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FM20 AFC Ajax - the best youth system in Eredivisie


Draakon
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Eredivisie Transfer Update Summer 2022

 

Summer transfer window was a bit different, this time. We made all the major moves in this window, selling players and hoarding £160m+ in transfer fees. At the same time our competitors were rather quiet and even though there were player movements in and around Eredivisie, most of the clubs weren’t prepared to invest a lot. PSV Eindhoven looked especially quiet and until August they didn’t add a single player to their squad, then signing experienced centre-back Mike te Wierik.

AZ Alkmaar was the one team that suddenly activated in August, allowing some first team players to leave for a decent transfer fee and bringing ex-Ajax player Carel Eiting back to Eredivisie from Belgium. AZ made a good £34m profit in this transfer window and it’s interesting to see if it benefits them in long term or not.

 

The biggest transfers in Eredivisie

  • Kik Pierie from AFC Ajax to Real Madrid for £58m
  • Andre Onana from AFC Ajax to Tottenham for £50m
  • Naci Ünüvar from AFC Ajax to Everton for £33m (£46m)
  • Calvin Raatsie from AFC Ajax to Hertha BSC for £23,5m
  • Chidera Ejuke from AZ Alkmaar to Norwich City for £14,5m
  • Arnaut Danjuma from AZ Alkmaar to TSG 1899 Hoffenheim for £12m
  • Thomas Buitink from Vitesse Arnhem to Southampton for £8m (£10m)
  • Myron van Brederode from AZ Alkmaar to Hamburger SV for £8,25m
  • Carel Eiting from Charleroi SC to AZ Alkmaar for £7,75m
  • Deyovaisio Zeefuik from Newcastle United to Feyenoord Rotterdam for £7,5m
  • Mike te Wierik from Derby County to PSV Eindhoven for £5,25m
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September 2022


 

11.09.2022 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 2:1 (ED) - 3. Lassina Traore, 82. Brian Brobbey - 89. Noud van Kempen

The international window passed and so did the transfer deadline day. We’re back to Eredivisie action and desperate to bounce back with a win, even though sc Heerenveen is a fairly strong team to go against. Our problem in September were injuries and there were so many of them - Dušan Tadic was out for 2-3 weeks with a pulled calf muscle, Stefan van der Sloot was doubtful with a small knock and even though Quincy Promes was close to returning, we had to play this game without him. Good news is that Perr Schuurs is fit again and ready to start.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (75. Douglas), Marin, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (65. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim, Traore (37. Brobbey)

We had a great start to the game - Mazraoui’s cross was headed in from close range by Lassina Traore and we took the lead after just a couple of minutes. Traore had another half chance soon after, but then sc Heerenveen showed that they, too, had come to play football. A number of shots on target by Arjen van der Heide and Joshua Brenet required good saves from Gürcan Dere and even though our young goalkeeper did well to parry those shots, those saves weren’t the most comfortable ones. Then we had a brilliant chance to take charge of the game - Lassina Traore was tripped in the box and VAR awarded a penalty, but Razvan Marin made a mess of it. His spot kick was held (yes, held!) by the Heerenveen goalkeeper and experienced Romanian looked extremely embarrassed. The rest of the first half was uneventful, except Lassina Traore’s knock in 37’ that made me take him off as a precaution - more important games were coming and I hoped that he’d recover in a couple of days.

The second half was similarly uneventful - we continued with a balanced mentality and neither of the two teams could find a good chance until sc Heerenveen started to take more risks with ten minutes to go. That was instantly punished by a goal from Brian Brobbey and for a while it took like it settled the result, but late in the game a 16 years old talented striker Noud van Kempen managed to score one for sc Heerenveen (their first clear cut chance of the game) and made the last minutes a little bit nervous. sc Heerenveen continued to throw players in attack and so Nicolas Kühn had a late chance, but his injury time shot went wide of the far post. So, the final result 2:1 was good enough after the Vitesse defeat and I was happy to return to winning ways. I was equally happy to learn that Traore’s knock was indeed a light one and he should be fit for the upcoming Champions League game. What stood out in our post-match analysis was that our attacking midfield was rather poor in this game - not a lot of creativity and lack of chances in the first half is not an encouraging sign. Nicolas Kühn had a poor game, Kian Fitz-Jim got to play full 90 minutes, but failed to impress and Ryan Gravenberch was wasteful with his scoring opportunities.

  • Player of the game: Lucas Schoofs (sc Heerenveen)


 

14.09.2022 - AFC Ajax - Borussia Dortmund 1:1 (Champions League Group G) - 73. Kian Fitz-Jim - 32. Mykola Shaparenko

Tricky game to start our Champions League campaign with. Morale is a little better after sc Heerenveen win, but we need to get something from every single home game in the Champions League group and Dortmund is probably the best team in the group, so it won’t be easy. To my relief Quincy Promes is fit again and ready to start (although cautioned to last only 75 minutes by my physios). Dušan Tadic is still out, so we have to get by without him.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (66. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch, Promes (66. Fitz-Jim), Traore (81. Brobbey)

The first half looked fairly even. Dortmund had more of the ball, but we had perhaps better chances. Nicolas Kühn saw his attempt being tipped over in 6’ and Ryan Gravenberch had the first good chance to open scoring in 13’ - his long run with the ball finished in the Dortmund box, but the shot was blasted well wide. ex-Ajax player Justin Kluivert is now a Dortmund man and his skills with the ball on our right wing caused us the most problems. Mazraoui and Schuurs tried hard to limit his space, but the goal came from where we didn’t expect it. Dortmund’s Ukrainian midfielder Mykola Shaparenko delivered a low drive into the bottom corner from 20 meters and that was a brilliant strike - just too good for Gürcan Dere. That strike was the difference at half time, but my second concern was the fact that we lost possession 37/63 and it looked difficult to find an equalizer without the ball.

The second half was slightly better from us - Ryan Gravenberch’s close range attempt was blocked in 53’, but I then made substitutions and Kian Fitz-Jim replaced Promes on our left wing. The 19 years old winger looked calm and composed enough for his first Champions League match and his runs caused Dortmund some problems and eventually led to our equalizer. Kian skipped elegantly past two defenders and finished with a lovely strike into the far post. A brilliant goal from the youngster and I was beaming at the sidelines. We had even a bit more initiative and could have found a winner with a little more luck, but when the final whistle was called, both managers had to accept that the draw was probably a fair result.

  • Player of the game: Mykola Shaparenko (Borussia Dortmund)


 

17.09.2022 - FC Utrecht - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 45. Oussama Tannane (og), 61. and 81. Lassina Traore

Next up, a rival game with FC Utrecht. It’s been a strange year for Utrecht - they had serious problems in the last season and almost ended up in a relegation battle, but somehow managed to pull themselves together, finishing 14th. You’d think that the board and manager Henk de Jong would address the situation during the Summer transfer window, but they really didn’t. Not a single noteworthy transfer and their squad is the same that they had in the last year, so it wasn’t a big surprise when they started their season with five straight defeats. They finally managed to get their first win against De Graafschap, but it’s clear that de Jong is still experimenting and trying to find a winning formula in terms of best eleven and tactics, so we should be ready for surprises.

We go to this game with a pretty good feeling - we’re third in the table, but have played fairly well in September and our key players are starting to get fit - Quincy Promes starts again, with Dušan Tadic very close to returning Youri Regeer is back in light training, so it could be that for a while the worst injury crisis is behind us.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine (65. Douglas), Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (72. Ferreira), Promes (75. Fitz-Jim), Traore 

We started well - Lassina Traore found the first clear cut chance in 11’, but his attempt was blocked - but generally it was a poor first half from us. FC Utrecht looked always just a little bit short of goal and their best opportunity came in 24’ - our defense was picked apart too easily with short passes and it led to an easy chance to their striker Özcan Yasar, but Gürcan Dere (once again) made a great save to deny a clear goalscoring opportunity. We were a little bit fortunate to go in with a 1:0 lead. In the last minute of the first half we had a corner, Ryan Gravenberch sent a header towards goal, Oussama Tannane got his head to it and almost cleared it off the line, but directed it into the goal instead. Lucky goal and I’m not sure we deserved it, but it made my team talk much easier and our second half, too.

I made some tactical changes at half time - switched to balanced and asked Veltman to play as FBs. It made our defense more compact and helped with possession, but the most important moment came in 61’ when we scored our second goal. Anass Salah-Eddine delivered a wonderful cross to near post and Lassina Traore headed it in. That was a massive relief. FC Utrecht needed to attack more and they switched to 3-4-3, but it didn’t help them. Instead, we found space on our counter-attacks and Traore added another goal after a good transition football to make our three points secure. I was very pleased with our second half football after a disappointing first period and I was happy with a 3:0 win from away game.

  • we had 60% possession
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - scored twice today and he has now six goals in Eredivisie games, but he’s still just 2 out of 7 in clear cut chances, so there’s plenty of room for improvement

 

20.09.2022 - Fenerbahce - AFC Ajax 0:2 (Champions League Group G) - 15. pen. Dušan Tadic, 87. Marco Ferreira

Fenerbahce looks the weakest side on paper, at least compared to Dortmund and Inter, but we needed to be tactically on spot, especially in away games. They also had a powerful tall forward in Vedat Muriqi who is a clear danger in every set piece, so we couldn’t afford them too many free kicks. I set our team up in a little bit of an unorthodox 4-2-3-1 formation. Balanced mentality, but focused on counter-attacks with players like Traore and Promes providing both pace and dribbling abilities.

It’s good to see Dušan Tadic back in the starting line-up and it looks like our team is close to full fitness, as Kjell Scherpen also starts a rehabilitation program after his broken foot has now almost healed.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin, Promes Gravenberch (68. Ferreira), Tadic (82. Fitz-Jim), Traore (76. Brobbey)

The game was impacted by an early red card - Fenerbahce’s Miha Zajc lost his cool and elbowed Kenneth Taylor in front of the referee, so Fenerbahce was left with 10 men only 12’ from the kick-off. Soon after we earned a penalty - Tadic was pushed in the box and the experienced Serb took the spot kick himself to make it 1:0. We controlled the rest of the first half, but Fenerbahce got some shots on target, too. Lassina Traore had a chance to double our lead after Razvan Marin found him with an excellent ball over the top, but the striker missed the target completely - another missed opportunity for him. The first half result gave us some confidence and we switched back to possession football for the second half. We limited Fenerbahce chances after the break, but they didn’t surrender and at least tried to find an equalizer. Mohamed Elyonouissi took an ambitious shot from 25 meters that landed against the crossbar and sent a cold shiver down my spine. In the end we started to find chances in their box and substitute Marco Ferreira scored a brilliant goal after an equally skilled pass from Quincy Promes. Great strike from the youngster and that settled the result. I was happy with the outcome, because in a tight group like we had, every point counts and taking all three from an away game helps a lot. I was also delighted with our defensive work and a clean sheet.

  • our shooting was 20/11 in this game and we created 3 clear cut chances
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - came in and scored a brilliant goal
  • PSV is also playing in the group stage and they took their second win in two games, beating AS Roma 2:0 in Eindhoven. Hopefully this will be a good year for Dutch football in the Champions League

 

24.09.2022 - Willem II Tilburg - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 90.+1 Venitchio Sint - 52. Marco Ferreira, 75. Lassina Traore

Willem II is a curious team - they look like a minnow, but possess some good players and the core of their first eleven has played together for a while, so in predictions they’re placed safely in 10th place and it means that at least in their southern home they can cause problems to any opponents. I was also aware of the fact that they lead Eredivisie charts with three goals from free kicks, so we made an extra training session and practiced defending set pieces before the game. We have two advantages, though. Firstly the fact that Willem II have their own goalkeeper problems (as do we) - their first choice goalie broke his finger yesterday and so 21 years old inexperienced Connor van den Berg is set to make his debut. Secondly, their quick winger Che Nunnely is suspended for this game after being sent off in their previous match.

Tactically I anticipated defensive 4-2-3-1 with two DMC-s and wasn’t disappointed. I tried to find a good balance between applying pressure to their formation and guarding against counter-attacks and went for a balanced mentality, but the biggest change was starting with Marco Ferreira in AMC position with APs instructions, hoping that his vision and creativity could make a difference against that defensive wall of players.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (69. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Ferreira, Promes (75. Fitz-Jim), Traore (75. Brobbey)

The first half was pretty much as I expected - we enjoyed a lot of possession and limited Willem II chances, but had difficulties to create something in attack. Set pieces looked promising, as Marco Ferreira can deliver mean corners, and Perr Schuurs found a couple of chances from those, but his headers were held by Connor van der Berg. Lassina Traore found one opportunity on the break and his attempt looked fairly good, but van der Berg parried it and so the score remained 0:0 at the half-time.

I knew we had to change something and I asked the team to shoot on sight - if we can’t crack them open to a clear cut chance, at least let’s have a go and put their young goalkeeper under pressure. That approach brought dividends in 52’ - Lassina Traore’s first attempt was blocked, but Marco Ferreira arrived into the box to finish from 14 meters with a lovely strike that stunned van den Berg and so we were in control of the game. van den Berg showed that he was indeed error-prone, when he couldn’t collect Nicolas Kühn’s fairly easy header and Traore finished it from the rebound. With 2:0 it looked like a game over, but of course, it wasn’t. Noussair Mazraoui got too carried away and took two yellow cards inside the final 20 minutes to be sent off in 82’. We had around ten minutes to go with 10 men and no right-back. I moved Razvan Marin to fill the DR position, but Willem II smelled their chance and instantly tried to apply pressure to us. That worked in injury time - at first Venitchio Sint won an aerial duel against Anass Salah-Eddine to score a close range header and in the third minute into the injury time Keziah Veendorp got through (Salah-Eddine ‘forgot’ to foul him in midfield) on a counter and was one-on-one against Dere. Our goalkeeper came out of his line well to make the angle as narrow as possible and luckily for us Veendorp’s shot was a defender’s finish and went wide of the post. With that little scare in the end of the game my happiness about our first 75 minutes disappeared and at the time we got into the dressing room I was furious with Mazraoui - we  nearly dropped two points because of his foolishness. But, after calming down, I have to say that our first 75 minutes were composed and we controlled the game well - exactly what is needed in an away game, so I can’t fault the performance until the red card.

  • we had 73% possession in this game, with 94% (700+) passes completed
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - a great goal from him, good corner deliveries and 6 key passes as an advanced playmaker - very good performance


 

27.09.2022 - Inter Milan - AFC Ajax 1:3 (Champions League Group G) - 13. Sebastiano Esposito - 4. Lorenzo Pellegrini (og), 26. and 70. Quincy Promes

Our third game of the group and a bit different challenge than our previous games. What makes it tricky is the 5-3-2 WB formation that Inter uses so efficiently and it’s been a while since we played against it the last time. I expect it to be a very tough game at San Siro and we’d be very happy with a point from this match. Our main concern is Inter’s wonderkid Sebastiano Esposito - he looks impossible to handle in attack. At the same time, other teams have had relative success against them with a 4-2-3-1 formation and could be shut down.

Good news first - Kjell Scherpen and Youri Regeer are still in rehabilitation, but all the other players are ready and fit enough to start, so I have a good selection available and a number of possible tactical solutions.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Blind, Marin, van de Beek (82. Taylor), Promes, Gravenberch, Tadic (70. Fitz-Jim), Traore (82. Brobbey)

We had a great start to the game. Well, in truth, we had a really lucky start. Dušan Tadic sent a free kick into the opponent’s box and it took a mean deflection from Lorenzo Pellegrini to bounce into the goal. Really lucky goal for us and it instantly eased some pressure from us. Inter weren’t rattled and their wonderkid Esposito headed in from a corner in 13’. Inter dominated the possession and at times it looked that in their formation all seven players were in attack, so we switched to counter-attack and it brought dividends - Lassina Traore moved the ball into the box in a counter, got a shot on target and even though it was saved, Quincy Promes was there to finish from a close range. We managed to hold on in defense and went to the break with a 2:1 lead that I was delighted with.

The second half continued in a similar fashion - Inter tried to attack, we defended fairly deep (despite our 4-2-3-1 formation) and tried to find counter-attacks. We didn’t find a counter, but got a goal instead. Some patient possession and passing and in the end Donny van de Beek found Quincy Promes in the box. The winger had his back towards the goal, but he turned around quickly and fired it in with a fierce shot! A brilliant goal and with just twenty minutes to go, Inter were in big trouble. In the end they didn’t recover from our third goal and their attacks led to just a couple of half chances. Their most dangerous moment came when their centre-back Milan Skriniar found the post from an IFK, but that was it - the final whistle was called and we fought ourselves a brilliant result from the away game. Yes, the first goal was a bit lucky, I have to admit, but we were very good tactically during the game and I feel like it was a brilliant manager’s win. It’s such a great feeling to get things right in the Champions League in a game like this and I was delighted with the team for pulling this out.

  • we had 60% possession, even though Inter were more attacking of the two teams
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - scored two important goals and deservedly the best player tonight


 

Summary

I’m really happy with our September. Yes, it has been a struggle at times and we have had to dig deep to get the results in some games, but everything has come our way and we’re getting better and more confident as this run goes on. I’m especially delighted with our standings in the Champions League - seven points from the first three games and we’re leading the group. I just hope that we won’t mess this up in the next round of games.

 

Eredivisie

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Feyenoord have climbed to lead the table and it’s still a contest between them, us and Vitesse. At the bottom of the table FC Utrecht and FC Groningen are still struggling to get enough points to climb higher in the table, while Fortuna Sittard looks like the main candidate for relegation in this season.

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October 2022

 

There’s six games in October and it’s one of those months that balances tough with (supposedly) easy. Two difficult Champions League games, but our Eredivisie schedule gets easier and offers us a variety of smaller teams, both home and away.


 

02.10.2022 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 53. Lassina Traore, 90.+3 pen. Kenneth Taylor

FC Twente hasn’t changed much - they still use 4-2-3-1, no major transfers and perhaps one thing to note is that they have started most of their games with a towering striker Jay-Roy Grot in the front. He was mostly on the bench in the last season, but has made his breakthrough now and even though he only has one Eredivisie goal in his name this season, I have to be aware of his jumping attribute (17).

We have two players missing for this game in addition to Youri Regeer and Kjell Scherpen. Noussair Mazraoui is suspended and Brian Brobbey pulled his ankle ligaments in training and will be out for a couple of weeks, so a little bit limited squad selection, but most of the players are still available and fit to start.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (75. Douglas), Taylor, van de Beek, Promes (68. Kühn), Ferreira, Tadic, Traore

The first half was poor, let’s be honest. We didn’t put enough pressure on FC Twente and allowed them to build from the back and Marco Ferreira’s role as APs was ineffective, in retrospect. FC Twente got to float crosses in our area and their strikers Jay-Roy Grot and Ondrej Mihalik were extremely dangerous with their headers. The best chance for our opponents came in 30’ when Grot got a free header on target from close range, but Gürcan Dere once again did very well to parry it.

I made tactical changes at half time, tried to wake up the players and things improved a lot after the break. Quincy Promes found his first clear cut chance of the game in 51’ when Dušan Tadic delivered a beautiful deep cross to him, but the winger couldn’t finish from close range. Traore’s strike gave us the lead soon after and we controlled the second half much better - FC Twente struggled to break into our third, we had much more possession and created attacks after attacks. Late in the game Lassina Traore had a great opportunity to double our lead after substitute Kian Fitz-Jim found him with a long ball forward and finally in injury time we scored the second goal. It came from the penalty - Lassina Traore was tripped in the box, the referee consulted with VAR, but awarded the penalty and Kenneth Taylor stepped up and converted it calmly to wrap things up.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 19/12 - for away game it is pretty good
  • we created 3 clear cut chances
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - very solid in defense, 2 key tackles and 4 key headers, he really leads the defensive line for us


 

15.10.2022 - AFC Ajax - De Graafschap 1:0 (ED) - 82. Nicolas Kühn

One of the easiest games (on paper) in our schedule. Newly-promoted De Graafschap have actually done well and find themselves in the 14th position after nine games. Their squad doesn’t look good enough to stay in Eredivisie, though, but they have taken points when possible and, compared to other small teams, do fairly well.

We enjoyed the international break and I felt that we have a luxury to rotate a little in this game, but at the same time several players who carried the load in their international games returned a little tired, so Noussair Mazraoui, Daley Blind and Razvan Marin were rested anyway. Good news is that Youri Regeer is back in full training and he should be fit enough to contribute on a pitch in a week.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Promes (75. Kühn), Ferreira (68. Gravenberch), Tadic (75. Fitz-Jim), Traore

Our first half-chance came in 6’ when Marco Ferreira had a crack after IFK, but his attempt was blocked and …. it remained our only chance of the first half. We dominated the game completely, got a number of shots on target and looked dangerous from set pieces, but all of the attempts were dealt by De Graafschap goalkeeper Guus Vaags. We just lacked the cutting edge and creativity, even though it often looked like we’re just about to score. Donny van de Beek’s header from a corner hit the post after Guus Vaags got a hand to it and the frustrating first half finished 0:0.

I switched to attacking 4-2-3-1 in the second half and we put even more pressure on De Graafschap box, but without much effect, until substitutions had the desired effect. In 80’ De Graafschap had the possession for a while and tried to build up something in our half, but when they lost the ball we finally had some space to break into. Ryan Gravenberch ran with the ball and found Nicolas Kühn on the right with a beautiful pass. Kühn didn’t hesitate and finished the move with a placed shot into the near bottom corner. Lovely. For a long time it looked like we couldn’t score a goal and in the end we got a breakthrough. It remained 1:0 and despite our win I had no reason to share praise in our dressing room after the final whistle. We had been pretty lacklustre and we need to do better in our next games.

  • we somehow lost possession 45/55 - De Graafschap played slow possession game with the ball
  • our shooting was 30/15 in this game
  • we didn’t give De Graafschap any goalscoring opportunities - they had just one attempt in the whole game
  • our average rating was 6.79 - not impressed, but good reflection of our performance
  • Lassina Traore made his 100th appearance for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Guus Vaags (De Graafschap) - impressive game from the goalkeeper who did so well until the game

 

We’re in October, but FC Groningen already lost patience with their manager Ruud Kaiser and let him go after another defeat. They soon appointed Hans-Dieter Flick as their new manager - pretty good deal to get the signature of the ex-Bayern manager to help them climb up from the relegation zone and improve their overall performance.


 

18.10.2022 - AFC Ajax - Inter Milan 2:2 (Champions League Group G) - 37. Ryan Gravenberch, 87. Quincy Promes - 24. and 90.+3 Sebastiano Esposito

Back to serious challenges - Inter will come to town and we’ll meet them in Johan Cruijff Arena. We did exceptionally well to beat them 3:1 in Milan, so I have every reason to believe that they will come for revenge and try to settle the score. The standings in our Group G is adding another pressure on our opponents - they have now only 3 points and we have 7, so if they should lose this game here in Amsterdam they’d be effectively out of competition and we’d go through with Dortmund.

We have almost all of the players fit for this game - only Kjell Scherpen has some more work to do - and it’s one of those fixtures when tactical preparation and carefully selected instructions could make a huge difference. I went with a balanced 4-2-3-1 and selected my squad accordingly.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (68. Marin), Promes, Gravenberch, Tadic (75. Kühn), Traore (75. Brobbey)

We had a scary moment in 18’ when Sebastiano Esposito headed against the crossbar from an IFK, but generally we did well enough until 24’ when Daley Blind’s lost possession led to a counter-attack by Milan and ultimately a goal by Esposito. Bad mistake from Blind and he left us in trouble for a while, but Ryan Gravenberch equalized with a good header in 37’ and we went to half time with a 1:1 score line. Both teams were careful with attacking and there weren’t too many shots in the first half, so I felt that 1:1 for half time score looked fairly good to us.

The second half was equally careful. Joel Veltman, this time in right-back and FBs role, had an ambitious attempt on target in 53’ - that almost caught Inter goalkeeper Oier Olazabal off guard, but he eventually managed to tip it over from the top corner. It looked like 1:1 was the most likely result until Quincy Promes provided a magical moment late in the game - his cracking attempt from 21 meters twisted and turned in the air and finally went in off the post to give us the lead so late in the game. What a moment of brilliance from Promes and we firmly believed that we’re in control now and just have to see this out for the win. Unfortunately, it wasn’t to be. Gürcan Dere has been performing extremely well in this season and I half-expected him to make a costly mistake in almost every next game, but here, in injury time, he finally made it. It was a long ball wide by Inter and Dere did well to come out and get there first. The wise decision would have been to just clear it for the throw in, but instead he dallied on the ball for too long until Sebastiano Esposito arrived, took it away and sent it to our empty goal from 30 meters. It was a very good finish, from an angle (almost near the corner flag) and some distance away, but the mistake by Dere was cringeworthy. I should be furious about it, but how can I pour my disappointment over an 18 years old goalkeeper who’s making his first full season and has done so well in both Eredivisie and Champions League so far, without much experience. He was bound to make a mistake sooner or later, just the timing was perhaps the worst possible one. So, with that blunder we gave away the win and didn’t secure our qualification just yet. The draw would have been a good result before the game, but now we just felt robbed. But at the same time there’s no need to panic, because nothing’s lost either. Let’s see how this campaign goes forward.

  • our shooting was 20/10 - we didn’t create any real chances in this game, but managed to score twice against Inter
  • we made only 3 key passes - that’s a cause for concern
  • Player of the game: Sebastiano Esposito (Inter Milan)


 

22.10.2022 - AFC Ajax - Fortuna Sittard 3:1 (ED) - 19. and 85. Kian Fitz-Jim, 72. Nicolas Kühn - 43. Stijn Meijer

We have a very tight schedule and another Champions League game coming up in just three days, so this is the moment for rotation players and youngsters to show themselves. Fortuna is a small team and we’re heavy favourites, but some risks need to be taken and I expect the lads to be good enough to win this at home. Youri Regeer is now fit and starts his first game after injury.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Veltman, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (77. Douglas), Regeer, Marin, Kühn, Ferreira (71. Gravenberch), Fitz-Jim, Brobbey (67. Traore)

We dominated the first half and had several half chances in the game and one of them led to our first goal. Kian Fitz-Jim reacted quickly to score with a nice volley, but for the first half it remained our only goal. Razvan Marin’s attempt from distance was going into the top corner in 27’ ,but it was tipped away by Fortuna goalkeeper and Brian Brobbey wasted his opportunity in 39’, so in the end of the first half Fortuna found a goal - Stijn Meijer received a long ball forward, our defenders were perhaps too passive to close him down and he fired in a sublime finish from 15 meters. Lovely goal, but I watched it with a grim face. That is what happens when you don’t take your chances.

I sent a message during the half time team talk and in the second half we were even more attacking, constantly pressing poor Fortuna and taking a barrage of shots towards their goal. Most of them were blocked or ended up in the hands of their goalkeeper, so I grew frustrated enough to send in Lassina Traore and Ryan Gravenberch to make a difference. But it was Kian Fitz-Jim who actually made it - his deep cross found Nicolas Kühn at the far post and the German finished with a simple tap-in to put us in front and in 85’ Fitz-Jim scored his second goal of the game with a shot that took a big deflection from a defender. Our attacking pressure in the second half made all the difference we needed and in the end of the game I was fairly satisfied with our win.

  • we had 69% possession
  • we made 27 key passes
  • our shooting was 41/16 - I don’t remember if we’ve ever taken 40+ shots in a game
  • we created one clear cut chance and 9 half-chances
  • Kian Fitz-Jim and Nicolas Kühn were superb for us
  • Kian Fitz-Jim scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Kian Fitz-Jim - two goals and assist to him - he has got some minutes from the bench in this season and he now looked fairly comfortable and composed with his first start, too


 

25.10.2022 - Dortmund Borussia - AFC Ajax 1:1 (Champions League Group G) - 4. Maximiliano Romero - 49. Lassina Traore

Before the game I made some calculations and found out that the draw would probably be good enough for us from Dortmund. It would mean that we’re three points ahead of Fenerbahce and with our first game result (2:0) it’s a fairly good position to be before the last round. But getting a draw from Dortmund wasn’t an easy challenge in Amsterdam and it was even more difficult in Germany.

I set the team up with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation and Joel Veltman was again our right back in that formation.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (71. Marin), Promes, Gravenberch (66. Ferreira), Tadic (74. Fitz-Jim), Traore

Things went wrong right from the beginning. Kenneth Taylor lost a challenge in midfield and the following counter-attack led to Dortmund’s first clear cut chance. Gürcan Dere has shown that he’s really good in one-on-one situations and once again he managed to save our sorry a**, and Taylor was the first to get to the rebound, but instead of whooping it away he allowed Maxilimiano Romero to tackle himself in our six yard box and the ball went over the line. Two massive blunders from the young midfielder and we were behind with less than five minutes from the kick-off.

Dortmund dominated the rest of the first half and attacked our goal. It was still 1:0 at half time, but we had just one shot and it was difficult to see from where our equalizer could come from. Dortmund didn’t have any more clear cut chances, but they constantly threatened our goal and Gürcan Dere had to make some good saves to keep it 0:1. So, I made some tactical changes to our pressing instructions and asked Veltman to play as IWBs to add an extra man to our midfield - we hadn’t been able to keep possession and create anything so far, so we needed to improve a lot in the middle of the park.

There was a moment of brilliance for us in the beginning of the second half. While we couldn’t play through Dortmund midfield, we could play over it, and Daley Blind did just that. He delivered a long ball forward on the run for Lassina Traore and the striker used his chance well - an excellent finish from 16 meters equalized the score for us. Dortmund worked hard throughout the second half to score another goal, but they couldn’t beat Gürcan Dere. Our young goalkeeper had a great second half and he saved Justin Kluivert’s close range shot, Maximiliano Romero’s chance and Thorgan Hazard’s attempt that looked like real chances for Dortmun. We, too, found our opportunities - those were few enough, but still an improvement compared to our first half. Anass Salah-Eddine got a shot on target and Razvan Marin’s attempt from 25 meters was tipped over from the top corner by the Dortmund goalkeeper. It remained 1:1 in the end and while headlines wrote that Ajax was lucky to draw, I was very happy with the result. Yes, Dortmund was the better team in this game, but we finished our chance well and took our best possible result.

  • our shooting was just 6/4 in this game (Dortmund had 23/10)
  • we gave only 2 key passes
  • our average rating was just 6.77
  • we allowed Dortmund to make 30 dribbles
  • Lassina Traore scored his 10th goal of the season - to reach that landmark in October is a great improvement compared to his last season
  • Player of the game: Gürcan Dere - the young goalkeeper made a mistake against Inter, but he was really good today against Dortmund


 

Even though it’s just October, managerial casualties start to mount in Eredivisie. The next in line was Henk de Jong who was sacked by FC Utrecht.

I also received the news that our training facilities were upgraded - the works were agreed at the end of the last season and are now finished. Hopefully that will improve our training even more.


 

30.10.2022 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 3:0 (ED) - 3. pen. Quincy Promes, 12. and 71. Lassina Traore

Back to Eredivisie and another home game in this month we’re clear favourites for. PEC Zwolle has been a decent mid-table side, but recently they’ve dropped to the bottom side of the table (both by quality on paper and by actual results), so for the home game we were clear favourites and I chose a bit more attacking squad and a positive 4-2-3-1 formation.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch (71. Lopes), Salah-Eddine (67. Baas), Taylor, van de Beek, Promes, Ferreira (67. Karahasanovic), Fitz-Jim, Traore

We started off with a flyer - we had an early corner and Perr Schuurs was pushed in the box, so after consulting VAR the referee awarded a penalty and Quincy Promes slotted it in. Zwolle defenders looked a little shocked after conceding so quickly and the following minutes were a real nightmare for them. Lassina Traore found another clear cut chance in 6’ - his attempt from close range was blocked, but our attack continued and Mazraoui’s header found Marco Ferreira in front of the goal. The young midfielder saw his header hit the crossbar and go over. In 12’ we had a free kick deep inside our own half, Noussair Mazraoui hit a clever long ball forward and found Lassina Traore on the run - another chance for us and this time Traore scored easily from a one-on-one situation. Twelve minutes played, two goals and four clear cut chances already - it was completely out of control for Zwolle defense and to be fair they struggled to cope for the most of the first half. Quincy Promes and Lassina Traore were threatening their goal pretty much in every attack and we had full control of the proceedings.

The second half continued in the same fashion - Quincy Promes sent his attempt wide when he had an opportunity, but when Traore scored his second from a loose ball in 71’ it was game over. I sent out the youngsters to wrap things up and that (plus some complacency) allowed Zwolle to breathe a little more easily, but in the end it was a convincing win and we hardly ever gave them a sniff. 

  • we had 60% possession
  • our shooting was 32/17
  • we created 4 clear cut chances and 6 half chances in this game
  • Youri Baas and Alen Karahasanovic made their debut for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - an outstanding game from the striker, he’s now scored 10 goals in 12 league games in this season


 

Summary

I can be very happy with our October. We’ve maintained our winning streak in the league and taken back the first position and two draws in the Champions League is actually good enough. Yes, that conceded equalizer from Inter is a little disappointment in our month, but overall we’re still doing great and look like we can progress from the group.

Player of the month for me is Lassina Traore - he’s got a good scoring run going and he looks a threat both in Eredivisie and continental level.

 

Eredivisie

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Vitesse and Feyenoord are still up there with us, but AZ Alkmaar have also picked up their form and are closing in from behind. FC Utrecht and FC Groningen are still struggling near the relegation zone - let’s see how (if) manager change will help them.

