The Dutch manager has built one of the best teams in Ajax’s history. The way he tactically approaches the vertical tiki taka style got my attention. The beautiful football they play influenced me in bringing their style to FM19. Therefore, in this post, am going to share the FM19 Ajax tactic I created. My purpose was to emulate Ten Hag’s total football.
With the way Ajax are playing in this 2018/2019 season, especially in the UCL, football pundits see them as one of the favourites to lift the UCL title. The way they handle the ball on the pitch is sensational. It reminds me of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona, with the signature of Johan Cruyff written all over it. With that said, the man behind this Ajax’s display can’t be forgotten. Erik ten Hag is the man writing his own history with a team of an average age of 24.
FM19 Ajax Tactic: The 4-2-3-1 DM Structure
Erik ten Ajax usually lines up his team in a fluid 4-2-3-1 setup. The two central midfielders usually appear as a double 6, with one of them being the deepest midfielder. In some cases, Ajax line up in a 4-3-3 setup on paper, but on the pitch, this setup always changes to 4-2-3-1.
Ten Hag’s Formation Dynamics
With the Ball – 3-3-1-3 Diamond
Ajax have a way of building up from the back. Normally, they align in a 4-2-3-1 structure. But when the opposition presses them high, they realign in a diamond 3-3-1-3. This makes the deepest midfielder (usually De Jong) to drop and become a third defender. Then the other midfielder stays just in front of them to form a diamond. With this alignment, they find it easier to break up opposition’s high block or first press.
In cases where there’s no shorter passing lane while the opposition presses, De Jong picks the ball and moves forward with his excellent dribbling skill. As he carries the ball, he finds available teammates. This is why De Jong is indispensable in Ajax build up – he’s very confident with ball.
According to Johan Cruyff’s total football, a diamond shape is best for possession play. This is because it gives more passing options. And that’s exactly what Erik ten Hag implements in his Ajax team.
In addition, Ajax usually form triangles, which they use to outplay the opposition. As part of their tactical strategy, it gives them two or more passing options that the opponent finds difficult to see or handle.
Attacking Animation – Using Multiple Setups
When Hag’s men attack, they move as a single unit. Moreover, they are very good in counter-attack, which makes them really good in quick transitioning – a part of vertical tiki taka style. Dynamically, Ajax attack in a lot of setups. They can create diamonds or triangles with the aim of finding a teammate making a run inside and beyond them.
Their main strategy in the final third is to create spaces and picking up a runner exploiting that space. This is where they use the front striker, especially when they play Tadic. Tadic, as an intelligent player, can drop and pull the opposition defenders with him, thereby creating a space for an attacking teammate to exploit.
Defensive Animation – 4-3-3
Sometimes, Ajax defend in a staggered 4-3-3 structure. However, as they attack as a single unit, they defend the same way – That’s why the overall team shape is Very Fluid in FM19 – Every player is involved in the defending phase. Moreover, Ten Hag’s men can be aggressive and intense on the opponent. They press very well to win the ball back and play with high defensive line to support the press.
Roles and Duties
Keeper: Sweeper Keeper (Support)
André Onana (being the first choice) and Bruno Varelaare are good sweeper keepers. Both have the footwork and mental ability to go for shorter passing options when under pressure. And, they can move with the ball at their feet. The SK (S) is exactly their role at Ajax under Ten Hag.
Central Defenders: Ball Playing Defenders (Cover and Defend)
At Ajax, Daley Blind and Matthijs de Ligt are usually the two main defenders. Both players are very comfortable with the ball. Therefore, they can carry the ball forward in order to break opposition press. This makes them great ball playing defenders.
Sometimes, De Ligt moves forward while Blind stays back as a sweeper to cover the defence. Alternatively, when Blind moves forward, De Ligt covers. They just support each other.
In the same way, you can give Ligt or Bling the cover duty in FM19 while using this tactic.
Side-Backs: Two Wingbacks (Both on Support)
The two side-backs in Hag’s formation usually play as supporting wingbacks. They get forward when necessary. However, both players can work as wide wingers who can push high to support forward play. In other words, they help in retaining possession in the midfield when they stay narrow. And they still perform their defensive responsibilities.
Defensive Midfield: Half Back (Defend) and Regista (Support)
These two midfielders are together the heart of Hag’s tactic.
The halfback (mostly being Frenkie de Jong) is the deepest midfielder. When necessary, he drops deeper to become the third defender when the opponent presses high. With him doing that, he helps the team in building up play. However, when the team attacks, he sits outside the opposition box. In case the attack breaks, he finds himself in a position to recycle possession. Alternatively, he may choose to shoot from that position.
On the other hand, Lasse Schöne (a regular starter) plays more like a regista under Erik Ten Hag. He’s aggressive and presses high up the pitch. He dictates the tempo of the game. But in FM19, you can choose to play him as the DLP (support). However, defensively, he teams up with the HB and AM to cover the central areas. Or, press the opponent with the AM’s assistance.
Attacking Central Midfield: Attacking Midfielder (Support)
The AM (usually being Donny van de Beek) is like the second striker behind the striker. He can get into the box and score. With the support duty, he contributes defensively, especially when it comes to closing down the opposition midfielders. Also, he assists his teammates when it comes to pressing the opponent. Under Ten Hag, the AM just has the freedom to roam.
Side Attacking Midfield: Two Inside Forwards (on Support)
The work of these inside forwards in Ajax games is quite interesting. They usually take advantage of the half spaces. Or, they can come towards the advanced midfield to overload the midfield. By this way, they create triangles with teammates, which they use to outplay the opposition.
They can also cut inside with the ball and find a runner penetrating the opposition box. And when a shooting chance comes, they shoot.
Central Forward: Deep Lying Forward (Support)
The striker, in Ten Hag’s tactic, is a space creator. And this type of striker is very effective for the Dutch manager’s tactic when Tadic (or Kasper Dolberg) is playing in the position. Tadic has a way of dissolving the opposition defensive line, which creates space. In FM19, the DLF role does better in this than the false 9 role
For this tactic, I only use zonal marking in open play. This is just how Ajax defend under Erik ten Hag. Nevertheless, you can use specific marking if you wish. For defend set pieces, I employed mixed marking.
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