This post originally featured on our comprehensive world football analysis sister site, totalfootballanalysis.com.
This week, Ajax had to face Bayern Munich in the UEFA Champions League. Ajax reached the knockout stages for the first time since 2006 two weeks ago. All they had to do this week is fight for pole position against the Germans.
Robert Lewandowski gave Bayern the lead but Dusan Tadic equalised. Maximilian Wober was sent off for Ajax, with Bayern‘s Thomas Muller dismissed for kicking Nicolas Tagliafico’s head. Tadic then put Ajax ahead with an 82nd-minute penalty, but there were three goals to come. Lewandowski scored a spot-kick with Bayern’s Kingsley Coman netting before Niklas Sule’s own goal.
Ajax lined up largely as expected, however, there was one big surprise. For the first time this year, Erik Ten Hag decided to use Dusan Tadic as a ‘false 9’ and not go with either Dolberg or Huntelaar. He decided to do this in order to be able to ‘break’ Bayern’s strong defence by playing quickly and vertically.
Moreover, another reason Ten Hag decided to play Tadic as a ‘false 9’ is because he would always drop and take a defender with him and then cut quickly out wide, creating a 3 v 1 situation on the left when Tagliafico would also come high up the pitch. However, the main reason Ten Hag did this is because, as mentioned before, Tadic moved from the far side to the near side of the attacking line across two Bayern players. This movement created the passing lane for Tagliafico to play the vertical pass through that Tadic or even Donny Van de Beek collected and played on from. Bayern lined-up as expected and with no surprises.
Ajax’s build-up play
Ajax did something extremely interesting in order to exploit and cut through Bayern’s defence. They would create a square on one flank of the pitch in order to gain numerical advantage. However, this also left free spaces in the middle which any Ajax player could exploit, as the ball could be transferred there with only one pass. This way Ajax tried to create a numerical advantage against the strong and compact Bayern.
The main advantage was the creation of numerical advantage situations. It subsequently became easier to get the ball wide to the winger, create spaces in the middle by occupying defenders and to overlap the far side.
Another way Ajax build up in this game is through De Jong. The Dutch midfielder would drop back in an attempt to create a back three. The two full-backs would come to the centre in order to create a numerical advantage in the middle. The two wingers would stay wide.
This was good as it created a chain of 4 in the middle. Moreover, they created from the back with De Jong who is an extremely good and creative player who could create many problems for the German defense. You can see this detailed in the below image.
Ajax press high up the pitch
Ajax’s main goal was to limit the passing options for Bayern Munich. Therefore, they pressed high up the pitches, making it difficult for the Bavarians to distribute the ball around the pitch. They pressed really cleverly and interesting. To be more specific, they always had one player ‘cover marking’ the player who came to receive the ball. They would press in all quarters of the pitch starting from the goalkeeper and when a Bayern CDM would come to receive the ball, then he would be accompanied by an ajax player who would force him to lose the ball. This is further portrayed at the below images.
As you can see in this image, two Ajax players are going to mark the Bayern player resulting him to either give the ball back or, lose it. This is really clever as it limits the Bayern players options.
Ajax overload one side
Another way Ajax attacked Bayern was by overloading the side of the ball. Only one Ajax attacker was therefore left against a Bayern defender on the opposite flank, creating a 1v1 situation.
Take this as an example. Throughout the game vs Bayern, Ajax did this a lot. Neres was left alone on the opposite flank as he is quick and with one pass his teammates can find him and create a dangerous 1v1 situation for the German defence.
The overall aim, like in these cases, is to draw three men out of position. When a player has two defenders marking him then the overload tactic occupies four Bayern defenders. The example demonstrates this perfectly.
This can also be extremely useful in general to break down closed and compact defences. With such a strategy, Ajax can have little trouble. This is one of Ten Hag’s biggest successes this year as an Ajax coach.
A big advantage
Throughout their game, Ajax liked to have all their lines high up the pitch. Therefore, they had a numerical advantage, but also didn’t make it easy for Bayern who wanted to keep the ball. Whenever the visitors got the ball, they lost it extremely quickly.
A big disadvantage
Throughout their game, Ajax committed many silly and unneeded mistakes which led to many dangerous Bayern counter-attacks. One of them as well led to the corner from which the Bavarians scored their first goal. If ajax calm down throughout their game and try to behave more compact without pressure, then they can eliminate this mistakes and play even better and without the pressure of constantly getting hit on the counter.
The Dutch managed to deliver good and quality football, which is exactly what the fans and supporters want. They portrayed the fact that there even better from what expected and can rise up to the Champions League standards. The team has built a ‘refuse to lose’ character and will have high hopes for the rest of the tournament.
In general, this was a match between two sides that were fairly evenly matched. Both looked to play forward whenever the opportunity presented itself. We wish the team, best of luck throughout the rest of the magical tournament which connects us all together.
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