English information about Dutch football club AFC Ajax written by a Japanese blogger - Fresh News, Match Reports, Introduction of Players and so on...オランダのサッカークラブ、AFCアヤックスに関する情報を英語でお届けします!

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Jan Vertonghen's Future - Where Will He Be Playing in 2012?

Today I would like to focus on one Ajax player; Jan Vertonghen, 24-year Belgian captain, competent central back and currently most sought-after player in the squad.

Vertonghen has been linked with big European clubs, including Manchester United, Arsenal, Tottenham Hotspur, and many others. It seems that he is catching attention by English clubs. I don't know why. Maybe because he is considered to be fitting to the Premier League football style, maybe because those British clubs are just rich. But I believe he is one of the best defenders in Europe. And especially in the Eredivisie, it is no doubt that he is the best central defender in the league.

Why are so many clubs interested in him? What is his strength?

The answer is simple. He is an ideal central back in modern football. By modern football, I mean football where ball possession is the key to victory and where even defenders have to participate actively in attacking.

He is reasonably tall and strong in the air. He is good at covering and clearing the ball. He is of course good at one-on-one defense. In this sense, he has everything that's required for a central defender in a classical sense. But this does not explain all of his strengths. He has scored goals consistently in important matches. Ajax's ball possession often starts with his short passes to midfielders or attackers. He has a good vision and and he always looks at those who are the nearest to the opponent's goal. When midfielders are not ready to receive a pass from him, he often makes an effective long pass to attackers. Furthermore, he has consistently scored goals. He is good at middle shots and volley shots as well as headers. When there is an opportunity, he often advances to the opponent's half by speedy and powerful dribbling. Japanese centaral back at VVV Venlo Maya Yoshida once told in his interview that Vertonghen was an ideal type of central defender that the Dutch are likely to be fond of.

In short, he is both offensive and defensive. He is an all-rounder.

Recently Ajax coach Frank de Boer has told expressly that Ajax will sell Vertonghen when his contract expires in the summer of 2013. Vertonghen himself once told that it was also likely that he would continue playing in Amsterdam without being transferred to another bigger club, but it is highly likely that he will be bought by a big European club this summer, most likely a Premier League club, at a high price. Tottenham Hotspur reportedly held talks with Ajax over a 10 million euro deal for Vertonghen.

As a fan of Ajax, it will be sad to see Vertonghen leave the club. But it will be a good step-up for him. It would be very exciting to see him in a first-rated club like Manchester United and Arsenal, and when he moves to another club, Ajax, with the greatest youth academy in the world, will produce a new young player who will someday be compared with Vertonghen.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Eredivisie - AZ vs Ajax / Meaningful Draw for Ajax

In the first Eredivisie match after the winter break on January 22, Ajax met AZ Alkmaar, the same opponent as they met in the KNVB match on January 19.

While AZ did not change the starting players from the last match, Ajax coach De Boer made a few revisions to the stating line-up. Right back Ligeon was replaced by left back Blind (Anita played the right back), and left wing Aissati was replaced by Ebecilio. Vermeer came back to the starting line-up as the goalkeeper.

Here's the starting line-ups.

Ajax took the initiative in the beginning of the match. Blind, Ebecilio and Sulejmani especially did good work, and in the 8th minute, Sulejmani put the goal behind the AZ goalkeeper after a nice flick from Eriksen. However, he was offside and the goal was disallowed. AZ gradually began to dominate the midfield and after Vertonghen's faul just outside the penalty area, Rasmus Elm's superb free kick brought the home side a meaningful goal in the 36th minute.

AZ dominated the second half, with tight pressing in the midfield. AZ attackers and midfielders were, as always, very hardworking and contributed to the defense very much. Ajax had no way to resolve this situation, not able to take ball possession. The well-trained, speedy and effective counter attacks of AZ confused Ajax, and just like their last match against the same team, Ajax midfielders were not able to build attacks effectively.

However, situations changed after Lodeiro appeared on the pitch as a substitute. His excellent technique and creative passes saved the team; his good combination with Sulejmani led to an own goal by Simon Paulsen.

The game ended in a 1-1 draw. Generally speaking, the game was dominated by AZ. But Ajax prevented from AZ from taking three points, and this was a meaningful draw for Ajax considering that many players who should have been on the starting line-up are currently injured. AZ remains on the top of the Eredivisie standings with 39 points. PSV sits second with one point behind, followed by Twente with 36 points. Ajax, with 34 points, sits after Twente.

Lodeiro played excellently. He did great work at the central forward when Siem de Jong was injured. It has been proved that he is the one who can make a big difference to the team. Blind and Ebecilio, who were not on the starting line-up in the lost KNVB match against AZ, did good work, too. But Enoh and Janssen were not able to play effectively, and Eriksen and Siem de Jong sometimes almost disappeared from the game. Ajax have good young players with high potential, but I must admit that, at the present stage, they will not be able to play easily in higher-ranked leagues like the Premier League and Serie A, where pressure is tighter than in the Eredivisie.

