Welcome to the Season 1 review from Amsterdam and what a first season it as been. I had originally planned for this post to be about our Jong Ajax side but after events at the weekend I decided to release this post first followed by a post on the Jong Ajax Squad and their development. At the start of this save I set out creating a tactical system that was influenced by Cruyff’s diamond, by the end of the season we were playing a modern day version of Totaal Voetbal that produced some eye catching performances has we went on the attack both at home and abroad.
We started the season off with a 16 game unbeaten run to put ourselves in prime position in the league in fact we only lost one game before the winter break away at ADO Den Haag in December. The squad were steadily getting used to the system and the results were coming together. I found myself watching more and more of our games in finer detail than I have ever done before has we went about our business of playing attacking football adhering to the philosophy set out by the board. On the way to the winter break we had a spell of 5 games without a win with 4 draws and 1 defeat with the main reason that I was resting players to keep us challenging on all fronts. By the end of the season I think I used 31 players in total during the season. By the Winter break we had played 19 league games with a record of 12 wins, 6 draws and 1 defeat with us keeping 10 clean sheets along the way. After the winter break we rattled off 4 back to back wins against Feyenoord, Go Ahead Eagles, FC Twente and AZ with 4 clean sheets that put us in control of our destiny with 11 games to play. We did lose heavily 0-3 to our rivals PSV Eindoven at home which was a big blow for our fans but it was our only blip with us winning 7 of our last 9 games to win the title by 14 points from Feyenoord. Our record after the break was 11 wins, 3 draws and 1 defeat whilst keeping a further 9 clean sheets. Champions
KNVB Dutch Cup
We kicked our Dutch Cup campaign off with a 2-0 win at Dordrecht with both goals coming in the 2nd half courtesy of Dolberg and Klaassen. The next round we were drawn at home to Be Quick 1887 who were anything other than quick has my rotational side made easy work running out 5-0 winners with Richairo Zivkovic grabbing a hat-trick along with a brace from Thulani Serero. On to the 3rd round and a trip to Achilles’29 produced a 6-1 win for us with both Davy Klaassen and Lasse Schone scoring hat-tricks.
Another hat-trick this time from Mateo Cassierra gave us a 4-1 win in the Quarter-final away at Hercules to set up a Semi Final against Feyenoord who were in good form. The game was an end to end battle which we edged 3-2 thanks to a Kasper Dolberg 92nd minute strike. PSV Eindoven were our opponents in the Final and another hard fought game ended 1-1 after extra time meaning the dreaded penalty shootout which we won 4-3 to lift the cup and record a domestic League and Cup doubl, it was a fantastic finale after losing Davy Klaassen thanks to a red card in the 54th minute. Although we lost the numerical advantage we bossed the game with 60% possession. Champions
What a European campaign this turned out to be and my most satisfying in recent years. It all started with us being drawn in a group that consisted of Celta Vigo, Saint Etienne and AEK Athens with our opening game a 2-3 defeat in Spain at the hands of a slick Celta Vigo side. We got our first points on the board in our 2nd game at home to AEK which we won easily 4-0. Our next two games was the double header against Saint Etienne who gave us a right thumping in their own back yard 0-3 which put us on the back foot in the group and knowing that if we were to progress we would have to win our last 3 games. The visit of Saint Etienne to the Amsterdam Arena got us back to winning ways with a 2-1 win that gave us half a chance to progress to the knockout rounds. We then entertained Celta Vigo at the Arena grabbing all 3 points with a 3-1 win. We went in to the final group game against AEK knowing that a victory would take us through to the first knockout round. A polished performance from the boys gave us a 3-0 win against AEK with young forwards Dolberg (2) and Zivkovic getting the goals.
So too the first knockout round and what looked a tricky draw on paper against Fenerbahce turned out to be a lot easier than expected has we turned on the style in Amsterdam to record a 4-0 victory and one foot in round 2. We finished the job of in Turkey with a 1-1 draw to set up a last 16 tie against Fiorentina.
