Few people could have predicted how Peter Bosz’ Ajax team would take shape with many of the youngsters heralded as the next great group of players to don the red and white, finding themselves on the periphery and mass positional changes for players who were supposed to be on the outside looking in. Ajax has won all their games in all competitions since the 28th of August as the Amsterdam resurrection the Godenzonen have been teasing could be taking place.
Marc Overmars’ disillusioned dealing in the transfer window that has left the club with a dangerously large squad has inadvertently given Bosz the platform to experiment tactically. It would’ve been weird to think that Ajax would be on such a brilliant run of form without the likes of Jairo Riedewald, Kenny Tete, Riechedly Bazoer and Anwar El Ghazi leading the charge but the kids have been forced to watch from the bench as the club has made steady trudges forward. Lasse Schone, the Dane who was once known for his prowess from free-kicks improved his all-round game under Frank De Boer, so much so that he now finds himself as a deep-lying playmaker.
The regeneration man of Amsterdam was used as a false-nine and then right winger under De Boer but now finds himself at the base of Ajax’ midfield. Build-up play has long been a problem for Ajax as disjointed, pedestrian passing and movement has allowed teams to sit deep and break on them with the side rarely reaching their goal. It seemed that Riedewald would be the one to change that but Schone has played there with his magnificent range of passing and physically imposing style. In a league where Andres Guardado, Thulani Serero, and Siem De Jong have all played defensive midfielder, one should not be shocked to see Schone there.
His confidence when taking the ball on from the centre-backs, as well as his ability to play calm and crisp passes forward, has led to Bosz keeping him in the role. The physical side of his game will truly be tested when Ajax face Celta Vigo and Feyenoord this week. In the last match against ADO Den Haag, he played a magnificent chip to Davy Klaassen for the first goal while he got an 80% pass succession rate, 78% in the final third while he had 12 ball recoveries. He will miss the game against Celta though giving Bazoer or Riedewald the chance to reclaim their place in the side.
At left back is a player who was one of Eredivisie’s top young attacking midfielders in Daley Sinkgraven. His adjustment to the role is still very much in its preliminary stages as the player positions himself far too narrowly to be effective in the defensive phase. He also needs to be bailed out by his centre-back far too often but his narrow positioning can also act as a deterrent for the opposition playing long diagonal balls to his flank and his support going forward is much needed by the fleet-footed Amin Younes. With Mitchell Dijks who signed last summer and Jairo Riedewald who played in the position for the Dutch National Team last season, it will be intriguing to see if Bosz continues with him in the position for the long term.
Veltman and Riedewald once seemed that they could be Ajax’ centre-back partnership for the next few years but with Davinson Sanchez bedding in so quickly after joining from Copa Libertadores champions Atletico Nacional and Nick Viergever displacing them, it could be a while before we see either of them playing there. Sanchez is a domineering, physically imposing, last ditch tackling beast of a defender and Viergever is his partner in crime as he is adept at covering spaces, especially sliding over to the left to help Sinkgraven. Henk Veldmate, the scout who discovered Luis Suarez for Groningen unearthed Sanchez and Cassierra giving the Ajax faithful a lot to thank him for.
Veltman played at right-back for the second half of last season and for the Dutch National Team as his defensive capabilities and passing range make him adept at the role. His beautifully measured cross for Arek Milik at the start of the match away to PSV last season was just a signal of what he can produce as a fullback in an attacking sense while he is more defensively orientated compared to other right backs. Ajax is close to having a secure defense as with Sanchez looking the most comfortable and influential since he has joined, it could be worth further practice for that back four, maybe with only one change.
Tscheu La Ling’s report stated that Andre Onana had not been properly scouted, was not highly rated by the goalkeeping coaches at Barcelona while Ajax had better goalkeepers in their academy. The 20-year-old Cameroonian international has done everything in his power to prove that investigation wrong as his ability as an acrobatic shot stopper and with the ball at his feet could keep Tim Krul rooted to the bench once the Dutch international returns from injury. He is still incredibly young for a goalkeeper but there is some immense potential there as he will make mistakes in the future but should not be written off due to Ajax’ organizational instability.
Bertrand Traore, who was loaned from Chelsea after the departure of Milik, has now been moved to the right flank due to the quality of the young Dane Kasper Dolberg. Traore is skillful and manages to motor the ball forward from the deeper positions give to Ajax a more direct option in build-up play while his ability to make diagonal runs to support Dolberg also gives Ajax an added goal threat. His ability to snap at chances is a problem as at times he could be more cultured with his finishing but in Bosz’ system and with the team that is behind him, he will continue to get ample chances to score.
Dolberg looks akin to a player of the Johan Cruyff and Johan Neeskens Ajax era with his tight fitting red and white shirt with white shorts and white socks all under long and floppy blonde hair bobbing all around the attacking pockets searching for that special acre of space. Discovered by John Steen Olsen who discovered Viktor Fischer and Christian Eriksen and has been influential to Ajax’ long lineage of having fine Danes ply their trade in Amsterdam. Things just seem to fall into place for Dolberg in the final third as he has put together a reputation as a cold-blooded finisher at only 19 years-old.
He has everything a modern day striker is meant to have as he is mobile, multi-faceted and has a great awareness for goal as if he was molded at De Toekomst but has that element of spontaneity in his game that all great forwards have. He will beat a defender for pace, he will react much quicker in the box than them, he will dribble and outmaneuver them while he also maintains the element to surprise them. Bosz was initially afraid at overusing him at such an early stage of his career but those qualms have withered away with each goal. He has now scored 6 goals in all competitions this season and shown no sign of tiring.
The more orthodox versions of Ajax flattered to deceive at the beginning of this season for Bosz as in theory this team should crumble with catastrophic results but has continued to grow with two wins in the Europa League this season when it took them six games to get one last year and they are currently second with the leaders of the Eredivisie going to the Amsterdam ArenA on Sunday. Sinkgraven should be slaughtered at left-back, Viergever was once fourth or fifth choice centre-back last season, Onana should be a non-starter due to his paucity of experience, Schone should be bullied in midfield and Dolberg should tire up front but they all keep progressing and winning putting Ajax in the best position they have been in years.