English information about Dutch football club AFC Ajax written by a Japanese blogger - Fresh News, Match Reports, Introduction of Players and so on...オランダのサッカークラブ、AFCアヤックスに関する情報を英語でお届けします!

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Eredivisie - Excelsior vs Ajax: Two Great Couples in Ajax

At the away match against Excelsior Ajax won 1-4. I didn't watch the game because I had something to do, so I just watched the highlight of the game instead. This victory is a natural result because it's obvious that there is a huge difference in the quality of players between the two teams. It is a good news that Ozbiliz has been in good form recently. I think the pace of his development is incredibly fast, and I also believe that he can be in good competition with Boerigter when he returns to action. Here's the highlight of the match.

(sorry somehow can't add a youtube movie on this article, so click on the link below, it will direct you to the highlight of the game uploaded by EredivisieLive on youtube)

Today I want to focus on four Ajax players. Sulejmani, Lodeiro, Eriksen and Siem de Jong. These young midfielders and attackers have been playing for the first squad of Ajax at least since 2010. Siem de Jong joined the first team in 2007, and Sulejmani was transferred to Ajax in 2008. Lodeiro and Eriksen made their first Eredivisie appearance in January 2010.

Lodeiro and Sulejmani are both very skillful players. They both have good technique and can do what other ordinary players cannot easily do with their creative ideas. When Lodeiro plays at center forward, they show a good combination. They have made many chances for Ajax with their one-two pass.

Take a look at the first goal in the last match. This goal was a result of a good cross from Van Rijn and a calm finish by Ozbiliz, but the cross from Van Rijn was possible because of the good work by Lodeiro and Sulejmani. Suleimani's back-heal and Lodeiro's through pass were both excellent. I remember their combination led to an own-goal by the opponent in the Eredivisie match against AZ (1-1). The highlight above is just 6-7 minutes long, but you can see many good combinations between the two.

Another good couple in the team is Eriksen and Siem de Jong. Yes, Eriksen can be a good couple with anybody because of his incredible passing skills, but in the last match the two goals by Siem de Jong were both from Eriksen's assist. The third goal by Ajax was an typical example of how Ajax scored goals this season. Eriksen's lobbed through pass is the basis of Ajax goals. Remember the opening goal by Siem de Jong in the KNBV Baker match against AZ (2-3). It was also from Eriksen's lobbed through pass. Furthermore, it seems that Eriksen has recently increased the accuracy of place kicks. That's why De Jong was able to score two goals.


From this match on Ajax are going to face medium/low quality teams (Sorry if you are a fan of one of these teams!). In the first half of the season Ajax defeated Roda and ADO with four goals in each game. Ajax also defeated RKC 1-0. So I hope Ajax will make consecutive wins and beat PSV at Amsterdam ArenA on March 25! If everything goes well, Ajax can be the table toppers by the end of March and I think (from an objective point of view) it is by no means unrealistic.

Eresivisie Stangings (23 games):
1. PSV 48 pts (Next match: Twente (3rd))
2. AZ 46pts (Next match: Heracles (10th))
3. Twente 45 pts* (Next match: PSV (1st))
4. Heerenveen 44 pts (Next match: ADO (15th))
5. Ajax 43 pts (Next match: Roda (9th))
6. Feyenoord 41 pts (Next match: Grooningen (8th))

*Twente played only 22 games.
*There's a 9 points difference between Feyenoord and Vittesse (sitting 7th)

Detailed and easy-to-read standings at Goal.com

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Europa League - Manchester United vs Ajax: Ajax, We Are Proud of You!

We gave it our best. After the 2-0 defeat in Amsterdam we had nothing to lose, and we can be very satisfied – to beat Manchester United at Old Trafford is a big honour for us.  - Miralem Sulejmani

After their 0-2 defeat at home, Ajax visited Manchester with nothing left to lose. Manchester United, one of the best clubs in the world, were beaten by the away side Ajax 1-2. This was the best game for Ajax in this season, and coach De Boer became the first Dutch coach who won a game at Old Trafford.

