No matter the club you support or the league you follow, one thing that gets you in the feels is seeing a talented young football team get torn apart by the vultures, especially after a stunning season like the one Ajax had in 2018/19.
However, this does not faze Erik ten Haag who lost two of his brightest sparks in Frenkie de Jong and Matthijs de Ligt to Barcelona and Juventus respectively. In fact, at the signing of a new three-year deal before the start of the new season, he boldly declared that Ajax are going to build a new, stronger team from scratch.
And so far, he has not reneged on his promises.
Following the loss of the aforementioned players, the club promoted three young talents to the first team – Sergino Dest, Carel Eiting and Perr Schuurs, and also judiciously spent to replace them to strengthen the squad just as ten Haag declared. In just four match weeks, they already look like the strong team that was promised by the coach.
After the 2-2 opening day draw away to Vitesse, the team under ten Haag has gone from strength to strength and from just four matches, already have a goal difference of +11, gotten from one home game and three away games. The usual suspects are heavily involved as usual – Hakim Ziyech has four goals and an assist, Dusan Tadic has four goals and four assists, Klaas Jan Huntelaar has three goals, and Donny van de Beek (who until transfer deadline day was linked with a move away) has three goals and two assists.
De Godenzonen acquired the services of Quincy Promes from Sevilla for €15.7m, Edson Alvarez from Club América for €15m, Razvan Marin from Standard Liege for €12.5m, Lisandro Martinez from Defensa y Justicia for €7m, Kik Pierie from Heerenveen for €5m, and got goalkeeper Bruno Varela on loan from Benfica for €1m. With the exception of Kik Pierie who will be playing mostly for Jong Ajax this season, all these signings are expected to have a part to play in the first team.
In fact, Lisandro Martinez and Razvan Marin have been specifically brought in to fill the void left by de Ligt and de Jong respectively and so far, the fans have not missed de Jong and de Ligt’s departure much.
Let us take a look at the quality these two will be bringing to the Ajax setup this season.
The 21-year-old Argentine defender is just having his first run in European football and has already shown a lot of promise in the few months he has been an Ajax player.
He is a left-footed defender who can play across the defence comfortably but is best used either as a left-centreback or a left-fullback. He likes to go forward, much like de Ligt, and is very adept at long balls (averaged 6.9 long balls per match and completed 80% of them last season) and through passes (also completed 80% of them last season). His defensive intelligence is his most notable trait, as he averaged 2.9 interceptions and 1.7 successful tackles per game for his former club last season, due to his positioning and ability to read the ball movement by opponents.
He already has one assist this season and has the potential to create more goals and chances for Ajax from the back.
The 23-year old Romanian midfielder who was brought in to replace de Jong has had a shaky start to the season because the midfield requirements at Ajax is way different than that of Standard Liege. However, he has a lot of similarities to Frenkie and with proper training which Ajax and ten Haag can give him, he will not only replace but surpass de Jong’s achievement at Ajax and all that can happen in this season.
He is a great passer of the ball as well as a good crosser of the ball which is useful for deep-lying set-piece situations. He also possesses keen senses which makes his positional awareness attribute very sharp. From intercepting threatening opposition balls to finding spaces for a pass or a forward run, he has a lot to offer to Ajax.
He averages 1.2 through balls, 0.4 tackles, 3.27 interceptions, 3.5 long passes and 1.4 long shots per game. With all these stats, it’s a no-brainer if quizzed on his ability to play in the Ajax setup.
So far he has started three out of four matches for De Godenzonen this season and has provided the performances required of him, albeit with a few lapses.
IT ALL DEPENDS ON TEN HAAG…
There is no doubting the ability of the man touted to end up at Barcelona later in the future to really improve these two players and make them superstars – but with the plethora of talents at his disposal, his work is going to be cut out for him.
The situation of these two youngsters will be monitored closely by a lot of clubs – Arsenal were already interested in Lisandro before he opted for Ajax which he believed would be better for his development – and when they catch a whiff of disappointment or discontent, they will swoop in for them.
The potential they both possess coupled with the philosophy of Ajax, the team which has produced a large number of the world’s brightest footballers, is sure to shine through this season and we will definitely see a repeat of the 2018/19 European campaign.