Dissecting 13 matches, comparing my Ajax's performance under Steijn's reign, offering tactical insights and analysis. A must-read for fans of 'The Ajax Way' series.

I thought long and hard about how I would like to document my first blog covering performances on the pitch, then I had the lightbulb moment. My first post will take us up to the end of Maurice Steijn’s reign, comparing my results on the pitch against the performances of Steijn’s Ajax.

The beauty of FM24 is that the Eredivisie is a licensed league, and therefore the fixtures are aligned to those played IRL, making the game against FC Utrecht on 22 October 2023 the perfect place to review our performances.

If you have somehow missed out on all the action regarding AFC Ajax IRL, my previous post ‘Setting the scene’ is a perfect place to start before reading this blog.

There are 13 games which will be documented in granular detail in this post, this will provide you with an insight into how I play the game, make tactical decisions, and perform analysis.

I am highly unlikely to cover matches in as much detail throughout my series ‘The Ajax way’ and therefore this post will help to provide you with the all important insight.


AUGUST 2023

AFC Ajax vs Heracles Almelo

The first competitive fixture of my reign as AFC Ajax manager, sees me face off against John Lammers newly-promoted Heracles Almelo, a side from Almelo, a municipality and a city in the eastern Netherlands, which is situated 92 miles east of Amsterdam.

Lammers side are predicted to finish the Eredivisie in 13th place, and find themselves 350-1 outsiders, compared to our 2-1 odds as Eredivisie favourites.

Lammers side have played their previous seven matches in the 4-3-3 shape and four of a total 11 goals scored across their pre-season stemmed from deep positions.

Knowing that Lammers will likely field his favoured 4-3-3 for the entirety of the match, I am opting to start the game playing in our 3-3-3-1 shape, with the view to creating central overloads, forcing the opponent to play long and into our hands when you take into account the first-touch weakness below.

Analyst reports are a great place to pick up on any trends.

The team are effective at playing through balls, and Lammers side will be looking to punish us through any dead ball situation, as they possess a number of players who can take a long throw, and also individuals who will pose a threat from corners.

In order to ensure we have enough height on the field of play to negate the potential threat, I have opted to play a back three of Hato (6’2), Šutalo (6’3), and Medić (6’4). Along with deploying Tahirović (6’4) in the DM strata for additional cover in transition.

Lammers squad are weak with regards to their first-touch and anticipation. Without the ball we have pressing set to ‘more often’ which will hopefully see us force individuals into giving the ball away, along with looking to exploit them with our total football, playing the Ajax way.

Scout reports again hold significant value, these staff members aren’t simply employed for recruitment purposes.

*Note clicking on the below image will provide you with the match statistics and supporting visuals, provided in the Statman24 skin.

Two early goals set the tone for the day, in a match in which we amassed a whopping 4.11 non-penalty expected goals. This equated to 0.20xG per shot, showing the frequency in which we were able to create shots of high goal scoring chance.

We also finished the game seeing 79% possession, and 72% ball share. Whilst completing 607 passes in total, with the majority of key passes coming from central areas and the all important zone 14.

Our dominance on the ball showed as we made 141 passes in the final third, compared to our opponents 31. As predicted Heracles Almelo played a high percentage of long balls, with 42% of their total passes completed being either medium or long.

Our pressing intensity paid dividends, we had a PPDA of 2.19 compared to our opponents 5.45

Jakov Medić played a key role in negating the oppositions aerial threat, he won nine aerial duels, two of which were key headers.

MOTM: Branco van den Boomen

  • 93% pass accuracy (89/96)
  • 7 progressive passes
  • 2 open play key passes
  • 1 goal

Steijn Watch

Excelsior vs AFC Ajax

Marinus Dijkhuizen’s side were up next, the team from Rotterdam had kicked off their season with a 0-0 draw away at N.E.C. Nijmegen. Excelsior on paper are a weaker side than our first opponents, and have been predicted to be one of three sides which are media favourites for the drop, Almere City and FC Volendam the other two.

Again, a similar approach will be made with regards to selection decisions, as 66% of assists have stemmed from either a throw-in or long ball.

Given Marinus’ preferred tactical style is ‘Wing Play’ I am conscious that playing in the 3-3-3-1 can leave us susceptible to attacks down the flanks. Again, FM’s AI is well aligned with the manager profile, as reflected in Excelsior’s key passes from their opening match. Therefore, I have given both carrilero’s in midfield the added player instruction of ‘tackle harder’, with the view to breaking down play on transition. If after 15 minutes of play I feel worried of the threat, I will play the 4-2-3-1 which should provide the additional cover, whilst still occupying their DM with the AM strata covered by our shadow striker.