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November 2022

 

The World Cup is coming up in the following weeks, so we have only two games in November and a pause from Eredivisie games that will last for over two months. On the one hand, it’s very unusual to start our winter break so early, but on the other hand it helps to focus on our most important Champions League game with Fenerbahce.

 

02.11.2022 - AFC Ajax - Fenerbahce 2:0 (Champions League Group G) - 2. Lassina Traore, 90.+2 Joel Veltman

Quick reminder - we won the away game 2:0, but it was affected by an early red card to Fenerbahce that allowed us to take advantage of the situation. Now we’ll play at home, but it’s 11 vs. 11 again, so we need to be at our best to succeed. To be fair - a draw is good enough to secure qualification, but winning could help us to win the group and go into the knockout stages as the first seeded team.

Tactically there’s nothing new - a balanced 4-2-3-1 with our more experienced players and taller/stronger centre-backs to defend against Fenerbahce’s target man.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (74. van de Beek), Marin, Promes (74. Kühn), Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore (66. Brobbey)

We had an excellent start - Quincy Promes crossed to the near post and Lassina Traore applied finishing touches. Perhaps that left a mark on the first half, but we had most of the initiative and even though we couldn’t score more, we always looked more in control. Fenerbahce’s Vedat Muriqi got a half-chance in 19’ but it was an isolated moment and Gürcan Dere was never really in trouble.

We managed to improve our game in the second half and got two great chances - Quincy Promes had an easy look after Tadic found him with a deep cross, but the winger messed up his shot and it was comfortably held by Fenerbahce goalkeeper. Lassina Traore was going for a goal after our counter in 59’, but his attempt was met by a great save from the keeper. I had a sense that we needed the second goal to finish this game, but we couldn’t seem to find it. Fenerbahce’s William was sent off in 88’ with his second yellow card and Joel Veltman wrapped things up with a brilliant strike from 19 meters - a very uncharacteristic goal for defender and to see a long range goal from a player like him was a bit miraculous event that brought smile to my face. In summary I was very happy with our display and the result as well - we missed some chances in the second half, but always looked in control and deserved to win. That result secured our win in the group and we will go to the knockout stages with the first seed place.

  • our possession was 60% in this game
  • our shooting was 27/18 
  • Player of the game: Joel Veltman - deserved award after his brilliant strike and solid defensive performance

 

Champions League Group G

  1. AFC Ajax 12
  2. Borussia Dortmund 9
  3. Fenerbahce 6
  4. Inter Milan 5


 

09.11.2022 - sc Kozakken Boys - AFC Ajax 0:7 (TOTO KNVB Beker 1st round) - 1. and 33. Ismael Sangare-Aka, 14. Dušan Tadic, 20., 40. and 51. Brian Brobbey, 61. Jaymillio Pinas

That was our last competitive game of the year before the international window begins and the World Cup coming up right after that. It means we have a lot of players missing, both in the Holland NT and in youth teams. A couple of weeks ago my backroom staff asked if I’d like to request postponement of this game, but I didn’t want that and instead went with the team I had in my disposal. Donny van de Beek suffered a small injury in training and he’ll be out for the game, so I brought young Ismael Sangare-Aka from Jong Ajax to fill the gap in our midfield. Dani van den Heuvel starts in the goal and he’s another debutant in this game.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Dirksen, Baas, Taylor, Sangare-Aka, Kühn, Tadic, Fitz-Jim, Brobbey (52. Pinas)

It was a very one-sided game, as expected. Debutant Ismael Sangare-Aka opened the scoring in the very first minute and doubled his tally in 33’ with an outstanding strike from 24 meters. Dušan Tadic and Brian Brobbey added goals of their own and Brobbey completed a hat-trick in the second half. Substitute Jaymillio Pinas also got himself to the score sheet, so debutants looked fairly good in this win, even though our opponent wasn’t the strongest team. I was pleased with the result and performance as a whole.

  • our shooting was 44/18
  • we created 4 clear cut chances and didn’t give Kozakken Boys any opportunities in attack
  • we had 8.77 average rating 
  • there were a lot of good performances - Brian Brobbey, Dušan Tadic, Ismael Sangare-Aka, Nicolas Kühn, Kian Fitz-Jim and Steven van der Sloot particularly impressed
  • Dani van den Heuvel, Ismael Sangare-Aka, Julius Dirksen and Jaymillio Pinas made their debuts for Ajax
  • we will play VVV Venlo in the 2nd round
  • Player of the game: Brian Brobbey - a hat-trick hero for us


 

Summary

I was delighted with our win over Fenerbahce and very strong performance in the Champions League. It was what the board expected from us, but to me we exceeded all expectations - young goalkeeper Gürcan Dere has done really well and we didn’t miss the players who left in Summer, so we look strong and have plenty of room for development as well.

News from Eredivisie say that FC Utrecht have appointed Jean-Paul de Jong as their new manager and it’ll be interesting to see if they can improve their form in the league. Club football will go on pause for the next 6-7 weeks and all eyes will turn to the World Cup.

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December 2022

 

Firstly, the World Cup. We had four players in the tournament - Kenneth Taylor, Donny van de Beek, Daley Blind and Quincy Promes. Holland had an extremely successful tournament and they reached into the final where Holland lost to Portugal 0:1 (harsh extra time goal).

The other players remained in the club and trained hard - and had a number of friendlies to practice and keep the match fitness.


Between training sessions I turned my attention to player contracts. We had some contract issues still to resolve with key players and some difficult decisions to make.

The first headache was Donny van de Beek. He had just 6 months left of his current deal and with such a successful World Cup with the Holland team, his agent tried to exploit the situation and ask me wages between £60,000-70,000 p/w. My limit usually goes somewhere around £50,000 and so several negotiations broke down without the agreement, but I knew that we really needed to keep van de Beek around, because of his work rate and leadership. It took us a whole month to iron things out and he finally agreed to £50,000 p/w contract in the beginning of January. So, at least this one I got sorted out.

The second problem was Daley Blind - I blocked his move to FC Barcelona in Summer, but his ambition to join with a stronger team has not disappeared and his agent refused to negotiate. 

So, in December it looked really likely that two team leaders were about to leave the club in next Summer and so I decided to extend the contract of Dušan Tadic for another year. He agreed to a moderate pay cut and I’m satisfied that he’s kept himself in good shape despite his age, but I mostly need his experience and leadership in the training and dressing room.

 

Some younger players have seen their roles grow in this season and I decided to tie them down for the longer period. Anass Salah-Eddine was one of those players who had a current deal until 2024, but he signed a contract extension until 2027.

 

Our backroom staff lost one member - some time ago I persuaded the former FC Utrecht manager Sjors Ultee to join our coaching staff, but he now left the club to take manager’s position at FC Den Bosch.


And last, but not least - the year finished with the award ceremony where Lassina Traore was named African Striker of the Year. Congratulations to him and I expect even more goals in the future.

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  • 2 weeks later...

January 2023

 

The new year has begun and January is so different from the usual transfer window. There is a transfer window, of course, but there’s also no less than 7 games in this month, so our schedule is packed and the games and press conferences are full of transfer talk and speculations. One thing got clear pretty quickly - Daley Blind signed with CF Valencia and he’ll be leaving in Summer. That’s a big loss in our dressing room and I need to think about transition period to find the new captain and develop new centre-back partnerships.

There were decisions made about the future of other players. Nicolas Kühn and Kjell Scherpen are not being offered a new contract and they’re also set for release after this season. I have better (younger) options in their positions and there’s no point in keeping them around for longer.

 

04.01.2023 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 36. Olivier Boscagli

The first game after a long Winter break was the big one - away trip to Eindhoven to face PSV on their home ground. It’s always one of the most difficult games of our Eredivisie campaign and it was made worse by two things - I didn’t know where we stood in terms of form (we had no competitive games in previous six weeks, so no momentum to gain from that period) and we had a long list of injuries, especially on our right flank. Quincy Promes was out for a month with sprained ankle ligaments, Nicolas Kühn pulled his calf muscle and will be sidelined for two weeks, so I had to go with young Alen Karahasanovic even though I knew he wasn’t good enough against PSV.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (8. Marin), van de Beek, Karahasanovic, Gravenberch (58. Ferreira), Tadic (58. Fitz-Jim), Traore

The game started with another injury - Kenneth Taylor limped away after just eight minutes and Razvan Marin took his place in midfield. We had a couple of promising moments in the first half - Lassina Traore found a half-chance, but sent his shot wide and Anass Salah-Eddine had an ambitious attempt on target, parried against the crossbar by PSV goalkeeper. It looked like we had a small edge in the first half, but then PSV scored their goal - Olivier Boscagli won a header against Perr Schuurs when we had to defend a free kick and sent it against our crossbar. It came back down and Boscagli was there to finish into the empty goal. I was surprised and disappointed at the same time, because Schuurs is so good in the air and for him to lose an aerial duel was a little bit unexpected. After that goal I felt that we were a little bit unlucky to go to the half time break with a 0:1 score.

In the second half it came obvious that our one goal deficit wasn’t the real problem. The real issue was the player’s mental ability (or lack thereof) to cope with the situation. A few of them expressed nervousness on the pitch and my team talk didn’t help to calm them down, so I had no real hopes that we could turn things around like that. And we couldn’t. PSV defended well in the second half and didn’t give us any proper chances, even though we controlled possession. I know that PSV can defend really well, when they feel confident, but after the break we never posed a real threat in attack, so our year began with a disappointing rival defeat. I just hope that this insecurity doesn’t extend into the next games. Alen Karahasanovic looked rather poor on our right wing (as I was expecting) and that didn’t help either.

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • our average rating was just 6.76
  • we gave only 3 key passes
  • Kenneth Taylor will be out for 3-4 weeks with sprained ankle ligaments
  • Player of the game: Olivier Boscagli

 

07.01.2023 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 23. Lassina Traore, 37. Kian Fitz-Jim, 76. pen. Razvan Marin

The next game was against FC Emmen on away ground and our main task was to leave that disappointing defeat behind us and play our usual games. Those re-starts after mid-season break are always like the new beginning and as a team you start without momentum - you need to gain it. So, to begin with a defeat was bad in itself, but to drop points in two consecutive games would have been disastrous.

FC Emmen is a decent mid-table team that plays a highly structured 4-4-2 formation, so I expected them to be highly organized in a home game. Our problems with AMR position worsened when Alen Karahasanovic pulled his hamstring and so Steven van der Sloot was the only viable option there.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine (70. Baas), Regeer, van de Beek (70. Marin), van der Sloot, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (55. Brobbey)

It took some time for us, but in 23’ Marco Ferreira found Lassina Traore on the run with a lovely forward pass and Traore converted his one-on-one chance into the goal. In 37’ Marco Ferreira had a good opportunity himself - his attempt was blocked, but the ball fell to Kian Fitz-Jim who had time and space in the FC Emmen box and he doubled our lead. We looked fairly well in control, but almost gave Emmen a way back into this game when in the end of the first half Vince Duits showed a clean set of heels to our defense and FC Emmen counter-attack led to a great goalscoring opportunity. Gürcan Dere was ready and made a good save to parry this one-on-one situation, so we went to the half-time with a solid 2:0 lead. To be fair I expected a little better performance, but I was happy with our finishing and the score sheet. 

FC Emmen were dangerous only once in the second half - Adrian Dalmau found a crack and fired into the near post, but the ball was brought out well by Dere. In the following attack Marco Ferreira was pushed in the FC Emmen box and after Razvan Marin converted a penalty, it was game over. Substitute Brian Brobbey had a couple of good chances in the final ten minutes to extend our lead. He was wasteful with the opportunities, but it didn’t matter too much.

After the final whistle I was very happy with the game and result - we created chances, finished well and kept a clean sheet.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • we managed to create 4 clear cut chances
  • we made 30 dribbles - another good stats
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - an outstanding performance from the youngster. His playmaking was joy to watch and he laid the groundworks to all of our goals

 

10.01.2023 - AFC Ajax - VVV Venlo 3:2 (TOTO KNVB Beker 2nd round) - 17. pen. Razvan Marin, 62. Brian Brobbey, 83. Nicolas Kühn - 8. Elias Mar Omarsson, 84. Lion Kalentjev

The cup game against a lower division team gave me a good reason to rotate and rest some players. We had a really tight schedule in January and it’s better to keep the players fresh. We started with our usual positive 4-2-3-1 formation and I was eager to see how some players use their opportunity to show their skills. Another thing that contributed to rotation was injuries - Kenneth Taylor, Quincy Promes, Alen Karahasanovic and Nicolas Kühn were all out with more or less serious issues. Kühn was actually almost fit, but not ready to start.

Squad: Scherpen, Mazraoui (73. Veltman), Rensch, Lopes, Douglas (68. Baas), Regeer, Marin, van der Sloot (78. Kühn), Gravenberch, Fitz-Jim, Brobbey

Perhaps against odds, but VVV started the game better. They found the first clear cut chance of the game in 8’ and although Carlos Manuel Lopes did well to arrive late and block it, the following corner still gave them a lead. Kjell Scherpen made a bad mistake - his poor judgment and mistimed interception allowed Elias Mar Omarsson to head it into the empty goal. Good for us that we found an equalizer and did it fairly quickly - Razvan Marin was tripped in the box and converted the penalty himself, so at half time we were at least level. I was a bit calmed by our come-back, but being critical - the first half wasn’t good enough. We couldn’t get our shots on target, both of our centre-backs were booked and we lost possession, too.

I knew that we had to switch something and we started the second half with an attacking 4-2-3-1 setup. Not sure if it was tactical change or my team talk, but the players looked more motivated and the goals we needed to come, arrived too. Brian Brobbey showed some magic with his brilliant strike from 20 meters to put us ahead and substitute Nicolas Kühn made it 3:1 with less than 10 minutes to go. It looked like it was game over, but we lost concentration and allowed Venlo to stun us back in the very next attack - Youri Baas lost a header and Lion Kalentjev scored the second goal for Venlo. I was furious at the sideline and players knew that they’d messed up. That was the last goal of the game, however, and we held onto our lead until the final whistle.

At the first sight I could be satisfied with the result, because we won and that’s what you hope when you rest your key players for a cup game, but our concentration in defense was not up to our standard and we didn’t look in control enough, so there were many areas of the game I felt we needed to improve.

  • we lost possession 44/56 - against Eerste Divisie team, how?
  • our shooting was 23/13 - our accuracy improved a lot in the second half
  • we made only 7 key passes in this game
  • we’ll play FC Twente in the next round - that’s just in a week
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - he gave 3 key passes, earned and converted a penalty and showed good leadership in midfield

 

14.01.2023 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 1:0 (ED) - 34. Marco Ferreira 

The second crucial game in January - Klassieker Derby against Feyenoord. I used our previous games to select in-form players for this fixture and put together the winning eleven. Feyenoord looked like a title contenders with their form and they spent some £15m in Summer to improve their squad, so while PSV looked occupied in the Champions League, it was Feyenoord who had a decent shot for the title in this season. I went with our usual balanced 4-2-3-1 despite our home advantage.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek (71. Marin), Kühn, Ferreira, Tadic (66. Fitz-Jim), Traore (78. Brobbey)

It was a tight game from start to finish and I expected that, because Feyenoord have always been very organized and they could defend well. At the same time our balanced mindset also kept things under control in defense. Our best chance in the first half came in 34’ - Nicolas Kühn delivered a great cross and Marco Ferreira poked his head out in the six yard box to direct the ball past the Feyenoord goalkeeper. That gave us the edge at half time and some confidence for the second half. The second half was similarly quiet and the only good goalscoring opportunity came to Lassina Traore in 78’, but this time our Burkinabe striker wasted his opportunity and saw his one-on-one moment to be parried by Feyenoord keeper. We held on to our narrow lead, defended well and at the final whistle I was fairly happy with that. It was a very important win both to our fans and to our table standings. Marco Ferreira has been brilliant in recent games and his goal made all the difference here as well.

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • we didn’t give Feyenoord any goalscoring chances in this game and they collected 10 offside calls - that shows how good our defensive teamwork was
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira


 

18.01.2023 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 0:2 (TOTO KNVB Beker 3rd round) - 33. Razvan Marin, 57. Ryan Gravenberch

Another cup game in a week and again I went for rotation players. Our problems with AMR position persist, with Alen Karahasanovic picking up a recurring pulled hamstring that will keep him out longer than expected. Quincy Promes is close to return, but I prefer not to use him in this game and Nicolas Kühn is fit, but really tired from our last match, so it’s again Steven van der Sloot who fills the gap on our right flank.

Squad: Scherpen, Veltman, Schuurs (81. Rensch), Lopes, Douglas (72. Baas), Regeer, Marin, van der Sloot, Gravenberch, Fitz-Jim, Brobbey

It was a fairly close game in the first half. Brian Brobbey had a couple of half-chances before Razvan Marin broke the deadlock with a beautiful volley from outside of the box. Marin has been in great form in the recent games that he started and that was another sign of his abilities right there. Steven van der Sloot sent his header way over just a minute later to show that full-backs can play as wingers, but their finishing might not be up for the task. FC Twente had a couple of good moments around 37’ - at first Jay-Roy Grot’s header was tipped over by Kjell Scherpen. Grot was left unmarked at the far post in a following corner situation, but his attempt was again saved by Scherpen, so danger was averted. FC Twente struggled with attacking movement and their strikers were often called for offside, limiting their attacks and cancelling out shots (that at times looked dangerously good). Marin’s brilliant goal was enough to take us to half time with a 1:0 lead and so far I was pleased with our performance.

We had things under control after the break. FC Twente couldn’t create much in attack and our counter in 57’ led to our second goal - Terrence Douglas got a shot on target that was saved, but the FC Twente goalkeeper dropped the ball and Ryan Gravenberch arrived on time to tuck it in. Gravenberch looked much active in the second half and his run through the middle in 85’ led to a promising attempt from 20 meters that unfortunately came back from the crossbar. It looked like 2:0 was a fair result and we fully deserved to win this game. I was happy with our overall control of the game and with how good our rotation players looked on the pitch.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • we will play PEC Zwolle in the quarter final - a very favourable draw for us
  • Player of the game: Terrence Douglas - he created three chances for others in this game (2 CCC-s) and looked formidable in our left defense

 

22.01.2023 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 0:0 (ED)

After some good wins in both home and away games we host AZ Alkmaar and that was a true title showdown. AZ are currently 2nd in the table and their young, talented and ambitious team looks eager to challenge us in this season. It counts as the Noord-Hollandse derby as well (although Feyenoord are our fiercest rivals).

I used the similar tactics that served us well against Feyenoord - a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation with the best available players.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek (72. Marin), Kühn, Ferreira (77. Gravenberch), Fitz-Jim, Traore (65. Brobbey)

In the first half AZ Alkmaar proved that they, too, can play very patient, defense-oriented and well organized football. We had a small initiative, but rarely got a good chance and Marco Ferreira’s shot after our corner that hit the post was our best opportunity in the first period.

In the second half we saw a little bit more attacking football (or some defensive errors), but neither of the two teams could use their half-chances, so it remained goalless until the end. It left the feeling that we should have won this game, perhaps, but we didn’t want to take too many risks and to be fair a draw is not the worst result to take away from this.

  • our average rating was just 6.78 in this game - as expected with less than exciting football in display
  • AZ Alkmaar were a little passive against us, but with that draw they’ve extended their unbeaten streak to 16 games
  • Player of the game: Noussair Mazraoui - in fact there weren’t any noteworthy performances, but he did OK

 

25.01.2023 - De Graafschap - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 43. and 63. Lassina Traore

Next up, overachieving De Graafschap. Our opponents were predicted to fight against relegation, but sit comfortably a few places higher in the table and have been taking points where possible. Our own youngster Christian Rasmussen has featured often for them and is doing well at Eredivisie level. I decided to rotate a little, but keep going with my usual positive 4-2-3-1 setup. Good news is that Quincy Promes and Kenneth Taylor are fit again and my physios gave them a clearance for 45 minutes of football, so Promes will start on our right wing.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs (71. Lopes), Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer (71. Taylor), Marin, Promes (46. van der Sloot), Gravenberch, Tadic, Traore

De Graafschap surprised me with how well organized they were defensively. Our only goal in the first half came from a header from IFK - Lassina Traore directed it into the goal, but otherwise we were limited to ambitious attempts from distance and we struggled to create anything in their box. But even though their defense looked organized, De Graafschap couldn’t build proper attacks either, so we looked fairly comfortable with our 1:0 lead and added another goal to that in the second half. Substitute Steven van der Sloot made a good run from right and delivered a cross to Lassina Traore, who scored his second goal of the game. That was good enough and a 2:0 win over a smaller team is “a decent, routine win” in my books. Job well done.

  • we somehow lost possession 47/53
  • our shooting was 22/10 in this game
  • we didn’t give De Graafschap any real chances, but allowed them to make 26 dribbles
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - scored a brace, well done

 

We’ve now played 17 games in the league and have collected 41 points. That’s pretty good (I aim for 40 in the first half of the season), just AZ Alkmaar is doing almost as well in their campaign.

 

29.01.2023 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 24. Perr Schuurs, 44. Lassina Traore

Another away game, another mid-table side and trip to Haag will end our long line of games in January. ADO actually has some interesting young players (like striker Splinter van As) that have caught my attention and if they manage to keep hold of their youngsters, they could become a much stronger team. But at this point they’re not a considerable threat and I continued with our usual positive 4-2-3-1 formation.

Good news is that players are starting to get fit - Kenneth Taylor and Quincy Promes are good to go for around 60 minutes and our injury problems look to be behind us for a while.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (70. Veltman), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (59. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes (59. van der Sloot), Ferreira, Tadic, Traore

The game was held in heavy rain and that kind of wet pitch is not suitable for our possession-based technical football. Quincy Promes denied a great goal in 12’ when his attempt from 20 meters hit the crossbar. We took the lead in 24’ when Perr Schuurs headed in from a corner and Lassina Traore doubled our lead after a lovely pass from Marco Ferreira. At the half time I was very happy with our two goal lead - we looked dangerous from set pieces, scored from a corner and Marco Ferreira had a brilliant first half (once again), dishing out two assists.

The first 15 minutes of the second half were equally good, but we couldn’t score our third. Lassina Traore had a great chance in 54’, but his shot was saved and after Marco Ferreira was pushed in the box, Dušan Tadic stepped up to take the penalty, but sent it wide of the post. Our confidence seemed to falter after those missed chances, and perhaps ADO changed something in their tactical setup, but the game turned around near the 60’ mark and ADO started to find good chances. Splinter van As found himself in a one-on-one situation after a counter-attack, but Gürcan Dere made a great save to deny him. Evan Rottier had a similar chance from a counter in 75’ after Perr Schuurs lost a challenge in midfield, but again Dere was up to the task and when Endy Opoku Bernadina wasted another opportunity in injury time, it was clear that our defense was completely broken in the last 30 minutes of this game, but Gürcan Dere was just the man between sticks that ADO just couldn’t get past from. The final score 2:0 looked decent enough, but I was clearly not happy with our second half performance. Missed penalty gave ADO the way back into this game and we were under pressure since then. Some massive saves and great goalkeeping from Gürcan Dere to keep our clean sheet.

  • we created 3 clear cut chances in this game, but conceded 3 CCC-s and 5 half-chances - defense completely broken in the second half
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - brilliant first half performance


 

Summary

It was a bad start to the month, but I’m fairly happy how the rest of this January turned out. We regained our confidence and picked up a good form and went from strength to strength and collected good points to the table, taking back our leading position. Our injury problems and over for now and it looks like we’re prepared for the second half of the season.

I turned my attention to player contracts as well - young centre-back Carlos Manuel Lopes signed a contract extension until 2027 (£6,000 p/w) after I rejected aggressive bids from PSV for him.

 

Eredivisie

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We’ve got a small advantage over AZ Alkmaar, but Vitesse and Feyenoord have dropped off from the title race. PSV Eindhoven have gained momentum after their win over us and they’re back in the top three after a slow start in Autumn.

Surprisingly, FC Groningen and FC Utrecht are still struggling in relegation zone and they can’t pick up point from anywhere at the moment.

 

The January transfer window was busier than expected for some Eredivisie teams - AZ Alkmaar and PSV Eindhoven made some big money moves, but most of the teams didn’t make a single transfer. The biggest deals in this window:

  • Mohamed Ihattaren from PSV Eindhoven to Juventus for £56m
  • Mohamed Taabouni from AZ Alkmaar to PSG for £41m
  • Milan van de Riet from PSV Eindhoven to AZ Alkmaar for £7,5m
  • Mauro Junior from PSV Eindhoven to Palmeiras for £6,5m
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February 2023

 

Another month with a packed schedule. We have a good list of opponents in Eredivisie - in those games we should be comfortable favourites - but month finishes with fixtures with Real Madrid and Feyenoord that’s supposed to offer a different kind of challenge

 

01.02.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 4:0 (ED) - 17. Lassina Traore, 45.+2 Razvan Marin, 62. pen. Quincy Promes, 90+2 Kian Fitz-Jim

We’re in good form and there’s no reason to think that we couldn’t get a result against FC Twente. Our opponents came against us with a 4-4-1-1 2DM formation, graciously leaving us all control of the midfield, so our positive 4-2-3-1 tactics looked like a good answer to it.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (72. Douglas), Taylor (63. Regeer), Marin, Promes (63. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

FC Twente tactical formation gave us full control of the midfield. They sat really deep with their two midfielders and we enjoyed unopposed possession, so goals were just a matter of time. Lassina Traore opened the scoring after an excellent cross from Marin. Marco Ferreira saw his header hit the crossbar and Marin doubled our lead after a lovely combination. The second goal sent us to half time and pretty much settled the result.

The second half continued in the same fashion. Quincy Promes scored from the spot after Kian Fitz-Jim was brought down in the box and Fitz-Jim completed the rout with another injury time goal - close range volley from Alen Karahasanovic’s cross.

It was a really good win that never looked in doubt. A great start to our month.

  • our shooting was 22/10 in this game
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - great midfield performance from him

 

04.02.2023 - NEC Nijmegen - AFC Ajax 3:4 (ED) - 58. Stan van Ballegooij, 80. Anthony Musaba, 86. Nicky Souren - 12. Donny van de Beek, 16. and 44. Ryan Gravenberch, 18. Carlos Manuel Lopes

Next up, a trip to Nijmegen. NEC is one of the biggest overachievers in this season - they’re predicted to finish 16th, but find themselves in 8th position. They’re also one of the several teams that seem to do well with a target man (or two) in attack, so I selected taller centre-backs and tried to protect against that aerial threat that is named Ole ten Haar Romeny.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (58. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes (58. Karahasanovic), Gravenberch, Fitz-Jim, Traore (58. Brobbey)

The first half was brilliant. And it started with a brilliant ten minutes. Donny van de Beek scored a great goal to finish right next to the post from 15 meters. Ryan Gravenberch continued with an equally brilliant goal into the top corner and young Carlos Manuel Lopes headed in a free kick before the game clock turned to 20 minutes. NEC Nijmegen was sinking without trace and we were cruising. Kian Fitz-Jim almost headed in, but saw his attempt hit the crossbar and we were generally the dominant side in the first half until Gravenberch doubled his tally with another great strike to make it 4:0 at half time. It was a great first half performance and Ryan Gravenberch looked just unstoppable in attack, so I safely assumed that the game was over with that.

NEC finally got themselves into the game in the second half - Joel Veltman lost his challenge and the following attack led to a chance to Stan van Ballegooij that the young forward took expertly. I panicked and switched to a balanced 4-2-3-1, all of our substitutions were made and I somehow missed the tactical changes that NEC made at the half-time. All of the initiative turned to our opponents and our defense were continuously carved open by their silky running and accurate crosses. Anthony Musaba added the second goal with ten minutes to go and after NEC scored their third it was a full panic. Fortunately, the final whistle came before the equalizer, so we left with all three points, but I was confused and furious at the same time because of our second half collapse. That was a close call.

  • we had 65% possession
  • our shooting was 19/13 in this game
  • NEC shots were 17/10 - we were just awful defensively
  • Carlos Manuel Lopes scored his first ever goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Ryan Gravenberch - great performance from the attacking midfielder


07.02.2023 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 6:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Quarter Final) - 28. Brian Brobbey, 30. and 45.+1 Quincy Promes, 40. Razvan Marin, 77. Alen Karahasanovic, 81. Marco Ferreira

We have two back-to-back games against PEC Zwolle. I expect us to win both. The first one of those is a cup quarter final that’s held at Johan Cruijff Arena. Because it’s a cup game I chose to rotate players a bit more freely, but some of my choices were forced - Kian Fitz-Jim injured himself in training and he’ll be sidelined for a couple of weeks. That’s a shame, because he was in good form and started to impact games in a positive way, but now he has to skip some games and Dušan Tadic starts on our left wing.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (61. van der Sloot), Rensch, Lopes, Douglas (61. Baas), Regeer, Marin, Promes (61. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Brobbey

We almost took an early lead - in the very first minute Brian Brobbey saw his header from IFK deflect the crossbar. The next 25 minutes were more quiet, although we completely controlled the midfield and Zwolle rarely had any attacks in our third. In 28’ the action finally started. Brian Brobbey scored with a calm finish after a beautiful pass from Marco Ferreira and two minutes later Quincy Promes doubled our lead with a close range header from a corner. Two goals put us in control of the game and that allowed us to play with more freedom. Razvan Marin added the third goal with a fabulous strike from just outside of the box and right before the half time whistle Quincy Promes added another magnificent goal. His solo run from the halfway line finished with a lovely goal from 20 meters out. That seriously undid all Zwolle’s efforts to get back into this game.

Our big lead allowed me to make all three substitutions in 61’, but the scoring didn’t stop. Alen Karahasanovic added our fifth goal and Marco Ferreira headed in another to complete the rout. A thoroughly great win and I was really happy with our superb attacking performance.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 28/11
  • our average rating was 8.43
  • a number of great performances - Marco Ferreira, Quincy Promes, Brian Brobbey, Razvan Marin, Carlos Manuel Lopes, Devyne Rensch
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - a goal and assist to his name from tonight’s game
  • we will play NEC Nijmegen in the semi final

 

12.02.2023 - PEC Zwolle - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 30. Lassina Traore, 73. Quincy Promes

The second game against Zwolle, this time on away ground. I was curious how much different approach Zwolle will take into this game after a heavy defeat less than a week earlier. At the same time I was well aware that the score was again 0:0 at the kick-off and we shouldn’t expect another easy win. Zwolle staff had learned from this experience and their players were obviously ready to set things right in front of their home fans.

I switched back to our more familiar starting line-up, but remained true to our positive 4-2-3-1 formation. Brian Brobbey twisted his ankle in training and he’ll be out for several weeks. I’m disappointed because of that - he did really well in our cup game and looked in good shape.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (70. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (70. Regeer), van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch (64. Ferreira), Tadic, Traore

That away game lacked the fireworks of our previous match. Instead, it was a fairly routine away win, as those games often turn out. We opened scoring after a good combination from our right - Quincy Promes found Lassina Traore with a good pass and Traore placed his shot well past the goalkeeper. In the second half Promes added another goal after a good cross from Dušan Tadic and it was game over. Promes had another good attempt from 18 meters in 75’, but this one came back from the crossbar. Despite that we had good control of the game and our two goal lead was good enough to take all three points. The worst moment of the game happened in injury time - Quincy Promes was coming away from the pitch in obvious pain and his game was over before the final whistle. That injury left its mark on an otherwise good game.

  • we had 68% possession
  • we didn’t allow PEC Zwolle to create any real chances
  • Quincy Promes will be out for almost two months with broken ribs
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - a goal and assist to him, sad to see him injured for so long after such a good performance


 

18.02.2023 - AFC Ajax - Sparta Rotterdam 0:1 (ED) - 22. Mohammed Tahiri

After two wins over Zwolle I felt that we’re on a really good run. It also helped that all of the other contenders have dropped points in the recent games and we’ve built a decent lead in the table, so we were really confident when Sparta came to visit. We had still some players missing due to injuries - Quincy Promes, Kian Fitz-Jim and Brian Brobbey were out, but I felt that they weren’t the key factor against Sparta. We started with our usual positive 4-2-3-1 setup and expected to see some goals.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin (60. van de Beek), Kühn (60. van der Sloot), Ferreira (73. Gravenberch), Tadic, Traore

We started well and in 7’ we got our first clear cut chance of the game. Dušan Tadic sent a close range header on target, but it was tripped over by the Sparta goalkeeper. We had initiative, but it was Sparta who scored the goal - Anass Salah-Eddine lost a tackle near the corner flag and the following cross found Mohammed Tahiri unmarked in our six yard box. Easy tap-in for a finish and we were left searching for the equalizer. Soon we got close, but Lassina Traore’s header deflected away from the crossbar and at the halftime we were still trailing. The biggest problem seemed to be that we couldn’t manage to gain enough possession - Sparta looked comfortable with the ball and despite our high pressing we couldn’t get the ball back quickly enough. I switched to attacking 4-2-3-1 in the second half, but it didn’t help - a couple of good attempts on target from Tadic and Traore, but that was not good enough. Even late in the game, after Sparta’s Leeroy Owusu was sent off after his second booking, we couldn’t create enough pressure on goal to find a goal and were left empty-handed. I was frustrated and really upset, because it was a humiliating defeat in front of our home fans and we lacked both tactical wit to make a change (that one’s clearly the manager’s fault), but our players lacked determination and confidence as well. Perhaps we deserved a point from this game, but we should have been a lot better against Sparta and there’s no excuse for this defeat.

