Ajax 4-1 Vitesse: Tactical Review

Ajax's starting line-up against Vitesse
Vitesse's starting line-up against Ajax. A lopsided 4-3-3

Both sides made just one change from their previous matches. Vitesse boss John van den Brom brought in Jan-Arie van der Heijden for Julian Jenner, while De Boer chose Vurnon Anita at left-back ahead of Daley Blind. Both bosses set their teams up in their usual 4-3-3 formations, although they were very different as I will go on to explain later.

First Half

Ajax dominated possession right from the outset, in part down to Vitesse’s defensive tactics. The visitors defended very deep and when Hofs slotted into the midfield, they were effectively defending with two banks of four, and so Ajax failed to create many gilt-edged chances in the opening quarter of an hour. One player who caught the eye throughout the whole game was Derk Boerrigter, Ajax’s left-winger recently signed from second-division RKC Waalwijk and he tormented the Vitesse right-back Frank van der Struijk with some skillful dribbling. He created two chances in particular in the opening half-hour for Kolbeinn Sigthorsson, but the Icelandic striker headed over the first and missed the ball the second time. Boerrigter almost got himself on the scoresheet when he pounced onto a rebound, only to see his shot cannon off the post.

The departe of Maarten Stekelenburg was supposed to harmful to the dutch champions, but by the looks of it Kenneth Vermeer has more than enough ability to replace the new Roma goalkeeper.

There were several differences between the two side’s shape and here are a few:

  1. Nicky Hofs played far deeper on the left than Chanturia on the right, more as a midfielder than winger, and he tucked in when Ajax had the ball to create a four-man midfield.
  2. Chanturia played as a right-winger but was often found alongside Wilfried Bony in a two-man strike partnership with van Ginkel and van der Struijk covering the space on the right.
  3. The two strikers both wear the number 9 shirts for their sides, although only one of them played as a number 9 striker. This was Bony, who stayed high up the pitch and looked to latch onto long passes when they came, and as such often found himself isolated and with no chances to feed off. Sigthorsson certainly has the characteristics to play as a number ‘9’, but de Boer instructed him after the break to drop deep, find space and link with Christian Eriksen, the young Danish attacking midfielder. This was exactly how he got his second goal, receiving the ball between the lines, and firing an unstoppable low shot from 25 yards past Meerits.
  4. The front 3 of Ajax were very fluid, often interchanging positions, and they were rarely found doing any defensive work. In contrast, Vitesse’s front 3 were very rigid and the two wide midfielders/wingers were tasked to stop the opposition full-backs from advancing.
  5. The midfield triangles were also slightly different. Theo Janssen is not your typical midfield ‘destroyer.’ He has the ability to start attacks with his decent passing range, and his anticipation skills meant that he intercepted the ball on numerous occasions (he is more of a Xabi Alonso, without the exceptional long-range passing ability, than a Claude Makelele). Siem de Jong played slightly further ahead of him, and Eriksen slightly further ahead of de Jong. Just like Arsenal’s midfield 3, they rarely strayed too far from each other and were able to combine well, especially for the first goal, when de Jong layed the ball off to Eriksen who curled the ball beautifully into the top corner. Vitesse’s midfield three were ore disciplined and rigid.  Jan-Arie van der Heijden played in the defensive midfield role, with van Ginkel ahead of him to the right, Proepper to the left. Proepper and van Ginkel took it in turns to advance into the opposition territory, as they were clearly aware of the threat Ajax’s midfield 3 posed.

Second Half

Ajax really stepped it up after the break, and took their chances with ruthless efficiency. Their first came from Eriksen (as described above). The second goal came as a result of a brilliant long-ball from Belgian centre-back Toby Alderweireld over the top of the defence to Boerrigter, who played on the shoulder of the last man. He rifled the ball into the near post past a helpless Meerits. Sigthorsson got his first when he latched onto a low, deep cross from right-back Gregory van der Wiel and steered the ball expertly past Meerits. The fourth goal I mentioned above, a long-range strike from Sigthorsson.

By now, the game was as good as finished, so the consolation goal from Alexander Buttner really meant nothing at all, except that Ajax have yet to keep a clean sheet this season.

Conclusion

Frank de Boer’s men proved too strong on the night, and head to the top of the table as a result of their emphatic performance. The current champions will certainly prove hard to beat and look to have made a number of canny signings during the summer break, in particular Sigthorsson and Boerrigter. If Sigthorsson carries on his scoring streak, and de Boer improves the defensive organisation or concentration of the team, they will be odds-on favourites for the title this season.

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