This week Ajax had to face AEK Athens in the UEFA Champions league. Ajax reached the knockout stages for the first time since 2006 after a Dusan Tadic brace gave the Dutch side a 2-0 win over 10-man AEK Athens in Greece on Tuesday.
AEK, who had Marko Livaja sent off in the second half, have no points and have been eliminated from European competition after suffering a fifth straight defeat. Ajax had to face a fierce and amazing AEK crowd who wouldn’t stop cheering from the first to the last minute.
It was a surprise see Ajax go with a 4-3-3 rather than a usual 4-2-3-1. Although they enjoyed the lion’s share of the possession, they failed to create any chances before midfielder Donny van de Beek hit the post in the 63rd minute.
English referee Michael Oliver awarded Ajax a penalty after Livaja handled a free kick and sent off the Croatian with a second yellow card for the offence before Tadic calmly converted the spot kick.
AEK Athens lined up with no surprises as they stayed back to defend for the greater time of the game.
Ajax’s build up
Throughout their game, Ajax like to build up in an interesting way. They start from the back where calmly either Daley Blind or Matthijs de Ligt play with the ball. As Frenkie 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 Lasse Schone to get the ball free and without any problem, the ball is transferred to the final third of the pitch where the Ajax players start to play quicker with combinations between them and movements in spaces.
However, in this game Van de Beek was the one in charge of bringing up the ball.
As you can see, in this image, Van de Beek has grabbed 3 AEK Athens players leaving Ajax players in the middle ready to get the ball and be dangerous. In this game Ajax based most of their attacks from the left due to the fact that AEK’s right back Michalis Bakakis usually went high up the pitch creating space for Ajax to exploit.
It is very important to note that due to the fact that Ajax had no pressure throughout the game, Frenkie de Jong many times would start an attack from the back and carry the ball in front with no problem.
Dolberg moving behind the defenders
Throughout the game, Dolberg would move behind AEK’s defence as the two defenders where not placed well, nor was there a good distance between them.
As you can see in this image, Dolberg has nobody marking him and has a lot of space in front him to move in.
AEK’s style of play
AEK played with five at the back in order to prevent Ajax. When attacking their defensive midfielder would come back in order to start the attack. Throughout the game and until the 65th minute at least, Ajax played calmly and let AEK play with the ball. However, the Greeks didn’t take advantage of this as they preferred to sit back and wait for Ajax. This was the mistake that cost them the game.
Ajax were having a really bad night, and if they had played like this against Benfica or Bayern Munich, then the scoreboard would have been humiliating for the Dutch. AEK also chose to not press at all throughout the game which gave Ajax a lot of chances as they were calm and comfortable with the ball when no one pressed them.
Things to improve for the future
Ajax have surely a lot to improve ahead the next games. They seemed to not take this match seriously which was a big mistake and almost costed them. If it wasn’t for the penalty then I can’t see how Ajax would have won this game. AEK seemed to become more dangerous at counter attacks throughout the end of the game and Ajax was sending more players forward.
This portrays the fact that the match could have taken any direction in the end as AEK had 3v1 or even 4v2 counter attacks before the penalty, but the lack of word-class players was enough for Ajax to feel secure at the back. Ajax have to start playing more direct and fluidly in games like this as they decided to play calmly and slow which was vital for AEK not to concede for 65 minutes.
The 4-3-3 seemed to fail, as Ajax played more directly and with greater ease in the first match when they used the compact 4-2-3-1. This should be a message that Ajax got. However, one advantage of the 4-3-3 was that they always had one extra player to play the ball in the middle if something went wrong. This also made the AEK players run more and lose energy. However, the negatives outweigh the positives. Ajax should never use this system again and just play with the normal and compact 4-2-3-1.
Ajax reached the Champions League knockout stages for the first time since 2006 and can go even further. It is important to note that the match left a sour taste as some AEK fans beat and injured many Ajax fans in an attempt to show their superiority. We do not accept actions like this and believe that football is the sport that connects us all instead of taking us further apart from each other.
On the tactical side of the game Ajax played OK, but could do even better. Erik Ten Hag tried the 4-3-3 which seemed to fail, but at least it didn’t cost the team with loss of points. We hope for better performances in the future. The team achieved its goal, which was to secure a place in the knockout stage. Since the target was met, there is nothing more to say. Well done!