Following the emotional and heartbreaking events that took place during pre-season, one would almost forget Ajax are set to face French side OGC Nice in the first leg of the UEFA Champions League third qualifying round on Wednesday. And with various friendly games cancelled or played behind closed doors because of those events, it’s near impossible to judge where the team is at right now.
And that’s where the insiders come into play. A group of devoted, passionate Ajax fans and followers who will share their educated views and opinions with us on a regular basis, starting with the upcoming clash between Ajax and OGC Nice. Lo and behold.
Floris Roos [@FlorisRoos] – Blogger for AjaxLife
Despite all the emotions still smoldering in the players’ minds surrounding the situation of Nouri, I don’t expect it to play a big role in the games against Nice. A game of football might even be a more than welcome distraction from it all, possibly resulting in a tragedy being turned into motivation. Ajax’ tailor-made style of play already showed up a couple of times in the friendly versus Lyon. The starting line-up has also remained largely intact, meaning the connections and understandings between players are still present at large.
Nevertheless, it’s nearly impossible to predict if it’s enough to beat Nice in two matches. The squad has shown little to no creative ability in the final third to create goalscoring chances during the pre-season friendlies. Despite Van de Beek looking a very capable replacement for Klaassen I think we’ll sorely miss the current Evertonian, if only for his clutch goals and mental strength. Finally, Ajax haven’t improved in terms of squad depth. Especially the backline is thinly manned. Knowing our strong bench was an important weapon in last season’s conquest of Europe, especially with suspensions and injuries coming into play, I’m really curious which players will be added to the existing squad.
Menno Pot [@mennopot] – Writer and columnist
It’s been a dreadful summer for Ajax. It started with bitter disappointment and chaos (the departure of Peter Bosz to Borussia Dortmund, followed by highly unfortunate communication by the club and a shitstorm in the media) and it ended with the Abdelhak ‘Appie’ Nouri tragedy, a pitch-black shadow over Ajax’s pre-season campaign. Marcel Keizer’s first month at the helm must have been a nightmare. It must have been tough beyond imagination for the new boss.
And there it is: the first Champions League qualifier, suddenly looming like a mountain wall out of dense fog. Opponents, OGC Nice? Quite tricky, to be honest, a most unfortunate draw for a seeded side like Ajax in this stage of the competition. Are Ajax ready? Of course they’re not. How could they ever be after a pre-season campaign that never was? The players are good, they will be fine once the season is underway, but I’m afraid the first official major test comes a tad too early. Even last Spring’s on-form Ajax were not exactly unbeatable in European away games, were they? I think the French will put Ajax under huge pressure and I think they will score. Twice, at least. The good news: Ajax will notch a goal themselves. But they will lose. Every supporter with a heart will understand. I sure will. Our season will start in August. Not in July.
Arco Gnocchi [@arcinho] – Ajax insider
It’s like starting your school year with your exams, or having your performance review in your first week at a new job: the outcome of the very first game of the season will set the tone for a whole year. I’d say it’s too early to expect the team to perform solidly with Appie Nouri still heavily on their minds. Add to that a new coach, a new captain and therefore a new team hierarchy and I’d say my expectations are pretty low. This squad, while full of promising youngsters, useful team players and some properly experienced squad members, is not Champions League worthy. And looking at (lack of) spending by the board this Summer I don’t see any ambition at all to actually become CL-worthy. I would strongly prefer seeing us play in the Europa League anyway.
Ajax had been sorely lacking a team leader for quite a while when last season Klaassen finally managed to be that kind of captain. I don’t see that in Veltman yet, but this is one of those things the staff will be far better to be the judges of than me.
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) 12 februari 2017
Last season, when Traoré suddenly became this unpredictable, hard to handle attacking threat things started looking up for us. I really hope Neres can be that kind of player this year, from the get-go would be best of course. Lack of squad depth is a serious problem, especially Tete and Riedewald coming from the bench will be sorely missed at times.
I predict a 1-0 win for Nice – a small loss that we might be able to fix at home.
Yordi Yamali [@TheFev] – FC Afkicken host
Meeting Nice during these hard times. What a way for Marcel Keizer to officially start his Ajax journey. I think – whatever the outcome of this clash with the surprising French side will be – we should be fair to Keizer. I’ve given everything that has happened during pre-season a lot of thought, and all I can say is that everything is exactly the opposite; really unfair.
My followers know that I wasn’t the biggest fan of Klaassen. They also know that I sometimes begged for some playing time for Appie. I was ready to see the new kids on the block demolish Nice. It’s so hard to make a prediction. I hope we will see some unity, fighting together, for Appie. And I believe they will and can do that. I’m not very familiar with Keizer, but how he has handled this whole period is amazing. I think he will develop in a father-figure role to these youngsters, and that’s why I want to keep repeating to just be fair to both the coach and the players, whatever the outcome may be. And not only against Nice, but for a longer period after that as well.
I’ve watched Nice a fair amount of times last season. It’s not an opponent Ajax should take lightly. Pieter Zwart, who works for Dutch magazine Voetbal International, is a tactical genius and dissected Lucien Favre’s approach and what he demands from his team. They have a ridiculous amount of patience, so I hope Ajax won’t be lured in to a trap set up by them. However, I can’t judge exactly how Nice will start this season. They have sold some key players, Belhanda and Pereira didn’t return after their loans ended. Pléa and Cyprien – the two wonderkids of last season – may be still injured, so that would be a great advantage for Ajax.
Talking transfers, I think Overmars has once again shown that he’s only capable of selling. He will hit the jackpot at times, but otherwise he’s just really handing out talent at low prices. I fail to understand that a club like Ajax can’t prepare a squad in time for European qualifiers. There will always be Sneijder-like transfers on the final day of the transfer window, but it doesn’t make any sense that our main problem – the lack of depth at the back – still hasn’t been solved. The core of the squad is amazing, as shown last season, however we can’t expect those kids to play all 40+ games. The bench is weak and lacks experience.
