Ajax 3-1 Twente: Ajax win title in last day drama

May 16, 2011

The starting line-ups

Ajax needed to win to clinch the title, Twente needed just a draw – but Frank de Boer’s side emerged victorious.

The Ajax manager named an unchanged 4-3-3 side from the one that beat Herenveen in their last league game.

Michel Preud’Homme’s selection was also unchanged from the previous weekend’s 4-0 thrashing of Willem II in their last Eredivisie outing.

Ajax were the better side on the day – calmer in possession, better at pressing, able to create more goalscoring opportunities. This was not an especially tactical game, but in the few tactical points of interest, Ajax were superior.

Formations

Both sides played a lone striker formation – indeed, both had a de Jong brother as that lone striker – but there was a big difference in the two shapes. Ajax played a classic 4-3-3 – two wingers hugging the touchline and forcing the Twente back four to spread wide across the pitch.

Twente, despite often looking like a 4-3-3 themselves this season, were more of a 4-2-3-1 – the wide players were inside-forwards rather than wingers when they attacked, but they dropped back level with the two deeper central midfielders when out of position, leaving Theo Janssen as the closest player to Luuk de Jong.

Patterns

The start of the game was frantic – both sides look to close down the opposition quickly, but after around ten minutes, Twente retreated into their 4-4-1-1 shape without the ball, whilst Ajax continued to press, winning the ball back quickly and launching direct breaks. The difference in mentality without the ball was probably because of the different needs from the game – Ajax were happy

When Twente did try and press from their 4-4-1-1 shape, Ajax got around it intelligently, by dropping Vurnon Anita into the defence, switching to a back three and pushing their full-backs up the pitch. This allowed them to retain possession at the back easily, and the advancing full-backs pushed Twente’s wide players back into defensive positions.

The other interesting defence/midfield feature of Ajax’s play was how much of an attacking threat Jan Vertonghen was. He sent a couple of excellent crossfield balls over to Miralem Sulejmani on the left wing, who attacked Twente’s left-back Bart Buysse at speed, and also carried the ball forward into midfield himself, particularly when Janssen had moved forward, and Vertonghen could create a 3 v 2 situation in the centre of midfield.

Diagonal balls and width

Width was essentially the key factor in this game, and there were plenty of long, accurate diagonal passes played across the pitch to the wide players.

Twente could have gone ahead very early on when Bryan Ruiz got on the end of Nicolai Boilesen’s deep cross to the far post, whilst their best chance in the second half came when Nacer Chadli’s ball from the left was nearly converted by the onrushing Denny Lanzaat. Almost all their moves involved one of the wide players, and generally involved playing the ball across the pitch at some point in the move, rather than focusing on one flank.

Ajax looked to hit those long diagonals to the flanks as well, but their threat from the wide areas was increased because of the attacking presence of the full-backs. Whereas Twente’s full-backs were pressed quickly by Ajax’s wingers, not allowing them to get forward, the tendency for Chadli and Ruiz to drop back into deep positions meant that Gregory van der Wiel and Boilesen could get forward to cross.

That proved crucial, because van der Wiel’s right-wing crosses produced Ajax’s first two goals. Siem de Jong converted the first one at the far post, whilst Landzaat nodded into his own net after half time to make it 2-0.

Janssen’s excellent long-range strike put Twente back in it at 2-1, and then came substitutions. De Boer went defensive by bringing on the energetic Eyong Enoh to play a narrow right-sided midfield role, whilst Preud-Homme threw on another striker, Marc Janko.

That was probably the obvious move as Twente went to an all-out-attack 4-2-4ish system, but it rather conceded the midfield ground and Ajax capitalised, especially with Enoh on to provide another body in that zone. Christian Eriksen had a quiet game but provided a clever pass for Siem de Jong to score his second, and Ajax’s third.

De Boer went defensive late on. He replaced Boilesen with Daley Blind, perhaps for (slightly) more experience, and then Andre Ooijer replaced Lorenzo Ebecilio as Ajax basically just threw on as many defensive players as possible. Twente chucked the ball into the box but never looked like getting back in the game, and it was Ajax celebrating at the final whistle.

Conclusion

Pressing was a factor throughout this game – Ajax did it very well throughout, whilst Twente were keener to sit back. That set the overall pattern, but the most important individual factor was van der Wiel scampering down the right flank to provide two assists.

Overall, Ajax were simply better all over the pitch. They passed the ball beautifully and their combination play in midfield was very impressive. The use of Anita dropping back and Vertonghen coming forward gave their attacks fluidity, even from very deep, and whilst Twente had their chances, Ajax were on top for most of the contest.

Ajax 3-1 Twente: Ajax win title in last day drama

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