Opinion: Erik ten Hag's Ajax are ready to make another Champions League run after demolition of Borussia Dortmund
Lucas Moura’s name is surely something of a dirty word in Amsterdam. Had it not been for the Brazilian winger, Ajax would have made the final of the Champions League in 2019. It would have been the Dutch side rather than Tottenham Hotspur who would have faced Liverpool in Madrid for a shot at European club football’s most prestigious prize.
At the time, it appeared Moura’s dramatic 96th minute winner at the Johan Cruyff Arena might well have ended Ajax’s hopes of European glory for a generation. While the club are giants of the game, and four-times European Cup winners, their model means they can no longer challenge for the biggest honours season after season.
Every so often, though, Ajax cultivate a crop capable of competing against the best. On the basis of what we have seen from Erik ten Hag’s team this season, they are ready to make another Champions League run. The emphatic 4-0 win over Borussia Dortmund on Tuesday night proved it.
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Ajax produced the complete performance to humble the Bundesliga visitors to the Johan Cruyff Arena. Dortmund arrived in Amsterdam on the back of successive Champions League victories over Besiktas and Sporting CP, but there was nothing Erling Haaland and co. could do to stop the rampant hosts.
From the moment a Marco Reus own goal opened the scoring after just 11 minutes, it was clear one team was better, much better, than the other. Dortmund might have the better individual players, but Ten Hag has forged a side that could replicate the achievements of his 2018/19 team that made the Champions League final four.
Sebastien Haller continued his scoring streak in Europe with his sixth Champions League goal of the season. The former West Ham striker has given Ajax a cutting edge in front of goal with the Dutch side inherently creative enough to make the most of the Ivorian in the way Premier League fans never saw.
Antony, however, was Ajax’s biggest threat throughout. The Brazilian scored the goal that effectively put the result beyond any doubt, cutting inside off the right side to bend a left-footed strike into the far corner of the net. He might have scored more than just one had he been slightly sharper in front of goal.
There were standout performers all over the pitch for Ajax with Jurrien Timber, Lisandro Martinez, Daley Blind and Steven Berghuis all impressive. The Dutch champions played with balance and composure, but showed conviction and courage when they needed to. It was a display that will have many across Europe taking note.
This was not an isolated case either. Indeed, Ajax currently sit at the top of Group C with nine points from a possible nine after three fixtures. When Ten Hag takes his players to the Westfalenstadion to face Borussia Dortmund again in two weeks’ time, he will do so in the knowledge he has enough within his ranks to produce another big performance.
No club in European football enjoys such consistent success in merging good coaching and shrewd scouting as Ajax. While some players like Ryan Gravenberch have come through the club’s youth academy, others like Antony have been identified as youngsters in largely untapped markets - Antony moved to Ajax from Sao Paulo as a teenager.
It’s not just in the way they source players and control matches that Ajax have balance, it’s in their age profile as a team too. For every Antony, there is a Dusan Tadic, someone who has seen it all before - of course, Tadic was part of the team that came within a Moura goal of the 2019 Champions League final.
That a club with the history and stature of Ajax are seen as underdogs is an indictment of the modern game and the way it is now weighted towards only a handful of super-clubs, but the Dutch side could once again upset the established order this season. Their demolition of Dortmund was a warning sign.
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