  • we lost possession 39/61 - something extremely rare in Johan Cruijff Arena
  • our average rating was 6.69 - fair assessment of the game
  • Player of the game: Mohammed Tahiri (Sparta Rotterdam) - didn’t do much, but scored the winner and that’s good enough

 

21.02.2023 - Real Madrid - AFC Ajax 1:3 (Champions League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 26. Mauro Icardi - 76. Steven van der Sloot, 89. Lassina Traore, 90.+6 Anass Salah-Eddine

After our poor display against Sparta at home, we travelled to Santiago Bernabeu to meet Real Madrid in the Champions League. It was a very tough draw for us, without a doubt, and it was a shame that Quincy Promes was injured for those important fixtures. I had a feeling that we’d do fine without him in Eredivisie, but in the Champions League we really needed attacking players like him against big teams.

To be honest, I didn’t expect much from the away game against Real. Our opponents were clear favourites at home and I just hoped that a narrow defeat could leave us something to play for in Amsterdam. So I opted for a balanced, more careful 4-2-3-1 formation with a few tweaks and relied on more experienced players in this game.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (73. Marin), Kühn (73. van der Sloot), Gravenberch (58. Ferreira), Tadic, Traore

We almost scored a flyer - Nicolas Kühn found some space in the box after our good combination, but his attempt was parried wide by Thibaut Courtois. Real soon showed that they can be dangerous when Mauro Icardi sent his close range shot against the post in 5’. The first half looked fairly even football until Icardi scored the first goal in 26’ - he won the aerial duel against Perr Schuurs and headed in a cross from our left flank. The goal seemed to give Real some confidence and they looked to have initiative after that, so at half time I knew that we had to change something. Ryan Gravenberch completely disappeared in attack, so I brought in Marco Ferreira in the second half and changed some individual instructions to players. Noussair Mazraoui switch to IWBs to give us numbers in midfield and it was his clever pass that found substitute Steven van der Sloot behind Real defense - van der Sloot has played some games in AMR, but he now scored his first goal of the season with a calm finish. What a moment for the youngster to finally find the net. Real grew anxious after our equalizer and they switched to very attacking 4-3-3, taking some risks in the process and so they left a lot of space in their own half. We could exploit that and we took full advantage late in the game. Anass Salah-Eddine crossed for Lassina Traore and Traore headed in from the near post to score his 20th goal of the season. And deep in injury time (6 additional minutes were given because of injuries to Raphael Varane and Eden Hazard) Salah-Eddine made something sensational - his ambitious strike from 23 meters was drilled into the top corner and Courtois was helpless. Three - one! THREE goals in Santiago Bernabeu. All scored inside the last fifteen minutes and all count as away goals in this tie. Wow. Real looked beaten and we were delighted. Brilliant fifteen minutes to turn it around and stun Real in their own home. I’m not sure that anybody expected that and Carlo Ancelotti was understandably grim and humbled in his press conference. That’s the best result in a while and we have all the chances to get this aggregate win in Amsterdam now.

  • we didn’t have any real chances in this game, but managed to score three goals
  • our shooting accuracy was pretty good, but we made only 7 key passes
  • Lassina Traore scored his 20th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Anass Salah-Eddine - brilliant ten minutes from him in the end


 

26.02.2023 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 15. Dušan Tadic

No chance to celebrate that last win for too long, as we now had another Klassieker Derby coming up. We had just played Feyenoord in January and took a narrow 1:0 win in Johan Cruijff Arena, but I expected them to put up a more serious fight in De Kuip. I continued with a balanced 4-2-3-1, because it was an away derby and selected our best players who could make a difference in this game. Kian Fitz-Jim was also fit again after his injury and he was ready to come on from the bench.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (46. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn (71. van der Sloot), Ferreira, Tadic (71. Fitz-Jim), Traore

It was a tight game, as usual between us and Feyenoord. We got a half-chance in 15’ when Nicolas Kühn found Tadic at the far post and the experienced Serbian made it 1:0 with a good volley. It was our first chance of the game and we were clinical with finishing. Tadic sent his header from a corner against the crossbar late in the first half, but chances were few for both teams and so were attempts in general.

We managed to keep hold of our lead in the second half. There weren’t many chances, but I witnessed some good defending - key headers and key tackles from our defensive line to keep pressure to our goal minimal and while we couldn’t add another goal ourselves, it was just good enough to scrape it. Not too many beautiful attacks and definitely not entertaining football, but plenty of duels and challenges and the desire from players to give their everything was clearly evident. I was very happy with our narrow win and even more so because AZ Alkmaar dropped another two points at the same time.

  • we had 60% possession - good enough
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - good defensive performance from him


 

Summary

Just like in January we had one bad result this month, but generally I’m very happy with our form. Important thing is to win big games and we did exactly that against Real and Feyenoord and we have a solid lead in the Eredivisie table as a result. Our Champions League campaign is far from over and we are eager to match Real again in March.

We have plenty of positives to note in our performances, too - good number of clean sheets and excellent goalscoring form is something I hope we can maintain in the coming weeks.

There are a few notes about players that I’d like to point out. Firstly, Lassina Traore - his now reached 20 goals in this season, he’s leading Eredivisie scoring chart and has finally found his rhythm for Ajax. The second thing is that after the January transfer window we have some sort of long vision emerging of what sort of team we will be after this Summer. Three players are surely leaving and I’m choosing replacements within the ranks. It’s also obvious that young 18 years old centre-back Carlos Manuel Lopes is one of the brightest talents in the squad and he’s shown that he’s better than Devyne Rensch in the DLC position. He could be our long term replacement for Daley Blind and no wonder that PSG was already lurking and hoping to sign him. There are a number of players who have a chance to impress, but they just have to step up and take it. In some games (like against Real) we saw the younger generation taking over and showing what they can do, but then in the Klassieker Derby we once again relied on experienced veterans to make the difference.


 

Eredivisie

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Curious table at the end of February. AZ Alkmaar have drawn four games in a row and PSV Eindhoven is climbing up quickly to push them to third place. Vitesse Arnhem is also dropping like a stone - without a win in the last five games, with three straight defeats. Hard to believe that they were contenders in Autumn. FC Groningen have finally picked up some wins and they’re now on the course to reach the top half of the table and FC Utrecht have also won three games straight. They’re still in the relegation zone, but they’ve regained some confidence and that helps them forward to get the next results. That leaves Fortuna Sittard and De Graafschap as the main relegation candidates when there’s 11 games to go.

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March 2023

 

Six games in March and they’re all home games. That’s the first month like that I’ve seen in my career. But it’s good to travel less and concentrate on both training and matches. Second leg game with Real Madrid is the big test this month. Eredivisie fixtures offer a variety of bottom half clubs that should be easy to deal with.


 

02.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 8:1 (TOTO KNVB Beker Semi Final) - 17. Kian Fitz-Jim, 24., 61. and 69. Lassina Traore, 42. and 49. pen. Razvan Marin, 59. Youri Regeer, 67. Alen Karahasanovic - 62. Aziz Ceylan

NEC wasn’t the strongest opponent for us, but it was a big enough fixture - the cup semi final is a stage where anything could happen, so you have to be prepared. We started with our usual positive 4-2-3-1 formation and treated this game as any other league fixture, perhaps rotating a little bit more than usual.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (59. van der Sloot), Rensch, Lopes, Douglas (59. Baas), Regeer, Marin, Kühn (59. Karahasanovic), Gravenberch, Fitz-Jim, Traore

I’m not really sure where NEC did wrong. Perhaps they came to this game with a little too optimistic, little bit too attacking mindset, but after we opened scoring in 17’ with an excellent counter-attack (and calm finish from Kian Fitz-Jim), their defense were carved open. Our midfielders frequently found Lassina Traore on the run and Traore had plenty of space to run into. The first Traore’s goal came from such a pass and in the end of the first half, when Razvan Marin fired from the edge of the area, it was 3:0 and virtually game over.

When NEC’s defense looked fragile enough in the first half, they completely collapsed after the break. Mistakes were coming and goals flooding and NEC’s consolation goal in 62’ was their only bright moment in this game. I pretty much switched off after making all three substitutions in 59’, but our attacks didn’t stop. Lassina Traore completed his hat-trick and substitute Alen Karahasanovic got himself to the score sheet to make it 8:1. Ridiculous score for the cup semi final and NEC squad probably feels pretty ashamed after that kind of beating.

  • our shooting was 33/18 in this game
  • we created 6 clear cut chances - it looked way too easy
  • our average rating was 8.59
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - in a match where more than half of the players recorded 9.0+ ratings, Traore stood out with his hat-trick


 

05.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 4:0 (ED) - 27. pen. Kenneth Taylor, 42. and 61. Lassina Traore, 69. Alen Karahasanovic

Willem II could be a mid-table side, but they’ve sunk to 14th in the recent weeks. One part of that might be the fact that they allowed their best midfielder Dries Saddiki to part for CSKA Moscow in January (that transfer took place after Eredivisie transfer window was already closed) and they lack depth to recover from that loss.

We, on the other hand, felt invincible. Our recent run of good wins in important games and 8:1 trashing of NEC Nijmegen kept us going high and we were really, really confident going against Willem II. We still missed Quincy Promes and Brian Brobbey due to injuries, but we had enough good players to get the result without them.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (67. Douglas), Taylor (67. Regeer), van de Beek, Kühn (59. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We started well, but in 10’ Willem II found the first clear cut chance of the game: Mats Köhlert got away from Devyne Rensch too easily and found the open goal in front of him, but Gürcan Dere did very well to parry his shot wide. Lassina Traore found a first good moment in 23’, but he sent his shot wide of the post and missed the opportunity. However, we took control in 27’ - Traore was tripped in the box after our promising attack, and Kenneth Taylor converted the penalty. Traore got himself into the score sheet in the end of the first half when Kian Fitz-Jim delivered a great ball on the run for him and Traore finished calmly. We had a comfortable 2:0 lead at the half time and it was well deserved. Fitz-Jim and Traore looked difficult to handle for Willem II defense and we had full control of the game.

Köhlert tested our goalkeeper again right after the second half kick-off, but that was the last good moment to Willem II in attack. Lassina Traore scored his second goal of the game with an outstanding chip from 15 meters and substitute Alen Karahasanovic added another goal with a lovely strike to make it 4:0. It was a really confident win and consistent with our recent form, so pretty much what was expected from us. 

  • our shooting was 23/9 in this game
  • we made 22 individual mistakes - I didn’t like that stats
  • Alen Karahasanovic scored his first career league goal for Ajax
  • Lassina Traore scored his 25th goal of the season
  • Donny van de Beek made his 200th league appearance for Ajax
  • Lassina Traore and Kian Fitz-Jim had a great game - both had a 9.0+ rating
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - scored a brace, could have been a hat-trick


 

08.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 2:0 (ED) - 9. pen. Dušan Tadic, 45.+1 Nicolas Kühn

Next team in line was FC Emmen - another mid-table side. We were confident before the game, especially because FC Emmen had no less than six players missing - three due to injuries and three suspended. We missed Donny van de Beek due to a small injury. Good news is that Brian Brobbey is back in full training and he was on the bench for this game.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (56. Douglas), Taylor, Marin, Kühn (67. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Traore (63. Brobbey)

We took the early lead - Lassina Traore got through on a counter and he was tripped in the box by late-arriving Greg Leigh. VAR confirmed it was a penalty and Leigh was booked. Experienced Dušan Tadic converted from the spot and we were in control of the game for a while. FC Emmen had a great chance to score an equalizer in 26’, but Kaj de Rooij scooped his shot well over the bar. Greg Leigh received his second yellow card in 45’ and that was it - it looked really difficult for FC Emmen to come back in the second half with 10 men. To make it worse, we sent them to their dressing room with another goal. Nicolas Kühn cut in from the right and finished with a fabulous strike from 19 meters to make it 2:0 and with that, it was a game over.

We controlled the game well in the second half and FC Emmen couldn’t create anything dangerous with just 10 players. We had two good chances to score more goals, but both Kühn and Razvan Marin didn’t execute well enough. Nevertheless, 2:0 is a decent score and I was satisfied with the performance.

  • we had 66% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 23/10
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - constantly delivered key passes and set up Kühn’s goal


 

12.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Utrecht 1:0 (ED) - 40. Perr Schuurs

Next up, the struggling FC Utrecht - our opponents were 16th currently and fighting against relegation. Their form was improving, though, and they’ve collected three wins from their last five games, so that was a sign of confidence and, perhaps, tide turning for them. I didn’t worry too much about the result and shuffled our line-up a little, already thinking of the upcoming Champions League game. We had Carlos Manuel Lopes suspended for this league game and Donny van de Beek was doubtful because of a small knock, so I decided to give him a day off.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (74. Douglas), Regeer, Marin, van der Sloot (64. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Traore (69. Brobbey)

It was a really drab match from start to finish. I lack noteworthy moments to report about it, other than Lassina Traore’s first half header that hit the post and Perr Schuur’s winner - another header from a corner that secured us all three points in this game. Both teams struggled to create moments and in the end we scraped it 1:0, but it wasn’t a pretty game of football by any terms.

  • we had 60% possession, so we controlled the ball, at least
  • we didn’t give FC Utrecht any chances in this game, so I can be happy with our defense
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs



 

15.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - Real Madrid 2:2 (Champions League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 25. Donny van de Beek, 90.+2 Lassina Traore - 77. Luka Jovic, 90.+3 Rodrygo

There it was, the big game. Real Madrid came to Amsterdam, knowing that they needed to score at least three goals in the away game, to have a chance of aggregate win. We knew that defending well and keeping possession was more important than scoring, so we went for a balanced and careful 4-2-3-1 formation. Anass Salah-Eddine, who scored a brilliant goal in Santiago Bernabeu, was suspended for this game, but Donny van de Beek was fit and started in the midfield.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (87. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Douglas, Taylor, van de Beek (74. Marin), Kühn, Gravenberch (66. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim, Traore

The first 20-30 minutes were careful from both sides, but looking at it from the sidelines I had a sense that we had more control over the proceedings and we looked comfortable with possession. We scored a great team goal in 25’ - good attacking combination from the left and Kian Fitz-Jim knocked it back to the edge of the area, where Donny van de Beek arrived into the box to hit it brilliantly. A really outstanding goal and Real looked even more disheartened by it. We almost got the second in 33’ - Lassina Traore took the ball to a counter-attack, his attempt from close range was parried and so the first chance was wasted, but Ryan Gravenberch was there to finish it off from the rebound, only to see his attempt being blocked and then the ball was scrambled away by defenders. We had two of the best moments in the first half and held a narrow lead at the half time, but Real didn’t have a single chance in the first period. Their shots were just 2/1 in the first half and I was even more happy with our solid defense than I was with van de Beek’s goal.

The second half was more quiet and Real didn’t press us too hard until their substitute Luka Jovic equalized in 77’. It was a counter-attack after our corner and our defenders were caught napping there by quick movement of Real players. That goal gave Real some hope and for the last ten minutes they switched to 4-3-3. That gave us more space in attack and substitute Razvan Marin tested Thibaut Courtois with two good attempts, both saved brilliantly by the Belgian goalkeeper. Lassina Traore got through in injury time and his decisive finish was a pure class - Courtois was helpless against it and I was delighted with the late winner, but it wasn’t to be our victory just yet. Rodrygo managed to equalize with a fine strike from an IFK and so the final score was 2:2. I wasn’t too disappointed and Real players looked relieved not to lose the second game against us, but in aggregate we still went through into the quarter finals with a comfortable 5:3 win.

  • our shooting was 15/11 in this game and we created 3 clear cut chances - not too bad against Real Madrid
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek

 

19.03.2023 - AFC Ajax - Heracles Almelo 3:0 (ED) - 15. Nicolas Kühn, 44. Marco Ferreira, 90.+3 Kian Fitz-Jim

The last game before international break and I hope to finish our month strong, because PSV Eindhoven are on the winning streak. They’re still some points behind us, but their form makes me feel that we can’t slip up and give them the chance to close the gap. Heracles, at the same time have somehow climbed up to the 4th place and it’s fair to say that they’re the surprise package of the second half of the season.

There’s also a reason to celebrate, as this is my 200th game in management.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (69. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (69. Marin), Kühn (69. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

It was a routine win for us. Nicolas Kühn scored the first goal after Ferreira brought the ball down cleverly right onto his path and Ferreira himself doubled our lead with a header in the end of the first half. We had initiative for the most part of the first half. Heracles played for counter-attacks, but that didn’t work out too well for them. Marco Ferreira was the creative force in our attack and played part of both goals.

Heracles had one good chance to score in the second half. Carlos Manuel Lopes spent a little bit too long with the ball, Cyriel Dessers took him away from him and went for a goal, but Gürcan Dere saved the clear cut chance and parried it away. Kian Fitz-Jim completed the rout in injury time after a fine counter attack and that wrapped things up well. A solid win for us and another three points in the bag.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • we allowed Heracles to make 27 dribbles - way too many
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - great game from the attacking midfielder - he was part of two goals, made 8 key passes and 7 dribbles


 

Summary

Really successful March in all competitions. Win over Real Madrid was unexpected and will give us a lot of reputation and coefficient points in the UEFA table. Players are starting to get fit, and are in good form. We score plenty of goals and generally look confident and composed on the pitch.


 

Eredivisie

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PSV Eindhoven is still going strong. They’re undefeated since October (sic!) and with just 6 points between us, waiting eagerly for us to slip up and give away our advantage. Heracles remain 4th, surprisingly. Vitesse is dropping through the table like a stone - they looked like contenders in Autumn, but now could easily end up in the middle of the table. FC Groningen have leaped up from the relegation zone, but FC Utrecht is still fighting their battle against relegation.

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Youth Intake 2023

 

The preview that our HoYD showed me in Winter looked fairly average.

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When the new bunch of kids finally arrived at the academy in March, I was a little bit shocked. The actual level of talent was nowhere near of what was promised and according to my staff, the most promising player was the left winger Remy Boer with around 2,5* potential. Two players who are potentially 3* are both 17 years old (already), so we lack time to develop their talent properly before age starts to kick in.

I feel robbed. Where is that golden generation that was promised? Where was the talent of the central midfield? I haven’t been so empty handed in March before in that save, and that was a big blow to our long term ambitions.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

April 2023

 

Our schedule was packed in February and March, but April is something else. Nine (yes, nine!) games in the month, with two Topper derbies with PSV Eindhoven and two important games against Manchester City coming up within two weeks. It’s important to balance our training schedule between games and keep our key players fresh for the next fixture. It’s the most important part of the season, too - our league game against PSV is a title six-pointer and I assume that the Eredivisie champions will be crowned before the end of April.


 

02.04.2023 - Fortuna Sittard - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 11. Marco Ferreira, 34., 45. and 53. Nicolas Kühn

In the tough month that’s probably one of the easiest games for us. Fortuna are the last in the table and we’re clear favourites for the game. We missed Noussair Mazraoui and Quincy Promes who still needed a little bit more time to regain full fitness..

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Veltman, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (60. Douglas), Regeer, Marin, Kühn (60. Karahasanovic), Ferreira (28. Gravenberch), Fitz-Jim, Traore

We almost scored a flyer in the first minute after the kick-off. Good build-up from left led to a chance to Lassina Traore. The attempt was blocked, but the follow-up shot from Kian Fitz-Jim forced Fortuna goalkeeper to make the first good save of the game. Fortuna got their best chance of the game in 9’ - Stijn Meijer’s attempt was well held by Gürcan Dere, and then we took control of the game. Good transition football from Kian Fitz-Jim, Marco Ferreira danced his way past the defender and finished with a very well placed shot. Good goal. Nicolas Kühn doubled our lead with a volley from the far post (cross from Anass Salah-Eddine) and Kühn’s header right before the half time whistle sent us to the break with a comfortable 3:0 lead.

We never looked back. Kühn was on the hunt for the hat-trick and while he blew his first chance to complete it in 51’, he scored his third goal four minutes later with a beautifully curled strike from the edge of the area. We then relaxed and I made all substitutions in 60’ to give our key  players some rest ahead of the big games. A fairly comfortable win and good start to our month.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 26/15
  • we made 24 key passes and created 3 clear cut chances - that always helps
  • Nicolas Kühn and Razvan Marin were outstanding in this game
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - hat-trick hero



 

05.04.2023 - Manchester City - AFC Ajax 1:1 (Champions League Quarter Final 1st leg) - 27. Aymeric Laporte - 44. Nicolas Kühn

Big game. Tough game in the Etihad Stadium. Our tactical choices were easy - we went with the same balanced 4-2-3-1 that served us well against Real Madrid. Our team selection was more difficult - Noussair Mazraoui was not yet fit to start, Kenneth Taylor was suspended, so we missed two first team players, but Quincy Promes is finally back and he’ll start on the bench. I opted for Terrence Douglas in left-back, because he’s a more physical player than Anass Salah-Eddine and I expected us to need that against strong and quick players of City.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Blind, Douglas, Regeer (86. Marin), van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch (67. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim (79. Promes), Traore

Terrence Douglas almost got himself to the headlines in the beginning of the game. His raid to the City box led to a fierce shot that was tripped over by Ederson and so the left-back denied a great goal in the highest level. Ryan Gravenberch saw his close range attempt being blocked and for a moment it looked like we’re doing really well, but that illusion was erased in 12’ - Erling Haaland was unmarked at the near post when the cross came from our left, but his close range shot hit the post and so the chance was missed. Leroy Sane saw his header hit the crossbar in 22’ and when Laporte headed in from a corner, it looked like the inevitable finally happened. Against all odds, we managed to equalize before the half-time and it was again Nicolas Kühn for the rescue - his ambitious attempt from 20 meters was just too good for Emerson to save and it was another beautiful goal for the winger. Manchester City were clearly the better team in the first half, but we scored an important goal and everything still looked possible for us.

The second half continued in the same fashion - City had initiative, but their body language did miss something - determination and motivation just wasn’t there. They got some good shots on target, but Gürcan Dere looked ready and kept his awareness until the final whistle, so we returned from Manchester with a 1:1 draw that felt like a small win. I was very happy with the result and with the fact that we had something to play for in the second leg.

  • we gave just 5 key passes in this game
  • Player of the game: Nicolas Kühn - good equalizer from the right winger




 

08.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 3:1 (ED) - 17. Lassina Traore, Donny van de Beek, 33. Nicolas Kühn - 18. Michal Sadilek

It was a title six-pointer between two Manchester City games. We have a six points lead in the table with one game in hand, so to really challenge for the title PSV had to win this game. We could settle with a draw, but home advantage gives us the edge and we really owe to PSV after they defeated us 1:0 in Eindhoven back in January.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (78. Douglas), Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn (68. Promes), Gravenberch (61. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim, Traore

It looked an even game in the first 15 minutes - no real chances and teams traded attacks. Perr Schuurs directed a header from IFK against the post in 10’, but the breakthrough came in 17’ - Donny van de Beek, who wore the captain’s armband today, gave a lovely through ball to Lassina Traore and the striker finished calmly. 1:0 didn’t last too long - PSV got a corner and Kenneth Taylor lost Michal Sadilek in the box. The PSV midfielder got to the ball at the near post and headed it in before the  full minute had passed since our goal. I cursed at the sidelines, but nothing to do now - just dig deep, try to play our game and search for another goal. For the next 10 minutes after the equalizer it looked like PSV got initiative in the game, but then thunder struck twice. Donny van de Beek had a little bit of space in midfield and his screamer from 24 meters landed right next to the post. Nothing that PSV goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall could do about it. Unnerstall had to pick another ball out of his goal five minutes later - this time it was Nicolas Kühn who did the damage. He received the pass with his back to the goal, turned around and drilled it home from 24 meters into the bottom corner. Two outstanding strikes within five minutes and with that, PSV were undone. The stat sheet reflected a fairly even game, but we went to the half time with a 3:1 lead.

The second half was more quiet - both teams tried, but nothing too dangerous emerged and we always had a little bit more control over possession, so it remained 3:1. It was a very important win for us on the road to secure another Eredivisie title and a bad omen to PSV Eindhoven ahead of the cup final in about one week’s time.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 18/10 - good accuracy
  • Nicolas Kühn scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - true leader in midfield, scored a stunning goal and played worthy of the armband

 

11.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - Manchester City 1:0 (Champions League Quarter Final 2nd leg) - 13. Lassina Traore

Good news is that all players are fit for this game and Johan Cruijff Arena was packed with fans that were eager to see if we could beat such a big club as Manchester City in the home game. I went for the usual balanced 4-2-3-1 tactics, but tweaked some corner instructions to prevent counter-attacks. It’s curious that Nicolas Kühn is still without a contract even though he’s been superb against big oppositions in recent games. It shouldn’t take long before he attracts some attention.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (74. Marin), Kühn (56. Promes), Gravenberch (65. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim, Traore

Surprisingly, we took the lead in 13’ - Lassina Traore headed it in from a cross by Kian Fitz-Jim. The goal gave us a lot of confidence, even though Manchester City almost equalized two minutes later. I knew that we took the risk, playing with the high defensive line, even though it wasn’t constantly exploited by our opponents. Still, one defense-splitting long ball found its way to Gabriel Jesus, who had a good look on our goal, but Gürcan Dere did well to parry his shot away. We had our best opportunity of the first half in 39’ - Lassina Traore broke the offside trap and got through, but was also stopped by Ederson and his second attempt landed comfortably in the City goalkeeper’s hands. The first half looked fairly even - both teams had one good chance, but Traore’s header gave us the edge and some confidence for the second period.

The second half continued in the same fashion - both teams looked fairly equal (perhaps Manchester City had a little bit more attacks), but the first really good chance came for us when there was less than 15 minutes to play. Marco Ferreira did well to win the challenge and his ball put Lassina Traore in a great position, but the forward made a mess out of his shot and sent the ball straight at the goalkeeper. Manchester City started to take more risks in the final minutes. Sergio Agüero showed his skills to run into our box in a counter-attack. Mazraoui (already booked) didn’t dare to foul him and Agüero found space at the near post, but Gürcan Dere made a fine save to deny him. Lassina Traore had two more easy chances in injury time to bury this, but the first attempt was blocked and the second well saved by Ederson. It remained 1:0 and this narrow win got us the ticket into the semi final. Huge moment and I was obviously delighted with our solid defensive performance and with all of the players.

  • our shooting was 18/10 - not bad at all
  • we managed to create 4 clear cut chances against Manchester City (!), but missed them all
  • we’ll play Atletico Madrid in the semi final
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - scored the winner, that’s enough

 

16.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven p1:1 (TOTO KNVB Beker Final) - 83. pen. Quincy Promes - 57. Johan Bakayoko

The cup final was held at De Kuip, so it was really a neutral ground for both teams. PSV were obviously hurting after the league defeat and itching to get the record straight. We were on a high after beating Manchester City and with five days to prepare for the game, looked fit and ready for the battle.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (103. Veltman), Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (103. Marin), Kühn (57. Promes), Ferreira (71. Gravenberch), Fitz-Jim, Traore

We had a small initiative in what was generally an even first half, but towards the end of the period we got two great chances to score. First Lassina Traore received a cross at the near post, but his attempt from close range was blocked and then Marco Ferreira blew his one-on-one opportunity after our counter. Teams went to the half time with a 0:0 score, but it was an encouraging period and it felt like the goal was just a matter of time and I had a feeling that one goal could be all that was needed in this game.

The second half started in the same way - with our wasted chances. Traore sent his header over the crossbar from point blank range before Daley Blind’s missed interception gave Johan Bakayoko a crack and the PSV winger fired it into the far post. Good shot, but I was gutted, because it came completely against the run of the game. PSV organized their defense well and we tried hard to find the equalizer until we were helped by VAR and penalty - Perr Schuurs was pushed in the box by Wesley Hoedt, the referee checked the replay and awarded the penalty that was expertly converted by Quincy Promes. When the final whistle was called it felt that we were saved by VAR and in the extra time that followed we struggled to create good chances. PSV concentrated on the defense, too, and so the game went to the penalty shoot-out.  In there we looked more calm and confident - all of our four penalties landed in the net. Gürcan Dere saved one penalty and one hit the post, so after four rounds of penalties it was all over - we secured the cup fifth time in a row and even though it was a narrow win, it was well deserved.

  • our shooting was 20/10 in this game 
  • we created 4 clear cut chances - need to finish better
  • Quincy Promes scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Johan Bakayoko (PSV Eindhoven) - a great goal from him, but it wasn’t enough for PSV

 

19.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 3:0 (ED) - 19. Dušan Tadic, 29. Lassina Traore, 87. Carlos Manuel Lopes

That could be the game that would secure our title. Vitesse are a strong team and they’ve added a couple of more loanees from Chelsea to their squad in the January transfer window, but somehow their form has dipped and they’ve won just one game in their past 13 league fixtures. There’s also the question of revenge on the table, as we suffered defeat the last time we played Vitesse. That should add extra motivation to the players.

We had some tired legs in the team after playing 120 minutes against PSV. Noussair Mazraoui and Anass Salah-Eddine definitely needed a day off, and the team was heavily rotated.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs (63. Rensch), Lopes, Douglas, Regeer, Marin, Promes (70. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Traore (70. Brobbey)

The Vitesse setup looked very defensive and in the first half they didn’t really attack our goal - their first attempt came when more than 30 minutes were played. Their formation was difficult to break and we didn’t create too many chances, but scored two goals in the first period anyway. Dušan Tadic opened things up with a beautiful free kick from 23 meters that curled around the wall and landed next to the post. Lassina Traore doubled our lead with a good header. After the good first half we looked confident in our lead and I didn’t have too many concerns.

We had a chance to extend our lead in 51’ - Steven van der Sloot was tripped in the box, but Dušan Tadic managed to send his penalty wide of the post. That missed chance didn’t cause us any troubles, though, and in the end of the game Lopes’ header from a corner wrapped things up nicely. 3:0 was a comfortable win and that result secured our fifth Eredivisie title in a row.

  • our shooting was 25/13 in this game
  • we gave only 7 key passes
  • Lassina Traore scored his 50th career league goal
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - very solid defensively, good in the air and scored a goal

 

22.04.2023 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 73. Brian Brobbey

From now on it seems right to concentrate on the remaining Champions League games and rotation players will get more chances in Eredivisie. The opponents are not the easiest in the next weeks, but that’s a test that they need and our best eleven should be fit and rested before the Atletico Madrid game.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot (70. Veltman), Rensch, Lopes, Douglas, Regeer, Marin, Promes (59. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Brobbey

The first half didn’t offer entertaining and attacking football. Instead we had a small number of shots and even fewer good chances. Brian Brobbey had one good opportunity in 4’, but his close range attempt landed against the post and another good shot on target late in the first half was brilliantly parried away by the FC Groningen goalkeeper. So, at half time it was still 0:0 and it looked like our backup striker was a little bit rusty on the pitch.

Brobbey continued to get chances in the second half, but unfortunately continued to miss them, too, until the opportunity came in 73’ - backpass from FC Groningen defenders put their goalkeeper under pressure and Brobbey managed to win the ball back and send it into the empty goal from 17 meters. Good strike and that was enough to win the game. Brobbey missed another easy chance in 73’, but it didn’t affect the result in the end. 

I was satisfied with the final result - we had plenty of chances and on a better day Brobbey could have been a hat-trick hero. He missed a lot of opportunities, but he’ll get better with more playing time.

  • our shooting was 14/11 in this game
  • we created 3 clear cut chances and didn’t give FC Groningen any goal scoring opportunities
  • Player of the game: Brain Brobbey - a good goal and man of the match performance despite those missed chances


 

25.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - Atletico Madrid 1:0 (Champions League Semi Final) - 34. Ryan Gravenberch

I haven’t played in the Champions League semi final before in my career, so obviously it’s a huge opportunity for us, but we’ll take one game at the time and see what happens. It’s important not to concede goals at home, so keeping possession and good organization in defense was crucial to our success. Sadly, Quincy Promes has to miss this game with a minor knock - Nicolas Kühn will start on the right wing.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine (90.+2 Douglas), Taylor, van de Beek, Kühn, Gravenberch, Fitz-Jim (81. Tadic), Traore (88. Brobbey)

We played a very good first half. It was a difference in mental preparation that gave us the edge in this game - Atletico players looked nervous, while we were committed and motivated, and that allowed us to take the game to them. We offered a good variety of attacks and shots on target and even though we didn’t create particularly dangerous chances, we always held a small initiative and it was all capped off with a great goal from Ryan Gravenberch. He took the ball into the box in 34’ and fired it in with a great strike.

The same continued after the break. I knew it was more important to keep our clean sheet than try to score another goal, but we were so close to our second - Lassina Traore’s attempt in 48’ was parried by a fine save from Jan Oblak and Gravenberch’s ambitious strike from 25 meters hit the framework in 60’. It was a narrow win in the end, but a really good one, because we played excellent football and showed experience and maturity to cope with the pressure. That win gives us all of the chances for the second leg in Madrid.

