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Draakon

[FM16] Ajax Amsterdam - Building a dynasty of youth

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Well, here it is again. Some of you probably remember my thread back from FM13 days that dragged along quite a while. Mainly because I play slowly and it takes time for me to get seasons completed. After 3 years I finally got a new version of FM and started a new Ajax save with it. For those who are not familiar with my philosophy - a few key points:

1) I do not buy any players. Only exceptions are feeder club talents from Ajax CT, Almere City etc. in case there is a youngster who could potentially make it to Ajax first eleven.

2) Don't keep players against their will. If substantial amount of money are offered (usually about twice of players value or over £8-10m) - sell. I feel it reflects what real-life Ajax and Dutch clubs overall do - it's a springboard for talented youngsters to bigger leagues and money.

3) Constantly work with your youngsters to bring up enough talent to cover all holes that those sales leave to your squad. It's pretty self explanatory - if you can't go to transfer market, you have to have enough talented young players coming up from youth ranks. Also, you need extremely good coaching staff to get the best out of them.

So, keeping this in mind, I took over Ajax from Frank de Boer in Summer 2015 and tried to give my best to regain Eredivise crown and hopefully cause some trouble to bigger clubs in Champions League as well...

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Friendlies in pre-season were a mixed affair. After winning a friendly cup we lost 3 games in a row against clubs who we should have beaten easily. Defense wasn't working, attack wasn't clicking and manager looked like he was 3 seasons behind of modern football. But things were turned back on track quickly - we took a spirited 1-0 win against Sevilla and that was encouragin before Champions League play-offs.

29.07.2015 - SK Rapid Wien - Ajax 1:1 (Champions League Best Placed Qualifiers 3rd round 1st leg) - 6. Philip Schobesberger - 26. Christopher Dibon (og) - conceding a goal after 6th minutes of football was a cold shower, but we picked ourselves up fairly quickly and after (un)ucky bounce off the Rapid's defender Dibon, it was 1-1. The game itself was fairly even, although we had better chances during he match. But our lone striker Arkadiusz Milik didn't look convincing (6.3 rating) and so the score remained nervous 1-1 until the end. Substitute Yaya Sanogo got the only clear cut chance of the match, but his shot in 87' went well wide. Not the best start of the season, but away goal goes to our advantage and I was fairly confident that we could get the result in Amsterdam Arena.

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05.08.2015 - Ajax - SK Rapid Wien 1:0 (Champions League Qualifiers Best Placed 3rd round 2nd leg) - 27. pen. Arkadiusz Milik - after another friendly it was a rematch time. We looked a lot better on the pitch than we were a week ago, but couldn't convert our chances into goals. Our first and final goal came after Milik was brought down in opponent's box in set piece situation and scored from the spot himself. Our finishing was poor throughout the game - 22 shots, but only 9 on target. So, despite our solid defensive play it was a bit nervous until the end. Pleased to go through, but we should have been more convincing.

+ solid defensive work

- Anwar El Ghazi - looked very quiet on the right flank

09.08.2015 - AZ Alkmaar - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 19. Arkadiusz Milik, 68. Davy Klaassen - the first scare of the match came already in 2'. Deep cross from the left flank found its way behind our defense and Alireza Jahanbakhsh was 1-1 against Jasper Cillessen. Fortunately, his soft shot was easily held by our keeper. Horrible concentration from my team. We got ourselves going after that and soon Milik scored after clever pass to the area by Thulani Serero. Davy Klaassen added another from header after corner. He probably was surprised himself that it went in - a weak header that bounced awkwardly at the feet of AZ goalkeeper and rolled into the net. So, surprisingly solid start to the season - away win against fairly strong AZ side.

+ Thulani Serero - good creativity in midfield, player of the match

- Viktor Fischer - couldn't create anything on the left

15.08.2015 - Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 4:0 (ED) - 51. and 58. Arkadiusz Milik, 64. Joel Veltman, 90.+2 Yaya Sanogo - we should have won this one easily, but after 45 minutes it was 0-0 and we didn't look like we want to win this game at all. I showed my disappointment to the team and things picked up after half time. This was the first match where I replaced right winger Anwar El Ghazi for Lass Schöne, gave him advanced playmaker role and so created huge space for Ricardo van Rhijn to exploit. His crosses found Milik and Sanogo in the box and created havoc in Willem II's defense.

+ good goalscoring

+ third clean sheet in a row

19.08.2015 - Ajax - Sporting 4:0 (Champions League Best Placed Playoff 1st leg) - 5. and 62. Viktor Fischer, 12. pen. Arkadiusz Milik, 67. Davy Klaassen - to be honest, Sporting looked better than our squad, at least on paper. But we started the game really well and before visitors could gather themselves, we were 2-0 ahead. That obviously caused some frustration and in 39' Joao Pereira received his 2nd yellow card and marching orders with that. After that, it was fairly easy. We added another two goals in 2nd half and secured a convincing 4-0 lead before 2nd leg match. Excellent result!

+ whole team effort

22.08.2015 - NEC Nijmegen - Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 33. Mihai Roman - 26. Arkadiusz Milik, 72. Anthony Limbombe (og) - only 3 days after Sporting match we looked a bit tired and continental hangover effect was clearly visible in the faces of our team. Riechedly Bazoer started in DMC position and Amin Younes got his chance on the left flank, but neither of them impressed me. Milik's goal was preceded by good attacking combination, but we allowed NEC to equalize quickly and it was a drab match after that. We probably weren't good enough to win this match, but with a bit of luck and poor touch by Anthony Limbombe we got our 2nd goal and managed to hold onto that lead until the end. Poor performance, but good enough result.

+ 3 points

- no good individual performances, drab match by most of the team

25.08.2015 - Sporting - Ajax 2:1 (Champions League Best Placed Playoff 2nd leg) - 3. Lasse Schöne (og), 72. Fredy Montero - 45.+2 Arkadiusz Milik - we knew we had to get one goal from this match to give a final blow to Sporting's hopes. Instead, we conceded a quick one from unfortunate own goal by Schöne. In the end of the first half we had our first and only very good attack of this match - Serero gave a good cross in front of the goal and Milik headed in confidently. Great time to score, just before half-time whistle, and that decided the outcome. Sporting won this game after Monteiro's goal in 2nd half, but our aggregate 5-2 win was convincing.

+ Thulani Serero - our only spark in midfield

+ Arkadiusz Milik - one chance, one goal

- Viktor Fischer - another poor performance by Danish left winger. Starting to get worried about him.

- Ricardo van Rhijn and Nick Viergever - our full-backs couldn't contain Sporting wingers at all

30.08.2015 - Ajax - ADO Den Haag 1:0 (ED) - 70. Arkadiusz Milik - another win in the league that could have gone the other way so easily. We were better team on the pitch, we had three clear cut chances, but made a great job wasting them. Klaassen and Fischer missed their opportunities and I started to get nervous, but then van Rhijn's long ball found Milik on the run and our best goalscorer kept his composure and rounded ADO's goalkeeper very calmly. Not the most convincing performance, but win is a win.

+ difficult to find positives in this match, despite 3 points

- poor finishing

- poor performance by Viktor Fischer (5.5)

Actually, this first month of the season has been great. We haven't always played great football, but results have come our way. We've got 4 straights win in Eredivisie and we've reached to Champions League group stage. There we have Chelsea, Atletico Madrid and Dinamo Zagreb to deal with and my instincts say that it's a huge mountain to climb if we want to progress from that group.

Arkadiusz Milik has been the main goalscorer with 8 goals in all competitions so far. I'm trying to get our attacking system work - different orders to midfielders and wingers in order to get them linked up with Milik start to work one by one And our defensive line has been superb. Only 1 goal conceded in Eredivisie. That's a great starting platform.

Eredivisie

Eredivisie_%20Overview%20Stages.png

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As said above, my transfer policy is rather conservative, so no major movements. Lots of players went out on loan.

I brought in another good goalkeeper coach from Italy - Emanuele Manitta.

A lot of interest about my players - van Rhijn, Viergever, Veltman and Klaassen. I extended Klaassen's contract to keep him in club and fended off all petty offers for van Rhijn.

Besides loaning out youngsters I made three bigger moves:

Nicolai Boilesen on loan to FC Twente. I had three good left-backs and one of them had to go. Boilesen gets enough playing time in FC Twente and it's a solid team for him. Let's see where we are in a year.

Lerin Duarte out to Trabzonspor fo £425k. I had plenty of options in midfield - Klaassen, Serero, Schöne, Gudelj and young Abdelhak Nouri. Duarte is already 25 and unlikely to improve. He looks like a fringe player already and it's better to give his place to some 18-19 year old midfielder.

Vaclav Cerny to FC Bayern for £625k + clauses (possibly £2,1m). This one I partly regret, because he's clearly a talented winger, but first ManU and then Bayern managed to unsettle him and I finally gave up and let him go. This move was received well by fans, but I wouldn't have made it without strong complaints by player himself.

So, after Summer, my first team looks like this.

GK: Jasper Cillessen, Diederik Boer

DR: Ricardo van Rhijn, Kenny Tete, Leeroy Owusu

DC: Joel Veltman, Mike van der Hoorn

DC: John Heitinga, Jairo Riedewald

DL: Nick Viergever, Mitchell Dijks

DMC: Nemanja Gudelj, Riechedly Bazoer

MC: Davy Klaassen

MC: Thulani Serero, Abdelhak Nouri

AMR: Lasse Schöne, Anwar El Ghazi

AML: Viktor Fischer, Amin Younes, Daley Sinkgraven

ST: Arkadiusz Milik, Yaya Sanogo

I play with 4-1-2-3 DM Wide tactics. I know that putting Gudelj as a DMC is probably a bit waste, but because Bazoer is too young, it's probably necessary, for a while at least. And with creative talent that I have, it's almost a crime to play without AMC and try to press players like Klaassen and Serero to some sort of MC positional roles, but this tactical approach has served me well in FM and I'm going to stick with it.

In this single striker formation I've used complete forward striker the most. Milik is fairly good in this role, so I switch between CF-attack and DLF-support roles for him. In FM16, however, wide wingers don't work as well with that as they did in FM13, so there are Fischer and Younes in AML as IF-support and Schöne in AMR as AP-support. El Ghazi plays as either IF-attack or W-attack, depending on opponent and scoreline.

Yaya Sanogo is only good as a TM-support, but that too fits to my formation.

I allow van Rhijn more freedom in DR position (FB-aut), and hold back Viergever who is less talented in attacking phase (LFB-defend).

Three out of four central defenders (Heitinga, Veltman and Riedewald) play as BPD, which suits well against smaller teams in Eredivisie against whom we have most of possession and centre-backs are expected to build up attacks.

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12.09.2015 - FC Twente Enschede - Ajax 1:4 (ED) - 74. Hakim Ziyech - 23., 45.+2 and 46. Arkadiusz Milik, 89. Anwar El Ghazi - after international break it was the first serious test in September: away match against FC Twente. A little bit surprisingly we were comfortably in control most of the game and Milik's hat-trick decided things before 2nd half really could start. Great moments to score too - just before half time whistle and then just after 2nd half kick-off to diminish every hope and gameplan changes that opponent's manager hoped to make after the break.

FC Twente's goal came after a rare attack by them. Our loan star Nicolai Boilesen gave a good cross from the left and Ziyech headed towards the goal. Cillessen positioning was excellent, but he managed to just parry the ball in front of himself and Ziyech was first onto reabound. Nevertheless, excellent win, especially in away match and good goalscoring form from our attacking players.

16.09.2015 - Ajax - FC Chelsea 3:2 (Champions League Group Stage) - 34. Lasse Schöne, 84. Yaya Sanogo, 88. Amin Younes - 20. and 68. Diego Costa - to be honest, this was the match that I didn't hope to win. Our aim was not to get steamrolled, because I believed we were just not ready for European greats just yet. One change in the line-up: Riechedly Bazoer started as DMC, Nemanja Gudelj moved up to MC position and Davy Klaassen started on the bench.

Chelsea instantly started to put pressure to our defenders. Their long throws looked especially dangerous and Diego Costa looked like he could win headers inside our box against any defender. Arkadiusz Milik was forced off early on after damaging his heel and was replaced by Yaya Sanogo. Soon the attacking pressure was capped with Chelsea's first goal. We couldn't get too many successful attacks, but managed to equalize after spectacular free-kick from 32 yards by Lasse Schöne. His shot beat Courtois in the goal and went in from upright. Excellent stuff! 1-1 at half time and, obviously, Chelsea pressure continued after 2nd half kick-off, but we bravely held on until 68'. Ten minutes later Nick Viergever earned his 2nd yellow card and we were left to 10 men. Things started to look very gloomy.

But inside the last 6 minutes Chelsea got careless. Serero's great ball found Sanogo in acres of space. Cahill's poor positioning played him onside and it was easy for big target man to equalize. Few minutes later, a great counter-attack gave chance to substitute Amin Younes and it was 3-2! We had turned things around against Chelsea with only 10 men! What a day for the lads and home fans in Amsterdam Arena, and an excellent beginning to our European campaign.

+ great substitutions (Sanogo, Younes)

+ excellent determination by team to turn things around

- injuries to Milik (7-9 days, damaged heel) and Viktor Fischer (2 months, dislocated shoulder). Fischer's absence is a major blow...

19.09.2015 - Excelsior - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 7. Mitchell Dijks, 49. Jeff Stans (og) - Chelsea match took its toll in the squad - two players injured, many looked very tired. Riechedly Bazoer and Mitchell Dijks had recently talked to me about their playing time and requested more first team chances. I had to rotate and I did, and it looked fairly safe against Excelsior, who were rightly the last team in the table. The game started well - good combination found Dijks on the run and left-back scored a good goal to get things going, but after that we found ourselves in trouble - Excelsior had possession, more spark in their game and we had some luck a couple of times to keep a clean sheet. Jeff Stan's own goal was a very unfortunate bounce off his back and to be honest, we didn't deserve to be 2-0 up at that point. Kenny Tete started as a right-back and managed to get sent off in 75', so that added to overall poor performance. In the end, a clean sheet and two goal victory, but we had 8 shots (only 1 on target) while Exelsior had 13 (6 on target). I put it down to continental hangover, just 3 days after wonderful match against Chelsea, but we got away with this one.

+ Mitchell Dijks showed that he deserves more first team football

- very poor defensive organization and poor discipline

- we managed to get only 41% possession against a team like Excelsior, that's so bad that it looks unbelievable

24.09.2015 - De Treffers - Ajax 1:3 (Dutch Cup 2nd round) - 73. Bas Hendriks - 21. Yaya Sanogo, 50. Ezra Walian, 54. Lasse Schöne - when I rotated against Excelsior, then it was plainly 2nd team against amateurs De Treffers. Starters included Leeroy Owusu, Abdelhak Nouri and Daley Sinkgraven. Ezra Walian and Markus Bay came on from substitutions. We took okay win, considering the team I sent out. Ezra Walian scored a good goal on his debut. I wasn't too impressed by the goal we conceded, but to be fair, it was an excellent chip from tight angle and a very good shot by Hendriks.

Otherwise, a boring match.

29.09.2015 - Dinamo - Ajax 1:5 (Champions League Group Stage) - 27. Junior Fernandez - 8. Amin Younes, 31., 56. and 61. Arkadiusz Milik, 76. Anwar El Ghazi - our first team players looked well rested for this match and we started with our usual line-up. Without, of course, Nick Viergever who served his suspension (Mitchell Dijks started for the 3rd match in a row). We took a quick lead, but allowed Dinamo to equalize from corner. Arkadiusz Milik then started to show his quality and Dinamo defenders couldn't cope with him. Milik scored his second hat-trick in this month despite missing a penalty in the first half. Unfortunately, he was injured badly right after his 3rd goal and that's a blow to our ambitions, especially with very important PSV match coming on.

2nd half was completely under our control and in the end it was a comfortable win - 2 wins in 2 matches and we found ourselves on top of the group.

+ good goalscoring form, excellent hat-trick by Milik

+ great midfield performance by Davy Klaassen, he should play like that more consistently

- very bad injury to Arkadiusz Milik, he's out for 3-4 months (damaged achilleus tendon)

In conclusion, a great month in terms of results. Especially the match against Chelsea, but confident win over FC Twente in away stadium was also a pleasant surprise. But injuries are starting to affect us - Milik and Fischer are out, Sanogo too (although he only needs around 1 week to recover from his twisted knee). Daley Sinkgraven is back in lineup after smaller knock, but attacking options are starting to get thin - Anwar El Ghazi as a striker and only 17 years old Ezra Walian as a substitute?