An all important win on the road, in another fixture which saw us maintain our strong momentum. An early injury to Benjamin Tahirović (tight hamstring) saw us shift formation, handing Borna Sosa his debut. A change which didn’t impact the flow of the game, as we were extremely dominant in the second half.

Looking at the difference in average positioning when in possession, you can see how the change to the 4-2-3-1 affects our shape. We are more compact playing with four at the back, players find themselves closer together offering more protection if the ball is lost. Whilst the 3-3-3-1 utilises space more effectively, creating bigger voids between the opposition to exploit, it is also more focused on central overloads.

Taking an early look at Josip Šutalo in the role of the Libero, you can see how important the role is in terms of both ball progression and switching play. Josip played an excellent game, racking up three key passes in a match in which he completed the second highest passes.

MOTM: Josip Šutalo

  • 94% pass completion
  • three key passes
  • 100% headers won (7/7)

Steijn Watch

Lugano vs AFC Ajax

Domestic action takes the back seat for the next two fixtures, we face Lugano from Switzerland in the UEFA Europa League Playoffs, knowing that qualification is essential for the team in terms of sustainability. The additional revenue (£540k per victory) paired with the additional gate receipts for securing a spot in the continent’s second tier competition places added pressure on the management team.

The first-leg is away from home, against an in-form side who find themselves in first place of the Suisse Super League. Lugano have finished in the top four of the Swiss league over the past three seasons and lifted the Schweizer Cup in 2022.

Taking my time to study the scout and analyst reports one point has stood out to me, they have conceded 60% of their goals from balls down their left-side. This is likely to be due to how they line-up with Uran Bislimi as the Volante, leaving the side exposed in transition. We will look to exploit this by playing our 4-3-3 shape in this fixture, looking for Branco van den Boomen in the role of the advanced playmaker to stay wider, with the view to stretch the game in this area of the pitch and hopefully have an impact in transition.

In a match showcasing a clash of styles, the controlled possession of Steinkelsson’s Ajax overcame a Lugano team favouring a gegenpress system.

The assist provided by Branco van den Boomen in setting up Steven Bergwijn’s goal was exactly what I had in mind when setting up the team to face our opponent, a progressive pass from deep after a turnover, down the opponent’s left-side, setting up a goal scoring chance.

Sivert Mannsverk was also nearly another benefactor of a similar play in the 68th minute, scuffing his shot wide of the post (0.26xG).

MOTM: Steven Bergwijn

  • 100% shots on target (2/2)
  • 87% pass completion
  • 1 assist
  • 1 goal
  • 3 tackles made

AFC Ajax vs Lugano

Playing at the Johan Cruyff Arena, paired with a two goal buffer, enables me to think about providing a few peripheral players with some game time.

A first leg win proved a successful foundation for Ajax, who secured a 6-2 aggregate victory over Lugano. The second leg clash produced our second highest xG per shot performance of the season (0.19 xG).

Kudos to Kristian Nökkvi Hlynsson for providing the assist for Georges Mikautadze’s brace. The Georgian put in his best performance in an Ajax shirt, completing 97% of his passes, and working the opposition’s keeper with three of his four shots.

MOTM: Borna Sosa

  • 1 goal
  • 1 assist
  • 5 key passes

SEPTEMBER 2023

UEFA Europa League Draw

The draw was made for the UEFA Europa League, we have an exceptionally tough group, seeing us drawn against Freiburg who closed the 2022/23 Bundesliga in 5th place, as well as re-uniting us with the likes of Mohammed Kudus, and Edson Álvarez of West Ham. The final team in the group is FK TSC Bačka Topola, who finished runners-up in the Serbian Mozzart Bet Super liga.

Fortuna Sittard vs AFC Ajax

With only two days rest after the Lugano game, we travelled to Sittard to play Danny Buijs Fortuna. A side which finds themselves in 11th place of the Eredivisie, suffering defeats against both Feyenoord (0-3), and Excelsior (0-2). Buijs side prefers to line-up in the 4-2-3-1 formation, favouring wing-play.

With dribbling and flair listed as two of their strengths, I am expecting Iñigo Córdoba and Tijjani Noslin to provide threats down the flanks, so we will line up playing our 4-3-3 shape in today’s game.

Steven Bergwijn couldn’t fully recover in time or the game, providing Amourricho van Axel Dongen with the opportunity to start the match.