Aras Ozbiliz after his goal

Just after the game began, Park made a good interception and Hernandez scored in a very calm manner. Considering the deference in quality of players (and also the fact that United were the home side), the situation seemed almost hopeless for Ajax. However, Ajax have long history in European football and they have never changed their attacking play style no matter who the opponents are. Ajax never lost their pride and confidence even after the first goal by United. They maintained ball possession throughout the game (United 42: 58 Ajax), and the defenders didn't lose concentration. Sulejmani and Lodeiro showed a good combination near the United goal, and De Jong contributed very much to both defense and attack (he played as defensive midfielder in the second half and did a good job). Vertonghen once told the media that he didn't think he should play like a real captain, but this time he led Ajax with great captainship and excellent reading of the game.

The Man of the Match was clearly Aras Ozbiliz. He became the equalizer with a good half volley shot, and his free kick led to Alderweireld's powerful header, which gave victory to Ajax. Faced with United defender Fabio, he showed good dribbling and passing skills.

from BBC.co.uk
Despite their victory at this away game, Ajax were eliminated from the tournament on goal difference. But I want to congratulate them on their never-give-up attitude. And this experience meant a lot to them.

Of course, from the next match Ajax can concentrate on the Eredvisie only while other Dutch teams in the Europa League (PSV, AZ and Twente) progress to the next round. But more importantly, you should pay attention to the fact that many Ajax players in the match were very young players who made their first team debut just one or two years ago. Left back Koppers (20 years old) and midfielder/attacker Klaassen (19) received their first cap for Ajax just four months ago, and right back Van Rijn (20) five months ago. Ozbiliz (20) made his Eredivisie debut during the last season. Serero (21) made his dream come true last year by joining the Dutch champions from Ajax Cape Town. All others who played in this match, with exceptions of Sulejmani and Lodeiro, are the products of Ajax youth academy. Of course, the match against a big club like United was a good opportunity for them to call attention to their future employers, but also an important moment for their development in terms of mentality as well as football skills and tactics.

Admittedly, the victory was largely attributed to the poor performance by United and the absence of United striker Rooney. However, I was simply impressed and deeply moved by not only their good performance but also the philosophy and mentality they had as a club that had great history in the world of football. I hope Ajax can grow stronger, someday defeat a club like United once again, and hold a title in European competitions. Ajax players and fans should be proud of themselves.

They will return to the title race in their home country. Ajax will face Excelsior tomorrow.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Eredivisie- Ajax vs NEC / A New Tactics?

Last Sunday Ajax defeated NEC 4-1. Bulykin scored two, and was substituted after playing only 30 minutes (De Boer joked that he wanted to maintain Bulykin's goal per minute ratio). Siem de Jong especially did a good job, but in this article I want to focus on Anita's role.

Vurnon Anita

Anita can play both side back and defensive midfielder. In the match against NEC he played at defensive midfielder due to the injury of Enoh. Anita is below average in terms of bodily strength and defensive skills, but he has agility and stamina.

Anita's contribution to defense was not something I want to mention today. In the last match, his role in ball possession was something you might not have seen recently. In Ajax, ball possession starts from the goalkeeper. When Vermeer holds the ball he always tries to make a short pass to defenders instead of making a pant kick to attackers. Usually, center back Vertonghen or Alderweireld receives the ball from Vermeer and makes a longitudinal pass to one of the midfielders, or Vermeer makes a pass directly to Enoh after two center backs vacate a space. But in the last match Anita tried to receive the ball in between Vertonghen and Alderweireld. By doing this, the two center backs, who both have good vision and good passing skills, can play a more active role in ball possession. When Anita received the ball near the defense line and made a pass to other players, he stepped back into the defense line and prepared to receive a return pass. Moreover, with Anita at a lower position when in possession, Eriksen played at a lower position, too, and built attacks from the rear of midfield.

(When the ball is on the left side)

This was effective at least in the first half.

In the second half they continued to do this, but in a more experimental way. In the middle of the second half, when they were trying to build attacks backward, their positions were 3-4-3. Vertonghen played as a sweeper or "libero", Alderweireld and one of the side backs (who was far from the ball) temporarily became right and left center backs. Anita played in front of Vertonghen, and the other side back, who was near the ball, played as a wing back.

