To say Ajax are not the same teams as they were last year is a huge understatement. They’ve lost their manager and most of their first team.
So, we face our first Champions League group match in 12 years against a team that began the season with a back line that has still to be tested against the top teams in Europe and a new manager (they appointed Alfred Schreuder from Club Brugge), who has moved almost every single year he has been in management.
With everything being so new, obviously it is unclear what tactics Schreuder will deploy against us. Normally, in his previous management positions, he sets up his teams in either a 4-3-3 or 3-5-2 formation. He is not a fan of the 4-2-3-1 formation. The once thing that is certain is his primary tactic is to use the midfield as a region where he can quickly transfer the ball from the back line to either the wings or the strikers. This creates a method of play that is somewhat similar to that deployed by Ange Postecoglou, which is a fast movement of the ball, with a synchronised movement of players across the field to the wings, to create gaps in the opponents’ defence.
This means if the opponents spend too most of their time ball-watching, which is something we have seen in our team all too often, it then becomes a very easy to break open the back line, and get a shot on target.
This type of play is then reinforced by Schreuder’s very aggressive tactics, which can often overwhelm weaker (less confident) teams.
However, this leaves Ajax very open to a fast counter-attack.
In fact, because Schreuder likes to employ a very aggressive man to man press (which is great when it works) he inherently creates numerous pressure points in his team, which when they are broken (often by just a very simple ball over the top, or a pass out to the wings) it becomes possible to very easily to challenge their very back line, especially when Ajax’s opponent uses speed.
This is why Bassey is so important to Ajax, because his speed and strength is important for covering the gaps that ultimately appear in Schreuder’s tactics, and that is why Schreuder plays Bassey as a central defender. If Bassey was deployed to the fullback berth, it would be very difficult to cover the entire park.
But it is not possible for Bassey to be everywhere.
And this is what I cannot understand, (despite Bassey being so important to their defensive line) in the Dutch league Ajax often permit Bassey to come forward, leaving the back door invitingly open. This for me is just reckless football (and I think this is perhaps why Schreuder only lasts one year at any of his previous positions). So, hopefully we will see Bassey in a very advanced position in tomorrow’s game.
Ajax are also a team that is still coming together, and our advantage is we have speedsters in our team who know Bassey very well.
The fact is, when we are set up correctly as a team, we do have the players who can break a high press. This we did to very good effect against Sparta Sprague, at home last year.
And as we saw in the Europa League, once an opponent knows your team can easily break a high press, the team will often drop back, and for teams (such as Ajax) whose primary tactic is this high press, this can seriously limit their goal scoring chances, especially if the defensive line is not spending their time ball-watching, and Ajax cannot use their secondary tactic of a high speed ball to the forward line.
Again, due to the massive changes that have occurred in the Ajax team, It is not possible to know with 100% certainty how Ajax will set themselves up, but after seeing us being absolutely demolished by Celtic, and seeing how PSV came away from Ibrox with a respectable 2-2 draw, I do think Ajax will be confident and will play their usual aggressive style, especially given this is a home tie for them.
Regarding their team, we are again playing against a team who does not quite trust their right winger, with their only dedicated player for this position (Francisco Conceição) being usually replaced by the Ajax captain, Dusan Tadić.
Dusan, in terms of speed, is not that fast, but he can spot a pass, he is very good at creating space by pushing around defenders (this is my major concern), and he is very strong on the ball. However, he’s out of position and when pressure is on him, he can crumble. As he has been doing lately.
As can be imagined, Ajax view themselves as a genuine Campions League team, and I can guarantee you that they (and their fans) want to show PSV that they can easily defeat Rangers.
Tomorrow we will have to work hard, but there is no reason why Rangers cannot get another famous victory.
Ajax are not invincible, nor are they any better than any of the other teams that have fallen at our hand.