  • our shooting was 21/14 in this game - really impressive, although we rarely put Jan Oblak out of his comfort zone
  • we couldn’t create any real chances in this game and gave only 3 key passes
  • Player of the game: Ryan Gravenberch - a memorable strike from him to win this game

 

27.04.2023 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 80. Noud van Kempen

Just two days since our last game and we didn’t have too much time to prepare for this game. We’re favourites, surely, but Heerenveen come to this game after their rather impressive 6:0 win over Fortuna Sittard and even though it’s just Fortuna who are rightly at the bottom of the table, this win must have given them a load of confidence. They also have a couple of really good talented young players in their team, so the away game against them won’t be easy.

My team selection was simple - almost all players were replaced and the first team that did so well against Atletico, got some much needed rest.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Rensch (40. Veltman), Lopes, Douglas, Regeer, Marin, Kühn (68. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic (73. Fitz-Jim), Brobbey

The game itself was a huge disappointment, mainly because we lacked any motivation and spirit to actually fight in this game. sc Heerenveen got the best chance of the first half when Arjen van der Heide fought his way past Dušan Tadic, got into the area and took an attempt on target, but Gürkan Dere tipped it over. We had a couple of half chances in the first half, but nothing too dangerous and I’m disappointed to say that Heerenveen looked a slightly better team in the first period.

The same continued into the second half - we just lacked any spirit to fight. Noud van Kempen had a chance from close range in 75’ - his shot was superbly saved by Dere, but five minutes later inevitable happened and Heerenveen’s counter-attack led to their winning goal. We had a great opportunity to equalize in 86’, but Marco Ferreira rushed his attempt and sent the ball straight at the goalkeeper. Disappointing defeat and I wasn’t happy at all - second choice players or not, I expected a certain level of commitment and that was just not good enough. 

  • our shooting was just 9/5 in this game
  • we had 6.74 average rating
  • we made just 5 key passes and our crossing was poor throughout the game 
  • we made 22 individual mistakes with Steven van der Sloot being responsible for 5 of those
  • Devyne Rensch was injured in the first half and he’ll be out for 2 weeks with pulled ankle ligaments
  • Player of the game: Noud van Kempen (sc Heerenveen)

 

30.04.2023 - AFC Ajax - ADO Den Haag 1:0 (ED) - 27. Quincy Promes

The last game of this month was in one way pretty unimportant for us, but I knew that we needed a good performance to keep our confidence and spirit high before our trip to Madrid. Despite that, I used rotation players again and even goalkeeper Dani van den Heuvel was set for his debut for Ajax.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Schuurs (70. Veltman), Lopes, Douglas (60. Baas), Regeer, Marin, Promes (70. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Tadic, Brobbey

The game started with a dangerous moment in front of our goal. ADO got a free kick from some distance, but Youri Regeer lost his header in the box and the ball fell to Jurgen Mattheij who managed to fire wide of the post, like was expected from a centre-back. van den Heuvel was also perhaps too boldly moving away from the goal to intercept that cross, so Mattheij had an empty goal in front of him, but we escaped that situation without conceding. The rest of the first half was well under our control, but we struggled to finish off our chances. Or, it is more accurate to say, Brain Brobbey struggled. Quincy Promes was the active spark on our right wing and two of his crosses found Brobbey in front of the goal, but the attempts were saved and/or blocked, so nothing came out of it. Promes had to take matters into his own hands then and his long run from the middle of the pitch in 27’ led to a great solo strike that put us into the lead at the half time.

The second half was very similar - we controlled the game and created chances, but struggled with finishing. Brian Brobbey wasted another chance in 61’. Dušan Tadic had a poor game, but his free kick in 63’ curled around the wall nicely, only to be saved by Peter Leeuwenburgh. ADO Den Haag was left to 10 men in 88’ when Lucas Woudenberg received his second yellow card, but still we couldn’t add another goal. Brobbey saw his volley clip the post and Alen Karahasanovic blew his easy chance in injury time.

In conclusion, it was a good game, but extremely poor finishing from us

  • our shooting was 26/14
  • we created 4 clear cut chances in this game, but missed them all
  • Dani van den Heuvel made his league debut
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - outstanding game from him and it’s great to see him back in good form - we’ll need it in Madrid


 

Summary

It was a great month, really. All of the important games came our way and we managed to play our best football when it mattered the most. Our finishing could have been more clinical in some games, but really I can’t complain. Players are fit as well and that’s always something that gives depth to the team and gives the manager more options.


 

Eredivisie

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Pretty much the same - we’ve secured the title and the top of the table looks like what was expected before the season.

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May 2023

 

With such a long April behind us, we have just a couple of games remaining in our schedule and obviously we have the dream to reach the Champions League final after our good performance against Atletico. Let’s see how it plays out.


 

03.05.2023 - Atletico Madrid - AFC Ajax 3:0 (Champions League Semi Final 2nd leg) - 15. and 40. Joao Pedro, 90.+2 Calvin Stengs

So, the most important game of our season - the players have not been in this stage of the competition so far and I just hoped that nobody will be too nervous or anxious about the occasion. We need to channel this excitement in the right way.

Tactically it was an easy choice - we remained true to our balanced 4-2-3-1 formation.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Blind, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Promes, Gravenberch (62. Ferreira), Fitz-Jim (72. Kühn), Traore (90.+1 Brobbey)

It wasn’t the worst first half from us, but some stupid mistakes in defense allowed Atletico to score twice. The first goal came after a series of poor decisions - Anass Salah-Eddine missed his interception and the cross came in from our left, Noussair Mazraoui attempted to head it away, but directed the ball against the crossbar, from where it bounced back in front of our goal for Joao Pedro to finish into the empty net. Most of our defenders and the goalkeeper looked disoriented and didn’t know what was happening. The second goal came after Salah-Eddine lost his aerial duel and the ball was knocked to Joao Pedro who finished into the empty net. I started to think that perhaps more physical Terrence Douglas would have been a better choice in our left defense in this game, but it was too late to change those decisions. We were 0:2 down at half time, but nothing was lost - we still needed just one goal to get the win on aggregate.

Unfortunately, that didn’t happen. Atletico maintained their initiative in the second half and even though we had some good attempts on target, there were rarely any really good goal scoring opportunities. The best one came late in the game, in 84’ - long ball forward to Quincy Promes allowed him to get through the defense, but late arriving centre-back blocked his attempt. That was the chance and I knew that we blew it. Atletico’s third goal in injury time completed the rout and we were well beaten in the away game. Our Champions League campaign stopped there and I have to admit that it was a fair result - Atletico was clearly a better team and deserved to win by 2-3 goals. We need to see what we could do better in the future, but to be fair, we did extremely well to reach that far. At least the board was really excited about our continental campaign and, obviously, about prize money, too.

  • our average rating was just 6.74 in this game - nobody played too well


 

07.05.2023 - AZ Alkmaar - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 54. Carlos Manuel Lopes

The last game of the season for us was the Noord-Hollandse derby. It’s always preferable to have an easy game as the last of the season to just relax, chill and score some goals on the way and finish the season with good spirits, but in this year it wasn’t the case - AZ are a formidable team and in their own home they’ll going to give us the battle. Therefore I couldn’t rotate our squad as much as I would have done against weaker opponents, but we weren’t too concerned about the result, either. Another reason for changes was yellow cards - Donny van de Beek and Kenneth Taylor had a day off only to avoid their 5th booking of the season and following suspension. 

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (69. van der Sloot), Veltman, Lopes, Douglas (69. Baas), Regeer, Marin, Promes (69. Karahasanovic), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Brobbey

It was a drab first half - we had the initiative, but we failed to create anything dangerous, but AZ at the same time failed to make a single attempt before the break, so for them it was even worse.

The second half looked slightly better in terms of attacking football. Brian Brobbey headed against the crossbar from close range before centre-back Carlos Manuel Lopes scored from Marin’s IFK to put us in the lead. AZ Alkmaar made their first shot when already 66’ were played, but they found the best chance of the game in 74’ - Gyrano Kerk received the long ball behind our defense and went through, but Gürcan Dere made a good save to parry his shot. So it remained 1:0 in the end and I was happy to finish our season with a win.

  • we made only 8 dribbles in this game
  • Gürcan Dere set the new club record - it was his 27th clean sheet in this season and 22 in the Eredivisie (new Eredivisie record)
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - a great performance from him, 8 key passes, an assist and overall boss midfield performance


 

Summary

 

Slightly disappointing end to our European campaign, but we’re not too disheartened by it. After our last game the rest of the month was fairly quiet - we trained and rested and made preparations with the new season in mind. The only noteworthy change is that I signed some new coaches to our Jong Ajax and as the board is rather generous at the moment with staff numbers and wages, I tried to fill those gaps.

 

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Eredivisie

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The top of the table looks fairly regular, but the bottom three offer surprises. Fortuna Sittard and De Graafschap were relegated, but against all odds FC Utrecht lost their play-off game against FC Eindhoven (Eerste Divisie 7th) on penalties and they will drop to the lower division. That’s a bit of a shock, honestly. I always expected them to pick themselves up and win some games late in the season to get themselves out of the trouble, but they failed and that’s a huge hit to the big club.

Jong PSV Eindhoven won the Eerste Divisie, but NAC Breda, VVV Venlo and FC Eindhoven were promoted to Eredivisie for the next season. Jong Ajax finished in pretty respectable 7th place and our U-19 team were crowned U-19 champions.

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Season Update 2022/2023

 

That was, without a doubt, our most successful season so far. We’ve defended the title (with a considerable point gap in the end), we’ve secured our fifth cup win in a row (great achievement on our own) and we’ve reached the Champions League semi final which is our best campaign in continental competitions.

The board is obviously delighted, but there’s more to that than success in competitions.

 

We are rich. I mean - filthy rich. We have a £640m bank balance with some £400m transfer funds and competitions TV revenue and prize money has filled our coffers more than ever in this season.

We have a great squad. Good depth, talented youngsters and capable veterans. That’s something to build upon for the future.

Our success rubs off to all of the other clubs in Holland. Because of our consecutive good Champions League campaigns, Eredivisie has been granted additional places in continental competitions. Two clubs will now have a guaranteed place in the Champions League group stage and we also have automatic place in the Europa League group stage. I hope that other clubs in the league can take advantage of that and play well in the higher level.


 

The Squad

Considering what sort of doubts we had about our goalkeeper last Summer, Gürcan Dere has had a magnificent season. He is indeed incredibly talented and only 19 years old, but now has plenty of Champions League experience and his clean sheet records place him even above Andre Onana. We have a good depth in midfield and in attack. Marco Ferreira and Kian Fitz-Jim have emerged in this season and Dušan Tadic has been gently pushed aside. Tadic completed his coaching course this Spring and with one eye sets his sights on retirement that will arrive in the near future. We’ve been perhaps overly reliant on Lassina Traore with our goal scoring - he’s been on target 29 times this season, but he’s shown that he can score a lot when the tactics are right for him.

 

There are certainly areas we can improve. Our finishing is still not good enough - we’ve created 54 clear cut chances in Eredivisie games, but scored 24 out of them and that’s too wasteful. Our number of goals from set pieces has also dried up a little and we’ve not been concentrated on that in training as well.

 

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Eredivisie awards

 

Golden Boot

  1. Richard Neudecker - FC Groningen
  2. Lassina Traore - AFC Ajax
  3. Clint Leemans - PEC Zwolle

Top Goalscorer

  1. Lassina Traore - AFC Ajax - 20
  2. Mohammed Tahiri - Sparta Rotterdam - 16
  3. Tamir Erdem - Feyenoord Rotterdam - 16

Young Player of the Season

  1. Carlos Manuel Lopes - AFC Ajax
  2. Sven Lautenschutz - Sparta Rotterdam
  3. Kenzo Goudmijn - AZ Alkmaar

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Karol Niemczycki - Sparta Rotterdam
  2. Jan Bekkema - sc Heerenveen
  3. Gürcan Dere - AFC Ajax

Manager’s Manager of the Year

  1. Me
  2. Hans-Dieter Flick - FC Groningen
  3. Ernest Faber - PSV Eindhoven
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Summer 2023

 

The first part of the Summer transfer window was fairly quiet. Plenty of transfer rumours around our first team players and the most notable one was Real Madrid’s interest in Kenneth Taylor, so I was anxiously waiting for an official bid with willingness to accept if the money was right. Some of the interest and bids were nothing less than ridiculous. PSV Eindhoven wanted to sign Gürcan Dere - it’s hard to imagine that a player who has just set the new goalkeeping record in the league and reached the Champions League semi finals would want to leave the club for the rival team. Some of the bids were more difficult to answer than others - Terrence Douglas and Devyne Rensch attracted some attention and I was considering if I should keep him or allow him to leave. But usually I just sat patiently and waited for big clubs to make hefty £40-50m bids to our first team players.


 

Departures

In the end of June Daley Blind left for Valencia (for free). His departure was obviously the one that caused most upset in the ranks of our fans. Team leader with more than 100 caps is certainly a big loss to our dressing room and some shifts in the team hierarchy were inevitable. Quincy Promes, Donny van de Beek and Dušan Tadic are now noted as team leaders.

Nicolas Kühn saw his contract run out and he too left the club. He is not good enough (on paper) for me to offer him a new deal, but good enough to score 10+ goals in each season (mostly in Eredivisie) so fans were equally disappointed with his departure. Kjell Scherpen, Hassane Bande and Eduardo Catalli also left, but they were not missed as much.

 

Arrivals

A number of players on loan returned to the club and some of them had a very successful season. Striker Jay Enem scored 20 goals in the Belgium league, Rio Hillen had a good season in Belgium, Julius Dirksen showed some fine performances in Spain and attacking midfielder Sontje Hansen also looks like the player who is capable of helping our first team in the next season.



 

Transfers

There are two things to focus on in the transfer window. Firstly, these few first team players who are good enough to attract attention from really big teams. Manchester City has shown interest in Lassina Traore, Real Madrid is lurking around Kenneth Taylor, some big teams are interested in Noussair Mazraoui and Anass Salah-Eddine.

Secondly, there are players whose contract will run out in 2024 and it’s decision time about them - should we sell now or offer them new deals. Kenneth Taylor, Quincy Promes, Ryan Gravenberch and Perr Schuurs are in this list, with some younger players. The club is certainly under pressure in regards to Taylor and Gravenberch. Both are good enough to move on to bigger clubs and leagues and at the same times their agents are pressuring us to get new contracts with higher wages, so there’s no surprise that clubs try to exploit the situation and get them for lower price than they’re worth.

I ran into the first hurdle with Ryan Gravenberch. After rejecting some fairly low bids between £20m-£30m the player got a bit upset too and when Everton agreed to pay £33,5m for him, I decided to accept. He’s worth around that much, but still only 21 years old and really talented, so I should get around £50m for him, but his contract situation doesn’t really do me any favours and so it’s wise thing to collect the money while we can. I have a capable (or even better) replacement for him in Marco Ferreira, so I expect to cover that loss without too many problems.

After selling Gravenberch and waiting for big clubs to make their offers for Taylor, I made two more decisions - first was about Jenno Campagne - a midfielder just returned from loan. He will probably not be good enough for the first eleven role in Ajax and there was no point in keeping him around in his twenties, so when KRC Genk came with a £5m bid, it was easy to accept. Good money for a player who was essentially surplus to requirements. The second was sending young defender Dani van Dijk to De Graafschap for £500k (up to £800k with clauses). The centre-back who suits more to DMC position, but we don’t play with DMC. The lad has got the right attitude, but not enough talent and it’s better for him to go elsewhere.


 

Loans

Several players returned from loan and some of them went back to join another club for the next year. I also sent away Terrence Douglas and Brian Brobbey - more first team football will benefit their development.

  • Jurrien Timber to RU Saint Gilloise
  • Christian Rasmussen to RU Saint Gilloise
  • Rio Hillen to KVC Westerlo
  • Julius Dirksen to KV Oostende
  • Terrence Douglas to Real Sporting
  • Joshua Pynadath to PEC Zwolle
  • Brian Brobbey to SD Eibar



 

29.07.2023 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 3:0 (Johan Cruijff Schaal) - 29. Perr Schuurs, Quincy Promes, 88. Lassina Traore

Traditional season-opener was this time played at Johan Cruijff Arena which gave us a small advantage. Even bigger advantage was that all of our players were fit to start the season and we looked in good form after friendlies, trashing Fenerbahce 7:0 in our last pre-season game.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (73. Marin), Promes (73. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (68. Tadic), Traore

We controlled the game fairly well - not too many big chances in the first half, but we looked very good defensively and PSV’s 4-1-4-1 formation wasn’t too attacking, so they got their first attempt in after 30 minutes were played. We prepared training set pieces before the game and it totally paid off - Perr Schuurs headed in from a corner in the first half and Quincy Promes added the second goal from IFK after the break. In the end of the game, a good interception and pass from Dušan Tadic released Lassina Traore who comfortably slotted home our third and that was it - an impressive win over our rivals in the first game of the season. PSV Eindhoven looked like they had no answers to us in that game and while we celebrated our fifth Johan Cruijff Schaal win, they went back to their drawing boards to prepare for the new season.

  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - made 8 key passes in attack and his set piece delivery was lethal - two goals from dead ball situations.
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August 2023

 

Four games, with plenty of time to prepare, but two tricky away fixtures in this month as well. It’s important to get our campaign going with a winning streak, so I’m putting a lot of emphasis on those games. I dedicated our extra sessions to set pieces and hoped to return to our previous seasons when we scored a lot of goals from free kicks and corners.


 

06.08.2023 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 66. Lassina Traore, 75. pen. Dušan Tadic, 90.+4 Kenneth Taylor

It’s a tough game to start our season with - away game against sc Heerenveen. Our opponents finished 4th in the last season and even though they’ve lost one talented attacking player in Arjen van der Heide during the transfer window, they look like a young and talented team. It’s good to report that all of our players are fit in the beginning of the season and I hope to avoid major injuries.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin (67. van de Beek), Promes, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (58. Tadic), Traore (75. Enem)

The first half offered very few good chances. sc Heerenveen had an attacking formation and they were good in the beginning of the game, too - their attempts didn’t have too much threat, though. We had our first shot in 22’, so the first part of this first half was a struggle, but at half time I had to say that our chances looked slightly better than the ones that Heerenveen created. Kian Fitz-Jim was unlucky to hit the post in 44’, so we weren’t far away from the goal, too.

We continued to play with high pressure and gegenpress in the second half and finally that brought the result. Lassina Traore applied good pressure on Andreas Skovgaard, won the ball in the Heerenveen box and finished calmly. I then switched from positive to balanced and was happy to control the game. Substitute Dušan Tadic converted the penalty after Marco Ferreira was pushed in the box and everything started to go downhill from there. Set piece training paid off in injury time - Carlos Manuel Lopes headed against the crossbar, but the following struggle in the six yard box didn’t allow sc Heerenveen to make a clearance and finally Kenneth Taylor got his foot to the ball to put it over the line. Final score 3:0 looked quite flattering, but actually it was a really difficult game and we had to dig deep to get those three points.

  • we lost possession 47/53 - not too big of a difference, but somehow sc Heerenveen attacking tactics worked in that regard
  • Player of the game: Kenneth Taylor - good playmaking in midfield and finally, a goal, too

 

11.08.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 5:0 (ED) - 2. and 48. Marco Ferreira, 21. Kian Fitz-Jim, 41. Carlos Manuel Lopes, 90.+1 Kenneth Taylor

FC Twente finished their last season slightly above the relegation zone and they haven’t strengthened their squad during the Summer transfer window. Instead, they sold one of their best strikers Jay-Roy Grot to sc Heerenveen, so you might say that they look even weaker. Media and pundits placed them into the bottom half again and there were no reasons not to be confident before this home game.

I made two changes in our line-up: Donny van de Beek started in midfield (after a rather mediocre display from Razvan Marin against sc Heerenveen) and Steven van der Sloot replaced Mazraoui as the Moroccan right-back looked slightly tired.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs (69. Rensch), Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek, Promes (63. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (69. Enem)

We stormed out of the gates with all guns blazing and with less than two minutes played, took control of the game. Marco Ferreira showed his brilliance by firing in a fierce strike from the edge of the area and in 21’ Kian Fitz-Jim added another great goal with a swerving shot from 15 meters. We didn’t have too many easy chances and you might say that FC Twente did a decent job in defense, but those two shots were just too good for their goalkeeper. Carlos Manuel Lopes added the third with a header from IFK (another set piece goal there) and that was virtually game over at the half time.

Marco Ferreira continued his great performance in the second half - another attempt from him, taken from 19 meters, landed in the top corner to pile up on FC Twente’s misery. FC Twente had their best opportunity from IFK in 55’ - Jeremy Helmer managed to hit the post from close range, but the ball was then cleared by Lopes and danger was averted. The referee was eager to give out yellow cards and so FC Twente was left with 10 men for the last ten minutes. Kenneth Taylor scored an injury time goal against sc Heerenveen and he repeated it again - another set piece goal. Taylor doesn’t get to the score sheet too often and for him to score in consecutive games is definitely something special. The final score 5:0 was pretty impressive and we collected some great goals on the way. FC Twente looked beaten in the end of the game and we took a lot of confidence from that win.

  • our shooting was 23/8 in this game
  • we had 8.33 average rating
  • we had 15 corners in this game and scored two goals from IFK - set piece training will pay off, I feel it
  • Marco Ferreira, Carlos Manuel Lopes, Kenneth Taylor and Quincy Promes had a great game and they finished with 9.0+ rating
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira


 

18.08.2023 - AZ Alkmaar - AFC Ajax 3:5 (ED) - 4. and 55. pen. Gyrano Kerk, 63. Kingsley Ehzibue - 21. Peer Koopmeiners (og), 42. and 72. Lassina Traore, 46. Marco Ferreira, 90.+2 Razvan Marin

It was another tough away game in August - Noord-Hollandse derby against AZ Alkmaar. AZ has been the powerhouse of young talent in Eredivisie in the last seasons and they constantly seem to find talented players to come through their ranks. Their midfield is incredible, but the Summer transfer window and departures of Robert Bozenik and Jerry St. Juste leaves them weakened in attack and defense. 

I sent out our best eleven and we started with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes (75. Rensch), Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (63. Marin), Promes (70. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

The first fifteen minutes belonged to AZ Alkmaar - Kenzo Goudmijn was just incredible with the ball and our midfielders couldn’t stop him with the ball - his two runs into our box ended with a good attempt, but Gürcan Dere made fine saves to stop them. AZ took the lead in 4’ when Kingsley Ehzibue found Gyrano Kerk in front of our goal - Kerk was completely unmarked in our six yard box and it was an easy finish from close range. Kerk had a free header some minutes later that was tipped wide by Dere and Fedde de Jong headed against the post. We looked completely out of the place defensively and I switched to positive 4-2-3-1 to get something out of the game.

We scored the equalizer, but it was a lucky goal for us. Peer Koopmeiners got his foot to a Quincy Promes’ cross and sent the ball into his own goal. I made another tactical tweak and after Gyrano Kerk wasted his clear cut chance in 34’ (or rather great save from Dere), Lassina Traore gave us the lead before the half time. His header landed right next to the post and AZ goalkeeper couldn’t reach it. We were leading 2:1 at half time, but I felt that it was completely undeserved - we were overplayed in much of the first half and AZ could rue their poor finishing, because they should have scored 3-4 goals easily. I had no kind words to the team at half time and that made some difference in the second half - we came out with all guns blazing and in the very first attack scored our third goal. Things looked good then - 3:1 was a decent advantage and the team looked motivated. The game had some twists and turns in it, however. Noussair Mazraoui fouled Gyrano Kerk in the box and VAR confirmed the penalty even if it looked a rather harsh decision after seeing the replay. Kerk converted from the spot and in 63’ AZ equalized - Kingsley Ehzibue dribbled past Carlos Manuel Lopes too easily and squeezed it in from the near post. It was 3:3 and everything was still possible, but in the last 20 minutes we had initiative and had enough edge to win the game.

Razvan Marin had a free kick from 25 meters - it was a good attempt and was saved with difficulties by the goalkeeper, but Traore was first to collect the loose ball and finish from point blank range. Marin himself added our fifth goal with a fierce strike from 19 meters and settled the result for good.

In the end - it was a proper derby and both teams showed attacking football from start to finish. I can’t be too mad at the team, because we dug deep and emerged victorious in the end, but our defense was completely all over the place and this has to improve in the next games.

  • we lost possession 47/53
  • AZ shots were 22/11 and they created 3 clear cut chances - not too often we’ve looked so poor in defense
  • we made only 8 key passes in this game
  • we allowed AZ players to make 24 dribbles - another sign of our defensive problems
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - two goals from him helped us to the win

 

27.08.2023 - AFC Ajax - Sparta Rotterdam 2:1 (ED) - 22. Quincy Promes, 24. Perr Schuurs - 12. Mohammed Tahiri

Back home and we had over a week to prepare for our next game. Sparta Rotterdam is one of the success stories in Eredivisie in recent years. They earned promotion to the top division two seasons ago and have backed it up with two consecutive top half finishes, so they can’t be underestimated. However, I rotated the team to give chances to other players as well.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (70. Regeer), Marin, Promes, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (63. Hansen), Traore (70. Enem)

We had a good start to the game. In fact, we got our first clear cut chance in 4’ when Marco Ferreira won the ball from a defender and got a one-on-one opportunity, but his shot (even though it looked like a good attempt) was brilliantly saved by the Sparta goalkeeper. So, our opponents took the lead in 12’ when Mohammed Tahiri found the net from a narrow angle. We didn’t take too much time to react - Razvan Marin found Quincy Promes with a lovely through ball and Promes finished with a nice chip over the keeper. Two minutes later it was 2:1 - Perr Schuurs headed in from an IFK and we went to the half time a little bit more relaxed.

The second half offered less good chances, but we had initiative, we controlled midfield and kept Sparta defense under pressure. The final score 2:1 wasn’t too impressive, but we did enough to take all three points - some players impressed me in this game, some less so.

  • we had 66% possession
  • our shooting was 24/10
  • we didn’t give Sparta Rotterdam any real chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - two assists and five key passes from him


 

Summary

I’m fairly happy with our August. The results have not come too easy, but we’ve started our Eredivisie campaign with four straight wins and among them are two fairly tricky away fixtures, so that’s a good start. All players are fit, we do not seem to miss Ryan Gravenberch or Daley Blind at all and we look good to go for the rest of the season.

Champions League groups were drawn at the end of August. Eredivisie has guaranteed two places in the group stage from the next season. This Summer PSV Eindhoven had to play for it, but they failed against AS Monaco and dropped out of the competition, so the responsibility falls again entirely to us.

 

Champions League Group G

  1. Juventus
  2. AFC Ajax
  3. FC Porto
  4. Lokomotiv Moscow



 

Eredivisie 

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We started well, but surprisingly ADO Den Haag have also won their first four games in the season.


 

Transfer Window Update

We didn’t receive good enough offers for our players in August, so no transfers to report with. I sent some young players on loan, including Alen Karahasanovic (who was unhappy after his transfer was blocked), so at the end of August our first team consist of 21 players - not too many, I know, but I hope to avoid major injuries and all of our loan players have recall clause in their loan agreements, so I can always recall them in January if we get into trouble.

 

Eredivisie Transfers

Several clubs made some big sales  this Summer - sc Heerenveen, AZ Alkmaar and FC Groningen filled their coffers, while PSV Eindhoven decided to spend big. AZ Alkmaar looked rather raided and ragged at the end of the transfer window.

 

  • Ryan Gravenberch from AFC Ajax to Everton for £33,5m
  • Arjen van der Heide from sc Heerenveen to Inter Milan for £28,5m
  • Kenzo Goudmijn from AZ Alkmaar to Atletico Madrid for £27,5m
  • Splinter van As from ADO Den Haag to KAA Gent for £20,5m
  • Robert Bozenik from AZ Alkmaar to PSV Eindhoven for £13,5m
  • Timothy Fosu-Mensah from Sheffield Wednesday to PSV Eindhoven for £8,75m
  • Jake Clarke-Salter from FC Utrecht to PSV Eindhoven for £8,25m
  • Leonel Miguel from FC Groningen to RCD Espanyol for £8m (up to £9,75m)
  • Jerry St. Juste from AZ Alkmaar to Aston Villa for £7m
  • Jenno Campagne from AFC Ajax to KRC Genk for £5m
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Squad Update 2023-2024

 

Goalkeepers

Kjell Scherpen is gone and Dani van den Heuvel takes his place as the younger backup. To be fair, he’s not good enough to start in the first team and he’ll be playing for Jong Ajax, mostly, but as a back-up he’ll do.

Gürcan Dere, however, is becoming an incredible player. Just 19 years old, played a full Eredivisie season and got us to the semi final of the Champions League - plenty of experience and his attributes can increase further.

 

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Defenders

A few changes here - Daley Blind has left and his leadership will be missed. Terrence Douglas went out on loan and Youri Baas will get more chances in the DL position. Our best centre-back partnership is Perr Schuurs and Carlos Manuel Lopes - Lopes is an incredibly talented player and Devyne Rensch will probably be unhappy not to get expected playing time. Joel Veltman will provide experience and versatility on the right.

 

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Midfielders

No changes here - Kenneth Taylor and Youri Regeer have trained for one more year and they’re better for it. Donny van de Beek provides leadership and Razvan Marin offers depth to both roles. No particular worries in this area of the pitch.

 

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Attacking Midfielders

First year without Ryan Gravenberch, but no worries - Marco Ferreira looks like he could become one of the best players in the team - such vision, technique and ability to pass the ball. Quincy Promes is fit again and I hope he will avoid serious injuries in this season. Kian Fitz-Jim is another wonderkid on our left flank. We lack a decent back-up in AMC position after Alen Karahasanovic went on loan, but experienced Dušan Tadic can provide cover for both AML and AMC and when we are in trouble we can also push Donny van de Beek to AMC position.

Sontje Hansen is a new addition and he’ll play in AMR next to Quincy Promes. His last season was spent on loan, but he looks good enough to get match time from substitutions and hopefully being in Ajax will accelerate his development.

 

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Strikers

Lassina Traore is our best option. Brian Brobbey joined SD Eibar on loan for this season and Jay Enem returned to the team to take his place as the backup. Enem showed incredible goalscoring form in Belgium - his goal tally for the previous season was 22 - but he’s yet to prove himself for Ajax.

 

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September 2023

 

The transfer window is behind us, international break is ahead of us and we’ll


01.09.2023 - AFC Ajax - ADO Den Haag 2:1 (ED) - 31. Nathan Markelo (og), 40. Lassina Traore - 48. Bradley de Jooijer

We have one more game before the international break and it could be tricky, because ADO Den Haag have won their first four games. This winning streak gives them a lot of confidence and we had to be aware of that. 

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (68. Baas), Taylor, van de Beek (62. Marin), Promes (74. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

The first dangerous moment came in the first minutes and fell to ADO Den Haag - their free kick found Josep Maria Santamaria in our box, who hit the shot straight to Gürcan Dere. It was a wasted chance for ADO, but I was left wondering how easily they created that opportunity. After the first scare we slowly, but surely started to take control of the game - good opportunities were rare, but we won a number of headers in ADO box and some of those were dangerous enough and from one of such opportunity came our first goal - Perr Schuurs won a header from a corner and Nathan Markelo was unfortunate to get in front of that. From his touch the ball went to the goal. Our first really good attack happened in 40’ - Carlos Manuel Lopes found Lassina Traore with an excellent long ball. Traore’s first attempt was blocked, but our attack continued and Quincy Promes, who retained possession on the right, crossed it to Traore, who headed it home. It wasn’t our best first half, but at half time we were leading 2:0 and all was well.

The second half began exactly as the first one had - we conceded an IFK 40 meters from our goal. Their delivery was good and Kenneth Taylor missed the run of Bradley de Nooijer who scored with an easy finish - the second clear cut chance that we conceded from set pieces and this time ADO used the gift well. Quick goal in the second half injected plenty of nervousness to our players and we struggled to play at our usual level because our mental state wasn’t focused and confident enough. I made some changes to take off the players who looked the most anxious and it helped somewhat, but we couldn’t put ADO under significant pressure and didn’t create good enough chances. Carlos Manuel Lopes managed to hit the crossbar with a header from IFK, but otherwise we weren’t too close to scoring and it remained nervous until the final whistle saved us. Not the best of the performances and we certainly need to do better against better oppositions. Set piece defending needs some attention, too.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 25/11 - flattering stats, but only 3 half chances
  • Razvan Marin made his 100th league goal for Ajax in this game
  • Player of the game: Kenneth Taylor - I noted his culpability in conceded goal, but he made 7 key passes and 2 key tackles in this game, so generally solid performance


 

18.09.2023 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 7. Richonell Margaret - 83. Kian Fitz-Jim

The international break is behind us and Eredivisie season resumes with the next match day.  It’s September and we have Champions League matches coming up, so it’s time to take a look at our full squad and rotate wisely. We will miss Dušan Tadic for a couple of weeks because of a training injury, but the rest of the players returned with good fitness.