(When the ball is on the right side)

This kind of smooth position changes cannot usually be seen in dutch football, as most Dutch teams do not like to change their 4-3-3 formation. I had been thinking that Ajax were not the exception, but in the match against NEC I saw different Ajax. It is unclear whether this was a new tactics instructed by coach De Boer or just an accident, but anyway I felt that football played by Ajax in the last match was exciting.

Tonight Ajax visit Old Trafford to play an Europa League match against Manchester United. Let's keep our fingers crossed!

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Europa League - Ajax vs Manchester United

On 16 February Ajax met Manchester United in their first Europa League match this season. The result was 0-2, with the goals of Young and Hernandez. There are many other good and reliable information sources on this match, so I will mainly focus on Ajax players.

Dico Koppers

Coach De Boer basically used the same formation as he did in the last Eredivisie match against NAC Breda. Defensive midfielder Enoh was replaced by Aissati. Bulykin again played at center forward.

They played excellently in the first half. Siem de Jong made a good middle shot, which was reflected by goalkeeper De Gea. Ajax did not easily give away possession, and the defenders showed great concentration. In my view, left back Koppers, though he was still inexperienced compered with other players on the pitch, did a good job in front of Nani. He made a few mistakes and in the second half he was overwhelmed by United attackers, but his contribution was greater than I had expected (though his rating by Goal.com was extreamly low...).

Sulejmani was a starting point of Ajax attacks. His crosses threatened United, so I wished that Bulykin had played better, like he did in the match against NAC. Anyway, the opponent team was Manchester United, not an ordinary team in the Eredivisie. Though he was not weaker in the air than United defenders, he lacked concentration and missed opportunities.

Vertonghen and Eriksen showed why they are closely followed by bigger European clubs. Vertonghen's tackles prevented United attackers from playing freely and saved Ajax many times. He was trying to make good short passes to midfielders, and he seemed to be refraining from make long passes. United defenders could not easily be troubled by long passes from the opponent defenders, so Vertonghen's choice was a wise thing. He was a key player in ball possession.

Eriksen's middle shot after a wonderful dribble in the first half was one of the highlights of the match. He did not give away the ball easily under pressure, and he caused much trouble to United with his technique.

United could not play easily in midfield. Without Enoh, Aissati contributed to both defense and attacks. Of course, Rooney was a little bit too much for him, but he did not lose concentration throughout the match and I think it was OK.

So Ajax played good football. But I have to say that De Boer's substitutions were hard to understand. Why did he made two substitutions in defense? Why did he use inexperienced Lukoki in this important match? When De Boer decided to replace Ozbilitz with Lukoki, Ajax was clearly in need of some sort of stimulus and ideas to get closer to the opponent goal. There was only one player who could do this; Lodeiro. But he was not given a chance to play.

I know that most people were interested in United (and perhaps Eriksen and Vertonghen) only, but next time I hope more people pay attention to Ajax players and tactics as well. Next Sunday Ajax will play an Eredivisie match against NEC.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Europa League Preview - Ajax vs Manchester United

February 16, at 19:00 CET, Ajax will host last year's Champions League finalists Manchester United. Now it's around 11:00 am in Japan. I will do what I have to do today and after that I will take a short sleep before the game begins at Japanese time 3:00 am tomorrow.

Manchester United training in Amsterdam ArenA

As you can easily imagine, it will be very difficult for Ajax to will this game, despite the fact that this is their home game. First of all, too many players are injured now and they themselves are not in good form. Second, Manchester United are one of the best teams in the world, although they were eliminated from the Champions League. But I hope Ajax can show their own style of football in this match and can score at least one goal. If they happened to win, all soccer fans would be astonished.

Anyway, it will nonetheless be interesting to see how Ajax will play this match.

Ajax will have to do without Janssen and Enoh. So it remains to be seen who will play in midfield. Furthermore, coach De Boer suggested in his press interview that Bulykin would not feature this match. Bulykin is strong in the air and can show a good performance in Eredivisie games, but in front of the tall and strong defenders of United, he will be powerless. De Boer did not reveal the name of the start striker, so I am wondering what the starting line-up will be.

