One year into the Ajax saga, 12,000 words deep. Navigating Eredivisie highs, December triumphs, and data insights. The quest for glory continues. #TheAjaxway

Five blogs into the Ajax way and over 12,000 words written, and we have only just reached the midpoint of our first season in charge of the club. I hope readers are enjoying following my save and detailing my thoughts and key findings.

Today we pick up from where we left off in the Steijnkelsson post, covering a few notable fixtures from both November and December, before looking at some of our underlying data, development, and then look at the wider gaming world.

EREDIVISIE TABLE

One game shy of the official midway point, which will be played after the winter break. We are sitting pretty in second place of the Eredivisie, with our only defeat coming against AZ.

Whilst our supporters are only satisfied with the job we are doing, they are delighted with our attacking brand of football, and are very pleased with our ability to entertain on the pitch. We are the highest scoring team in the league, out scoring Feyenoord by 10 goals. However, this brand of football comes with its flaws, unlike catenaccio, the Ajax way places an emphasis on attacking football, placing trust in the team to always outscore the opponent. This is reflected when viewing our goals against column, where we have the fifth best defence in the league, conceding nine more than Feyenoord.

Arne Slot’s side are well placed to secure back to back Eredivisie titles, an achievement which has not been secured since 1961/62, the only time in the club’s history.


NOVEMBER 2023

November was certainly a month for the neutral, we failed to score less than four goals in each match across the month, whilst the average total goals scored per game stood at seven.

The month belonged to Georges Mikautadze, who scored six goals and contributed with two further assists, I have dedicated a small segment of this blog to focus on our Georgian striker.

AFC Ajax vs sc Heerenveen

Kees van Wonderen’s side find themselves in fourth place of the Eredivisie and to-date have only lost the one fixture (Feyenoord), winning the other six, and drawing three. Outside of the big-three (Ajax, Feyenoord, and PSV) sc Heerenveen have the best xGA output.

They have only conceded more than one goal on two occasions, the defeat against Feyenoord (0-3) and victory against N.E.C. Nijmegen.

Clicking on the below visuals will take you to the match statistics.

Given the spiel I provided above, I wasn’t expecting the game to take the course which it followed. Chance creation was not an issue in the match, we carved out 22 shots to their seven, of which four were clear cut chances.

When you then take the amount of times we hit the woodwork into play (4), we could have chalked up significantly more goals than our xG for the match 3.6. Again, our ability to create shooting opportunities from a central zone is what is really impressing me with this 3-4-3 formation.

MOTM: Brian Brobbey

  • 2 goals from 1.1 xG
  • 94% pass completion (16/17)
  • 3 key passes
  • 2 dribbles

DECEMBER 2023

Another great month in December in the Eredivisie, failing to not pick up maximum points due to the draw at home against Sparta Rotterdam. PEC Zwolle were hit for SEVEN, whilst the spread of players hitting the back of the net continues to expand with the likes of Stanis Idumbo Muzambo and Anton Gaaei adding themselves to the list.

AFC Ajax vs West Ham

After Steven Bergwijn’s talismanic performance in November at the Europa-Park Stadion, we knew that anything better than defeat against West Ham would see us progress to the knock-out stages of the UEFA Europa League. In doing so we would pass the Boards end of season expectation to reach at least the knockout stages.

Despite losing the reverse fixture 2-4 away, the overall performance was decided on three minutes of madness, in which West Ham scored three goals, and an inability to defend the set-piece. We finished the match with a similar xG 2.01 vs 2.29, more clear cut chances 2 vs 1, along wit significantly more possession in dangerous areas, final-third passes 115 vs 40.

I explored the post game analytics post game, with the view to understanding what contributed to the victory this time around against West Ham. It didn’t take me too long to find, we won the aerial battle.

Looking at each team’s performance in the air in the defensive half really tells the story, West Ham finished the game with a 64% aerial duel success rate, compared to our 82%. For context in the reverse fixture we had a 49% success rate, compared to West Ham’s 80%.

