Ajax have made some small steps after their Europa League elimination as players like Milik and Klaassen are playing more integral roles. Frank De Boer has also gained a better understanding of his squad after two big injuries which have hindered Ajax since the turn of the year.

milik willAjax had another disastrous year in Europe where they failed to translate their domestic dominance into anything meaningful. They then lost their place at the top of the Eredivisie to PSV as they were playing a brand of largely unattractive football that forced them to push bodies forward and be open at the back. Against tactically advanced teams with well-organised defences like Utrecht or Heracles at home or most teams in their Europa League group, they struggled to create much as they were tactically outfoxed. Going into their match with PSV at the weekend, they seem to have turned a corner.

Striker and leading scorer Arek Milik has scored 8 goals in his last 6 as Ajax are finally playing to his strengths. Milik is a mobile, modern day forward who enjoys having the ball at his feet but there were games where he could go long periods without seeing the ball and could be easily isolated. In Ajax’s away game against Celtic where he scored and had an assist, it was flummoxing to see Vaclav Cerny and Yaya Sanogo who came on as subs both have more shots than him as Cerny had 3, Sanogo had 2 and Milik only had 1. Frank De Boer started to improvise by playing wide players central which made the team easy to close down while forcing Mitchell Dijks to push forward and pump crosses into the box that rarely met their target.

However, Milik is back and Ajax are using him more as we have seen him brimming with confidence. The more creative players now have a target to play to and with Davy Klaassen behind him stringing things together, Ajax are a much more entertaining team to watch. Klaassen was injured in the mid-season break and the team struggled without him as very few players could pick out the passes he made and position themselves in the pockets of space, he did. Now there is a certain fluidity and zest to their play that they were sometimes lacking as they can play at a pace and tempo that most teams would struggle to match. Amin Younes, who has been a terrific signing, now has more space to play in as against more organised teams, he was tightly marked. Now the twinkle-toed German can cut in and drive into openings or provide crosses into Milik which has resulted in having 6 goals and 3 assists this season.

Riechedly Bazoer and Nemanja Gudelj have continued to grow as a partnership this season and it is a hope that Ajax can keep the former going into next season. Gudelj is an energetic all-action midfielder who can press opposition players well, the way he chased and won the ball for Milik’s first goal at NEC at the weekend was an example as he gives Ajax more dynamism and options in an attacking sense. Bazoer has had to be the anchor man at times, especially when Ajax are pushing forward as he has to position himself adequately to not leave his defence vulnerable and to not leave too much space between himself and Gudelj. Bazoer has also pitched in with some astounding goals this season, especially his brilliant strikes in Der Klassieker against Feyenoord and against Willem II. The interchange between the two is more measured as the two have gained a better sense of eachother’s style.

Two of Ajax’ back four were injured as Jairo Riedewald who has had a stunning season at centre-back next to Joel Veltman picked up an injury that will keep him out for the rest of the season. While Kenny Tete who kept Ricardo Van Rhin rooted to the bench also picked up an injury after the winter break and has just started running again. This has resulted in De Boer using a new defensive partnership in Mike Van Der Hoorn and Nick Viergever with Veltman moving out to right back. Veltman at right-back has worked well as he is not a marauding fullback and is more focused on being solid defensively as he has troubled many forwards. Dijks is managing his forays forward as Ajax are no longer so reliant on him punting crosses into the box but he is still an option on the overlap.

Frank De Boer has to decide whether to play Anwar El Ghazi or Lasse Schone on the right of his front three as the former failed to continue his amazing start to the season. Schone has 2 goals and an assist in his last four games as De Boer has to decide whether to go with the Dutch youngster’s blend of blistering pace and trickery or the experienced Dane’s ability to link up well in the front line and his potency from set-pieces. El Ghazi has 10 goals this season and always provides a goal threat for Ajax but needs to be more consistent in his game which has lead De Boer to place his trust in Schone for the time being and with Milik’s form improving, there is only space for one of them in the side.

Ajax are improving steadily as De Boer’s need for a striker has lessened with the form of Milik and with Klaassen back to full fitness, his team are primed to take their title challenge to the wire. The combinations and partnerships are growing leading to improved performances as they can only hope that they have Riedewald and Tete back next season so they can sustain this in all competitions. This second half to the season has proved that things do not have to be so grim around the Amsterdam ArenA.

Chaka Simbeye (69 Posts)