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20October%202015.png

Table looks great. PSV have picked up two defeats (against Feyenoord and Heracles, of all teams) and they just suffered 2-6 battering by FC Barcelona. sc Heerenveen are surprisingly at the bottom of the table and SC Cambuur have lost their form after great month in August.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 14 (wow!), Yaya Sanogo 3

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 7 (!), Thulani Serero 4

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Very well done so far, although bad luck with the injuries. I'm definitely gonna follow this.

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Some horrible luck with injuries there. But a great result against Chelsea!

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Great read, I play with Ajax all the time as well and I do have some questions/suggestions.

First I also like to play with the 4123 DM Wide since it gives me that stable defensive approach while still having plenty of attacking options could you show me your setup with TIs? Furthermore playing Bazoer should not be a problem, definitely should try it at least vs the mid and lower tier teams in the domestic league. Loaning out Boilesen is unfortunately not going to result into much since he has 1 year left on his contract and is unwilling to go into contract negotiations.

I'm totally suriprised with how you are doing in Europe since in almost all of my games I couldn't even come close to qualifying for the CL and had an overall hard time against most opponents of CL/higher EL quality but more power to you for getting such convincing results.

Like I said before you should totally play Bazoer (he's actually a wonderkid), but also let Riedewald play a lot in all my 1 season playthroughs this far he turns into a wonderkid as well. Also I would really try to hold on to players like Cerny when they're that young and haven't even played in the first team yet but I respect your rules and think it's very praiseworthy.

Good luck with your save, I'll be following!

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Repsality, first of all - I extended Boilesen contract while he was on loan. Offered him small pay increase (to £7k p/w) and he eagerly accepted. Simple as that.

Secondly, I play Bazoer more and more in DMC simply because I feel that even while Gudelj could fill that role it would be a waste of his talent. And Bazoer is defensively so much better than Gudelj (compare tackling, for example). I try to use Riedewald more - not only because I promised him that, but John Heitinga who usually plays as left-side centre-back, has done OK, but nothing spectacular. His ratings are around 7.2 usually. So Riedewald deserves his chance.

About tactics.

Generally I use pretty standard options. I consider my assman advice before every single match and adjust match preparation and mentality accordingly. There are two key attributes to flip - mentality (in the beginning of the match it's standard or attacking) and playing style (more disciplined or more expressive).

Defensive line - most of the centre-backs (Heitinga, Veltman, Riedewald) play as ball-playing defenders with defend orders. I give full-backs their roles according to their strengths and backroom advice. van Rhijn is FB-aut, Viergever is FB-limited, defend and Dijks is limited wing-back etc.

Mike van der Hoorn is a limited DC and Kenny Tete limited full-back.

DMC - I use regista-support option for Bazoer. Usually I play Lasse Schöne as AMR with AP-support orders, so I got two playmakers: one deep and one forward. van Rhijn overlaps a lot (while Schöne cuts inside and acts like a link between midfield and striker) and Viergever usually stays behind.

MC - If Schöne is in AMR, its CM-support and CM-attack combination in midfield. Klaassen and Serero can act as CM-attack. Klaassen and Gudelj as CM-support. If I have IF or winger in AMR, then one midfielder is CM-support and other is AP-attack or AP-support (Klaassen, Serero, Gudelj, Nouri are all good in AP role).

ST - usually CF-attack (Milik, El Ghazi), but very individual and depending on their strengths. Yaya Sanogo is always TM-support and I've played Milik as DLF-support too. But I've experimented so that I try to give my single striker a lot of freedom and make him comfortable in a role that suits him and then try to support him by giving different orders to midfield players, if necessary. For example, youngster Ezra Walian is almost exclusively good as AF-attack, so I try to build on that.

Wingers - I mentioned Schöne as AMR (AP-support), but usually wingers play as IF-support (Fischer, Younes, El Ghazi). There are few exceptions (Daley Sinkgraven is clearly a winger; I haven't found the best tactical instructions for him).

It might look strange that I change my team approach according to starting line-up every single time, but somehow it works for me and I've managed to get the best out of players so far.

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Interesting with Boilesen, I've never been able to talk to him about a new contract maybe the loan deal loosened him up. Interesting approach and like you said if it works, why change it up. Keep going!

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04.10.2015 - Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 4:1 (ED) - Amin Younes, Anwar El Ghazi, Davy Klaassen - Luuk de Jong - PSV looked a little bit ragged after their match against Barca. Both teams had couple of players injured, but PSV looked way more tired than we and that shows how important it is to rotate players.

We started really well - Bazoer’s clever through ball released van Rhijn into the box and his cross found Younes at the far post. Second goal of the game came through indirect free kick - El Ghazi header went in from the post after good free-kick by Schöne. PSV tried to pick themselves up and their free kick found Luuk de Jong with some space, but Cillessen made himself big and blocked it.

Minutes later it was our time to show again how set pieces should be taken - Schöne’s free kick was flicked on by El Ghazi and Klaassen fired it in. PSV defense looked in tatters - van Rhijn’s cross found El Ghazi completely unmarked in 6 yard box. Jeroen Zoet managed to parry, but Klaassen was first to get to the ball and passed it into the empty net.

The match was over after 30 minutes of football. We eased up after that. PSV tried to make a change at half-time and brought on Luciano Narsingh and indeed he managed to cause some trouble on the right flank. His cross found de Jong in the box and PSV got their consolation goal in the 2nd half, but that alone couldn’t change the match.

+good creativity (3 clear cut chances)

+excellent finishing (9 shots, 7 on target)

+very good attacking set pieces

-high amount of defensive mistakes in the game

17.10.2015 - Heracles Almelo - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 1. Amin Younes, 82. Anwar El Ghazi - Heracles match was just 3 days before important Atletico Madrid home game, so I opted to rest some players and played Kenny Tete, Mitchell Dijks and Jairo Riedewald in defensive line. Bazoer earned a day off too and Thulani Serero took DMC position with roaming playmaker options. Yaya Sanogo returned from his injury and was in starting line-up.

We had an excellent start. A couple of passes, Sanogo found Younges on the run and Heracles’ keeper couldn’t save his shot - 1:0 in just 17 seconds from kick-off and Heracles was behind without getting to touch the ball! But they picked themselves up and game evened out soon enough. Lasse Schöne took a good free kick and hit the post, but after that Heracles seemed to pose more threat. We couldn’t control possession and midfield (in retrospect - probably because Serero move was a wrong choice by me and we lacked defensive midfield), Kenny Tete looked nervous and error-prone and overall it was a drab first half. After the break it got worse - Mitchell Dijks (who had a solid game otherwise) gave away two clean cut chances in a row and just thanks to our luck (and solid goalkeeping by Cillessen) we avoided conceding an equalizer. We had some half-chances on the other end and finally in the end of the match we managed to find the second goal - Schöne’s through ball found El Ghazi and substitute striker kept his composure.

+solid result on the board and a clean sheet

+Younes’ goal is the quickest of the Eredivisie

- gifting 3 clear cut chances to the club like Heracles is unacceptable

- Heracles had 22 shots (we had 18), it’s a small miracle that they couldn’t score from any of them

20.10.2015 - Ajax - Atletico Madrid 0:2 (Champions League Group Stage) - Atletico proved to be too strong for us and they didn’t let us to surprise them, as perhaps Chelsea did. We had a good chance in 6’ - van Rhijn’s cross found Sanogo in six yard box, but target man headed against crossbar. After that, first half was controlled by Atletico and they scored two good goals (Veltman was to blame in 2nd occasion). After half-time break it got better, substitutions also worked and we got more of possession. Klaassen and Sinkgraven had good shots on goal, but couldn’t beat Atletico keeper and that was it.

Not impressive performance, true, but fans’ reaction to this loss was perhaps too critical. I’m not sure what they expect - that we’d cut through this Champions League group without any problems?

Davy Klaassen is in good form and despite the score he was our best performer on the pitch. That starts to attract attention from bigger clubs. I extended his contract in July (to respond some transfer offers), but now Arsenal is lurking around again.

+second half performance

- first half performance

25.10.2015 - Vitesse Arnhem - Ajax 2:1 (ED) - 18. pen. Sheran Yeini, 46. Valeri Qazaishvili - 79. Anwar El Ghazi - the first defeat in the league. Not even sure what went wrong there, probably a couple of tactical tweaks and/or selection policy. To be fair, Vitas have had a great season so far and they were 3rd prior to this match, so no easy opponent.

John Heitinga made a costly foul in the box and Vitesse gained confidence from that. I tried to wake my team up at half time and it seemed to work, but then - bang! - just a few passes after 2nd half kick-off and cross from the left found unmarked Qazaishvili in the box. So team talk went down the drain and our chances to win after that. Yaya Sanogo looked out of place in attack and after I subbed him for El Ghazi, things started to improve a little. Serero's good through ball found him on the run and he scored a good goal, but it was not good enough.

- team confidence suddenly lost

- John Heitinga should be the most experienced player in defensive line, but his form is not good enough. Riedewald picked up a gashed leg in training and is out for a little while

29.10.2015 - Ajax - Volendam 0:0 (Dutch Cup 3rd round) - absolute rubbish. Yes, I rested some players, but we should have won this game hands down. Volendam had 8 players in injury list before the match and even with our 2nd squad (who are not so bad at all!) it should have been easy. But finishing failed us again (4 shots hit the frames of Volendam goal) and good saves by ex-Ajax man Jeroen Verhoeven in Volendam's goal kept us at bay. In the end it went to penalties and we lost 4-3 (mistakes by Sanogo and Serero). Kind of embarrased to let home fans down like that. End of Dutch Cup for us :(

+ young defensive midfielder Carel Eiting made his debut

+ Mitchell Dijks - only standout performance in this pile of misery

- extremely poor finishing

- Yaya Sanogo. I start to wonder why do we pay him £22k p/w for performances so poor....

This month started so great, with a win against PSV, but the end of the month and especially penalty loss in the cup left us in sour mood. Hopefully we can turn things around in November...

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20November%202015.png

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 14, Anwar El Ghazi 5, Davy Klaassen 4, Amin Younes 4

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 8, Thulani Serero 5, Lasse Schöne 4

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01.11.2015 - Ajax - Roda JC Kerkrade 1:0 (ED) - 88. Amin Younes - another rubbish game, but with happy ending. We weren’t convincing enough in attack and couldn’t finish the chances that we got. El Ghazi was a disappointment in attack. In the end, a smart indirect free kick play got us the breakthrough - Bazoer picked the ball, lobbed it behind defensive line and found Younes on the run. Young winger had wasted his first clear cut chance, but scored this one and despite poor performance we got 3 points from the match.

+Riechedly Bazoer - very good performance by young midfielder, topped with an assist

- couldn’t create enough chances

- poor match by El Ghazi

04.11.2015 - Atletico Madrid - Ajax 2:1 (Champions League Group Stage) - 12. Luciano Vietto, 78. Fernando Torres - 81. Anwar El Ghazi - well, we didn’t hope to get much out of this game. We lost to Atletico 0:2 at home and in away match it was our best hopes that we won’t get battered. Few attacking players still injured (Milik, Fischer) and Bazoer exhausted after Roda game, it was just a survival mode. Mitchell Dijks got is chance in left side of defense.

I sent my team out with instructions to get some possession and kill off Atletico attacks, but just after Atletico scored their first goal I realised that I sent them out with all those instructions and attacking mentality. Few tweaks here and there and we got things more-less under control. Sure, Atletico was attacking and we mostly defending, but the scoreline didn’t get worse.

In the 2nd half Yaya Sanogo hit the post - probably the first good chance of the match. But Torres’ header made it 2-0 and despite El Ghazi’s quick answer (superb assist by young substitute Nouri) we lacked the quality to get anything out of this match.

+ disciplined defending

- Atletico had 29 shots, that pretty much describes the match overall

- it was a brutal game - injuries to Daley Sinkgraven (torn groin muscle, out for 6-7 weeks), Yaya Sanogo (damaged foot, 2 weeks) and Thulani Serero (2-3 weeks); not sure who I can send out against Feyenoord

- Davy Klaassen had a poor match (rating 6.1)

08.11.2015 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 4. Davy Klaassen, 74. Lasse Schöne - one of the key fixtures of the season, the rival match between us and Feyenoord. Prior to the game Feyenoord manager Giovanni van Bronckhorst played down the event, whereas I emphasized the importance of the rival match to the fans.

Feyenoord have been in trouble this season - 11th place in the table and lots of injuries in midfield. That’s not what was expected from the team that was predicted to become 3rd by media.

We started very well and players were up to the event - El Ghazi dribbled into the box and his clever pass found Davy Klaassen alone and unmarked - 1:0 when only 4 minutes were played. We controlled the rest of the match, for once having most of possession and creating chances. Despite that, the 2nd goal took a lot of time - Davy Klaassen and Amin Younes wasted their clear cut chances, Anwar El Ghazi were always active up front, but didn’t have enough luck. Kenneth Vermeer was kept busy in Feyenoord goal. Finally, Lasse Schöne’s clever lob found the net in far post and 2:0 with 17 minutes to go made our position more secure.

Stats in the end looked incredible, considering it was away game and Feyenoord defense was taunted to be one of the best in Eredivisie. We had 33 shots, 15 on target and it’s somehow incredible that we couldn’t score more. I’m still working on tactics, these last few tweaks proved to be successful so far. Now it’s time for international break and after that we have Viktor Fischer back from injury break.

Giovanni van Bronckhorst was sacked instantly after the match. Clarence Seedorf is odds-on favourite to take helm at Feyenoord

+ great performance in terms of possession (55%) and shots (33/15)

+ great match by Lasse Schöne and Anwar El Ghazi (who, despite unsuccessful shooting, laid assists to both goals)

- finishing at times could have been better

21.11.2015 - Ajax - SC Cambuur 2:0 (ED) - 16. Anwar El Ghazi, 90.+2 Viktor Fischer - it was difficult to choose squad for this game, because important Chelsea match was just 3 days away. In addition I’ve extended my promises to give more first team starts to Kenny Tete and Mitchell Dijks, so there was that… in the end I sent them out as full backs, but no major changes. Ricardo van Rhijn got a day off, so did Thulani Serero (who still needed few days to recover from his injury). At the same time Viktor Fischer returned to match team squad and sat on the bench, along with young midfielder Carel Eiting.

The match itself was a fairly dull affair. Kenny Tete was eager to prove himself and was visible all game - he gave 5 key passes and it was his cross that found El Ghazi in front of the goal to make the first goal. We played fairly cautiously and getting the second goal perhaps took too much time. Schöne’s fine pass found Klaassen on the run, but his shot went wide. In the end Cambuur started to press harder and left too much space behind defensive line. Klaassen gave a long ball on the run to substitute Fischer, who celebrated his returning from injury with a goal.

+ great match by Kenny Tete

+ Viktor Fischer is back, and back with a goal!

+ good and disciplined defensive performance

+ Carel Eiting made his league debut for Ajax

- fatigue starts to creep in, Riechedly Bazoer is getting jaded because I have no good substitute for him.

24.11.2015 - FC Chelsea - Ajax 3:1 (Champions League Group Stage) - 20. and 24. Diego Costa, 90. Pedro - 35. Amin Younes - our aim was not to get battered, but we struggled from early on. However we tried, we couldn't eliminate Diego Costa danger in the box. He quickly scored twice and things looked hopeless. Excellent counter attack and cross by Yaya Sanogo found Younes in front of goal and it gave us a little hope for the rest of the match. However, 2nd half was pretty much one sided as well and substitute Pedro finished the match with a goal.

That's pretty much the end of our Champions League campaign. We're now 4 points behind Chelsea and Atletico and 4 points ahead of Dinamo Zagreb. No pressure for home game against Dinamo and then we start to prepare for Europa League.

+ still fairly respectable scoreline

- Chelsea had 7 clear cut chances, it's a small miracle we weren't completely trashed

29.11.2015 - PEC Zwolle - Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 7. Sheraldo Becker - 45.+1 Lasse Schöne, 50. Anwar El Ghazi - Zwolle have done well so far and they've in top half of the league. We looked very out of shape in this match and allowed our own Sheraldo Becker scored from the corner. Zwolle looked dangerous in the first 20 minutes, but then we started to get into the game - several dangerous attacks and set pieces in around 30 minutes mark didn't give us breakthrough, but just before half time whistle good combination by Dijks, Younes and Schöne resulted an equalizer. 2nd half looked already a lot better and El Ghazi's goal gave us 3 points to the table. Interestingly no draws so far in the league, just wins and one loss.

