Category Archives: Champions League

Ajax 3 – 1 Manchester City: Smart tactical move helps Ajax win first Champions League points

With a nice tactical twist by Frank de Boer, Ajax turned the score around to beat Manchester City 3-1 after conceding the first goal. Goals by captain Siem de Jong, Niklas Moisander and Christian Eriksen earned Ajax’ first points of the Champions League campaign and put City’s future in this competition in severe doubt.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3 that was a 4-5-1

The starting line-ups.

Although not known for his tactical flexibility and tweaks during matches, De Boer has shown in this year’s edition of the Champions League to be well able to adapt his team’s playing style to the formidable quality of the teams that Ajax has faced so far. Against Dortmund and Real Madrid, Ajax operated very deep, with Ryan Babel as the sole true offense player in a target man role in a formation that turned out to be a deep 4-5-1 under offensive pressure.

Today, however, De Boer fielded a novelty, at least for Ajax, in a different way to try and solve the same problem. Today Ryan Babel came in from the left wing, with Christian Eriksen – only 20 years of age, but with 155 (!) senior matches under his belt already – playing a deep-lying striker role, reminiscent of the false nine principle, frequently helping out in midfield during City’s possession. Captain Siem de Jong added physical presence to Ajax’ midfield and provided overlapping runs from midfield where possible, in line with the false ten concept. On the right wing, 23-year old Tobias Sana, a new signing this summer, will have aimed to improve on being the defensive liability in his difficult first two Champions League outings, but only half and half succeeded at that.

 

Manchester City’s 4-2-3-1 that became a 4-4-2

The versatility of this Manchester City starting eleven is huge. Not just in terms of different players available, but just with a midfield four of Barry, Milner, Yaya Touré and Nasri, City started with an XI able to play 4-4-2, 4-2-3-1, 4-2-2-2 or any cross-over between these. Tonight it started out as a narrow 4-2-3-1 formation, but switched to a more orthodox 4-4-2 during the first half. As always, their offense rotated and switched positions frequently, with all three of Dzeko, Aguero and Nasri showing up in striker or wide forward positions at times during the first half.

 

The first half

Ajax started the game quite positive, in line with Frank de Boer’s quote before the game that “a draw would be useless…” With City playing compact in their narrow 4-2-3-1 formation, Ajax proved able to circulate the ball, but couldn’t quite penetrate City’s half yet. With remarkably advanced full-backs given the otherwise defensive adaptations installed, Ajax proved able to find space in wide areas. Both Blind and Van Rhijn were frequently left in acres of space by City.

In defense, Ajax’ formation frequently changed to a 4-1-4-1, with striker Eriksen withdrawn in midfield and Ryan Babel moving inside to the striker zone. In this regard, the choice to switch Eriksen and De Jong from their usual roles worked quite well. Eriksen was able to pick up balls at feet in his beloved central offensive area and the young Dane fired in two of Ajax’ first shots of the game. Meanwhile, Siem de Jong contributed to Ajax’ physical presence in midfield and proved essential in Ajax’ first goal of the game.

Despite Ajax’ dominance in wide areas, it was City that opened the score. Ironically, with Ajax’ full-back being very involved, the first offensive contribution from a City full-back initiated the move. Micah Richards played a delicious through-ball to exploit a distance between Ajax’ centre-backs that would never have been termed a gap at Eredivisie level. His pass set free James Milner, the ball was circulated wide and Nasri fired in coolly in the far corner.

After taking the lead, City attempted to strengthen their wide areas by switching from the narrow 4-2-3-1 to a genuine 4-4-2. Central midfielders Barry and Touré still sat a bit deeper than the rest of the midfield, but Nasri at the left and Milner on the right side provided more cover for their full-backs. At least, in theory they should, but as tracking overlapping full-backs has never been Nasri’s strength, Ajax kept on finding space on their right wing.

Exactly this space proved vital in the build up to the equalizing goal. Captain Siem de Jong set off a move that was in fact a very long distance one-two pass with right full-back Van Rhijn, to finish the move with a well-controlled one-touch shot from just outside the box.

 

The second half

In the second half, just before conceding the third goal, City lined-up in a 4-4-2 that was a 3-4-1-2 in possession, with Nasri drifting all over the pitch and Milner and Kolarov bombing forward in wide areas.

Having conceded the equalizer on the brink of half-time, different questions were asked of City in the second half. Knowing that only a win would keep their hopes of qualifying alive, they significantly increase the stance of their back line. This, combined with the fact that Ajax kept the line as high as they normally do, ensured a game played with much more urgency than before.

Ajax did concede possession earlier and City indeed had a few chances, but it was Ajax that grabbed the lead. Niklas Moisander, a summer signing from AZ Alkmaar, headed in at the near post from a well-struck corner by ‘Man of the Match’ Christian Eriksen. Just ten minutes later, as City was getting ready to build the pressure, Ajax had the luck that had escaped them earlier in this Champions League campaign as Eriksen saw a deflected shot fly in for the 3-1 score line. However, this move was initiated by decent early pressure that allowed Schöne to win a dangerous turnover deep in City’s half.

 

Gung Ho

Now trailing by two goals, Mancini gradually threw on his full strike force. Just before Eriksen’s goal, he had already introduced wing-back Kolarov for Lescott, but near the end of the match the full forces of Dzeko, Aguero, Balotelli, Tevez and Nasri were fielded together. This left the midfield in the hands of just Touré centrally with wide support of Kolarov and Clichy.

Spaces were wide open on City’s side of the pitch, but Ajax failed to extend the score further, with Sana missing an excellent one-on-one opportunity. At the other end, both Dzeko and Nasri saw close range attempts either saved or go wide.

 

In the end

Despite Mancini’s in-game change of formation and his gung ho substitutions, the winning tactical move of this game was made before kick-off. Fielding Eriksen in a withdrawn striker role killed two birds with one stone. Siem de Jong provided the energy, work rate and physical qualities that would have been lacking with Eriksen besides Schöne in central midfield, and Eriksen provided excellent movement between the lines and made dangerous runs at City’s centre-backs.

But the most obvious battle during this match was City’s initial narrow formation versus Ajax’ wide overlapping full-backs. Blind and Van Rhijn regularly provided the outlet that was missing in earlier Champions League games and City allowed Ajax to escape their pressure in this way. Mancini did try to fix his wide areas, but despite the wealth of world class strikers thrown on the pitch, decent wingers would brought more pressure to Ajax.

