As Ajax prepare to face off against Schalke 04 in the second leg of the Europa League Quarter-Finals, let’s consider just how well the team has performed to get to this point. Ajax isn’t leading the Eredivisie, but we have a shot at overcoming Feyenoord to claim our first title in a few years. Securing the aggregate win in Germany will mean a Europa League title is very much possible. There has been a great chemistry within the squad that has allowed Peter Bosz’s tactic to flourish, and the individual performances by players have been superb. Since The Netherlands isn’t the footballing powerhouse it once was, the gem of Amsterdam has to sell the players it can’t afford to keep any longer. A lot of young stars have the potential to leave this season, so I’m going to take a look at who they are and who could possibly replace them.
Landry Nany Dimata (Kasper Dolberg)
It’s common knowledge among Ajax supporters that Kasper Dolberg is probably the biggest revelation of the season. The Danish striker rose to the first team and has pleased onlookers with his knack for scoring great goals, astute mental awareness, and ability to link up passes in the midfield. With this great talent comes a lot of suitors. Manchester City, Manchester United, Liverpool, and other large clubs are all rumored to be looking for a summer move for Dolberg. Bertrand Traoré’s loan is up at the end of the season, so the only realistic replacement up front would be Mateo Cassierra. While the Colombian has excelled with the reserves, many believe he doesn’t yet possess the composure to lead the line for Ajax. I’ve gone no further than the coast of Belgium to find a player with the potential to replace young Kasper.
Landry Nany Dimata rose through the ranks of Standard Liége’s academy but made the switch to KV Oostende last summer for half a million euros. The 19-year-old forward slotted right into Oostende’s first team, making 24 league appearances and 11 league goals thus far this season. Dimata is a Belgian youth international and has certainly enjoyed himself with at his new club by scoring almost a quarter of Oostende’s Jupiler League goals. Dimata, despite playing in the same position as Dolberg, is a much different player. The Belgian plays more advanced; he doesn’t come back to link up the play as much. This allows for him to be in the box and poach some simple tap-ins. This can be looked at as both a negative and positive for a club like Ajax, but our current squad loves to get the ball to the byline and send in some short crosses. These are the passes that Nany Dimata feeds off of, and it’s why he is Oostende’s leading scorer.
Dimata’s speed is certainly on show this year in the Jupiler League. The forward has sometimes been deployed as a left-winger in attack; this allows him to exploit the holes in the defense when opposing full-backs push forward. Nany Dimata is a lefty and often roams out to the right, allowing himself the space to cut inside. His longshots are deadly: powerful, placed just right, and well-timed. Dimata’s dribbling skills have earned penalties on multiple occasions and require the defenders to be honest when closing him down. From what I’ve seen, Landry Nany Dimata has most of the attributes required to do a good job leading the line at Ajax. He’s not the complete product that Kasper Dolberg basically is, but the Belgian certainly has a big future in the game if this season’s performances are any indication.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta (Davy Klaassen)
Ajax’s captain has received his fair share of criticism, but if you take him for what he is (a great goal scorer and leader) then he’s surely risen to his expectations. Davy Klaassen has surpassed double-figures in both goals and assists in all competitions: no easy feat for a midfielder. This exceptional form has certainly garnered the attention of larger clubs, with a switch to Serie A being the main entre of the rumor-mill dinner. Ajax is churning out potential world-beating midfielders like it’s nothing, but that shouldn’t stop Marc Overmars and company from looking at potential replacements. The purchases of Davinson Sánchez, Mateo Cassierra, and David Neres show the club’s willingness to enter the South American market, and I feel that Ajax needn’t look further for a possible Klaassen replacement.
Giorgian De Arrascaeta is a name that will be familiar to those with a keen interest in South American football. The 22-year-old has been in and out of the Uruguay national team in recent years, recently earning his first cap since 2015. He made the move from his boyhood club Defensor Sporting to Brazilian club Cruzeiro in January of 2015 and has gone on to score 13 goals in 49 matches in the Brazilian Série A. A lot of Arrascaeta’s strengths can be compared to those of Klaassen: finishing, key passes, technique. While the Uruguayan can play on the wing thanks to his quick bursts of pace, both midfielders are comfortable sitting behind and making runs beyond the striker.
De Arrascaeta, despite playing in a more forward position, likes to roam around deep to take the ball forward himself. You may even occasionally find him drifting outside to make a defense-splitting run before catching up to a teammate’s through ball. He’s even got a great set piece ability; we’d do well to have Giorgian as Lasse Schøne’s long-term free kick replacement. The downside to his game (I know; everyone has one) is his defensive mentality. Often times when losing the ball, Arrascaeta will be so overcome with a willingness to get the ball back that he’ll roughly foul his opponent. While this is certainly a trait a young player can grow out of, it’s indicative of his overall lack of understanding when it comes to getting into defensive positions and marking opposing players.
Abdelhak Nouri (Hakim Ziyech)
There’s been big clubs taking a hard look at Ziyech for quite some time, which is why lots of people were surprised when he made the switch from Twente to fellow Eredivisie club Ajax. The playmaker has flourished in the system here in Amsterdam and the same clubs who wanted Hakim years ago are now regaining interest. If he happens to leave this summer, I know that the hierarchy of Ajax doesn’t need to look any further than the academy itself. Abdelhak “Appie” Nouri has been one of the academy’s starlets as of recent times. Fans around the world know him as a flashy dribbler with lots of potential, but the astute follower praises his technique and overall playmaking ability.
20-year-old Nouri has scored 1 and assisted 3 in his 13 appearances for the Ajax first team. He’s hardly a mainstay in the squad; Jong Ajax has been blessed with his skill over the past few years. However, if Ziyech ends up leaving the club in the near future, Appie most certainly has the ability to step into that playmaking role. I highlighted a little bit of Nouri’s strengths last summer, but I’ll go into more detail here.
Abdelhak Nouri’s strengths can pretty much be summarized in this video. The smart passes to get through on goal, the smooth control and silky dribble to beat the defender, the confidence to take the free kick on his debut, and the technique to score the driven shot. He may have just broken into the senior squad, but Nouri looks like a veteran when he’s out on the pitch. Although at times his pure skill will mesmerize fans and scouts alike, it’s his mental game that often goes unnoticed. Nouri is great at reading and anticipating how the defense will move, and he possesses the reactions and technique to adapt and succeed in beating a defender with a pass, shot, or dribble.
For a club of such large stature, Ajax all-too-often finds itself in a position where selling a player is almost mandatory. To avoid the panic buys that transpire on deadline days across Europe, there is (hopefully) a detailed and broad database where Overmars and his colleagues can pick out scouting reports and proactively make a deal for a replacement. I believe that the three aforementioned players, one already being a member of the squad, would be great fits if the unfortunate scenario occurs where we are forced to sell either Dolberg, Klaassen, Ziyech, or all of them. You can never be too prepared.