Our opponents Heracles have invested around £5m into new players this Summer - for the club of their stature it’s a lot of money and a lot of new players in their squad, so it probably takes some more weeks for them to gel and only then we can see if they’re improved by that or not.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (67. Mazraoui), Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Promes (46. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (70. Enem)

We started well and were close to a goal in 6’ when Perr Schuurs headed against the crossbar, but as it has happened so often lately, we conceded the first goal. Heracles got a corner and the follow-up cross found Richonell Margaret in our box, who finished his chance well. Gürcan Dere has saved us on a number of occasions in one-on-one situations, but this time he, too, was helpless. That goal put us under pressure, even though we had a lot of time to find an equalizer. Because of that, we were a little bit nervous and soon gave Margaret another good opportunity to score - this time it was well parried by Gürcan Dere. Lassina Traore had a half chance in 28’, but his attempt was tipped wide and the first half finished with 0:1 - it was really poor from us, because we weren’t close to a goal and needed to improve our attack a lot. In addition to that Quincy Promes had to come off with pulled knee ligaments at the beginning of the second half - another injury to him in a fairly innocent situation. It wasn’t a trauma that was suffered because of a challenge, but he just pulled something in the middle of sprint and those injuries have become kind of a trademark for him.

I switched to attacking 4-2-3-1 in the second half to find better goal scoring chances and it seemed to work - Lassina Traore found a great opportunity in 63’, but he made a mess out of his shot and it was easily held by Heracles’ goalkeeper. Kian Fitz-Jim had a good look in 73’, but he blasted his close range attempt against Jay Enem who was in front of him in the six yard box. The equalizer finally came in 83’ - Razvan Marin delivered a good free kick and Kian Fitz-Jim got to the ball first and directed it past the goalkeeper. That was good enough for a draw, but not good enough to win the game. The final result was a big disappointment for us - we should have played a lot better and our finishing wasn’t good enough. As a result we dropped two points in a game that we should have won and also lost Quincy Promes for upcoming weeks.

  • we had 64% possession - good enough
  • Quincy Promes will be out for 3-4 weeks and so he’ll miss at least two Champions League games where we need him the most
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - good passes and assist to him

 

20.09.2023 - FC Porto - AFC Ajax 1:0 (Champions League Group G) - 84. Goncalo Cardoso

The first Champions League game in our campaign and a fairly tough one to begin with. It’s also a really important one because FC Porto look fairly similar to us and those games between two sides can be crucial to decide which one will progress from the group, so to get at least a draw from an away game would be really important to us.

We miss two experienced players due to injuries - Quincy Promes and Dušan Tadic. Sontje Hansen will start on our right wing and that will be a big test for him.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (70. Baas), Taylor, van de Beek, Hansen (70. van der Sloot), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (64. Enem)

The first half was a drab affair. The only noteworthy moment happened in 29’ when Perr Schuurs lost possession in midfield and Mateo Bojanich went one-on-one, but Gürcan Dere made a good save, so it was still goalless at half time. The number of chances and attempts was low from both teams.

Lassina Traore was forced off with a groin injury in the second half, but all signs showed that it was going to be a draw, until Porto’s Goncalo Cardoso fired in a late winner in 84’ - it was a great attempt and there was nothing that Dere could do about it, and in a game where we struggled to create chances, it was good enough for FC Porto to win. Jay Enem had a good attempt on target in 86’ and it could have been a late equalizer for us, but the ball came back from the post and that was it. The final result was a huge disappointment, because I felt that we played well in defense and deserved to get something out of this game. Even bigger worry was Traore’s injury - in the second half it was evident that Jay Enem will struggle in Champions League level and if Traore will need to skip several continental games, we’re in big trouble after that defeat. Traore’s groin strain was a kind of average injury and he’ll be out for 3-4 weeks.

  • Player of the game: Goncalo Cardoso - FC Porto - scored a great goal to win the game

 

24.09.2023 - AFC Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 2:1 (ED) - 16. Steven van der Sloot, 33. Jay Enem - 31. Sam Lammers

Back to Eredivisie and our next opponent is Vitesse - they should be a difficult opponent on paper, but in the beginning of this season their form has been rather poor and we have a home advantage, so it makes us heavy favourites. It’s difficult to say why Vitas are not doing so well - they’ve invested around £10m into new players this Summer, but perhaps it takes some more time for them to gel and work as a team and their manager tries to find the best eleven and formation for them.

We have a number of players missing - Lassina Traore, Quincy Promes and Dušan Tadic are out and Kian Fitz-Jim is doubtful with a small knock, but I reckon it’s better to give him a day off, so our attacking options look thin before this game. I decided to switch Sontje Hansen to AML and play Steven van der Sloot on the right wing.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (76. Baas), Taylor (70. Regeer), van de Beek (54. Marin), van der Sloot, Ferreira, Hansen, Enem

Steven van der Sloot offered the biggest surprise of the game in his new attacking role. He moved well into the counter-attack in 16’ and finished his run with a thunderous strike from some way out. What a goal! Absolutely unstoppable for the goalkeeper. However, Vitesse equalized in 31’ - the goal looked a little bit doubtful, because Sam Lammers shouldn’t get away from Lopes so easily and VAR confirmed that he was at least 1-2 meters offside, but somehow both the linesman and VAR turned the blind eye and allowed this doubtful goal to stand. Soon later we restored our lead - Jay Enem with a header after Mazraoui’s cross. We were leading, but Vitesse continued to get better chances - Sam Lammers wasted another clear cut chance before the end of the first half and although we were leading at half time, I had no right to be happy with our defense so far.

The second half continued in similar fashion - we had the possession and plenty of set pieces, but Vitesse waited patiently for their chances from counter-attacks and they managed to find them. Jean-Christophe Bahebeck fired just wide in 54’ and blasted his shot some way off in 74’ so we were lucky that our defensive mistakes were not punished. At the same time we struggled to create decent chances in attack - Razvan Marin hit the crossbar from distance, we had a number of shots on target and at times we showed some really good football, but real chances - not so much. At the end we held onto our narrow lead, but truthfully we were lucky that Vitesse were so wasteful with their opportunities.

  • we had 66% possession
  • our shooting was 25/13
  • we made only 9 key passes in this game
  • we allowed Vitesse to create 4 clear cut chances
  • Steven van der Sloot scored his first league goal
  • Player of the game: Steven van der Sloot - scored the best goal and generally did OK on his new position

 

30.09.2023 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 26. Romano Postema - 53. pen. Kenneth Taylor, 66. Perr Schuurs

We finished our September with another rather difficult away game, but at least we had a full week to prepare for it. We battled on without Lassina Traore and I hope that this spell without him doesn’t cost us too many points, but at least Jay Enem scored against Vitesse, so perhaps it will give him some confidence and is a sign of more goals to come.

We had Dušan Tadic back after his injury, but Donny van de Beek was suspended (he’s already collected five yellow cards!), so with injuries and suspensions we had just seven substitutions for this game.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (67. Baas), Taylor, Marin (72. Regeer), Hansen, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (72. Tadic), Enem

Groningen welcomed us with heavy rain and it’s always a bad omen to our style of technical football. We started with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation and only found a couple of half chances in the first half, before Romano Postema gave FC Groningen the lead - he skipped past Perr Schuurs’ tackle on the wet grass and finished calmly. It was the first attempt of the game by our opponents and it was all they needed to score. At half time things looked fairly bleak for us - we hadn’t been able to play good attacking football, conceded a cheap goal and it looked unlikely that we could score twice if we continued like that.

The referee came to help us in the second half - Sontje Hansen was tripped in the box and VAR confirmed the penalty, so Kenneth Taylor equalized from the spot. Perr Schuurs made up for his first half mistake by scoring a header from a corner and the game had turned around. We almost allowed Postema to score again on a counter, but this time Schuurs got back on time to make a determined block. The final fifteen minutes were rather nervous from both sides and there was a feeling that this game could go anywhere. Sonthe Hansen sent wide an absolute sitter in 79’ and I was wondering if we’ll blow this, but the final whistle blew for another 2:1 win. It was a hard-fought three points and a good comeback, I have to give this to the players. Not the best game, not the most beautiful football, but the result we needed.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 20/10 in this game
  • we conceded 3 clear cut chances AGAIN!
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - made up for his first half mistake with a winner in the second half


 

Summary

September has been a struggle. Our defense has been a huge liability this month and we’re lucky that we came through our Eredivisie games with only two points dropped. We haven’t recorded a single clean sheet since August and that shows how poor we actually are. Injuries have hit our attacking players and while we looked fairly good before the season, we’re now quite thin in attacking midfield, so perhaps we need to bring back a player or two from loan in January to cover better. Losing Lassina Traore makes our European campaign especially difficult - we have managed to fight through the games in Eredivisie, but Sontje Hansen, Jay Enem and Dušan Tadic isn’t the kind of line-up I’d like to use against Juventus. But when everything else fails, we’ve managed to score a number of goals from set pieces and that has saved us a couple of times.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re level with Feyenoord, PSV and AZ Alkmaar are following. Vitesse had a poor start - I expected them to do better.

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October 2023

 

03.10.2023 - AFC Ajax - Lokomotiv Moscow 6:0 (Champions League Group G) - 49., 54. and 74. Jay Enem, 67., 71. and 81. Sontje Hansen

After our defeat in Portugal, this was a must win game for us, but my squad selection was still hampered by injuries - we missed Quincy Promes and Lassina Traore and Noussair Mazraoui looked quite tired, so he was also rested. 

Squad: Dere, Veltman (71. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (68. Baas), Taylor (62. Regeer), van de Beek, Hansen, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Enem

We were clearly the dominant side in the first half, but it remained goalless until the half time. The best chance of the first period came in 13’ when Joel Veltman found Jay Enem with a long ball forward, but the young striker couldn’t finish and sent his attempt wide of the goal. I urged the players to improve and the second half looked much different - goals started to come and looked like they’d never stop. Jay Enem scored twice to put us in control and when Jordan Ayew had hit the post in the other end, we resumed to keep Lokomotiv under pressure. Sonthe Hansen and Jay Enem both completed their hat-tricks (it was the perfect hat-trick for Enem - one with both feet and a header) and we completely destroyed the Russian side in the second half. The final score 6:0 was nothing short of impressive and I was especially delighted with our hat-trick heroes - I had doubts if they could pose a real attacking threat in this level, but this kind of performance can make wonders of the young player’s confidence. Keeping a clean sheet was equally important, because we needed that - the last one was back in August against FC Twente.

  • we had 60% possession
  • our shooting was 30/16 - very impressive
  • we had 8.41 average rating
  • we made 20 key passes in this game
  • Sontje Hansen, Jay Enem, Donny van de Beek and Joel Veltman were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Sontje Hansen - a hat-trick and two assists for him tonight

 

08.10.2023 - AFC Ajax - VVV Venlo 2:0 (ED) - 31. Sontje Hansen, 78. Donny van de Beek

Newly promoted VVV Venlo are likely to struggle against relegation in this season, but they’ve started fairly well - collected points where possible and bolstered their ranks with three decent loanees from West Ham, so I’d say that they have a good chance to survive. We went to this game with a lot of confidence after the Champions League goal glut. Good news is that Quincy Promes is almost fit again, but Perr Schuurs has suffered hernia this week and he’ll be out for a month. Joel Veltman, who looked really impressive against Lokomotiv, will continue in DR and Devyne Rensch will finally get his chance in defense because of Schuur’s injury.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Rensch, Lopes, Baas (66. Salah-Eddine), Taylor (70. Regeer), van de Beek, Hansen, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (70. Promes), Enem

We had some really good goal scoring opportunities in the first half. Marco Ferreira wasted his early chance. Jay Enem did well to win the ball back, but he blasted his shot wide from a one-on-one situation. Sontje Hansen was the man of the moment in 31’ - he converted Youri Baas’ cross nicely to give us the lead, before Lopes saw his header from point blank range clear the crossbar. Three clear cut chances before the break, but so wasteful with our finishing.

We continued well in the second half, but 1:0 is always a narrow lead, so it was a bit nervous until Donny van de Beek finished things off with a great strike into the top corner. 2:0 at home against a smaller team looks like a routine win, but we could and should have scored more.

  • our shooting was 25/10
  • we made only 7 key passes in this game, but managed to create 3 clear cut chances
  • Sontje Hansen scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - captained the team in this game and took charge in the second half with his goal

 

21.10.2023 - FC Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 75. Quincy Promes, 80. Dušan Tadic, 90.+5 Jay Enem

Two weeks of international break is behind us and we’re back in action against another minnow in Eredivisie. FC Eindhoven is another newly-promoted team that should be no opponent for us. Our trip to Eindhoven is a chance to see our youngster Ismael Sangare-Aka in action - I’m eager to see how he’s doing.

We still miss Perr Schuurs due to injury and Youri Regeer has a small knock, but Promes, Tadic and Traore are all fit - two weeks of break has helped them. I decided to include young winger Philippe Barriere into the first team - it’s possible that he’ll get some minutes late in the games.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Rensch, Lopes, Baas, Taylor, van de Beek, Hansen (59. Promes), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (68. Tadic), Traore (76. Enem)

The first half wasn’t what I expected. We did a good job to control midfield, but chances were rare. Sontje Hansen got our best chance late in the first half, but his attempt was tipped over by FC Eindhoven goalkeeper. The second half was slightly better, but things got worse when Kian Fitz-Jim limped away with injury in 68’ - Quincy Promes came on. He showed his class and experience in 75’ with a good finish after Marco Ferreira found him with a nice through ball. Experienced Dušan Tadic added another goal five minutes later and substitute Jay Enem finished things off with a placed shot in injury time. The final score looked comfortable enough, but we left it really late and I wasn’t happy with our lack of real chances.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 19/15
  • Kian Fitz-Jim will be out for 2-3 weeks with pulled ankle ligaments
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - an outstanding performance from the midfielder, who dished out three assists in the final fifteen minutes

 

24.10.2023 - AFC Ajax - Juventus 1:1 (Champions League Group G) - 45.+1 Anass Salah-Eddine, 15. Mohamed Ihattaren

Perhaps it’s good that our schedule balances easier games with difficult Champions League fixtures. It’s a tough game and it’s clear that if we want to get any points against Juventus then the home game will be our best chance. I used our proven Champions League tactics and hoped for the best. Perr Schuurs and Kian Fitz-Jim were injured, but the rest of the squad was fit and ready.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (77. Regeer), van de Beek, Hansen, Ferreira (88. Marin), Promes, Traore

We started fairly well, but Juventus took the lead in 15’. Devyne Rensch made a good tackle on Mohamed Ihattaren, but he couldn’t stop the ex-PSV player going past him and Ihattaren finished with a good shot. Despite that goal, we played a fairly good first half and had some decent opportunities to equalize. Sontje Hansen saw his clear cut chance being blocked in 33’ and Lassina Traore had a half-chance in 35’. We looked like we were just a little short of equalizing and in injury time Anass Salah-Eddine provided the goal. It was a superb effort from the left-back to finish into the top corner from the edge of the area. 

At half time I was delighted with the equalizing goal and our first half in general. We looked good tactically and the stats sheet looked even. In certain situations our lack of individual skills compared to Juventus players showed, but generally it was well deserved 1:1 at half time.

We played equally well in the second half and between 50’-55’ it looked like we had Juventus under good pressure. Marco Ferreira was unlucky not to score in 51’ - his close range attempt was brilliantly tipped against the crossbar by Juventus’ goalkeeper. Quincy Promes had a clear cut chance soon after, but his shot was tipped wide. In the end it remained 1:1, but I had a feeling that we were really unlucky not to win this one. We definitely had enough chances to score the winning goal, but Juventus’ goalkeeper had a good game and he managed to make some incredible saves.

  • Juventus didn’t get any real chances against us and this was sign of our great defensive efforts
  • our shooting was 19/10 in this game
  • Player of the game: Anass Salah-Eddine - incredible goal by the left-back was enough to earn us the point.


 

28.10.2023 - Willem II Tilburg - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 29. Youri Regeer

It’s a rather tricky game for us, down in the South. Willem II has fought against relegation in the previous seasons, but at the moment their small club occupies the 5th position and they’ve won five out of their last six games. Sure, most of those wins have come against equally small teams, but they’ve gathered a lot of momentum and confidence from those wins and fought hard against Feyenoord two weeks ago at home. Feyenoord scored twice in the last 10 minutes to come back and win 3:2, but that’s proof of how dangerous this kind of in-form team can be in their own home.

Willem II have invested some ~£5m into new players as well and perhaps they have enough in them to challenge for the 10th position or above in this season. Some decent signings plus they loaned Alen Karahasanovic from us, who has already proven to be a good attacking midfielder in Eredivisie level. I hope that the Bosnian can put our disagreements to the side and return to Ajax in a good spirit after this season, because he looks like a really talented player, according to his loan performances.

We still missed Perr Schuurs and Kian Fitz-Jim, so some team selection choices were more obvious because of that. I will use Quincy Promes on the left flank as IFs and Sontje Hansen continues on the right. I had to make some changes based on fitness, too - Noussair Mazraoui looked a bit tired and Youri Regeer began in midfield.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (69. Baas), Regeer, van de Beek, Hansen (60. Tadic) Ferreira, Promes, Traore (79. Enem)

The first half offered a small number of attempts and an even smaller number of chances, but at least we managed to get some good attempts on target that looked fairly dangerous, at least when viewed from the sideline. Youri Regeer managed to score our only goal - we had a corner in 29’ and he timed his run into the six yard box well to finish with a simple tap-in from point blank range. 

Willem II got their best chance to equalize in the second half. Anass Salah-Eddine made a tackle on Che Nunnely, but he couldn’t win the ball and Nunnely got through to find himself one-on-one against Gürcan Dere, but our goalkeeper made a great save to keep a clean sheet.

In the second half it started to rain. The pitch got wet and muddy and the physical game started to take its toll on players. Sontje Hansen was forced off with an injury, Marco Ferreira suffered a minor knock. We made substitutions, but when our opponent’s centre-back Pascal Struijk was forced off with an injury in 83’, Willem II already had made all of their changes, so they were left with 10 men. And when Nunnely was sent off after his second booking in injury time, their numbers shrank even more. Advantage in numbers made things easier for us at the end of the game. Six minutes were added by the referee, and those could have been really nervous minutes, but now we could keep the ball and control things until the final whistle. Narrow win in the end, but as I said before - it was a tricky opponent in good form, so I was pleased with the result.

  • we had 61% possession
  • our shooting was 18/11 
  • Sontje Hansen will be out for 2 weeks with pulled ankle ligaments
  • Youri Regeer scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - gave 6 key passes and delivered the corner that led to our winning goal


 

31.10.2023 - AFC Ajax - Fortuna Sittard 1:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker 1st round) - 29. pen. Dušn Tadic

Our cup campaign begins here. Fortuna Sittard were relegated in Spring, but they’ve dropped like a rock and find themselves at the bottom of the lower division in October. It’s not the best of times for this small club, so I expect our youngsters and rotation players to be good enough to win this game.

We have some tired players in the squad. I feel it’s better to give Marco Ferreira a day off. Perr Schuurs and Sontje Hansen are injured, Carlos Manuel Lopes looks tired. It’s a challenge to put together a decent eleven and keep our key players fresh for the upcoming derby game against PSV Eindhoven. Youngsters Philippe Barriere and Remy Boer are set to make their debut for the first team.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes (51. Veltman), Baas, Regeer, Marin, Barriere, Tadic, Promes (68. Boer), Enem (57. Traore)

The first part of the game was… well, quite ugly. Our attacking players were unfamiliar with each other and it clearly showed - we couldn’t create chances, we were a little bit out of sync and Jay Enem was caught offside way too often. Things started to happen in around 28’ - Enem finally timed his runs better and received some good balls behind Fortuna defensive line. His attempts were parried by the goalkeeper, but one of those shots led to a corner and then Lopes was pushed in the box, so the referee awarded a penalty. Dušan Tadic sent the keeper the wrong way and converted it calmly to put us in front, but Enem continued to waste his chances.

The same continued in the second half - we were leading and in control of the game, but our strikers refused to take their chances. Enem finished his poor display in 57’ when he was forced off with an injury, but our finishing didn’t improve, because then the substitute Lassina Traore  wasted his clear cut chance in 78’. Fortuna’s Tom Hendriks was sent off with the second yellow card in 81’, but even then we couldn’t score another goal. We took the narrow lead and kept a clean sheet, but overall it was a frustrating display. The bright moments of this game were offered by Tadic and his good playmaking from midfield, but this, and few other decent performances aside, I can’t be happy with the team.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 23/17 in this game
  • we managed to create 3 clear cut chances
  • Philippe Barriere and Remy Boer made their debuts for the first team
  • Jay Enem will be out for 3 weeks with a pulled calf muscle
  • Youri Baar also suffered a knock and he’ll be out for a week because of a bruised thigh
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - calm finish from the spot and he created three chances with his passes
  • we’re now 25 games unbeaten in the cup - that’s another record and hopefully this streak continues further 



 

Summary

Our Champions League campaign has kicked off and we’ve got four points from two games in October. We have to be pleased with that - emphatic win over Lokomotiv and well deserved point from Juventus. Our fixture list in domestic competitions has been easier and we’ve maintained our winning streak to secure our top spot in the table. Some injuries have affected our squad selection options, but all of the rotation players have done well enough to get the necessary results.

Morale is high, players have trained well and it shows in attribute increases as well. 


 

Eredivisie

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We’re leading the table, but Feyenoord have one game in hand. The gap with others is starting to increase. We’ve started our season incredibly well, but the most difficult games are still coming up.

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November 2023

 

We had a good October, but November looks tough. Only five games, but two important Eredivisie derbies and two difficult Champions League games - we really have to be at our best to get good results from this month.

 

Player contracts

We are in November, but I still have some contract issues to resolve. It’s good that Razvan Marin signed the new deal until 2027 (although I had to agree with an increased £47,000 p/w salary), but Perr Schuurs’ agent is continuing to be a problem and Kenneth Taylor doesn’t even want to start negotiations, preferring to wait January and offers from big clubs (Chelsea looks the most interested party at the moment).


 

04.11.2023 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 0:0 (ED)

The first difficult derby game of the month is our trip to Eindhoven. PSV have invested some £30m into the new players in Summer and their squad looks improved because of that, but it has taken some time for them to pick up their form and so they’re currently 4th in the table, and perhaps not really competing for the title just yet.

We have some injury problems and a few players are still missing - Perr Schuurs and Jay Enem are still injured, Youri Baas, Sontje Hansen and Kian Fitz-Jim are not fully recovered, so we are still a bit thin in the attacking department and we got to this game with only six fully fit substitutions.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (89. Regeer), van de Beek (83. Marin), Promes, Ferreira, Tadic, Traore

In the first fifteen minutes, the only dangerous moments came from set pieces and both teams managed to win some headers in the opposition box, but it didn’t lead to anything. The first chance fell to Quincy Promes who had a crack in 15’, but his good attempt was tipped wide by PSV goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall. Lassina Traore had the best chance of the first half in 36’ when he received Salah-Eddine’s cross in the box, but he was block-tackled by a late arriving defender and that didn’t bring us the first goal. PSV’s Steven Berghuis had a half-chance late in the first half, but that effort was comfortably held by Dere. At half time it looked like we had a slight edge in the first half because we had better chances, but my general feeling was that this was a very close game and the margin of win, if it will be a win, is going to be a narrow one.

PSV looked more active in the beginning of the second half, but it still looked like anyone’s game. Lassina Traore had a good moment when Marco Ferreira found him with a through ball, but his attempt in 72’ hit the post and Dušan Tadic showed that his ability to spot the pass has not disappeared with years - his well-measured pass to Quincy Promes at the far post led to another clear cut chance. The ball took a bounce after Promes hit it and it was a really difficult for the goalkeeper, but Unnerstall did exceptionally well to parry this one wide. In the end it remained goalless and we returned from Eindhoven with just one point. Kenneth Taylor was forced off with injury at the end of the game and that was our main focus after the final whistle.

We could have won it if our finishing was more clinical, but I can’t complain too much about the result. It was a tight game and a draw in those away games against Feyenoord and PSV is nothing to be ashamed of - those games won’t cost us points in the big picture. We showed good defense, kept a clean sheet and the goals will come, but Lassina Traore’s goal drought continues with this game - his last goal came in the beginning of September against ADO Den Haag and since then it’s been two months without success. His average rating is solid 6.5 in the past games and some good chances that he’s missed doesn’t add to his confidence.

  • we had 62% possession
  • Kenneth Taylor will be out for two weeks with pulled ankle ligaments
  • Player of the game: Devyne Rensch - a few decent performances and we were good defensively, so that makes sense, although Rensch’s rating was just 7.1

 

08.11.2023 - Juventus - AFC Ajax 2:0 (Champions League Group G) - 5. Rodrigo Bentancur, 12. Adrien Rabiot

Next up - Juventus in Turin. The most difficult game of our group fixture list. We come to this game with some tired legs after our match with PSV Eindhoven, but at the same time a number of players are starting to get fit again - Perr Schuurs, Kian Fitz-Jim and Sontje Hansen are all back in full training and Jay Enem is also close to return. There are some dilemmas about squad selection and I have to choose between ability, form and fitness in certain positions. Marco Ferreira looked pretty tired and his match load has been significant lately, so it’s better for him to start on the bench. I moved Donny van de Beek to the AMC position and Razvan Marin will start in midfield. And, of course, Kenneth Taylor will miss a few games because of his recent injury.

It’s clear that we need to approach this game carefully and a balanced 4-2-3-1 with lower line of engagement is the way to go for us, at least initially.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs (68. Rensch), Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Promes (68. van der Sloot), van de Beek, Tadic (68. Fitz-Jim), Traore

We were prepared to deal with Juventus attacks, tactically, but we weren’t prepared for their corners. In the first fifteen minutes we conceded twice from corner situations and Juventus had a comfortable lead without needing to crack us open properly. In fact, for the rest of the first half we looked like a better team. Our counter-attacks ran fairly smoothly and provided some half chances to both Traore and van de Beek. Juventus’ goalkeeper had to make some good saves to stop those attempts, so at halftime we felt that 0:2 score was really unfair. Unfortunately, playing well is not good enough in football. You also need to finish well to score goals and our finishing wasn’t clinical enough once again.

The same continued into the second half - we handled Juventus quite well, but at the same time struggled to create clear cut chances and our attempts on target weren’t good enough. Even Lassina Traore’s excellent opportunity to score at least one goal went to waste - his header from point blank range in 83’ cleared the crossbar - another notch to his long streak of missed opportunities. 0:2 in the end of the game marked a fairly routine win for Juventus, who didn’t have to push too hard in attack, but at the same time our performance had been very positive through those 90 minutes, so I could praise the effort and keep the morale high for our upcoming games.

  • Player of the game: Nicolas Dias (Juventus) - delivered both corners that led to goals


 

12.11.2023 - AFC Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 4:0 (ED) - 3. and 43. Lassina Traore, 11. and 90.+2 Marco Ferreira

It’s the Klassieker Derby and a title six pointer, according to the current standings of the table. Feyenoord are three points behind us with a game in hand, so we’re virtually level with them. We’re definitely favourites at Johan Cruijff Arena and while I’m fairly happy with draws against PSV and Feyenoord in away games, we want to win all games in Amsterdam.

We miss Kenneth Taylor because of his recent injury. Sontje Hansen is also just gaining his fitness, but at least some attacking options are available - Marco Ferreira will start, along with Kian Fitz-Jim

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (68. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Rensch, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek, Promes (72. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (84. Boer), Traore

Feyenoord started with a fairly positive, possession-based 4-2-3-1 formation, which is different from their usual 4-1-2-3 DM, but that opened their defense up for our quick counter-attacks and Lassina Traore was ready from the kick-off to take advantage of that space. Marco Ferreira found him with a long ball forward in 3’ and that breakthrough led to our first goal. Traore was clearly delighted with that, because he’s been 642 minutes without finding the mark until that game. He soon had another good opportunity, after Fitz-Jim won the ball back and found Traore alone in the box, but this time the Burkinabe striker rushed his shot and put it wide. Marco Ferreira scored an incredible solo strike in 11’ - his run started from our half and led all the way to the box where he finished with a great strike. Feyenoord’s goalkeeper Sergio Padt had no chance. It has to be said that in the first half Feyenoord had their moments and some of them almost resulted in a goal. A couple of headers from set pieces went just over our crossbar and Soulyman Allouch got a good looking shot on target after a corner that Gürcan Dere parried against the post before it was cleared away, so it wasn’t so one-sided as the score indicates. Feyenoord’s best chance came in 41’ - their danger man Tarik Erdem won a duel against Perr Schuurs and got through, but Dere made another great save to keep his clean sheet and two minutes later Traore scored his second goal of the game. This time it was a free kick, and from some distance out - curled around the wall from 29 meters. Padt got his hand to it, but not enough and the ball landed in the goal. So, a fairly entertaining first half finished 3:0 and I was clearly delighted with how things were going.

I switched our higher pressing to standard line of engagement in the second half and that gave us a little bit more control of the game. Feyenoord attacks looked less dangerous and they couldn’t create any good chances in the second half. We were less attacking, too, but got at least some opportunities. Sontje Hansen came on and had a couple of half-chances right away. Lassina Traore blew up his chance to complete a hat-trick in 80’ after Ferreira played him open with an excellent pass, but in injury time we still managed to score our fourth goal - it was Ferreira again who found some space after our corner and fired it in to complete the rout. 4:0 marked an emphatic win and the fans were clearly delighted with the result. I was also extremely happy - it was a very important game and the player delivered a great win. Lassina Traore found the target once again and Marco Ferreira proved that he’s probably the best midfielder in Eredivisie at the moment.

  • our shooting was 25/13 in this game
  • we created 3 clear cut chances and even though we converted only one of those, our finishing improved a lot compared to our recent games
  • youngster Remy Boer made his league debut in the second half
  • Marco Ferreira and Lassina Traore were outstanding in this win
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - two goals, assist, 5 key passes and great playmaking from the wonderkid

 

The Klassieker Derby was followed by an international window - many of the players featured in their national teams, and we had almost two weeks to get our injured players back to full fitness. It wasn’t a peaceful period for some of the clubs in Eredivisie - Vitesse board decided to sack Vladimir Ivic from his post and Vitesse’s poor start of the season led to a point where they now look for the new manager.

Dušan Tadic came to me to express concerns about his lack of first team football. It’s true that I don’t want to play him too much to avoid triggering his contract extension clause (one year extension after playing 20 games in the season), but the other side of the story is that now, at the age of 34, his physical attributes are declining more rapidly than before. He can provide good playmaking and set pieces, but lacks speed that Promes or Fitz-Jim can deliver in this position and as a result his minutes have dried up. I reluctantly agreed to find him a loan move in the upcoming transfer window, but with this departure I’d lose a valuable depth option in both AMC and AML positions.


 

24.11.2023 - AFC Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 3:0 (ED) - 15. Marco Ferreira, 16. Razvan Marin, 73. pen. Kenneth Taylor

In a month of such bg games a home fixture against NEC Nijmegen looks almost too easy. NEC had a good season in the last year - they had Ole ter Haar Romeny scoring goals and points came unexpectedly easy for them, but they’ve struggled to repeat that in this season and find themselves in the bottom half of the table. Slightly above relegation zone, but not out of danger yet.

We have a massive game against FC Porto coming up, and some players looked more tired after the international break, so the squad selection is based on physical fitness and sensible rotation.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Baas, Regeer (59. Taylor), Marin, Promes (64. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (73. Tadic), Enem

We controlled the game from the kick-off and it was only a matter of time to score our first goal. I think we had at least 4-5 attempts on target before Marco Ferreira opened things up with his strike and in the very next attack Razvan Marin added the second goal with a beautiful strike from 20 meters. NEC players looked like they had given up after that and it was relatively easy for us for the rest of the game.

Jay Enem played full ninety minutes - didn’t score, but looked lively and gave assist to Marin’s goal. Sontje Hansen came on in the second half and right away got some half-chances, so players are looking fairly good after recovering from injuries and that game was a good opportunity to get their match fitness back.

Kenneth Taylor added our third goal from the spot after Hansen was tripped in the box and Perr Schuurs was unlucky that his header hit the post in 75’. The final score 3:0 looked fairly comfortable and it really was - we were never in trouble and NEC couldn’t create any decent chances against us.

  • our shooting was 31/17 - really one-sided game
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - outstanding performance from the Romanian midfielder, who scored the best goal of the game and gave several key passes

 

28.11.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Porto 0:0 (Champions League Group G)

Extremely important game. Our group standings indicate that if we want to get through to the knockout stages, we need a win against FC Porto. And keeping in mind that unlucky 0:1 defeat in Portugal, the goal difference could be decisive, too. The good news is that we have all players fit and ready - injuries are in the past and most of the players are match fit, too. We will start with our usual balanced 4-2-3-1 Champions League tactics and see where it takes us.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, van de Beek (70. Marin), Promes (85. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

FC Porto’s Tecatito Corona had an early chance in 3’ after a corner, but that attempt was well held by Dere and so the first danger was averted. The rest of the first half looked much better defensively - our balanced 4-2-3-1 was good enough to avoid giving easy chances to Porto, but at the same time we struggled to create good opportunities to ourselves. At half time it was clear that we can’t break their defense in that manner, so we switched to positive 4-2-3-1, but without much effect - Lassina Traore had two decent chances in the second half, but both attempts were saved. We took more risks in the final ten minutes - that led to an injury time opportunity to FC Porto, but Dere made a good save once again. We kept the clean sheet, but our problem in this game was scoring and chance creation and in the end we could break FC Porto’s defense. Goalless draw leaves us third in the group, three points behind FC Porto and without a chance to qualify. That’s the first big disappointment of this season.

  • Player of the game: Pedro Henrique (FC Porto) - solid game from their centre-back


 

Summary

Mixed results in October. Excellent in Eredivisie, but we fell short in the Champions League. Displays against Juventus and Porto were actually good, just not clinical enough in finishing to edge those games and get any points on the board.


