changes to our squad: Andre Onana returned to goal, Perr Schuurs had a day off against ADO, but he too resumed to his usual position in defense and Steven van der Sloot was on the right wing.

It wasn’t the same story for AZ Alkmaar, though. They had no big injury problems, but they played their Europa League game (a great 4:0 win against Celtic) in midweek, so many of their players looked exhausted before that Eredivisie derby and that could probably affect their squad selection and performance against us. Philip Cocu has perhaps underperformed in Eredivisie, but their continental season has been impressive and after reaching the Europa League 2nd knockout round they’re the only club next to Ajax who have achieved something noteworthy in Europe and helped to increase Eredivisie reputation in those competitions.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Blind, Taylor (74. Marin), van de Beek, van der Sloot, Gravenberch (72. Ferreira), Ünüvar, Traore (74. Brobbey)

It was a drab first half. Neither of the teams were too good in attack, but somehow we managed to lose possession and allowed AZ to get too comfortable with the ball. I asked the team to increase our pressure without the ball and it made a slight difference in the second half. Naci Ünüvar almost got to the target when his 52’ shot hit the post and Lassina Traore wasted his half-chance in 68’. AZ Alkmaar also got one header from a set piece against our crossbar, but in the end it finished 0:0 and both teams probably had to accept that it was a fair result.

  • we lost possession 45/55 
  • we made only 6 key passes
  • we made 22 individual mistakes - too many
  • Player of the game: Kenzo Goudmijn (AZ Alkmaar)




 

Summary

We were in a really bad place after that loss to PSV, but picked ourselves up and continued with a nice winning streak through the month. The fact that we could shut down Atletico was a nice surprise and keeps our second leg in Madrid interesting. In some games I’ve felt that we missed Quincy Promes, but our injury situation has improved during the month and we have more depth in March than we had in February.

My player of the month is Kik Pierie - I made one change in the line-up and moved him from DL to DC and he’s done really well. Solid performances in pretty much all games and. His header gave us the first goal against PSV and was a turning point in our form. Pierie has also improved a lot during the past few weeks and trained well.


 

Eredivisie

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PSV Eindhoven dropped points when they were stunned by Sparta in the away game and for a moment we enjoyed a four points gap in the top of the table, but our draw in Alkmaar closed it down to two points. It’s still slightly better than we had a month ago. Vitesse is also continuing strong and can still dream about winning the title. sc Heerenveen looked solid 4th, but they’ve gone from draw to draw in February, so the gap with the top three is increasing.

Bottom of the table is also interesting - Go Ahead Eagles is still at the bottom, but their point difference is smaller. FC Utrecht is still struggling in the relegation zone and they just can’t get points in the table to get away from that sticky situation.

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March 2022

 

Only five games in March, but a really difficult start to our month - three tough games in a row - cup semi final with AZ Alkmaar, league game (away) against really strong Vitesse and then the second leg in Madrid. The end of the month offers easier games against Go Ahead Eagles and Sparta Rotterdam, but those first ten days are really difficult and challenging.

 

03.03.2022 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 1:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Semi Final) - 75. Nicolas Kühn

Repeat game of our last encounter, but this time we’re in Johan Cruijff Arena and home advantage is to our favour. We’ve got Nicolas Kühn back in the line-up, so our right wing troubles could be eased by that.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (77. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (71. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, Marin, Kühn, Ferreira (72. Gravenberch), Tadic, Traore

The first half was really similar to our first game. We had small initiative on the pitch (probably because of our home advantage and the fact that AZ were more careful), but they were really well organized and difficult to break in attack. Both teams finished the first half with a very small number of shots and it left the feeling that one goal could really decide it in the second half.

I started to make changes around 70’ - Marco Ferreira came off (he had a poor game, low passing accuracy without any key passes) and Ryan Gravenberch went on. In 75’ we finally found a breakthrough - Dušan Tadic crossed from the left and Nicolas Kühn converted our first half-chance with a volley. We held onto the lead until injury time and then almost gave it away when AZ got their first good attack. Perr Schuurs lost the header in midfield, it was flicked on,  Robert Bozenik was too fast for Daley Blind and went for a one-on-one against Andre Onana. Our goalkeeper won the first duel, because he got off from his line early on to make the angle smaller, but the rebound fell back to Bozenik, who sent his second attempt wide from a similarly open position. Bozenik held his head between his hands and I knew we had been really lucky there. It finished 1:0, but we just edged it. If we look the whole 90’, it could be said that we probably deserved to win, but by a really small margin.

  • we will play sc Heerenveen in the final
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn

 

06.03.2022 - Vitesse Arnhem - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 81. Marvin Zeegelaar

Vitesse are the best performers in this season’s Eredivisie. They’ve finished 7th in the past two seasons, but sit comfortably in 3rd place at the moment and look like genuine title contenders, much because their best striker Thomas Buitink has been in such a good form - he’s scored 19 goals in this season already and all defenders have struggled to contain him.

