A review of the current Ajax midfield composition

Lasse Schone signed a new two-year extension, Davy Klaassen has scored the most goals during a season in his career while Hakim Ziyech opened the year with three goals in three games. Despite losing Riechedly Bazoer and Nemanja Gudelj in the January window, Ajax’ midfield unit have continued to thrive in the Eredivisie. The away games have been hard fought and edgy affairs with Ajax having 5 games away from home and 2 games at home since the turn of the year, yet they have only scored two more goals on the road as they have 5 goals in the two home games and seven in the five away games. The three midfield machines have been ever present in Ajax’ success this season.

Schone has been consistently brilliant at the base of midfield as his busy all-action style allows Ajax to move the ball out of the back quicker and apply pressure on their opponents for large sums of games. With more teams, using a man-orientated marking scheme against Ajax, few deep lying playmakers would have been able to adjust but Schone receives the ball and shields the ball with the initiative of a player who has been playing in the role his whole career. Against Vitesse, he played with such dexterity that Jairo Riedewald played the ball into the experienced Dane under pressure many times and he managed to wriggle into space and start an attack.

Schone is very small in stature but manages to engage in a lot of aerial duels and win a few of them to recycle the ball into the next attack. He has maintained his skill in attacking situations as his skill and calm have allowed him to venture out to the flank and play immaculate crosses into the box or start neat and incisive passing sequences in the opposition half. Schone proved his importance to Ajax in a proper fashion as he opened the year with three brilliant strikes in three consecutive games. Schone has become the heartbeat of this team as at times Ajax will drop into a 4-1-4-1/4-5-1 shape with Schone shielding the defense or build as a 3-4-3/3-1-3-3/3-1-4-2 with him helping Ajax probe the opposition.

Klaassen and Ziyech play as free-8s either side of Schone as Ziyech constantly drops deeper to ease transition with his raking long balls or beautiful switch balls. Klaassen dropped next to Schone against Vitesse more frequently than he has this season but is an option running into the channels or stringing together intricate pieces of play in the opposition half with his one-touch passing. As Dolberg has struggled with form of late, Klaassen’s goals are of maximum importance as he scored the winner away to Heerenveen, the opening goal against PSV, the opening goal against Roda JC and the winner against Vitesse. Against Vitesse, he also blocked a shot on the goal-line and played the important switch ball for the counter that led to his goal.

The Dutchman celebrated his 24th birthday this week and should’ve had another goal last week against Legia as his ability to ghost into the right areas in the final third is his biggest asset. Klaassen is a workhorse as in a system where once possession is lost, the ball near midfielder has to immediately pressure the man in possession, him and Ziyech have shouldered this responsibility with vigor. Ajax also has a playing style which relies greatly on width and the wingers stretching the defense as Klaassen always provides an option for a cross or a dummy run in the box. The Ajax captain is more involved in build-up play while retaining his instinct in the box as he grows into a fine midfielder.

Ziyech’s relationship with Dolberg is a reason that team’s have decided to pressure the Ajax midfield instead of the Ajax defence as the two enjoy playing and running off eachother. Ziyech played Dolberg in behind against Feyenoord, Dolberg played in Ziyech away to Celta, the Dane then played in the Morrocan against ADO as those are just a few of the times that the two have enjoyed working off eachother. Ziyech is a player who is truly liberated in the freedom of Ajax’ quick breaks as he can play in teammates in the channels or he can drive at the opposition defence himself. With more pressure on Ajax’ midfield and him normally being ruled out as a passing option in build up play, he has struggled to enforce himself on games.

He still manages to carve out opportunities when he receives the ball and his brace against PEC Zwolle in January is just an indicator of what he can do if he is given space. Ziyech was a livewire against Legia as he should have had an assist for Klaassen, played through Younes who crossed for Dolberg to blast over from inside the box and had a tame shot saved in the first half. Against Vitesse, he was involved in Klaassen’s goal as he won back possession in the first phase of the break. His defensive work is mostly done through pressure as he is always willing to press defenders and the goalkeeper when the ball is lost. Teams have looked to pressure him in the deeper areas but he has certainly retained his sharpness in the final third.

Ajax need to find ways to work balls into the Moroccan at a much quicker rate, especially in the away games as he possesses the final ball create something in the final third. Ziyech also needs to be more mobile and active in trying to shrug off his man-marker to find spaces in the pockets while he also looks dangerous when him and Amin Younes switch roles on the left flank. Younes enjoys cutting in with mazy runs when in possession while Ziyech enjoys drifting out wide into the pocket of space out on the left as that has been the catalyst for some of Ajax’ goals this season. Ziyech also poses a threat with his set-pieces, especially corners and free-kicks from out wide as they are always well-driven.

Ziyech is normally replaced by Donny van De Beek in the latter stages of games as the 19-year-old can play in any of the midfield roles. He is always involved in at least one opportunity after coming off the bench as he possesses the same innate sense of space as Klaassen but is more technically refined than Klaassen was at that age. He came on for Ziyech against Heerenveen and assisted the winning goal as well as assisting the opener away to Standard Liege in the Europa League. The youngster can also fill in for Schone at defensive midfield which has earned him more gametime this season.

Frenkie De Jong’s cameo against Sparta Rotterdam will remain in the memory as testament to the youngster’s genius. He then played a brilliant chip for Kaj Sierhuis to score against Achilles as he has been instrumental for Jong Ajax who are second in the Eerste Divisie. The way he twisted and turned from pressure and played in Younes with a subtle but magnificent pass should have earned him an assist on his Eredivisie debut. His ability to play all three midfield roles have also seen him get closer to the first team as he is certainly a fine option for Bosz to have on the bench.

Lasse Schone has 6 goals and 4 assists this season, Klaassen has 15 goals and 5 assists while Ziyech has 8 goals and 7 assists for Ajax. In attack Younes only scored his first Eredivisie goal this season a few weeks ago, Traore was injured in December and away at the African Cup of Nations in January and Dolberg had a goal drought from November till January. The midfield has been the driving force behind this team as there is a great amount of industry coming from the midfield three. The three players have also found a balance between attacking and defending as they need to continue developing and improving for Ajax to push Feyenoord to the wire.