You can think of several possible patterns.

  1. Anita, Aissati and Eriksen in midfield and De Jong at central forward
  2. Aissati, Erikesen and De Jong in midfield and Lodeiro at central forward
  3. Eriksen, De Jong and Klaassen in midfield and Lodeiro at central forward

Of course there are many other possibilities, but for me personally, I want to see the second one. One Japanese football magazine explains the tactics of Ajax by pointing out that with De Jong or Lodeiro (originally a midfielder) at central forward, Ajax can make a "11 vs 9" situation. The opponents' central defenders tend to play side by side, so De Jong or Lodeiro can utilize the space in front of the center backs when he takes back to receive a pass. If De Boer decides to use Boilesen, who has just come back from a long-term injury, Anita is more likely to be playing as a midfielder.

Having said that, my prediction for Ajax's victory is... around 15%. Don't take this serious, this percentage includes my wish for their victory as well. But I hope the game will be an exciting one anyways.

Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Eredivisie - NAC Breda vs Ajax / First Victory in 2012!

Yes! They won! It's the first victory in 2012!

Ajax played without Boilesen, Janssen, Van der Wiel, Boerigter and others, and Enoh was substituted by Aissati in the first 45 minutes. Besides, the atmosphere around the club was not very good after the resignation of the supervisory board last week.

It seemed that the players on the starting line-up were not in their best form. Eriksen and Siem de Jong lost their scoring opportunities over and over again and Sulejmani couldn't participate effectively in their attacks. However, Bulykin and Ozblitz showed good performance, and substitute Aissati quickly became a key player at midfield after coming in the pitch as a substitute.

Of course I have to mention Lodeiro's goal as well. Lodeiro has been spending a little unfortunate season. He has been in food form and when he played on the pitch he always did something special. But his goals have been rejected, due mainly to mistakes by referees. (Remember the match against Real Madrid...) And even when he could play better than the players on the starting line-up, coach De Boer didn't use him as a start member. However, he scored his second goal in the last match and proved his excellent technique once again. I myself have been a big fan of him, so I'm satisfied and relieved now.

So there is a question: who should be playing in the starting line-up?

In the beginning of the season, Janssen played a more defensive role. Recently Enoh has played at the anchor position, but this is manly because Sigthorsson has been out of action for a long time and Siem de Jong, originally a midfielder, has to complement Sigthorsson's absence. Many commentators and fans has said that placing Enoh in front of the defense line is a good solution because he is far better than Janssen at defense. However, this is not what De Boer has intended, because as I said they are forced to play in this formation due to the injury of the reliable center forward. We don't know how long Enoh has to take a rest or whether he will be absent in the first place. But what's going to happen when all the players recover from their injury? Should the coach continue to use Enoh, or should Janssen play as anchor? Is there room to use Aissati or Lodeiro as a start member? Who is the best center forward, Sigthorsson, De Jong, or Lodeiro?

De Boer tends to use the same players no matter what kind of tactics the opponents adopt. So I guess he still wishes to place Janssen at anchor. But if he doesn't require the anchor to play a defensive role, Aissati will be a good option, and considering that Janssen has not been in good form this season, I prefer to see other players, such as Lodeiro and Aissati, in the starting line up.

Of course, there are many other options. For example, placing two central midfielders side by side and one offensive midfielder in front of the two is one option (4-2-1-3 formation). With this formation, I think the burden of defense can be shared by the midfielders, so if De Boer prefer to use players with offensive rather than defensive skills, this will be a possible solution. But I don't think this is going to happen because De Boer is a little bit too stubborn, I would say...

Anyway, in the last match we saw a different combination of midfielders and attackers, even if this was just accidental. I just wanted to say this was interesting. Let's hope they will play a good game against Manchester United this Thursday!

Tuesday, February 7, 2012

Ajax in Japanese Media

I think the number of football fans in Japan who don't know Ajax is relatively small, but they know the team because of its glorious past, and less and less people are paying attention to this Dutch club.