We lost our last game in Amsterdam against them, so I was rather careful with my tactical choices for this game. We went with a balanced 4-2-3-1, but my selection was difficult, because several players looked tired after the AZ game and we had a trip to Madrid coming up in midweek.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Veltman, Blind, Pierie (76. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic, Ünüvar (69. Gravenberch), Traore (81. Brobbey)

We were unlucky not to lead after the first half. Lassina Traore saw his header hit the upright after a good attacking move in 31’ and some minutes later Naci Ünüvar had an easy chance, but his close range header was comfortably held by Vitesse goalkeeper. The first dangerous moment from Vitesse came late in the first half, when Filip Moller Delaveris found some space in our box and Andre Onana had to make a good save to parry his attempt. I was generally pleased with our first half effort and for the away game it looked good enough - just needed to be more clinical in front of the goal.

The second half offered less opportunities, but when I was already settled for a draw in my mind, the thunder struck. Vitesse full-back Marvin Zeegelaar made a run into our box and fired a fierce shot into the near corner. Great strike, without a doubt, but it looked like a goal out of nowhere and it really blew us away. No chance to react in the final ten minutes, and even though we put Vitesse under some pressure before the end of the game, we couldn’t rescue a point. Really disappointing result for us and that left us regretting those wasted chances in the first half.  Vitesse was a bit lucky to win, but we should have been better.

  • our shooting was only 7/2 - didn’t finish our attacks with a shot
  • Vitesse had no real chances in this game, so they really were lucky to win this one
  • our average rating was just 6.72
  • Noussair Mazraoui made his 100th league appearance for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Marvin Zeegelaar (Vitesse Arnhem)

 

09.03.2022 - Atletico Madrid - AFC Ajax 2:1 (Champions League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 15. Marcos Llorente, 90.+4 Victor Mallejo - 26. Dušan Tadic

We went to Madrid with the narrow 1:0 home win in the bag, but this one was the real test for us - again I chose a more careful, balanced 4-2-3-1 formation with more experienced players in the starting line-up and hoped for the best.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor, van de Beek (44. Marin), Kühn (72. Ünüvar), Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore (90. Brobbey)

It didn’t start well for us - Atletico were going for the goals and we were bound to defend from the first minutes. Our opponents got the first goal in 15’ - that suited them and eased pressure from their players, but wasn’t a good omen for us. The goal was a typical Atletico goal - a counter-attack and Marcos Llorente took the ball from midfield right into our box. Our defenders were a little overwhelmed and looked to close passing lines instead of closing Llorente down, so he could continue quite unopposed until he finally finished his move with a confident strike from 8 meters. Too passive from our defense - we need to be more decisive in stopping those moves. Then Atletico striker David Gonzales Gonzales found another clear cut chance on a counter, but blasted his attempt over. It took us a while to get our things in order, but then we found an unexpected equalizer. Gravenberch crossed from the right and Tadic finished with a nice close range volley to stun Atletico. Donny van de Beek was forced off with an injury before the half-time, but we finished the first period with 1:1 and even though the score line was flattering to us, I tried not to get carried away. It was true that Atletico now needed at least two more goals (because of our away goal), but their attack had been dangerous enough to find those goals if we continued to make defensive mistakes.

Indeed, we managed to contain Atletico a little better in the second half. The first really dangerous moment came in 76’ when Calvin Steng’s header landed against the crossbar. Atletico pressure increased in the final ten minutes, with their time rapidly running out. Kk Pierie’s mistake allowed Renan Lodi a chance, but his poor shot was held by Onana. Atletico finally found one goal in injury time - it took them three attempts after Onana made two good saves, but finally the ball fell to Victor Mollejo who finished off the attack, but it was already too late to change the outcome - we lost the game 1:2, but won on aggregate due to away goals. Unexpected surprise, but most welcome.

  • we conceded five clear cut chances in this game - too many
  • Dušan Tadic scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Donny van de Beek came off with pulled ankle ligaments and he’ll be out for a couple of weeks
  • Player of the game: Marcos Llorente (Atletico Madrid)

 

13.03.2022 - AFC Ajax - Go Ahead Eagles 3:0 (ED) - 51. Nicolas Kühn, 52. Marco Ferreira, 90. Naci Ünüvar

After the difficult first half of March, we had two easier games in our schedule. The first one was against red lantern Go Ahead Eagles. It looked like an easy game on paper, but mentally we were a little under pressure after our defeat from Vitesse, so we needed a good result from here. I chose to rotate a little and go for this game with a positive 4-2-3-1 formation.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (68. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Kühn, Ferreira, Tadic (73. Ünüvar), Traore (68. Brobbey)

The first half was a dull affair - our attacks were ineffective and tactics didn’t seem to work, so I switched to attacking formation in the second half and it made a desired impact - Nicolas Kühn and Marco Ferreira scored two quick goals (both assists delivered from Noussair Mazraoui) and Naci Ünüvar added another goal before the final whistle to complete the route. The Eagles had no power to withstand our pressure in the second half and it looked much more like our usual attacking football after the break.