They will fight the national classic match against Feyenoord on January 29.

Friday, January 20, 2012

January 19 - Ajax vs AZ / Why Did They Lose?

A KNVB rematch between Ajax and AZ was played on January 19 and Ajax were eliminated from the tournament after their 2-3 loss. Here's the match report.

(The audience were basically kids only, due to the penalty given to Ajax from KNVB /Photo from De Teregraaf)

Starting line-up

 Boerrigter and Van der Wiel were injured and not on the starting lineup. Instead, Ligeon was used at the right back and Aissati played at the left wing. Siem De Jong came back from injury and played as a central forward. Cillessen was the goalkeeper in this match instead of Vermeer.

The beginning part of the match was not very bad for Ajax. After 10 minutes from the start, Siem De Jong reacted to the brilliant lofted through pass from Eriksen and shot the ball into the net. 

But the away side strengthened pressure and started to keep the ball in midfield. The three midfielders of AZ, Elm, Martens and Maher, together with the wingers Holman and Beerens, were all very hardworking throughout the match, and prevented the Ajax midfielders from keeping the ball freely. Of course, their individual passing skills and combination were significant, and while the two Ajax playmakers Janssen and Eriksen were not allowed to play their role, AZ dominated the midfield and made many opportunities directly led to the goal. Ajax defenders lost their balance as Elm and others build attacks, and this led to the goals scored by Martens and Benschop in the first half. However, soon after that, De Jong again put the ball into the goal by kicking a rebound off the goalkeeper.

So the first half of the match was not very bad for Ajax. But as they entered the second half, the game was completely dominated by AZ. Although the penalty decision was unfortunate for Ajax, they maintained ball possession. Actually, the statistics shows that Ajax slightly exceeded AZ in ball possession by 52-48%. Ajax did not made many passes among the defenders, and the attackers dribbled well and made many interactions between each other. So what was the matter?

Lack of effective transitions
Rapid transition from defense to attack is the key concept in modern football. And transitions from attack to defense are also vital to regain possession. When there are skillful and rapid wings are on the pitch, Ajax can also apply this concept. Since the inception of this season, Boerrigter has played a significant role in this regard. His agility and acceleration have been the important part of their counter attacks. Sulejmani, though he doesn't have much durability, can play a similar role. But without Boerrigter on the starting lineup and with the strong AZ left back Simon Poulsen in front of Sulejmani, the team was not able to make rapid counter attacks. And it seemed that the attackers were not very contributing to defense, especially when they lost possession on their own responsibility.

Lack of ideas to penetrate into the penalty area
Ajax often showed another problem in this match; they slow-downed near the penalty area too many times. They gained possession in the opponents' half with their good passing and dribbling skills, but they couldn't penetrate into the box. The attackers were skillful, of course. Aissati did keep the ball quite often, but the combination between him and other players was rare, and while he was keeping the ball, the defenders of AZ maintained or regained their balance, preventing Ajax from making attacks directly led to the goal. Moreover, the side backs, Anita and Ligeon, partly because they had to deal with the dangerous opponent attackers, were not able to make a over lap run. But I suspect that even if they participated in attacking and made good combination with the attackers, situations would not be very different because they are not very good at crossing. Similarly, Eriksen and Janssen were not allowed to play as creatively as they did usually.

And there were other individual problems on the part of the players. Janssen, especially, was not in good form. As mentioned above, Ajax had many injured players. So my conclusion is that it would not be very likely that Ajax won over AZ even if the match were replayed by the same players on another day. The injured players are expected to come back to the squad in the Eredivisie match against the same team on January 22.

Thursday, January 19, 2012

First of All... / Ajax Players and Tactics

Hello, I'm Ajaxblogjp. I'm Japanese. I once lived in the Netherlands for some academic purpose, and I fell in love with the Dutch football club AFC Ajax.

It's been a while since I came back to Japan from Holland, but I have been a big fan of Ajax even after my return. I've been closely following the information about the club on websites such as Goal.com and UEFA.

I don't speak Dutch, so the information on this blog is basically from English and Japanese sources. I'll also try to look at Dutch websites like Voetbal International and De Telegraaf, but I don't have any responsibility for the correctness of the information. No offense, sorry. This is an unofficial fan site, after all.

I would like to apologize in advance for any mistakes that I might make when writing English. And I'm also sorry for Japanese people who want some information about Ajax in their own language. I thought of writing this blog in Japanese, but I just thought that there would be more readers if I wrote in English. I hope Japanese Ajax fans will somehow discover this blog and more and more people in Japan will become enthusiastic about the Eredivisie in general and AFC Ajax in particular.

