A tantalising combination of no-nonsense industry and pockets of flair look to be serving Ajax well as they bid to progress in the Champions League. That’s according to coach Erik ten Hag as he eyes the next European thriller for his Sons of the Gods when they host Portuguese giants Benfica at the Amsterdam Arena later in the month (October 23).
Ajax go into the game with their domestic form in good shape and a bet on them to succeed would seem justified; that confidence comes on the back of a creditable 1-1 draw against Bayern Munich in the Allianz Arena in Germany last week; a point earned with a resolute display and utilising an ethic of hard work first and foremost with a sprinkling of flamboyance where and if necessary.
The well-earned draw sees the Dutch outfit sitting pretty at the top of the table in Group E ahead of the Germans in second spot and with Benfica behind them and AEK Athens bringing up the rear. Ajax hopes of progressing to the knockout phase look to be well founded.
In Germany, the visitors went behind early on when Mats Hummels headed home but then levelled through Moroccan defender Noussair Mazraoui to make the clash even. And Ten Hag has admitted that he felt a mixture of happiness and disappointment when he reflected on the result. Given the chances that the visitors created, he says he should have perhaps witnessed a win.
“On the one hand, I was satisfied but on the other, this was a game we could and should have won. We laid down a really good achievement, right from the start of the game. We have a good team but we need to mature a bit more, but we were full of enthusiasm and willingness.
“Bayern seemed to really struggled with the fact that we were constantly chasing the ball. And where we could, we of course try to play good football. But it’s a real pity we didn’t make it 2-1, the team functioned super. This sort of game gives the youngsters some more self-confidence. Now they just have to convert their chances. But this was a confirmation of what this team is capable of. We have quality players, who hopefully together can reach great heights.”
Meanwhile, Ajax will be wary of new approaches for their talented goal-getter Kasper Dolberg, who is aged 21, after the forward netted again for the home side in the weekend’s 5-0 win over AK in the Eredivisie. Liverpool were said to be an interested suitor last summer for the services of the Denmark international and German giants Borussia Dortmund and Italian behemoth Roma have also keep tabs on the attacker.
Kop boss Jurgen Klopp has made no secret of his admiration for Dolberg. Quizzed on the original story linking the Anfield outfit with the net-buster, he said: “Who doesn’t know Kasper Dolberg? You can’t play at Ajax without being noticed. Kasper Dolberg has a very great future. He is a fantastic player. I love Danish players.”