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Champions League: what remains of the fabulous Ajax Amsterdam of 2019?

The Dutch club created a sensation three years ago when they reached the semi-finals of the Champions League. A formidable epic of a group largely turned upside down since.

How not to remember Ajax Amsterdam’s incredible Champions League run three seasons ago? During this 2018/2019 financial year, the Batavian club had enchanted the European scene by inflicting in particular a correction to Real Madrid on its lawn in the round of 16 second leg (1-4). This formidable collective then offered the scalp of Juventus Turin in the quarter-finals before falling in the semi-finals against Tottenham at the end of a Hollywood scenario. Winner 1-0 in the first leg in London, Ajax lost 3-2 at home on the return. Lucas Moura, author of a hat-trick, had crucified the Amsterdam residents in the 95e minute. An outcome that could not be more cruel for a surprising, refreshing team, carried by an exceptional collective of osmosis and solidarity and individuals who have exploded into broad daylight.

This Tuesday, Ajax Amsterdam receives Borussia Dortmund for the 3e Champions League group stage day. The Dutch club launched its campaign perfectly by crushing Sporting Portugal in Lisbon (5-1) and then winning at home against Besiktas Istanbul (2-0). Yet today’s Ajax is far different from the one who failed at the gates of the final in 2019.

The departure of executives

Facing Besiktas three weeks ago (2-0), only three players at the kick-off were already present during the epic of 2019: Daley Blind, Noussaïr Mazraoui and Dusan Tadic. And on the bench, they were only two to have taken part in this fantastic adventure: David Neres (entered the game) and Nicolas Tagliafico. The other 2019 Ajax strongmen have gone to other skies, including then-young captain Matthijs de Ligt, who is now making Juventus’ heyday. Ajax is also the orphan of his metronome in midfield: Frenkie de Jong now at FC Barcelona. Elected best midfielder of the year by UEFA in 2019, he delighted observers with his passing skills, his technical quality but also his activity in the game without the ball. His midfielder, Donny Van de Beek, now at Manchester United, was also part of the tauliers of this team. Finally, another major departure, that of Hakim Ziyech to Chelsea. The Moroccan had scored 21 goals and delivered 20 assists in all competitions that season. “We don’t have stars, we are a team», Thus summarized Matthijs de Ligt at the time.

If all these players have varying fortunes in their new club, they all shone at the same time in the red and white jersey of Ajax, making this team an impregnable fortress and one of the most exciting collectives of the latter. years in the Champions League.

A coach and a philosophy always present

If the ship became depopulated, its captain stayed behind. Ajax coach Erik Ten Hag was already present in 2018/2019 and the Dutch club owe much of this fabulous European career to him. Influenced by Pep Guardiola, whom he rubbed shoulders with at Bayern Munich, the Batavian technician has become a champion of the offensive game, focused on pressing and high recovery. A total football that would not have denied the one who gave his name to the Ajax stadium: Johan Cruyff. “It’s impressive the way they play, the way they squeeze. It’s great to watch“, Had recognized at the time Emre Can, midfielder of Juventus Turin, a few hours before facing this Ajax team.

After the departure of all his executives, Erik Ten Hag had to face his first turbulence on the Amsterdam bench. It was necessary to reinstall a central hinge and to find balance in the midfield after the departures of Van de Beek and De Jong, to which must be added that of the Danish Lasse Schöne, now at the end of his career, but who was an indisputable holder three years ago and devilishly valuable in his role as sentry. To rebuild a workforce, Ten Hag has remained true to his reputation: that of a coach who relies on young people that he does not hesitate to launch into the deep end very early on. Thus, the young Ryan Gravenberch (19 years old) settled in midfield just like Jurriën Timber (20 years old) in central defense or the twirling Antony (21 years old) as the right winger. This shift from one young generation to another did not go without a hitch. In the season that followed the crazy epic, Ajax failed to get out of their Champions League group and were even eliminated in the round of 16 of the Europa League by the Spaniards of Getafe. Same thing last season when, at the end of the group stage of the C1, Ajax had been transferred to the Europa League where they still reached the quarter-finals, lost to Roma.

This season, Erik Ten Hag’s men have already scored 7 goals in two Champions League matches and can now count on a real scorer: the Franco-Ivorian Sébastien Haller, top scorer in the competition so far (5 goals ). Faithful to his playing philosophy, although cut off from the overwhelming majority of his 2019 captains, Ten Hag and Ajax are attacking a new European campaign in the skin of an outsider. At first glance, however, difficult to imagine them reproducing the feat of 2019. However, during this famous campaign, Ajax’s hen course did not suggest such an outcome. Whatever happens, Ajax Amsterdam now receives special attention during European evenings.


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