Ajax has recently produced two away draws against Excelsior and Groningen, whilst they regularly have had to wait until the second half to put games to bed. Their first-half performance against FC Twente was the slowest and most lethargic tempo they have played at this season, while the draws have been subject to mistakes from Andre Onana and Matthijs De Ligt. Peter Bosz’ insistence on playing his first team side week in, week out has been taking its toll physically on the playing staff and may not be practical with the side chasing the Eredivisie title and their Europa League exertions.
Ajax has a talented squad, fleshed out by youngsters hungry for first team appearances. Bosz will need to use the depth of his squad to ensure his starters remain refreshed and able to perform in the key games of the Europa League and Eredivisie. Squad balance is paramount to any successful season as Ajax will play De Klassieker at home to Feyenoord before facing AZ Alkmaar 3 days later, being followed by an away game to NEC Nijmegen and then a trip to Germany to face Schalke at home in the Europa League quarter-final. Four of their next five Eredivisie games are against teams in the top seven of the Eredivisie as after their Europa League matches, Ajax will face Heerenveen at home before a crunch tie away to PSV Eindhoven.
Ajax has a gruelling schedule ahead in the ‘make or break’ phase of their season as their manager would want to dispel memories of the 2013/14 season where he led the Eredivisie with Vitesse to then fall away during the second half of the season. Bosz’ style is high energy as Ajax need to pressure the ball upon losing possession, circulate the ball at a fast pace, pin teams back and dominate them while maintaining an element of focus to not give teams an inch during 90 minutes. The regularity of the games saw Hakim Ziyech rested during the first leg of the Kobenhavn match to then produce a performance against Twente where he had 7 shots (2 on target), 6 chances created and 1 assist, 9 crosses, 2/5 dribbles and 11 ball recoveries in a man of the match performance.
— Foquintha (@Foquintha) March 13, 2017
“I’m not about to agree with him, but I do protect Hakim,” said Bosz before the game against FC Twente to FOX Sports.”He feels that he is in the final phase of a competition power shortage. It is his first year at Ajax, we have a busy schedule. Therefore I need to protect him for his own good,” he continued. “He can play up to three matches in a week, but it is difficult. Especially with our style of play.”
In the second-leg against Kobenhavn, Ziyech created 2 chances, 13 crosses and made 3/3 dribbles, proving the rest was very effective and the break that he has had during the international games will also do him plenty of good. Klaassen will return from the international break having played 173 minuted for the Dutch national team, with three days in between the Bulgaria and Italy matches. It would be impractical for him to play in the Feyenoord, AZ and NEC matches with the Schalke home match after that. Ziyech and Klaassen will need to be in peak physical condition for the first leg against Schalke, as Ajax will have to make due without the suspended Lasse Schone.
It would also be impractical to rest any key players for the Feyenoord match, but the matches against AZ or NEC could be used to give Jairo Riedewald, Frenkie De Jong and Donny Van de Beek a run as the deepest midfielder in preparation for the Schalke match. Riedewald could be used for his physical ability and to control possession, while De Jong could be used for his ability to play penetrative passes forward and his creativity from deep. Van de Beek can be played in the position of holding midfield with great ability too, as he proved for 90 minutes against Standard Liege in the Europa League group stage with a man of the match performance.
Donny Van De Beek with 1 assist, 4 chances created, 87% pass percentage (86% in the final third) and 5 crosses with 6 ball recoveries. pic.twitter.com/RiXQlVZWqn
— Chaka Simbeye (@chaka_simbeye) December 8, 2016
The front three poses another issue for Bosz, as Amin Younes and Bertrand Traore cannot afford to be lacking in sharpness during this period. Luckily, the former has begun to see an improvement in his performances. Vaclav Cerny scored a hat-trick for the Czech Republic U21 team during the international break and has rarely been given an opportunity in Bosz’ first season, mostly due to injury. Justin Kluivert is capable of filling in on either flank as he scored his first goal for Ajax 1 against Excelsior before the international break while also performing well with the Oranje U19s. David Neres scored his first goal for Jong Ajax before the international break and has spent the break training with Ajax, as he continues his adjustment period but he might seem capable of starting now.
Kasper Dolberg’s central striker role represents Ajax’ biggest problem with rotation, as Ajax have nobody in the squad who can play through the middle as well as the blonde-haired Dane can. Without him against Excelsior, Ajax only managed 4 shots on target from 20 shots with Traore, who was filling in for Dolberg floundering with no shots on target and a horrible excuse for a dive. Three of the four shots came from 17-year-old’s Kluivert and De Ligt, with one from Amin Younes. Mateo Cassierra is still very raw to say the least and could find himself usurped by Kaj Sierhuis in the future, while it may seem that Bosz can only rest the young Dane Dolberg with late substitutions. Ajax has recalled Zakaria El Azzouzi from his loan at Sparta Rotterdam as the 20-year-old had 9 goals in all competitions for the Rotterdammers and he could possibly be used as a means of resting Dolberg.
— Kamil Rogólski (@K_Rogolski) March 19, 2017
Peter Bosz’ favoured back four is Joel Veltman, Davinson Sanchez, Nick Viergever and Daley Sinkgraven, as the first three have Kenny Tete, Matthijs De Ligt and Jairo Riedewald as their deputies. Viergever could have less rest than his teammates, as he needs to fill in for Sinkgraven but it is more than likely that Bosz will alternate men before playing his first choice back four against Schalke. De Ligt is in need of game time to regain his confidence and for the 17-year-old to feel the confidence of Bosz after making two game-changing mistakes in the space of a week. Tete has developed as a more well-balanced fullback in the periphery and should also challenge Veltman more closely in the closing stages of the season.
Rotation is not just about preserving the energy of our starters but also about preparing some of the youngsters for the future. Ajax’ run in the Europa League means that there will be interest in their players during the summer and the likes of De Ligt, Tete, Van de Beek, De Jong and Abdelhak Nouri could benefit with more game time if they have to replace someone in the summer. With Traore returning to Chelsea, Neres, Cerny and Kluivert also have a chance to stake their claim for a starting spot. There is also the need to entice the likes of Tete, Riedewald and Cerny to stay, with increased game time towards the end of the season being one way to satisfy their needs. Bosz has rotated in between games in the latter Europa League group stage games and KNVB Beker but he must do it out of necessity for the rest of the season if Ajax are to be successful.