Don’t Sleep on Ajax

Posted By Tyler Everett on August 7, 2019 - Last Updated on February 21, 2020

Ajax odds to win Eredivisie: -155
Ajax odds to win Champions League: +6600

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A year after taking the Champions League by storm, is Ajax back under the radar ahead of the ’19-20 season?

As expected, Matthijs de Ligt (Juventus) and Frenkie de Jong (Barcelona) are out of the mix. So what should we expect from this team without them? I’m bullish on their chances to once again make noise in the UCL in March and April, if not May and June, for several reasons.

Before we get into that, let’s talk about whether Donny van de Beek will be back.

Exodus avoided?

It was reasonable to expect Dusan Tadic to return at the age of 30. After signing an extension through ’23, he’s not going anywhere. But at the beginning of the summer, it seemed distinctly unlikely that Tadic, Hakim Ziyech, David Neres, and van de Beek would all return for ’19-20. Barring a last-minute, surprise move for Ziyech or Neres by a top team, those two will be back.

Van de Beek, however, appeared set for a move to Real Madrid as of last Friday. No deal has been signed yet, though. The 22-year-old played in his team’s Eredivise season opener on Saturday. He also played in Tuesday’s Champions League qualifying match against Greek club PAOK.

Tying the opener 2-2 away at PAOK certainly helps their chances of advancing–and maybe keeping van de Beek around longer.

This summer has reminded us, again, that transfers come together and fall apart in the blink of an eye. However, van de Beek’s activity the last few days does not exactly scream “off to Madrid any day now.”

Whether he’s in the fold for his team is a huge deal. There’s a reason RM is – or at least it hopes so — on the verge of acquiring him for around €60M ($67M). It’s not just his numbers a year ago, which were pretty astonishing for any player, especially a midfielder, his age: nine goals and 10 assists domestically, plus three goals and two assists in the Champions League.

He also more than passed the eye test, particularly against Juventus in the UCL quarterfinals and Tottenham in the semis. In Leg 2 of the quarters vs. Juve, he provided a massive equalizer in the 34th after Cristiano Ronaldo’s goal in the 28th. He also scored the only goal of the 1-0 win over Spurs in Leg 1 of the semis.

Casual fans might think Los Blancos are settling for him (if they get him) after seemingly striking out on Christian Eriksen and Paul Pogba. On one hand, that’s understandable, as those players are far more proven, and in Pogba’s case, flashy. But van de Beek is a quality young player who stood out on the sport’s brightest stage three months ago. If his days in Amsterdam are indeed numbered, it would be a huge loss for a team that generated a ton of offense thanks to his and de Jong’s work in the midfield.

No shortage of scoring

With or without van de Beek, the optimistic outlook on the upcoming season starts with where the goals will (continue to) come from. Last year, the club’s top five scorers in the Champions League were Tadic (6 goals), van de Beek (3), Hakim Ziyech (3), Nicolás Tagliafico (3) and David Neres (2).

Ajax’s top eight scorers in Eredivisie play last year included all but Tagliafico from those five, plus Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Kasper Dolberg, Daley Blind and Lasse Schone. Schone is the only one on that list who left this summer, joining Serie A side Geona. Even if van de Beek exits as well, the return of six of your top eight scorers is good reason to be pretty confident in your ability to score.

More than the staggering number of goals – a ridiculous 119 in 34 Eredivisie games (3.5 per game) last year – it was this team’s balance that jumped off the page/screen. Tadic’s 28 goals were massive, but he was just one of six (!) players with at least eight goals in domestic play – Ziyech and Huntelaar finished with 16 apiece, Dolberg chipped in 11, van de Beek added 9 and Neres had 8. Depending on what happens with van de Beek, all six of those players could be back.

The bottom line

In addition to the variety of scoring options, there are a couple other factors that make Ajax a good bet to upend another European power or two this season.

For one thing, they’ll have the motivation of being doubted and dismissed as a two-man team a year ago.

The experience they gained in last season’s run should also prove invaluable. These guys were the furthest thing from intimidated on the road at Bayern Munich’s Allianz Arena, the Santiago Bernabéu, Juventus Stadium or Tottenham Hotspur Stadium. Ajax’s core will only be that much more comfortable if they make it to this year’s knockout stage.

And last but not least, you have to hope they’ve learned valuable lessons about how to close out/kill off a game after their heartbreaking meltdown in the second half of Leg 2 of last year’s semifinal vs. Spurs.

Ajax are the odds-on favorites to win the Eredivisie at -155. While they haven’t yet qualified for the Group Stage, oddsmakers are giving Ajax proper respect pricing their 2019-20 UEFA Champions League title odds at +6600.

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