Ajax 2018/19 Season - A Disappointing Title
So headlined because whilst we won the league, my first season was ultimately quite a disappointment. But more on that later. Firstly, transfers:
Only the 1 incoming - Nørrestrand looks a real prospect, and DR was the one area in the academy we were lacking depth. I like to have 5 players for a position at the club - 2 first team, 1 B team and 2 in the u19s. We only had 4 DR so in he came! Outgoings were a bunch of guys unlikely to make it, including Orejuela who wouldn't have played much in the second half of the season after Veltman came back from injury, although I hoped for Sierhuis to develop and 7 goals in 18 appearances was a good return in his step up from Jong Ajax. I also pre-arranged two incomings: Kik Pierie from Heerenveen as he had negotiated a £4.8m release clause, and Kenneth Vermeer returns to the club from Feyenoord for £1.2m - they'll be happy to make a profit on a 33 year old (they signed him from Ajax for £800k) whilst I'm happy to get an experienced Homegrown GK on a Backup contract with a good personality.
Tactically I tried to recreate Ajax's real life tactics for the first half of the season but I was a bit too conservative and wasn't happy with the way we played, so I moved to Ö-zil's classic Dutch 4-3-3 for the second half of the season.
That was enough to win the league though! Despite losing to both Feyenoord and PSV in the first half of the season, by late March when we came from 2-0 down to beat PSV 4-2 at home we were 8 points clear. The Dutch federation decided to screw us in April, with 4 games in 7 days as they jammed in two domestic fixtures between legs of our European tie, and we had to win on the final day to ensure we took home the title. We did so in style, smashing Utrecht 7-0, our biggest win of the season on the final day in front of our own fans, with all 7 scored in the first half!
In the cup we surprisingly played only 2 lower league teams, but other than a weakened team taking 120 minutes to eventually smash Utrecht it was comfortable progress. The final was one of the aforementioned 4 in 7, as we came from behind 3 times, before succumbing on penalties.
We easily got into the Champions League group stages, that 3-1 aggregate win over Slavia Prague being far more comfortable than it looked, much more like the previous ties. When we went to Russia and won, before smashing Dortmund at the ArenA I was hopeful of progressing, but Valencia's pacy forwards undid us, and although our second victory over Lokomotiv Moscow had us in with a shout Dortmund ultimately qualified as group winners. 10 points to only get 3rd place sucked.
Another sizeable away trip had me encouraging the club directors to invest in Amsterdam-Moscow air links, but they've been too busy all season trying to sell up. Home battering and close, gritty away games were the formula here, although throwing away a 2-0 lead at Real Betis was a sign of things to come. In-between the two legs against Arsenal we played the Dutch Cup Final and a league tie against AZ, which is absurd. In the first leg twice we sneaked ourselves a lead but when they equalised twice and then went ahead we could have no complaints, Aubameyang's pace was too much. The second leg was incredibly frustrating, and I have to assume part of it was due to fatigue. We raced into a 3-0 lead inside 20 minutes through Ziyech, Eiting and Dolberg before Matthijs de Ligt's 2nd own goal in 4 days (he also got one in the cup final) set them on the way to recovery and a place in the final...where they lost to Leipzig.
Some players stats:
Huntelaar at 35 could seriously be considered a revelation - by scoring 25 goals in all competitions he had his best season since 2011/12, and his 20 goal Eredivise haul was good enough for top scorer (joint, ahead of Sam Lammers through playing fewer minutes), and only the 2nd time he'd hit 20 goals in the league since departing Ajax the first time mid-way through 2008/09! Dusan Tadic belatedly took to a striker role / I belatedly figured out a striker role suitable for Dusan Tadic - take your pick - and finished with a respectable 15 goals, I was never expecting him to mimic his real life totals so this was ok. Carel Eiting was a bit of a surprise, after playing half the season as a DM, when moved forward to CM-Su he got 9 goals - a mixture of distance shots, volleys / headers from free kicks and a couple of pokes in goalmouth scrambles.
Mazroui would probably have gotten 20 assists if he hadn't missed two months in spring with injury, but RNK deputised ably and was probably better defensively too. I'd hoped for slightly more than 12 goals from Ziyech cutting in onto his left, but contributing to 22 overall is still good, whilst Neres playing left-footed on the left was impressive in getting his 13 goals and 15 assists. Kasper Dolberg spent all season out of position on the left flank too, so I'm very impressed with his 14 goals. Vaclav Cerny, despite barely outperforming Labyad statistically, was impressive all season and even spent most of the spring playing at CM as we reshuffled in Mazroui and then Veltman's absence, so will most likely make it to 2nd season for the first time in years of playing with Ajax. Speaking of Labyad, I wasn't impressed with him off the pitch as he constantly complained about having too much training and/or not training his Penalties enough - the solution of just training him on Penalties was satisfactory for this season, but he's already leaving for £6.75m to Viktoria Plzen as he just wasn't the sort of personality I want around.
Tactically, I'm going to use Ö-zil's 3-4-3 diamond as my primary with the 4-3-3 for my secondary lineup, so may get rid of Tagliafico and Mazroui if satisfactory offers come in as I'll only need two first team full backs and the former is lacking technically whilst the latter can't really defend. Daley Sinkgraven performed well and I extended his contract to maintain value but he'll be off too.
I'm leaning towards plundering a 'golden generation' - either 2-3 of Marin, Olmo and Majer from Dinamo or Til, Stengs and Boadu from AZ Alkmaar (leaning towards the former to maintain the league's competitiveness) - or bringing back a former Ajax winger in either Dilrosun or Kluivert, but first I have to wait for endless takeover talks to finish. As someone who likes to have all their transfers sorted by 1st July and loans fixed by 1st August, its really frustrating.