For me personally, I would not have been enthusiastic about Ajax if I had not been to Holland. I would not have been a big fan of the team if I hadn't been to the Amsterdam ArenA. Though I wasn't at the ArenA when they won Twente in the final match of the last season and became the Eredivisie champions for the first time in several years, I was fascinated by the passionate and a bit crazy atmosphere that surrounded Amsterdam on that day.

So after I returned to Japan I started to search Ajax on the internet and on Japanese football magazines. For example, some days ago I read a Japanese football magazine "World Soccer Digest". On its February issue (http://www.nsks.com/wsd/7835/) they set the "ranking" of European football clubs that football journalists around the world voted on. The ranking is not just based on the current situations of the clubs, but it's also based on their past performances. So, naturally, Ajax can occupy a relatively high position in the ranking (around 15th among 30).

What I would like to say is that attention on Ajax by Japanese people is largely based on the times that have already passed, when Johan Cruijff and others totally changed the trend of football with their "total football" strategy, or when the current head coach Frank De Boer was playing on the pitch with other wonderful players. And I assume that this phenomenon is not particular to Japanese football fans.

So I got interested in the way that Japanese media deal with Ajax at present. Basically, there is relatively low attention on the players, except for those who are targeted by bigger European clubs, such as Vertonghen, Eriksen and Van der Wiel. Attention is given to the following two points.
  • Their 4-3-3 formation, which most Dutch teams currently use by influence of Ajax.
  • Their youth academy, called "De Toekomst" (The Future), which is considered to be one of the best youth academies in the world.
On these points, I found information in Japanese on the internet and found some interesting articles. I'm going to summarize the information and write editorials about this (hopefully by the end of February), so check them out.

Sunday, February 5, 2012

Ajax vs Utrecht - Painful Loss

On Sunday February 5, Ajax fought against FC Utrecht in the Amsterdam ArenA.

The result was 0-2. Ajax had to play without many of the players that were usually on the starting line-up.

Utrecht did good defense. Their intention was clear; to put many players in front of their goal, and to give speedy counter attacks using long ball. This was effective against Ajax because Utrecht players were basically higher and stronger than those of Ajax.

However, in terms of body strength, Ajax have always been at best an ordinary team, even when there are no injured players. The lack of the two strong central defenders, Vertonghen and Alderweireld, was an unlucky thing, but what is unique about Ajax is that they always utilize something else to win a game, such as agility, speed and passing and dribbling technique. In this match, Ajax completely failed to show these advantages.

In the first half things went well for Ajax. They succeeded to maintain ball possession in the midfield, and there were many opportunities near the goal. However, after the first goal by Utrecht (which was mainly due to an unbelievable mistake by goalkeeper Vermeer), they lost concentration and started giving away possession.

I'm just so frustrated now, so excuse me for writing in a little aggressive way... I think that head coach De Boer is largely responsible for the recent miserable performance of the team, because considering the quality of players that Ajax currently have, even though they are still inexperienced, a loss against a team like Utrecht is simply unthinkable. Of course there are many, many problems around the team, but I still believe even though there are disadvantages, they have more powerful advantages (and I have tried to mention them on this blog time and time again). Furthermore, the fact that too many players are injured can be attributed to the mismanagement by the coaching staff. And if they were keen to remain as the Eredivisie champions, they should have worked harder on transfer negotiations in the January market. Yeah, I know that scapegoating a head coach only is a stupid thing to do in the world of  football, but...

Next time most of the injured players will make their comeback, but according to the official twitter account of Ajax, Janssen got injured during the match (that's why he only played the first half). It's just hurdle after hurdle, but I hope things will get better soon...

Thursday, February 2, 2012

De Klassieker and the January Transfer Market

Last Sunday Ajax fought against Feyenoord at De Kuip, home stadium of the opponent.

(retrieved from the official website of Ajax)

As you have already heard from the news, Ajax lost 2-4 and they still sits forth in the league table.

Eriksen's first goal was excellent, and he showed his wonderful passing and dribbling skills throughout the match. But most of the players played poorly and I must admit that they deserved the loss.

By watching this historic national derby, I figured out two problems of the team, both in terms of the tactics of the team and the quality of players.

