On the eve of Ajax – Spartak Moscow in the last 16 of the Europa League tomorrow night, Ajax’s manager Frank de Boer had his press conference and once again he said things that sound like music in the ears of many people that feel ver strongly about Ajax. “Defending starts with the forwards. When we lose the ball, we don’t stop. We start to pressure to get the ball back as quick as possible. Pressing left, right, above and below. Always and everywhere. That’s what I say to my players”. With this, it’s not a surprise Ajax have only conceded goals in 3 of the 15 games under Frank de Boer. Of course, the defense with Stekelenburg, Van der Wiel, Alderweireld, Vertonghen and Blind are a strong line, if not Ajax’s strongest. But conceding so few goals is a merit of the whole team and it starts with the front line. If needed, the wingers Lorenzo Ebecilio and Miralem Sulejmani, defend near the back line.
High pressing in last weekend’s Eredivisie game against AZ Alkmaar (4-0)
High pressuring is an important thing in Frank de Boer’s football philosophy. He says: ‘To dose is something you do when you have the ball, not when you don’t have it. When you have the ball, play it calmly around, take a breath and then start with a new attack’. To sum up the other parts of his and Ajax’s philosophy: 4-3-3 with wide wingers and constant movement with and without the ball.
Who hears this, automatically thinks about Barca. Barca, who can pressure and play the ball around like no one else can. De Boer never made a secret of it that it’s his goal to play football like they do. Football that made Ajax famous in the Seventies.
Especially in the last three games against Anderlecht, RKC Waalwijk and AZ Alkmaar, Ajax have played very concentrated. Hardly given the opponent a chance in front of Maarten Stekelenburg.
It’s a bit too much to compare last weekend’s Ajax –AZ with last night’s Barcelona – Arsenal but the one thing they’ve got in common is that both AZ and Arsenal barely came near the goal. And Ajax don’t have players with as much class as Barcelona’s players but in the games I mentioned above, Ajax played, defended and attacked like a team. Just like Barcelona do.
Ajax are on a good path and the end of it isn’t even on the horizon. There is still a long, long way to go until Ajax play the game like Frank de Boer would like to but the first glimpses of it can already be seen. And maybe, maybe Ajax can play like..
Right, that was my moment of dreaming. Let’s go back to reality which is that Ajax play Spartak Moscow tomorrow night in the less prestigious Europa League.
I’m gonna be honest and say that I don’t know anything more about Spartak Moscow then that they’re deadly on the counter attack and that Ari (former AZ Alkmaar) warms (as far as possible) the bench in Moscow. As Ari isn’t interesting, let’s talk about Spartak Moscow’s deadly counter attacks. This is were Frank de Boer warns his team for. It will be impossible for the three midfielders to go forward recklessly. Because if so, and you lose the ball there’s a big chance of seeing Maarten Stekelenburg grabbing the ball from the back of net. It’s case to play as concentrated as the last three games and never lose that focus. It’s not that Spartak Moscow can only score from counter attacking. Of course not. As I have to believe Frank de Boer, and I do, they are also strong when the opponent gives them little space (like Ajax will do).
De Boer has experience with playing against Spartak Moscow and back in 1998, Ajax were trapped in the trap of counter attacks. Ajax lost in the ArenA, 1-3. Mostly because of a naïve switch from attacking to defending. Hopefully, this story will be a lesson for the boys tomorrow and that they’ll be focused and concentrated 90 minutes long. Playing compact and with high pressing.
Ajax will start this game as favorites but it’s gonna be far from easy. Where they’ve had 12 clean sheets in 15 games, it’s the most important thing to have 13 in 16 games after tomorrow night. Keeping the nil is holy in European football.