  • we had 65% possession in the second half
  • our shooting was 26/17 in this game
  • we didn’t allow Go Ahead Eagles to create any chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - outstanding game from the winger, a goal and assist from him tonight

 

20.03.2022 - Sparta Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 5. Kik Pierie

The last game in March was a trip to Rotterdam. Sparta should be a smaller side, but we struggled a lot against them in Amsterdam, so it could be a tricky game for us. We still missed Donny van de Beek due to injury, but our formation remained our usual positive 4-2-3-1. 

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Pierie, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Kühn, Gravenberch (78. Ferreira), Tadic (68. Ünüvar), Traore (78. Brobbey)

We took the lead early in the game - Dušan Tadic delivered a free kick to the box and Kik Pierie headed it in from the crossbar. It was a great start, but the rest of the game was a boring affair - Sparta couldn’t threaten our goal too often and we failed to create good chances in attack. It remained 1:0 and I was happy with three points, but it was a little close to my liking.

  • we didn’t allow Sparta to create any chances in this game
  • we made 21 individuali mistakes - too many, very unlikely to us
  • Player of the game: Kik Pierie - solid defensively and scored a set piece goal



 

Summary

In retrospect we could be fairly satisfied with our month. We haven’t played beautiful football, but results have come our way (mostly), with exception to the Vitesse game. The board is not too happy with less than entertaining performances and a small number of chances, but that’s OK. Our good results against Atletico mean that we will get two more games in the Champions League and obviously looks good to my performance review.

The month finished with an international break where Naci Ünüvar earned his first cap for Holland. The 18-years old winger was clearly delighted with the experience.

My player of the month was Nicolas Kühn - some good performances, some important goals and assists and two player of the game performances from him.

 

Eredivisie

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Despite our defeat to Vitesse, we’ve opened up a three points gap in the table and that gives us some breathing room before important fixtures in April. sc Heerenveen have drawn their games consistently and dropped too many points, so FC Groningen have come from behind and took the fourth place. At the bottom of the table Go Ahead Eagles looks close to relegation, even though for a moment they had a genuine chance to get themselves out of the danger zone.

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Youth Intake Update 2022

 

I eagerly anticipated this season’s intake and when the youngsters finally arrived, the whole group looked like this.

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The French winger was anticipated (and indicated by our HoYD in December preview), but the whole group looks fairly international - French, Estonian, Italian, some Dutch, but it looks like foreign talents will dominate this year. Positive change is that the lads have generally better mentality - less unambitious players, better determination and work rate.


 

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The best talent in this year’s group. Right winger with excellent teamwork and decent crossing.

 

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Sadly, the Italian youngster is right winger, like Philippe. Excellent work rate and decent prospect, but could be overshadowed by the counterpart.

 

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Decent midfield prospect. Looks like a BBMs, because of his work rate, but technically needs to improve and gain some physical presence on the pitch.

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April 2022


 

01.04.2022 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 1:0 (ED) - 87. Stefano Denswil (og)

There it was - the title six-pointer. Win here in front of home fans could give us a six point lead. At the same time all the pressure was on PSV, because they needed a win to get to level with us, but a draw would be good enough for us. Keeping that in mind, I set our players to balance 4-2-3-1 formation and tried not to take unnecessary risks with our tactics. Donny van de Beek was back in the line-up, but Joel Veltman injured himself in training last week and knee ligaments injury finished his season. He can’t help the team in those important games, but I believe that we would do fine without him.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie, Taylor (83. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (69. Ünüvar), Tadic (83. Ferreira), Traore

To be fair, it was a boring game. Both teams avoided taking too many risks and were careful. Set pieces looked to be the most dangerous part of the play, but neither of the teams didn’t get any real chances until late in the second half. Substitute Naci Ünüvar delivered a cross into the box, PSV’s Renato Tapia missed his interception and ex-Ajax defender Stefano Denswil got an unfortunate touch to it and could just watch the ball roll over the goal line. Really unfortunate goal for PSV to concede, really lucky moment for us. PSV had just a few minutes to save this game and they threw all men to attack, so just a minute later Lassina Traore got the first clear cut chance of the game to make it 2:0, but he blew his one-on-one moment (he’s scored just one from seven ccc-s in Eredivisie in this season). However, it didn’t matter too much - we took the most valuable win of the season and with this result secured six points lead in the table with just four games to go. One hand on the title!

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • we didn’t allow PSV to create any real chances - I was happy with defensive work from the whole team
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - only few players stood out, but Schuurs did well to win important duels in our own box

 

05.04.2022 - AFC Ajax - FC Barcelona 0:0 (Champions League Quarter Final 1st leg)

We hosted the mighty FC Barcelona and I anticipated a really tough game. Barca still had aging Messi and Suarez in their squad, but also some fresh talent, so it looked like they could really demolish us, so my first hope was not to concede too many goals in the home game. We went to the game without Joel Veltman and Quincy Promes (both injured) and Kenneth Taylor (suspended), so Razvan Marin started in the midfield. I tried to mix up our tactics a little - both full-backs (Pierie and Mazraoui) started in the new role (WBs) and our balanced 4-2-3-1 were set up in a little bit more cautious fashion (less pressing, regroup after loss of possession).

