Ajax has long been looking for a metronomic pace-setter at the base of their midfield who meshes experience, physical tenacity and an accomplished passing ability. Few would’ve thought they would find it in 30-year-old Lasse Schone who has made the role his own this season. The Dane looks the real deal in the position as it was just in the second half of last season when he nudged his way past Anwar El Ghazi for a starting berth on the right flank but now he has also nudged his way past Riechedly Bazoer, Jairo Riedewald and Nemanja Gudelj for the position in midfield.
The Eredivisie is a league for pint-sized and unorthodox deep-lying playmakers as Thulani Serero, Andres Guardado and Jordy Clasie have all thrived in the position as Guardado and Schone have proved that football is a constantly educational process. Frank De Boer’s Ajax team of the last two seasons became a sideways passing and possession hoarding team as they struggled to penetrate organized and deep-lying defenses. The organized chaos that has engulfed the first quarter of Peter Bosz’ tenure has seen Ajax become one of the most entertaining teams on the continent with their high-pressing, quick passing and fluid movement with Schone at the base of the midfield.
The Dane is the regeneration man of Amsterdam as just when one would believe he is headed for the exit door, he finds his way to play himself into the good graces of the manager and win a starting place. A man who was once known for his astonishing ability from free-kicks improved his all-round game under De Boer, so much so that he finds himself at the base of midfield. Bazoer had some strong performances in an Ajax shirt but never really made the position his own, Riedewald is one of the most technically refined players to come out of De Toekomst but has not been given an extended run in midfield while Gudelj was given chances against Celta Vigo but after a public spat with Bosz and the Ajax fans, looks set for the exit door.
Schone’s crisp and intuitive passing is helped by Hakim Ziyech’s ability to drop deeper and send raking long balls forward as Schone thrives upon recycling the ball after winning back possession with deft little chips and well-weighted line breaking passes. He has begun to play with authority as the zest that he brings from deep has become integral to Ajax’ attacking structure while he seems to be playing with an aura of liberation which is ironic for a forward who has been moved into defensive midfield. Bosz repurposing Schone as a defensive midfielder could go down as the key tactical element of a strong season for Ajax. Bosz’ non-negotiable ‘attack at all costs’ dogma has brought exciting times to the Amsterdam ArenA as Schone has used his instincts as an attacking midfielder to settle into his new role.
“Normally I’m never doing that but now I noticed it on,” said Schöne said to Voetbal International in October. “Everyone knows that I am not a supporter who makes sliding tackles or is concerned with aerial duels. But I do know how does an attacking midfielder try to anticipate anywhere, read situations and choose good positions you can be in this place with the loss of possession and make it difficult any opponent. ”
Schone is tied third in Ajax’ assists chart with newly converted left back Daley Sinkgraven as they both have three as he also wins the most aerial duels of someone who isn’t a defender at the club despite standing at a modest 178cm. In a match against ADO, he found acres of space to rise and head the ball into the next wave of attack while he played a delicate one-two with Davy Klaassen which led to him chipping for the Dutchman to get in behind and score. He finished that match with 2 chances created, an 81% pass succession rate (with 77% in the final third) and won 100% of his aerial duels and tackles while also having 7 ball recoveries.
His ability to reincarnate himself as an authoritative and physical presence in Ajax’ midfield certainly won’t be ideal for the heap of youngsters trudging behind him in the pecking order but fits Bosz’ tactical philosophy well. Apart from Nick Viergever, he is the only player in the regular starting lineup over the age of 25 so his experience has proved ideal in marshalling the midfield and leading this young team forward. He continues to be unpredictable on the ball which helps Ajax greatly in their passing and movement while his positioning in anchoring the midfield has greatly improved since his first game in the role. Ajax play an incredibly high-line so it is Schone’s job to remain available as a passing option and shield the defense as him and his team will continue to grow in that aspect.
In buildup play, he instinctively moves and swivels before and after receiving possession in order to beat the opposition’s first line of pressure as if he has been playing in the position his whole career. The role of the deep-lying playmaker is one of the most integral specialist roles in modern day football and to see a pint-sized, 30-year-old attacker move to the position and play with such equanimity is remarkable. His performances aren’t just exclusive to the Eredivisie but in the Europa League home match against Celta Vigo he had an 87% pass succession rate (83% in the final third) which is impressive against a team that can targeted press areas well and sit in a rigid shape.
In the recent 5-0 thrashing of his former club NEC Nijmegen, he scored one goal from three shots, had one assist from two chances created and made 4 tackles as he finished with an 87% pass succession rate. He played the chip to Dolberg for the younger Dane’s glorious first goal while he took on a pass from Dolberg to score the fifth goal from range. His performances have steadily improved with each game he has played as he has had a massive stake in Ajax’ early successes as they are the most consistently brilliant club in the Eredivisie and probably the rest of Europe. 13 wins from their last 16 in an unbeaten run in all competitions is no easy feat as Schone has become a valuable asset to the spine of the team.
“Do not whine, stay positive and work hard, then take your chance,” said the Danish international to VI. He has stayed true to those words as he has changed perceptions of him all around the club as the week after Bosz said that Riedewald was the only ‘number six’ at the club, Schone established himself as the starting number six.
“In the past I sometimes often played as a defensive midfielder and this team is great to play there. You get a lot of possession and with players like Ziyech, Klaassen, Traoré, Younes Dolberg and you also continuously have players who are wanting to have the ball, ” he said to the same publication in October.
Schone’s trademark chips to create opportunities from deep and beat opposition pressure is only the basis of what makes him good in the role. He has 2 goals and 3 assists this season as he had 5 goals and 4 assists last season playing much higher while he takes 2 shots per game and has 2 key passes per game according to WhoScored. He also makes an astounding three tackles and three interceptions per game while winning 1 aerial duel per game as he is more than capable of shouldering the defensive responsibility that comes with his position. He plays an average of 51 passes per game at a pass succession rate of 86% with 78% of his passes being forward passes according to Squawka. He has more than convinced Bosz that the position at the base of the midfield is his.
“He has shown that he has been useful and helpful for Ajax at different positions. The way we want to play now, he might play 10. But I think he suits us perfectly at this time on the 6-position, “said Bosz to VI last month. “In our system we start there with football, Lasse fills it well in at the moment.”
In true Ajax fashion, Schone has rediscovered himself in the final year of his contract and it will be interesting to see how Bosz and more importantly Marc Overmars manage that situation in the coming months. The Dane who has spent all of his professional career in the Netherlands from his days at De Graafschap to NEC and Ajax has a chance to cement a proper legacy in the country. The rejuvenation of the player Ajax just could not seem to ship out could be imperative to the Amsterdammers having a successful season.