Outsiders might have thought Ajax were chanceless against Manchester City last Wednesday. Frank de Boer said, after the draw, that Manchester City at home was a game Ajax had a good chance of winning. Despite the last home game against an English team was back in 1987 against Nottingham Forst, Ajax normally play well against English sides. The away win at City’s rivals from Manchester last season proves that. Manchester City, the club with endless money versus Ajax, the club that’s famous for their successful academy. The club which total squad cost €498 million against the club which total squad cost €86 million. The champion of England playing against the champion of Holland. In every aspect of the beautiful game it was an interesting meeting.

Ajax started with the same XI as in the second half against Heracles Almelo (in which they threw away a 3-1 lead).  The only change was a tactical one: Christian Eriksen played as a deep-lying striker and Siem De Jong dropped back in midfield. The idea behind it was that an striker moving around would cause the strong centerback couple Lescott/Kompany much more trouble than a target man. It proved to be a genius move by Frank de Boer.

From the first minute Ajax were the stronger side. The team played in their own philosophy with courage and guts, not afraid of the big names in Manchester City’s team. The Ajax players know every game in which system they are playing. It’ll always be a 4-3-3 with out and out winger.  Only  tactical changes are being made as pointed out earlier. Mancini’s tactics were simply poor. Mancini began with Sergio Agüero on the left wing then abandoned his 4-2-3-1 system early in the first half, tried out 4-4-2 and then ditched that for 3-5-2. With so many changes, it was not entirely surprising the team looked so dishevelled.

In my eyes, City had no idea how to dominate and ‘make’ the game. Where Ajax are used to having the ball a lot (a bit Barcelona-esque) and be patient for a moment to strike. The club from England are more of a ‘counter team’ in an Italian way. Sitting back, waiting for the opponent to make a mistake.

Before City scored the opening goal Ajax had two good chances through Christian Eriksen. It was actually a goal that come out of nowhere, Ajax dominated the game. It was notable Ajax were briefly unsettled after Nasri’s goal. Discontent from the stands could be heard in the home stands.  A ‘normal’ reaction by the fans as they were afraid Ajax would have wilted. It wouldn’t be the first time this season. Yet the game lurched back in Ajax’s favour in the final minutes of the first half. Ricardo van Rhijn, one of the seven academy graduates in the Ajax side and hugely impressive, put in a low cross and De Jong lashed it past Joe Hart.

The start of the second half wasn’t as attractive as the start of the first one. It was Ajax who took the lead in the 58th minute. Eriksen swung in the corner and centerback Niklas Moisander out-jumped Lescott to divert the ball inside an unmarked far post. City left the Finn completely unmarked in their own box. Ajax’s lead meant City had to attack with real penetration which left more space for the home team. City had trouble creating any real chances and it was Ajax that extended their lead through Christian Eriksen. The young Dane played a fantastic game against a team that was interested in him last summer. His agent said it took just ten seconds for Eriksen to hear Man City’s offer and reject it. Eriksen didn’t even think about a move to the club because he’s not interested in their money. A few minutes after Eriksen’s goal, Tobias Sana had the perfect chance to decide the game but he failed eye-in-eye with Joe Hart.

The team from Amsterdam never really came into trouble and defended their lead comfortably. A great win. A starting XI that cost combined €4.4 million beat a starting XI that cost over €200 million. That put the win in some perspective. Ajax still have every chance of surviving in Europe: CL or EL. I’m already looking forward to the next meeting with City in the Etihad Stadium. Why wouldn’t Ajax get another three points?

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