 

Eredivisie

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We’re still undefeated in the league and to be honest it’s a great first half of the season that we’re having until now. There are 5-6 clubs at the bottom of the table who are most likely relegation candidates, but Vitesse, who are now without a manager, are slowly climbing upwards.

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  • 2 weeks later...

December 2023

 

The December schedule looks really easy. In Eredivisie we’ll play only with small clubs, we have a Champions League fixture against Lokomotiv Moscow which doesn’t change anything and we can approach that without any pressure and the cup game with Telstar adds little variety to our fixture list. I expect us to win all games without much fuss and plan to rotate the squad to distribute playing time more evenly.

In the office I have some contract issues still to iron out. I hope to reach an agreement with Perr Schuurs, and Kenneth Taylor’s contract situation remains unresolved (Chelsea scouts have been present in some games to keep tabs on him).

 

03.12.2023 - FC Emmen - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 1. Marco Ferreira, 44. pen. Razvan Marin, 80. Youri Regeer

Our first trip in December is to Eastern part of the country. FC Emmen are currently in the relegation zone and they’re struggling to keep themselves in the higher division. For me it’s the first chance to rotate the squad: Noussair Mazraoui will be rested, Youri Baas, Devyne Rensch and Joel Veltman will start in defense and Sontje Hansen will be in the starting line-up, too.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine (60. Baas), Regeer, Marin, Hansen, Ferreira (60. Barriere), Fitz-Jim, Traore (70. Enem)

We stunned FC Emmen in the very first minute. Marco Ferreira took the ball near our own box and dribbled all the way to the other end of the pitch, to finish his solo attack with an excellent strike. Opposition players looked disheartened and the rest of the first half was under control. Despite our domination in midfield and number of shots, we didn’t create too many good chances and the penalty in the end of the first half gave us our second goal. Youri Regeer was pulled down in the box and Marin took a very good spot kick that didn’t leave FC Emmen goalkeeper any chance.

The second half was very similar - we dominated the game, but had only a few chances and relied on a thunderous long shot from Regeer to score our third goal - a beautiful goal from 22 meters and from a player who doesn’t take too many attempts from distance and scores even less.

  • we had 64% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 26/11 - not too bad, and we created 3 clear cut chances
  • Philippe Barriere made his league debut for Ajax in the second half
  • Player of the game: Youri Regeer - a great performance from the playmaker, he scored the best goal of the game and gave 10 key passes during the 90 minutes, an excellent game 


 

06.12.2023 - Lokomotiv Moscow - AFC Ajax 0:3 (Champions League Group G) - 63., 63. and 81. pen. Lassina Traore

Trips to Russia are long and away games there are always difficult, but this match didn’t matter for us, because the group standings were clear before the last round. I didn’t want to lose, though, so I sent out respectable first eleven anyway, but tried to balance between careful and optimistic tactics. Bad news is that Marco Ferreira caught the flu and he has to skip a couple of games, but the rest of the team was available. Donny van de Beek starts in AMC.

Moscow welcomed us with Winter and snowy pitch - I can’t remember the last time we had to play in this kind of conditions.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (14. Veltman), Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (68. Baas), Taylor (68. Regeer), Marin, Promes, van de Beek, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We had a good start and looked like a better team in the first half. Lassina Traore had an early chance in 8’ - his attempt was blocked and Quincy Promes saw his follow-up shot to be tipped over by the goalkeeper. Lokomotiv had their best chance in 9’ when Carlos Manuel Lopes lost a challenge in midfield and Eldar Shmurodov went one-on-one against Gürcan Dere. Our goalkeeper made a great save to rescue the situation.Donny van de Beek did fit well into the AMC position - his measured pass found Traore in the box, but the shot was tipped wide - another chance wasted. At half time it remained 0:0, but I had the feeling that we edged the first half and our first goal is just a question of time.

So it was, in the second half. Lassina Traore finally scored in 63’ with a header from near post. In the very next attack Promes found him again with a long ball forward and this time his clear cut chance was well executed - two goals within a minute pretty much decided the game. Traore completed his hat-trick from the spot after earning the penalty himself and managed to waste another chance late in injury time, but his goalscoring was good enough today, despite those missed chances. 3:0 is a very good win and we returned from Moscow in good spirits.

  • we had 64% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 23/16 and we created 5 clear cut chances
  • Lassina Traore scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Noussair Mazraoui came off with a knock in the first half and gashed lower leg will leave him sidelined for 1-2 weeks
  • Lassina Traore and Quincy Promes had a great game for us
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - a hat-trick hero, could have scored 5 goals easily

 

Champions League Group G

  1. Juventus 14
  2. FC Porto 8
  3. AFC Ajax 8
  4. Lokomotiv Moscow 2

 

Level on points with FC Porto, but that one goal in Porto was the decisive one in this pair. We will continue our season in Europa League.


 

10.12.2023 - VVV Venlo - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 22. Donny van de Beek, 90.+4 Lassina Traore

Back to Eredivisie and another small team to play against. VVV Venlo are a newly promoted side who are doing pretty well to find themselves in 11th position in the middle of the season. They’ve gathered points from where they can and converted enough draws into wins late in games, so they have to be respected for that. Generally tall players with good jumping ability (5 cm taller than us, on average), so set pieces could be dangerous.

We had some players missing for this game - Noussair Mazraoui was injured, Marco Ferreira was ill and Jay Enem also picked up a knock in training. Remy Boer found himself suspended for the game, so at least some options from the bench were limited, but it’s the kind of team against which we can rotate the squad more freely.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Baas, Taylor, Marin (70. Regeer), Hansen (2. Promes), van de Beek, Fitz-Jim (70. Tadic), Traore

The game didn’t start well for us, because Sontje Hansen was injured in the very first minute after a hard tackle and he limped off with a calf strain. We soon started to find moments, but missed a little bit of luck to score the first goal. Youri Baas had a crack in 6’, but hit the post. Carlos Manuel Lopes headed against the crossbar from the following corner and Donny van de Beek hit the post in 18’ to waste his clear cut chance. van de Beek found the target a few minutes later, though - van der Sloot’s cross found him unmarked in the box and the header went in. We dominated the first half, but VVV had their moments, too - mostly from set pieces, because their height and aerial ability was a real threat, as I suspected. They had plenty of shots on target, although none of those was too troublesome for Gürcan Dere.

The second half was largely a disappointment. We couldn’t create any good chances during the second period and at some moments it looked that with a little bit of luck VVV could find an equalizer. They started to take more risks in the end of the game and ultimately that led to our second goal late in injury time. Lassina Traore found the mark with an accurate shot to make it 2:0. Decent result in the end and I’m happy with the clean sheet, but I feel that we should have been better in attack.

  • our shooting was 20/11 in this game
  • Sontje Hansen will be out for 3 weeks after suffering an injury
  • Player of the game: Steven van der Sloot - good game from the right back, who provided an assist

 

15.12.2023 - AFC Ajax - NAC Breda 6:0 (ED) - 11. Marco Ferreira, 18., 58. and 77. pen. Quincy Promes, 25. Kian Fitz-Jim, 82. Donny van de Beek

Our easy games continue - this time with a home game against relegation-battling NAC Breda. Our opponent’s squad doesn’t look good enough to keep them in Eredivisie, to be honest, and I’m rotating more freely. At the same time we have some players returning to fitness and my options are wider than before. Only Hansen and Mazraoui are still injured. Jay Enem returns to action and so does Marco Ferreira.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Baas, Regeer, Marin, Promes, Ferreira (70. van de Beek), Fitz-Jim (58. Boer), Traore (46. Enem)

The first half was again very one-sided. We dominated the game and took the lead in 11’ when Marco Ferreira powered in an IFK. Quincy Promes doubled our lead with a simple finish soon after that and Kian Fitz-Jim added another goal with a beautiful curled ball from 15 meters. I was especially delighted for him, because his performances have been below his usual standard lately and it was just his third goal of the season, so to see him get it going is nice. I could afford taking the foot off from the throttle at half time - Traore came off and Jay Enem went on to regain match fitness in the second half.

The second half continued to be easy for us - NAC didn’t put up much of a fight and we controlled things comfortably. Quincy Promes doubled his tally with an accurate shot from the edge of the area, before completing his hat-trick from the spot after Lopes was pushed in the box. Donny van de Beek came on and completed the rout with a beautiful strike from 23 meters - a wonderful goal to wrap things up with. It was a convincing win in the end and I was delighted with both the result and performance.

  • our shooting was 28/15 in this game
  • we had 8.42 average rating
  • we didn’t allow NAC to create any chances
  • Quincy Promes, Youri Regeer, Razvan Marin and Carlos Manuel Lopes were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - the hat-trick hero tonight
  • we’ve now played 17 games in Eredivisie and collected 47 points - a truly exceptional first half of the season

 

18.12.2023 - AFC Ajax - SC Telstar 4:1 (TOTO KNVB Beker 2nd round) - 12. and 35. pen. Dušan Tadic, 39. Jay Enem, 76. Philippe Barriere - 22. Joseph Abubakari

Another easy match, although we didn’t have enough time to rest between games. We rotate again freely and play against lower division team Telstar with our substitute players.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Veltman, Rensch, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek, Barriere, Tadic, Boer, Enem

We looked calm and confident from the beginning. Jay Enem had a couple of good attempts from distance and his shot in 7’ hit the post from 25 meters. Dušan Tadic opened things up for us with a beautiful free kick from 25 meters - a great goal, but Telstar answered with an even better one. Joseph Abubakari fired a thunderous strike from 23 meters that landed in our top corner. I know that Dani van den Heuvel is not the best goalkeeper, but he can’t be blamed for that goal. Telstar’s equalizer stunned everybody for a while, I guess, and gave them some hope, but we took charge again before the end of the first half. Tadic converted the penalty after Philippe Barriere was tripped in the box and soon after that Enem headed in from close range to make it 3:1 before the break.

We were more relaxed after the break and felt that things were under control. Barriere got himself onto the score sheet with a header from a free kick that went in off the crossbar and so the final score was 4:1 - good win and good goals, even though we relied on set pieces.

  • we had  67% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 21/11
  • Player of the game: Dušan Tadic - veteran playmaker showed his class, scoring two goals and assisting another two - outstanding game from him


 

23.12.2023 - AFC Ajax - FC Eindhoven 4:0 (ED) - 8. Philippe Barriere, 23. Razvan Marin, 36. pen. Dušan Tadic, 87. Kian Fitz-Jim

Back to Eredivisie and we host another small team in Johan Cruyff Arena. It’s another game where we can use our squad freely to distribute playing time and I have almost all players to choose from - Noussair Mazraoui is fit again after his injury, all players looked rested enough and only Sontje Hansen needs some more time to recover from the calf injury that he suffered in the game against VVV Venlo.

Squad: van den Heuvel, Mazraoui, Schuurs, Rensch, Baas, Regeer, Marin, Promes, Tadic, Fitz-Jim, Enem

It was a fairly easy game for us, indeed. Youngster Philippe Barriere opened things up for us with a goal from an IFK and after Marin sent a thunderous strike into the top corner from 23 meters, it looked like it was three points in the bag. Dušan Tadic scored another one from the spot after Jay Enem was pushed in the box and we went to the half time with a 3:0 lead.

The second half offered less chances and FC Eindhoven got their best opportunity to score - Jason Pigmans found space from a counter, but he sent his shot over the crossbar. Kian Fitz-Jim headed in to complete the rout with a late goal and so it finished 4:0. Really easy win.

  • we had 64% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 23/12
  • Philippe Barriere scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - scored the best goal of the game and led had otherwise outstanding game


 

Summary

It looked like an easy month and it was indeed, judged by the results. We were convincing in the games and I could distribute playing time without fearing it could backfire.



 

Eredivisie

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We have opened up a 9 points gap between us and the following pack. Top five teams are clearly stronger than the others, but the battle between the bottom five is equally fierce.

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January 2024

 

The first half of January was filled with contract issues. Transfer window opened and players could sign new deals, so it suddenly looked like a real possibility that we could lose both Perr Schuurs and Kenneth Taylor. Taylor agreed to open contract negotiations with us, but his agent’s first demands were £252k per week, so I stood up without saying a word and just left the room. Chelsea has looked like the most interested party in recent months, but Taylor rejected their offer in January and so his situation remains unclear.

We definitely lost one player in this transfer window and it was Brian Brobbey. The striker who is currently on loan in La Liga 2 side SD Eibar and banging in goals in this level agreed to join PSV Eindhoven in Summer. I hate to see him join our rivals, but to be fair I’m not sure that he’s worth almost £50k per week that PSV agreed to pay to him.

Jurrien Timber decided to sign with KV Kortijk and Ahmet Oktay joined Excelsior. Those two are not going to be missed, as they’re not good enough to play for Ajax first team. 

I had promised to allow Dušan Tadic to move away on loan after his playing time decreased, and I kept that promise - he moved to Sporting CP until the end of the season and his contract will run out then.

We made at least one transfer, too, from where we could collect some cash. Noussair Mazraoui played the first two games in January before he joined Guangzhou Evergrade for £50m. It was purely a financial decision for the 26 years old right-back who was hungry for a bigger salary. For me, it was a bit more strategic decision - Mazraoui was a fairly influential person in the dressing room and his balanced personality was not something that I was keen to see in the future team leader. I’m almost always eager to accept a bid for £50m or more and to let him leave at that age, and to free up additional £40,000 p/w in wages, was reasonable in every sense.


 

Contracts

PSG started to show interest in Gürcan Dere, so I decided to extend his contract - the talented goalkeeper signed a new deal for £13,000 p/w to remain in Ajax for at least until 2028. After rejecting Borussia Dortmund’s bid for Youri Regeer (they offered decent money, but not good enough for his kind of talent) I tied him down for £38,000 p/w until 2028, too. 



 

19.01.2024 - FC Twente Enschede - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 53. Anass Salah-Eddine

FC Twente could be a decent club, but at the moment they’re struggling in the bottom five of the table with Eredivisie minnows, so they don’t look like much of an opponent. Before the game I felt that our unresolved matters off the pitch, concerning contracts and transfers, draw away attention and lower our concentration, so we had to be sure to get the work done.

Two injuries in the team - Kenneth Taylor sprained his ankle and will be out for 6-7 weeks. Razvan Marin picked up a virus and he’ll be out for a week, so midfield options are narrower, but the rest of the team looks good.

Squad: Dere, Mazraoui (69. Veltman), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek, Promes, Ferreira (62. Hansen), Fitz-Jim, Traore (69. Enem)

The kick-off on Grolsch Veste welcomed us with heavy rain - not the best of conditions for our style of football. Perhaps that affected the amount of possession we had in the first half (FC Twente won the battle for ball 59/41 in the first period), but we definitely had the best chances - Lassina Traore had a great opportunity in 17’ which was met by equally great save by FC Twente goalkeeper. Quincy Promes had a chance to score from the spot in 24’ after Traore was pushed in the box, but the experienced winger’s penalty hit the post, so we were goalless in the first half. FC Twente had their best chance in injury time, right before the half-time whistle - their free kick flew over our defenders to the far post where Ondrej Mihalik got to it before the byline, but his attempt (although to the empty goal) from a narrow angle hit the post. That was a close call… I had no reason to praise the team at the half time, but we didn’t play significantly better in the second half. Traore blew another chance in 50’ (and I soon took him off - he had a really poor day in front of the goal), but when we struggled to score, we got help from the most unexpected sources - Anass Salah-Eddine made a well-timed run into the box to receive a smart ball from van de Beek and fired it in with a force from 15 meters - a great goal for the full-back. That was the winning goal and in the end it was all that we needed to secure the narrow win and all three points.

The overall performance was disappointing, though - strikers were wasteful with their chances and we struggled to hit our shots on target. Need to do better against stronger opponents.

  • our shooting was just 23/6 - difficult to score like that
  • we created 3 clear cut chances in this game, but wasted all of them, including the penalty
  • Anass Salah-Eddine scored his first league goal for Ajax
  • Marco Ferreira picked up a knock in the first half and he’ll be out for a week with a twisted knee
  • Player of the game: Anass Salah-Eddine - great goal and decisive action from the full-back


 

23.01.2024 - AFC Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 2:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker 3rd round) - 96. Quincy Promes, 118. Lassina Traore

Before the Klassieker derby we played a cup game against NEC Nijmegen. That looked fairly easy on paper, so I rotated freely. Midfield options remained limited - Taylor and Marin were still out and Marco Ferreira was back in full training, but I preferred to hold him for the Feyenoord game.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot (90. Veltman), Schuurs, Rensch, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek, Barriere, Hansen (91. Mazraoui), Fitz-Jim (68. Promes), Enem (83. Traore)

The first half wasn’t good enough - we had plenty of possession, but struggled to create anything dangerous with it. One half-chance was all that we had to show for it in the first half and as the game progressed, NEC started to get their way into it. In the end of the first half their winger Ole ter Haar Romeny had perhaps the best chance of the first period, but his shot was well held by van den Heuvel.

The same continued in the second period. Ricky van Wolfswinkel (yes, the veteran striker is back in Eredivisie) had a crack early on, but another good save by van den Heuvel (who did well when he needed to act) kept things under control for us. Jay Enem blew our best chance of the game in 72’ - his attempt was met by a fine save from the NEC goalkeeper. Then I started to make substitutions. Kian Fitz-Jim had been poor, he was replaced by Promes. Lassina Traore came on to offer better finishing up front. We almost scored the late winner in injury time, but Promes somehow managed to miss his opportunity while he looked certain to score.

Disappointed that the game went to extra time, I made one more substitution and Joel Veltman came on. The experienced defender was almost instantly sent off again - his two-footed tackle earned him dismissal in the beginning of the extra time when he had played less than a minute. It was a terrible judgment by Veltman and completely unexpected from a player of his experience. I had no other options than to take off Sontje Hansen and replace him with Mazraoui. We were left with 10 men, but surprisingly started to find more space in attacks and it led to results in the extra time. Quincy Promes finally scored with a fabulous strike in 96’ and Lassina Traore secured our win with a great free kick from 25 meters. NEC had no answers - they had numerical advantage, but couldn’t create anything dangerous in the extra time. Quality of our first team players finally prevailed.

  • we had 63% possession
  • our shooting was 24/14 in this game
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - a great goal from the winger
  • we will play Heracles Almelo in the quarter final - an easy draw for us in this level

 

28.01.2024 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 2. Marco Senesi - 65. Kian Fitz-Jim

It’s the Klassieker derby again and this time we travelled to De Kuip. Feyenoord probably wants to prove their worth against us in this battle and it could be the title six-pointer, but Feyenoord have lost some ground in the title race past month and so the gap between the clubs looks safe for us. For Feyenoord it’s more of a survival game - if they want to have any kind of say in the challenge for the title, they need to win this one.

We go into this game without Kenneth Taylor (injured) and Razvan Marin (ill). Noussair Mazraoui has gone to China and Joel Veltman takes his place in the right defense.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek, Promes (76. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (82. Enem)

Things didn’t start well for us - Feyenoord had an early free kick and they delivered it into the box. Marco Senesi won the header and Gürcan Dere somehow let it slip through his fingers into the goal. Feyenoord scored the flyer and early goal certainly helped them to gain confidence and play focused for the rest of the first half. We had a couple of good attempts in the first period, but the number of shots remained low from both teams and our 68% possession in the first half didn’t convert into chances and goals.

Those games with Feyenoord are so often low-scoring, well organized and defense-oriented that finding a goal could be a real challenge. We worked hard in the second half to find the equalizer and finally got it in 65’ - Joel Veltman found Kian Fitz-Jim at the far post with a good cross and the inside forward scored with an easy tap-it. That was it - the final score remained 1:1 and I was fairly satisfied with the result. We didn’t need to win this game and to come away with a point from De Kuip looked good enough.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • we managed to make only 8 key passes, but that’s the character of the games against Feyenoord
  • Player of the game: Joel Veltman - the experienced defender gave 3 key passes and delivered  assist to the equalizer

 

31.01.2024 - AFC Ajax - PEC Zwolle 5:0 (ED) - 12. Lassina Traore, 19. Youri Regeer, 31. Joel Veltman, 64. and 81. Jay Enem

Our last opponent in January is PEC Zwolle - clearly an underperforming team that is now part of the relegation fight. We were clear favourites for the game, so I decided to rest Marco Ferreira, but Razvan Marin had recovered from his illness and he started in midfield.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Rensch, Lopes, Baas, Regeer, Marin, Hansen (69. Barriere), van de Beek, Fitz-Jim (46. Boer), Traore (46. Enem)

We controlled the game from start to finish. Lassina Traore had our first clear cut chance in 8’ after some good transition football, but his shot was saved. Sontje Hansen wasted his half-chance in 10’ and when Lassina Traore scored with a header in 12’ it looked like it was a long time coming. Youri Regeer doubled our lead with a header from IFK and then Joel Veltman added another goal with a great strike from 15 meters. That’s a sign that he enjoys his new role as the WBs in DR position and can contribute in attacks, too (remember his cross to Fitz-Jim in the previous game). PEC Zwolle had pretty much given up the fight in the end of the first half, so I made substitutions at half time.

Jay Enem came on and he was hungry for goals - his runs cause always problems to Zwolle defenders who left too much space behind their line, so Enem could run freely and his two well-timed moves in 64’ and 81’ led to another two goals. The second was a brilliant volley with the first time attempt. The credit has to go to Razvan Marin, too - the midfielder constantly found strikers on the run, started attacking moves and delivered assists to goals. Enem had an opportunity to complete his hat-trick in 84’, but this time his shot was saved. The final score 5:0 was impressive either way and it was a really one-sided match. I was happy with our performance and with the quality of goals that we scored.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 21/13
  • we created 5 clear cut chances and gave 24 key passes
  • our average rating was 8.15
  • Lassina Traore scored his 50th league goal for Ajax
  • Razvan Marin and Youri Regeer had an outstanding game in midfield
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - the midfielder gave 4 assists and 10 key passes


 

Summary

I am fairly satisfied with our January - we looked a little bit rusty after the winter break, but the results came our way and we continued our undefeated streak in domestic competitions. We lost two first team players in January, so we have a bit less depth, but on the other hand it’s easier to distribute playing time, especially as our position in the table looks secure enough.

 

Eredivisie

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Feyenoord are four games without a win and they’ve dropped to 5th position, so our lead in the table is at least 10 points. The bottom five has grown to bottom six, but the relegation fight continues to be fierce.

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January 2024 Transfer Window Update

 

The January transfer window was busier than usual. Perhaps some big deals were waiting to happen for a while, but at the same time it is evident that several clubs (like AZ Alkmaar) had gathered a lot of free money by selling their star prospects and it was waiting to be invested into the new players. They were eager to make bids for even our players in their pursuit for new stars. At the same time PSV Eindhoven made a couple of big sales and didn’t add any new players - interesting move from them. However, they did sign a contract with Brian Brobbey starting this Summer.

 

The biggest transfers in this transfer window:

  • Noussair Mazraoui from AFC Ajax to Guangzhou Evergrade for £50m
  • Matthias Gfeller from AZ Alkmaar to Schalke 04 Gelsenkirchen for £33m
  • Olivier Boscagli from PSV Eindhoven to Inter Milan for £25,5m
  • Joey Veerman from PSV Eindhoven to Crystal Palace for £15,25m
  • Timo Baumgartl from PSV Eindhoven to SSC Napoli for £15m
  • Brian Petersen from NAC Breda to AZ Alkmaar for £10,25m
  • Nick Lee from FC Utrecht to AZ Alkmaar for £10m
  • Jordy Bruijn from sc Heerenveen to Al-Hilal for £7,25m
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  • 2 weeks later...

February 2024

 

04.02.2024 - AFC Ajax - sc Heerenveen 1:1 (ED) - 13. Kian Fitz-Jim - 43. Jay-Roy Grot

The first game of February was not the easy one. sc Heerenveen have played well and after Christmas they find themselves in the top three or thereabout.

Good news is that we had all players fit (except Kenneth Taylor who’s still injured), so I could send out our best eleven for this game.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin (61. van de Beek), Promes (78. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Enem

The first half didn’t offer a lot of chances, but Kian Fitz-Jim surprised everyone with a stunning goal in 13’ - he cut in from the left wing and fired it in from 20 meters out. It was a great goal out of nowhere and I was delighted with that effort - Fitz-Jim hasn’t scored a lot of goals and his performances have often been mediocre, but this time he produced something magical to give us the lead. Unfortunately we allowed sc Heerenveen to equalize right before the half-time. Jay-Roy Grot is dangerous in the air - we knew that before the game, but he still won a header from IFK and sent the ball across our goalmouth. Gürcan Dere was there to collect it, but there was some sort of miscommunication between him and Perr Schuurs, the ball took a deflection from Schuurs’ foot and went into the goal. Very disappointing goal to concede, as we looked a little bit better team in the first half and deserved to lead.

sc Heerenveen were clearly encouraged by this equalizer and it showed in their second half performance - we had less possession and in 60’ Jay-Roy Grot had another great chance to score - we were lucky that he sent his shot wide that time. I switched Joel Veltman to IWBs to get an extra man to midfield and keep hold of the ball - it helped somewhat, but didn’t improve our attack too much. Substitute Jay Enem had a chance to win this for us in 85’, but his attempt went wide, so after both teams wasted a moment in the second half it remained 1:1. It was not the worst result, but I feel that we deserved to win and the conceded goal came out of nowhere for sc Heerenveen.

  • we lost possession 42/58 - that won’t do
  • we allowed sc Heerenveen to make 22 dribbles - cleary too comfortable with the ball
  • Player of the game: Kian Fitz-Jim - scored the best goal of the game

 

09.02.2024 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 2:0 (ED) - 1. Lassina Traore, 90.+7 Carlos Manuel Lopes

Tough games came in a row and next we hosted PSV Eindhoven for the Topper Derby. PSV have had a rough Winter and they’ve dropped to 5th place in the table, so they’re not really title contenders any more. They sold some first team players in January and after those departures and a couple of poor results their morale has taken a hit and it clearly affects their results, too.

We missed Joel Veltman for this game because of suspension due to yellow cards, but the rest of the team was fit.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (88. Baas), Regeer, van de Beek (84. Marin), Promes (64. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We went off with a flyer in the first minute of the game - Donny van de Beek did well to win the challenge in midfield and passed to Traore, who timed his run perfectly and finished off his chance, just 23 second from the kick-off. Great start for us and for a while PSV looked stunned. We could (and should) have capitalized on this mess that PSV’s defense was in the first half - Traore headed against the crossbar in 12’ and wasted an easy chance in 23’, but it remained 1:0 after the first half. We played really good, attacking football and Traore’s movement looked too much to handle for PSV defenders. PSV couldn’t make any attempts on our goal, so it was really one-sided in the first period.

We kept initiative in the second half, but PSV got their defense in order and we had less good chances. 1:0 remained a narrow lead, until PSV started to take more risks late in the game. Lassina Traore had a great chance to score his second goal of the game and finish things off in injury time, but PSV’s goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall made a great save to deny his attempt. However, Carlos Manuel Lopes headed in from the following corner and that clinched it. Really good game from us and a good result, too.

  • we had 63% possession in this game
  • we allowed no chances to PSV Eindhoven and they only had two long range attempt
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - great game from the striker and good movement in attacks


 

We’ve started our month OK, but what amazes me is our board’s reaction to the latest results. sc Heerenveen draw was a disappointment, I agree, and our low possession was the contributing factor, but our derby win over PSV Eindhoven was rated with just C+ which seems extremely low. We controlled the game easily, scored twice and didn’t give PSV any chances, so it must have pleased the fans, but it didn’t impress the board. Interesting, it seems that expectations were suddenly higher than before the season.


 

14.02.2024 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 0:4 (TOTO KNVB Beker Quarter Final) - 22., 85. and 90+1 Carlos Manuel Lopes, 61. Sontje Hansen

Next up - the cup quarter final against Heracles Almelo. To be fair - it was an easier draw than I expected at this stage and we were clear favourites despite the fact that it was an away game. 

After two fairly difficult games I chose to rotate the team and rest some players. I also discovered with surprise that Joel Veltman was suspended for this match, too. Apparently he’s collected enough bookings both in the league and in cup games.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Baas, Regeer, Marin, Hansen (67. Barriere), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (62. Boer), Enem

The first half was a little bit boring in terms of good attacks and chances, but we took the lead in 22’ - Carlos Manuel Lopes scored from a corner follow-up. The ball got back to him in the box and the centre-back hit an unstoppable strike into the far post - a great goal from any defender and worth the second look.

We continued to control proceedings in the second half - Sontje Hansen showed his technique by skipping past two defenders and fired into the bottom corner, before Lopes continued scoring - two headers from corners in the second half completed his hat-trick and the final score 4:0 looked comfortable and convincing. Job well done by all of the players.

  • we had 65% possession in this game
  • we didn’t allow Heracles to create any chances in this game, but allowed them to make 21 dribbles
  • Kian Fitz-Jim made his 100th appearance for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - incredible game from the young centre-back, to score a hat-trick and take the match ball with him


 

18.02.2024 - NEC Nijmegen - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 6. and 28. Carlos Manuel Lopes, 35. Marco Ferreira, 62. Lassina Traore

We’re heavy favourites against NEC Nijmegen, but it was a fairly difficult game against them in January (also an away game) and so I was aware that it could be trickier for us than it might seem. We have finally Joel Veltman back in the line-up and Kenneth Taylor is back in full training, so it’s pretty much the full squad for us.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer (67. Taylor), Marin (67. van de Beek), Hansen (62. Barriere), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We had a good start and created some early chances - Lassina Traore turned around his man in the box expertly and his clear cut chance in 5’ was parried by Roy Kortsmit. Carlos Manuel Lopes continued from exactly where he finished against Heracles - his header from a corner opened the scoring for us, before Traore blew his second chance of the game in 16’. Lopes’ aerial ability was evident in this game - he doubled his tally with another corner goal in 28’ and we looked in full control of the game after the first 30 minutes. No goals from open play, but we took full advantage of our set pieces. Our corner routine was pretty straightforward - Marco Ferreira delivered the cross to the far post, but it was really difficult to defend, because Lopes’ jumping (18) makes him a real power in the aerial duels. NEC didn’t take a single shot in the first 30’, but then they found their best chance of the whole game - Anass Salah-Eddine missed his interception on our left flank and allowed the cross to be delivered into the far post to Ole ter Haar Romeny. It was a close range volley and should have been a goal, but Gürcan Dere made a great reflex save to deny him. Marco Ferreira showed his set piece ability with a beautiful free kick in 35’ to make it 3:0 and we had a comfortable lead at the half time. All three goals from set pieces and NEC had no answers against them.

The second half was equally entertaining - NEC had an IFK and Ole ter Haar Romeny saw his header flick the crossbar before going over. Marco Ferreira fired his attempt against the post in 56’. Lassina Traore tried hard to improve after his missed chances in the first half and he did, scoring with a good header in 62’. However, his second clear cut chance of the game was denied again three minutes later. Despite those missed scoring opportunities the final score 4:0 looked pretty impressive for a away game - our win was never in doubt and the team looked confident through the whole game.

  • we had 64% possession
  • our shooting was 32/16 in this game
  • we had 17 corners (and used them well enough to score twice)
  • Carlos Manuel Lopes, Marco Ferreira and Lassina Traore were outstanding for us in this game
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - two goals, 8 key headers. His five goals in two consecutive games is really impressive for a defender
  • Highlight of the game: Marco Ferreira’s free kick, curled nicely around the wall

 

22.02.2024 - AFC Ajax - Lille OSC 5:2 (Europa League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 6. Quincy Promes, 12., 13., 76. pen. and 81. Lassina Traore - 52. Guy Mafoumbi, 78. Thiago Maia

We began our Europa League journey with the home game against Lille OSC. Our aim in this competition is to reach semi finals, so we need to win at least a couple of ties to do that. Fortunately our position in Eredivisie looks strong enough so that we can give rotation players some game time in domestic games and allow our first team players to be fresh for European matches.

Joel Veltman was finally back in the line-up, but Carlos Manuel Lopes suffered a small knock and it looked wise to save him for another day. That’s a shame, because he’s been terrific in the couple of recent games.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer (65. Taylor), van de Beek (73. Marin), Promes (77. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We almost conceded an early goal - Lille’s Jonathan Ikone finished his solo run on a counter-attack, but the brilliant save from Gürcan Dere tipped it over the crossbar. We managed to take the lead soon after - Marco Ferreira found Quincy Promes with a great-looking diagonal pass and the experienced winger scored with a placed shot. Traore doubled our lead with a header and soon it was 3:0 - Traore took advantage of Lille’s goalkeeper mistake and won the ball back for us and finished from 20 meters into the empty net. We looked even more in control. We had some great opportunities late in the first half to extend our lead further, but both Traore and Promes missed those chances, so at the halftime our lead was 3:0, but the game itself looked promising.

We allowed Lille to get back into the game in the second half and it was due to our own mistakes. Perr Schuurs took a free kick from deep in our half, but did it so poorly that he gave the possession straight to the opposition and the following attack led to an easy chance and goal. Gürcan Dere could do nothing to save us this time. Lassina Traore should have scored his hat-trick in 75’, but his attempt from the good position clipped the post and went wide. Quincy Promes was tripped in the box and the penalty was awarded, so Traore finally completed his hat-trick from the spot. 4:1 looked much better than 3:1, but there were more goals to come. Lille scored their second goal from IFK, before Traore finished from close range to make it 5:2. It was a great result for us in the first leg. I should probably feel a bit disappointed about those two goals that we conceded, but instead I felt that we should have scored more goals - we had plenty of opportunities and Lille’s defense (and especially goalkeeper) looked rather poor in this game.