 

Feyenoord 0 –1 Dinamo Kiev: Offensive intentions fall just short

Despite their offensive intentions, Feyenoord fell just short of their target. In a match that proved quite open, both teams had their chances, but Feyenoord could just as well have pulled this one off. Returning to the 4-3-3 formation brought Feyenoord a handful of chances that just didn’t fell their way. Overall, Kiev sealed a bleak performance with an injury time goal.

 

Feyenoord’s return to 4-3-3

In his first competitive match of the new season, last week Ronald Koeman lined Feyenoord up in a different shape compared to last year. In Kiev, Feyenoord operated from a 4-4-2 diamond, incorporating new signings Immers, Vormer and Janmaat in the line-up.

The starting line-ups

Compared to last season, Feyenoord, as it looks now, will have to do without the presence of John Guidetti upfront. The Manchester City loanee was instrumental last season in terms of finishing –he scored a unique series of three home hat tricks – but nonetheless so in tactical terms. Imposing physical strength upfront, Guidetti was a focal point in their attack, always ready to receive balls with his back to goal, looking either to exploit the opportunity himself, or to bring team mates into play.

With Guidetti now gone, and no similar player brought in, Feyenoord are fashionably without a target man striker. In Kiev, this resulted in a 4-4-2 diamond, with pacy wingers Cissé and Schaken looking to exploit their athletic qualities and the rest of the team more or less holding ground against expected superior opposition.

Today, however, Vormer lost his starting spot to striker Guyon Fernandez, who completed the front three, and therefore the return to the wide 4-3-3 formation that served them well last season.

 

Dinamo Kiev’s 4-2-3-1

Two years ago, Kiev played Ajax in around the same stage of competition, only to lose 2-3 on aggregate. This time around, Kiev defended a 2-1 home lead. Just like in their home match, Kiev operated from  a solid 4-2-3-1 formation.

Compared to two years ago, the obvious omission is recently retired striker Shevchenko. New into the squad this year is Portuguese international and defensive midfielder Miguel Veloso, who now plays the deep playmaker role beside ‘destroyer’ Vukojevic in the double pivot. An interesting observation that continued from the first match is that manager Semin preferred striker Ideye Brown over Artem Milevski, with the Nigerian striker rewarding his manager with the winning goal, much like in the first leg.

 

The power of width

The key word to describe the difference between Feyenoord last week and Feyenoord today is width. The 4-3-3 formations set out with a completely different aim than last week’s 4-4-2 diamond did. The three man offense stretches play, widens spaces, and Feyenoord’s main problem of last week, where they lacked creativity and the ability to keep hold of the ball, was well addressed today.

The key player for Feyenoord this year will definitely be Jordy Clasie. From his deep-lying midfield position, the youngster is a ferocious ball-winner, but also exerts great control in terms of distributing play. He is pivotal in Feyenoord’s possession play, and with passing targets either side of him, his game shines much more than it did in the crowded diamond of last week.

Most notably, along Feyenoord’s right side, Clasie’s distribution helped build some nice attacks, with their best move being the Janmaat cross where Schaken saw his close range header stopped by Kiev goal keeper Koval.

 

The price of width

Of course it’s not all sunshine with a change of formation. What Feyenoord won in terms of being able to hold onto possession and exploiting the offensive side of the game, they paid for in defensive terms. Compared to last week, both full-backs were assigned more offensive duties and both Leerdam and Immers made frequent runs from deep to support striker Fernandez.

This resulted in more vulnerability from turnovers, an area which Kiev loved to exploit. Feyenoord was forced to resort to breaking up moves of their opponent early at the cost of a handful of free kicks and an early yellow card for Martins Indi.

 

Kiev’s plan

To qualify for the next round with a 2-1 home victory in the pocket, Kiev manager Semin had to make an important choice. Scoring a single goal would allow his team to nullify two potential Feyenoord goals without being eliminated, but preventing a single Feyenoord goal would see them through regardless.

Like most managers would, Semin set his team out mostly to prevent the opponent from scoring, while hoping to take advantage of the increasing space that Feyenoord would need to give up as time ticked away.

 

All about space

In the second half, Feyenoord gradually increased their offensive intentions, thereby granting Kiev exactly that space they were looking for. The first fifteen minutes went according to the first half picture, with Feyenoord’s best chance against coming from a right wing cross, when Immers’ short range volley found goal keeper Koval on its path.

After the hour mark, Koeman introduced Cabral for Fernandez and Vormer for Janmaat, which essentially switched the formation to a 4-2-4. In later stages, with new signing Singh for Nelom, Feyenoord even went the classic 2-3-5 path, in desperate hope of chasing the goal that would open the door to the next round.

Meanwhile, Feyenoord’s powers faded and players clearly couldn’t pose the amount of pressure needed to win early turnovers in open play. Kiev gained longer spells of possession and their individual player quality helped them construct longer offensive moves. Even without creating significant chances, this prolonged possession reduced an important source of danger: losing balls in your own half.

In a nice sense, these two matches between Feyenoord and Kiev illustrate the concept of space in a football match. Initially, Feyenoord’s cropped 4-4-2 diamond of the first match aimed to reduce space wherever possible, and gradually via the wide 4-3-3 that started today and the 4-2-4 and 2-3-5 that followed in later stages, Feyenoord aimed to increase space as much as possible. A nice parallel between space and balance of needing to score versus needing to contain!

 

In the end

Despite losing twice, Feyenoord only just fell short of defeating Dinamo over two matches. Having had a handful of excellent goal scoring chances in the first half, the score could have just tipped over differently. But, although in longer term, chance conversion tends to even out between teams, in short term competitions like these, there is no room for balance. Feyenoord and Kiev created a comparable amount of shots over two matches, but Kiev simply proved the better finishers, or luckier.

Lyon 0 – 0 Ajax: Goalless draw sees Ajax come close to the CL knock-out rounds

Ajax managed to obtain exactly the result they came for in their fifth Champions League Group stage match, duplicating their home result with a 0-0 away draw at Lyon. Considering Real Madrid’s absolute dominance and Dinamo Zagreb’s failure to grab any points so far, the balance in results between Ajax and Lyon see Ajax now firmly hold an advantage of seven goals over their French rivals for a place among the final sixteen of this season’s Champions League.

 

The starting line-ups

Lyon’s 4-2-3-1

Rémi Garde had his team operate from the same formation as he did in the match in Amsterdam, with several first team starters by now returned from injury. Most importantly, creative forward Lisandro made his first start since August, playing as an advanced midfielder / support striker to Gomis. Also returning were captain Cris at centre-back and all-round midfielder Gourcuff in central midfield.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3

Since the match away at PSV on September 18, Frank de Boer took a step away from trying to install Theo Janssen in a deep-lying playmaker role, and in turn fields a genuine holding midfielder. In the match against PSV he started with Anita, but Boilesen’s hamstring injury forced Anita back to the left-back spot, introducing Eyong Enoh in his beloved destroyer holding midfield role. This concept was continued in the clashes with Twente and AZ, and Enoh also started Ajax’ three last Champions League matches, earning three clean sheets.

