He may have won three Eredivisie titles on a trot but Ajax trainer Frank de Boer still has a few things to pick up in order to be able to lead Ajax further into the knockout rounds on the European scene.

  • By Priya Ramesh
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de boer eAC Milan’s ultra-defensive approach after captain Montolivo’s red card and time-wasting tactics certainly did not help the Ajax cause, but as de Boer pointed out himself in his post-match interview, the fault ultimately lies with Ajax and partly with the manager. Personally, the decision to play a frontline of Schone-Bojan-Fischer is slightly baffling. The fact that all three like having the ball at their feet and running at the defence meant that there was too much passing without much creating much of a direct chance. Moreover, even with the 170cm-tall-Bojan playing up front, van Rhijn and Blind kept sending in crosses into the box. The ex-Barcelona man is not a great header of the ball, neither is he a great jumper and struggled with aerial balls into the box, having to deal with Bonera and Zapata who were both much taller than him. It would have made more sense to start Hoesen, who offers more of a presence in Milan’s box as well as a nuisance to the defenders.

However, the one thing that completely threw anyone watching the match was the substitution that saw Mike van der Hoorn being brought on for Thulani Serero. Making that slightly clearer, centreback van der Hoorn on for midfielder Serero. The plausible reason would be for van der Hoorn to go up into the Milan box and stay there. Being 190 cm tall and of strong build, the defender provides a target for crosses. However, van der Hoorn is no brilliant finisher, he may be able to get his head to the ball (which he did not actually do a lot of) but not necessarily direct it where he wants in that type of situation. The same substitution however, could have made more sense had van der Hoorn slotted in at leftback, allowing Daley Blind to operate in midfield, where he is arguably more effective.

Ultimately, being the meticulous analyst he is, Frank would have picked up on these chinks in his armor that may or may not have cost the side a place in the knockout rounds. It was also probably a lesson that both the team and the manager needed. If they want to achieve bigger things in Europe, they must be prepared to face any side and any type of football. The manner in which they have been eliminated could also possibly feed the fire in their stomachs to do their best in the league and qualify for next year, where the same motivation might help them reach that elusive Round of 16 for the first time since 2006. This, on top of the numerous positives picked up already over the course of the group stages means that Ajax and Frank will be more prepared for Europe’s elite competition. They have taken baby steps since 2010 but the progress is being made and the future seems very encouraging indeed.

Priya Ramesh (5 Posts)

Freelance Dutch football writer, suffering student, unique mixture of calcium, water, collagen and iron.