Tactical corner: The secret to success of ‘horse umbrella’ Ajax

Ajax is the biggest surprise of the Champions League this season, both lovely (in the eyes of neutral fans), both uncomfortable (in the eyes of the big boys). But specifically, how did they play, but did what many European teams could not do at the moment, to win on both Real Madrid and Juventus?

Diagram and how to deploy

Johan Cruyff schools often play with a three central defender, including the lowest player responsible for coordinating the ball. It is also a diagram that Ajax often uses. But not in the Champions League. In the Champions League, instead of 4-1-2-3 often used in the Dutch championship, Ajax often plays with the 4-2-3-1 scheme, in which two players in the central midfield are Lasse Schone and Frenkie de Jong. Right above them is Van de Beek. The Dutch player is theoretically playing like a number 10, but in fact he is not much involved in the task of creating a play, concentrating on attacking the gaps that Dusan Tadic, who plays like a virtual number 9 , create.

The two most important figures in the way Ajax deployed the ball were midfielder De Jong and Tadic striker. If the opponent does not put too much pressure, Ajax will organize to deploy the ball from the goalkeeper’s position, in the way that Pep Guardiola’s teams still do. De Jong will back down to play as a third center. Dealing with defensive teams with two strikers, De Jong’s appearance will help Ajax to gain the advantage of the number in the home field, thus easily escaping through the opponent’s first pressing class, having just by a simple pass to the two sides for the two midfields to guide the ball up (picture 1).

In case the opponent pushes the team up high and fins too fiercely, Ajax will turn to the long-term strategy. At this point, Tadic will play a very important role. The Serbian player was small, but somehow won very well in the ball matches.

Or at least his determination and mischief will also make the center-backs unable to win completely in the disputes, opening up the opportunity to win the second ball for his teammates. Because every time the goalkeeper of Ajax plays a long ball, their two central midfielders often retreat deeply, while the three strikers are very high up, so players play right behind Tadic’s back, here is Van de. Beek, often has a lot of space and chooses to pass the ball in such two situations (photo 2).


When Ajax has stabilized the ball, they have a lot of attacking options. But in the middle, there are two main ideas. First, Ajax attackers often move into the gap between the midfield and the opponent’s defender. And they often play quite close together, and often position each other (photo 3). This way of moving makes the defenders of the enemy always think. Should rise up against the player about to receive the ball of Ajax, or back to hold the position? If they rise, they will have a gap in their position, but because Ajax attackers play quite close together, they can exploit it at any time. If you keep the position, the player receiving Ajax’s ball will have the opportunity to receive the ball and then turn around, and then they do not lack the next solution.

Secondly, Ajax players are always trying to create superior numbers in important areas. It may be that a midfielder rises, a full-back defender, or a striker moves into an area that he doesn’t manage (for example, Tadic backs to midfield, or Neres strikers , Ziyech moves to the opposite wing. At that time, the Ajax player will have three to four methods to pass the ball immediately, and it will be easier to deploy the ball upwards (photo 4). In addition, if the players in Ajax’s area are good at attracting and enticing, they can make the opponent’s defense system tilt in one direction, before suddenly opening the ball to lie down. , where the opponent is lacking or defenseless.

In addition, Ajax also has a significant attack which is the third move. This means the two players pass the ball to each other to entice the opponent, but the goal is another player moving, usually from the bottom up, to attack blind spots in the opponent’s defense system. This combination requires a high degree of consistency, and a great risk in the case of losing the ball, but in return there is a high mutation, which is difficult to catch.


In theory, Ajax defended in the 4-2-3-1 diagram. However, in reality, they rarely “keep” this diagram shape, due to not defending by area, but following the ball and the opponent. It means that Ajax players often organize pressing very fiercely players with balls and players around. For the rest of the players, they will use the ball-rolling technique to block the pass to their position, or simply “skip”. In other words, Ajax is like a swarm of bees, always “covering” the area near the ball, making the opponent rarely have the opportunity to receive the ball in a comfortable state.

But this way of defense has a fatal weakness. Due to the focus on the ball and the opponent player, in terms of system, Ajax is often in a slump (photo 5). Encountering teams with good exit players, after only a two-touch touch, Ajax’s most important pressing class – in midfield – could be completely eliminated. Meanwhile, the defenders, usually midfielders, will have to leave their positions to put pressure on the player to prepare the opponent’s ball. If the midfielder is also defeated, Ajax will face the risk of huge conceding.

In short, Ajax is a methodical, playful club (Erik ten Hag was Bayern’s young coach at Pep Guardiola). Their lineup is a harmonious combination of talented young players and experienced veterans. Ajax plays the football of youth, reckless, fierce, so when they sublime and into rhythm, it will be a very difficult opponent to play. But if you encounter an old, tough competitor, able to bear the pressure, and know how to entice, for example, Ajax may have a big problem.

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