+ good comeback after poor start

- poor defending in set piece situations

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20December%202015.png

We're moving away from the rest of the pack along with PSV, but the bottom of the table looks interesting. Neither sc Heerenveen or FC Groningen look like they should be in relegation battle, Feyenoord too have had a miserable season. De Graafschap look destined to Jupiler League next season.

Jose Mourinho publicly declared his interest in Klaassen, so could be that we'll see some actions about that move in January.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 14, Anwar El Ghazi 8, Amin Younes 6

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 8, Davy Klaassen 5, Anwar El Ghazi 5, Thulani Serero 5

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That's some great stuff, even the loss in the CL were pretty good seeing how you got a goal in. GJ qualifying for the Europa League.

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Actually, CL has been a fair marker so far where do we lie as a team. We had no chance against Atletico, truly. And home win against 3-2 should be count as a miracle. In comparision to bigger clubs we lack quality, depth and experience. Getting to group stages is enough to satisfy the board and fans. Everything else is a bonus.

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02.12.2015 - Ajax - FC Groningen 1:0 (ED) - 55. Amin Younes - difficult schedule, two games in a week and lads start to get tired. Partly because of that, and partly because of my promises to certain players, I rotated some players for this match. Kenny Tete started in defense, Nemanja Gudelj moved to DMC (because Bazoer looked too tired to play) and Serero took his place in central midfield. With Fischer-Sanogo-Schöne up front that was our line-up.

We controlled the game well enough. Nick Viergever looked impressive in defense (always tackling well) and injuries disrupted FC Groningen’s game plan. We had possession, but we couldn’t convert it into chances. Yaya Sanogo’s movement was disappointing - 5 offsides from him. His shooting wasn’t better either (only 1 shot on target from 7 attempts).

In 2nd half we improved a little and that was enough for a win. Good short passing combination from midfield ended with a shot by Klaassen. It was parried, but substitute Amin Younes was there to tuck it away. Soon later Kenny Tete cross from right found Sanogo in front of the goal, but frenchman’s header hit the bar.

That was it - a little bit disappointing attacking-wise, but win is a win.

+ good disciplined defending

+ Davy Klaassen - man of the match performance from him

- poor creativity, not enough chances

- Yaya Sanogo - poor movement, poor shooting

- Viktor Fischer - disappointing game from him and his still trying to find his form; our game improved right away after Younes came on for him

05.12.2015 - Ajax - sc Heerenveen 3:0 (ED) - 55. Davy Klaassen, 90. pen. John Heitinga, 90.+2 Anwar El Ghazi - another match of two different halves. We did okay in the first 45 minutes defensively and Heerenveen didn’t pose much threat to us, but we looked equally poor in attack. After some harsh words in dressing room, second half looked much better. Thulani Serero wasted our first chance - his shot hit the post - but then Schöne found Klaassen with his through ball and it was 1:0. We had some troubles scoring our 2nd goal - El Ghazi missed his clear cut chance, then substitute Yaya Sanogo great chance went straight to Heerenveen goalkeeper. In the last minute, Klaassen was tripped in the box and Heitinga scored his first goal of the season from penalty spot. Minutes later, after good counter Klaassen laid a great pass to El Ghazi and this time young striker made no mistake.

+ good solid win and performance

+ 4 clear cut chances indicate that our attacking movement was pretty good

+ another great match by Davy Klaassen - a goal and two assists by him

- finishing could be better, substitute Yaya Sanogo came on and gave some key passes, but wasted his clear cut chance, Fischer, Younes and Serero could have been in score sheet as well, but showed some nerves in key moments

PSV settled with draw against Vitesse, so we extended our lead in Eredivisie table to 8 points.

News of the week come from staff room - our B team assistant manager Jaap Stam was offered managerial post of struggling De Graafschap. He accepted and I wasn’t holding him back. I quickly signed promising defending coach Karl Hooper from England to replace him.

09.12.2015 - Ajax - Dinamo Zagreb 0:1 (Champions League Group Stage) - 20. Joel - it was a game that didn’t decide anything, so I chose to field a weakened team. Tete, Dijks, van der Hoorn, Nouri, Sanogo all got their chance, but it was a poor and lacklustre performance overall. We couldn’t win possession, although we had more shots in the end, but we looked clumsy in defensive set piece situations. Serero lost a header in front of the goal and Joel scored from corner. Another chance from indirect free kick was well parried by Cillessen. But creativity was not present and finishing was equally poor. After I brought on Klaassen, our attack lived up a little, but it wasn’t enough.

Poor performance overall, nobody in particular to blame. In real life I would have used this game as an example form all the players who complain about lack of first team chances, order them back to training ground and shut the hell up.

+ not much positives to take from this game, but Joel Veltman is back in training and fit for the next game against FC Utrecht

- Yaya Sanogo hasn’t scored for 661 minutes. Should probably give more chances to Ezra Walian then…

In other news - FC Groningen hired Remy Garde as manager, Joel Veltman is being scouted by Everton and next year’s Euro 2016 groups were drawn.

13.12.2015 - FC Utrecht - Ajax 2:2 (ED) - 4. Willem Janssen, 50. Yassin Ayoub - 13. Davy Klaassen, 77. John Heitinga - the first draw of the league campaign. We should have won this game and we were pretty much with our strongest squad (except Milik, who’s still out and Veltman, who started on the bench), but defending were poor and finishing could have been better as well.

Clumsy first 5 minutes resulted with Utrecht goal, then Younes wasted his chance, but Klaassen equalized a couple of minutes later - good corner found him unmarked in the box. Our defense looked too nervous, especially Riedewald and Viergever. In second half we conceded another clumsy goal after corner and then tried perhaps too much to get back into game and it just didn’t work out.

Free kick situation ended with John Heitinga 1-1 against FC Utrecht goalkeeper, but central defender smashed it right against Ruiter. Few minutes later, though, his near post header gave us the 2nd goal (again, from corner).

+ good set pieces - two goals by corners

- we didn’t play especially poor defensively and didn’t allow any clear cut chances, but still conceded twice. unlucky?

Other news - Euro Cup first knockout round draw was made and we’re against Celtic, and Clarence Seedorf indeed was confirmed as new manager of Feyenoord.

Winter is reaching Amsterdam and it hits us, injury-wise. Diederik Boer is off for a couple of days with cold. Ricard van Rhijn was hit more seriously and he’s out for 8-10 days because of a virus and he’ll miss the next match. In addition, Nick Viergever sprained his ankle in training and also misses the final match of this month.

At the same time, Joel Veltman is ready to start in the next match against De Graafschap and Daley Sinkgraven is also back in training.

20.12.205 - Ajax - De Graafschap 1:0 (ED) - 30. Yaya Sanogo - De Graafschap were predicted 18th before the season by media and they truly have justified this prediction. Besides lacking quality in squad, they've also had horrendously bad luck with injuries - 8 first team players are out prior to this match. Still, despite that and the fact that it was a home game for us, we settled with poor 1-0 victory. Good game defensively, but zero clear cut chances up front. Not the most exciting football. Win is a win, but should have scored more against team like De Graafschap.

+ Yaya Sanogo finally ended his goal drought

- lack of chances and goals

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20January%202016.png

A few poor results this month, but in long term they don't look important, so I can be quite pleased with things so far. PSV have also dropped points (draws against Vitesse and PEC Zwolle) and we have healthy 8 points lead in the table.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 14, Anwar El Ghazi 9, Amin Younes 7

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 8, Lasse Schöne 7, Thulani Serero 5, Anwar El Ghazi 5

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The first news of January transfer window is that Davy Klaassen has moved on. Chelsea made a solid offer and I sold him for £9,5m + clauses (potentially up to £12m + 20% future profit.

It’s a big loss and difficult to overcome, but let’s see how our youngsters step up (or not). Few concerning notes from fans and Arkadiusz Milik, but I assured everybody that things are under control and they should trust decisions that club makes.

Mike van der Hoorn went on loan to his old club FC Utrecht until the end of the season. It wasn’t so much because he was surplus, but because he complained about playing time a couple of months ago and I promised to send him on loan in January. So, on promise fulfilled and one central midfielder left. I should be OK with Veltman, Riedewald and Heitinga.

I triggered Heitinga’s contract extension clause. Extended some staff contracts and that was it.

We played one friendly in January - against FC Bayern. Not very attractive, but disciplined work and good defending secured us 0-0 result, which could be considered a small victory.

So, back to Eredivisie.

17.01.2016 - ADO Den Haag - Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 49. Roland Alberg - 38. and 76. Viktor Fischer, 69. Nemanja Gudelj - first good news prior to this match - Arkadiusz Milik is back in training! Not yet in first eleven, but back in match day squad and that’s enormous boost.

The game itself started with total mayhem - we gifted ADO their first clear cut chance just after kick-off, then they hit post twice. Tom Beugelsdijk made a bad tackle against Gudelj and saw straight red for that in 16’. That gave us a little breathing room and hope to turn things around, but in 30’ Schöne’s poor backpass was picked up by ADO striker in our box. Fortunately, this shot again was poor and Cillessen saved without much effort.

We slowly got game under our control. Schöne’s cross found unmarked Fischer and it was 1-0 for half-time. ADO equalized quickly in 2nd half - Alberg didn’t have a real chance, but his shot was excellent and it landed in far corner of the net. But slowly our advantage in numbers wore ADO down. Gudelj scored after corner to give us 2-1 lead. Then his nice little pass found Fischer and Dane shot it hard - 3:1. Looks like a solid result, but I keep thinking we were lucky to get this red card to help us on our way.

+Fischer and Gudelj made the game for us, great performance by them

- terrible first 30 minutes defensively, we could have been 3-0 down so easily early in the match

- Arkadiusz Milik came on from substitute, but suffered another injury (this time just facial injury) and have to stay off from next match against Vitesse

- Nick Viergever picked up his 5th yellow card of the season and he’ll be suspended for the next match

23.01.2016 - Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 3:0 (ED) - 8. Viktor Fischer, 63. Joel Veltman, 90.+1 Mitchell Dijks - nice revenge after that first round loss against Vitesse few months back. Vitesse never really look too dangerous. First goal of the match came after good dribble and cross by van Rhijn - ball found Fischer in far post and it was easy tap in from there. In 2nd half, both Veltman and Dijks scored from corners - paying extra attention to attacking set pieces in pre-match training paid a lot of dividends there. But man of the match was Riechedly Bazoer, who had a great game, topped with assist. Solid performance all around, Viergever and Milik even weren’t missed too much.

Substitute Yaya Sanogo had a couple of good chances in 2nd half, but didn’t have enough luck.

+great defensive work

+good goals from corners

26.01.2016 - Ajax - Heracles Almelo 2:1 (ED) - 37. Yaya Sanogo, 90.+3 Viktor Fischer - 19. Joey Pelupessy - what a match! 2:1 scoreline does no justice to this game. We had to rotate a lot because there were some tired legs after Vitesse game. Perhaps partly because of that, but also because individual errors we started very poorly and gifted Heracles no less than 4 clear cut chances in the first half. Fortunately, they managed to score only once - John Heitinga completely missed the run of Pelupessy into the box and Cillessen couldn’t save this one.

Looks awful, but there were fireworks in the other end too - we had 3 ccc-s in the first half and 5 in the full match, but somehow managed to miss them all (2 by Tete, 2 by Younes). Unbelievably poor finishing.

Equalizer came after Gudelj squeezed into the box and found Sanogo. Tall striker who has had some troubles with scoring this season found the net this time.

In 2nd half we got things more under our control and Heracles concentrated more to defending. I subbed in Fischer, Milik and El Ghazi and movement up front improved after that. It took us a lot of time though, but in injury time we set up a good counter - El Ghazi found Fischer with long ball, but the shot was saved by Heracles goalkeeper Castro. Fischer was first to get to the ball and managed to squeeze it into the upper near corner from very tight angle - excellent finishing and great way to win the match.

Heracles were probably devastated and justly felt that they deserved this point from the match. It could have so easily gone both ways, but finishing let down both teams. Great match for the fans, definitely.

+good amount of clear cut chances

+excellent goal by Fischer to win the match in injury time

+man of the match performance by Nemanja Gudelj

- horrible defense, almost criminal how poorly we defended at home against the team like Heracles

- very poor finishing of clear cut chances

With transfer window shutting down, there are some interest from other clubs. I had to turn down several loan bids for Amin Younes - he has a role to play in the squad and loan move wouldn’t give him any chances that he won’t get in Ajax.

ManU offered up to £1m for de Ligt and Arsenal £525k for Che Nunnely, but I dismissed those offers easily.

Then SLB came around and first offered £725k + clauses for Leeroy Owusu. This got me thinking for a while. He’s a good prospect, but at the moment just 3rd best right-back. But he looks like a better prospect than Tete (especially offensively) and it’s a 50/50 decision. I’ll take my time with this one until the end of the month.

SLB also made £3,8m offered for Veltman. I rejected without thinking, but his agent obviously smelled his chance and demanded a new contract. I rejected his demand, because I had promised to offer him a new contract in the end of the season. I couldn’t foresee that it counted as a broken promise and I almost lost the dressing room after that. I smoothed things over in team meeting and after that were a hostage of Veltman’s agent in contract negotiations. Finally I accepted his demands for £24k p/week.

Still that fuss around Veltman damaged team morale, probably until his contract is signed and I’m afraid it will leave the mark to next game against Roda JC.

31.01.2016 - Roda JC Kerkrade - Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 5. and 63. Viktor Fischer, 27. Nemanja Gudelj - when I checked stats screen after the match, I was pretty surprised. It was like looking two different matches. While stats were completely equal (13 shots from both teams) we did beat Roda JC fairly comfortably. They had two clear cut chances, but these happened in the end of the match and didn’t change anything (and, both were saved by Cillessen).

Viktor Fischer was superb up front and Gudelj’ goal was a great combination between him and Riechedly Bazoer. These three players carried us through the match.

+ good finishing

- allowing two ccc-s to Roda JC

End of the month was fairly busy. A lot of offers for my players, but I dismissed cheap offers without much thinking.

16 year old Che Nunnely was attracting interest from Chelsea, Arsenal and ManU and despite my best efforts was snapped away by Chelsea for £625k + clauses before turning 17 years old. That’s a serious bummer, such a talent lost :(

I offered van Rhijn and Leeroy Owusu contract extensions after rejecting transfer bids for them. Darren Sidoel was loaned by Achilles ‘29 and he should get a lot of playing time there in Jupiler League.

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20February%202016.png

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 14, Viktor Fischer 9, Anwar El Ghazi 9, Amin Younes 7

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 10, Lasse SChöne 8

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07.02.2016 - Ajax - Feyenoord Rotterdam 2:1 (ED) - 8. Arkadiusz Milik, 63. Viktor Fischer - 69. Simon Gustafson - a fairly even match, although it looked from the dugout that we controlled most of the game. Arkadiusz Milik scored his first goal in this year, after his long injury break, and gave a good assist to Fischer’s goal. Man of the match was still Nemanja Gudelj for his excellent midfield performance.

Feyenoord scored in 2nd half in a bit of explicable situation - ball bounced between the bunch of players, Riedewald missed his interception, seemed like everybody froze for a minute and Feyenoord striker was the first one to react.

Not the most impressive performance, but good win against rivals.

+Arkadiusz Milik found his way back to score sheet

- Jairo Riedewalds defensive mistake

Bad news came after our match from Tilburg. Lucas Andersen picked up a serious injury in a match against FC Groningen. Torn cruciate ligaments keep him out for at least 10 months. Could be a serious blow to his career.

14.02.2016 - FC Groningen - Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 69. Arkadiusz Milik - a drab match away against FC Groningen. We were solid defensively and got most of possession, but couldn’t create enough chances. Milik’s goal put us in front, but already in the next attack a deep cross found Groningen’s striker in front of the goal and our defenders missed his run completely. Quick equalizer, just as it happens so often in football - concentration drops after scoring and there it is.

In the end, we didn’t look good enough to deserve win from this game and have to concentrate to Europa League match against Celtic.

+Arkadiusz Milik’s ability to found the net

-Viktor Fischer was completely nullified on his wing by Tom Hiarej, who deserved man of the match award

18.02.2016 - Celtic Glasgow - Ajax 3:1 (Europa League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 12. and 90. Leigh Griffiths, 83. Stuart Armstrong - 57. Arkadiusz Milik - it was difficult to choose tactics against Celtic. They’re similar team to us (reputation-wise), commons sense dictates that we should be more defensive-minded in the first match in Scotland (and that common sense was backed up by my ass-man). On the other hand, though, away goal is a huge advantage in these ties, and you can’t get away goal by sitting in defense.

