Peter Bosz’ Ajax will not be chalk and cheese from Frank De Boer’s Ajax but more chalk and marker as the former Vitesse Arnhem coach will make some minute but telling adjustments at the club. With last season’s top goal scorer Arek Milik leaving for Napoli while Bosz has used pre-season without the Pole to imprint his philosophy while making small steps of progress, he will need to expedite the process with European football hanging in the balance and to wipe away last season’s debacle. Bosz has already said that he expects it to take longer than month for his players to be comfortable with his style and the adjustment to be much more complex than at his spell with Maccaibi Haifa as he dealt with older players there.
Bosz possesses a vastly talented crop of youngsters to pick from but he needs to hone in on his best and most effective starting 11. He has jigged and rejigged as he has begun to uncover what his best side may look like. Jairo Riedewald who excelled at centre-back before an injury halted his season last year has looked magnificent in midfield as his awareness of danger has helped him close down and smother the opposition higher up the pitch in pressing situations. There are few players at his tender age who exude such calmness and elegance on the ball as Bosz will have to choose either him or Nemanja Gudelj to partner Riechedly Bazoer in midfield.
Another hallmark of Bosz’ Ajax could be the presence of Mateo Cassierra on the left flank instead of Amin Younes. Both Younes and Cassierra are not natural left wingers as Younes joined Ajax as a left midfielder while Cassierra joined as a more central player but both have had to adapt to the left flank. The two are uniquely different as Younes is nimble and fleet-footed and will cut in at an earlier phase of build-up play than Cassierra to create opportunities while the Colombian is more of a direct, skillful and physical presence who would cut inside to score rather than create. Bosz wants his team to press much higher, more incessantly and more consistently and the wings are influential to this as wingers should drift inside during the press and stretch play during build-up play.
On the right, the development of Anwar El Ghazi should be imperative to Bosz’ tenure as manager. El Ghazi can easily be the most effective player for Ajax or one of the most frustrating and anonymous. A player who opened last season flying out the gates in explosive form but ended last season with tears flowing down his face against De Graafschap. In the friendly against Marseille, he hand a big hand in both Ajax’ goals but was wasteful in front of goal as he needs to fine-tune his finishing while being more confident and assertive when going outside his fullback. How Bosz’ uses El Ghazi will be an interesting subplot this season.
While Ajax do not have a striker, Kasper Dolberg – who impressed De Boer in January and scored his first goal against PAOK – will be Bosz’ preferred choice. He is the modern day forward in that he is mobile and multi-faceted but still a fox in the box as he impressed with having the most shots on goal in the first leg against PAOK with 3. How Ajax go about replacing Milik could be the biggest indicator of how Bosz’ tenure at Ajax could go. Utrecht’s Sebastien Haller was mentioned earlier in the summer while they could easily go the PSV route and replace him with an Eredivisie-proven forward who has had limited success abroad in Bas Dost but alarmingly, Mario Gomez and Mario Balotelli have been touted and they will blow Ajax’ wage cap into smithereens.
Richairo Zivkovic is an option but seems to have become disillusioned with life at Ajax but Bosz’ appointment brings opportunity for the youngster as he has a short window of time before Ajax sign Milik’s replacement. The most irksome aspect of Bosz’ philosophy is his courageously high defensive line which they have struggled with, throughout pre-season. Joel Veltman will be the leader of the defensive line and will have to master his positioning further away from Jasper Cillessen while the question of who will partner him is an issue of its own. Nick Viergever has partnered him with Riedewald in midfield but the latter may be an option because of his speed while he would be more adequate in last man situations. New signing Davinson Sanchez joins the club of the back of a Copa Libertadores triumph and should be eased into life at Ajax rather than thrown into the deep end.
If the beginning of Bosz’ tenure at Ajax has proved anything then it is that Riedewald will be the fulcrum of the side, there will be a shakeup in the front line and there is a rat race for the spot next to Veltman at centre-back. Under De Boer, Ajax became mundane, predictable and formulaic as they needed to be resusicitated. The next few weeks, Bosz will need to feel out a squad bursting with talent with a year of experience behind them while moulding a squad in his image. If Bosz’ gets Ajax to where he wants them to be, he should have a high-pressing, fluid and penetrative passing machine built on a clever and hardworking defence which would be step forward from De Boer’s mish-mash of philosophies.