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (84. Salah-Eddine), Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (66. Ünüvar), Tadic, Traore (84. Brobbey)

There’s not much to report from this game. Our best (and the only) chance of the game came in 7’ - Lassina Traore put defenders under pressure, won the ball and went for the kill against their goalkeeper, but Marc-Andre ter Stegen made a good save to deny his chance and that was another wasted opportunity for Traore, who is on another lengthy spell without a goal. The rest of the game was fairly uneventful - we looked good on the pitch and limited Barca chances well, so in the end it remained goalless and for home game it counts as a good result. 

  • our shooting was 10/2 - we had some good headers from set pieces, but struggled to find the target
  • FC Barcelona had no real chances in this game - we looked really good in defense
  • we made 26 individual mistakes in the game - a little bit too many, but Barca players are technically skilled
  • Player of the game: Samuel Umtiti (FC Barcelona) - solid game from the defender, but in truth there weren’t many noteworthy performances


 

08.04.2022 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 1:1 (ED) - 88. Naci Ünüvar - 90. Marouan Azarkan

Between two Barca games we had an important Klassieker derby to play, this time in Amsterdam. Our first derby of the season (in August) finished in a classic 4:3 win where Ryan Gravenberch scored the injury time winner for us, so the fans could anticipate another highly entertaining fixture here in April. We could be a little more relaxed, because we had the home advantage and a six points lead in the table. Feyenoord, however, will come to this game after a 1:6 home defeat from FC Groningen - a really humiliating experience for them. Results have not gone this way and after that 1:6 trashing and dropping to 7th place their manager Fred Rutten finds himself under pressure.

We missed four players for this game: Quincy Promes and Joel Veltman were still injured, Kenneth Taylor and Noussair Mazraoui were suspended after collecting five yellow cards. So, we needed to change our line-up a bit, but our formation was our usual 4-2-3-1 positive.

Squad: Onana, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (65. Salah-Eddine), Regeer, van de Beek, Kühn (78. Ferreira), Gravenberch, Ünüvar, Traore (78. Brobbey)

We dominated the game from the kick-off and held the majority of the possession. Our attacks were frequent and Naci Ünüvar on our left wing was particularly active. He was also the one who had our best chance late in the first half - Ryan Gravenberch found him with a nice forward pass, but Ünüvar couldn’t beat the goalkeeper, so we went to the half-time with 0:0, despite our domination.

I offered some well-measured criticism in my half-time team talk and players looked even more motivated after the break. Ünüvar was unlucky to hit the post in 48’, but generally the second half copied our first period - a lot of possession, some good attacking football and shots (on target), but no goals. I took off Nicolas Kühn and made an unorthodox move to put Gravenberch in AMR position, but that didn’t look to affect him at all. Our breakthrough came finally in 88’ - Steven van der Sloot found Ünüvar with a low cross and the young winger scored what looked like a winner in that moment, but two minutes later we allowed Feyenoord to equalize. Neither Perr Schuurs or Donny van de Beek couldn’t stop their attack from our right side and in the end Andre Onana made a mistake to come out of his line, allowing Marouan Azarkan to score a dramatic equalizer. We had still one perfect opportunity to take the win, though - Marco Ferreira was brought down in the box and Brian Brobbey stepped up to take the penalty in injury time, but his shot was comfortably held by Feyenoord goalkeeper Justin Bijlow. Dismal effort and that blew our chance for the win.

After the game I was naturally disappointed with the result, especially because that missed penalty and general feeling that we deserved to win this game. For the fans it went down as another classic derby game, with a lot of drama in the last five minutes and shared points in the end. At the same time, I was encouraged and happy with what I saw on the pitch - well-organized defense and good attacking football. That’s the way to move on.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 27/14
  • Player of the game: Justin Bijlow (Feyenoord Rotterdam)


 

13.04.2022 - FC Barcelona - AFC Ajax 2:1 (Champions League Quarter Final 2nd leg) - 2. Bernardo Silva, 9. Clement Lenglet - 61. Nicolas Kühn

And here we were at Camp Nou. I didn’t expect to have something to play for in the away leg, but the draw at home made this a fairly exciting encounter. One away goal in this game could help us a lot and the way we contained FC Barcelona in Amsterdam was a big boost to our confidence. Kenneth Taylor was also back in the line-up, so I had no particular reason to worry.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (76. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek (89. Marin), Kühn, Gravenberch, Ünüvar (71. Tadic), Traore

The first ten minutes of the game didn’t predict anything good. In 2’ Bernardo Silva surprised our goalkeeper with a nice shot from the edge of the area and in 9’ Clement Lenglet headed in another goal from a corner. We were down 0:2 within ten minutes and things looked to go south really quickly, but at the same time those goals didn’t come from played out chances, so as the game progressed it got clearer that tactically our game plan was sound and good. Naci Ünüvar was unlucky in 16’ when his header rattled the crossbar and Lassina Traore sent his header over the bar from a pretty good position, so as we went to the half time with 0:2, FC Barcelona hadn’t created a single chance, but were leading and I had to admit that individual skill and brilliance of some of their players (like Bernardo Silva, Messi or Raheem Sterling) could be our downfall in this game.

