2019/20 Ajax Eredivisie preview
Background image: Tsonga4, CC BY-SA 4.0
A new season dawns for Erik ten Hag’s Ajax without wunderkinds Matthijs de Ligt and Frenkie de Jong. To keep their crown, the Eredivisie champions cannot let the fire die even without their two torchbearers.
While I Lancieri lost their biggest stars, Director of Football Marc Overmars found necessary reinforcements to help fill the void. The club also kept the manager who restored them to Dutch football's summit. Ten Hag's philosophy matches the club’s vision for creating as well as elevating prime young talents to the highest level.
De Godenzonen were packed with talent last season. Andre Onana earned a reputation for his fantastic distribution and unconventional shot-stopping techniques. Captain de Ligt acted as the commander-in-chief while still a teenager, rallying his side forward with influential passing and fearless defending. A resurgent Daley Blind supported the 19-year-old, looking much more assertive in Ajax red rather than the Manchester United shade.
De Jong’s controlled the tempo with aplomb, positioning himself to cut off opponent's attacks, making the incisive passes that sprung Ajax on the counter and carrying the ball into enemy territory whenever teammates couldn't be found. Hakim Ziyech kept defenders off balance, playing the creator on one occasion, running the channels on the next, finding more than 24 goals for his teammates and 21 for himself. Donny van de Beek proved the wild card in attack, always showing up where least expected to contribute 17 goals and create 13 more across all competitions.
David Neres’ showed electric speed and flashy skills to further confuse [12G/15A] but it was former Southampton forward Dusan Tadic who did the most damage, matching PSV Eindhoven's Luuk de Jong with 28 goals to top the Eredivisie scoring chart. After notching another ten in other competitions and registering 24 assists overall, the 29-year-old Serbian signed an extension in July that will keep him in Amsterdam through 2023.
In addition to reaping €85 million for former captain and €75 million for deep-lying playmaker, Overmars raised further funds by selling young defenders Maximillian Wober [Sevilla], Rasmus Kristensen [RB Salzburg] and Daley Sinkgraven [Bayer Leverkusen] for a combined €20.5 million. Winger Vaclav Cerny fetched another €750,000 from FC Utrecht and Konstantinos Lamprou left on a free.
Despite bathing in cash, Ajax maintained their discipline in the transfer market. Mexican centre-back Edson Alvarez was signed as de Ligt’s replacement for €15 million. The 21-year-old Club America star developed a reputation in Liga MX for his powerful defensive attributes and composure in possession.
Belgian midfielder Razvan Marin came in as De Jong’s potential successor for €12.5 million. Lisandro Martinez and Kik Pierie were acquired for a combined €12 million study at Daley Blind's feet. Goalkeeper Bruno Varela’s been loaned in from Benfica to provide cover for Onana.
Quincy Promes remains their most expensive buy of the summer. Making his loan from Sevilla permanent cost €15.75 million. The 27-year-old adds a different intensity into their attack with his knack for playing in multiple roles in the front-three. Despite all the activity, Ajax recorded a profitable net spend of €125 million to keep their financial situation in prime shape.
That being said, Ten Hag’s job hasn’t been made any easier. Losing two uncontested leaders doesn’t help. Nobody likes being called a one-season wonder.
Thankfully, the squad's core remains intact. Ziyech and Neres will continue threatening down the wings. Van de Beek should play a more influential role in midfield. The Dutch manager will also utilize his new signings and undoubtedly continue giving opportunities to youth academy products to further widen his scope.
Ajax remain firm favourites for the Eredivisie title. Failing to repeat as champions could raise unnecessary questions about their philosophy. Repeating their Champions League run is a tall task but ten Hag will at least target progression into the knockout stages. Playing on Thursday nights is the last thing on their minds.
The champions get their league season underway away to Vitesse which would be smooth sailing if Champions League qualifiers against PAOK weren't a distraction. Early games against Feyenoord and away to PSV Eindhoven will set the tone for the season. Last season they chased down PSV. This season, they'd like to leave them behind at the starting gate.