Looking at the post game analysis, we struggled to penetrate Fortuna’s 18-yard box, with Sadik Fofana a defender deployed in the DM strata, having an exceptional game, as displayed in his defensive actions visual.

We finished the game in second place with regards to the following statistics., again showing our inability with regards to chance creation. The post game match report sums up the performance exceptionally well;

MOTM: Diant Ramaj

  • 6 saves
  • 5 saves from inside the box
  • 1.32 xG prevented

FC Twente vs AFC Ajax

Next up are FC Twente managed by Joseph Oosting, who likes to play a fluid counter-attack style of play. Their pressing intensity visual, is a great example of how they base their game on drawing the opposition forward, to leave them vulnerable on the break.

After spending a little time in the ‘Data Hub’ I also found that FC Twente holds the best conversion rate in the Eredivisie to date (23%). Therefore, I will be looking to play some of our fastest players in the defensive line to ensure we can get men behind the ball, making those effective counters less of a threat.

The players on the pitch were a sight to behold in the passing department, making a total of 562 passes. Josip Šutalo was the heart of everything good, exchanging a total of 179 passes with his team-mates.

This result felt like the players were grasping to play ‘the Ajax way’, we had 68% possession and amassed 16 key passes. The football played was pure champagne, I think that Cruijff would have been proud.

The standout performer was Kenneth Taylor, the 21-year-old put in a superb performance for Ajax, and will no doubt be delighted with his match ball performance. The first player of my reign to score a perfect 10 match rating.

MOTM: Kenneth Taylor

  • Hat-trick
  • 95% pass completion (79/83)
  • 10 progressive passes
  • 3 key passes
  • 1 assist

AFC Ajax vs Freiburg

Our opening game in the UEFA Europa League is at home against Freiburg, Christian Streich’s men find themselves in 10th place in the Bundesliga, and have had a mixed start to their campaign.

There will be no changes from the victory over FC Twente, if it ain’t broke, don’t try to fix it!

Despite the final result, the performance on the pitch leaves enough optimism that we can secure a victory away in Germany. We maintained stronger momentum when looking at the match overall, and were significantly dominant after Maximilian Eggestein opened the scoring.

One slight concern is that seven players have featured in over 400 minutes of competitive football (maximum playable 630), and their conditions are starting to decline faster in-match.

MOTM: Lucas Höler

  • 2 key passes
  • 1 assist

AFC Ajax vs Feyenoord – De Klassieker

Arne Slot’s Feyenoord are the in-form team in the Eredivisie, boasting a 100% record, and holding a superior goal difference. In fact, the side from Rotterdam have only conceded in one game this season, and have won all but one game by more than a three goal margin.

The origins of “De Klassieker” can be traced back to the early 20th century when both Ajax and Feyenoord were established as prominent football clubs in the Netherlands. The rivalry’s foundation is rooted in the geographical, cultural, and social differences between the two cities that these clubs represent – Amsterdam and Rotterdam.

Amsterdam, the capital city, and Rotterdam, a major port city, have long held distinct identities, and the football rivalry between Ajax and Feyenoord became a reflection of this regional pride and competition. The first official league match between the two clubs took place on October 9, 1921, setting the stage for what would become one of the most iconic rivalries in Dutch football.

Over the years, as both Ajax and Feyenoord achieved success and dominance in Dutch football, the intensity of the rivalry grew. The clubs’ clashes began to carry not only the weight of regional pride but also the aspirations for national football supremacy. This historical context, combined with the passionate fan bases and the high-stakes nature of their encounters, solidified “De Klassieker” as a fixture that transcends the sport, becoming a significant part of the cultural and sporting heritage in the Netherlands.

Regarding formation, we were again heavily influenced by our scout report.

The defeat must have been hard for Arne Slot to swallow. I am looking forward to seeing how these types of rivalries pan out across the duration of the save. I am a firm believer in the need to have a strong consistent competitor, to ensure that we stay strong.

Momentum was always with us as the home side, the result was something which I was not expecting, well not as convincing, it could have been five if Branco van den Boomen scored his penalty in the minute.

Feyenoord will be frustrated with their inability to even work Jay Gorter between the posts in the Ajax goal.

Looking at the following stats, it is clear to see how effective we were in this fixture;

  • 7 shots on target vs ZERO shots on target
  • 5 clear cut chances vs ZERO clear cut chances
  • 2.74 NPxG vs 0.75 NPxG
  • 70% headers won (23/33) vs 23% headers won (8/35)

MOTM: Jorrel Hato

  • 99% pass accuracy (78/79)
  • 67% aerial duels won (4/6)
  • 1 goal
  • 1 assist

AFC Ajax vs FC Volendam

The next two games see us play against opposition from the foot of the Eredivisie, FC Volendam are currently in 15th place, whilst RKC Waalwijk are in 17th place, and without a victory.

