Loyalty in modern football is now very much the exception rather than the rule. One of the big storylines of the 2016/17 season was the journey of Ajax to the final of the Europa League where they were eventually overcome by Jose Mourinho and Manchester United. The overarching narrative of that final however was the performances of the young Dutch side on their route to the final, playing with a fluid and attacking style of play they evoked images of the Ajax sides of old and reminded the watching public of the beauty of the ‘Ajax style’
The architect of this success was Peter Bosz, the Dutch coach in his first year as head coach of Ajax following spells with Hercules and Vitesse Arnhem and Maccabi Tel Aviv amongst others. Coaching at Ajax was originally thought to be the culmination of an ambition for Bosz and despite previous links to Feyenoord he is very much a coach of the ‘Cruyff school’.
With a young and talented team and a coach that embodies the tactical history of the club, hopes were high that the 2017/18 season would see the side reclaim the Eredivisie title from rivals Feyenoord and make a significant impact on the Champions League. Those hopes, however, were broken when Bosz accepted an offer to move to Borussia Dortmund to replace the outgoing Thomas Tuchel.
Loyalty aside what can fans of Dortmund expect from their new coach? There is little doubt that Bosz is a coach who believes in the value of youth and given the transfer activity of the German side in recent seasons that can only be a positive, the likes of Ousmane Dembele, Emre Mor, Christian Pulisic and Julian Weigl should all thrive under their new coach whilst this change may be the catalyst to save the Dortmund career of Mario Gotze who should be given a central role in the team structure.
Bosz favours attacking football with wide players encouraged to stretch the width of the pitch. This width in the attacking phase stretches the defensive structure of the opposition and will create space centrally that can be exploited by the likes of Mario Gotze and Ousmane Dembele moving from deep. The central defenders will also be expected to step out in possession of the ball and play passes between the lines of the opposition, in short, every player will be expected to contribute to the attacking phase.
It should however also be noted that not all is positive when it comes to Bosz. The way that he left Ajax left a bad taste in the mouth for many Ajax fans, after his departure reports emerged that there were divisions within the back room staff with Bosz reportedly not seeing eye to eye with some at the club, with the lessons of Thomas Tuchel and his fractious relations at the club still fresh in the memory at Dortmund it will be an interesting plot line to follow in the upcoming season.
In the initial defensive phase we see Bosz prefer his side to press the turnover in an attempt to win the ball back, in a sense this counter pressing style is reminiscent of the way that we used to see Dortmund play under Jurgen Klopp, if anything, however, the press under Bosz will be more measured and structured.
In a more established defensive phase, we tend to see Bosz favour a compact defensive block designed to constrict the spaces that the opposition have to play into. This compact structure is then opened out when Ajax won the ball back with the wide players moving to stretch the field and give wide passing options to facilitate the counter attack.
Here we see PSV attacking into the Ajax half. The initial structure from Ajax goes from 4-4-1-1 to more of a standard 4-4-2, PSV, however, are quickly able to bypass the initial press from the front two with a simple pass that bypasses the first line of the defensive structure.
They then however come through to a more disciplined and organised unit from Ajax. As PSV play the ball across the width of the field looking for a route to penetrate the defensive unit we see Ajax maintain their deep defensive block. Traditionally the most effective way to attack this form of low and compact block is to attack down the wide areas, Ajax under Bosz, however, were proactive in shifting across to take away the space in the wide areas with the wide forwards quick to close in and press the opposition full back should they take possession of the ball.
At Dortmund we should see something similar under Bosz with the expectations that the likes of Dembele and Marco Reus learn the defensive instructions quickly, both players will also be extremely effective as the outlet ball when Dortmund win possession back and look to launch a counter attack. With the signing of Turkish international Omer Toprak from Bayer Leverkusen, we should see Dortmund having the defensive organisation to go along with the undoubted attacking flair that Bosz will look to implement quickly.