The scene was set in Amsterdam for the visit of the Viola and I was feeling confident that we could get a result to take back to Florence after resting the boys at the weekend so we could go in to the tie fresh. I decided that I was going to watch this game in detail and that’s what I did and I was pleased to see we were on form from the off but what happened during the game was incredible, we peppered the boys from Florence goal with shot after shot but my boys could not finish their dinner on the night and after we recorded 37 shots to the Viola’s 2 we lost the game 0-1 and I was shattered and went to bed bemused by our sides shortcomings in front of goal. “It’s a funny old game”. Screenshots below show our dominance.
I prepared the boys for the 2nd leg determined to avenge our first leg defeat and after a positive start Hakim Ziyech leveled the tie in the 25th minute scoring a crucial away goal. We pushed on and created chance after chance but went in at the break just the 1 goal up. An assertive half time team talk got the boys motivated and we took the game to our hosts only to be caught out on the break which Babacar scored a leveller in the 65th minute advantage Fiorentina who were now 2-1 up on aggregate but that didn’t last for long has Jairo Riedewaldput the tie back in our favour just 2 minutes later to put us 2-1 up on the night and 2-2 on aggregate with the away goals now in our favour. We continued to be the dominant force in the game and just has I was thinking about closing the game out we get hit on the break again in the 77th minute when Andre Carrillo turned the tie on its head again. Damn I got caught out contemplating a change to our system, we now needed a goal in the last 13 minutes of the game and the Viola have gone all out defensive putting ten men behind the ball. We pushed and we pushed and we pushed some more to no avail and then in the 89th minute Mateo Cassierra crashes a long range effort in the back of the goal leaving Sportiello in the Viola goal helpless, this was time for a fist pump get in you beauty 3-2 on the night and we had turned the tie in the dying minutes of an epic game 3-3 on aggregate, we were through on away goals.
The draw for the last 8 paired us with Spanish side Villarreal who like ourselves like to play football with a bit of style. So the last 8 and with us stretching our lead at the top of the Eredivisie I made the decision that I would give the club the best effort to deliver a European trophy since Van Gaal produced that wonderful side. I would rest the core of my squad in the League and play them in Europe. A juggling act that could go belly up. The first leg against Villarreal would be played at the home of the yellow submarine and like the previous round it turned out to be a good game. I picked a strong side and sent them out to battle. Villareal hit us with a 1st minute goal when Bruno breached our defence to put the home side in front. To the credit of our boys we went on the offensive and came close with efforts from Dolberg and Ziyech. Our hosts then went close to doubling their lead before Mateo Cassierra leveled in the 43rd minute to send us in at the break with a vital away goal. The 2nd period saw both sides having a go at each other and in the 81st minute Kasper Dolberg put us 2-1 up. Unfortunately for us Denis Cheryshev scored an equaliser for the yellow submarine in the 84th minute that was to be the last event in what was a superb game. A 2-2 draw for us is a good result that we can build on back home.
The second leg in Amsterdam was a nervy affair made all the more nerve racking after the break which by the way was all square at 0-0 when youngster Deyovaisio Zeefuik saw red in the 47th minute and put us on the back foot however with the game in the balance another one of our youngsters Donny van de Beek put us 1-0 up in the 60th minute with a nice finish that lifted the Arena. Villarreal grabbed a lifeline in the 81st minute through Sansone but our 10 men or boys held on to give us victory on away goals for the 2nd consecutive tie and take us in to the Semi Finals were we drew favourites Manchester United.