We managed to improve our game in the second half - Lassina Traore got another half-chance that required a good save from Ter Stegen and when Nicolas Kühn scored a great goal from around 18 meters (a really nice shot) it looked like we had all the chances to equalize and turn things around in the last thirty minutes. We had some promising moments and shots on the target, but that wasn’t enough to find another goal, so in the end we had to accept the defeat. I felt that despite the result, we did well and just needed a little bit more luck (remember, we also hit the framework in the first half), so I can’t fault the effort. There was no dishonour in that defeat and we can be proud of our Champions League campaign.

  • our shooting was 14/5 - headers went mostly off target, but to get 10+ shots in was good enough in itself
  • we didn’t give Barca any real chances in this game
  • we received 7 yellow cards and I had some questions about some refereeing decisions - surely 7 bookings for 17 fouls look a little bit harsh
  • Player of the game: Bernardo Silva (FC Barcelona) - very difficult to contain and scored a really good goal early in the game 

 

17.04.2020 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 4:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Final) - 31., 74., 86. and 90.+4 Lassina Traore

So, here we were - two consecutive games against sc Heerenveen and the first one was the cup final. It was held at De Kuip and the ground was neutral for both teams. Quincy Promes looks close to returning, but it’s still unlikely that he’d play a competitive game this season and Joel Veltman was also injured.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (74. Salah-Eddine), Taylor (74. Regeer), van de Beek, Kühn, Tadic (69. Gravenberch), Ünüvar, Traore

It looked like an even game in the first 30 minutes. I was a bit surprised how high in attack were sc Heerenveen full-backs and how our wings were constantly overwhelmed. Also - sc Heerenveen got almost all of the shots on target and while they weren’t really good chances, I was getting increasingly worried and it looked like we’re the second best team on the pitch. Until it dawned to me that if sc Heerenveen is trying to build possession attacks with a number of players, they should be vulnerable to counter-attacks. So I set Lassina Traore as AFa in our 4-2-3-1, switched mentality to ‘balanced’ and asked the players to search for counters. That paid dividends almost immediately - Nicolas Kühn found Traore on the run with a long ball forward and Traore finished his chance nicely. The first half finished 1:0, even though sc Heerenveen had seven corners in this half and their shot statistics were more impressive.

The same formula continued into the second half - sc Heerenveen pushed their full-backs higher and Lassina Traore continued to get chances in attack. Few of those attempts were saved, but the second goal came in 74’ and Traore completed his hat-trick after a brilliant cross from Anass Salah-Eddine and added another goal to complete the rout in injury time. The final score was clearly demoralizing to sc Heerenveen, but I marked it down as a great tactical win in the final. Lassina Traore finally excelled in his new role - his ability to move well without the ball and break offside traps was really handy here and 4:0 is an impressive win without a doubt.

  • we didn’t give sc Heerenveen any real chances in this game, but still their shots were 10/9
  • we’re now won the cup in three seasons in a row, those 18 games unbeaten is the new competition record
  • Lassina Traore and Naci Ünüvar were exceptional in this win
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - four goals and 9.8 rating

 

24.04.2022 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 27. Ryan Gravenberch, 45.+1 Lassina Traore

One week has passed and sc Heerenveen have licked up their wounds and ready to give us a battle in their home stadium. That’s perhaps the toughest game remaining in our schedule and for our title challenge it’s important to win this one. But because of the cup win I knew what to do - I anticipated that Heerenveen would be even more attacking at home and we should be able to exploit the space in a similar fashion.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (67. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Blind, Pierie (74. Salah-Eddine), Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch, Ünüvar (74. Tadic), Traore

The tactical aim was the same, but it took some time for us to see it working in this game. We were on a counter in 27’ and the pass to Ryan Gravenberch was intercepted by Michael Heylen, but Heylen’s backpass to goalkeeper was way too soft, so Gravenberch took the ball and fired it in with a fierce shot. A little bit of help from a defensive mistake, but we didn’t mind. Lassina Traore doubled our lead with a close range header right before the half-time whistle, so we looked fairly comfortable at half time.

I had to admit that sc Heerenveen improved their game in the second half and we remained too passive with our lead. The best chance of the half came in 59’ when Hakon Evjen had an easy opportunity, but the Norwegian winger sent his shot straight at the goalkeeper and Onana held it comfortably. Despite some good attacks by Heerenveen, we maintained our clean sheet and took a solid away win to finish our month with a series of good results.

  • we made only 8 key passes in this game
  • Player of the game: Ryan Gravenberch


 

Summary

I’m not too disappointed with our results against FC Barcelona, so I have to say that it was a good month for us. We did beat PSV Eindhoven in the league, took some good wins and made some progress towards the title. The cup win was actually really impressive and one of those games when I felt that my ability as a manager contributed directly to achieving the result.

Player of the month for me was Lassina Traore - his contributions against sc Heerenveen were outstanding and I finally got him to score in a new role.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re not yet the Champions, but everything is in our own hands with two games to go. Vitesse have dropped points and fell out of the contest in April, while PSV could still retain some hopes. Go Ahead Eagles are relegated to Eerste Divisie.