Pressing, pressing and more pressing
In line with the footballing philosophies of former coaches Thomas Tuchel and Jurgen Klopp and with the general wave of young coaches in German football we will see Bosz favour the pressing game as a means of applying immediate pressure to the opposition.
As mentioned previously unlike the full on counter pressing that we saw from Dortmund under Jurgen Klopp this does not mean that we will see pressing at the cost of any form of effective organisation, instead, Bosz prefers his side to act on pre determined pressing triggers that inform his players when to engage the man in possession.
In this example when playing against Willem II we see a difficult pass being played back into the opposition player just outside his own penalty area, in this instance, the position of the receiving player and his poor first touch are the triggers that lead to the pressing action from Ajax.
You can see the speed that the Ajax players converge on the man in possession combined with the number of players committed to pressing the ball and quickly they have won possession back in an extremely advantageous position just outside the penalty area.
On this occasion in the Europa League match with Lyon we see the French side looking to build from the back, the pressing trigger is not as well defined bar the fact that Ajax are obviously looking to prevent the home side from enjoying comfortable possession in their own half of the field. Three times the man in possession is quickly pressed, preventing him from playing the ball forward effectively, eventually, the ball is turned back to the Lyon goalkeeper who plays a long pass into the Ajax half that is comfortably collected by Davinson Sanchez who then looks to build an attack from Ajax.
Bosz has the advantage at Dortmund of taking over at a club in which the players are already well versed in a variety of pressing styles. The likes of Julian Weigl and Mahmoud Dahoud, in particular, are young players who have been taught in the progressive German youth system, they will be able to adapt to any pressing style that their new coach wants to use.
Attacking through the thirds
In the attacking phase Bosz has a preference for his sides to attack as a unit and to move up through the thirds of the field relatively quickly to reach the final third and create an opportunity to score, in the final third the coach tends to favour a less structured and scripted approach with players encouraged to be creative with movement and passing in order to maximise the damage they can cause to the opposition.
In this sense, there are elements of positional play in the end product from Bosz although I would not suggest that the Dutch coach fully implements the theories involved with this style of play.
Here we see a typically structure Ajax attacking movement under Bosz, first of all, we see patience in finding the correct corridor to play vertically through. Both Davinson Sanchez and the 17-year-old Matthijs De Ligt were excellent at playing vertical passes through the lines of the opposition defensive structure in order to progress the ball.
This time the corridor finally opens up for Sanchez and the ball is played into the central areas. As Ajax enter the final third we see the width that Bosz likes in this area with both wide forwards tight to the touchline forcing the defensive structure wide, this has two key effects as defenders can be isolated in the wide area for 1v1 situations, at the same time space is created in the centre of the defensive structure that Ajax can exploit.
This time we see a more measured attacking move with the ball being progressed through the thirds of the field. Ajax are patient in moving the ball forwards and then resetting play back time and again until they find a way to play through what is a very organised defensive block. Once again we see the importance of width in the final third as Amin Younes takes possession and links in on two or three occasions, eventually, the chance is wasted by Bertrand Traore as he moves into the penalty area.
In the attacking phase, Bosz should prove to be a perfect fit for Dortmund, the only slight issue could lie in the ability of the central defenders to act as playmakers in the initial build up. This could be negated by the likes of the aforementioned Weigl and Dahoud dropping deeper to take possession and play forward. In the final third the versatility and pace that Dortmund have in this area could well be devastating for their opponents.
Peter Bosz is arriving at Dortmund at a time in which consistency is important for both parties. In order to be truly regarded as a great coach, the Dutchman needs to stay at a club for multiple seasons to prove that he can imprint his playing philosophy, the club, on the other hand, are searching for a coach for the medium to long term after the issues of the Tuchel era.
If Bosz is able to get the best out of the young attacking talent in the squad and if he continues to adopt an attack first approach then we could be set for fireworks that will be appreciated by the legendary Dortmund fans.
This promises to be one of the most important narratives of the coming season, it is certainly one that I will be keeping a close eye on.