Alright, let's start talking about our club. If you are keen to know the history of the club, just go to Wikipedia or something. I'm going to talk about the present situations around the club.

As of January 19, 2012, Dutch football clubs are on a winter break. Ajax will resume their league action on January 22 in an away match against AZ Alkmaar, but they have a KNVB Beker match against the same club on January 19. Ajax are the reigning champion of the Eredivisie, but they sit fourth on the league table with 33 points from 17 matches. Ajax missed a chance to go on to the round of 16 in the Champions League and will face Manchester United in the Europa League in February.

Not so good, but not so bad. It's highly possible that Ajax successively become a league champion.

For more English information, just follow Goal.com or the official Ajax website. What I want to talk about today is the players and tactics of the club. I believe it's pretty fair to say that Ajax are a very good team with good (mostly young) players that gives you a lot of excitement.

First, let's talk about players.


Ajax boast one of the best youth academies in the world. So the Ajax top team also has wonderful young players, though objectively speaking, their playing styles are not yet very sophisticated.

Here's the regular eleven (plus some others) of the team during this season.

1. Kenneth Vermeer (26)

After the injury and the eventual departure for AS Rome of the great goalkeeper Maarten Stekelenburg, Vermeer took over the regular position. He has some problems with his kick, but he has made many incredible saves. He especially did excellent jobs in the two Champions League draw matches against Olympic Lyonnes this season. Oh, by the way, there is a famous 17th-century painter with the same name. His works are my favorite.

2. Gregory van der Wiel (23)

With his great dribbring and crossing skills, Gregory van der Wiel, at the right back, is literally the must for Ajax. He is increasingly catching attention from other bigger clubs in Europe. He reportedly reached a personal contract with Villarreal CF, but Ajax rejected the transfer because the club managers thought that the transfer fee offered by the Spanish side was not appropriate considering what Gregory has done for Ajax and the Dutch national team.

3. Toby Alderweireld (22)

The young Belgian defender has an excellent shoot skill, and it is always he who clears the ball when nobody is around the goal. He is a good partner of the other center back Vertonghen. His good look captures many female fans.

4. Jan Vertonghen (24)

Vertonghen is the current captain of the team. He is excellent at both defending and atackking, and scored 3 goals in the first half of the season. One article from Goal.com even compares him with the German legend Beckenbauer, though it also points out his flaw (he sometimes loses concentration during a game). He is now closely followed by many European clubs, including Tottenham, Arsenal and Manchester City.

15. Nicolai Boilesen (19)

The young Danish left back is currently injured and missed the most of the first half of the season. He made his debut last year and quickly became an important piece of the team. He can play in center back as well, but his strong point is over lap run.

5. Vurnon Anita (22)

The Dutch player can play in both the side back and the defensive midfielder. He already made his debut as a member of the Dutch national team. In the absence of Boilesen, he usually plays in the left back. His agility and stamina mean a lot to the team.

6. Eyong Enoh (25)

The Cameroon midfielder so far made 15 appearances in the Eredivisie before the winter break. His defending skills and hard work support the young team with a very offensive style.

8. Christian Eriksen (19)

This under-20-year star, the Danish Player of the Year in 2011, is already the leading player in Ajax. Just watch the great job he did in the 4-0 win against Dinamo Zagreb. His brilliant back-heal led to the goal by Van der Wiel, and he also assited Siem de Jong's goal. No wonder big clubs, including Barcelona and Manchester United, have an interest in him, but he once made it clear that he would not leave Ajax until he is guaranteed a regular position at clubs like Barcelona.

10. Siem de Jong (22)

The Number 10 made 12 goals in the last season. He is originally a central/offensive midfielder, but after coach Frank de Boer placed him at the striker position during the last season, he quickly proved his scoring touch. He appears almost anywhere in the attacking third and reacts very well to passes and crosses from Van der Wiel, Eriksen and others. His goals are, in my personal opinion, somewhat similar to those of Raul Gonzalez, though it may be premature to compare him with this great striker. Anyways, he is a very good player and contributes very much to the team.

16. Theo Janssen (30)

Former Twente playmaker Theo Janssen joined Ajax this season (because of, some say, the financial problems he had), and coach De Boer has constantly used him at the anchor in midfield. It seems that De Boer's intention was to enhance ball possession in midfield, but due to the lack of defensive skills on the part of Janssen, it has been often said that Janssen does not fit very well to the team. However, as Enoh came into form Janssen was replaced by Enoh, and instead he has played as the offensive midfielder since then. His feature points are his creativity and passing skills. Furthermore, he is a incredible dead-ball specialist. He already scored 5 goals from 16 matches.