Severe selection problems  for De Boer concerned the striker role, with Sigthorsson, Siem de Jong and Bulykin all out injured. Uruguayan international Nicolas Lodeiro was granted his first start ever since starting his injury-plagued Ajax career back in 2009/10. By nature more of an offensive midfielder, Lodeiro played a deep-lying false nine type of striker role, creating space for overlapping runs by Eriksen and Sulejmani. Boerrigter was unavailable through injury, allowing Ebecilio a start at the left wing.

 

The first half

In the first match between both teams, Ajax set out rather optimistically and paid the price for that stance with a handful decent Lyon counter attacks. In this particular match, Frank de Boer seemed to have tuned his team more defensively minded. Several differences with Ajax’ usual playing style were to be noted.

First, and most importantly, they played with a much lower level of pressing compared to Ajax’ usual style. Lyon’s centre-backs were allowed time on the ball, with Eriksen consequently shadowing defensive midfielder Källström, rather than advancing to press higher up the pitch. With both formations being mirror images, Ajax looked happy to sit back in a mixed zonal-man-marking system, where most of times regular combinations of the same Ajax- and Lyon players moved across the pitch.

Another change was induced by the role Lodeiro played upfront. He often positioned himself rather deep, more in the advanced midfielder zone than the striker area. This proved an essential point in the match, as his stance consequently allowed Ajax a passing option when looking to play the ball out from defense. The diagram below illustrates this very well. In the first half, Lodeiro received no less than 24 passes, 16 of which came from Ajax’ own half. His subsequent 16 of 21 passes completed confirmed that he did not only receive the ball, but kept possession too. In this way, Lodeiro allowed his team to obtain slightly more possession than Lyon over the first half.

 

 

 

The second half

Lyon expressed much more urgency in the second half and advanced their defensive line. Ajax still sat back, but had much more problems playing the ball out from the back. Lyon’s urgency was also expressed in their crossing. In the first half, they made seven crosses, all of which failed to reach a Lyon player, and in the second half they attempted twenty crosses, reaching a Lyon player with only three of them.

This represented Ajax’ philosophy to rather sit back and absorb, than prevent the crosses coming in in the first place. Both Vertonghen and Alderweireld never looked under threat from Lyon’s rather direct offensive game.

Lyon’s more offensive approach resulted in a more open game, with the French team pushing and Ajax looking to profit from quick breaks, goal scoring attempts that have a proven higher success rate in terms of scoring goals. Just that finishing touch missed though, as Sulejmani, among others, missed an excellent opportunity to convert one of Ajax’ quick second half breaks.

Overall, both teams created a comparable amount of chances, 17 for Lyon versus 15 for Ajax, but the quality of chances created by Ajax seemed higher, with 8 of their attempts coming from inside the box, and most of their 8 second half chances arising from counter attacks.

Near the end of the second half, Lisandro, just returning from injury,  faded more and more, and the introduction of Ederson in the 73rd minute installed some new energy up front, as was illustrated by the fact that Lyon created 9 of their 17 attempts after his introduction. Although most of them were long range attempts, Ajax goal keeper Vermeer was forced into some crucial saves during this final phase of the game.

 

In the end

Overall, both teams put in a comparable performances, but, just like in the first clash in Amsterdam, they did so in very different style. In Amsterdam, Ajax was the aggressor, while this time Lyon was forced to play for a win, playing at home and needing more than a draw to prevent themselves from having to overturn a seven goal difference in the final game.

Ajax was forced to deploy a non-natural in the striker role, but saw this working out very well. Most notably in the first half, Lodeiro proved a reliable passing option to play out from the back and his deep-lying striker role seems quite an asset for Ajax, at the very least when facing quality opposition. Excellent individual performances by goal keeper Vermeer, centre-backs Vertonghen and Alderweireld and also by holding midfielder Enoh ensured that Ajax either kept Lyon out of their own box, or dealt with their attempts. The resulting long range efforts, or hopeful crosses were dealt with rather comfortably.

Dinamo Zagreb 0 – 2 Ajax: Guests take advantage of difference in formations

Ajax ended a difficult streak of European football, to virtually secure the third place in their Champions League group, while also keeping sight on the second place that would provide a prolonged Champions League season. They did so with their single holding midfielder 4-3-3 system, albeit with a genuine destroyer at the base of the midfield. This allowed them to take advantage of the space provided by Zagreb’s 4-4-2 diamond system.

 

Ajax’ 4-3-3

In the absence of striker Sigthorsson, Frank de Boer preferred Siem de Jong up front, rather than target man Bulykin. De Jong offers more passing advantage and off the ball movement, better suiting Ajax’ possession based game than Bulykin would do. The vacancy that this created in central midfield was filled in by advancing Theo Janssen to a more advanced role, an opportunity he took with both hands. Playing in a style and position reminiscent of his player-of-the-season performance at Twente last year, Janssen did an excellent job distributing the ball.

The starting line-ups

With both De Jong and Janssen playing more advanced than they did before, Eyong Enoh was introduced in the holding midfield role. Enoh is a genuine destroyer type of midfielder, which allows both Janssen and Eriksen a solid base to build upon. He is often criticized for his lack of passing quality, but in this match he completed 43 of his 45 passes (96%), provided 2 key passes and won 6 of 8 tackles.

 

Dinamo Zagreb’s 4-4-2 diamond

Judging by the excellent football-lineups.com website, Zagreb is a team that tends to mix it up between single and double striker systems. While mostly playing a 4-2-3-1 formation, against Ajax, perhaps pressed by the urgency to win this match in order to keep sight on the third place of the group, they preferred a 4-4-2 system. Their star player, Brazilian Sammir, played in close proximity behind strikers Beciraj and Rukavina.

 

The first half

Despite De Boer’s promise to start the game with a high level of pressing, it was Ajax who were on the back foot from the first minute on. Zagreb pressed their opponents very high up the pitch, thereby also creating an early goal scoring chance. But as Ajax grew more and more awareness of this high level of pressing, they seemed more capable of playing around the pressure, which opened up space for their own passing game.