Match was open by both sides, but our defense looked especially messy. After conceding in the first half and equalizing after the break, it looked like even match. Perhaps we got too greedy going for the 2nd goal, but we got punished twice in the last 10 minutes and conceding a last minute goal was especially harsh.

We got 3 clear cut chances through the match, but gave away 5 to Celtic, and only good goalkeeping by Cillessen kept us in the match at times. Our own finishing wasn’t good enough on the other end (Serero and Fischer missed their chances). 1:3 is not the most encouraging score, but let’s see how it goes in Amsterdam Arena.

+ Arkadiusz Milik - this time he came on from substitution, but still managed to score

+ Thulani Serero - despite missing his own chance, he gave good assist to Milik goal and was our best midfielder

+ goalkeeping performance by Cillessen

- Kenny Tete - I promised to give him more playing time in November and he’s got his chances now, but he’s been very inconsistent - sometimes being great, but today was one of his poor days. Got nothing going on the right flank

- Anwar El Ghazi - struggling to find the net and constantly finding himself offside

21.02.2016 - Ajax - Excelsior 3:0 (ED) - 2. and 43. Arkadiusz Milik, 55. Abdelhak Nouri - between two Celtic games, an easier match against relegation-battling Excelsior. I opted to rest Bazoer and Schöne. El Ghazi started on the right and young Abdelhak Nouri got his chances as advanced playmaker.

Milik delivered two blows in the first half, it’s a great value to have a striker who cans get two half-chances and score from both. But second half was Abdelhak Nouri show. He gave several key assists, two clever corners (unfortunately, El Ghazi couldn’t score from his great chance after one) and finally scored his first league goal for Ajax after Serero found him with a great through ball. Deserved man of the match performance.

I tried different tactics in 2nd half, tried to control the game and keep more possession. I controlled the game but couldn’t get enough possession, so there’s still a learning curve :)

+ Arkadiusz Milik amazing finishing ability

+ Abdelhak Nouri scoring his first goal for Ajax

- Viktor Fischer picked up a small knock and will miss Celtic game

- Amin Younes came in for Fischer and was unimpressive

25.02.2016 - Ajax - Celtic Glasgow 1:0 (Europa League 1st knockout round 1st leg) - 17. Amin Younes - disappointing win… things started to look hopeful when Celtic’s Scott Brown earned himself a red card in just 13th minute. He elbowed Younes and referee didn’t miss it. Younes himself scored a few minutes later and it looked like we could overturn first leg 1:3 defeat, but Arkadiusz Milik picked up a knock (facial injury) and I had to take him out. After that, Celtic parked the bus for the last 60 minutes, and successfully. There was no room inside their box and we couldn’t find the way to score. Nick Viergever hit the post twice from set piece situations, so you can tell we were a little unlucky, but in truth we lacked quality up front. El Ghazi didn’t impress as a striker, we missed Milik and Fischer and I stupidly had left Sanogo out of the match day squad, so I had no options from bench either.

Good win and a good game, but poor end to our campaign.

+ Amin Younes scored after a long while

- inability to create chances and find the net against very well defending team

28.02.2016 - Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 0:2 (ED) - 52. Alireza Jahanbakhsh, 88. Jose Carlos - after a string of tough matches against Celtic, it was a drop of form against AZ. We missed Fischer, I put Milik on the bench because he looked tired, but Anwar El Ghazi again couldn't carry the attack and wasted our best chance in the first half. First 45 minutes looked pretty good as a whole, but missed interception by Veltman just in front of the goal gave AZ their best chance of the game and Jahanbakhsh scored an easy goal. The rest of the match was our futile struggle to find chances and in the end Jose Carlos scored a good goal - long shot from 20 meters out, upper corner and Cillessen couldn't be blamed about that one. There are goals like that you just can't avoid and I'm glad we conceded this one in a moment where it didn't decide anything.

Disappointing defeat in front of home fans, perhaps our performance didn't deserve leaving with 0:2 scoreline, but we didn't do enough to win either.

+ Riechedly Bazoer had a good solid match

- Anwar El Ghazi's poor form

- substitute Milik picked up another knock (groin strain) and is out for another 2 weeks, he looks like an injury magnet at the moment

- Nemanja Gudelj earned his 5th yellow card and will be suspended for the next match

Kenny Tete was upset that I couldn't find him more playing time, despite making a promise, and requested transfer. Request was granted to avoid more damage to team morale, but the truth is that Tete got his chances and looked inconsistent and van Rhijn is just better right-back. So Leicester promptly swooped in and got their £1,5m bid accepted. Shame to let him leave, but we have youngsters coming up in this position as well. There's a learning curve for me too, about this game's man management side, so let's not make the same mistakes again.

In summary, February was an average month. Some good results, being just beaten by Celtic in Europa League and finally this disappointing defeat to AZ. But international break will come in March and I hope to turn things around. Team morale is a challenge, so are injuries and suspensions, so still a difficult challenge despite good standings in the league table.

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20March%202016.png

10 points gap between us and PSV, should add some confidence. Luuk de Jong has been unstoppable for them in Eredivisie - 27 goals in 26 games. De Graafschap is out. sc Heerenveen still struggling and SC Cambuur still flying high.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 19, Viktor Fischer 10

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 11, Lasse Schöne 8, Thulani Serero 7

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06.03.2016 - Willem II Tilburg - Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 18. Bruno Andrade - 39. Lasse Schöne - not sure if we’ve hit the slump or it’s just a few key players missing, but results haven’t come our way lately. This time absence of Gudelj and Milik hit us hard - we conceded a goal pretty much out of nowhere and then struggled to hit our chances. Good counter attack and cross by Fischer created a chance for equalizer and Schöne made it 1:1 for half time, but after that it was struggle again. Sanogo and Serero showed some poor finishing skills and we just lacked decisiveness.

We should have won this game and it’s disappointing to admit that we were better team on the pitch, but were unable to convert it into 3 points.

I took some time and slammed the team in dressing room after that game and it resulted in some positive reactions. Let’s see if it improves things next time

+ man of the match performance by Viktor Fischer

- attacking options are getting thin - both Sanogo and El Ghazi are unconvincing

- very poor game by Joel Veltman defensively

13.03.2016 - Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 2:1 (ED) - 38. and 88. pen. Nemanja Gudelj - 20. Mihai Roman - almost a repeat of the last game, except that Gudelj was back in team after serving his suspension and he was the man to bring us this key win. We startet poorly - van Rhijn allowed NEC winger to pass him on the right and cross was headed in by Roman from 6 yard box. Both Dijks and Riedewald were merely ballwatching in this situation. After that, we attacked and NEC defended, but despite creating 5 clear cut chances during the game, we struggled again with finishing.

Schöne’s through ball found Sanogo in the box, but Frechman (like usually) smashed it right against NEC goalkeeper. Luckily Gudelj was there to rebound and equalize.

In 2nd half we were already getting desperate, but it looked pretty futile until we got counter going, some good passing and then Bazoer was tripped in NEC penalty box. Gudelj stepped up and scored his 2nd goal of the game to bring us 3 points.

+ Nemanja Gudelj performance - his 4th PoM award of the league season

+ Yaya Sanogo - despite missing his good chance, he spreaded good passes, got assist to his name and looked a lot better than his average

- clumsy defending and gifting NEC a goal pretty much out of nowhere

- poor finishing

19.03.2016 - PSV Eindhoven - Ajax 2:1 (ED) - 4. and 6. Maxime Lestienne - 70. Arkadiusz Milik - defeat in a key match. Scoreline itself looks respectable, but performance was poor throughout. We conceded two quick goals and PSV got the game under control very early. Viergever struggled with quick Luciano Narsingh and his crosses found Lestienne at the far post. Two carbon copy goals in the first 10 minutes. Defense looked very poor and we gave PSV 5 clear cut chances.

In 2nd half we managed to score and that goal inspired the team. For a period we got things under our control and even hoped for equalizer. Viergever was tripped inside PSV area but referee didn’t award the penalty that should have been awarded. So nothing really going our way in this match.

With this loss we’ve allowed PSV to narrow gap in the table to 5 points. It’s crucial to bounce back and start winning to hold our lead.

+ few players stood out, van Rhijn and Bazoer put in a good performance

- defense as a whole was extremely poor, conceding two early goals and giving away 5 clear cut chances

- Viktor Fischer was completely nullified on his left wing

- we made 20 fouls during this match. PSV made 0. Yes, zero fouls. No whistles at all, included one clear penalty. Awful refereeing job and all decisions went to PSV

Only three matches in March, and not much to be happy about. I can live with PSV defeat, they are tough opponent at their own stadium, but our performances have been poor and it worries me.

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20April%202016.png

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 20, Viktor Fischer 10, Anwar El Ghazi 9, Amin Younes 8

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 12, Lasse Schöne 8, Thulani Serero 7

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03.04.2016 - Ajax - PEC Zwolle 1:0 (ED) - 29. Viktor Fischer - I suck at team meetings. At least these events haven’t worked out for me in the past, but after poor March I felt we needed to turn things around and I gathered the lads together. My message was - not to let heads drop, keep going and that I have faith in the team. This time, effect was what I was hoping for, everybody agreed and morale lifted considerably.

Perhaps because of that meeting, or perhaps not, but this game we looked better, much better. We were better team on the pitch and deserved to win, although couple of more goals would have been nice. Defensive discipline was good and it resulted in the first clean sheet in a while.

Goal came after van Rhijn’s cross found Milik in the box. He drew two defenders to close him down and cleverly left the ball to unmarked Viktor Fischer who had a simple finish.

In 2nd half Nemanja Gudelj had a great chance, but his shot was saved by Zwolle goalkeeper Mickey van der Hart. We had plenty of corners (17) and won a lot of headers inside Zwolle box, but most of them went well wide or over the bar.

Mitchell Dijks earned the player of the match awards, but in truth nobody shone particularly, just a great team effort and everybody put in solid 7+ performance.

+ clean sheet, good defending and disciplined game

- finishing needs improving - 20 shots, but only 7 on target

- Anwar El Ghazi was sidelined because he twisted his knee in training. He won’t be fit for the next match either

09.04.2016 - SC Cambuur - Ajax 0:1 (ED) - 57. pen. Arkadiusz Milik - we were better team and SC Cambuur were under pressure several times, but they defended well and it wasn’t easy to get breakthrough. Finally, after Gudelj was taken down inside the box, Milik scored from the penalty spot. Not the most impressive performance, but I’ll take away win any time. SC Cambuur have overachieved massively despite that loss and they are in contest to top 5 places. Their best chances in this game came from set pieces and corners, but our defending remained strong and dangerous situations were cleared confidently.

+ Arkadiusz Milik scored his 25th league goal for Ajax

+ Riechedly Bazoer put in a man of the match performance

+ good defensive work and clean sheet

- not enough chances

Meanwhile, Ajax U19 won U19 Cup, after defeating ADO Den Haag U19 in the final 3:2!

17.04.2016 - Ajax - FC Utrecht 2:1 (ED) - 27. Viktor Fischer, 40. Joel Veltman - 36. Sebastian Haller - FC Utrecht came with their tricky 3-5-2 tactics and for the first 20 minutes they were more attacking team. But good combination and cross by van Rhijn found Fischer unmarked in front of the goal and it was 1:0. FC Utrecht equalized after van Maarel sent a deep cross from right, it got a strange deflection, nobody really got to it until it bounced to Haller who scored from point blank range.

But before half time Veltman scored from corner and that sent us to break with 2-1 lead. I made tactical changes for 2nd half and those worked to our advantage. We looked better defensively, and secured the win. Viktor Fischer looked very motivated and got himself some half chances, plus one of his long shots hit the post and bounced away, but no more goals. Arkadiusz Milik had a great chance just before the end, but he missed that one.

+ Ricardo van Rhijn’s man of the match performance

+ Viktor Fischer scored his 10th league goal and looked very lively on the left wing

- Arkadiusz Milik’s game was a disappointment - not getting anything going and wasting a chance in the end

20.04.2016 - sc Heerenveen - Ajax 1:0 (ED) - 49. Sam Larsson - relegation battling sc Heerenveen might have looked like an easy prey, but they just got a 3-2 win against Excelsior and are improving their form. Both teams looked a bit tired (sc Heerenveen more so than we). I had to rest Bazoer and started Abdelhak Nouri instead in midfield. Nick Viergever replaced Dijks as a left-back.

About the game - we were stunned by Heerenveen and in truth it was a bit undeserved loss, but that happens when you’re not at your best in away matches. We had better chances, but again wasted them (both Milik and Fischer). Gudelj’ shot hit the post in first half. Defensively we allowed Heerenveen to get too many corners and from one of those we conceded. Larsson was completely unmarked in 6 yard box, Serero (who should have marked him) walked around aimlessly and that gave Larsson 5 seconds to set the ball and fire it into the net. Appalling defense in this situation.

We couldn’t turn things around after that - too much nervousness and players probably started to feel the pressure too. So 3 points dropped and we’re only 2 points ahead of PSV with 2 games to go. That gets a bit nervous.

+ Arkadiusz Milik had a player of the match performance - good passes and buildup play up front

- Defensive performance overall. Cheap goal conceded from corner, Joel Veltman and Nick Viergever didn’t impress at all

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20May%202016.png

PSV have been in terrific form, they've won 9 games in a row, including Dutch Cup final (1-0 against AZ Alkmaar) and have the momentum. We, at the same time, have to battle against FC Twente and De Graafschap to hang onto title. Two great battles going on - firstly for the 3rd place - Feyenoord have given lost momentum and ADO have stepped up, SC Cambuur also in the mix. Secondly for relegation playoff places - despite their win, sc Heerenveen are still 17th and FC Groningen also looking to get some points and go above Excelsior.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 21, Viktor Fischer 12, Anwar El Ghazi 9

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 13, Lasse Schöne 8, Nemanja Gudelj 7, Thulani Serero 7

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01.05.2016 - Ajax - FC Twente Enschede 2:0 (ED) - 42. Thulani Serero, 77. Jairo Riedewald - crucial games, these last ones, and FC Twente is a tough opponent to face in these circumstances. But we looked well-motivated and took control of the match quickly. Still, Twente defended very well and most of our first half attempts were blocked by their defenders. Best chance of the game was to Viktor Fischer. Riedewald headed the corner onto his run, but Fischer’s shot was well saved by Twente goalkeeper. Minutes later he had another opportunity, but missed it by few inches.

Breakthrough came in the end of first half - Milik on the wing found Serero outside the box and South African midfielder sent a curling shot past the keeper from 24 meters out. Great goal and FC Twente looked stunned.

Jairo Riedewald added another goal, from corner, in the 2nd half and it meant confident win for us. Necessary win as well, because PSV took 3 points against SC Cambuur.

+ Thulani Serero and Jairo Riedewald scored both their first goals of the season. In May. And what a crucial moments to score those goals!

+ absolute screamer from Serero is probably the best goal so far this season

+ very good defensive effort, we didn’t allow FC Twente any chances

- Viktor Fischer wasted his shots and didn’t play according to his standards

08.05.2016 - De Graafschap - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 18. Thulani Serero, 63. Nemanja Gudelj - crucial last game. We had to win. In case of PSV win against PEC Zwolle, draw would not have been good enough. So attacking tactics away from home and all hopes on the fact that relegated De Graafschap had nothing much to play for.

Both teams started a bit nervously, perhaps De Graafschap even more than we did. And both goalkeepers quickly had to make a couple of good saves. But slowly we got upper hand in midfield and started to create something up front. Schöne’s ball found Milik in the box, his shot was blocked, but rebound fell to Serero and he had a great chance that he couldn’t miss. 1-0 and second goal for Serero in consecutive matches. In 2nd half Gudelj’ header hit the post once, some time later same combination (van Rhijn cross from the right) found him again and this time he headed home and secured us a win. De Graafschap had a great chance on the counter in the end of the match, but Cillessen saved us once again.

2-0, not the best performance, but solid win nonetheless and we were champions of Eredivisie! PSV broke under pressure after their half time ended 0-0 and finally lost 3-0 against PEC Zwolle.

