Ajax continued their winning streak as they beat Den Haag with a solid performance. They dominated throughout the whole game and gave their fans a performance to remember. They attacked from the first minute and exploited all the available spaces. In this game, Ajax managed to play through Den Haag’s lines as they exploited the center of the pitch making their opponents seem ridiculous.
Surprisingly, Den Haag attempted to play with the ball and not simply park the bus.
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 three in midfield.
This occupied more Den Haag players leaving spaces in the flanks for Neres to exploit as they played wide and open, and it was a big surprise seeing them not parking the bus. Huntelaar would drop deep in order to take a defender with him and open spaces which Labyad took advantage of many times.
We saw Den Haag lineup as expected. Their tactical philosophy was great for Ajax as throughout the game Den Haag played openly and high up the pitch, something that Ajax took advantage as scored their first goal like this and lost many other opportunities to score from counterattacks.
Ajax’s Build up
This year Ajax have built up in an interesting and clever way. They start from the back where either Blind or De Ligt calmy play with the ball. 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. This in turn allows the Dane to receive the ball free and comfortably transfer it to the final third. Here, Ajax start to play more quickly with combinations between them and movements in pockets of spaces.
That’s also how Ajax built up their game against Den Haag. The problem with this is that they rely a lot on Schone form on the day. What helped in this game was the fact that Mazraoui cut into the middle, creating a numerical advantage for Ajax.
In this image, you can see how the right back Mazraoui has cut into the middle. As a consequence, this has created a chain of three together with Van de Beek and Labyad. This created 4v3 or even 5v3 opportunities for Ajax throughout the match, even against the organized Den Haag defence.
This is another way they attacked:
As you can see above, Huntelaar has dropped back, dragging two defenders with him and creating space for De Jong. This was a useful method, as it created 1v1 opportunities against the goalkeeper. However, the champions wouldn’t have been able to do this so easily if Den Haag hadn’t played so wide and openly.
Blocks of four
Ajax also did something else extremely interesting in order to exploit and cut through Den Haag’s defense. 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.
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. Ajax took advantage of all of this and therefore managed to win.
Ajax play high up the pitch
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 Den Haag who wanted to keep the ball. Whenever the visitors got the ball, they lost it extremely quickly.
Ajax overload one side
Another way Ajax attacked Den Haag was by overloading the side of the ball. Only one Ajax attacker was therefore left against a Den Haag defender on the opposite flank, creating a 1v1 situation. As you can see below, three Ajax players are moving towards the side of the ball. Neres is the only one staying out wide right.
Another example of this was Ajax’s second goal. This time it’s Dusan Tadic who has been left alone out wide.
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 Den Haag defenders. The example of Huntelaar 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 against teams that play like that. This is one of Ten Hag’s biggest successes this year as an Ajax coach.
A 5-1 win says a lot about the improvement and progress of this team. They have managed to play differently but effectively against any opponent. 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. They have to continue the same way as they have improved their finishing skills. We might be viewing the best Ajax in the last 10 years.
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