ten hag tactics

LOSC Lille – Ajax: Dutch Efficiency In Both Boxes Enough To Secure Win (0-2)

Against an already eliminated Lille, Ajax had to win to secure their positions as leader of group H. Despite not having their best game in the season, the Dutch were efficient at both ends of the field. Lille created a few good chances, without converting. 

Tactical analysis and match report by Simon Piotr

Already eliminated from all European competitions after earning solely one point in four games, Lille had no competitive stake playing this game against Ajax. Yet they did not give the game away. Manager Christophe Galtier fielded his best starting eleven, opting to go back to the 4-4-2 system, after a spell in a 5-3-2 shape, like last time out against PSG. Victor Osimhen was back in the squad and started up front, alongside Jonathan Ikoné in a second striker or number ten role. 

Manager Erik ten Hag deployed his vintage 4-2-3-1 shape. However, with the double red card for the central defense against Chelsea, Ten Hag had to line up the Lisandro Martinez – Perr Schuurs duo, like he tried during the beginning of the season. The double pivot 4-2-3-1 is one of the most frequently occurring formations in football. The two most defensive midfielders are called a ‘double pivot’. in midfield was composed of the all round Donny van de Beek and the versatile right back Noussair Mazraoui, leaving Ziyech in the number ten role behind Tadić.

Ajax take the lead immediately

The least we can say is that the game started well for Ajax, foreshadowing the incredible efficiency they would have all night long. On their first genuine offensive action,, they recovered the ball high up the field before finding Tadić inside the box who assisted Ziyech coming from behind in an ever so typical action from them, meaning the Dutch were leading after two minutes. 

Following that crazy start, Ajax kept on having superior ball possession – 54% in the first half – but they had trouble keeping the ball on very long sequences. Indeed, the game carried on on a high tempo and a strong level of verticality, leading both teams to have only around 75% pass success in the first half. It is worth mentioning that Ajax were playing with a double pivot van de Beek-Mazraoui, the fist being a box-to-box attacking midfielder and the other not necessarily the best specialist of the position, as he also plays as right back. In these conditions it was more difficult to keep a very organized possession. Even with a midfielder often dropping between the center-backs, it was difficult for Ajax to complete many passes against Lille’s pressure.

Whether it was part of the plan or provoked by the early goal, the fact remains that Lille pressed pretty high with a lot of aggressiveness on Ajax’s buildup.

Lille’s 4-4-2 press with one winger on a midfielder plus fullback and the other winger on the far side. Van de Beek was the most likely to drop deep; Ajaxy built mainly down the left as Mazraoui was the only option, though quite isolated in midfield. 

Ajax did not create much offensively out of their shaky buildup, despite trying to playing their typical combinations, in general they would lose the ball too early on the field. They had to wait ten more minutes after the goal to have another situation in front of Lille goalkeeper Mike Maignan, the latter coming from a high ball recovery again rather than a classic buildup, this was their last shot on target in the first half. 

As for Lille, they were even more vertical on the ball, counting on long balls or counterattacks. 

Ajax were also pressing high, as they always do, making in difficult to play short anyway.

Ajax pressing with their typical man-marking against the opposition’s midfielder on the ball side, Ziyech would drop to mark Soumaré and van de Beek followed Ikoné almost anywhere the French forward went.

The hosts’ best situation in the first half came in minute 30, after a lightning fast counterattack following a set-piece situation, leaving the Dutch defense exposed. Lille rushed forward with a numerical superiority (four against three) to create a big chance but left winger Jonathan Bamba sent a seemingly easy tap-in in the stands. 

All in all, the first half was not ultra productive offensively from both sides despite all that pace and verticality. 

Ajax confirm their success

Forced to change two players right before half-time, Ajax came back from the locker room with Noa Lang replacing Zakaria Labyad and Edinson Àlvarez for Mazraoui. This change meant Van de Beek was now playing closer to Ziyech on the left hand side where everything was happening for Ajax, whereas Alvarez remained closer to the center-backs. 

Lille kept on being the most dangerous team and had a big chance five minutes into the second half. On a long ball not well managed by Martinez, Osimhen recovered the second ball and crossed to Ikoné, who missed a tap-in in the free goal. Just like in Amsterdam, Lille were missing everything they created, and the Champions League does not tolerate such a lack of efficiency. 

Then the tempo of the game slowed down and Ajax were more in control, which increased the pass success level up to 85%.

Just like in the first half, Ajax were very efficient inside the box, they scored the second goal in minute 59 after good work from Ziyech on the right before he crossed to Promes inside the box. This did not come as a surprise, as the last five goals Promes scored were assisted by Ziyech. Ajax scored on their first and last shot on target, at a key moment in the second half (after an hour of play).

Lille reacted by assaulting the Ajax box and had another big chance minute 72 and Onana miraculously saved another tap-in shot from Yacizi. Ajax could have made it worse for Lille, but Ziyech’s goal was refused after VAR review and Van de Beek hit the post in the 82nd minute, yet Ajax would not create a lot of danger apart from those very dangerous situations. 


Lille were clearly not a team designed to perform in the Champions League, especially in such a difficult group. However, they managed to have some decent performances, but they lacked experience, talent and efficiency to transform their good ideas into results. 

As for Ajax, they had to take advantage of the draw occurring at the Mestalla between Valencia and Chelsea to be the only team topping group H. Mission accomplished as they continue their road to the next round. However, they have exceeded their expected goals predictions offensively and defensively so far in the UCL, a return to reality might be harsh for Ten Hag’s team. 

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