+ good determination and focused team effort

+ player of the match performance by Ricardo van Rhijn

+ clean sheet and good keeping by Jasper Cillessen

Eredivisie

Eredivisie%20June%202016.png

In a fierce battle for 3rd place, AZ Alkmaar was the club to grab medals. In the other end of the table, Roda JC was relegated after play-offs, but sc Heerenveen hang onto their top division place after penalty win over Go Ahead Eagles in the decisive match.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 21, Viktor Fischer 12, Anwar El Ghazi 9

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 14, Nemanja Gudelj 8, Lasse Schöne 8

Ajax fans player of the year: Ricardo van Rhijn

Best goal of the season: Thulani Serero (vs. FC Twente 01/05/2016). My own honorable mention: Lasse Schöne (vs. Chelsea 16/09/2015)

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It's great to be champions, but in the end it became pretty nervous. PSV had a great run in the second half of the season and we struggled with form, injuries and at times didn't look decisive enough. Partly because what's going around with FM as a whole (update from FM 16.1 to FM 16.2 unsettled the manager, forced to doubt tactics, experiment unnecessary and team lost the rhythm), partly because Davy Klaassen's departure in January left a bigger mark than we expected at first. We could have used his creativity and movement in the middle of the park and and we were one option short in some matches because of that. Also, Arkadiusz Milik injury disrupted his great season and while 21 goals in a season isn't extraordinary, he played only 27 games to score those goals.

We had a great number of youth players who broke into the first team. Jairo Riedewald took over from John Heitinga and made surely into defensive lineup (and, also, into Holland Euro 2016 squad). So did Riechedly Bazoer (who also picked up his first cap in Spring and went to Euro 2016 tournament). Mitchell Dijks proved that he could be better left back than Nick Viergever and Abdelhak Nouri showed some promise in midfield.

Biggest underachiever was probably Anwar El Ghazi - I tried him in attack, I tried him on the right wing, but he never really proved himself and usually started from bench in the end of the season. He needs to do better in next campaign.

Eredivisie Golden Boot

1. Luuk de Jong (PSV Eindhoven)

2. Santiago Arias (PSV Eindhoven)

3. Ruben Ligeon (Willem II Tilburg)

Goalkeeper of the Year

1. Jasper Cillessen (Ajax)

2. Martin Hansen (ADO Den Haag)

3. Jeroen Zoet (PSV Eindhoven)

Top Goalscorer

1. Luuk de Jong (PSV Eindhoven) - 37 (!)

2. Bart Ogbeche (SC Cambuur) - 17

3. Dirk Kuyt (Feyenoord Rotterdam) - 16

Young Player of the Year

1. Viktor Fischer (Ajax)

2. Riechedly Bazoer (Ajax)

3. Lewis Baker (Vitesse Arnhem)

Manager's Manager of the Year

1. Me :)

2. Henk Fräser (ADO Den Haag)

3. Philip Cocu (PSV Eindhoven)

Dutch Cup Final

AZ Alkmaar - PSV Eindhoven 0:1

Champions League Final

FC Bayern - Manchester City 1:3 (after extra time)

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Few world football news arrived that might be interesting. Louis van Gaal resigned as ManU manager and retired from football (ManU finished 5th in EPL and missed Champions League places by only goal difference). So did Arsene Wenger from Arsenal. Two great managers out of the game. Interesting to see how those clubs will do next season.

Euro 2016 tournament was full of surprises. Holland dropped out in quarter finals, after 2-3 loss against Ukraine (conceding decisive goal in 90th minute definitely did hurt). Portugal and Cristiano Ronaldo went all the way to win this title, after beating overachieving Russia in the Final.

In Ajax some of staff members announced their retirement. One physio, but more importantly my assistant manager Hennie Spijkerman and Danish scout John Steen Olsen who I had to replace. Scouting is not something really important to me, as I don't plan to sign any new players, but keeping an eye on my loan players takes some work too and I'd like to have general knowledge about what's going on in world football, so I continue scouting even if I'm not too active in transfer market.

Talking about transfers. Riechedly Bazoer is gone to Real Madrid. As soon as Real showed interest, he came to my office and talked about having a dream of playing in Real, so when both Barca and Real came with bid, I negotiated a bit and finally accepted £8m+clauses (potentially £12m) for him. He'll be difficult to replace, but Danny van de Beek had a great season in Excelsior and now returned to Ajax, so I plan to use him as DMC. He's similar type of player to Bazoer - more of deep-lying playmaker than true defensive midfielder, with good vision, passing and ability to control the game from deep midfield.

I'll give full transfer overview in the end of transfer window. Now it is time for friendlies and then we have to prepare for Super Cup match against PSV.

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23.07.2016 - PSV Eindhoven - Ajax 1:3 (Dutch Super Cup) - 66. Luuk de Jong - 84. and 97. Richairo Zivkovic, 116. pen. Lasse Schöne - first of all, both teams fielded weakened squads, both because of transfers and absent players.

We missed Donny van der Beek who was still with Holland U-19 squad (who, by the way, won U-19 European Championships!). Viktor Fischer headed to Rio Olympics with Denmark U-23 team. At the same time PSV Santiago Arias was injured and they’ve sold Jetro Willems and Jeroen Zoet this Summer without signing comparable replacements.

The game was pretty even until first goal. PSV started to use their flanks and one cross found Luuk de Jong. Probably the best striker in Eredivisie used his chance well. After that, most of second half it looked more like PSV scoring their 2nd goal that we could get equalizer. Jasper Cillessen was excellent in our goal and proved that he’s a world class goalkeeper.

I took Arkadiusz Milik out and sent in Richairo Zivkovic, and he made a difference right away. van Rhijn’s cross found him in the box and young forward hit it hard and low into the net. 1-1 and extra time. Zivkovic goal gave us extra energy and we started to find more chances. Younes found Abdelhak Nouri in the box - young midfielder hit the post twice in a row in a terrific mess in front of PSV goal, finally Zivkovic got in and fired in from rebound. 2-1!. But soon after our goal Mitchell Dijks earned his 2nd yellow card and we started to find ways to keep our lead until the end of extra time. In 112’ Zivkovic was carried away with knock and we were 9 against 11. But PSV couldn’t find a goal, instead, we looked more dangerous from counter. Amin Younes was tripped inside PSV box and Schöne converted spot-kick to clinch the game and Super Cup win for Ajax!

+ great turnaround of game after conceding first game

+ youngsters Abdelhak Nouri and Richairo Zivkovic had wonderful game against tough PSV

+ Jasper Cillessen - string of great saves and 8.4 rating showed what his worth is for our team

- two losses in this match, Zivkovic’ injury leaves him out for 4-5 weeks. Thulani Serero also picked up a knock and will be sidelined with twisted knee (2-3 weeks)

I finished two more transfers before Eredivisie season kicked off. Joel Veltman joined Wolfsburg for £9m + clauses and Nemanja Gudelj went to Everton for £11,5m + clauses (potentially £14m). That's perhaps a too deep cut - selling away two key players and especially midfield could become too thin after both Bazoer and Gudelj departure. I've got decent cover for Veltman - Mike van der Hoorn demands more playing time and John Heitinga is solid for another season, but midfield will be unexperienced and I may have to move Lasse Schöne from his AMR position to midfield. Lucas Andersen is still injured for another 3 months and Abdelhak Nouri is very young and will face a stern test this season.

I promoted 17 year old playmaker Francesco Anotnucci to first team squad - he'll give some depth for cup games and perhaps gains some minutes from substitution.

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05.08.2016 - Ajax - FC Groningen 2:0 (ED) - 72. Anwar El Ghazi, 89. Nicolai Boilesen - morale was good after Super Cup win, but squad still looked ragged. Fischer hasn’t returned yet, Serero, Zivkovic and Andersen are still injured and Mitchell Dijks’ suspension from previous season left him sidelined for Eredivisie opener. I sent out the best squad I had, with virtually no attacking options left on the bench.

Game looked a bit drab and both teams concentrated on defending. First half offered no good opportunities for us. FC Groningen had their best chance after corner, but Jasper Cillessen saved us again. In 2nd half it got a bit desperate - I had no idea how to create chances and no attacking players to sub in. But Anwar El Ghazi showed that he can still score goals and sent accurate shot in from 13 meters out. After that, Groningen had to open things up and we looked instantly better in attacking third too. Substitute Nicolai Boilesen clinched the game from indirect free kick by Lasse Schöne. Solid start to our campaign and even more so because PSV lost their first game to Excelsior.

+ player of the match performance by Abdelhak Nouri - running our game from midfield and giving assist to El Ghazi’s goal

+ Lasse Schöne - still threat from dead ball situations

+ Donny van de Beek made a solid debut for Ajax

+ Francesco Antonucci played in his first league game - 17 year old midfielder was subbed in for the last few minutes

+ good shooting accuracy (12 shots, 8 on target)

- overall lack of creativity and small number of chances

14.08.2016 - Ajax - Helmond Sport 5:0 (ED) - 14., 21. and 39. Arkadiusz Milik, 44. Thulani Serero, 68. Justin Kluivert - Helmond Sport had a huge success last season. Despite finishing 8th in Jupiler League, they managed to grab promotion after play-offs and found themselves in Eredivisie after long years in lower division.

And of course, they are completely out of their depth there. Unanimously predicted to become 18th this season, they are likely to struggle against any other team and we had a luxury to rotate several players against them.

Game was very one-sided, Arkadiusz Milik scored a hat-trick (should have scored 4, but one of his goals was questionably chalked off by referee) and youngsters got to play in 2nd half. Justin Kluivert made appearance in his first league game and celebrated it by scoring a goal. Two of the goals (Serero’s and one Milik goal) came from indirect free kicks by Abdelhak Nouri, who had the second excellent game in a row.

In conclusion - very easy and relaxed match.

+ Arkadiusz Milik scored a hat-trick

+ good set piece goals

+ debut game for Justin Kluivert and young goalkeeper Andre Onana

20.08.2016 - Excelsior - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 31. Viktor Fischer, 87. Amin Younes - Excelsior is not the most dangerous of teams, but they stunned PSV in Match Day 1, so I had to be careful. Viktor Fischer returned from Rio and started his league season with a goal, but overall it was a bit drab match. We defended well, but so did Excelsior and they managed to disrupt our flow of attack most of the time. Substitute Amin Younes clinched the game for us after indirect free kick - it’s the 4th goal from IFK-s in the first three matches - the same amount we scored in the whole last season.

Player of the match - Ricardo van Rhijn

+ clean sheet and solid defensive performance

- no clear cut chances against inferior opposition

27.08.2016 - Ajax - ADO Den Haag 1:0 (ED) - 47. Arkadiusz Milik - another drab match, but we kept things under control and scraped it 1-0. Ricardo van Rhijn crossed from right and ball found Milik in the box who headed it in off the post. Otherwise very unremarkable match.

+ again solid defensive display and clean sheet

- not enough creativity up front

Eredivisie

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It's been excellent start to Eredivisie campaign. No goals conceded in the first 4 matches and we're at the top of the table. PSV have dropped 5 points and Vitesse also looks strong in this year.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 4, Richairo Zivkovic 2

Ajax assists: Abdelhak Nouri 4, Ricardo van Rhijn 2, Mitchell Dijks 2, Lasse Schöne 2

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I already mentioned three big names that left Ajax this Summer - Nemanja Gudelj, Riechedly Bazoer and Joel Veltman. Transfer of Kenny Tete to Leicester was agreed earlier in previous season.

I also cashed in some youngsters that I didn't found in my first team plans - Indy Groothuizen to SC Cambuur, Robert Muric to VVV Venlo and Elton Acolatse to Excelsior. (All for less than £100k + clauses)

Following players left for free: Lesly de Sa, Ruben Ligeon, Damian van Bruggen, Jordy Bruijn, Damon Mirani, Otto Magnus Karlsson, Xavier Mous, Danny Bakker, Milan Vissie, Django Warmerdam, Aschraf El Mahdioui

Altogether my transfer income this Summer was whopping £30.14m

Biggest transfers in Eredivisie

Nemanja Gudelj from Ajax to Everton for £11,5m

Hakim Ziyech from FC Twente to Tottenham for £10,5m

Joel Veltman from Ajax to Wolfsburg for £9m

Riechedly Bazoer from Ajax to Real Madrid for £8m

Jetro Willems from PSV to Bayern for £5,75m

Jeroen Zoet from PSV to Fiorentina for £3,4m

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Goalkeepers

Jasper Cillessen

Jasper%20Cillessen.png

Peter Leeuwenburgh

Peter%20Leeuwenburgh.png´

I decided to drop Diederik Boer to reserves and give chance to younger players, so Leeuwenburgh took over as a first substitute for Cillessen this season

Defenders

Ricardo van Rhijn

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Leeroy Owusu

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20 years old understudy for van Rhijn. Doesn't get too many minutes, but he has still years to develop

Nick Viergever

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I'm in a little bit of trouble placing him. He's not too good as a centre-back, and as a left back he's been outplayed by Mitchell Dijks and now also Boilesen. Keeping a reserve player at his age looks a bit of a wast

Mitchell Dijks

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Probably the best left-back in the squad

Nicolai Boilesen

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Back in squad after a season in FC Twente. His injury proneness is a worry, but otherwise a good rotation player

Jairo Riedewald

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The best young defender in my squad and it's going to be a struggle to keep him in the team next transfer window. He's also become a regular in Holland national team

Mike van der Hoorn

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He's more error prone than Riedewald and he doesn't enjoy big matches, but his good in the air and I use him against teams who have big forwards up front.

John Heitinga

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Heitinga brings experience into defensive line. With Joel Veltman in team last season his role diminished, but now he's back in rotation. A bit slow, but intelligent player, good with a ball and excellent tutor.

Midfielders

Donny van de Beek

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This is the guy who took over from Riechedly Bazoer as a DMC (regista). Has done OK so far and can get only better

Thulani Serero

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Tireless South African, mainly used as BBM

Lasse Schöne

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Experienced playmaker, usually plays in AMR position as AP-support. Good at set pieces

Lucas Andersen

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Picked up a cruciate ligament injury in last season while on loan at Willem II and is just now starting to get fit again. Haven't seen him in action in Ajax yet, so let's see how he can contribute this year

Abdelhak Nouri

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Another very young and talented playmaker, so far have performed above expectations

Francesco Antonucci

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Very young, only 17 years of age, Italian playmaker. Excellent in some areas, but has a lot to improve in others

Forwards

Viktor Fischer

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The best winger in team. I renewed his contract last season and his agent refused to back down from £9,5m minimum release fee clause, so now I have to just wait until some team takes him away for less than he deserves.

Amin Younes

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Good rotation player, usually on the left wing as inside forward, but his weaknesses doesn't allow him to become a key player

Anwar El Ghazi

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Still trying to find a right role for him, usually plays as a winger on the right

Arkadiusz Milik

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Polish striker who had a nasty heel injury last season that left its mark to him, but still scored 20+ goals and started well in this campaign too

Richairo Zivkovic

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Very talented young striker, who can get good minutes this season in Ajax

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Little overview about talents on loan who might make it to first season in a year or two.

Goalkeepers

Andre Onana

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Probably even better talent than Leeuwenburgh, but I sent him out on loan on the last day of transfer window

Defenders

Nathan Leyder

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Belgian centre-back, currently on loan at SC Cambuur. I'd prefer him to be better in the air, but he has solid mental stats and good pace

Dragisa Gudelj

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Very talented left-back, unfortunately there's too much competition for this position. On loan at FC Groningen.

Midfielders

Frenkie de Jong

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I didn't expect a lot of him at first, but he's got good loan spells under his belt and has become a solid all-round midfielder. Good long vision and also possesses decent long shot. Currently on loan at NEC

Daley Sinkgraven

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I couldn't find him enough playing time on the left wing and sent him on loan to MLS in last Winter. He should return in January and then I'll see if I can use him in midfield instead. Great talent, but I need to find the best way to use him. Perhaps in rotation with Thulani Serero

Forwards

Sheraldo Becker

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The best right winger prospect. Has over 20 already, but still holds a lot of potential

Queensy Menig

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Young striker. I'm not sure if he's good enough to make it in Ajax, but rated as 2* by my staff. Currently on loan at Willem II

Dejan Meleg

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Another winger who I just don't want to waste on my bench and have loaned him out instead. Great with ball and solid set piece taker

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Both Meleg and Menig are big Eredivisie players in 2022.

I sold Owusu for big money too.

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I try to keep things simple to myself and not to make squad too big. 22 players in first team squad is enough for the start, so there are chances for youngsters to come through during season as well.

In Spring I got 2-4 players injured, so it was simple to select 18 players for match day squad. Now, with Andersen returning from long injury break, it gets more difficult again.

I also try to ivolve at least a couple of teenagers in first team to get them experience without too much pressure. This season youth ranks are even thicker, with Riedewald, van de Beek and Nouri carrying a lot of load already and Zivkovic with Antonucci coming from the bench.