An important tactical point in this game is the concept of two teams playing each other with two genuinely different formations. Both Zagreb’s strikers were dealt with by Ajax’ centre backs, with both full-backs ready to help out at times. Enoh did an excellent job neutralizing Sammir’s danger, thereby significantly limiting Zagreb’s offensive options.

In midfield, Ajax’ pair of Janssen and Eriksen succeeded in exploiting the main strength of single striker formations, overloading the opposing midfield. When playing flat 4-4-2’s this should allow the three of Enoh-Janssen-Eriksen to overload a flat pair of central midfielders, and against a diamond midfield, the pair of Janssen and Eriksen overloaded single holding midfielder Calello.

This could have been different had Zagreb not displayed as offensive intentions as they did, but with shuttling midfielders Badelj and Leko often venturing forward, the coverage of the central midfield area was often left at the hands of Calello alone. A series of Ajax chances and half chances was the result, and it was a matter of failed conversion rather than failed creation that kept Ajax from taking a lead. Furthermore, Zagreb’s lack of control was expressed by the high yellow card count, with three of their five defensive players being booked before half time. Most, if not all, of Zagreb’s opportunities arose from simple passes going astray in Ajax’ back line, with particularly Gregory van der Wiel playing way below his usual level.

 

The second half

With the score level and Ajax dominating possession-wise and slightly dominating chance-wise, Zagreb manager Jurcic seemed intent on increasing the offensive stance of his team. Zagreb’s full-back played higher up the pitch, aiming to win balls earlier on.

The exact opposite of what Jurcic had intended was the result of his move. Ajax took advantage of the space conceded behind Zagreb’s full-backs and exploited the pace of wingers Boerrigter and Sulejmani. The pair of them combined for Ajax’ opening goal in the 48th minute.

After that, there was no way back for Zagreb. Having tried to force the opening goal themselves, they were now in dire need of a comeback goal and were obliged to further increase their offensive intentions. Ajax, however, took excellent use of the extra space provided and Theo Janssen could be seen to spark in a role reminiscent of his excellent past season at Twente.

With the narrow 0-1 score line, the game became more and more of an end-to-end affair, with Ajax having only their weak conversion of goal scoring chances to blame for the fact that it was still a tight match. In the end it was Christian Eriksen who converted a one-on-one chance, having played through by Dimitri Bulykin, who had replaced Boerrigter by then.

Quite a tell tale perhaps was the fact that, forced to remove winger Boerrigter, De Boer refrained from his most expected change to move Eriksen out wide and retract De Jong to his midfield position. Instead, De Jong was shifted out wide, which kept the midfield three, who all had excellent games, as it was.

 

In the end

It is too early to base any favorable conclusions regarding Ajax’ game on this one match, but these three points do virtually guarantee a prolongation of the European football campaign for them. The fact that Zagreb used a 4-4-2 diamond system, rather than their usual 4-2-3-1, certainly helped Ajax to find the spaces in midfield to express their dominant passing game. And on top of that, pushing the full-backs up in the second half was the one thing needed for Ajax to exploit, given the pace of their wingers.

A sparkling performance by the midfield three of Enoh-Janssen-Eriksen may inspire De Boer to refrain from using Janssen in a single holding midfielder role. And if it’s anything to go by, the choice to move De Jong wide, rather than pulling him back to the midfield role may strengthen this thought.

Real Madrid 3 – 0 Ajax: Tactical trouble at Ajax from a wider perspective

In  the much anticipated replay of last year’s Champions League group stage game ,where Ajax took a true battering and ended up losing 2 – 0 at Madrid, Ajax lost 3 – 0 this time at the Estadio Bernabeu. In terms of ‘face value’ Ajax provided more counter play – in fact their amount of 19 shots registered was higher than any Champions League opponent achieved at the Bernabeu since Bayern in the 2006/07 Champions League quarter final – but the final score line and the dominance expressed by Real’s front four left little to the imagination. Ajax failed the benchmark test that was supposed to show the progress made under manager Frank de Boer in the past year.

 

The wider perspective

Rather than picking on tactical situations of this particular match, or highlighting individual players’ performances, this might be a nice moment to reflect on the tactical shortcomings of Ajax’ optimistic wide forwards 4-3-3 system, which has failed to produce a European football goal for 433 minutes now. In fact, Ajax has failed to win a single match against opposition of equal quality so far this season. The Dutch Super Cup was lost to ten men Twente (1-2), while both the Eredivisie clashes at PSV (2-2) and at home against Twente (1-1) were drawn.

Two players coming in for quite some criticism for their performances during these matches are right full back Gregory van der Wiel and holding midfielder Theo Janssen. While it sometimes seems hard to suppress the knee-jerk reaction to blame the individual players at stake, at the same time such a reaction seems irrational and unfair. Dutch international Gregory van der Wiel definitely has the potential to play an important role for this Ajax team and Theo Janssen rightfully stood out as the Eredivisie player of the year last season, dominating both crucial Eredivisie matches and European fixtures for his club Twente.

So why is it that these two players seem to carry the burden of what’s going wrong at Ajax at this moment?

 

The ‘Ajax philosophy’

The starting line-ups

Ajax have shown difficulty beating opponents of equal or superior stature. At the same time, matches against inferior opposition are won relatively easily, as expressed by the recent club record of scoring twice or more in fifteen consecutive Eredivisie matches. And to be fair, the Eredivisie contains quite a lot of those inferior teams compared to the standards set by Ajax, both in terms of youth player development and the standards of player acquisition.

Manager Frank de Boer consistently has Ajax play in a wide wingers 4-3-3 formation, and the offensive nature of that formation is accompanied by a high pressing, possession based playing style. This way of playing football is deemed essential to expressing ‘the Ajax culture’ and is applied rigidly, with little room for modulation, apart from varying the individual players involved.

This way of using the 4-3-3 formation contrasts with most of the teams of equal or superior opposition that Ajax fails to produce results against, and it does so in exactly the full backs and holding midfielder areas of the pitch, where Van der Wiel and Janssen fail to deliver at present. While most other teams make quite clear choices to maintain the balance between offense and defense, De Boer has committed himself to an over-attacking formation that gets picked apart by decent opposition.

Other teams, as evidenced by the recently published UEFA Champions League technical report, maintain their balance either by covering their defensive line with conservative use of their full backs while playing a single holding midfielder, or by covering their offensive full backs by deploying two conservative holding midfielders. De Boer has made it abundantly clear that it is part of his ‘playing philosophy’ to use offensive full backs, while fielding only one holding midfielder, and that rigidness is causing trouble.