MOTM: Benjamin Tahirović

  • 96% pass completion (29/30)
  • 1 goal
  • 1 assist

The result was enough for us to top the group, which means we now avoid the Knockout Play Off Round, and are guaranteed to earn another £1.02 million for appearing in the Round of 16.


UNDER THE HOOD

Now for some fun, for those of you who have followed my content over the years, you know how much I enjoy delving into the data. Now, given that I pointed out earlier the supporter culture desired for us to play attacking football, the team attacking performance visual is as good a place to start as any.

If you click on any of the below visuals it will take you to the underlying player data of interest.

We are performing well above average in attacking statistics, which is great to see, we are playing the Ajax way.

Our 3.25 goals per game is well above the Eredivisie average, the by-product of having a better pass completion rate, shots and shots on target (0.24 higher).

The dribbles are heavily linked to our wingers, with Carlos Borges the league’s volume dribbler (no surprise given his). The others (Bergwijn, Muzambo, and Berghuis) are all averaging over 4.3 dribbles per match.

Next up the attacking efficiency visualisation, Ajax are a total outlier. No club has a conversion rate of over 19%, whilst ours sits at 23%. Feyenoord are taking the most shots in the Eredivisie, which isn’t surprising given they lead the chances created metric.

Taking a deeper look into the linked visual, Brian Brobbey is hitting the target with a high number of shots per 90, these have a expected goals per shot of 0.25, which shows the high quality opportunities which he is getting, aiding the conversion rate.

IN POSSESSION

Passing plays a key role in the Ajax way, in possession we have two team instructions which heavily rely on the ability to be confident on the ball to retain possession. PSV (10,408) have completed the most passes in the division, with AZ (92%) with the highest pass completion. We lead the final-third passes (1785) compared to PSV (1597) and AZ (1492) which highlights our attacking intent, with both other sides likely to be playing a higher percentage of sideways/backwards passes.

Looking at the passing defenders confirms my initial thoughts with the bunch of five outliers in the top right quadrant all coming from AZ and PSV, apart from Calvin Verdonk of N.E.C. Nijmegen.

OUT OF POSSESSION

Our ‘out of possession’ team instructions focus on a high-press and high defensive line, two key features of a style long associated with the Ajax way. Therefore the pressing intensity visual within the data hub, should be one in which I’d like to see Ajax dominate.

Looking at the above, we have the third highest defensive line per game, something which I have been trying to work out, given we hold the highest amount of passes in the final third, which in my opinion should provide the defence time to get into the high shape, for longer.

I am simply going to attribute this to having a ball playing defender with a cover duty as the individual who sits between our wide centre backs, as covering will make the player drop a little deeper and sweep up any through balls behind the defensive line.

We also have the eight lowest opposition passes per defensive action, which currently is displayed in-game incorrectly as y-axis is showing ascending, but should be descending to reflect high OPPDA being negative in a pressing system.

Currently 8% of our possession gained is in the final third, and 25% in the opposition’s half, for those of you playing high-pressing systems I would be intrigued to see what your numbers are.


A FOCUS ON DEVELOPMENT

I stated in the Ajax way DNA post that I would bi-annually assess individual’s performance against the DNA. The winter break feels as good a point as any to cut the data, to assess changes.

Looking at the above, Silvano Vos, Jorrel Hato, and Jay Gorter have seen the largest improvement in these key attributes, with the first team averaging a 1.82 increase.

Looking for any trends, influencing the individuals with the best return on investment, personality isn’t one, as the players personalities are as follows, Vos (Balanced), Hato (Balanced), and Gorter (Fairly Ambitious).

The accelerated development could well be due to the individuals gaining exposure to first-team football, as individuals prior to this save only had Gorter (one senior appearance at Ajax and four at Aberdeen), Hato (11 Eredivisie appearances), and Vos (two senior appearances at Ajax).