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May 2022


 

01.05.2022 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 4:0 (ED) - 8., 22. and 45.+1 Lassina Traore, 10. Donny van de Beek

Just two games in May to wrap this season up and we need one more win to secure our third Eredivisie title under my management. Our opponents PEC Zwolle, however, didn’t have much to play for - they are 12th in the table (as predicted before the season), too far from European places and well safe above relegation zone, so that fire and determination could give us an advantage against them in this game.

I started with our usual positive 4-2-3-1 formation. Kik Pierie got a day off and more attacking Anass Salah-Eddine started as our left wing-back, but the rest of the team remained the same.

Squad: Onana, Mazraoui (55. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (55. Ferreira), Tadic, Traore (55. Brobbey)

We had a really good start and, once again, Lassina Traore as AFa worked like a treat. Dušan Tadic released him with a good pass for our first goal and Donny van de Beek linked up with Nicolas Kühn to score our second just two minutes later. Traore had his second goal with a header and then finished our first half with a brilliant strike from 23 meters that was curled in nicely. PEC Zwolle didn’t really put up a fight and in the first half Traore had completed his hat-trick and Kühn collected three assists.

The second half was more quiet - we made substitutions in 55’ and that slowed things a little bit down. Still, an impressive win and we secured the title in front of our home fans - that was a great moment to celebrate with them.

  • we had 66% possession
  • Daley Blind made his 200th league appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Lassina Traore and Nicolas Kühn were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - another hat-trick from the striker and he really got it going now in the end of the season

 

08.05.2022 - VVV Venlo - AFC Ajax 0:5 (ED) - 25. Brian Brobbey, 34. Devyne Rensch, 58. Tobias Pachonik (og), 81. and 83. Razvan Marin

We didn’t have much to play for in this last game of the season, so I gave opportunities to youngsters and tried to avoid playing the players with one booking short of suspension, so you could say that we took it easy.

That was not the case for VVV Venlo, though. For our opponents it was a survival fight - they needed a win there to retain their place in Eredivisie, so I expected them to throw everything in and fight for every single ball. In that regard it could have been a fascinating contest.

Squad: Raatsie, Mazraoui (55. van der Sloot), Schuurs (74. Lopes), Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Kühn, Ferreira, Tadic (55. Fitz-Jim), Brobbey

It became clear that at least against defense like VVV had, Brian Brobbey worked almost as well in AFa role as Lassina Traore. He got his first opportunity in 15’, but hit the post, but Marco Ferreira found him again with a lovely through ball ten minutes later and this time he didn’t mess it up. Perr Schuurs was unlucky to head it against the post from a corner in 34’, but Devyne Rensch was at the far post to collect it and finish from a close range, so the first half was fairly well controlled and finished with our 2:0 lead.

In the second half we witnessed something that quite often happens in games like that - the losing team gets increasingly frustrated and sometimes players lose their nerves. That happened to VVV’s Evert Linthorst in 55’ and his two-footed tackle earned him a red card. Obviously, we now controlled the midfield completely and in the end goals started to come - the third one from unfortunate deflection from Tobias Pachonik, but then Razvan Marin added two more (his first one was a great strike from 24 meters) and that was it. VVV had one late chance to score a consolation goal when Steven van der Sloot couldn’t stop Vernon Parkes, but Parkes couldn’t beat Calvin Raatsie. The young goalkeeper didn’t have too much to do in this game, but with this late save showed that he can keep his concentration even in games like that. The final score 5:0 was indeed a pretty impressive way to finish our season and I was very happy with that performance, but for VVV that result meant relegation.

  • our shooting was 18/10 in this game
  • Devyne Rensch scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Carlos Manuel Lopes and Kian Fitz-Jim made their league debuts for Ajax in the second half
  • Razvan Marin and Marco Ferreira had a great game for us
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - scored a brace and was overall very good in midfield

 

Summary

We finished our season with two pretty impressive wins, securing our third Eredivisie title in a row and I have all positive feelings from this month. The same can’t be said about Fred Rutten - Feyenoord manager was sacked after the penultimate match day, as 7th place was clearly not good enough for the club of their reputation.

There were other rumours too, before the end of the season. Certain Pep Guardiola was fired by Manchester City and I was briefly linked to the job, but City went for Jose Mourinho instead, so this speculation had no grounds.

One more note from this month - the Champions League final turned out to be another El Clasico and Real Madrid took another title with a 2:1 extra time win over FC Barcelona.


 

Eredivisie

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Somehow AZ Alkmaar leaped several places in the last weeks and finished in 4th place. Can’t really explain their final push, because they were stuck in the middle of the table for so long. Go Ahead Eagles and VVV Venlo were relegated, but Heracles retained their place after the play-offs, so De Graafschap and Fortuna Sittard are two clubs that will move up from the Eerste Divisie

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Season Summary 2021/2022

 

That season counts as success. At least in the end we can count our goals to be achieved - third Eredivisie title in a row, third cup win in a row (our cup success has been perhaps the biggest surprise to me so far) and we’ve collected the Johan Cruijff Schaal as well. In the Champions League we reached the Quarter Finals and exceeded expectations of most pundits. 