Matthias Kohler‘s men have only secured the single victory, away at Go ahead Eagles (currently in 6th place). They have secured five points in their last five Eredivisie games, a perfect opportunity to introduce some fresh blood into the starting eleven, given we are at home.

A strike from Amourricho van Axel Dongen helped send Ajax to the top of the Eredivisie after a 1-0 Noord-Hollandse derby victory over rivals FC Volendam.

The score-line could have been greater with Ar’jany Martha and Georges Mikautadze both having efforts chalked off for marginal offsides. We picked up a monstrous 74% possession in the game and completed a whopping 93% of passes attempted, making for a very busy pass map. I am sure you will appreciate that again we have shown our quality at creating chances from central areas, Branco van den Boomen currently has our highest open play key passes (9), although he is still a country-mile away from first placed Sven Mijnans of AZ (15).

MOTM: Ar’jany Martha

  • 91% pass completion (57/62)
  • 3 key passes
  • 5 dribbles
  • 100% tackles made (2/2)

RKC Waalwijk vs AFC Ajax

With only a three day gap between our last fixture and the match away in Waalwijk, there would be minimal time for tinkering. With a European clash against West Ham on the horizon, players such as Martha, van Axel Dongen, and Salah-Eddine kept their places in the starting eleven. Gabriël Misehouy was also given a starting berth, with the view to keeping Branco van den Boomen fresh.

Reading into the scout report, RKC Waalwijk are most effective from the set piece, averaging a xA of 0.11 from 7.2 set pieces per game, which is the 6th best across the division. Given our aerial dominance, performing above average in terms of headers attempted and headers won ratio, I’d like to think we can handle whatever Waalwijk sends our way.

The result has seen us notch up four straight league wins, again we dominated our opposition on the field, Benjamin Tahirović in the half-back role acted as the metronome, completing 78 passes, and linking up with a total of 13 players.

Again we were able to impressively restrict our opponent from taking just the four touches in our penalty area, across the duration of the game.

MOTM: Jakov Medić

  • 94% pass accuracy (34/36)
  • 100% tackles made (2/2)
  • 67% aerial duels won (2/3)
  • 1 goal

OCTOBER 2023

West Ham vs AFC Ajax

We travelled to England to play West Ham, who find themselves in 16th place in the Premier League. Whilst on paper it looks as if David Moyes team are having a bit of a ‘mare, their opening five fixtures have come against Chelsea, Aston Villa, Liverpool, Arsenal, and Manchester United. In which they picked up three points against Aston Villa and drew with Chelsea.

On paper, we got an absolute stuffing. However, looking at the fine print you will see that West Ham scored three goals in a three minute period. Both of these stemmed from errors by Jorrel Hato who played sloppy balls out from the back, which West Ham capitalised from.

The other two goals scored by Kurt Zouma, stemmed from the set piece, notably James Ward-Prowse’s precision delivery.

This game is a prime example of possession isn’t everything, as West Ham only saw 31% of the ball, and only made 40 final third passes, compared to our 115.

MOTM: Kurt Zouma

  • 2 goals
  • 100% tackles won (1/1)
  • 100% aerial duels won (9/9)
  • 5 interceptions

AFC Ajax vs AZ

Pascal Jansen‘s team have had a mixed start to the season, they failed to win any of their opening four Eredivisie games (3D, 1L), and have now hit a run of form, winning their last three games.

We are keen to bounce back after defeat on the road, and have selected the strongest starting 11 minus Steven Berghuis and Brian Brobbey, both who are nursing minor knocks from midweek.

We have lost back to back games for the first time of my reign. Looking at the underlying numbers, it is hard to swallow, given we had the better NPxG 2.02 plays 1.02 and also hit the woodwork twice (Carlos Borges, and Georges Mikautadze), on another day we would have been walking away with all three points.

Looking at the analyst’s report in the Data Hub, with regards to conceding, we have conceded all but one goal from inside our box (expected), and there is a fairly even spread in terms of where the assists are coming from.

Whilst I enjoy looking through the data, there is no real need to dig too deep just yet as the defensive efficiency visualisation shows how effective the defensive unit was in nullifying our opponents threat.