Maybe it would be worthwhile investing in the in-game editor for research purposes at the end of the same to examine under the hood.

A FOCUS ON GEORGES MIKAUTADZE

I wanted to take a little time to expand on the performances of Georges Mikautadze, the 23 year-old Georgian has been extremely effective playing in a role which was made famous by Ajax legend Dennis Bergkamp, the schaduwspits, or more commonly referred to across the globe, the ‘shadow striker’.

1,142 minutes played, 14 goal contributions (nine goals, five assists)

Georges in the attacking phase is often very clinical in the box with accurate finishing abilities, this is reflected in his 45% conversion rate which is the second highest in the division, when looking at individuals who have taken over 20 shots.

Georges has also demonstrated that he is a capable passer and playmaker. He’s astute at executing flicks to nearby teammates and looking for quick combination sequences. The shadow striker has also demonstrated a willingness to end his dribble attempts with a deft through ball or cross, leading to 1.58 key passes per match.

The Georgian is currently outperforming his xG of 5.89 by 3.11, as he has scored nine goals in the league.

Looking at his form over the last 20 games, it is as expected for a player who secures the first player focus. Georges has an average rating of 7.41 which places him in third place, behind Kenneth Taylor (7.47), and Steven Bergwijn (7.50).

Using the Statman skin (which I love for player analysis due to the FBREF style visuals) you can easily see how effective Georges has been in the role. His per 90 stats are through the roof!

The schaduwspits is a role which I will be looking to dedicate a post to later in the series, very much along the lines of the one I covered last year on the Trequartsta. This will include a more detailed analysis of the role, including some in-game images.


THE INVINCIBLES

To date there are currently three teams in Europe’s top seven leagues (Nation Club Coefficients) that are on track to potentially record a special achievement of finishing the campaign labelled as invincible.

Below are the profiles of the managers, along with a brief summary of their seasons to-date.

Pep Guardiola’s Manchester City find themselves three-points clear of Liverpool with a game in hand, the Cityzens have taken maximum points in all bar two games (drawing with Arsenal and Wolves). City are averaging 2.5 goals per game, whilst maintaining an immense defensive record, conceding only five goals to-date.

They have scored three goals or more in seven games, the biggest result of the campaign so far against Brighton (6-0). Erling Haaland is top of the goal scoring charts (10), whilst Kevin De Bruyne (9) is one assist away from Martin Ødegaard (10).

Sérgio Conceição’s FC Porto sit joint top of Liga Portugal Betclic with SL Benfica, although they have played a game more. Porto have taken maximum points in 12 of their 15 games, dropping points against Boavista, Casa Pia, and Arouca. Porto are averaging 2.4 goals per game, although compared to Cit they have a weaker defensive record (13 against).

They have scored three goals or more in six games, their most notable scoreline was the 3-1 victory over SL Benfica, they also ran out 2-1 winners against Sporting CP (Sorry Dan). Toni Martínez (12) leads the goal-scoring charts, three more than team-mate Mehdi Taremi. Whilst Alan Verela (7) is one assist behind João Moutinho of Sp, Braga.

Peter Bosz’ side find themselves in third place of the Eredivisie, five points clear of Feyenoord. Whilst the other two managers can tell the tale of dominance and attacking threat, Bosz has a different narrative. His PSV side have won 10 of their 16 games, drawing the other six, Peter’s tale could be labelled the ‘what ifs’ as his side have conceded late goals against AZ, sc Heerenveen, and Ajax, costing them maximum points.

Joey Veerman appears to be central to his side’s creative threat, his 2.45 open play key passes per match see’s him placed in second place behind Calvin Stengs (2.75).

This brings me to the end of this post of the Ajax way, we are well placed and most importantly performing well in all competitions. Early signs are promising, we could well be on the way to achieve all of the board’s expectations, which were.

  • Reach the knockout stages of the UEFA Europa League
  • Qualify for the UEFA Champions League
  • Challenge for the KNVB Beker.

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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