  • our shooting was 19/12
  • we created 6 clear cut chances in this game
  • Lassina Traore and Marco Ferreira were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - four goals made the day

 

25.02.2024 - AFC Ajax - FC Groningen 8:0 (ED) - 15., 18., 56. and 61. Lassina Traore, 27. Razvan Marin, 53. Quincy Promes, 59. Donny van de Beek, 81. Jay Enem

Back to Eredivisie. Morale was high after our good attacking performance against Lille and we hosted FC Groningen at Johan Cruijff Arena. We had no pressure in the league games, but FC Groningen looked like a decent opponent - top half team and they’ve done well against strong clubs this season. It’s good that Kenneth Taylor was ready to start the game and we were with the strong line-up even while Marco Ferreira and Carlos Manuel Lopes were rested.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (61. Regeer), Marin, Promes (61. Barriere), van de Beek, Fitz-Jim, Traore (61. Enem)

I wasn’t prepared for this outcome, but FC Groningen were completely blown away by our attacking power. Lassina Traore wasted an early chance, but he started scoring in 15’ and doubled our lead soon after. Razvan Marin added the third goal with a screamer from 22 meters and Quincy Promes saw his volley being denied by a great save from the FC Groningen goalkeeper. Groningen had no answers and the game was decided in less than thirty minutes and it started to affect their second half performance - goals flowed freely. Lassina Traore completed his hat-trick and added his fourth goal before coming off, Donny van de Beek piled up the misery with a placed shot and substitute Jay Enem completed the rout with his goal in 81’. FC Groningen had only one good goal scoring opportunity, but Gürcan Dere was ready and parried Aron Schrijver’s attempt in 58’. The final score 8:0 marked complete humiliation for FC Groningen - they’re 6th in the table and should be able to play almost equally against top clubs, but they were beaten both tactically and mentally. Not sure how it will affect the rest of their season.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 30/20 and we created 6 clear cut chances
  • our average rating was 8.77 - plenty of great performances throughout the first eleven
  • Lassina Traore scored his 20th goal of the season in this game
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - four goals and assist, 9.9 rating - perfect game for him

 

29.02.2024 - Lille OSC - AFC Ajax 0:1 (Europa League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 32. Lassina Traore

We were quite relaxed before the second leg game. It was obvious that something must go very wrong for us to lose on aggregate. I switched our tactics to balanced 4-2-3-1 as I usually do in away games against good teams, but I wasn’t too worried about the result. Anass Salah-Eddine and Kian Fitz-Jim were rested, Quincy Promes switched to the left flank and Sontje Hansen started on the right wing.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (63. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Baas, Taylor (46. Regeer), van de Beek, Hansen, Ferreira, Promes, Traore (63. Enem)

The first half was fairly even - both teams tried to attack on transition and this tactical choice seemed to work well for both teams. We had two good moments in the first period - Sontje Hansen’s 14’ attempt was brilliantly saved by the Lille OSC goalkeeper, but when Donny van de Beek gave a wonderful pass to Lassina Traore in 32’, our African striker used his chance well - his goal gave us the lead at half-time and put us in control for the rest of the game.

The second half didn’t offer as good chances for us and after a while complacency started to appear in the body language as well. We held onto that narrow lead and 1:0 in an away game is a good result, but nothing spectacular.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was just 16/5 - could use more shots on target
  • Player of the game: Donny van de Beek - great assist and good midfield performance

 

Summary

We’ve been really impressive in February. Good wins, plenty of goals and general morale and confidence is sky-high. We went through the first knockout round of the Europa League easily and reached the semi finals of the domestic cup. Our lead in the Eredivisie table is now more than 10 points and it’s difficult to imagine that any contender could catch us in the remaining weeks.

I managed to sign two contract extensions - Perr Schuurs finally agreed to sign a new £49,000 p/w deal until 2028. His leadership is needed in the defensive line. Alen Karahasanovic also signed a new deal. It’s clear that we will lose some important first team players in the coming Summer and we need to build for the future.

 

Eredivisie

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Big lead in the table and top five is clearly above everybody else. NAC Breda looks like the prime candidate for relegation, but none of the bottom seven teams are safe at the moment.

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  • 3 weeks later...

March 2024

 

03.03.2024 - Vitesse Arnhem - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 10. and 50. Lassina Traore, 45. and 82. Sontje Hansen

Vitesse is a big team, but they’ve been in really poor form and haven’t recorded a single win since December. We’re clear favourites for the game and look confident. Perr Schuurs will be suspended for the game.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Hansen, van de Beek, Fitz-Jim, Traore (65. Enem)

We had a good first half and Donny van de Beek looked comfortable in the AMC position. We saw Lassina Traore’s goal in the 7’ being disallowed for an offside. Kian Fitz-Jim had a crack in 10’, but his attempt clipped outside of the post and went wide, before Traore finally opened the scoring. Hard work from Donny van de Beek led to that goal - he won the ball in midfield and played it forward quickly to give Traore his chance. van de Beek tested the goalkeeper himself in 26’, but this attempt was saved from the bottom corner. Some good transition football led to our second goal right before the half-time - Traore delivered a cross to Hansen, who headed it home. Late in the first half injury time we allowed Vitesse’s Nick Venema to get through, but Gürcan Dere made a good save to deny this chance. In the following corner the ball hit our crossbar and we couldn’t clear it properly, but Dere finally claimed it. So, nervous moments in the end, but generally I’m satisfied with our first half and we have a good lead, too.

We continued well into the second half - Lassina Traore scored his second goal after a good long ball from Steven van der Sloot. The right back got the second assist to his name in 83’ when he found Hansen in the area - two more goals in the second half and Vitesse hardly caused us any problems after the break. Very good away win.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 24/14
  • Lassina Traore scored his 100th goal for Ajax
  • Lassina Traore, Sontje Hansen and Steven van der Sloot were superb
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - two goals and an assist

 

07.03.2024 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 1:0 (TOTO KNVB Beker Semi Final) - 66. Robert Bozenik

Difficult derby game in the cup semi final. We’ve had rather easy opponents so far - PSV is the first serious test in this years’ cup run, and we’re playing in the away stadium, too. I was aware of the threat and chose a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation - similar to our Champions League tactics.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (69. Regeer), van de Beek (85. Marin), Hansen (69. Promes), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We didn’t look good in the first half and I’m sorry to say that the manager was to blame, because things didn’t work tactically. We had possession, but PSV created more dangerous chances and we couldn’t find opportunities even though we had most of the ball. PSV’s danger man Robert Bozenik had the first opportunity from a corner in 7’, but Gürcan Dere made a great save to parry his close range attempt. A few minutes later our defenders were half asleep when PSV’s goalkeeper Lars Unnerstall opened with a long ball to Bozenik and he found another clear cut chance, but again our goalkeeper saved us. I had to wait 27 minutes for our first attempt and it was clear that things can’t continue like that. We were lucky to go to half-time with a 0:0 and it was clear that I needed to change something. I switched back to positive 4-2-3-1 and things evened out a little in the second half. Joel Veltman had a decent opportunity in 60’, but in the end it was Bozenik who found the target. Anass Salah-Eddine made a tackle in our box and the ball ended up in front of Bozenik, who used his third chance well. We had over 20 minutes to find an equalizer and at times we looked like we could pull out something in attack, but PSV defended well and we couldn’t break them that night. It was a very disappointing defeat, mainly because we had no answers in attack and PSV fully deserved to win. This defeat also ends our long winning streak in the cup that began several seasons ago.

  • we gave only 7 key passes in this game
  • we made 22 individual mistakes and conceded 3 clear cut chances - not good enough defensively
  • Player of the game: Robert Bozenik (PSV Eindhoven) - missed some chances, but ultimately scored the winner

 

10.03.2024 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 0:4 (ED) - 11. and 34. Carlos Manuel Lopes, 42. Lassina Traore, 73. Donny van de Beek

We wanted to bounce back with a win in the next game. ADO Den Haag are a solid mid-table side and they’re results have matched expectations in this season so far, but we’re favourites even for the away game and I could give some players a day off - Perr Schuurs was rested, along with Marco Ferreira.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (57. van der Sloot), Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin, Promes, van de Beek, Fitz-Jim (66. Boer), Traore (66. Enem)

The game was decided in the first half and with set pieces. Carlos Manuel Lopes scored twice (from a corner and free kick) and Lassina Traore added our third goal after missing his clear cut chance in 15’. Donny van de Beek played in AMC and he provided the assist for the third goal. Razvan Marin offered creativity and good set piece deliveries from midfield. 3:0 lead looked good enough for the win at half time. We could be more relaxed in the second half - Jay Enem came on and worked hard on a counter to beat two tackles, get into the area and deliver the ball to van de Beek, who finished calmly - 4:0. Quincy Promes blew his clear cut chance in 80’, but that didn’t matter - we took a convincing win and. It was a better result than I expected before the game and I was very happy with the performance.

  • we had 62% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 17/11
  • we created 3 clear cut chances - good creativity and goalscoring returned after PSV game
  • Carlos Manuel Lopes and Donny van de Beek stood out with their performances
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - two goals and solid at the back

 

14.03.2024 - AFC Ajax - RB Leipzig 5:3 (Europa League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 21., 73., 83. pen. and 90.+4 Lassina Traore, 90. Carlos Manuel Lopes - 11. Klaus Schindler, 56. Steven Bergwijn, 64. Timo Werner

Our first Europa League game. The goal is to reach the semi finals - it could be realistic if we won’t get any giants with the draw, but all of the games are difficult and with our league standings being relatively safe I try to keep my best players fit for the continental fixtures. Leipzig looks like a fairly similar team to us, so we have good options against them, but they’ve kept Timo Werner in the club and obviously he looks extremely good in 2024 - quick, good with the ball and excellent counter-attacking player. That’s something we have to be aware of in the home game.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (80. Regeer), van de Beek (49. Marin), Promes (13. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

It didn’t start well for us - Klaus Schindler scored from the corner and two minutes later we lost Quincy Promes to injury, so our game plan didn’t work in the first 15 minutes. Leipzig had the away goal and we needed to prepare for unavoidable counter-attacks while we searched for the equalizer. Our attack was quiet for the first 20 minutes, but then Traore received a good ball from Donny van de Beek and scored with an excellent finish with his first touch - a great goal and a huge lift for the whole team. Werner continued to haunt our defensive line and in 27’ Perr Schuurs’ poor touch gave him a one-on-one chance, but Gürcan Dere made a brilliant save to keep it 1:1. At the half-time it was 1:1, but I had to admit that Leipzig had better chances in the first half and we were somewhat struggling so far. I switched to a balanced mentality in the end of the first half, but it didn’t improve our game, so for the second half it went back to ‘positive’.

Our injury problems continued in the second half and in 49’ Donny van de Beek had to come off. Leipzig’s Steven Bergwijn surprised Gürcan Dere with a fierce shot from 15 meters to give Leipzig 2:1 lead - a great strike indeed and nothing that our goalkeeper could do about it. Timo Werner finally broke through with a well-timed run in 64’ and this time he finished better and made it 3:1 - things got worse for us and with three goals conceded at home, it looked like a game over already, but it wasn’t to be - Lassina Traore doubled his tally in 73’ to give us some home. It was a copy of the first goal, but this time Razvan Marin delivered the pass. Traore completed his hat-trick from the spot after Marco Ferreira was brought down in the box and suddenly there was hope! The Leipzig players got nervous, we grew more confident and started to put them under pressure. Carlos Manuel Lopes put us in the lead with a header from a corner and in injury time Traore scored his fourth goal after a brilliant through ball from Marin. 5:3! We’d scored four goals after being 1:3 down! What a come-back. With two goals advantage, those three conceded goals didn’t look as big of a problem suddenly and with those goals in the end of the game we’ve put ourselves in control of the tie.

  • our shooting was 22/10 in this game
  • Lassina Traore scored his 30th goal of the season
  • Carlos Manuel Lopes scored his 10th goal of the season - exceptional for the centre-back
  • we created 4 clear cut chances, but conceded 3 to Leipzig
  • Quincy Promes and Donny van de Beek will be out for 3-4 weeks (both with twisted ankle)
  • Player of the game: Lassina Traore - just superb performance with four goals

 

17.03.2024 - AFC Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 4:0 (ED) - 43. Peer Koopmeiners (og), 57. and 86. Sontje Hansen, 76. Jay Enem

We lost two first team players against Leipzig, but morale was clearly lifted after the comeback win and we looked really confident before hosting AZ Alkmaar in Johan Cruijff Arena. We had confidence and spirit, but the legs were tired and so I had to make a lot of changes for this game, to give some players rest before the second leg with Leipzig.

AZ have had a great season so far and they looked like  title contenders at some point, but now we’ve increased the lead in the table and AZ desperately needs a win from this game to keep any hopes for the title alive. But they come to this game in great form - they’ve been 14 games unbeaten and no wonder that they’d climbed up to 2nd in the table.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Rensch, Baas (25. Salah-Eddine), Regeer, Marin, Hansen, Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore (66. Enem)

The first half looked fairly even and we lost Youri Baas to injury in the process, but in the end of that first period we had a strong five minutes when we could apply some pressure to AZ goal and one corner eventually led to the opener. Perr Schuurs sent a header across the goalmouth and AZ’s Peer Koopmeiners got an unfortunate touch to send it over the line.

The second half looked easier, in retrospect. Sonthe Hansen had a great second half and his counter-attack in 57’ finished with a brilliant strike that was drilled in from 25 meters. Substitute Jay Enem added another goal that came through the high work rate - he put AZ’s goalkeeper Mees Bakker under pressure with the goal and won the ball back to finish it into the empty net. AZ Alkmaar had their best chance of the game in 79’ when our defense left Nick Lee unmarked in the box - Gürcan Dere parried his attempt wide with a fine stop. Hansen then doubled his tally from a corner to make it 4:0 and that was it. AZ had one more late chance in injury time, but he too couldn’t beat Gürcan Dere and we kept our clean sheet. I was very happy with our second half and the final result, especially because we missed so many first team players.

  • we made only 8 key passes in this game
  • Youri Baas will be out for 5-6 weeks with sprained knee ligaments
  • Jay Enem scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Sontje Hansen - an outstanding performance from the winger with two goals and 12 dribbles

 

21.03.2024 - RB Leipzig - AFC Ajax 1:0 (Europa League 1st knockout round 2nd leg) - 10. Steven Bergwijn

We travelled to Germany with one big aim - to keep hold of our first leg lead. But the problems mounted in the days before the match - we already had some players injured, but traumas started to come in from every direction - Anass Salah-Eddine, Marco Ferreira, Razvan Marin and Kian Fitz-Jim were added to the injury list. Fitz-Jim was almost recovered for the game and had to play, but we went to the game without a proper left-back and so our chances of success grew slimmer with every news from the physio room. Devyne Rensch started in DL, even though he wasn’t accustomed to the position.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Rensch, Taylor, Regeer, van der Sloot (89. Barriere), Hansen, Fitz-Jim (72. Boere), Traore

The match started in heavy rain and the weather didn’t come to our aid, either. Leipzig started well and at 10’ Steven Bergwijn opened the scoring with a good shot that beat Gürcan Dere and went into the far post. Steven van der Sloot had a half-chance in 26’, but otherwise the first period belonged to Leipzig. Our opponents had some good shots on target and their second goal wasn’t far away. Defensively we didn’t look too bad, though - after the first 15 minutes we started things a little bit better under control and organized our defensive line better.

Leipzig continued to search for their second goal after the break and they were clearly the better team, but we had some moments, too. Lassina Traore had a good look in 63’, but it was met with a good save from Gürcan Dere. At times we had to defend really well, but we were able to hold on and the narrow defeat was good enough for us to secure our aggregate win (5:4) 

  • we had 65% possession and it worked well to limit Leipzig time with the ball
  • we made only 5 key passes - not too good going forward
  • Leipzig had 21/11 shots, so we were under pressure at times
  • Player of the game: Klaus Schindler (RB Leipzig)


 

24.03.2024 - PEC Zwolle - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 83. Steven van der Sloot

It’s the last game in March and with the right result we could secure our Eredivisie title tonight, but the situation with the squad is well… dire. We had only two days to rest after our trip to Germany and most of the players looked exhausted. Razvan Marin has recovered to full fitness and he can help out in midfield, but other positions remain a concern - Sontje Hansen needs to carry on in AMC and we still don’t have a proper left-back. Because of that I made a decision to take a risk and just rotate - all of the youngsters will get their chance and need to carry this thing out. Zwolle are not the most difficult team to beat, so it’s now or never for them. Philippe Barriere will start in AMR, Remy Boer in AML and Jay Enem in up front.

Squad: van den Heuvel, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Rensch, Taylor (82. Regeer), Marin, Barriere (25. van der Sloot), Hansen, Boer, Enem (70. Traore)

The first half was a bit dull - we didn’t have good enough chances and our attacking movement wasn’t sharp enough. Youngster Philippe Barriere came off with an injury in 25’ and that, too, disrupted our attacks. We were defensively solid, but couldn’t create proper chances in the first half.

The second half was slightly better - players looked more motivated and we started to find chances. Jay Enem had a good look in 48’, but somehow managed to miss the target. Five minutes later his shot beat the goalkeeper, but was denied by the post. Our high pressure worked well and when we won the ball high on the pitch then dangerous attacks often followed. Sontje Hansen missed an easy chance in 62’ and I started to rue our poor finishing, but in the end we found a breakthrough - Remy Boer delivered a good cross to the far post where Steven van der Sloot finished with a simple tap-in to scrape the narrow win. We really dominated the first half and deserved to win, but almost missed it, so no reason to be too happy with our performance, but the result was good enough.

  • we had 60% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 29/13 
  • we created 3 clear cut chances, but didn’t give PEC Zwolle any chances in this game
  • Philippe Barriere is out for 3-5 weeks with sprained ankle ligaments (another injury to our long list)
  • Player of the game: Rody de Boer (PEC Zwolle) - a good game from Zwolle goalkeeper


 

Summary

I can be happy with March results. Sure, we dropped out of the cup and games with Leipzig were tense, but we’re still in the competition in Europa League and good results in Eredivisie means that we’re just one point away from securing the title. Injuries have disrupted our games a lot in the recent weeks, but it was almost inevitable, because we’ve avoided them so far in the season. Lassina Traore has picked up the goal scoring and his 30+ goals in the season is an exceptional achievement - there are more games to come, so I hope he can continue in this fashion.

Our young players have caught the attention of the Holland boss, too - both Gürcan Dere and Youri Regeer made their debuts for the national team during the March international window. 


 

Eredivisie

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Youth Intake 2024

 

The mid-season preview looked optimistic and I knew that we have at least one good centre-back and one forward coming up who could be first team candidates.

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Instead, the bunch that actually appeared to De Toekomst on the first day of the trial period was… rubbish.

 

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The Belgian striker that should have been promising was just half-decent and although I’m aware that our star ratings may be a little skewed because Kenneth Taylor and Marco Ferreira are now rated 5* and that will leave everybody else kind of mediocre, but looking at the players more closely it didn’t get better, only worse. Personalities were the biggest issue - so many unambitious and low determination players that it was difficult to imagine them developing good enough to become first team players here at Ajax. That’s a huge disappointment, especially knowing that we have some big players leaving in Summer. Hopefully it will be better next Spring.

 

Vincent Claes

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The best player of the group. Kind of decent in everything and as AFa suits my formation. Poor jumping and long shots, but I can do without those.

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  • 2 weeks later...

April 2024

 

Our remaining games in Eredivisie look easy enough and we can go to them without any pressure, so the end of the season isn’t particularly exciting. Two Europa League games against Arsenal is the big test in April - the board expects us to reach into the semi finals of the Europa League, but beating Arsenal isn’t an easy task.


 

07.04.2024 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 5:1 (ED) - 16. Razvan Marin, 19. Remy Boer, 37. Devyne Rensch, 71. Kenneth Taylor, 77. Anass Salah-Eddine - 61. Vangelis Pavlidis

Our task was simple enough - we needed just one more point to secure our Eredivisie title, but I was bold enough to rotate against Willem II and keep our first team players fresh for Arsenal fixtures.

Squad: van den Heuvel, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor, Marin (65. Brown), Hansen, Ferreira, Boer, Enem

The first 15 minutes were a warm-up for us and then the action began. Sontje Hansen was unmarked at the far post in 16’, but the Willem II goalkeeper made a wonderful save to stop his attempt. That didn’t stop us for long as Razvan Marin opened the score with a thunderous strike from the edge of the area. Absolutely unstoppable strike and that took the pressure off from the players. Youngster Remy Boer scored a memorable goal - he finished his solo run from midfield with a brilliant strike from 23 meters that went in off the post. Two brilliant goals inside three minutes and Willem II looked disenchanted. Devyne Rensch added another goal from a corner and we went to half time with a solid 3:0 lead.

Willem II were slightly better in the second half - we left their best goalscorer Vangelis Pavlidis unmarked in our six yard box and his header gave Willem II a glimmer of hope, but in 65’ their midfielder Atakan Akkaynak was sent off after a two-footed tackle on Anass Salah-Eddine and that was it. Kenneth Taylor added another goal from a corner before Salah-Eddine fired in from 15 meters to complete the rout and secure our next league title with a 5:1 win. It was a very good performance with some brilliant goals from us.

  • we had 61% possession in this game
  • our shooting was 21/15
  • our average rating was 8.11
  • Remy Boer scored his 1st career league goal for Ajax
  • young midfielder Tim Brown made his debut in this game
  • Kenneth Taylor and Marco Ferreira were outstanding for us
  • Player of the game: Kenneth Taylor

 

11.04.2024 - AFC Ajax - Arsenal London 0:0 (Europa League Quarter Final 1st leg)

It was a difficult tie for us - Arsenal is a tough opponent, but the board expects us to reach the semi final and so we have to do our best to win and getting a good result in the first leg is crucial. Arsenal have had difficult seasons in this save - they’re 5th in the English Premier League and never reached in the top four, so Europa League is more familiar for them than the Champions League. We had some positive news from physios - Donny van de Beek and Quincy Promes are fully fit. Youri Baas and Philippe Barriere are close to returning, so the worst injury crisis looks to be behind us for now.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (66. Regeer), van de Beek (73. Marin), Promes (73. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We played a solid first half - kept things under control in defense and had some pretty good attempts on target, but Bernd Leno made some good saves to keep our strikers at bay and to be honest, we couldn’t create proper clear cut chances either. Keeping the clean sheet was the most important thing, so I was pretty happy with what I saw on the pitch.

The second half offered some good moments to both teams. Arsenal’s Eddie Nketiah got a clear cut chance in 58’ after Carlos Manuel Lopes made a bad mistake and lost the challenge, but Gürcan Dere made a great save. Kian Fitz-Jim had a good shot on target, but it was met by an equally good save from Leno. Our best opportunity came late in the game - Razvan Marin delivered a beautiful through ball to substitute Sontje Hansen, who couldn’t finish - another good save by Leno, who is clearly one of the best goalkeepers we’ve played against recently. Because of that late chance I had a feeling that we deserved to win 1:0, but we weren’t clinical enough and 0:0 in Amsterdam leaves everything open for the second leg game at Emirates Stadium.

  • we gave only 5 key passes in this game - both teams looked well organized defensively
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - despite his mistake he looked impressive in defense and won 5 key headers

 

14.04.2024 - Heracles Almelo - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 85. Dario van den Buijs - 7. Quincy Promes

With nothing to decide in Eredivisie, I gave most of our first team players a day off and gave a chance to youngsters. We had a difficult enough schedule, so every rest day could benefit the team before our trip to London.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Regeer (72. Taylor), Marin (65. Brown), Hansen, van de Beek, Promes (65. Boer), Enem

We had a good start and in 7’ we took the lead - Quincy Promes scored the opener with a lovely strike. Razvan Marin found Jay Enem on the run in 28’, but the striker wasted his clear cut chance. The first half finished 1:0, but we completely dominated this period and Heracles couldn’t take a single shot in the first half.

We had less good chances in the second half and in 65’ I started to make substitutions - that gave Heracles some space in midfield and in 85’ they managed to score the late equalizer. It was a goal out of nowhere - Dario van den Buijs took a bit of an ambitious attempt from the edge of the area, but it went into the far post and out of reach for Dani van den Heuvel. Good strike, I had to admit grudgingly, but it robbed us of the win and I was disappointed that we couldn’t maintain our lead. The main problem in my eyes wasn’t the conceded goal, but our missed chances in the first half - should have been more decisive.

  • we had 65% possession in this game, but gave only 9 key passes - lacked creativity in the second half
  • our shooting was 21/13 - not bad
  • we made 30 dribbles with the ball
  • Heracles didn’t have any real chances in this game
  • Quincy Promes scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Dario van den Buijs - Heracles’ captain scored a good goal and saved them a point with a brilliant strike

 

18.04.2024 - Arsenal London - AFC Ajax 3:0 (Europa League Quarter Final 2nd leg) - 67. Eddie Nketiah, 72. and 76. Richarlison

Arsenal away - a difficult challenge, but we needed to do our best and hope to find a goal - that would help us a lot. Arsenal came to this game with a 1:5 defeat from Norwich City, so they looked a bit fragile and I hoped to use that advantage. I had our best eleven ready for this game - no excuses about injuries or suspensions - and we started with a balanced 4-2-3-1 formation - our usual Champions League tactics.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Teylor (76. Regeer), van de Beek (73. Marin), Promes (65. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim, Traore

We had a quick chance in 2’ - Kian Fitz-Jim played a beautiful pass to Quincy Promes, but the right winger hit the post and the moment was over. It looked like we started the game better, but after 10 minutes or so Arsenal slowly started to take more control of the midfield and after the half-time whistle was called I was pleased to see that the score was still 0:0. We didn’t concede any clear cut chances, but it was obvious that we needed to change something to score that away goal that we needed to win this tie.

Unfortunately, Arsenal had all the quality in the second half. Eddie Nketiah scored with a good first touch attempt and then their substitute Richarlison added two quick goals to make sure that Arsenal will go through into the semi final. I have to admit that our opponents played clearly better in the second half and deserved to win - we had no answers to their attacks and couldn’t create much ourselves. Difference in class was obvious.

  • we had 60% possession, but that alone didn’t help us
  • we made only 4 key passes and our shooting was 3/1 - not too many opportunities
  • Arsenal had 19/10 shots - the second half was pretty one-sided
  • Player of the game: Richarlison (Arsenal)


 

28.04.2024 - Sparta Rotterdam - AFC Ajax 1:5 (ED) - 19. Helgi Viktorsson - 16. and 55. Kian Fitz-Jim, 25., 65. and 75. Jay Enem

We have three more games to play in Eredivisie and the away fixture in Rotterdam is the most difficult of those matches. Sparta have established themselves in the top half of the table, they’re 8th at the moment and look like a decent team with some really good young prospects. They look well balanced according to our scout report and so I can’t take them too easy. We allow some rotation, but not too much. Youri Baas injured himself in training again - just after recovering from the previous injury - and unfortunately his season is over, but the rest of the team looks fit and ready. I used our standard 4-2-3-1 positive formation despite the away game and expected our selected players to do well enough in the game.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek (69. Brown), Promes (69. Hansen), Ferreira, Fitz-Jim (69. Boer), Enem

We started well and put Sparta under pressure in the first half. The first moment came when Carlos Manuel Lopes headed against the post from IFK, but just a couple of minutes later it was 1:0. Marco Ferreira flick-on got to Kian Fitz-Jim at the far post who squeezed his shot past the goalkeeper from a narrow angle. Good start, but too soon we allowed Sparta to equalize. An IFK was delivered into our box, it was close enough to the goalkeeper to claim it, but Dani van den Heuvel showed his inexperience and hesitated, only to allow an easy finish from close range. That’s a bummer. Nevertheless, Jay Enem made it 2:1 from a counter and at the half time it looked like a well deserved lead. Sparta didn’t have any moments apart from set pieces, we played well and our attacks looked dangerous, so I was pleased with what I saw.

It got better in the second half - Kian Fitz-Jim doubled his tally. Jay Enem added his second goal when Sparta defense started to crumble and completed his hat-trick later in the second half (youngster Tim Brown got an assist to his name after his long ball reached to Enem. The final score 5:1 left no doubts - we were clearly the better team in this game and Sparta’s game plan was not good enough.

  • our shooting was 31/14
  • Jay Enem and Kian Fitz-Jim were outstanding for us in this game
  • Player of the game: Jay Enem - hat-trick from the striker, he showed he can score goals, at least in Eredivisie level


 

Summary

Eredivisie games have been pretty much fun goalscoring, experimenting with teams and tactics and watching my youngsters (Remy Boer, Tim Brown) make their first steps in the first team, but Arsenal was the big test this month and they were too strong. Let it be said that Arsenal went all the way to win the Europa League in May, so they took this competition very seriously and were awarded with silverware in the end.

Our board was happy with the Eredivisie title, but at the same time disappointed with our Europa League results - we were below expectations in the Champions League and now again in the Europa League.


 

Eredivisie

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Top of the table looks pretty clear, but the relegation battle goes on.

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May 2024



05.05.2024 - NAC Breda - AFC Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 57. and 88. Marco Ferreira, 77. Carlos Manuel Lopes

We are confident going forward to this game - I can rotate freely and distribute playing time. Only absentee is Youri Baas, but the rest of the squad is ready and available. NAC Breda have their back against the wall - they need a win here to survive in the top tier and to be honest their body language doesn’t indicate that they believe they can beat us.

Squad: van den Heuvel, van der Sloot, Rensch, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin (77. Brown), Hansen (67. Barriere), Ferreira, Boer, Enem

We had possession in the first half, but our attacking patterns didn’t work and we couldn’t create too many goal scoring opportunities - a couple of good attempts on target (Remy Boer tested the NAC goalkeeper a couple of times), Razvan Marin sent his shot from 20 meters against the post and Lopes’ header landed on the crossbar, but that wast it. NAC weren’t too dangerous either, but to keep a clean sheet in the first half was already more than I expected from them and their manager could be happy about that, but… they needed a win. So 0:0 wasn’t good enough and NAC had to take more risks in the second half and send more men forward. Perhaps that was the difference between the two periods - we started to find space after the break and in 57’ Marco Ferreira finally found a way through. Carlos Manuel Lopes added our second goal from a corner in 77’ and it looked like game over for NAC. Ferreira completed the rout with a powerful header late in the game and that was it - the final score looked fairly convincing and NAC Breda found themselves relegated to the lower division.

  • we had 62% possession
  • our shooting was 22/12
  • Marco Ferreira scored his 10th goal of the season
  • Player of the game: Marco Ferreira - a great performance from the attacking midfielder, who scored two goals, gave an assist and led the game with five key passes

 

12.05.2024 - AFC Ajax - FC Emmen 6:0 (ED) - 1. Donny van de Beek, 5. Remy Boer, 20. Perr Schuurs, 25. and 63. Quincy Promes, 82. pen. Kenneth Taylor

Our last game of the season. A home game and a chance to celebrate our title with the fans. It’s been a small wonder, but we’ve come through this Eredivisie campaign without a defeat - 28 wins, 5 draws - so, on the last match day we have an opportunity to take the points record for the league and also write ourselves into history as the invincible team.

Against us stood underachieving FC Emmen, who, despite their struggles, managed to win their previous game to raise one place in the table to the 15th position. Still, their battle against relegation goes on and every point could matter, so I expected a tough game.

My squad selection was affected by small injuries (Lopes and van der Sloot suffered  minor knocks in training) and also a little bit by accumulated yellow cards. I prefer my players not to take any suspensions into the new season, so the ones who were one booking short of missing the next game, started on the bench.

Squad: van den Heuvel, Veltman, Schuurs, Rensch, Salah-Eddine, Taylor (63. Regeer), Marin (74. Brown), Promes (63. Barriere), van de Beek, Boer, Traore

It was extremely one-sided from start to finish. Donny van de Beek sent us off with a flyer before Remy Boer doubled our lead with a lovely strike from the edge of the area and FC Emmen looked like they’d given up already. The rest of the game was well under our control - Perr Schuurs headed in from an IFK, Quincy Promes scored a goal in each half and Kenneth Taylor completed the rout from the spot after Traore was pushed in the box. Six goals to nil and FC Emmen had no answers to our dominating performance. Fitting end to a wonderful league campaign - this win means that we’ve come through all 34 league games unbeaten - 29 wins and 5 draws give us 92 points in total - a new Eredivisie record!

  • our shooting was 23/13 in this game and we created 3 clear cut chances
  • FC Emmen didn’t have any goal scoring opportunities
  • we had 8.66 average rating
  • Quincy Promes, Donny van de Beek, Remy Boer, Razvan Marin and Perr Schuurs had a great game
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes


 

Eredivisie

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The top of the half was already clear, but it was a small surprise that all of the bottom three were relegated. NEC Nijmegen and PEC Zwolle looked good enough to retain their place, but weren’t good enough in the end. FC Eindhoven and VVV Venlo were predicted to go down before the season, but they finished well above the relegation zone.

