These three defensive upgrade points stand between Ajax and the championship.


Of course, this Ajax has enough attacking chances to improve. For example, the structure of the game is significantly more difficult than in previous years, it is still not clear who is the best rebounding centre-forward, two big earners want to play as a left winger, and the midfield puzzle has yet to be solved.

But these goals, they will come. Even after one full scale crisis, Ajax still lead the way in goals scored (51) and quality of opportunity (46). expected goals).

On the other hand, the Amsterdam side has a lot more going on in defense. If Ajax didn't score in more than half of their games under Erik ten Hag last season, they haven't scored in even a quarter of them since he left.

Even after the winter break, three defensive problems continue to arise. Whoever the new coach is, these are the three pain points that are most relevant.

1. Defensive midfield balance

Kenneth Taylor - wagon. In fact, the 20-year-old midfielder is perhaps the most versatile player in the entire team. But what Taylor isn't is "number 6": the balance keeper in midfield. And let this be his current role.

Preparing for Igor Paixao's first Classic goal showed the challenges Taylor faces in his new midfield role. In the run-up to Steven Berguis losing the ball, Taylor accidentally cut off the passing line between Berguis and Jorge Sánchez in an effort to get the ball. He then failed to return at top speed after Berghuis served the ball. Taylor then fouled Paixao for the third consecutive time in seconds without committing a tactical foul on Paixao. The result of an early yellow card that Taylor received half an hour ago.

While the reason for putting the defensively strongest player of choice - Edson Alvarez - in the back isn't too crazy as the team struggles to keep a clean sheet, the gap in terms of defensive maturity between the Mexican and his (temporary) replacement is Taylor. too big. Since the start of last season, Ajax have conceded 28 per cent more good chances in matches where Alvarez is absent from midfield.

If it is decided to continue using Alvarez as a defender, then experimenting with Cian Fitz-Jim on the 6 and returning Taylor to his usual, more offensive role does not seem like a bad idea. At Jong Ajax, Fitz-Jim leads the team in goals scored per 90 minutes for the second consecutive season (8.31 this season).

2. Standard situations

This season, Ajax are frankly bad in defense from corners and free kicks. In just over half of last season's matches, the team got three times (!) more goals from set pieces.

Although Ajax have already started using an extra man as a zone defender during the season, the Amsterdam team continues to use marking mainly when defending corners. A remarkable choice, given the total lack of good headlines (other than Alvarez). In the Excelsior game, you also see the big downside of having a man watch the corners: one mistake and you'll be seen.

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Excelsior captain Redoin El-Yaakoubi is without a doubt the header that you as an opponent should worry about the most. The fact that Kralingse's defender still goes to the far post after a corner kick is due to the match between Jürrien Timber and Maxim Avudja. Due to the stumbling between them, Dušan Tadić is unable to reach El Yakoubi in time.

A full overview of what Ajax does when handling corner kicks seems to be ready.

3. Catching counters

After Excelsior-Ajax, ESPN analysts on site and in the studio disapproved of the away team's so-called "residual defense". This refers to the preventive processing of counters. No matter how aggressively a team wants to play, there must always be enough people behind the ball to intercept or at least absorb a possible counterattack. Against Excelsior, Ajax endure a disastrous first half in this regard, where the hosts become dangerous again and again due to fast attacks.

While the three Ajax midfielders have certainly not gone unpunished due to Excelsior's many dangerous counterattacks, the positioning of both defenders is the most important point to improve. After Jorge Sanchez and Calvin Bassey's decline in form, Devine Rensch and Owen Wijndal deserved their first-team chances. But for this situation to last, both defenders need to mature a lot in their choice during extended possession.

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Former national team coach Louis van Gaal compared the attacking role of his defenders ahead of the World Cup to having two hands on the same wheel. If one back pulls forward in attack, the other must remain behind. Only in this way can the team maintain a defensive balance.

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With Rensch and Wijndal systematically denying this principle of play against Excelsior, Ajax find themselves time and time again facing the break in the only starting position you want to avoid against a Rotterdam low-flying player: one-on-one situations Kuhaiba Driwesha is the fastest player in the Premier League – against the central defenders.

After a rare poor start to the season, Ajax are still only five points behind leaders Feyenoord. Given the excellent attacking figures, it can be said directly: if the team from Amsterdam solves the above three problems in defense, then the team is “just” back on the path of the championship.


Source: Parool.NL

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