 

The Real Madrid goals

All three of Real Madrid’s goals provided excellent cues to the problem at stake. At the first goal, Ajax’ midfield was completely overrun by a brilliantly executed high speed one touch passing move. Both of Ajax’ full backs were overrun by Real’s front four as high as on the midline of the pitch. The second goal saw central playmaker Kaká in acres of space at the edge of the box after Theo Janssen had moved over to the right full back area to cover for Van der Wiel, leaving Kaká a playground of space in a crucial area. A second holding midfielder would have easily closed down that space. Finally, the third goal was preceded by an impressively well executed 60 yard Xabi Alonso pass that picked out advanced full back Arbeloa, indeed, free in Ajax’ right back area with Van der Wiel pressing too high up the pitch and Janssen still on his way back from covering duties at left back.

 

Tactical naivety

It is not the individual effort by Theo Janssen or Gregory van der Wiel that lies at the heart of the problem. One single holding midfielder simply can’t cover for full backs expressing offensive desires. Any side capable of quick ball circulation and witty movement along their offensive players will pick such a side apart.

Against inferior opposition this problem might be less exposed, although Ajax are still looking for their first clean sheet of the Eredivisie season, but the tactical naivety of demanding both offensive input from the full backs and playing a single holding midfielder will be punished when playing decent opposition, where the ‘I’ll just score one more than you do’ approach won’t work.

Meanwhile, Frank de Boer has moved himself into a difficult situation by proclaiming the status of ‘untouchable’ to the present playing style, stressing that this is the true Ajax philosophy. For now it is clear that he isn’t winning any important matches with it.

Ajax 0 – 0 Lyon: A balanced game between two teams with different intentions

In their first Champions League game of the 2011/12 season, Ajax were held to a goalless draw by Lyon. While the home side had all kinds of troubles turning their majority share of possession into anything more than slow build-ups, the away side proved efficient in creating chances, yet extremely inefficient in finding the target.

 

Ajax’ usual formation

Ajax started with their familiar wide wingers 4-3-3 shape. The only variety applied recently by Frank de Boer in personal terms concerns Ajax’ left back position, where the three of Boilesen, Anita and Blind have shared starting spots so far. Tonight young Boilesen is preferred, indicating Ajax’ offensive intentions going into this match.

 

Lyon’s shape

The starting line-ups

Lyon were without three  of their big stars as Cris, Gourcuff and Lisandro were absent. Gonalons partnered Källstrom in central midfield, while Grenier dropped off striker Gomis in the hole of the 4-2-3-1. Lyon’s formation showed most characteristics of a 4-2-3-1, although their defensive compactness throughout the match made it look most like a genuine 4-5-1 with both banks grouped closely together.

 

The first half

The game started with frantic pressing by Lyon, but they abandoned that kick-start tactic after a few minutes. From that moment on, Lyon mostly took a deep stance, waiting for Ajax to build from the back, while keeping the midfield populated densely. Their five midfielders faced Ajax’ three nominal midfielders, which explained much of the game throughout the first half.

Ajax dominated possession at 64% to Lyon’s 36%, but had a lot of problems playing the ball into the midfield, where Lyon had a numerical advantage, and with that, a dominant position. Ajax’ supposed midfield playmaker Eriksen saw quite some of the ball, but was limited in his creative options with so many opposing players close by, while Siem de Jong hardly featured in the first half of the match. Theo Janssen, Ajax’ only deeper midfielder, was closely marked by Grenier, making it difficult for the centre-backs to reach him in the build ups.

 

Lyon’s counters

While Ajax had trouble turning their possession into anything more than a handful of off target headers from corners, Lyon turned their limited share of possession into promising shooting positions. Striker Gomis had a few shooting chances from inside the box that all arose from quick ground counters after Ajax lost the ball in the midfield area.

The previously raised point on Lyon’s 5v3 dominance comes into the debate here too, as Ajax was forced to bring more bodies to the midfield battle and did so by regularly advancing the full-backs. While Van der Wiel did contribute positively to Ajax’ offensive game, youngster Boilesen was caught out losing possession more than once, inducing dangerous counters with his flank abandoned. Aside from advancing full-backs, also one of Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld did advance into defensive midfield at times in attempts to tackle the numerical midfield disadvantage, which obviously also opened option for Lyon to counter.

 

The second half

The main difference between the first half and the start of the second half was that, either voluntarily or forced, Ajax allowed, or had to allow, more of the possession to their opponents. This did open up more space for Ajax’ offensive midfield to operate in, but Ajax gradually seemed to run out of power to fully take advantage of these options.

Their best spell was probably around the hour mark, when Ajax produced three quick shots on target in succession, which were also their first ones on target. All three of these arose from situations where either a central defender (Vertonghen) or a full-back (Van der Wiel) provided the finish or the key pass.

De Boer’s first substitution, carried out around the 70th minute mark, exactly like in the Heracles match a few days ago, tackled exactly Ajax’ main problem area. Anita replaced Janssen, who, as described above, had a tough time receiving passes at feet due to Grenier’s excellent man-marking duties. Another major problem for Janssen in his presumed deep-lying playmaker role was the difficulty to reach Siem de Jong and Christian Eriksen who were well shielded by Lyon’s numerical advantage in midfield.

After substituting Janssen, both De Jong and Eriksen were seen to collect the ball from slightly deeper positions and Ajax’ distribution showed more variety. Partly as a result of this, the game opened up a bit more, with both sides being presented more scoring opportunities, where they continued to display their troubles to find the target.

 

In the end

Overall, both sides produced a fairly comparable amount and quality of goal scoring chances, making a draw a fair result. From a tactical standpoint it’s interesting to realize the different philosophy of creating these chances. Ajax aimed practically all of their build-ups at keeping possession, gradually attempting to build their way around Lyon’s packed midfield. Lyon, on the other hand, aimed to snatch upon the options presented as soon as Ajax lost possession in midfield.

Twente 2 – 0 Vaslui: Solid result in tough game

Based on the 2-0 final score line you wouldn’t tell that Twente had a tough time breaking down their Romanian opponent at home. Twente missed four key players and had severe problems building attacks from the back. As a result, the transition from last season’s double holding midfielder system to an offensive 4-3-3 didn’t go all that smooth yet.

 

Twente’s improvised starting eleven

The starting line-ups. Note Adailton's smart positioning inside, to add to Vaslui's numerical advantage in the midfield area

New manager Co Adriaanse will aim for offensive pressing football from a 4-3-3 formation, which is quite a change from Twente’s previous patient approach, based on two holding midfielders, with Brama covering midfield playmaker Theo Janssen. Without their best players, Twente will rely on the playmaking inputs of Bryan Ruiz and Nacer Chadli, with the latter presumed to take up a central pitch position under Adriaanse.