Now we are getting serious a Semi Final against Manchester United and a face off with the pragmatic José Mourinho. The first leg was at Old Trafford and at the pre game press conference I was asked if I would change our tactics against United. Not a chance if we are to go out of the competition then we will go out playing our way. The 1st leg was at Old Trafford so I knew the importance of an away goal could be the difference if we were to advance. We started the game well but failed to take any of our chances and inevitably Utd came at us but we held firm and went in all square at the break after a goalless first half. The second period swayed with both sides having a go and then inside the last 10 minutes we were awarded a penalty after Rosales tripped Nouri inside the area, Davy Klaassen stepped up and calmly dispatched the spot kick scoring the away goal that we wanted. Utd looked down and out and things got worse for the Manchester club when Abdelhak Nouri calmly finished to put us 2-0 up with minutes to play. The game ended and we had conquered Old Trafford and given ourselves a good chance with the 2nd leg to come.
The Amsterdam Arena was packed for the 2nd leg and they didn’t have to wait long for the celebrations to start when in the 2nd minute Abdelhak Nouri put 3-0 up on aggregate and one foot in the final but this is Manchester United and after 8 minutes they had pulled one back courtesy of Lingard. United grew in confidence and they threatened again but we held out until the break going in all square on the night 1-1. I was assertive with the boys I needed them to keep their focus and it seemed to work we came out the traps firing and Davy Klaassen crashed a shot against the upright but then we were delt a blow when in the 51st minute Martial put Utd 2-1 up that got me thinking about the dreaded FM gods however the ever impressive Davy Klaassen damped my fears with 2 goals in 10 minutes to put us 3-2 up but United were not going down without a fight and Anthony Martial grabbed his 2nd of the night to put the game level at 3-3. United pushed for a fourth but a misplaced pass from Rooney led to us countering and putting the tie out of reach with a Donny Van de Beek goal 4-3. United looked dead and buried when substitute Richairo Zivkovic made it 5-3 on the night and 7-3 on aggregate we were in the Final were we would play West Ham United.
On A Summers Evening In the Friends Arena skipper Davy Klaassen leads our boys out to do battle with West Ham United, battle being the key word with 3 red cards and 8 Yellows over the 120 minutes of football, yes the game went in to extra time after 90 minutes. Of all the games to draw a blank we save it to the final and get Abdelhak Nouri sent off. West Ham were reduced to nine men but held out in extra time to take it to the lottery of penalty kicks. I chose Kaj Sierhus to take our first spot kick and he repaid my faith in him 1-0, next up for the Hammers was Andre Ayew who’s shot was saved by Onana. Hakim Ziyech stepped up for us and found the net 2-0, come on boys was my cry has I sit there helplessly. Next up for the Londoner’s Jonathan Calleri and another save from Onana, come on. Next up to the spot for us Justin Kluivert who cooly steps up and puts us 3-0 up. The pressure is now on Lanzini but he handles it well 3-1. I realise we are one spot kick away from doing the treble and next up for us is Davy Klaassen (Klaassy), who fires the ball in to the roof of the Hammers goal………4-1 We are Europa League Champions whilst playing 15 Europa League games this season it’s a fantastic feeling .
Once the January transfer window opened we lost Joel Veltman to Napoli for £7.25m. Veltman had expressed a desire to leave so I let him go.
Lasse Schone expressed a desire to the leave the club during the January transfer window however I managed to keep hold of him until the end of the season were he then joined Al-Shabab for £3.5m.
Davy Klaassen has put pen to paper by signing a 5 year deal that ends speculation of a move to Marsielle.
So there goes the end of season one, I am now taking a 4 or 5 day break from the save and then resuming this coming weekend were I will be going through pre season preparations. One area of the side I am looking at is the left wing back area and depending on our returning loan players I may make a move in the transfer window to add quality and depth to the area. My main target if I decide to bring someone in is Zeca from Santos who has the attributes and potential to be a star in Amsterdam. It’s been a very enjoyable first season at the club and the board have given me a new 3 year contract, next time I will be posting about my Jong Ajax squad and who will be making the step in to the first team. Thanks for reading and until next time bye.
The Story So Far:
16-17 Eredivisie Champions Europa Lge Champions Dutch Cup Champions