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!

Thursday, April 26, 2012

One Hand on the Title? (and a little bit about the future...)

So this is my second blog post of this month (Sorry, I'm kind of busy these days...)

After their last match against Groningen, Ajax have won 11 consecutive games in the Eredivisie. Ajax have gained 67 points so far, and now they are sitting on the top of the table with 6 points ahead from AZ. Only 3 games are remaining, which means Ajax need only 4 points to secure their league title.

The entire team is in good form these days. Boerrigter, Sigthorsson and Van der Wiel have all recovered from injury, and Boerrgter scored 3 goals in the recent 2 games! Sigthorsson has also scored 2 goals since his comeback. What's making Ajax strong these days is the increasing variety of players who can make a difference on the pitch. De Jong has scored 14 goals this season (and I think it's fair to say that he is already a very dangerous striker), but even when he plays as a midfielder, coach De Boer can send Sigthorsson or Bulykin to the pitch!

So these days I often wonder who will be playing on the pitch next season (of course I know it's too early). Vertonghen will surely leave the club, and Van der Wiel will also move abroad. Aissati once expressed his wish to leave the club, and considering the current situation, I don't think Lodeiro will be playing at Ajax next season.

De Boer told that he wanted AZ's Moisander or NEC's Nuytinck as potential replacement for Vertonghen. And Ajax recently announced that they reached an agreement with NEC on the transfer of Danish midfielder Lasse Schone. Schone is an offensive midfielder with good vision and technique. He is also good at mid-range shots, so my image of him is something like "(Eriksen + Janssen) / 2". I think he can be used immediately upon joining the team. 

De Boer said an interesting thing about this transfer. This is what he said. 

"Lasse fits our philosophy perfectly. He's a creative player who can both score and assist. We like that type of player at Ajax. He’ll have to compete with the other midfielders for a spot. But this season has shown that we really do need everyone. We need a good, broad selection. Earlier this season, we needed to call up some A-juniors. With a good player like Lasse on board, we’ll have even more options next season." 
So the aim of Ajax is clear; To get more options for midfield. And Shorne himself knows that he is not guaranteed a spot in the squad. But one interpretation of this comment is that the coach does not really want to call young players into the first team squad. This is perhaps because De Boer believes in the academy. Jong Ajax fought the NextGen series and showed great performance (they went to the final and lost against Inter on penalties). Having young players concentrate on their time at Jong Ajax is one way to preserve the Ajax brand.

Another target is Heerenveen's Narsingh. He is perhaps the best winger at the moment in the Eredivisie. He is a graduate of the Ajax academy, so he knows how to play at Ajax. He has made 22 assists this season. Just incredible. He already told that he wanted to move to Ajax, so I hope the two clubs reach an agreement on a transfer fee. 

Moreover, according to Voetbal International, Ajax are keeping an eye on AZ's side back Simon Poulsen. Ajax already have at least three players who can play at left back (Blind, Koppers and Boilessen), but from an objective point of view, I think Poulsen is the best side back among them. Poulsen admits that he is happy to hear the news that Ajax are following him, but he also tells that he wants to play in another league.

One more player that's worth talking about; Rodney Sneijder. Wesley Sneijder's younger brother is a product of the Ajax academy and now is on loan at Utrecht. He has the same kind of play style as his brother. He has good technique, good vision and accurate kicks. I want to see him play at Ajax again, but De Boer is unclear about him. (they say that he doesn't value Suneijder...)

So that's all I know about transfer news around Amsterdam. I'm looking forward to seeing these players joining Ajax, and I also hope that those who leave Ajax will have a good football life elsewhere.

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Theo Janssen and Ajax Midfield

Last weekend Ajax showed a brilliant performance and beat Heracles 6-0. Their next Eredivisie match is scheduled on Wednesday, which means there is no game this weekend. So today I would like to focus on one Ajax player; Theo Janssen.

Everybody knew that Janssen was one of the best players in the Eredivisie when he was transferred from Twente. He was going to be a player who could lead the young team, and he was expected to become a regular set-play kicker in the team. In terms of these points, he has proven his high quality so far. But as many people had anticipated, it took a long time for him to be fit in the tactics of Ajax. At first many people did not believe that he was the best option as defensive midfielder. That prediction was in part proven to be right, as Janssen has recently played excellently as offensive midfielder.This was partly because of the growing injury list of the team. Striker Sigthorsson's absence forced De Boer to put De Jong at central striker, and somebody else had to replace De Jong's former position in midfield. It was a logical decision of De Boer to put Enoh or Anita at anchor, with Janssen and Eriksen playing a more offensive role. Therefore, many would think that De Boer's masterplan has been ineffective. Even an offensive team like Ajax needs at least one hardworking defensive midfielder who can provide a balance to the team. But anyway, Janssen is still one of the best players in the Eredivisie. Vitesse's Japanese defender Yasuda named Janssen when he was asked on twitter who the best player in the Eredivisie was. (He named three players; Grooningen's Tadic, PSV's Mertens and Janssen).

So I agree that Janssen should be playing as offensive midfielder in today's squad. This is because of the presence of Vertonghen. Vertonghen often decides to move into midfield to build attacks, so somebody else has to remain backwards to prepare for opponents' counter attack. Janssen simply is not suit for this role. If the club chose to buy a classical type of center back as a replacement of Vertonghen (Twente's Douglas, let's say), the situation would be different, but this is not what I want to talk about today.

Let's see Janssen's play (watch his latest video below). In the match against Heracles I felt that he was playing differently than before. Instead of concentrating on making long through passes behind the opposing defenders, he himself ran behind them and got closer to the goal.

Ajax are excellent at maintaining the ball, but they tend to fail to turn their high ball possession rate into goals. You often see the midfielders remaining where they are after passing the ball to the attackers. They rely on the attackers' individual brilliance. However, De Jong can be an exception. He is good at running behind the defense and score a goal, so when he is playing as offensive midfielder with another reliable striker up front, Ajax can put more players in front of the opponents' goal. But when De Jong has to play as striker and Eriksen and Janssen start as offensive midfielders, nobody in midfield tries to threaten the opposing goalkeeper on their own. (It is true that Eriksen has been trying to score more goals these days, but he has much room for improvement as to his shooting skills.)

This was different in the last match against Heracles. Janssen was more eager than ever to get closer to the goal. Janssen's role was more like No.10, and this was actually very effective as he scored one goal and assisted one more. I don't know if this was a result of De Boer's instruction. Also, it remains to be seen which players will be playing in midfield next match as Sigthorsson has made his comeback and De Jong no longer needs to play as striker. But as for the last match, at least, I guess everybody can agree that the man of the match was Janssen. At Twente, he scored 10 goals last season. You can say that he is not just a player who can assist others' goals, but is a great offensive midfielder who is dangerous in front of the goal.

The next match against Heerenveen will be extremely important for the title race. Keep our fingers crossed so they can remain as champions!