However, for this match Chadli was out due to a knee injury and Ruiz was also ‘unavailable’, adding to speculations on a move away from Enschede. On top of that, new signing Willem Janssen was ill and right wing back Roberto Rosales is returning from Copa America duties with Venezuela.

This forced Adriaanse into fielding a young starting eleven. He drafted left-back Thilo Leugers into a box-to-box midfield role, completing the duo of Brama as holding midfielder and Luuk de Jong as the most offensive central midfielder. Leugers’ left-back spot was filled in by Bart Buysse and Tim Cornelisse, a veteran defender signed from Utrecht, replaced Rosales at right-back. Bajrami started on the left wing and on the right wing talented Steven Berghuis earned his first appearance for the senior side. Both wingers played predominantly wide roles.

 

Vaslui’s game plan

Vaslui based their game on solid defending from a compact 4-2-3-1 formation. Both defensive midfielders consequently prioritized their defensive duties and right winger Adailton, a former Serie A veteran, used his experience well to contribute to Vaslui’s packed five men midfield.

Offensive intentions mainly came though set pieces, with Adailton’s 15th minute free kick rattling the cross bar a fine example, much like was outlined in this preview of the game. On top of their set pieces, quick surging counters, predominantly played through left winger Sanmartean provided some options for Vaslui too.

 

The first half

Taking a deep stance, Vaslui had no problems leaving both Twente’s central defenders a lot of time on the ball. As a result, Douglas and Wisgerhof mainly showed off the weaker aspect of their game, passing the ball over longer distances. In earlier years Twente always had Theo Janssen dropping deep to collect short passes of both central defenders, but not only does Twente miss the player Janssen now, but their transition to an offensive 4-3-3 formation played a role too.

A single holding midfielder is simply easier to mark than two of them taking turns in receiving short build-up balls. As a solution, the free playmaking style of Bryan Ruiz would have been highly valuable in matches like these, where the opponent is happy enough to sit back, pinning Brama with a single offensive midfielder, as Wesley did in this case. Halfway through the second half Twente started working their way around this problem by dropping Bajrami into deeper positions, but this reduced his ability to express his skills in a wide winger crossing role, which should be his main quality. All in all, Twente failed to create goal scoring chances, with a few unsuccessful Bajrami crosses being their main offensive threat throughout the first thirty minutes.

 

An opening goal anyway

Vaslui carried out most aspects of a compact five men midfield game rather well, but they slipped up with regard to their discipline. Though they succeeded in keeping Twente away from their goal for the majority of the first half, they did so at the cost of 21 fouls, earning  five bookings over the course the match. On one of these occasions, Leugers was fouled inside the penalty area when making a well timed effort to connect with a cleared Bajrami cross. Striker Mark Janko converted the penalty to put Twente one nil up with their only shot on target so far.

 

 

Ongoing problems

Twente’s problems building from the back couldn’t have been illustrated better than they did in the first minute of the second half. Douglas and Wisgerhof clumsily gave possession away in their own half and a dangerous effort by Wesley was claimed well by Mihaylov.

It was Twente, however, who added another goal to the game. Firing in a close range rebound after Luuk de Jong’s header from a set piece cross hit the post, Mark Janko added his second of the game with Twente’s second attempt on goal.

Now facing a 0-2 score line, Vaslui made a clear offensive substitution, removing holding midfielder Costin to introduce wide midfielder Milisavljevic, moving Adailton to a second striker role. The main effect of this offensively intended change was that Vaslui allowed Twente to take over the dominance in the midfield department. With the match drawing closer to its end, Vaslui dearly missed the numerical advantage that their compact five men midfield had offered them up till that time. As a result, Twente finally succeeded in creating from the midfield area, although, ironically, they did not add to their tally during this phase of the match, despite creating more than half of the goal scoring attempts in the final thirty minutes of the game.

 

In the end

With a 2-0 home win Twente may feel quite confident of reaching the play-off for the group stage of the Champions League. In an analysis performed last year, 89% of teams were shown to reach the next round of a European tie after this result.

Twente’s weak building from the back may be of concern, but the absence of both Ruiz and Chadli make it difficult to judge their performance in this regard. Still, it will be very interesting to see how they will deal with grouped compact five men midfield teams, like Vaslui. And perhaps some of the lower rated Eredivisie teams might take their lessons from the fact that the Romanians allowed just two shots on target during the first hour (with one of them from a penalty kick), only to concede more chances after giving up their numerical midfield advantage.

Milan 0 –2 Ajax: Quite a managerial debut for new manager Frank de Boer

New Ajax manager Frank de Boer succeeded in installing hope in the heart of the Ajax fans in this match against, it must be said,  an uninspired Milan side where no less than seven regular players were rested. Milan either preferred to sit back of were forced back by Ajax (presumably the first) as Ajax combined along the flank and create a significantly higher amount of goal attempts. In the second half Ajax succeeded in converting chances into goals to win a game that might be categorized as a dead rubber in terms of the Champions League competition. But, in terms of installing new found self-confidence and providing hope for their fans, Ajax did a very good job tonight.

 

Change of manager

Quite a match to make your debut as the new Ajax manager. Frank de Boer was propelled at high speed into the manager seat at the club he loves and took over from Martin Jol only two days ago. In his pre-match press conference he spoke of bringing back the joy of playing football among the players and he stated himself to be an adept of the outside winger 4-3-3 system, quite in the way that Ajax used to play in their most recent successful era, the mid-nineties.

 

Change of system

The starting line-ups

His approach to this game meant several alterations to the formation that we’ve discussed over the past Jol reign. A central role, both literally and figuratively speaking, belongs to the attacking central midfield position. Previously the domain of club legend Jari Litmanen, now young starlet Eriksen is given both the responsibility to carry the weight of team and the opportunity to shine in a role that he sees best fitting to his own playing style. Upfront El Hamdaoui is dropped in favour of Siem de Jong, who is drafted into the striker role from midfield. Expect him to play more of a linking role, often with his back to goal, looking to lay off for Eriksen, Sulejmani and Suarez.

 

Milan’s 4-3-1-2 system

After an overambitious phase at the start of the season, where Allegri tried to fit three of Ibrahimovic, Robinho, Pato and Rnaldinho into his team and ended up with a ‘broken team’ and an overrun midfield, Milan has settled for two upfront now. And this brought a successful domestic run, leading the club to win all but two of their last eleven Serie A matches.

