When Peter Bosz took charge of Ajax Amsterdam in July 2016 there was a sense that the club was moving back towards its roots in terms of tactical style.
Whilst his predecessor Frank De Boer was a student of Johan Cruyff during his playing days there was a definite sense that as a coach the former international defender was more pragmatic than the club was used to. Whilst a high pressing style was implemented there was still a lack of genuine creativity to go along with this leading to accusations amongst the Ajax fans that De Boer was turning the side in to one that was boring to watch, a grave crime for those from Amsterdam.
The incoming Peter Bosz cemented his reputation for an exciting brand of attacking positional play during a three season spell in charge at Vitesse Arnhem before finally leaving the Dutch club as he felt he had taken the club as far as he could. That led to a short spell in Israeli football with Maccabi Tel Aviv as part of the clubs bid to implement a blend of the Dutch and Spanish schools under technical director Jordi Cruyff.
When Ajax identified him as their preferred candidate for the coaches role at the Amsterdam Arena though there was no way that Bosz was going to be able to turn them down.
Early signs were less than promising with rumours of a fractious relationship with several players at the club and results that were solid if not spectacular. As the season progressed however something seems to have clicked with Ajax starting to dominate the opposition in a manner that is expected of them with a high tempo pressing game coupled with the ability to dominate the ball in the oppositions half making them extremely difficult to beat when they are on form.
Bosz however remains something of a perfectionist as a coach and he has expressed his dissatisfaction at his sides inability to widen the margins of their victories against teams that are intent of defending deep in a low block to prevent Ajax from playing through.
Ajax started with Onana in goal behind a back four of Veltman, Sanchez, Viergever and Sinkgraven with Lasse Schone playing as the deepest midfielder in front of them.
In recent weeks we have seen Klaassen and Ziyech playing as dual number eights with the freedom to attack in the final third. Younes played wide on the left with the instruction that he held the width of the field and stretched play horizontally to create space centrally.
On the opposite side Traore played nominally in the wide area but he had more freedom to come inside and link up with Kasper Dolberg in the attacking line.
Ajax progressive in the defensive and transition phase
One of the most important aspects of the system that Bosz has looked to implement while in charge of Ajax has been the way that they look to dictate the tempo of the game both in the way that they build their attacks from the back and in the way that they counterpress to win back possession high up the field when the opposition steal the ball.
The addition of Davinson Sanchez this season has leant an extra dimension to the build-up play for Ajax. The towering Colombian centre back is a genuine threat in the opposition penalty area from set pieces and defends in a manner that belies his relative lack of experience.
Crucially though he is also very strong with the ball at his feet both in terms of his passing ability and when running with the ball through the opposition lines.
Here Sanchez has possession of the ball in his own half under relatively little pressure. There are passing options in front of the next line of opposition pressure that would allow Ajax to retain possession of the ball albeit in a passive form.
Instead though Sanchez is confident enough in his own ability to drive forward with the ball at his feet through the next line of the oppositions defensive structure and in to space in the final third. The key however lies in the fact that when he accesses these spaces Sanchez is then able to play the ball in to his own teammates and he does not become flustered under pressure.
On this occasion Sparta have won possession of the ball deep inside their own half and they look to transition quickly in to the attacking phase in order to catch the Ajax defensive structure out of position.
As soon as the ball is played forward to the advanced player for Sparta however we seen two Ajax players converge on the ball winning it back and turning the transition from a defensive one in to an attacking one.
As the counterpress is so effective in this example they are able to slip the ball through penetrating behind the opposition defensive line and creating a goal scoring chance. This form of counterpressing can be essential in defeating a team that tends towards a deep and passive defensive block.
Rotations in wide areas create space
Part of the mechanism that Ajax uses to create space in the final third of the pitch is the use of several rotations in the wide areas that are designed to pull defensive players out of position and create space for players to flow in to from different areas of the field.
It is this positional flexibility that makes them so difficult to play against.
Here we see Ajax in possession of the ball in the wide area. Two small pieces of movement from supporting team mates create the opportunity for the pass to be played in to an area that provides a penetration in behind the Sparta defensive line.
Younes moves back towards the ball and pulls the Sparta fullback with him out of position. At the same time Schone shifts across from the central area forcing the defensive block to account for the possibility of a horizontal pass in front of them.
This creates enough uncertainty in the Sparta defensive block for the deep vertical pass and run to be effective in getting in behind the defence and creating a goal scoring opportunity.
Once again the ball is in the wide area of the field although this time Younes is in possession. As he takes the ball the closest supporting player makes a movement back and then in behind to offer the possibility of a short reset pass to change the angle of the attack.
As he does so he empties the space that he has previously been occupying and forces the Sparta defence to account for his movement.
This provides the opportunity for the central player to run across and beyond Younes to take possession of the ball and drive in behind the Sparta defence.
Interplay and movement in the final third
Another aspect of the traditional Ajax style that Bosz has put in place is the way that the attacking players interact and combine in the final third of the pitch.
With Hakim Ziyech and Davy Klaassen both given the freedom to attack from central areas and the playmaking abilities of Lasse Schone in behind them they are proving very difficult to defend against for the whole ninety minutes with the sheer variety of ways that they can attack and beat you.
Here Sanchez has again pushed forward towards the final third and he passes the pall at pace in to the feet of Davy Klaassen.
Instead of hesitating in possession or trying to dribble in to the wide area Klaassen plays a first time ball in to a team mate in the central area before continuing his run and bending in behind the player that he has looked to connect with.
A simple layoff allows Klaassen to again take possession and drive towards the central area.
The movement that now occurs off the ball however spreads the defensive structure and creates a 3v2 overload for Ajax. The player that has played the ball back to Klaassen continues his run towards the right side of the penalty area whilst Kasper Dolberg moves towards the left side of the box. This gives Klaassen options left and right as well as allowing him to go for goal should he choose.
Kasper Dolberg has been something of a revelation for Ajax this year and the Danish international is looking like the next big player to emerge at the club.
Here we see an example of his tactical intelligence as he uses different movements to confuse the defender and create space for him to attack within the Sparta penalty area.
As the man in possession moves down the left side of the pitch Dolberg first of all fakes to move in behind the defender on his blind side. As the defender looks to adjust Dolberg then shifts and attacks the space in front of the defender where he is able to get on the end of the cut back.
Most fans of attacking football and consistent youth development will admit to a soft spot for Ajax. With Peter Bosz becoming more comfortable in his role it is looking increasingly likely that we will see a squad and team moulded in the image of the traditional attacking Ajax sides of the past.
Ajax have another talented crop of young players waiting to come through in to the first team and once again the future can be said to be bright at the Amsterdam Arena.