UEFA Europa League Ajax vs Strum Graz Tactical Analysis

 

Ajax continued their winning streak as they won Willem II in a good and solid performance. Ajax looked to secure the win early as they were already 2-0 ahead in the 22nd minute. But why couldn’t Ten Hag’s team secure a bigger win and score more goals? Throughout this article, I will analyse why and how Ajax played one of their best games so far this season.

Team news

Ajax lined up as expected without any surprises. Throughout the game, ajax’s players would always do the same thing. Tadic would cut inside to create space for Tagliafico to attack and be dangerous. Many times in the game, Mazraoui would cut inside and join Schone and de Jong whilst attacking in order to create a chain of 3 in the midfield occupying more Willem players leaving spaces in the flanks for Ziyech to exploit as Willem II played wide and open and it was a big surprise seeing them not parking the bus. Dolberg would drop deep in order to take a defender with him and open spaces which Neres took advantage of many times.

We saw Willem II lineup as expected. Their tactical philosophy was great for Ajax as throughout the game Willem II played openly and high up the pitch, something that Ajax took advantage as scored their first goal likethis and lost many other opportunities to score from counterattacks.

Ajax’s Build Up

This year Ajax builds up in an interesting and clever way. They start from the back where calmy either Blind or De Ligt play with the ball as De Jong cuts diagonally towards the side that the ball is being played to in order to take an opponent with him and create space for Schone to get the ball free and without any problem transfer it to the final third of the pitch where the Ajax players there start to play quicker with combinations between them and movements in peeks of spaces. That’s how Ajax build up there game also against Willem II. The problem with this is that they rely a lot on if Schone is on form and at a good day.

However, before Schone gets the ball it’s very important that De Jong cuts wide towards the ball in order to grab a defender with him and create space in the middle. This worked a lot against Willem II as they played openly meaning that Schone had a lot of free space in the middle to organize and create. This is why ajax had one of their best game so far this season. This is further portrayed through the movements of De Jong at the pitch.

In this image, you can see how De Jong in the game with Willem moves towards the flanks of the pitch and more specifically towards Tagliafico’s area. This happens for two reasons. Firstly, as mentioned before in order to create space for Schone and secondarily because Tagliafico moves up the pitch and De Jong covers for him sometimes in case of a counter attacks. This image also proves that Ajax based most of their attacks from the left.

Dolberg and Huntelaar create space for Neres

Throughout the game, when Ajax got stuck and couldn’t find any free spaces they would have Dolberg drop back in order to take a defender with him and create space for David Neres to exploit. This is how Dolberg created space for Neres to become dangerous

Huntelaar was subbed in on the 54 minute and was a huge threat for Willem’s defense. Huntelaar on the other hand, created space for Neres differently. Whilst Neres had the ball he would move wide towards the flanks in order to open space in the middle for Neres as he took a Willem II defender always followed him. Throughout the game, this was proved very successful as Neres many times found himself close to scoring because of this.

Ajax overload one side

Another way, Ajax attacked Willem II is by overloading the side of the ball with players as the other side was free with only one Ajax attacker against a Willem II defender creating a 1v1 situation.  

As you can see in this image, 3 Ajax players are moving towards the side of the ball in order to create an overload as Ziyech is free on the right flank. By doing this Ajax could create chances at any time of the game as with one pass they could find a free player or create a 1v1 situation. This is the reason that Ten Hag placed Ziyech there as he is a quick player and could beat any Willem II defender on a 1v1.

Willem’s II defending

The way Willem II approached the match was one of the main factors which led to Ajax’s win. They played box-to-box against a team that dominates, has quick players, clinical finishers and can be very dangerous in counter attacks. This was their mistake which to Ajax having one of their most productive games of the year in regards to chances created.

Here we can see how open Willem’s II defense is which allows Ajax to counter attack and create a 4v2 situation. This also was how Ajax managed to score their first goal with Dolberg. In my opinion, if teams like Willem II want to get a positive result against Ajax then they should lay more deep and not press their fullbacks high up the pitch because this is exactly what Ajax wants and needs in order to win and dominate.

Conclusion

A 2-0 win, in the end, was the least Ajax could have expected and done. However, their overall performance combined with the chances they created was much better as the game could have ended 4 or even 5-0. The squad has been settling over the last couple of weeks and the players are starting to be more confident as they try new things on the pitch and know exactly how to break the opponents defense.

Ajax has to continue the same way and if they improve their finishing skills then we might be looking at the best Ajax in the last 10 years.