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Saturday, February 18, 2012

Europa League - Ajax vs Manchester United

On 16 February Ajax met Manchester United in their first Europa League match this season. The result was 0-2, with the goals of Young and Hernandez. There are many other good and reliable information sources on this match, so I will mainly focus on Ajax players.

Dico Koppers

Coach De Boer basically used the same formation as he did in the last Eredivisie match against NAC Breda. Defensive midfielder Enoh was replaced by Aissati. Bulykin again played at center forward.

They played excellently in the first half. Siem de Jong made a good middle shot, which was reflected by goalkeeper De Gea. Ajax did not easily give away possession, and the defenders showed great concentration. In my view, left back Koppers, though he was still inexperienced compered with other players on the pitch, did a good job in front of Nani. He made a few mistakes and in the second half he was overwhelmed by United attackers, but his contribution was greater than I had expected (though his rating by Goal.com was extreamly low...).

Sulejmani was a starting point of Ajax attacks. His crosses threatened United, so I wished that Bulykin had played better, like he did in the match against NAC. Anyway, the opponent team was Manchester United, not an ordinary team in the Eredivisie. Though he was not weaker in the air than United defenders, he lacked concentration and missed opportunities.

Vertonghen and Eriksen showed why they are closely followed by bigger European clubs. Vertonghen's tackles prevented United attackers from playing freely and saved Ajax many times. He was trying to make good short passes to midfielders, and he seemed to be refraining from make long passes. United defenders could not easily be troubled by long passes from the opponent defenders, so Vertonghen's choice was a wise thing. He was a key player in ball possession.

Eriksen's middle shot after a wonderful dribble in the first half was one of the highlights of the match. He did not give away the ball easily under pressure, and he caused much trouble to United with his technique.

United could not play easily in midfield. Without Enoh, Aissati contributed to both defense and attacks. Of course, Rooney was a little bit too much for him, but he did not lose concentration throughout the match and I think it was OK.

So Ajax played good football. But I have to say that De Boer's substitutions were hard to understand. Why did he made two substitutions in defense? Why did he use inexperienced Lukoki in this important match? When De Boer decided to replace Ozbilitz with Lukoki, Ajax was clearly in need of some sort of stimulus and ideas to get closer to the opponent goal. There was only one player who could do this; Lodeiro. But he was not given a chance to play.

I know that most people were interested in United (and perhaps Eriksen and Vertonghen) only, but next time I hope more people pay attention to Ajax players and tactics as well. Next Sunday Ajax will play an Eredivisie match against NEC.

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