As manager I wasn’t so satisfied with our season, because at times we fell to poor form, morale dropped and injuries started to affect our results, so our season wasn’t as smooth and easy a run as it looks from the titles.

 

Squad

That was the year when some of the players really excelled and worked their way into our first team. Joel Veltman had troubles with injuries and Perr Schuurs pushed him out of the first team place, making DRC position his own and providing consistently good performances. He was selected as the player of the season by our fans as a result. Nicolas Kühn had to step up again after Quincy Promes was out and managed to collect some important goals and assists - his attributes make me think he’s not good enough to remain to Ajax, but his performances on the pitch constantly exceed his abilities and when in form, he’s good enough at least in Eredivisie level. And Marco Ferreira showed some signs of what sort of player he could become when he continues to get good minutes.

 

Ajax end of season awards

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Statistics

The first thing that stands up is our lack of goals - in most of the games we scored once or twice and big wins were rare. It’s consistent with our lack of clear cut chances - the number of ccc-s dropped significantly (37 in 34 league games) and while we took them fairly well (20 goals, 17 missed), we just had too few of those.

Set piece goals dried up, too (from 19 to 10 in the league). We were so lethal from corners and free kicks in the past seasons, but our opponents probably learned from that and started to prepare better. 

All of our injuries to key players, Antony’s departure in August and overall lack of goals meant that goalscoring was fairly well distributed within the team and it took a while before the first player reached 10 goals in this season. Our best goalscorer Lassina Traore reached 18 at the end of the season and it’s not really impressive.

At the same time, our defense was pretty good - we conceded just 18 goals in Eredivisie and 26 clean sheets by Andre Onana is the new club record. Some changes in our tactics improved our defensive organization and we didn’t concede too many chances. All our goalkeepers did contribute to our goot statistics, as Calvin Raatsie and Kjell Scherpen saved a number of clear cut chances.

 

Ajax goals: Lassina Traore 18, Naci Ünüvar 12, Dušan Tadic

Ajax assists: Dušan Tadic 12, Noussair Mazraoui 9




 

Eredivisie Awards

 

Golden Boot

  1. Mohamed Taabouni - AZ Alkmaar
  2. Javi Espinosa - FC Twente Enschede
  3. Sam Lautenschutz - Sparta Rotterdam

 

Top Goalscorer

  1. Runar Espejord - FC Emmen (18)
  2. Thomas Buitink - Vitesse Arnhem (14)
  3. Zakaria Aboukhlal - FC Groningen (13)

 

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Karol Niemczycki - Sparta Rotterdam
  2. Rody de Boer - AZ Alkmaar
  3. Timon Wellenreuther - sc Heerenveen

 

Young Player of the Season

  1. Mohamed Taabouni - AZ Alkmaar
  2. Sam Lautenschutz - Sparta Rotterdam
  3. Mohamed Ihattaren - PSV Eindhoven

 

Manager’s Manager of the Year

  1. Ruud Kaiser - FC Groningen
  2. Me
  3. Ernest Faber - PSV Eindhoven
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June-July 2022

 

Our offseason started with some agreements with the board that included club improvements. The board granted me an extra number of coaches (now 14) and scouts (now 12). Also, works began with the training facilities and the board invested extra £2,5m to our training ground. I was delighted with the board’s commitment, although at this point in my save we are extremely rich and our transfer budget exceeds £360m, so those small improvements are not a big effort, but it makes my work somewhat easier, still.

I used this advantage and signed Alexander Frei as our new coach for Jong Ajax.

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Players and transfers

Offseason began with some troubling news about Kjell Scherpen. Our backup goalkeeper broke his leg in training and he’ll be sidelined almost until Christmas. At the same time Tottenham started to sniff around Andre Onana to replace Hugo Lloris and soon matched his minimum release fee clause £50m. So, we lost our two best goalkeepers within a month and that was indeed worrying. Onana transfer wasn’t the only one this Summer - Naci Ünüvar joined Everton for £33m (up to £46m with clauses) and Kik Pierie joined Real Madrid for £58m. Losing three first team players in one transfer window is actually what I expected, but Onana shoes might be too big for young goalkeepers to fill.

So, with first team players moving out and big money moving in, I started to look around and secure our future by signing new deals for other (younger) players. Centre-back Devyne Rensch signed a new long contract until 2027, Youri Regeer, Kian Fitz-Jim and young goalkeeper Gürcan Dere also extended their deals, but I failed to get the signature of Donny van de Beek. I need to keep in mind that Dušan Tadic and Daley Blind are closing the end of their careers and I need leaders on the pitch for the future, but it appears that we have to continue negotiations in a couple of months.

I also made some decisions about the youngsters who were not good enough to continue in Ajax. Max de Waal, Donny Warmerdam, Nordin Musampa, Alexis Mendez and Jurgen Ekkelenkamp left the club and released positions in Jong Ajax. Some of those players were fairly decent and could have played a rotation/backup role in the first team, but I don’t want them to occupy positions for more talented youngsters.

One more decision that could impact our team dynamics - Joel Veltman was appointed as our new vice captain.