18. Nicolas Lodeiro (22)

The Uruguayan international is often compared with Alvaro Recoba from the same country for his dribbling and passing skills. Despite his talent, Lodeiro was not a regular member in the squad, but due to the injuries of some important players like Sigthorsson and De Jong, Lodeiro lately plays as the central forward. He is good at set plays as well, and scored from a free kick in the recent Eredivisie match against Excelsior. He is definitely my favorite.

7. Miralem Sulejmani (22)

This wonderful attacker from Serbia, with his tricky ball touches and speedy dribbling, is said to be the highest-paid player in the squad. But considering that he is in good form this season and has already scored 11 goals from 15 matches, I'm sure he deserves it. In 2010 he was about to play in England on loan but was not permitted to play in the UK. If only he could keep concentrating during a whole game, and if only he could use his right foot as smoothly as his left foot, he would be one of the best attackers in the world...

9. Kolbeinn Sigthorsson (21)

The young striker from Iceland was transferred to Ajax from AZ Alkmaar. He was thought to be an ideal central forward for Ajax, for he can both keep the ball with his body strength (thus utilizing wing players) and score goals on his own. He scored 5 goals from 8 matches in the beginning part of the season. However, he is badly injured now and out of action for several months. Coach De Boer told that Sigthorsson could play an important role in the decisive stages of the season, but added that he the striker could miss the reminder of the season. His contract will not expire until 2015, so let's wait for his return patiently.

21. Derk Boerrigter (25)

The Dutch attacker was playing in the second division last season, and turned out to be a big success shortly after his transfer to Ajax. He is a speedy and strong left wing, and he makes many chances and scores goals four times in the first half of the season. He is excellent at cutting into the box from the left side and shooting with his right foot.

11. Lorenzo Ebecillio (20)

Having represented Netherlands U-17, U-19 and U-21, Ebecillio is a promising young attacker. He is not in good form this season, but since the latter part of the 09/10 season, he has appeared in the starting line-up. He would become a great player if he understood how to play as one of the members of the squad.

39. Davy Klaassen (18)
(Sorry no image)
Yes, he is currently the most promising young player from Ajax Academy. He is expected to be a great player like Patrick Kluivert and Rafael van der Vaart, who are also from the youth academy of Ajax. He has made only 3 Eredivisie appearances so far, but he played in the two Champions League matches against Lyon and Madrid. He made his Eredivisie debut in the match against NEC Njimegen on November 27 and scored only one minute later. He became the second player in Ajax to score a goal in his debut match (the first is Siem de Jong!).

Of course there are other wonderful players that I should have introduced, like veteran Andre Ooijer, young right back Ruben Ligeon, left back with good technique Daley Blind, and talented attackers like Ismail Aissati, Thulani Serero, Dmitry Bulykin and Aras Ozbiliz, but I got tired with writing this article.


Ajax traditionally have an attacking football style. Here's the formation in the beginning part of this season.

Theoretically, this formation might have worked well. Although Janssen is not very good at defense, the two central defenders Vertonghen and Alderweireld are both good at covering. But actually with this formation Ajax lose ball possession in midfield. Partly because of this statistical problem, and partly because of Sigthorsson's and Boilessen's injury, De Boer has placed his players at the following positions.

By placing Enoh or Anita at the anchor position, Janssen and Erikssen can play a more creative role and they can make the most of the offensive skills of the side defenders. De Jong and Lodeiro are used as the central forward. They are both originally midfilders, and not the typical type of a central forward. A similar tactics is used by teams like Barcelona, when they place Cesc Fabregas or Lionel Messi at the central forward, thus making a virtually "zero-top" formation. The aim is, of course, to enhance ball possession. The wing positions are sometimes replaced by other attackers such as Aissati, Ebecillio, Lukoki and Klaassen, especially after the injury of Boerrigter. When Van der Wiel is absent, Ligeon has been often used as the right back, and proved that he can be a good alternative to Van der Wiel. Eriksen can play a more offensive role, so he has been sometimes used at the wing positions.

No matter who appears in the starting line-up, Ajax's tactics basically remains the same. Vertonghen and Alderweireld keep the defense line high so that they can retrieve the ball in midfield and enhance ball possession there. The midfielders and attackers seldom make position changes. The two wingers try to score goals by cutting into the box, and leave a large space near the side lines, which is covered by the over lap run by the side backs. The central forward keeps the ball and utilizes the wingers. The good example of this is Sulejmani's goal in their forth Champions League match against Dinamo Zagreb. Enoh dribbles and passes the ball to the central forward De Jong. Sleimani, while Enoh is keeping the ball, makes a good run into the box from the right side. De Jong, after trapping the ball, makes a thorough pass, where Sulejmani has already left behind the defenders. Suleimani puts the ball past the goalkeeper, and it's the second goal for Ajax.

Alright, that's all for today!

Today from 22:30 CET a KNVB Beker match between Ajax and AZ is scheduled. I'm gonna watch this match, and hopefully I'll report the match on this blog tomorrow.