Can Ajax repeat last season’s Champions League success?

Tipsters Review - 06-Sep-2019

Can Ajax repeat last season’s Champions League success?

Rarely has a sporting moment offered a greater contrast of emotion than Lucas Moura’s 96th minute winner in last season’s Champions League semi-final second leg between Ajax and Tottenham Hotspur. While Spurs’ players wheeled away in celebration, jumping for joy, punching the air, most of the home side had sunk to their knees, many lying prostrate atop the Amsterdam Arena turf. For every winner in football, there sadly has to be a loser.

It seemed such a shame that Ajax’s remarkable Champions League odyssey had to end in such a heart-rending finale, but in many ways it was fitting that this young, talented side were still entertaining us until the very last kick. It was an unforgettable European journey, knocking out the defending champions Real Madrid, ousting Italian champions Juventus, and looking for all the world to be heading to the final before Lucas delivered his death blow.

It was inevitable that the Dutch side would lose some of the heroes of their team in the summer transfer window. Inspirational defender Matthijs de Ligt has moved to Juventus, Frenkie de Jong has signed for Barcelona, Kasper Dolberg has moved to French side Nice, and the venerable Lasse Schone has also moved on, among other departures.

The question is, can Ajax summon both the energy and the quality required to go again in the Champions League this season? The Dutch giants were required to go through two qualifying rounds just to secure their place in the group stage, edging PAOK 5-4 on aggregate in an entertaining if nervy tie, before overcoming APOEL in the play-off round.

The group stage draw will give Ajax hope, having been drawn with Chelsea, Valencia and Lille, but it remains to be seen how much those aforementioned departures will affect them. De Ligt was their captain and figurehead, a player who teammates could rally around, while Frenkie de Jong was the midfield metronome, someone who made things happen on the ball and contributed greatly to their attacking prowess.

Those kinds of players are not easily replaced, but the arrival of Quincy Promes from Sevilla is sure to be a signing that will excite Ajax fans. The forward impressed for many years at Spartak Moscow, although his transfer to the Spanish club proved to be something of a disappointment, scoring just three goals last campaign. However, if Promes can recreate the form of his time in the Russian league, Ajax will have a real asset on their hands.

It is important that this group of players do not view last season as their only chance gone to pieces. While the final in Madrid was so tantalisingly close, Ajax can learn a lesson from last season’s winners Liverpool that it is always possible to go one better next time around. To do so requires belief, and if Ajax are to repeat or better their achievements of last season, they must not abandon the style that won them so many plaudits.

Many of last season’s heroes are still there. Hakim Ziyech and Dusan Tadic, the two wide-men who caused opposition so much trouble in last year’s Champions League remain poised to continue embarrassing full-backs. Donny van de Beek, who grabbed some important goals last season, not least against Real Madrid and Juventus, is also still there. To have a chance of maintaining last year’s level, the experienced members of that side most form the focal point around which the club’s new acquisitions can rally.

The Champions League is the most difficult competition in the world. That is what makes Ajax’s run to the semi-finals last year so impressive, and that is what made the pain of their heart-breaking semi-final exit so raw. But perhaps from the ashes of that disappointment a new hope may rise – a desire to go further, to better past achievements, and to make another grasp for the trophy that holds such a special place in the heart of every Ajax fan.

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