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Season Summary 2023-2024

 

Competitions

The sixth season in Ajax for us left me with mixed feelings. On one hand we had the best Eredivisie season in my career - we had the invincible season! Undefeated in the whole 34 games, 29 wins and 5 draws. Considering the fact that I rotated a lot and gave youngsters a lot of game time it was a small miracle, but at the same time showed that other teams (especially our main rivals Feyenoord and PSV) weren’t up to the challenge. Instead, it was a good season to AZ Alkmaar and sc Heerenveen who established themselves in the top five. So, Eredivisie went relatively easy and things worked out well.

On the other hand, we failed in continental competitions. We didn’t play poorly and perhaps needed just a bit more luck, or a bit easier draw. To finish third in that group we had is not poor in itself and to lose against Arsenal was expected, but both results were short of the board’s expectations and that doesn’t look good.

Our long streak in the cup also ended this season - we failed in the semi final against PSV. Perhaps unexpected, because PSV weren’t too impressive throughout the season, but I know that every such streak has to end sometimes and I didn’t expect us to have such a long success in the cup, but for a moment it looked like our reign was about to end.


 

Players

There were a lot of positives in this season. Lassina Traore was our goal scoring machine and his 32 goals in the season was an incredible achievement. His 9 goals in the Europa League was good enough to earn the Golden Boot award in the competition. Two youngsters emerged - Marco Ferreira was the creative force in midfield with 11 goals and 22 assists and his set pieces and corners provided a lot of goalscoring opportunities. Carlos Manuel Lopes was the best defender and his 11 goals (most of them headers from corners) showed that he’s a real aerial threat. No wonder that those two players are on the radar of Real Madrid this Summer.

 

Ajax goals: Lassina Traore 32, Jay Enem 13, Quincy Promes 12, Carlos Manuel Lopes 11

Ajax assists: Marco Ferreira 22, Razvan Marin 15, Donny van de Beek 10


 

Ajax End of Season Awards

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Stats and Tactics

What was the most outstanding stat in this season was our incredible goal scoring form. We’ve managed to get 102 goals in the league (new Eredivisie record) and create 64 clear cut chances in 34 games. Our finishing was slightly below 50% (31 goals) from those chances, but despite that our attack was the best I’ve seen in the past five years. Lassina Traore contributed with 32 goals in all competitions, but the rest of the team wasn’t too shabby either. 12 league goals came from corners and 13 from free kicks. Marco Ferreira played a big part in delivering those set pieces. We scored 13 goals outside of the box (anything above 10 can be considered a great achievement) and 28 goals were noted as excellent strikes - some of the players managed to hit the ball sweetly both outside and inside of the area, so we saw some excellent finishing and great goals in the end of the season highlight reel.

One of the most interesting stats is the amount of outstanding performances (rating 9.0+) by the players. In an average season the whole squad has collected something between 10-20 of such ratings. In this year we amassed 43! Both Marco Ferreira and Razvan Marin had 6 such games and their midfield performances were truly incredible at times.

European competitions (Champions League and Europa League) were Lassina Traore’s show - 12 goals from him, with 3 outstanding performances and his chance conversion was even better against stronger teams than it was in Eredivisie.



 

Eredivisie Awards

 

Golden Boot

  1. Bruma (AZ Alkmaar)
  2. Kinsgley Ehzibue (AZ Alkmaar)
  3. Deyovaisio Zeefuik (Feyenoord Rotterdam)

Top Goalscorer

  1. Tamer Erdem (Feyenoord Rotterdam) - 21
  2. Lassina Traore (AFC Ajax) - 18
  3. Jay-Roy Grot (sc Heerenveen) - 15

Goalkeeper of the Year

  1. Gürcan Dere (AFC Ajax)
  2. Alexei Koselev (VVV Venlo)
  3. Mees Bakker (AZ Alkmaar)

Young Player of the Year

  1. Marco Ferreira (AFC Ajax)
  2. Carlos Manuel Lopes (AFC Ajax)
  3. Devyne Rensch (AFC Ajax)

Manager’s Manager of the Year

  1. Me
  2. Ruud Kaiser (Willem II Tilburg)
  3. Clarence Seedorf (FC Groningen)
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Summer 2024


 

The Club

Once again our youth facilities were downgraded and the board agreed to invest additional £2,7m into renovation to keep our youth system the best in the league. The project was finished in September and youth facilities were state of the art again.


 

Eredivisie

News from the other clubs involved less player movements and more managerial appointments. sc Heerenveen signed Giovanni van Bronckhorst, Feyenoord Rotterdam appointed Nuno Espirito Santo as their new manager (a really good decision from the Feyenoord board) and Luka Modric took charge of AZ Alkmaar (poor decision in my opinion, because despite his playmaking skills, Modric’s staff attributes are not nearly good enough for the job).


 

Transfer Window

Several players left the club in June:

  • Jurrien Timber and Christian Rasmussen left for free (sadly, Timber isn’t the player in FM20 that he turned out to be in real life). Rasmussen signed with another Eredivisie side Vitesse. American right winger Joshua Pynadath also left and signed with Sparta Rotterdam. 
  • Brian Brobbey joined with PSV Eindhoven (the news that I already passed in January - a bit disappointment for me, but the second half of his season wasn’t as prolific as it looked before Christmas, so I’m still convinced that PSV paid too much for him with the £48,500 p/w contract they offered.
  • Youngster Kofi Visser joined Excelsior for £350k + clauses - after careful consideration I decided he won’t be good enough for our first team, so I allowed him to go.

 

This was the easy part. Now about the big losses.

  • Kenneth Taylor left the club after we failed to reach a new contract agreement. I just refused to pay £100k+ p/w salary that his agent demanded and so he signed with Everton (even though Chelsea were very interested). I’m not too disappointed about his departure, but the fact that we couldn’t cash in for him. Allowing such a player leave for free shows that we need to think 1-2 seasons ahead with our contract negotiations.
  • Dušan Tadic spent the second half of the previous season on loan. His contract ran out in June and he decided to call it quits and retire from professional football. I knew it would happen in Spring, and we didn’t miss him on the pitch, but in him we lost a team leader that is difficult to replace.
  • Lassina Traore had a wonderful season and his performances in continental competitions drew some attention. His contract was about to end in 2025 and I was sure that his expectations for the new deal will be way over what I was willing to offer, so to avoid another free departure I accepted the bid from Arsenal and allowed him to leave for £58m. That’s a big loss, because he is an incredible player and suits our playing style and it’s a big challenge for Jay Enem to try and fill that role.
  • Devyne Rensch saw his minimum release fee clause £30m activated by multiple clubs and finally he signed with Inter Milan. He is a talented ball playing defender, but at least we have good replacements in that position in Rio Hillen and Julius Dirksen, so I’m not overly worried about our defense.
  • Marco Ferreira also had a minimum release fee in his contract and for the past season I was confident that he’s just too good to remain in the Eredivisie. He played one last game for the club (Johan Cfuijff Schaal) and then joined Atletico Madrid who matched his release fee of £72m.
  • Finally, Razvan Marin left in August to Tottenham for £50m. That was a move I didn’t expect and didn’t want to make, because of all the departures our midfield was too thin already, but I couldn’t deny him this opportunity and the money was decent, too.

 

So in a short period of time we lost five first team players and three of those (Taylor, Traore and Ferreira) were absolutely key factors in our success in the recent season. That’s a major rebuilding we have on our table. Hertha BSC made several bids to get Gürcan Dere. On the transfer deadline day they offered £67m to sign him, but I declined all bids - we have no other decent goalkeeper and nobody coming up from the youth teams, so I just can’t allow him to leave.

 

 

Eredivisie Transfers

Let’s face it - Eredivisie clubs are filthy rich. We alone sold out several players for more than £200m this Summer, but a number of other clubs like Feyenoord, PSV, AZ and Heerenveen have also amassed large funds. AZ Alkmaar will play in the Champions League group stage this season and that’s another source of income, so even though Eredivisie is still a selling league, clubs are able (and willing to) spend big money for new players. Transfer fees between £5m-£15m are becoming more and more regular. FC Utrecht returned to Eredivisie and bolstered their squad with several new players to mark their intention to be here to stay. Dutch players are often brought back to Eredivisie and it’s nice to see some familiar faces - this Summer it was Jurgen Ekkelenkamp, who returned to sc Heerenveen. 

  • Marco Ferreira from AFC Ajax to Atletico Madrid for £72m
  • Lassina Traore from AFC Ajax to Arsenal for £58m
  • Razvan Marin from AFC Ajax to Tottenham for £50m
  • Devyne Rensch from AFC Ajax to Inter Milan for £30m
  • Menno van den Broek from FC Groningen to Standard Liege for £16m
  • Mylian Jimenes from PSV Eindhoven to Atalanta for £15,75m (£19,25m)
  • Hakan Gustafsson from FC Utrecht to Standard Liege for £12,75m
  • Ferdi Kadioglu from Fenerbahce to AZ Alkmaar for £11,5m
  • Sam Lautenschutz from Sparta Rotterdam to AZ Alkmaar for £7,75m
  • Jurgan Ekkelenkamp from New York Red Bulls to sc Heerenveen for £5,75m
  • Edwin Vink from AZ Alkmaar to FC Utrecht for £5,5m (£7,75m)
  • Glenn Bijl from Standard Liege to FC Groningen for £5m



 

27.07.2024 - AFC Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 3:2 (Johan Cruijff Schaal) - 39. Carlos Manuel Lopes, 57. Kian Fitz-Jim, 68. pen. Quincy Promes - 14. Jeremy Antonisse, 49. Wesley Hoedt

Traditional season opener was held at Johan Cruijff Arena, so it was practically our home game and we were favourites against PSV Eindhoven. PSV were disappointed with their league position, but managed to win the cup and with that secured their place in the super cup final. Their team looks pretty much the same, with a couple of players replaced - Ritsu Doan and Joel Piroe left the club, but they signed Brian Brobbey and another young striker Milan van de Riet from AZ Alkmaar. As a result they have a little more options in attack, but not necessarily higher quality options. Let’s see how it works out for them in the long season.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (75. Douglas), Regeer, van de Beek, Hansen (57. Promes), Ferreira (75. Karahasanovic), Fitz-Jim, Enem

We put the PSV goal under pressure right from the kick-off. Under pressure quite literally, because we managed to hit the frameworks three times in the first 13 minutes - Marco Ferreira, Jay Enem and Sontje Hansen were unlucky not to score, but then PSV had their moment and Jeremy Antonisse gave them a lead with a well executed volley from the edge of area. That goal came completely against the run of the game and it made things worse that we couldn’t score from easy chances - Jay Enem wasted a clear cut chance in 20’. It tooks us almost until the end of the first half to equalize, but Carlos Manuel Lopes headed in from a corner and sent us to half time with 1:1. 

Our defense continued to be error prone in the second half. Nobody marked Wesley Hoedt when PSV had a free kick and the centre-back headed home from 8 meters. Again we had to dig deep to fight back and equalize. The goal came in 57’ - Sontje Hansen found Kian Fitz-Jim in front of the goal with a nice cross and with a simple finish Fitz-Jim scored. We got a penalty after Anass Salah-Eddine was clattered in the box and Quincy Promes gave us the lead from the spot - that third goal was enough to finally secure the win and our sixth consecutive Johan Cruijff Schaal with it. It was certainly a more difficult game than I anticipated and we gave PSV the lead twice, so we made things hard for ourselves. If we get our defense in order, it would be so much easier.

  • we had 60% possession
  • our shooting was 19/10
  • Player of the game: Jeremy Antonisse (PSV Eindhoven) - scored the best goal of the game
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August 2024 


 

02.08.2024 - FC Groningen - AFC Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 50. Dabney dos Santos Souza - 41. Jay Enem

Early start to the season - our first league game already in the beginning of August. FC Groningen is not the easiest opponent to start our season against - they’re predicted to finish 6th, have a fairly strong and experienced squad and in their own stadium they can trouble any big team.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (81. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Promes (63. Hansen), van de Beek (68. Karahasanovic), Fitz-Jim, Enem

The first half offered a low number of chances to both teams, but in the end of the first half we managed to take a lead - Quincy Promes delivered the assist and Jay Enem anticipated it well to move into the six yard box and finish from close range. Despite our lead I wasn’t entirely happy with our game - we looked a little vulnerable to overlaps and for the second half I switched Salah-Eddine back to WBs. Motivation was good and morale high and that’s always a good sign.

The second half didn’t go too well - we allowed Dabney dos Santos Souza to equalize in 50’ and then tried hard for the rest of the game to take the lead again. Unfortunately those efforts were fruitless. Sontje Hansen saw his header hit the crossbar in 73’ and Jay Enem wasted a chance in 84’, but we couldn’t score and so the points were shared in Groningen. I was disappointed, because I believe that we can defend better than we did in this game and even though the second half looked promising after the Groningen goal, we couldn’t get a goal out of it. A little below expectations. Tough game, as predicted.

  • Player of the game: Mitchel Bakker (FC Groningen)



 

11.08.2024 - AFC Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 2:0 (ED) - 76. pen. Quincy Promes, 89. Anass Salah-Eddine

The first Eredivisie home game of the season and I was eager to get our first win of the league campaign. We come to this game with a number of injury problems - Sontje Hansen fell awkwardly in training and he’ll be out until September with torn wrist ligaments. Youri Baas, Steven van der Sloot, Kian Fitz-Jim and Jay Enem all have small knocks, but I had to take a risk and start with both Fitz-Jim and Enem up front to get our attack at least some chance. Kik Braspenning was also out and I included Jaymillio Pinas into our squad. Alen Karahasanovic looked good with the ball in the FC Groningen game, so he got a start ahead of Donny van de Beek.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, Marin, Promes, Karahasanovic (55. van de Beek), Fitz-Jim (82. Boer), Enem (89. Pinas)

The first half was a disappointment. FC Twente built a solid defensive block with their two DMC-s and it was difficult to break down. We lacked creativity in attack and couldn’t create enough chances to score. Razvan Marin had a good free kick and Anass Salah-Eddine also tested their goalkeeper, but that wasn’t nearly good enough.

I made changes in the second half - Donny van de Beek came on for Karahasanovic - but that didn’t improve our attack. It took us 75’ before Quincy Promes made a long run on a counter and was finally tripped in the box before he could make an attempt. The penalty was awarded and Promes himself converted it. That was enough for the win, but Anass Salah-Eddine scored another goal late in the game and what a goal that was - an incredible volley, taken right from the cross by Joel Veltman and it landed in the roof of the goal. Beautiful strike, every forward would be proud of that goal, but for it to come from our left back was something I didn’t expect. It looks like WBa is a suitable role for Salah-Eddine in those games where we control possession and he is able to time his run into the box well, cross the ball, but also take an attempt or two on the goal. In the end it was 2:0 - our patience was rewarded in the second half, we kept a clean sheet (always a good sign) and I was satisfied with the result.

  • our possession was 61%
  • our shooting was 21/14 - good number of shots and accuracy as well, even though we lacked dangerous chances and most of the attempts weren’t too dangerous
  • we made only 8 key passes in this game - another sign of our lacking creativity
  • no real chances for FC Twente - they concentrated on defense, but failed to make a threat in attack
  • Jaymillio Pinas made his debut for Ajax in the final minutes
  • Player of the game: Anass Salah-Eddine - his goal will be in the end of the season highlights


 

16.08.2024 - ADO Den Haag - AFC Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 17. Donny van de Beek, 34. Jay Enem

Our next opponents - ADO Den Haag and we travel to their home stadium. ADO are a decent mid-table side, they have had very stable seasons with final positions between 7-11th place and their squad hasn’t changed much over Summer, so we know what we’re up against. One particular threat is their height - they’re good in set pieces and on average 5 cm taller than us. Understandably we practiced defending set pieces before the game and that’s also the reason why Joel Veltman started as DR, not Steven van der Sloot - we have to get as much aerial power in our box as possible.

We still have some players missing - Sontje Hansen with injury and both Kik Braspenning and Jaymillio Pinas suffer from a small knock. Cars Jeans stadium welcomed us with a full house, but also with heavy rain that made things a little uncomfortable for the players.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine (80. Douglas), Regeer (72. Sangare-Aka), Marin, Promes, van de Beek, Fitz-Jim (80. Boer), Enem

We started pretty well - Razvan Marin played a key role in midfield and his through balls released Jay Enem nicely - Enem saw his first attempt being saved in 9’ and then wasted a clear cut chance in 11’. Finishing and composure is something that he needs to work on if he wants to score as many goals as Lassina Traore did. However, Enem did well to lead a counter-attack in 17’ - he regained his feet after a tackle, took the ball into the box and delivered an assist to Donny van de Beek who arrived into the area. We took the lead and looked well in control of the game. The rain also stopped and conditions turned more favourable to our playing style. Enem wasted another easy chance in 29’ (another lovely pass from Marin) before he finally found the net. Quincy Promes did well to deliver an assist and this time it was an easy tap-in into the empty net for Enem. We went to half-time with a 2:0 lead and I was pleased with our game in the first half.

I knew that we had to keep our concentration after the break and we did that fairly well, but ADO still had a couple of good chances in the second period. Lopes lost a challenge in midfield and ADO’s Joel Piroe had the first good look in this game, but Gürcan Dere made a brilliant save to tip the shot over the crossbar. Joel Veltman then allowed Evan Rottier to pass him too easily, but again Dere was there to make a save and keep our clean sheet. We didn’t create too many chances in the second half, but we didn’t necessarily have to do that. Defending was more important and I’m pleased to return with a clean sheet, even though ADO improved their game a little in the second half. 2:0 is good from an away game.

  • our shooting was 18/11 in this game
  • we created 3 clear cut chances, but wasted too many opportunities
  • Player of the game: Razvan Marin - 6 key passes and 3 chances created from him


 

Sadly, this was the final game for Ajax to Razvan Marin - the Romanian midfielder departed to Tottenham and in the wake of such an outstanding performance against ADO Den Haag it kept me wondering, how can we replace his creativity and set piece deliveries from midfield? Can youngsters Alen Karahasanovic and Ismael Sangare-Aka step up? Can we avoid major injuries to Youri Regeer and Donny van de Beek who are our only midfielders that can compete in the Champions League level?


 

25.08.2024 - AFC Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 2:0 (ED) - 15. Eli Dasa (og), 34. Jay Enem

Another difficult game and this time we had to get through without Razvan Marin.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (76. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes, Salah-Eddine, Regeer, van de Beek, Promes, Karahasanovic (69. Sangare-Aka), Fitz-Jim, Enem (84. Braspenning)

In front of our home fans we had a good first half, but needed a little bit of luck to score our first goal. Quincy Promes had a good look from a counter-attack. He hit it towards the far post, the ball remained on the line, but didn’t cross it until arriving Vitesse defender Eli Dasa touched it - own goal, but I didn’t mind (and neither did Promes). Donny van de Beek had a half-chance in  29’, but he sent the ball into the side-netting, before Jay Enem doubled our lead with a close range header. 2:0 lead looked much more comfortable and Vitesse understood that their game plan was just not working against us - they looked vulnerable in transitions and whenever we won the ball back there was space for Promes, van de Beek and Enem to run into. Jay Enem, however, continued to waste his chances - he managed to get two easy shots wide of the post before the half time whistle and I knew that we should have been 3:0 or 4:0 ahead.

The second half offered less entertainment - we were happy with our lead and Vitesse couldn’t create too many moments in attack. Their left-back Lassana Faye received his second yellow card in 84’ and was sent off, so the end of the game was pretty relaxed for us. Good win, another clean sheet and I was pleased with our ability to find at least two goals in those games.

  • our shooting was 28/10 in this game - not the best accuracy
  • we created 3 clear cut chances, but were wasteful with them
  • we didn’t allow Vitesse to get any real chances and that was a good sign - our defense has been impressive in the recent games
  • Kik Braspenning made his debut for Ajax
  • Player of the game: Quincy Promes - very active in attack, made 10 dribbles and gave an assist



 

Summary

Slow start with a draw in Groningen, but good results in the other games. We haven’t met with big favourites (AZ Alkmaar, Feyenoord, PSV) yet, but we didn’t play with minnows either, so to collect 10 points from August looks good enough in retrospect. Our undefeated streak has now reached 40 games in Eredivisie and I’m looking to continue it further. Defense has been good and we haven’t conceded a single clear cut chance yet. Jay Enem has been wasting his chances in attack, but managed to score some goals too and hopefully that will give him confidence to keep scoring. Veterans Joel Veltman and Quincy Promes have played a big role in our formation and I hope that they can carry the load without getting injured.

 

Champions League

We were seeded 1st and drawn into the group H with Borussia Dortmund, AS Roma and Young Boys. Could be worse - we managed to avoid European giants - we can play with Borussia and Roma. However, with our current squad I’m afraid we’re not good enough to progress from the group stage. AZ Alkmaar are also in the group stage - they had a much more difficult group with Juventus in it. I expect their attention to turn towards those midweek games and if it leads to at least some points dropped in Eredivisie, it works to our favour.


 

Eredivisie

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AZ Alkmaar have started really well, we’re also up there but both Feyenoord and PSV have dropped some points already. After the first month FC Dordrecht looked like the weakest team and I’m starting to believe that they can’t avoid relegation this season.

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Squad 2024-2025

 

I don’t remember another transfer window like that where so many first team players and key figures departed. We’ve lost perhaps even too many of them. Some of those departures were anticipated and if the player has a minimum release fee in his contract, it’s difficult to block his transfer.

We have youngsters to fill those roles, but the quality and the depth of the team have suffered a lot. It takes us at least a couple of seasons to regain it and it’s also clear that for a while we have to keep hold of the players that we have.


 

Goalkeepers


No changes here. We have a really good first choice keeper in Gürcan Dere and I’m glad that I could keep hold of him in Summer. He can save us when all else fails. I also promise to give enough first team opportunities to Dani van den Heuvel to help him improve as a footballer.

 

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Defenders

Devyne Rensch has left, but the rest of the defensive line remains the same. We have tall and powerful Carlos Manuel Lopes who can score from set pieces - he was hunted by Real Madrid, but fortunately not too seriously. We have good options in left-back (and very talented Cor Drommel coming up from Jong Ajax), but the right-back position looks thin. Joel Veltman is an experienced leader, but he’s 32 already and we don’t have anybody immediately coming up from the youth team as well. Rio Hillen is the new face - he spent his last season on loan in Belgium, but now covers for the centre-back position.

 

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Midfielders

We lost Kenneth Taylor, Marco Ferreira and Razvan Marin in Summer and while Youri Regeer and Donny van de Beek form a capable partnership, we lack depth. Ismael Sangare-Aka returned from FC Eindhoven and he will certainly get good minutes. Youngster Tim Brown is also developing nicely and I hope he can earn playing time in the second half of the season. Alen Karahasanovic will need to carry the load in AMC and that is another position that lacks depth.

 

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Wingers

Here we have the same players that carried the load in the last season. Philippe Barriere went on loan to Heracles. Remy Boer looks really talented and is developing nicely and Quincy Promes provides both goals and assists despite his age.

 

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Strikers

Jay Enem is the familiar face - his 13 goals in the last season was solid enough, but he needs to improve a lot to carry the goalscoring task in this team. Kik Braspenning returned from loan to provide backup (he has some good qualities, but needs to improve his movement and decisions) and Jaymillio Pinas is perhaps less talented, but  will provide backup.

 

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  • 2 weeks later...

September 2024


 

01.09.2024 - AFC Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 5:1 (ED) - 27. pen Quincy Promes, 49. Alen Karahasanovic, 60., 64. and 76. Jay Enem - 43. Vangelis Pavlidis

Before the international break we hosted Willem II in Johan Cruijff Arena. Willem II is another decent mid-table side and their first eleven look capable enough to cause problems to big teams if things work out for them, so we had to be prepared and avoid complacency.

Squad: Dere, Veltman (69. van der Sloot), Schuurs, Lopes (74. Hillen), Baas, Regeer, van de Beek (69. Sangare-Aka), Promes, Karahasanovic, Fitz-Jim, Enem

We had possession in the first half and our attacks finished with attempts on target, but we couldn’t create too many proper chances. Most of our dangerous moments included Quincy Promes and so our attack looked very one-sided. In 27’ however, Promes’ movement was blocked inside the Willem II box and the referee awarded teh penalty after consulting with VAR. Promes converted from the spot and so we took the lead, but allowed Willem II to equalize late in the first half - Promes himself lost the ball in midfield and the attack followed from our right flank, cross was delivered into the box where Vangelis Pavlidis was unmarked in front of our goal - simple finish from the Greek striker and Willem II equalized right before the half time without doing much else in the first period. I was obviously frustrated with the conceded goal and my critical words were well received by the players, because things improved a lot in the second half.

Alen Karahasanovic gave us the lead again after his shot took a deflection and went in. Jay Enem started to find good chances in the second half - his first opportunity was blocked in 54’, but in 60’ Promes found him with a good pass and with a simple finish Enem got himself into the score sheet again. He doubled his tally with a good header from Youri Baas’ cross and in 76’ completed his hat-trick. The third goal was a curious one - Willem II goalkeeper struggled to clear the poor backpass from the goal line and Enem arrived to win the ball back and put it over the line. After a brilliant second half performance the final score looked very convincing and I was happy with the improvement after the half-time.

  • our shooting was 25/16 in this game
  • we created 4 clear cut chances
  • defender Rio Hillen made his league debut for Ajax
  • Jay Enem and Quincy Promes were impressive with their performances
  • Player of the game: Jay Enem - again wasted some chances and his ccc conversion rate has much to improve, but scored a hat-trick and made the fans forget Lassina Traore. Six goals in the league from him now.


 

15.09.2024 - sc Heerenveen - AFC Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 53. Jay Enem

sc Heerenveen had a good season and they have finished 4th in two previous seasons, so the quality is definitely there and money as well - they can attract good players and have enough depth in their squad. However, their season has begun poorly and they find themselves in 17th place, still looking for their first win. We have to be prepared for their aerial threat (Jay-Roy Grot) and I expect their defense to be well organized. Recent results and their lack of confidence can do us a favour, though.

We have two players missing - Anass Salah-Enem and Kian Fitz-Jim returned injured from Holland U-21 games and we miss them in September. Sontje Hansen has finally recovered and is in full training, so the logical thing would be to move Quincy Promes to AML and start with Hansen on AMR.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot (86. Veltman), Schuurs, Lopes, Baas, Regeer (72. Sangare-Aka), van de Beek, Hansen (66. Boer), Karahasanovic, Promes, Enem

We had initiative in the first half and some good opportunities to score between 20’-30’. When we won the ball back and sc Heerenveen defense was out of position, we could find space in transition and passes got through to Jay Enem, who (again!) managed to waste the chances. sc Heerenveen goalkeeper Justin Bijlow did well to parry some of the shots, too, and the teams went to half-time with 0:0 on the scoreboard.

The second half looked very similar - we had possession and Gürcan Dere didn’t have much to do in our goal. In 53’ we finally scored - Sontje Hansen delivered a good cross into the six yard box and Enem was there to head it in. That goal was enough to secure a narrow win with perhaps not the most exciting performance.

  • our shooting was 18/12 in this game
  • we made only 8 key passes
  • sc Heerenveen couldn’t create anything dangerous - I’m very happy with our defensive work
  • Player of the game: Carlos Manuel Lopes - good defensively and won 7 key headers


 

18.09.2024 - AFC Ajax - Borussia Dortmund 2:2 (Champions League Group H) - 34. Jay Enem, 49. pen. Quincy Promes - 21. Serge Gnabry, 40. Emre Can

Our first Champions League game and the moment of truth for our young team. Dortmund are favourites in this group and they’re leading the Bundesliga table at the moment, so they’re surely in good form and the quality of their squad is way above ours. However, in a home game there is always a chance and if we play tactically well we could be able to get a point from Johan Cruijff Arena.

Kian Fitz-Jim is close to returning from his injury, but he’s not yet fit and so our first eleven remains unchanged.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek (75. Sangare-Aka), Hansen, Karahasanovic, Promes (87. Boer), Enem (80. Braspenning)

Even before the game I understood that our main question would be - how to stop individually superior Dortmund players? And that was what we struggled with in the first half. Serge Gnabry was too quick and skillful to skip past Joel Veltman and score their first goal and even though Jay Enem did well to get his foot to Quincy Promes’ cross, we went to the half time with a 1:2 deficit - Emre Can walked into our box too easily to fire in from 12 meters. So, our first half performance wasn’t bad, I could even say that our tactics worked, but our players were not quick enough, skillful enough at times to stop those one-one attacks.

We improved somewhat in the second half and early on equalized from the penalty. Alen Karahasanovic was pulled down in the box and Quincy Promes converted from the spot (he has been very reliable with penalties so far in this season). Substitute Kik Braspenning had a great chance to win this in 86’, but he couldn’t beat the Dortmund goalkeeper and blew his one-on-one opportunity - inexperience showing there, but the lad will probably sleep little after that miss tonight. Another youngster Ismael Sangare-Aka had a good attempt from some distance in injury time, but that, too, was parried, so the points were split in the first Champions League game, even though it looked like we could have edged it. I was pleased with our second half effort and to be fair, a point from this game wasn’t too bad either. Let’s see where it takes us in the end.

  • we had 3 clear cut chances in this game and actually didn’t give any real opportunities to Dortmund - sign of a very good performance even though they managed to score twice
  • we made only 7 key passes
  • Player of the game: Emre Can (Borussia Dortmund) - scored the best goal of the game



 

22.09.2024 - AFC Ajax - FC Utrecht 1:0 (ED) - 30. Perr Schuurs

Next up - FC Utrecht. We wanted to continue our good run in the league and we didn’t have to change our approach for that home game too much.

Squad: Dere, van der Sloot, Schuurs, Hillen, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek, Hansen (55. Fitz-Jim), Karahasanovic (75. Sangare-Aka), Promes, Enem (83. Braspenning)

The game itself was a fairly boring affair. We had one good chance in 10’, but Jay Enem blew it and we took the lead after Perr Schuurs headed in from a free kick. It was a deserved lead, but FC Utrecht defended well and made it difficult for us to score.

The second half followed in a similar fashion - FC Utrecht defended and we struggled to create chances. It remained 1:0 until the end and we needed a set piece goal to win the game, but it was still three points and a clean sheet.

  • we didn’t give FC Utrecht any real chances in this game
  • Player of the game: Perr Schuurs - solid in defense and scored the winning goal



 

28.09.2024 - PSV Eindhoven - AFC Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 79. Jeremy Antonisse - 45. Kian Fitz-Jim, 49. Donny van de Beek, 70. Joel Veltman

The second Topper Derby of the season. We did beat PSV Eindhoven in the super cup final in July, but this was a different game. Not only because it was an away game for us (and I always expect PSV and Feyenoord to play a lot better and more offensive football in their own stadiums), but because PSV have recovered from their defeat and are eager to take a revenge.

Their season hasn’t been very smooth so far - a lot of draws and PSV find themselves 7 points behind us and AZ Alkmaar, so in the end of September they have already some ground to make up and they need this win badly.

We had lost Sontje Hansen (again). Kian Fitz-Jim was almost back in full training, but he had to start this game simply because Hansen was out. Quincy Promes moved back to right wing.

Squad: Dere, Veltman, Schuurs, Lopes, Baas, Regeer, van de Beek (71. Sangare-Aka), Promes, Karahasanovic, Fitz-Jim (66. Boer), Enem (74. Braspenning)

It was PSV who started better. Jay Enem had a half-chance in 11’, but PSV’s forward Robert Bozenik had two good chances in the first 15 minutes and Gürcan Dere had to make a couple of brilliant saves to deny him. We then improved defensively and at least limited their chances, but at the same time I can’t say that we dominated the game and kept them under pressure. No. Creating chances is always difficult in those derby games and PSV came to this match with a defensive/cautious 4-5-1 formation to prevent us scoring. Perhaps they could have been happy with 0:0 from this match, but I certainly wasn’t. We finally got a breakthrough at the end of the first half - Kian Fitz-Jim curled in from 19 meters to give us the lead and that was a brilliant strike. He hit the ball sweetly and scored an outstanding goal after his injury and I was delighted for him.

Fitz-Jim’s goal sent us to half-time, but we picked up from there in the second half - Donny van de Beek fired in from 22 meters and then Joel Veltman moved into the box to score with a very good strike into the bottom corner. While PSV had done well to limit our chances, they were powerless against our long shots and individual brilliance of the players. Three goals and their game plan was undone. Jeremy Antoniss headed in to give them some hope of a come-back, but it never materialized into anything more. 3:1 from the away game is a really good result.

  • we made only 8 key passes - despite three goals our attack could be a lot better
  • Player of the game: Joel Veltman - a goal and assist to his name, with overall good performance
  • AZ Alkmaar were against Feyenoord at the same time and came out as winners with 3:0 final score - they are the main threat to our title challenge


 

Summary

I’m very happy with our September performances. We avoided defeat in the first Champions League game and went through our Eredivisie fixtures with straight wins that put us to the top of the table. Very good beginning to the season. Fixture list has been a bit more difficult than average - we have played mostly with top half teams so far and to remain unbeaten is a really promising start. Jay Enem leads the Eredivisie goal scoring chart and Quincy Promes has been incremental to our attacking game with his assists and penalties scored.

 

Eredivisie

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We’re in the lead, but closely followed by AZ Alkmaar. VVV Venlo find themselves in 4th place and it’s been the biggest surprise so far, with Feyenoord and PSV down in the middle of the table.

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