The front two of Ibrahimovic and Robinho have scored 12 goals among them in this successful recent run of eleven games and behind them Clarence Seedorf lives his umpth youth in a linking role in central midfield. Width tends to be the weak point of diamond formations such as the 4-3-1-2, as illustrated in the only Serie A match that Milan lost after September, at home against Juventus

 

The first half

Ajax did indeed start the match with an approach quite different from the Jol era, only a few days gone. The wing players took a very wide position, as illustrated in the average positions diagram below. Striker de Jong figured as a linking man rather than looking to finish moves off and the full-backs, especially Gregory van der Wiel on the right, ventured forward quite regularly.

Another important change installed by Frank de Boer was the switch of Luis Suarez from right to left. This meant a return to the left wing where he regularly played during his high scoring 2009/10 season and a break with the Jol trend to move Suarez to the right after right winger Rommedahl was sold.

Ajax' average position diagram after 30 minutes of the game. Note the wide positions of wingers Suarez (16) and Sulejmani (7).

This did result in a dominant spell for Ajax during the first part of this first half. A series of chances, mainly from distance was created where de Jong regularly supplied Eriksen, Sulejmani and Suarez. Eriksen succeeded in finding space between Milan’s lines. On top of that, Ajax played a high pressing game and succeeded in making some dangerous interceptions on Milan’s half. Of note was also that Ajax succeeded in achieving a pass completion percentage high in the eighties in their entire backline and midfield. This underlined that, in line with Ajax’ mid-nineties ideas, keeping hold of the ball was a goal in itself.

In the final part of the first half Milan took a more offensive stance and this brought more balance to the game. Ajax defended by keeping their holding midfielders de Zeeuw and Enoh close to the narrow back four and managed to limit Milan to only two attempts on goal in the entire first half.

 

The second half

A curious incident marked the start of the first half, a quick through ball found the run of Sulejmani behind Milan’s lines and at first sight of the referee he was fouled by Milan keeper Amelia, but on second thought and assisted by his staff, referee Bo Larsen identified the dive, and rightfully so.

Ten minutes into the second half Ajax succeeded in expressing their dominance on the score board. Ironically it was a blocked shot by striker De Jong, whose main task had been to supply the other strikers, that fell to De Zeeuw who placed the ball in the corner of the goal.

Ajax even added to that first goal with a beautiful shot by central defender Alderweireld from outside the area. His involvement high up the Milan half illustrated Ajax advanced pressing game.

By that time, Ibrahimovic had just entered the pitch for Ambrosini, indicating that Milan switched to a three upfront system in search for a goal. His presence created more danger and a series of small Milan chances, as if to underline the fact that Ajax had been playing a tuned down Milan team so far.

Every right to smile: new Ajax manager Frank de Boer

In the end

Not many manager will have made their debut with an away victory in the Champions League and Frank de Boer takes full credit for this win as well as for the display that went along with it. His change in playing style along with a few positional and personal changes, like moving Suarez to the left, resulted in hope in the hearts of Ajax fans. At last they got to see a glimpse of the capacities of their team tonight, albeit against a weakened and uninspired Milan side.

Ajax 0 – 4 Real Madrid: Outclassed in every aspect of the game

If not for the UEFA millions of the Champions League, Ajax won’t have anything to look back on once these group stage games are done with. Their game against Real Madrid saw them outclassed in every department, highlighted to the extreme by the unique fact of two Madrid players purposefully upgrading their yellow cards to reds by delaying taking a free kick and a goal kick. The video of this sequence of events might serve to illustrate the gap between Europe’s top teams and a struggling Dutch top team at the moment. Tactics hardly played a role in the game, such was the difference in sheer player quality.

 

Ajax’ 4-2-3-1

The starting line-ups

Much, perhaps too much has been said on this side about Ajax’ tactics recently. Referring to the recent analysis after the home defeat against ADO, Jol definitely misses balance in his team currently. This was further illustrated in the home draw against PSV where the midfield positioning was debatable once again.

Against Real, Ajax kept on playing the same formation as always. Let’s keep on calling it a 4-2-3-1, although the advanced positions of De Jong and De Zeeuw give the formation a 4-2-4 outlook at times. This time Urby Emanuelson was drafted into a defensive midfield role beside Eyong Enoh. It clearly unsettled Emanuelson who, unsurprisingly, did not have the best of games in an unfamiliar position, having to face top class opposition.

 

Real’s 4-2-3-1

The huge gap in quality between the sides could not have been illustrated better than by them playing the same formation. This generally favours the better team and tonight was no exception. In contrast to Ajax, Real’s defensive midfielders put in a magnificent effort. Especially Lassana Diarra, completing 91% of his 56 passes and winning countless tackles in the centre of the pitch, drove his team on. Together with Xabi Alonso he was responsible for over a quarter of Real’s passing, illustrating their dominance in the center of the pitch.

 

The match

As has been said in the introduction to this analysis, tactics hardly came to effect as this was a match between two very unevenly matches teams right from the start. What Ajax could have done was to take this as a fact and go for a well-grouped compact defense, which, initially they did to some extent. It may or may not have been the influence of Emanuelson in this role, but Ajax’ defensive midfield played in close proximity to their defensive line, thereby decreasing the need for a pushed up defensive line that proved costly in earlier matches, for example the home match against Milan. In the screen below, Real illustrates Ajax how to position yourself in a 4-2-3-1 when in possession: wide in attack, compressing space at the back and above all, keeping both defensive midfielders withdrawn. This very important aspect of their positioning allowed Alonso and Diarra to receive the ball at feet in a zone away from Ajax’ pressing.

Real's demonstration of a 4-2-3-1: defenders are red, defensive midfielders orange, attacking midfielders / wingers yellow and the striker blue. Note the strechted attack and the deep position of the defensive midfielders, which allows them space to receive the ball at feet.

But as the match carried on, Ajax got seduced into playing along with their opponents. Emanuelson, initially offering a welcome defensive minded partnership with Enoh, got involved higher up the pitch and Ajax got caught out at the back by the technical superiority of Cristiano Ronaldo and his team mates.

 

The opening goal and more

After conceding the opening goal, just over half an hour into the match, the match felt practically over. By then Ajax had not managed a single shot on target, which in fact would just be what they managed to create, a single shot on target. Real got their game going and the difference in quality between the sides was obvious from every move. One thing to note here was the fact that, again, Ajax conceded from an indirect free kick, like for example the painful second goal away at Auxerre.

Real’s quick follow-up with a second goal, albeit from a deflected free kick, ensured that the match was in fact over indeed. Beyond this, Ajax was unable to provide the slightest of hope to turn the match around and it was all about Cristiano Ronaldo and his mates from there on.