Selling big players created space for youngsters, but I lost some good tutors with those moves. Cillessen is a great tutor and I've got defensive line covered (van Rhijn, Viergever, Heitinga), but I lack experience in midfield and attack (only Serero and Scöne are old enough to tutor anybody)

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10.09.2016 - PSV Eindhoven - Ajax 1:2 (ED) - 78. Luuk de Jong - 37. Mitchell Dijks, 85. Arkadiusz Milik - the first true test in Eredivisie this season - away match against PSV. Mood was optimistic before game - after all, we’ve beaten them already in Super Cup match and we’ve on the great run.

PSV have look a bit weakened - their departures included Jetro Willems and first choice goalkeeper Jeroen Zoet. They brought in Bogdan from Liverpool (on loan) to replace Zoet and snapped up Vitesse Georgian striker Valeri Qazaishvili. Most interesting signing perhaps was Ricky van Wolfsvinkel to pair up with Luuk de Jong.

The first half wasn’t too bad - PSV got one good chance from counter, Luuk de Jong did beat Jasper Cillessen, but his shot hit the post and was cleared by defenders. Our opportunities came from set pieces - if first half started to end, we got a corner, won 3 headers in a row (van der Hoorn, Riedewald and Dijks) and score was 1-0.

In second half I made some tactical changes, set my fullbacks as wing backs and it had a good effect so that we could keep things better under our control, especially Qazaishvili who looked dangerous on our right, was shut down by van Rhijn after break. But PSV still found a goal in the last 15 minutes - van der Hoorn’s missed interception allowed ball found PSV player on the left, following cross was headed away by Riedewald,but so unfortunately that ball bounced against de Jong and the best striker in the league didn’t miss from point blank range.

I sent out Anwar El Ghazi and it was a successful substitution - his long run from the right was too quick for PSV defenders and his cross found Milik in front of the goal who made it 2-1 with 5 minutes to go.

Things got nervous, PSV got desperate and they found chances in the end. One shot did hit crossbar and another clear cut chance was wasted by Jürgen Locadia, so we narrowly held onto that lead, but still it’s a great result for us.

+ Jairo Riedewald’s good performance deserved him player of the match award

+ we didn’t have really good chances in this game, but managed to score twice

- we allowed 3 clear cut chances, so PSV can really rue their poor finishing, so it could have been easily another result on another day

13.09.2016 - Ajax - Wolfsburg 0:0 (Champions League Group Stage) - we’ve got a really tough draw in this year Champion League - Juventus, Wolfsburg and SLB are in our group. No minnows, no small clubs from Cyprus or Slovakia or Scotland. Big, tough, bullying powers of European football. That’s tough and I have to be realist and admit that it demands a lot of success and luck to gain promotion from this group. My youngsters can play very well in Eredivisie level, but against big clubs it’s like a different world, so I’m half-expecting guys like van de Beek and Nouri struggle a bit in those games. But we’ll take each game as it comes and let’s see how it turns out.

Nothing too much to write about that first match against Wolfsburg. We allowed couple of chances in first half, but Cillessen was there to save us and at half time I made some successful changes in tactics, so after break we controlled possession. Still, both sides attacked cautiously and opportunities were scarce. Some nice passing between Milik and El Ghazi resulted a shot that hit post and went wide, but that was it.

Generally I can be satisfied with a draw against Wolfsburg, but I know that in this kind of group I have to get some wins to progress and those wins are likely to come at Amsterdam Arena, so in home games a draw is not so good after all

+ solid defense

- cautious attacking, no chances and no goals

18.09.2016 - Ajax - SC Cambuur 2:0 (ED) - 22. Viktor Fischer, 87. Richairo Zivkovic - don’t know how, but SC Cambuur were the most overachieving club last season and after 5 match days into this one they’ve settled in 4th position again. Despite that, we made sure that our better skill resulted in a win, but I’m still not happy with performance - we lack confidence in attack and our game isn’t as smooth as it should be, although I can’t really complain about another clean sheet.

The only good moment of first half came from Lasse Schöne’s clever pass onto the run of Arkadiusz Milik. Striker’s shot was well parried by Cambuur goalkeeper, but Fischer was first to rebound and passed the ball into empty net.

But 2nd goal just didn’t come - Fischer wasted another chance in 2nd half (again, good diagonal ball by Schöne) and Donny van de Beek shot hit the post. Finally, Mitchell Dijks’ cross found substitute Zivkovic alone in front of Cambuur goal and young striker made sure we got 3 points out of the match.

+ another clean sheet and solid performance by Jasper Cillessen, his rating of 8.3 shows that he had to make some a couple of good saves tonight

+ player of the match performance by Mitchell Dijks

+ Richairo Zivkovic returned from injury and instantly found himself on the score sheet

- Arkadiusz Milik’s form has been declining recently, he looks nervous on the pitch, his movement is not as good as it should be and he’s wasting his chances

21.09.2016 - NAC Breda - Ajax 0:3 (Dutch Cup 2nd round) - 9. Arkadiusz Milik, 14. Anwar El Ghazi, 39. Amin Younes - Jupiler League side NAC Breda is a pretty tough draw for a 2nd round fixture, but we managed to beat them easily, despite fielding a weakened team and giving a lot of first choice players a day off. We started well and first half ended with 3-0 scoreline, full backs Leeroy Owusu and Nicolai Boilesen contributed very well, both had an assist to their name.

In 2nd half complacency started to creep in and NAC found a couple of good chances, but Peter Leeuwenburgh had his chance to shine and he made some good saves to prove his talent.

So, a comfortable 3-0 win and I’m happy for players who came into the team.

+ good finishing

+ great contributions from Owusu, Boilesen and El Ghazi

+ debut match for U-19 midfielder Noa Benniga

+ Peter Leeuwenburgh had a good game

- signs of complacency in 2nd half - I’ll probably have to address that in near future

25.09.2016 - PEC Zwolle - Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 61. Laurent Depoitre - 33. pen. Arkadiusz Milik, 42. Viktor Fischer,45. +1 Anwar El Ghazi - I didn’t underestimate Zwolle and we went out with our best squad. Anwar El Ghazi’s great performance in last game earned him starting position against Zwolle.

It took half an hour to get our attack working - Fischer was tripped inside the box and Milik scored from the spot. Zwolle discipline broke down before half-time and it allowed us to score two more goals and El Ghazi found himself on the score sheet again.

We didn’t get complacent after half-time break, but still allowed Zwolle to score one goal, after Ricardo van Rhijn made a unlucky tackle that sent the ball straight onto the foot of Zwolle’s best striker, who made no mistake.

+ good attacking performance - 4 clear cut chances and 3 goals in away game is a good sign

+ Viktor Fischer earned player of the match award with his goal and assist

28.09.2016 - Juventus - Ajax 3:0 (Champions League Group Stage) - 17. and 39. Paulo Dybala, 19. Ahmed Musa - away game against Juventus looked like a tough test, but it was a manager's loss really. I went to try counter attacking tactics and, while we allowed Juventus a lot of possession, we couldn't create anything from counters. Instead, Jasper Cillessen had to make several good saves, but after first 15 minutes even he couldn't save us. In the first half we had lost the match. In 2nd half I changed tactics and things looked a lot better - we had some good shots, the best chance was by Richairo Zivkovic, but we couldn't get the ball past Gianluigi Buffon and we were never likely to recover from 0-3 deficit.

A tough learning for me, as a tactician, and difficult defeat for the team.

+ despite result, Abdelhak Nouri stood out as a solid midfield playmaker against a lot more reputable side

- Lasse Schöne picked up a serious injury (damaged spine) and will be sidelined for 2 months

Eredivisie

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Despite difficult group and tough start in Champions League, Eredivise campaign have been great so far. 7 wins in a row and we're looking good and confident. Best result in September was obviously 2-1 away win against PSV.

Vitesse have had a strong start to their season and are only behind us by 2 points and looking to go after European places this season.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 7, Viktor Fischer 3, Richairo Zivkovic 3, Anwar El Ghazi 3

Ajax assists: Abdelhak Nouri 5, Mitchell Dijks 3, Ricardo van Rhijn 3,

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i like your story can you tell me more about your tactics

I play 4-1-2-2-1, usually I have only one familiar tactics, which occasionally lets us down against big sides in Europe, but in Eredivisie it fits almost against any team.

Attacking mentality; fluid

TI-s: slower tempo, prevent GK distribution, look for overlap, retain possession, pass out of defense

Defensive line:

Both full backs are aut. which means attacking normally with my mentality and with overlapping orders it means they spend a lot of time supporting attack. Mitchell Dijks and Ricardo van Rhijn are the best ones for me. I used Nick Viergever as DL for a while, but he's more of a DC and can't cross the ball as Dijks can. And Nicolai Boilesen, while great in attacking phase, looks more vulnerable defensively (his positioning could be better)

Both central defenders are in defend duty. I use BPD when it suits player (Riedewald, Veltman until he played for us, Heitinga), but DC when he's not so good with ball (van der Hoorn). Now it's usually central pairing of Riedewald on the left (BPD) and van der Hoorn on the right (DC) with Heitinga starting from bench.

Midfield:

DMC role depends on player, but I've used regista the most. Riechedly Bazoer before I sold him to Real was excellent in that role, but Donny van de Beek looks comfortable too

MC left is normally Thulani Serero and he's BBM. But he's only BBM I've got in first team squad. You could use CM-support in that position, but I've limited myself to my own youth production, so I have to play with the ones I got

MC right is AP-attack - he's my attacking from deep kind of guy. I used Nemanja Gudelj for that, but he's not so skilled with ball and had some undesireable PPMs (static target man). Now, afte Gudelj has left, I've got few options in this role - Abdelhak Nouri is a great talent, Lucas Andersen is also best in this role and young Italian Franceso Antonucci too

Forwards:

AML has been IF, always. I've loaned out Meleg and Sinkgraven, so both Fischer and Younes are suitable as IF-s, but I switch between support and attacking duties depending on opponent, scoreboard or what seems to work better on the pitch

AMR - two options there: whether Lasse Schöne as AP-support or Anwar El Ghazi as Winger-attack, both have their own positives. El Ghazi is certainly more attacking of the two, but Schöne is more creative and is a threat from set pieces as well

ST - complete forwards, both Milik and Zivkovic. Same as AML - I switch between support and attack roles, in sync with other attacking players. For example if CF is on support, then AML IF is on attack. I never put three attacking players on same orders.

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02.10.2016 - AZ Alkmaar - Ajax 0:0 (ED) - AZ Alkmaar have finished 3rd in previous two seasons, but they’ve had a poor start to this one and find themselves in relegation zone. It doesn’t mean they’re easy opponents in their own home, though.

It was a fairly even game from start to finish, both teams had one good chance (and wasted it). Our best opportunities well for Anwar El Ghazi, but right winger had a poor game in front of the goal and his finishing was not good enough. We had a lot of corners and other set pieces, we showed good vision in those situations and won headers inside the area, but most of the shots went wide.

+ clean sheet

+ great game for midfielders Abdelhak Nouri and Thulani Serero

- poor shooting (21 shots, 5 on target)

16.10.2016 - Ajax - Willem II Tilburg 4:0 (ED) - 8. Abdelhak Nouri, 33. Amin Younes, 52. Arkadiusz Milik, 75. Jairo Riedewald - international break brought same worrying news. Jasper Cillessen hurt himself in training (strained stomach muscle) and is out for appr. 3 weeks, so Peter Leeuwenburgh gets his true chance in goal. Viktor Fischer returned from international break and looked tired, so Amin Younes started on the left wing.

Willem II were no match for us - we did beat them comfortably and finished with 4 goals. Younes got himself to score sheet, Nouri and Riedewald scored their first goal of the season. And Riedewald goal was truly a special one - Donny van de Beek took a free kick from right flank and Riedewald hit a wonderful overhead kick straight into the net. Can’t remember any attacking player scoring a goal like that, but for a central defender it was completely wonderful effort. Truly a candidate for the goal of the season

Player of the match award went to Amin Younes.

+ excellent finishing

+ 7th clean sheet in 9 league games

+ Riedewald’s wonderful goal

19.10.2016 - Ajax - SLB 0:2 (Champions League Group Stage) - 32. Sebastian Driussi, 40. Jonas - what can I say about that loss… solid tactics by me, but difference in class between squads allowed SLB to leave with valuable away win. Arkadiusz Milik wasted our first good chance in the first half, some time later Abdelhak Nouri’s free kick from 20 meters smashed against crossbar. SLB-s goal came from some distance out - long shot that went straight into upper corner and there was nothing that Leeuwenburgh could do about it. They added 2nd goal from corner and that was it - despite playing evenly good football, we left with 0:2 defeat.

+ good effort by lads

+ Peter Leeuwenburgh was our best player tonight, making some good saves and neither of goals was his fault

- as things are going, we are unlikely to get even 3rd place in the group

22.10.2016 - FC Twente - Ajax 0:3 (ED) - 18. Viktor Fischer, 32. Abdelhak Nouri, 67. Donny van de Beek - what a match! We looked tired after SLB game, but I didn’t dare to make too many changes to squad. Cillessen was still some days from full fitness, so Peter Leeuwenburgh continued his streak in goal and Lucas Andersen was on the bench after one match for Jong Ajax. Great to see him back after so long and terrible injury.

The game itself was great entertainment from both sides - end to end stuff and both very attacking tactics on display, but we looked ever more dangerous up front and soon scored our first goal - low cross by El Ghazi found Fischer at the far post and Dane made no mistake. Nouri scored a good goal after good combination on the right, and then our own defense showed first signs of weakness - Tom van Weert had a header from point blank range, but it bounced off the bar and soon later Twente wasted another good chance.

If the end of the first half was not very convincing, 2nd half proved that we were better team that night - Donny van de Beek got the ball 20 meters out and curled a wonderful soft shot right next to post - nothing Nick Marsman could do about it. It was his first ever goal for Ajax and what a way to score it for 19 years old midfielder!

FC Twente put us under pressure late in the game and they really tried hard, but our defense showed top class in those closing 15 minutes. Instead, we got another chance after El Ghazi was pushed in corner situation, but Zivkovic’ penalty was poor and Marsman had no trouble making a save. Despite that, 0-3 in away game is a great result and I’m happy about our performance.

+ very solid game from all defenders

+ Peter Leeuwenburgh had another good match, he saved two clear cut chances and earned himself a place in Eredivisie Team of the Week

+ great goal by Donny van de Beek

+ Lucas Andersen is back in team after suffering cruciate ligament injury and being out of football for 8 months

- actually, we allowed FC Twente to have 4 clear cut chances, although it didn’t look as many during actual match. It’s still too many and their poor finishing saved us couple of times

- missed penalty by Richairo Zivkovic

25.10.2016 - RKC Waalwijk - Ajax 0:3 (Dutch Cup 3rd round) - 53. and 79. Richairo Zivkovic, 71. John Heitinga - I fielded weakened team for cup match against RKC Waalwijk and it took time for these players to find their rhythm. First half was very drab, we couldn’t keep enough possession and although RKC never looked too threatening, we were poor as well. Zivkovic wasted our best chance of the half and we went to break with 0-0 on the scoreboard.

In 2nd half we picked it up a little, and probably harsh words at half time also had some effect. Either way, we scored 3 goals, Zivkovic reacted especially well and John Heitinga scored his first goal of the season from corner. Solid win in the end and our cup season already looks better than a year ago.

+ solid defensive performance, central defense (Viergever - Heitinga) looked impressive enough

+ two goals and a player of the match performance by Richairo Zivkovic

- poor shooting have been a problem in recent games. 16 shots, but only 5 on target this time

29.10.2016 - Ajax - NEC Nijmegen 1:2 (ED) - 74. Richairo Zivkovic - 1. and 45. Christian Santos - the infuriating match of the season and after 90 minutes, a completely undeserved loss in a match that we should have won easily.

Jasper Cillessen was back in the squad and his first job was to pick the ball up from goal after we conceded after the first NEC attack. Quick passing and through ball between defenders found Christian Santos twice in the first half and twice it resulted in a goal. In the meantime, we played great attacking football on the other half, created 3 clear cut chances in first 45 minutes and 5 in full game, but wasted them all. Our attacking players were just unable to find the net and frustration grew with every minute. In the end, Zivkovic goal was a mere consolation for us as we couldn’t turn things around. We had 29 shots, 13 on goal. NEC had only 3 shots. How could we lose this???!!

I kept players in dressing room for a while and just screamed out my frustration at them, breaking some of the furniture at the same time. How the hell can you miss so many chances? Just unbelievable….

A small consolation is that PSV lost 0-1 against Sparta in next day, so there’s some justice after all.

