FRIDAY FIVE: Five stats you need to know, and what they mean

No preface needed for this one. I had a lot of fun diving into these stats – what an exciting time in Amsterdam!

1. Davy Klaassen’s two goals for Schalke this weekend take him to 18 on the season, level with Kasper Dolberg for the most on the team across all competitions.

With the club since he was nine-years-old, and born just down the road from Amsterdam, you will be hard-pressed to find a more passionate footballer than Ajax skipper Davy Klaassen. The midfielder was promoted to the senior team for the first time in the 2011/12 season, finally becoming a regular in 2013/14 – a role he ran with and never looked back.

Klaassen was named captain of the club in summer 2015. Now in his second full season as the skipper, Klaassen has carried the team on his back at some vital moments in this campaign, coming through time and time again in the clutch as he proves his worth as the leader of the club and the embodiment of their fighting spirit.

His brace in the 2-0 victory over Schalke was simply another example of the player he has become. Composed, clinical and confident in front of goal, the midfielder is on pace for his most productive season with the club. His campaign got off to a flier as he scored both goals in a 2-1 win away to PAOK in Champions League qualifying to send them to the next round, before scoring both their goals against Rostov in the next round. He managed the only goal in the 1-1 draw against PSV and the 1-0 win over Vitesse, while twice scoring late goals to rescue points for the club in the 1-0 win at Heerenveen and 1-1 draw at Groningen.

While he has not quite developed into the all-around midfielder many had projected him to be upon breaking into the first team, his composure and timeliness in front of goal have been both consistently inspiring and unquestionably irreplaceable. It’s these qualities that will make Klaassen, 24, a hard man to keep come summer.

2. Since 2009/10, only one Europa League knockout game had a larger difference in shots on goal than Ajax v Schalke (11, 13-2).

Ajax were dominant on Thursday, and this tells you just how impressive their performance really was. It was, in every regard, men against boys. The tie remains in the balance with Ajax 2-0 up on aggregate in advance of Thursday’s return leg in Germany, but the only reason Schalke are still in it with a fighting chance is due to the stellar play of goalkeeper Ralf Fahrmann.

While this speaks to one match, it should be looked at in a larger scale. This performance, both flawless and remarkable, was the culmination of months of hard work. It had been brewing – the peak of this upward trend the club have been on since the start of 2017 and a show of what is to come both domestically and in Europe for Ajax under Peter Bosz.

3. Ajax have played 1,650 consecutive matches with at least one academy graduate in their starting XI.

This stat is one of the more remarkable ones you will ever read. For a club of Ajax’s stature, this is far from an easy feat. To compete year after year – some more so than others, but always competitive nonetheless – and to do it with players groomed in their own backyard time and time again is truly remarkable. It speaks to the genius and outstanding schooling Ajax have in place in the youth ranks. They surround their young players with the best coaching money can buy and it pays dividends.

But the truth of the matter is, it goes beyond coaching. To generate consistent success from the academy, it not only requires diligent teaching, but unwavering dedication – dedication to a set of core values implemented by previous generations, passed on like the word of the lord. It’s a commitment to cultivating success over time, not importing already groomed talent. By putting their roots in local talent, bringing them through the system and promoting from within, the club has ensured themselves a core of players who play the ‘Ajax way’, thus improving their odds of long-term success. You can go to the store and buy tomatoes, or you can grow them in your garden. When done right, there’s nothing like something homemade. The Ajax academy has sophisticated

4. The average age of the Ajax XI that defeated Schalke on Thursday night was 22.

Wow. Just, wow. Provided transfers do not get in the way, just imagine what this team will be capable of if they stay together for another year or two – if not beyond that.

While that sort of statement has been coming out of the mouths of Ajax supporters for decades, the reality of the club keeping this team together for next season seems likelier than it has in some time. Bertrand Traore will head back to Chelsea when his loan expires, but that’s a void Kasper Dolberg, who didn’t start the match as he had just returned from injury, will fill. Davinson Sanchez, another key cog in the side, is very unlikely to depart after just one season in Amsterdam, nor will Amin Younes or Hakim Ziyech, or youth products Donny van de Beek or Justin Kluivert.

The other threat is Davy Klaassen. Clubs across the continent have been scouting the midfielder for a few years now, and while his best season to date may suggest a move is imminent, I wouldn’t be surprised in the least to see him stay with the club. This is a man who lives and breathes Ajax football. A man whose passion is unmatched by even the most dedicated of supporters. For Klaassen to leave, a very special opportunity would have to present itself.

This XI doesn’t even include the likes of David Neres, Matthijs de Ligt, Abdelhak Nouri, Frenkie de Jong, Carl Eiting, Pelle Clement and other promising youth products, as Ajax have grown arguably their best, and unquestionably their deepest, academy in years.

5. Amin Younes has completed 59 dribbles in the Europa League this season, more than double that of the second closest player.

Underappreciated and an unheralded star of the campaign for Ajax, Amin Younes has consistently delivered. Granted his end product is anything but consistent, but his refreshingly direct approach, steadfast desire and remarkable ability to take on defenders doesn’t get anywhere near the credit it deserves.

While his five goals across all competitions this season could do with some improving, his 11 assists are too often overlooked. The sheer disregard and unwarranted criticism for a player who runs himself into the ground night in and night out for the club is baffling. Younes has been in the midst of an impressive run of form, and only now are the detractors backing off, but this stat speaks to the fact that he hasn’t been lying dormant for much of the season – so why is it that only now are people starting to take notice? Ignore the goal production, Amin has been productive all season long.

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Nick Viergever is Ajax’ most improved player

Statistics: Ajax 5-1 Heerenveen