1. Side backs' attack-building ability
Anita and Blind were on the starting line-up. At the beginning of the season, Van der Weel and Boilessen played at side backs, but they were not available due to injury in the last match. Anita and Blind are both talented side backs who have featured the Dutch youth national teams. Anita can run around the pitch throughout 90 minutes, and Blind has good technique and can provide good short passes to the midfielders and attackers. The problem is their long-range passes. Anita and Blind are good at positioning when receiving the ball among the defense line. However, they are not very good at building attacks by providing middle- to long-range passes to the attackers, failing to make smooth transitions from defense to attack. Other side backs, Boilesen, Van der Weel and Ligeon all have the same problem. They have certain advantages, such as dribbling and crossing skills (Ven der Weel), speedy and powerful over lap run (Boilesen), etc, but the lack of good vision and long-range passing skills is the single disadvantage they all share. In the last Sunday's match, center back Vertonghen was the only one in the defense line who could provide long passes to the attackers. So Ajax heavily depend on the center backs in building attacks.

In my view, offensive midfielder Janssen was aware of this problem, and he tried to build attacks backwards by often playing in the defense line. However, Janssen himself was not in good form and the effort basically ended in vain. Normally, such a role should be played by a player at the anchor in midfield. So I understand why coach De Boer placed Janssen at the defensive midfielder at the beginning of the season, though I know that there was much criticism about this formation. Current anchor Enoh is a good disciplined defensive midfielder, but his vision is not top quality.

2. Space between midfielders and defenders. 
This has been a problem since the beginning of the season. Ajax use a 4-3-3 formation, with one defensive and two offensive midfielders. In this tactics, the offensive midfielders are not required to contribute to defense, and the defensive midfielder (Enoh) has to cover wide space in front of the defense line. Ajax use zonal defense, so when an opponent offensive midfielder is in front of the defense line, it is always the anchor's role to mark him. The two central defenders always make a line and never put themselves back and forth. So what happens in this situation is that when an opponent winger holds the ball and make a cut-in, Enoh cannot deal with him because he has to mark another midfielder instead of one of the two center backs. It might be Janssen, Blind or Enoh who has to play the ball, but it's just unclear who is in charge of this.

This is due to the traditional style of Dutch football. They don't like to change their positions. In the above chart, if Enoh plays the ball, somebody else (probably one of the center backs who doesn't have any opponent to mark) has to mark the opponent who has been in front of Enoh, and instead, the right side back has to play as a center back, making a temporally three-back formation with two defensive midfielders (Enoh and one more). Otherwise, Janssen or Erikssen has to get back and play as a defensive midfielder. But they simply do not do this because they want to attack in a 4-3-3 formation. Changing positions when in defense also means changing positions when they regain possession.

Alright, this is my analysis of the current problems of the team. I would like to turn to transfer news. Ajax did not sign any new player in the January transfer market. This is considered to be a big failure considering the current position of the team in the league table. Transfer news around Ajax can be summarized as follows.

  • Bouy, who never made his Eredivisie debut but was considered to be one of the most promising young players from the Ajax youth academy, moved to Juventus on a 3.5 year contract.
  • El Hamdaoui was about to leave Ajax for Fiorentina, but the negotiation collapsed. He has not played Eredivisie matches since April because of his bad attitude. 
  • Ajax failed to sign Heerenveen's winger Narsingh.
  • Heerenveen's side back Janmaat, who was targeted by Ajax, will move to Feyenoord this summer.
OK, so there will be no new faces in the squad, and Ajax failed to make financial resources to sign new players in the next transfer market... I wanted to see new side backs or wingers because many players are injured now, but they were too slow to make an action. Indeed, Narsingh later expressed his willingness to join Ajax, but it was not before the deadline of the market when Ajax officially tried to sign him. Well, everything could happen in this transfer market, even on the final day, but if they wanted to be a stronger team, I think they should have made earlier actions. Bouy's departure was a sad thing for Ajax fans, but I wish him all the best in one of the most famous teams in the world.

*On a fun aspect of Ajax...
  • Lodeiro is wearing short pants at this time of year in Holland
  • Ajax players went to a bowling game for a change
  • Due to the shortage of field players, assistant coach Dennis Bergkamp, former legendary striker of the Dutch national team, joined the training.