+ 29 shots, 5 clear cut chances - looks like an impressive statistics

- well… [insert favourable combination of all known swearing]

Eredivisie

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That final match really ruined the month for us. But league table still looks OK, we got some good wins this month, especially the one against FC Twente.

European season is an uphill struggle this year. I can’t imagine that we could turn things around after first three games. Not against opponents like that.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 8, Richairo Zivkovic 6, Viktor Fischer 4

Ajax assists: Ricardo van Rhijn 6, Abdelhak Nouri 5

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This is nice to follow. I'm trying to pull the same stunt with my Bristol Rovers save but due to their bad youth staff, facilities and very little shining prospects I have I will have to start from scratch to build it all up which is challenging and probably take 5 seasons to even get to a decent level of youth. This topic was actually what inspired me to start that aim in the save I'm currently on. Keep the updates coming.

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01.11.2016 - SLB - Ajax 1:0 (Champions League Group Stage) - 39. Jonas - the game was actually pretty good. We were underdogs, but not outplayed and offered a fair battle to SLB. Richairo Zivkovic got an early chance, but SLB defense returned on time to block his shot. SLB couldn’t create much until in the end of first half Nick Viergever’s missed interception gifted Jonas an opportunity he couldn’t miss (a mistake that does no good for Viergever appeals for more first team football). Both teams had one shot that hit framework and that was it - a narrow defeat.

We had more shots than SLB, but they defended well and it was difficult to find very good opportunities. Often the final pass or last drop of creativity was missing from our attack and so we had to settle with narrow defeat despite good effort.

+ good defensive and midfield performance, good mental preparation for the match

- Nick Viergever’s costly mistake

05.11.2016 - Feyenoord Rotterdam - Ajax 0:2 (ED) - 42. and 66. Arkadiusz Milik - after losing our previous league match against NEC, it was important to bounce back with a win. Even more so in a Klassiker Derby match against old rivals Feyenoord. Mike van der Hoorn was suspended for this match (5 yellow cards) and Heitinga took his place, but otherwise it was our regular first team.

Game itself was fairly even. Both teams had a lot of set pieces and some of those looked very promising. It hinted that a goal from free kick or corner could decide this match. And it did - in the end of first half, free kick by Abdelhak Nouri found Milik in front of the goal and that shots sent us to half-time break with 1-0 lead. Milik added another goal in 2nd half, after great combination on the right flank by van Rhijn and El Ghazi.

Our shooting was poor again, only 3 shots out of 11 found their way on target, but otherwise I’m happy with the result. El Ghazi hit the bar once, but overall we didn’t look very dangerous in front of goal.

+ Arkadiusz Milik is back in goalscoring form

+ midfield and attacking players had all a very good game

- poor shooting

19.11.2016 - Ajax - Sparta Rotterdam 4:1 (ED) - 45. Amin Younes, 49. and 56. pen. Richairo Zivkovic, 67. Anwar El Ghazi - 21. Carlos Castro - after international break we suffered some losses - Nick Viergever sprained his ankle and Jairo Riedewald strained his stomach muscle while with Holland national team, so it left me with van der Hoorn and Heitinga in central defense. I rotated some players against newly-promoted Sparta - Nicolai Boilesen started as left-back, Amin Younes on the left wing and Richairo Zivkovic (who had recently complained about first team football and to whom I promised more starts in the next month) up front.

We conceded a goal from indirect free kick - in my eyes it was a Cillessen mistake, because he went to intercept that cross and was late, but match commentators and analysts didn’t agree. Our first half was pretty drab - our movement was poor, Zivkovic was repeatedly caught offside and early on Lucas Andersen had to come off with injury (fractured wrist).

Only player really fighting and giving his best was Anwar El Ghazi. And his good runs on the right brought us back into the match. His cross found Younes in front of goal and we equalized just before half time break. El Ghazi was once tripped on the box - it was a clear foul and should have been a penalty - but once again, neither referee nor commentators noticed.

1-1 scoreline didn’t save the lads from my criticism and in the 2nd half we pulled us together and showed some good football for once. Zivkovic raised his game, scored a goal, earned a penalty and converted it himself.

Player of the match was still Anwar El Ghazi - 18 dribbles on the right wing, a good assist and he finally got to score sheet himself from indirect free kick by Abdelhak Nouri.

+ good 2nd half performance

+ four goals scored

- defensive display wasn’t impressive - both van der Hoorn and Heitinga passed the ball poorly

- Thulani Serero had a rare off game - no creativity from him

23.11.2016 - Wolfsburg - Ajax 0:1 (Champions League Group Stage) - 40. Abdelhak Nouri - with nothing to play for but honour, we went to the game without any pressure. For fans, it was a great match, with both sides attacking well. Defensively we were carved open several times and it was a small miracle that Wolfsburg wasted so many chances - in the end of the match they got 7 ccc-s, but still no goals.

Richairo Zivkovic got another chance in first team after his great 2nd half against Sparta, but this time he didn’t justify it, being always a bit out of sync with his teammates and wasting our best chance of the match in 1st half.

Only goal of the match came in the end of first half. Serero was tripped just outside of the box and Abdelhak Nouri curled in a direct free kick from 18 meters out, bending it over the wall and beating Diego Benaglio. A wonderful goal from young midfielder. It has to be said that if last season we got 2 beautiful goals to show, then this year we’ve got already 3 and it’s not even Christmas yet.

So, a bit lucky win, but we’ll take it and it makes the table in our group at least a little less embarrassing.

+ great midfield performance (Thulani Serero, Abdelhak Nouri)

+ great free kick goal by Nouri

- poor game by Zivkovic, that doesn’t support his claim for more first team football

- Viktor Fischer picked up an injury (gashed leg) that keeps him out from next two games

26.11.2016 - Heracles Almelo - Ajax 2:1 (ED) - 50. Jerry van Ewijk, 90.+1 Darren Maatsen - 39. John Heitinga - one of the worst league games this season. Not only because we lost, but because of poor football on display.

Perhaps it was because we looked a little bit tired, with one tough continental match in the legs and another one coming in few days. Perhaps it was because I rotated some players and changes backfired. Nicolai Boilesen started in left defense, while Lasse Schöne was back from injury break and went on his usual AMR place.

Full 90 minutes were pretty much horrible - we couldn’t get possession, we couldn’t create chances, we couldn’t get Heracles attacks under control. Boilesen struggled a lot with our own loan player Sheraldo Becker, who made several clever cuts from the right. We were lucky to go to break with 1-0 lead. Set pieces helped us once again - Schönes free kick found Heitinga in the box and his header went in from underside of the bar. But Heracles deservedly turned things around in 2nd half - first Becker’s cross found unmarked player at the far post, and in injury time Heitinga lost a header that cost us the game. I was absolutely furious and considered this embarrassing loss, although Heracles can be really proud of their performance.

+ Lasse Schöne’s return from injury and assist

- poor overall performance, nothing to celebrate really

- we had 6 shots, Heracles had 21. ‘nuff said

29.11.2016 - Ajax - Juventus 4:0 (Champions League Group Stage) - 14., 39. and 61. Richairo Zivkovic, 81. Arkadiusz Milik - although we had no hope to progress from group and Juventus had secured group win and had nothing to play for, there was honour at stake, of course, and a chance for us to continue our season in Europa League.

The game itself was even in midfield, but we created more dangerous chances from early on. Richairo Zivkovic started his game well when he converted Younes’ good pass into goal. Before half time break, he doubled our lead from counter, with a shot from tight angle that nutmegged Juventus goalkeeper Neto. Zivkovic completed his hat-trick in 2nd half and substitute Arkadiusz Milik, too, showed that his scoring ability is still there.

In conclusion, a surprise result and a convincing 4-0 win against superior Juventus side which obviously left home fans delighted.

+ great hat-trick by Zivkovic

+ overall good attacking play and recovery from last match against Heracles

- despite our heroic efforts, Wolfsburg were able to beat SLB in away game and so we were stuck in the 4th place with 7 points. That means our continental season has come to its end

In retrospective, it’s been a month of mixed results. I can be fairly pleased with our continental games, we’ve managed to get two wins from last two games, but unfortunately it was all too little, too late. Feyenoord match obviously was a great win for fans, but defeat against Heracles spoiled the month for us - probably the worst football we’ve played this season.

Eredivisie

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We’re still in solid position in the league, with 5 points between us and competitors. We’ve been very good against stronger teams, but dropped points against NEC and Heracles which, by my standards, is not good enough. Top of the table looks interesting - PSV looks way behind, but they have played less games and are virtually equal with Vitesse. SC Cambuur have had a great campaign and they’re on the good streak.

Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 11, Richairo Zivkovic 11

Ajax assists: Abdelhak Nouri 8, Ricardo van Rhijn 6

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03.12.2016 - Ajax - FC Utrecht 1:2 (ED) - 21. Richairo Zivkovic - 22. David Moberg-Karlsson, 41. Sean Klaiber - second defeat in a row in domestic league. Can’t really say what went wrong there - perhaps fatigue from Juventus match, but certainly not the lack of motivation, because lads looked determined against rivals, but we couldn’t get our game going and despite taking a lead allowed FC Utrecht equalize quickly and then allowed another goal from corner.

Jairo Riedewald was back in squad after his injury break and it was his missed header that allowed Utrecht to equalize. Thulani Serero was the one to blame for 2nd goal, as he couldn’t win a header inside the box.

2nd half was just drab - we wasted a chance right after kick-off and later couldn’t turn things around. I was out of ideas how to improve things - FC Utrecht played 5-3-2, just like Juventus did, and we did beat Juventus with same team and tactics 4-0. How come??!

Substituting Zivkovic for Milik didn’t help and I lacked attacking options (Fischer and Schöne weren’t fit enough, Lucas Andersen came in but had no effect on pitch).

After the match, our stats didn’t look as poor - we just couldn’t create enough chances and were unlucky to concede two goals from individual mistakes. But I was frustrated nevertheless, slammed the team and stormed out of press conference. After calming down, in next few days we had a team meeting (the first one of the season) and that went well and improved morale.

+ Anwar El Ghazi had a great game and it was his cross that lead to our goal

- individual errors in defense that lead to poor result

- poor defensive performance as a whole

With December arriving, so have transfer rumors. Riedewald is heavily chased by several Premier League clubs. It’s interesting to see if Everton’s interest in Cillessen materialises into transfer bid and AC Milan is looking for a winger - both El Ghazi and Fischer are on their sight.

07.12.2016 - Vitesse Arnhem - Ajax 1:3 (ED) - 29. Mimoun Mahi - 24. Arkadiusz Milik, 32. Anwar El Ghazi, 76. Richairo Zivkovic - we can’t win at home, but can win away against fairly decent Vitesse side?? Come on!

To be honest, Vitesse missed their best goalkeeper Eloy Room due to international duty, and young keeper Jeroen Houwen played his first league game against us, so that was a big disadvantage for them and helped us a bit.

We had a good game, and in the end, some statistics were satisfying to see - 16 shots, but 10 on target, which is a great ratio (we really need more consistency in that department). Anwar El Ghazi is in excellent form - a goal and two assists by him and he was clearly the key to our attacks (I agreed with new improved contract with him after this match, another satisfying fact, because AC Milan is lurking around our training grounds for him).

+ good win in away match

+ both Milik and Zivkovic are in competitive mode and score almost every game

+ Anwar El Ghazi has an excellent form, a goal and two assists and fully deserved man of the match award

+ great match also by Thulani Serero

- again we conceded very quickly after taking a lead

- two best chances that Vitesse got came through our right flank, where van Rhijn should be very solid defensively, but on pitch…

10.12.2016 - sc Heerenveen - Ajax 0:0 (ED) - a draw against sc Heerenveen is a disappointing result. Because of upcoming cup fixture against PSV and very tight schedule I had to rotate players and give some rest, especially to Anwar El Ghazi and Donny van de Beek (who, despite his young age, is one of the most hard-working midfielders in Eredivisie). Thulani Serero played as DMC and Lasse Schöne took his place in midfield, so that left the mark to our usual rhythm.

We couldn’t get our attack going and so didn’t Heerenveen. Both teams managed to hit framework, but no clear chances and overall it was a drab match for supporters. Our position in table looks more and more under threat because of results like that. This time around, PSV struggled with Vitesse and settled with a draw of their own, so no damage done.

+ a clean sheet (it’s been a while!)

- poor attacking display (5 shots, 0 on target); can’t win games like that

I tied down Anwar El Ghazi contract following his great form. He’s now our player until 2020, not demanding as much in wages (£15-16k per week), but I agreed to £15m release clause, so let’s see if any club is willing to pull out the cheque book.

13.12.2016 - Ajax - PSV 0:0 (Dutch Cup 4th round) - another goalless draw in a week, but so much different match than the one against Heerenveen. We were back in full strength and players were refreshed while PSV came against us with fairly tired squad. We played very good match, controlling midfield and getting good shots in, but we just couldn’t beat Adam Bogdan in PSV goal, who made several important saves. Best opportunity fell to Thulani Serero in the end of first half, but his shot from close was blocked by Bogdan.

So, after 120 minutes of football, the game went to penalties and our young players kept their calm head. Zivkovic, El Ghazi, van Rhijn and van de Beek scored. Jasper Cillessen made two saves and so PSV was kicked out of cup competition.

Our opponent in quarter final is FC Eindhoven, which is a fairly good draw. Some good clubs are still in the mix (FC Twente, Vitesse, Feyenoord, Heerenveen), but with this match my expectations about our cup season went up considerably. Twente and Vitesse were drawn against each other, so one of those contenders won’t make it to semi final.

+ good attacking football on display (24 shots, 14 on target)

+ great individual performances by van Rhijn and El Ghazi

- finishing could have been better in certain situations

I’ve promoted two young players into first team squad in this month.

Dani De Wit is an attacking midfielder who has fairly good work rate and can be developed into BBM which is now Thulani Serero role. I have plenty of young playmakers (Nouri, Andersen, Antonucci), but I need to find players to control midfield and offer defensive assistance.

Matthijs de Ligt is a central defender, who’s still just 17 years of age, but the best of his age group and looks ready for his first league matches. Great in the air and fairly intelligent. Has plenty of room for improvement, but with John Heitinga turning 34 next year and Jairo Riedewald attracting more and more attention from big clubs, I’m in desperate need of capable replacements in central defense.

Both players start mostly for Jong Ajax, but train with first team squad and probably get first team football in some games during remaining season.

17.12.2016 - FC Groningen - Ajax 2:1 (ED) - 21. Leslie de Sa, 78. Darlington Nagbe - 70. Arkadiusz Milik - terrible match once again and what happened on pitch left me in despair. We were pretty much battered in the first 20 minutes and some good saves by Cillessen kept us in game. But then, after he parried another long shot the rebound fell to de Sa in front of the goal and FC Groningen took the lead. We were lucky to be only 0-1 behind, although we had one great opportunity that Zivkovic somehow managed to waste.

In 2nd half we continued to struggle, until one great cross by Fischer found Milik and Pole scored from a thumping header. We couldn’t hold onto a point though - another Groningen’s attack picked our defense apart and Nagbe had an easy opportunity to score.

+ nothing positive. seriously. nothing

- we were completely passed off the park, we lost midfield battles, possession and struggled defensively

- FC Groningen had 24 shots and 4 clear cut chances

- we had 12 shots, but only 1 on target. I don’t remember such a poor shooting, ever

Utterly disappointing end to our first half of the season. We had 8 points lead over PSV at one point, but now we’ve lost 3 league games out of the last 5 and PSV have taken a lead in the table. That is horrible slump in this month.

The last defeats were probably my own fault. I noticed too late into 2nd half that most of Groningen’s attacks go through Rasmus Lindgren deep in midfield and we should have closed him down better.

Eredivisie

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Ajax goals: Arkadiusz Milik 13, Richairo Zivkovic 13

Ajax assists: Anwar El Ghazi 9, Abdelhak Nouri 8, Ricardo van Rhijn 6

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21.01.2017 - Ajax - Vitesse Arnhem 1:0 (ED) - 46 .Arkadiusz Milik - after a friendly against Wolfsburg (attacking goal-fest that ended 4:5) we resumed our Eredivisie season with a win against Vitesse. Viktor Fischer was away with a virus, but otherwise we had our full squad and we looked much stronger than in previous games. Defense was solid throughout, and we created good chances, but finishing let us down. Jairo Riedewald got the first chance when only 4 minutes were played. Abdelhak Nouri was the creative force behind our attacks and his pass released Anwar El Ghazi, but our right winger missed his opportunity. Our single goal came in the beginning of 2nd half. Nouri’s pass (again!) found Milik on the left side, first shot was parried by Vitesse goalkeeper, but Milik himself was first to rebound and fired it in.