MOTM: David Møller Wolfe

FC Utrecht vs AFC Ajax

The final game of this blog comes against FC Utrecht at the Stadion Galgenwaard. Ron Jans‘s team are well established in the Eredivisie, finishing in the top 11 places for the last 20 years. In game they are currently in eighth place and rely heavily on crossing, within the top five for crosses attempted, yet have the lowest completion rate, along with us. (crossing is integrated in our game model, maybe I should opt to play at least one winger as an inverted winger, to try and reduce this given the ‘cross more often’ PI attached to a winger on support).

Whilst evidently we have played significantly better than under Maurice Steijn, I do feel the Dutchman was dealt a poor hand from Sven Mislintat as the squad isn’t balanced in terms of depth, with too much focus on bringing in players with ‘unproven’ potential. Especially given the quality of player that went out the door, I feel his strategy could have been a little more refined.

After conceding two early goals, I thought we were well on our way to losing three games on the bounce. Fortunately for us, Steven Bergwijn put in a real captain’s performance to drag us out of the muck.

Kristian Nökkvi Hlynsson also deserves a mention, the youngster from Iceland was brought on in place of Sosa at the break after switching back into the 3-3-3-1 formation. Whilst I have been enjoying the ‘Project 4-3-3’ formation, I can’t seem to get the left-sided wing back firing and our central overloads aren’t effective due to having two players holding width on the left-flank.

MOTM: Steven Bergwijn

  • 77% pass completion (44/57)
  • 100% tackles won (5/5)
  • 8 dribbles completed
  • 3 key passes
  • 2 assists

We close this blog in third place of the Eredivisie, two points off early leaders Feyenoord, with PSV the only side in the division to not suffer a defeat. Both teams showing their right to play in the UEFA Champions League.

Comparing our actual performance against the expected points table, we find ourselves positioned exactly where our performances merit. FC Volendam are the least fortunate side in the Eredivisie, picking up seven less points than their performances have deserved. PSV are the toughest opponent to breakdown, they have a xGA of 6.3, whilst Heracles Almelo are the most open with an xGA of 20.

With regards to scoring, it should come as no surprise that Feyenoord have the best xG in the division at 26.3, whilst NEC Nijmegen are the polar opposite, only accumulating 6.5 xG from their opening nine games.

The above rolling NPxG visual shows just how effective we have been in our opening nine games, with Fortuna Sittard the only side to create more NPxG than ourselves. Looking at the granularity, we are currently averaging an NPxG per shot of 0.16, the work ball into box team instruction is working exceptionally well.

With regards to playing football ‘the Ajax way’ we find ourselves ranked second for average possession (63%), chances created (60), and conversion rate (19%). This is having a positive impact on how the supporters view my management.

The below shows some of the key individual performers from the first few months in charge, whilst he doesn’t feature on the list, I would like to bring the performances of Branco van den Boomen to your attention.

The 28-year-old has played the third highest amount of minutes (802), with only Josip Šutalo (847) and Kenneth Taylor (848) securing more playing time. He is showing his ability to play as a highly creative outlet for the side from open play, whilst also playing a key role in ball progression. I can see why over the past few years a few individuals have made reference to Branco, and hold his skillset of the highest regard.

Anyway, that’s enough waffling on from me, as stated at the beginning of the blog, I will not be covering every match in as much detail going forward, or else the save will be moving at such a pace that I will be worried that I won’t be able to document the youth development side in the detail desired.

I will likely cover updates now on a bi annual cycle, looking at our performances at the mid-season point and then again at the close of the campaign. This will allow me to hopefully write about different aspects of the game which I have been focusing on across the duration.

I hope you all have enjoyed this 4,000+ word extravaganza, as much as I have done playing FM24.

Author

  • SteinkelssonFM

    SteinkelssonFM is a distinguished tactician in the Football Manager community, celebrated for bridging the virtual and real football worlds through meticulous analysis. His knack for recreating iconic real-world tactics in-game, like Mário Zagallo’s 1970 Seleção strategy, offers a nostalgic yet innovative gameplay experience. An active blogger on Medium and WordPress, SteinkelssonFM shares his football philosophies and FM adventures, enriching the community with guides on youth development and tactical masterclasses. His contributions extend to the official Football Manager website, affirming his position as a reliable mentor for aspiring virtual football managers. Through his content, SteinkelssonFM continues to blend historical football charm with modern-day FM gameplay.

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1 thought on “FM24: The Ajax Way – Steijnkelsson

  1. My friend this is something else. A little bump in the road but otherwise a very strong start in terms of fixtures. The analysis though is next level so bravo to you!

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