My starting XI would be; Onana; Veltman, Sanchez, De Ligt, Viergever; Van de Beek, Ziyech, De Jong; Younes, Dolberg, Neres. Prediction: 1-1.
Sjimmie [@ikbensjimmie] – Ajax insider
Although we basically have the same team as last year, I expect us to have a very difficult set of games against Nice. The Nouri case still glooms over this team and it would make sense if some of the players are still numb from it all. Taking into account the fact we have also lost our captain and prolific goalscorer Davy Klaassen, you know we’re in for some trouble.
Another issue is the lack of depth in our squad following the departures of Tete and Riedewald. Besides Huntelaar and Van Leer – both bound to be reserves to the first team – Ajax haven’t really invested in any new players yet. Throw a newly appointed manager in the mix and all signs point towards a mess.
I expect Marcel Keizer to utilize the same line-up as his predecessor. Onana will be the first goalkeeper and the backline will consist of Viergever, De Ligt, Sanchez and newly crowned captain Veltman. Ziyech and Schöne are certain starters in midfield, with Van de Beek the one to fill in the shoes of Klaassen. However, Frenkie de Jong is closing in on a starting spot in my opinion. When it comes to to three players up front, I am still undecided. Dolberg and Younes are likely to start, but the third spot is a close race between Kluivert and Neres.
I for one favor the Brazilian over Kluivert, as I have high expectations for the winger this upcoming season. In Huntelaar we have the perfect backup to Dolberg. He’s very experienced and that could come in handy, but Dolberg remains the number one striker for me, and for Keizer.
It would have been nice had we completed the composition of our squad before the start of our Champions League qualification campaign. We are lacking squad depth both on the wings and in defense. And to be honest, without Nouri, we could even use a new midfielder. But for some reason Ajax couldn’t even find a suitable left-back in a year’s time so we are left with Viergever, who I rate higher as a centre-back, Sinkgraven, who seems to be injured all the time, and good old Mitchell Dijks. Richarlison is the number one target for the winger position, but he’s from South America and transfers are complicated as hell over there.
Even though our opponent will miss some key players from last season (Pereira and Belhanda), they still have a very decent squad. Dante, Seri, Pléa and Cyprien are all class players for a team like Nice. And they have a wildcard in Balotelli – you never know what he is going to do. There’s a slim chance the French side will lose some of it’s players before the game, with Sarr and Dalbert reportedly on their way out.
From what I’ve seen, Favre managed to form a real close-knit team with some impressive individual class. They play very compact and are united in both attack and defense. It will prove to be very hard to get past these physically imposing Frenchmen, but at the same time there are also some questions unanswered. Was last season a fluke or are Nice the real deal?
I believe we do have a chance to win, and if we do Younes is likely to play a key role. Jallet, the newly signed right-back at Nice, still has severe nightmares from last season’s game between Ajax and Olympique Lyonnais, where the German winger was his direct opponent. Ajax must enforce a high tempo in midfield, so Schöne will really have to step his game up. But how will the players cope with the game mentally?
Overall I expect Nice to be the better prepared team. They have a proven manager and Ajax did hit a major bump in the road on their way to this game. I feel the French side will be too much to handle for Ajax and predict a 2-1 score in the end. However, that’s a result I am okay with. There are more important matters in life than football. #StayStrongAppie.
Bart Sanders [@bart_sanders] – Ajax insider
I think the outcome of the game against Nice depends on how the squad copes with the Nouri-incident and if they are capable of using it to their advantage. Under normal circumstances I believe Ajax would have at least a 70 percent chance of beating the French side, but things are different now. I hope the players will be able to turn the situation with Nouri into positive energy, but I doubt they can.
I was disappointed with what I saw in the friendly game against Olympique Lyonnais. No pressure, no fluent attacks, no clear-cut chances. It was apathetic. Of course, this was a friendly game, but still I expected more considering the form we ended last season with.
I also have doubts about Donny van de Beek being the new Davy Klaassen. I believe Donny is better suited on the 6 position instead of Schöne, whereas Frenkie de Jong would be my pick to succeed Klaassen. But Marcel Keizer is unlikely to agree with me.
📼 Van de Beek’s second assist of the game allowed David Neres to make it three for Ajax. pic.twitter.com/YuHE7RL29m
— AjaxDaily (@ajaxdailydotcom) 16 juli 2017
Also, we must pray no one of the starting eleven will get injured. Marc Overmars has done a poor job in the transfer market thus far. Looking at our current bench we have too many mediocre reserves for the positions in defense and midfield. Why sell Riedewald this week? He could have been of great use to use tomorrow. And don’t even get me started on the Dijks-case, which is plain ridiculous and unexplainable. By the way, there is no doubt about the Huntelaar or Dolberg question. Kasper Dolberg is our number one striker and Huntelaar will be his mentor.
I think we’re in for a very tough evening and expect Ajax not to be fully prepared. I say 3-1 for Nice.
Yaya [@yayaajax] – Ajax insider
Nice looked like the toughest possible draw beforehand, but the successful team of last season has been weakened both on the wings and up front while the core of Ajax’ squad has remained intact. The Amsterdammers’ starting eleven will be similar to the one used in pre-season, only with Onana between the sticks. The only position which is still uncertain is that of the winger on the right side. Will it be David Neres or Justin Kluivert? Personally I would pick the Brazilian.
It will be a difficult task for Ajax to win the match against a defensively strong Nice, but I am confident Ajax will return to Amsterdam with a good result. My prediction is 1-1 with a goal from Amin Younes.