 

23.07.2022 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 1:1 (Johan Cruijff Schaal) - 20. Lassina Traore - 90.+3 Mohamed Ihattaren

Traditional season-opener for us, but this time we had the home advantage, because the game was held at Johan Cruijff Arena. I checked PSV scouting report before the game and found out that they haven’t changed a bit this Summer - not a single incoming transfers and no noteworthy departures either, so I expected a pretty similar game as we had in the last season and, indeed, PSV came against us with their usual 4-1-4-1 formation. We had all players fit and match fit - pre-season friendlies went well and all of the players got enough game time.

Squad: Raatsie, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (85. Douglas), Taylor, van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch, Tadic (71. Kühn), Traore (85. Brobbey)

We started well and completely controlled the midfield in the first half. Created chances, too. Lassina Traore found a few half-chances and got a clear cut chance within the first 15 minutes, but his attempts were blocked. A header in 16’ hit the upright, but finally we took the lead after PSV defense made a mistake in their box. Timo Baumgartle tried to make a clearance, failed and the ball fell to Traore, who scored with a placed shot. The first half finished with a 1:0 score, but it was a well deserved lead, because we controlled possession and PSV got remotely dangerous only from the set pieces.

The same continued into the second half, although PSV got their defense slightly more in order. We had plenty of shots on target, but couldn’t score the second goal and as it happens so often, PSV found the late equalizer after switching to a very attacking formation in the final minutes. Perr Schuurs seemed to miss his header in injury time and Mohamed Ihattaren scored from the first half chance that PSV found in the entire game. A little bit harsh, but what to do. I was disappointed with that ending, of course, but as the rules predict, extra time wasn’t played and the game continued with the penalty shoot-out. PSV had the advantage of taking their penalties first and our hopes were on young Calvin Raatsie to make a difference. The first four penalties were very good and confident from both sides - Kenneth Taylor, Brian Brobbey, Nicolas Kühn scored for us, but after Raatsie made his first good save in the shoot-out, van de Beek couldn’t keep his composure and missed his penalty. The shoot-out continued with the 6th round and Raatsie managed to make another good stop from the line and this time Ryan Gravenberch scored his penalty to give us the fourth consecutive Johan Cruijff Schaal win.

It was a struggle, but I was delighted with the win and it was great to see that Calvin Raatsie can make a difference in goal. Our general performance during those 90 minutes looked really good and I feel we’re ready for the season and that win (although narrow) gives us some confidence to take with us to the first league game

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 20/7 - pretty good against PSV
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - good passes, created three chances and made 9 dribbles


 

31.07.2022 - Sparta Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 16. and 35. Perr Schuurs, 16. Donny van de Beek, 45.+2 Lassina Traore

Eredivisie kicks off really early this year and we have our first league game already in July. We visit Sparta Rotterdam, who are a decent mid-table side (predicted 12th), but nothing more - they had a few additions to their defensive line during the Summer, but those are rather poor choices to my eyes and we face pretty much the same team we met in the past season.

I decided to use a positive 4-2-3-1 formation in the away game and made one change to our starting line-up: Dušan Tadic didn’t impress against PSV, so Nicolas Kühn starts on our right and Quincy Promes moves to the left flank.

Squad: Raatsie, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (60. Regeer), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (68. Ferreira), Promes, Traore (68. Brobbey)

We started well. In fact, the whole first half was really good from us. Lassina Traore got his first clear cut chance already in 3’, after Ryan Gravenberch found him with the long ball over the top, but the striker sent his shot wide. We then managed to score two goals within a minute. Perr Schuurs headed in from a  corner and Donny van der Beek doubled our lead with a lovely strike from 19 meters. There was perhaps 47 seconds between two goals and Sparta was taken aback by those moments, but they gathered themselves quickly enough. In 35’ Schuurs scored another header from a corner (a carbon copy of the first goal - Quincy Promes’ delivery and Schuurs’ header from the far post) and Lassina Traore converted his half-chance in injury time to make it 4:0 before the half time whistle.

I was delighted with the situation at half time - we’d looked so good and clinical in the first half and enjoyed a comfortable lead, even though there was some complacency in our body language.

Sparta made some changes to their tactics (or was it our complacency) and they looked much better in the first half - kept more of the ball and soon started to create chances. Calvin Raatsie had an opportunity to showcase his abilities and he made a fine stop to turn away Gustavo Hamer’s attempt and then parry Darren Hall’s half-chance, before taking away a clear cut chance from Hall after Devyne Rensch left a gap to exploit in our defense. We didn’t look too good in the second half and Raatsie did well to keep a clean sheet and our four goal lead was too big for Sparta to mount a serious come-back, but I didn’t like the turn that this game took after the break. The final score was impressive despite that drop in our performance and we started our league campaign with a pretty impressive win.

  • we somehow lost possession 48/52 - Sparta had initiative and possession in the second half, should have press their DLP better
  • we made just 5 key passes in this game (Sparta made 15!)
  • Perr Schuurs and Quincy Promes were outstanding for us - Schuurs scored a brace and Promes gave three assists
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs
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