 

A bizarre end to the match

Not so much of tactical value, but too bizarre to leave unmentioned here was the closing phase of this match. José Mourinho clearly seemed to instruct first Xabi Alonso and then Sergio Ramos to ‘upgrade’ their yellow cards to reds by having them purposefully delaying the taking of a free kick and a goal kick that long that the referee could hardly do anything else than hand the players a second yellow card. Their direct red means a suspension for the final match of the group stages, leaving them with a clean sheet for the knock-out phase. If the UEFA does not interfere here, which they might certainly do, given that the players clearly showed unsportsmanlike conduct.

Auxerre 2 – 1 Ajax: Finding the right formation took Ajax too long…

Ajax adapted their formation to finally find the right solution to the problems that Auxerre’s 4-4-1-1 caused them. Unfortunately it was too little too late for Ajax, as Auxerre managed to win through a deflected shot and a debatable offside situation in a quickly taken free-kick.

During their confrontation in Amsterdam, Auxerre confirmed their status of a defensive minded team. On paper playing a 4-4-1-1, the deep role of central attacking midfielder Contout turned their formation in a flat 4-5-1. Up until the red card for Ajax defender André Ooijer, Ajax had a firm grip on the game and even after this moment, although at some point they switched to a 4-4-2 by introducing Queria, Auxerre was never the team to take the initiative.

The starting line-ups. Note the four Ajax attackers facing no less then eight Auxerre players in that half.

Tonight Ajax misses veteran centre-back Ooijer, after his red card in the previous match. Judged on the basis of the past few weeks he seems to have made it to Jol’s preferred first eleven over Toby Alderweireld and Oleguer. Tonight it’s the young Belgian replacing him again and he’ll surely be looking to regain his place in the heart of Ajax’ defense.

Further switches have been made in Ajax midfield. During the past few weeks, Ajax’ midfield three was composed of Eyong Enoh and Rasmus Lindgren in a holding role with Siem de Jong playing the man-in-the-hole role. At times, de Jong’s role was occupied by Demi de Zeeuw, previously used in a holding role, but held responsible for the positional indiscipline that contributed to the disappointing result of the away match at Real Madrid . When used in the attacking midfielder position, like in the previous match against Auxerre, de Zeeuw flourishes in a quite advanced role like a ‘false nr. 10’, looking to connect with El Hamdaoui’s ‘false nine’ tendency.

Auxerre misses first choice striker Jelen for a longer period now, but his replacement Oliech is suspended after his red card in the previous match with Ajax. Tonight Julien Quercia, subbed on in the previous match, is granted a rare start. Behind him, an even more rare starter features in an attacking midfield role, Frédéric Sammaritano had only spent 54 minutes on the pitch this season, spread over five spells as a sub.

 

The first half

The match started out pretty much as expected, Ajax slightly dominated possession, but did not create any danger as yet with their ground play in attack. Auxerre looked happy to sit back a bit and look for quick breaks during which their relatively small (1.68m and 1.62m) attackers showed a good sense of movement early on, rather running at balls in space than receiving direct balls.

Like in the previous match between these teams, an early goal decided the tactical fate of the game. Auxerre managed to grab the lead, deservedly so, through a deflected shot by Sammaritano from just outside the area. From that moment on, they sat even deeper inside their own half, waiting for their breaks to come. With two teams playing different formations, most danger often occurs on predictable places. Auxerre’s rather deep wide midfielders were often able to receive the ball at feet and run at Ajax’ full-backs. Both Contout on the right and Birsa on the left took the opportunity at hand to create a lot of danger from this area.

A further contribution to the fact that Ajax’ play disappointed was clear from their first half passing stats. A team average 78% with an absolute number of 259 passes completed is definitely on the high side, but only 51 of those passes came from the attacking four players (Emanuelson 14, De Zeeuw 8, Suarez 18, El Hamdaoui 11). So it was quite clear that Ajax was able to pass the ball around quite freely among their back four and the two controlling midfielders, but as soon as an attacking move was made, they lost possession. The fact that De Zeeuw, in a position that should be dominant in a 4-2-3-1 completed only 8 of 13 passes is indicative of the fact that Ajax missed the link between midfield and attack in this phase.

A major determinant of this low pass completion in the opposing half is not the technical execution of the passes, but merely the fact that Ajax defended two attacking Auxerre players with no less than six defense minded players. In consequence, this left Auxerre eight outfield players to defend Ajax’ four attacking players. The passing stats become a lot more insightful when considering this tactical shortcoming.

 

The second half

At half-time Ajax manager Jol started his series of attacking substitutions. First off, Siem de Jong was introduced for the surplus second controlling midfielder Enoh. Moving de Zeeuw back a bit into a box-to-box midfielder role gave Ajax a slightly more attacking outlook, but their problem of overdefending was not solved yet.

This took until the second substitution, near the hour mark. Sulejmani was introduced for Anita, with Emanuelson moving to left-back. This meant that, in possession, Ajax moved their full-backs forward on the flank, effectively leaving only Lindgren and the centre-backs to defend Auxerre’s striker. With Ajax’ attacking numerical inferiority now solved, chances started to come in numbers.

Toby Alderweireld capitalized on one of a series of Ajax chances by heading home a Suarez cross for an equalizer that changing to the correct tactics deserved. Ajax went on and upped the pressure further, looking for the win rather than a single point. But instead it was Auxerre that got the win in the end. By smartly taking advantage of a quickly taken free-kick they managed to sneak in the winning goal through substitute striker Langil, who, despite receiving the ball in offside position, was allowed through on the Ajax goal.

Jol found the solution, but too late...

In the end

Judging by the on-pitch action this might have seemed just one of those matches that Ajax seem to have and unfortunately their European campaign has been severely impeded over the past years by these kind of showings.

But taking a more tactical approach one might argue that it becomes time that Ajax starts to adapt their tactics to the opponent’s formation and playing style, rather than consequently try and impose their style on the opposing team. Ajax is by no means a defensive team, but having adopted the 4-2-3-1 system, the risk of overdefending against a team playing only two attacking players could have been foreseen. Playing six defensive minded players against a team very well known for their 4-4-1-1 is one example, but leaving space in front of the full-backs for the opposing wide midfielders to run onto is another. The importance of avoiding to overdefend could not have been better illiustrated than by the difference between Ajax’ first hour and the final half hour of the game. Unfortunately for Ajax, in the end Auxerre even managed to sneak a winning goal in, but hopefully this serves to make tonight’s lesson easier to remember in the future.