Despite trying hard, we couldn’t score another goal, but kept Vitesse at bay.

+ Arkadiusz Milik looks like he’s in good goalscoring form

+ Abdelhak Nouri was the player of the match - 10 key passes from him

- finishing could have been better. We had 3 clear cut chances, but only 1 goal, and from 19 shots only 5 went on target

25.01.2017 - Ajax - Excelsior 3:0 (ED) - 21. Arkadiusz Milik, 36. Daley Sinkgraven, 70. Donny van De Beek - good to continue with easier opponents. We took confident win in front of home fans. Nicolai Boilesen got his chance to prove himself and while Viktor Fischer just returned from injury, Daley Sinkgraven started on the left.

Best goal of the match was the first one - good cross from the corner of the box found Milik cutting in and firing it hard into the net. Daley Sinkgraven added next goal (his first ever for Ajax) and in the 2nd half, good indirect free kick combination added the third - Boilesen laid the ball on the way of van de Beek who scored his 2nd goal of the season.

+ good defense, again

+ Daley Sinkgraven’s first goal for Ajax

+ young central defender Matthijs de Ligt made his Ajax debut in 2nd half

- shooting is still poor - 25 shots, but only 7 on target

29.01.2017 - Helmond Sport - Ajax 0:5 (ED) - 23. Anwar El Ghazi, 67., 71 and 89. Richairo Zivkovic, 85. Jairo Riedewald - Anwar El Ghazi scored a great goal from the edge of the box, but otherwise it was a poor first half. We couldn’t get our game going and gifted Helmond a great opportunity in front of our own goal, but fortunately Cillessen reacted well and parried the close range shot.

Second half was much better, after Milik went off and Zivkovic came in from substitution. Riedewald earned a penalty and Zivkovic wasted it. Fortunately, the rebound fell to him so he could make amend. Young striker then added another two goals to complete his hat-trick and Riedewald scored from corner to make final score line a convincing 5-0.

+ good goalscoring form and set piece situations

+ great hat-trick by Richairo Zivkovic

+ man of the match performance by Jairo Riedewald

- unconvincing first half performance

Eredivisie

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A lot better month than December. Opponents weren't the most difficult ones, perhaps, but Vitesse match wasn't an easy one and our defensive efforts have been great.

Ajax goals: Richairo Zivkovic 16, Arkadiusz Milik 15

Ajax assists: Abdelhak Nouri 10, Anwar El Ghazi 9, Ricardo van Rhijn 8

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We had a lot of work to do during mid season break, both in the training and in backroom. First of all, I had to handle some contracts. I carefully considered the ability and efforts of my backroom staff and decided that Orlando Trustfull and Said Bakkati of coaching staff should start to find a new employer for next season. 3,5* training level is not good enough in Ajax any more and if I want to develop my players I should aim to at least 4*.

My assistant manager reminded my that Sheraldo Becker contract is about to end in Summer. I’m still sitting on a fence about his future in Ajax. While he looks like a solid Eredivisie right winger, he’s not likely to be good enough to shine in Ajax or Champions League, for example. I decide to offer him 2 years contract extension, but talks are disrupted after his agent demands £7,25k per week for hot prospect status. Not going to happen.

More important issue is Jasper Cillessen contract which is about to end in 2018. Media already picks it up as a “contract stalemate”. I decide to postpone contract talks into February. If Everton is serious about their interest, this winter transfer window is their moment to show it. If not, I’ll work towards keeping him in Ajax for longer period.

Daley Sinkgraven returned from loan. He had a good year in MLS and bolsters my left flank.

Question mark is the future of Amin Younes - 23 year old German is not likely to improve considerably and he’s clearly behind Fischer and Sinkgraven. With Justin Kluivert coming from youth ranks it raises some questions - should I hold onto him at all? There is some interest and we could settle with £3-4m for him. Until decision is made, Younes moves to Hannover for 6 months loan.

Few loan decisions should be made too. Couple of months ago I promised to Leeroy Owusu to loan him out and there is a lot of interest in his services, so he’ll spend the 2nd half of the season elsewhere.

Nick Viergever asked me quite directly about his future in the team - he’s established player and felt he won’t make it into first team here in Ajax. I chose to loan him out rather than sell him because in long term I might need his services in central defense. Several clubs from England stepped up and he went to Crystal Palace until Summer.

Three of my youngsters attracted heavy attention from big clubs. 17 years old attacking midfielder Francesco Antonucci received multiple offers from clubs like Dortmund, Manchester United, Liverpool etc. the highest bid came from SLB (£4,2m), but I rejected all without much thinking and sent him to SC Cambuur for a 6 months loan instead. He's here for the future.

Matthijs de Ligt attracted FC Barcelona attention, but their non-negotiable £525k bid was easy to reject. Other young central defender Navajo Bakboord got multiple bids between £1-2m, but that's not good enough for him.

Big money started to move in the last week of transfer window. I accepted £15m (£10,5m+clauses) bid from Real Madrid for Jairo Riedewald and let him go with heavy heart. That's fair amount of money, but this 20 years old was my key defender and he's difficult to replace. With Viergever already sent to England, it leaves me with central defensive partnership of van der Hoorn and Heitinga + handful of youngsters.

A season ago I extended Viktor Fischer's contract and had to agree with £9,25m minimum release fee clause that his agent demanded. This time, Shakhtar came in and matched the clause and off he went.

Those are big losses, football-wise. Daley Sinkgraven was very disappointed with the sale of Riedewald and I was unable to reason with him and he remained unhappy. Team meeting avoided overall unhappiness about that and most of the squad accepted that they have to trust the club about transfer moves.

To replace left players, I brought two youngsters into first team squad.

Darren Sidoel is a 18 year old central defender, who'll be substitute/backup for defense.

17 years old Justin Kluivert was recalled from Almere City to provide substitutions to Sinkgraven on the left wing.

In this season, as a whole, I've sold players for no less than £43m and my first team squad looks something like this (* denotes player out on loan and not currently in club):

GK: Jasper Cillessen, Peter Leeuwenburgh

DR: Ricardo van Rhijn, Leeroy Owusu*

DRC: Mike van der Hoorn, Darren Sidoel

DLC: John Heitinga, Nick Viergever*, Matthijs de Ligt

DL: Mitchell Dijks, Nicolai Boilesen

DMC: Donny van de Beek, Nathan Leyder*

MCL: Thulani Serero

MCR: Abdelhak Nouri, Lucas Andersen, Francesco Antonucci*

AMR: Anwar El Ghazi, Lasse Schöne

AML: Daley Sinkgraven, Amin Younes*, Dejan Meleg*, Justin Kluivert

ST: Arkadiusz Milik, Richairo Zivkovic

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01.02.2017 - Ajax - FC Eindhoven 4:0 (Dutch Cup Quarter Final) - 32., 37. and 60. Richairo Zivkovic, 71. Lucas Andersen - with a very thin squad after all January departures, we took on Jupiler League side FC Eindhoven. Richairo Zivkovic was the man of the match with his superb hat-trick and Lasse Schöne provided two assists for him. Third Zivkovic goal was a curious one - Eindhoven goalkeeper cleared the ball, it bounced off Zivkovic, who had worked well to close down, and ball went straight into the net.

Lucas Andersen finished the scoring for us with a good shot from 20 meters out.

Eindhoven got only one good chance during entire match - substitute de Ligt was a bit too slow from feet to prevent Eindhoven striker’s dribbling move, but Cillessen was there to parry the shot.

The draw for semi final has been kind to us again - we play against FC Dordrecht, while FC Twente and sc Heerenveen conclude the other semi final.

+ superb hat-trick by Richairo Zivkovic

+ great goal (his first of the season) by Lucas Andersen

- Viktor Fischer’s last game for Ajax and he put in just a quiet performance

04.02.2017 - ADO Den Haag - Ajax 1:1 (ED) - 83. Ludciano Marengo - 85. Lucas Andersen - first match without Fischer. Anwar El Ghazi’s form has been declining over January, and Lasse Schöne has played himself into first team again, so he started on the right and Daley Singraven on the left.

Zivkovic got his first clear cut chance right in the first minute, but couldn’t keep ADO goalkeeper. After that, it was a pretty equal match. Both teams had a couple of chances, but weren’t able to capitalize on them. Abdelhak Nouri had the best opportunity in 2nd half, but his shot was held by Martin Hansen.

With game starting to end, a good counter attack by opponents resulted with a goal - Marengo got the ball on the right, cut inside, passed van Rhijn (a little too easily to my liking) and hit it into first post.

But we didn’t give up just yet and a couple of minutes later, Andresen got a shot in from inside of penalty area. Hansen got his hands to it, but couldn’t stop the ball going to goal.

1-1 was a fair result, because both teams worked hard and looked fairly even.

+ good comeback

+ good goalkeeping (2 key saves by Cillessen)

- vulnerable defense - van der Hoorn and Heitinga weren’t convincing

- poor finishing - Zivkovic, after back to back hat-tricks, couldn’t deliver in this match and we wasted our both clear cut chances

At the same time, PSV were held 1-1 by SC Cambuur, so in the table this draw didn’t change much.

12.02.2017 - Ajax - PSV Eindhoven 3:1 (ED) - 15. Lasse Schöne, 22. Abdelhak Nouri, 52. Arkadiusz Milik - 20. Valeri Qazaishvili - we had one advantage going into this game - PSV is still in Europa League competition and they had a game in Thursday. In Sunday, it left few of their players pretty tired. Their key man in midfield, Andres Guardado, was injured and Jorrit Hendrix suspended, while we were well rested, ready and in full fitness, after whole week in training to prepare for this fixture.

In front of home fans, we took initiative and overlapping van Rhijn on the right caused a lot of trouble for PSV once again. His cross found Milik in the box, and despite his shot being saved, Lasse Schöne was there to rebound and we took the lead.

But we allowed PSV a quick equalizer - Dijks was a bit too passive on his flank and allowed de Jong to cross too easily and that resulted with 1-1 right away.

Our next two goals both came from corners - good combinations, patient passing resulted in a clear cut chance that were easy for Nouri and Milik. PSV’s best period in the match were right after 2nd half kick-off. They got 2-3 shots in and Cillessen had to make brilliant saves to avoid conceding a 2nd goal. But with game nearing to end and scoreline being 3:1, so grew frustration in PSV ranks.

A great win for us, a true 6-pointer in our title race and now we got some breathing room in the table.

+ great two goals from corner situations

+ overall solid performance, no weak links and good 3:1 win

18.02.2017 - SC Cambuur - Ajax 2:1 (ED) - 17. Luigi Falcone, 63. Xander Houtkoop - 6. Arkadiusz Milik - SC Cambuur is the Leicester of Eredivisie - 2nd season in a row they’ve played excellent football, despite their low budget and mediocre material in squad. They currently lie on the 7th position and away match against them looks tricky enough.

The game started well, Abdelhak Nouri’s long pass found Milik on the run and Polish striker executed his chance superbly. But soon we were back to 1-1. Cambuur got a corner and both van der Hoorn and Serero forgot to go for header and allowed unmarked player to score.

Then Milik scored another good goal, but it was chalked off by assistant referee - doubtful decision that went against us.

I changed tactics for 2nd half - substituted Schöne for Anwar El Ghazi and turned our wings more attacking. It had some effect and El Ghazi showed instantly some skill on the right flanke, but despite our successful crossing, we couldn’t get shots on target. Both Schöne and Milik had found the post with their headers, but we couldn’t score the second goal. Instead it was Cambuur, who scored - deep cross from our left flank found Houtkoop at the far post and it was a simple chance to take - van der Hoorn played him onside, van Rhijn didn’t mark him tight enough and Cillessen let himself to be surprised in near post.

Frustrating defeat - two conceded goals from poor mistakes and a lot of wasted chances on the other end of the pitch. Probably paid the price for our transfer policy, too.

+ Abdelhak Nouri is in great form - distributing balls to right and left, creating chances and providing assists. Another great match by him.

- our defensive line looked completely sub-par, van der Hoorn was always misplaced, Heitinga is slow, we didn’t look aggressive enough and couldn’t tackle when needed

- awful finishing - 18 shots, but only 2 on target

- Daley Sinkgraven had a poor match, his morale is still low, he can’t find a good form and he’s still unhappy about Riedewald sale, I don’t have a good replacement for him, besides 17 years old Justin Kluivert

- three yellow cards that we took in this match mean that both van Rhijn and van der Hoorn will be suspended for next league game and our defensive line will be very inexperienced

22.02.2017 - Ajax - AZ Alkmaar 4:0 (ED) - 29. pen. and 38. pen. Richairo Zivkovic, 31. Abdelhak Nouri, 64. Anwar El Ghazi - as said, our defensive line was very thin for this match. I had to start with Mitchell Dijks on the left, Heitinga commanding centre, and 17 years old Matthijs de Ligt next to him, with 18 years old Darren Sidoel making his debut as a right-back. Against those green defenders came perhaps the biggest celebrity in whole Eredivisie - AZ have loand a certain Fernando Torres from AC Milan until the end of the season.

Prior to this match, I digged into tactical textbooks once again and took some advice from guru Cleon about playing attacking football. In other words - I added width and moved my defensive line up a notch + asked the lads move the ball a little quicker.

Don’t know what exactly was the key factor, but everything clicked. Zivkovic gave AZ a fair warning when his shot hit the post in 3’. AZ defenders had serious trouble defending him and he earned us two penalties in the first half, both which he converted himself. Neutral fans might claim that referee was fooled by our young striker in the 2nd penalty situation, but I don’t mind. Abdelhak Nouri scored a beautiful header from Dijks’ cross and we went to half-time with comfortable 3-0 lead. Anwar El Ghazi finished scoring in the 2nd half with header from corner.

+ great attacking football in display

+ man of the match performance by Abdelhak Nouri (a goal and assist by him)

+ solid match and two penalties by Zivkovic, he’s now scored 21 goals in this season

+ debut for Darren Sidoel and very good performance on the right defense

+ debut by young central defender Navajo Bakboord, who came on in the 2nd half

- despite scoreline, our shooting could still improve a lot - only 8 shots out of 24 found target

26.02.2017 - Ajax - PEC Zwolle 4:2 (ED) - 29., 42. and 68. Anwar El Ghazi, 90.+2 Justin Kluivert - 72. Kenny van der Weg, 77. Laurent Depoitre - our right side of defensive line was back in full force, but this time Mitchell Dijks served his suspension and Boilesen started in left defense. We looked like we picked up where we left off against AZ Alkmaar. Attacking football worked, crossing worked and El Ghazi scored two goals in the first half, one from cross by Boilesen and the other - a superb half volley from the box. Our right winger completed his hat-trick after a great counter and things looked great, but all of a sudden our defense collapsed. Zwolle earned a free kick, it was sent towards our box and nobody marked the run by van der Weg - Zwolle central defender scored an easy goal. Few minutes later Heitinga was unable to stop opponents best striker - just a hint of his lack of pace in this situation, quick move by striker that Heitinga wasn't able to follow and a very good shot into low corner that was too good for Cillessen to stop. Things got a little bit nervous and Zwolle started to find their confidence and push higher up. In the injury time, we confirmed our win by scoring the fourth goal - good cross by El Ghazi found substitute Justin Kluivert in front of the goal and it was easy for young winger.

+ great attacking display and goalscoring form

+ superb hat-trick by Anwar El Ghazi

- complete collapse defensively in 2nd half and two conceded goals

- it looks like both Heitinga and van der Hoorn might be a tad slow to play with so high defensive line

It's been a true rollercoaster month for us. It looks like we're great at home and scoring goals, but struggle in away matches. Something to think about tactically. Perhaps big transfers in January unsettled us as well, at least Daley Sinkgraven's low morale affected us in a couple of games.

Highlight of the month was undoubtedly a title match win against PSV in front of home fans. February ended with good news - Jasper Cillessen agreed to sign new 4 year contract and I'm very happy to keep him in Ajax for at least a few more seasons.

Eredivisie

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Top of the table looks more and more predictable. SC Cambuur, despite beating us, have lost their consistency and no true black horses have arrived after they dropped to 6th. In bottom half of the table, FC Twente are still underperforming, but most underachieving club is AZ Alkmaar. It's a wonder how club who made it in top 3 in last season is now fighting against relegation. Helmond Sport, despite picking up odd points here and there, are continuously first candidates to relegation.

Ajax goals: Richairo Zivkovic 21, Arkadiusz Milik 17, Anwar El Ghazi 10

Ajax assists: Abdelhak Nouri 12, Anwar El Ghazi 11, Ricardo van Rhijn 8

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