One thing the world admires about Ajax is the club’s player management. This is what endears many players to Ajax when they go after them, and Erik ten Haag is the personification of this philosophy. This is why he can confidently have two or more superstar level players for a position and still keep the balance in the team.
This is the case with Quincy Promes, who left a five-year contract signed only in 2018 with Sevilla for Ajax this summer, and David Neres, who refused offers from bigger clubs and signed a contract extension till 2023.
The Eredivisie is already five weeks gone – although Ajax has played only four weeks and have a game in hand – and both players have been played in all the games thus far (Promes sustained an injury in the third week and missed out on the fourth week) by ten Haag, either starting or being used as substitutes for each other. They both have a goal each and have averaged a 6.53 (Neres) and a 7.00 (Promes) rating in all matches.
While both performances are impressive, who should be the undisputed starter for ten Haag on the left side of the attack?
22-year-old Neres is a versatile player that can play across the attack, but he’s had his best moments playing on the right in his early days. Under ten Haag however, he is being used more on the left side and has been phenomenal for Ajax in that position.
Neres has averaged 1.42 goals and 0.95 assists per 90 minutes in all competitions playing down the left for Ajax, a good return for a player who only began to play more down the left when he joined Ajax three years ago. Neres averaged 1.8 shots, one key pass and 1.9 successful dribbles per match in the Eredivisie, and 0.8 shots, 1.3 key passes, and 1.9 successful dribbles per match in the Champions League last season and had an overall shot accuracy of 72%. In just four matches this season he has averaged one shot, one key pass and 0.5 successful dribbles in the league.
He loves to thread in through balls and has a good cross in him whenever required. He is very composed for his age with a high football intelligence which helps his decision making in attack – he knows when to cut in and take a shot or when to cross the ball into the box. He also uses his runs effectively and is surprisingly good in sprinting over long distances, a very good attacking trait to have.
His tactical and defensive side needs some working on even though his work rate and pressing off the ball are good. He tends to expend much more energy on his defensive press due to his poor defensive positioning and fazes out during offensive presses. However, he has won his coach’s trust and will keep getting games which will be very good for his development.
The 27-year-old Promes found moving to Sevilla after a successful spell at Spartak Moskow unfruitful, as former Sevilla coach Pablo Machin did not know how best to utilize his talents. He needed a new challenge in his career and when his hometown club Ajax (where he played as a youth) came calling, he answered.
Promes is a versatile player who has been even been played as a fullback and across the attack, but his best position is on the left side of attack. In Russia, he was the fans’ favourite player and the first name on the team sheet when played in his natural position down the left wing, and he owes this achievement to his technical ability.
Before his dull spell at Sevilla, Promes averaged nine dribbles on average per game with an impressive 68.7% success rate. He has great control of the ball, as well as possessing good off-the-ball movement. He has an eye for a good pass and is a very good crosser of the ball. He is as good a finisher as many top strikers but his poor positioning sometimes means that he is caught offside more often than not, a testament to his below average tactical attribute.
So far playing for Ajax this season, his ball control has matched well with Donny van de Beek’s abilities. Combining his through ball sense with Van de Beek’s off the ball movement and explosiveness has caused a lot of problems for opponents already and with only five weeks gone, could prove even more troublesome.
WHO SHOULD BE THE FIRST CHOICE LEFT-WINGER?
It is important to note the fact that Neres is a converted right winger, while Promes is a natural left winger when thinking about this.
Ajax could benefit if Erik ten Hag’s tactics include Promes as an extra force on the left or right of the attacking line, or as a left midfielder. So far also, positioning him in the wide midfield of the 4-2-3-1 has unlocked Hakim Ziyech, who has scored in every game thus far. He is sure to also benefit Dusan Tadić’s movement due to his first instinct to play a through ball or a cross.
However, Neres is more prone to attempting a shot at goal, greatly increasing the chances of the team to score. In his three seasons with the club, most of his goals have come at vital points in games rather than when the team has already won, and from shots taken when he cuts in from the left.
Promes will provide more width and will not crowd the middle for Ajax whereas Neres is more likely to come into the middle which will already have Donny, Tadic and sometimes Ziyech. Even though Neres’ proclivity to cutting inside does little harm, it sometimes means that the wide areas will be open for the opponents to exploit.
There is no saying who should permanently start on the left-wing, but one thing we know is that ten Haag will have to be even more pragmatic than he already is when it comes to who gets a call-up to the starting XI, with the Champions League looming.
However, I see Promes starting more games than Neres and the young Brazilian coming off the bench more. The development will be interesting to follow.