Far-Fetched Friday: Ajax to Reach Champions League Final
By: Jake Lofgren
Ajax stunned Europe yet again in the 2018/19 campaign on their way to a seemingly unlikely Champions League semi-final. Many even believed Ajax should have progressed further in the competition. With Frenkie De Jong, Matias De Ligt, Hakim Ziyech, and many other players, the world fell in love with Ajax and their underdog story capable of winning the Champions League, but that dissipated as those stars left the club for larger opportunities. Well, two seasons later, and this year's team is more capable of winning the Champions League than the team of 2018/19.
Welcome back to Far-Fetched Friday, where every Friday we give you a bold prediction that we believe will come to fruition. This time, we take a trip to the Netherlands.
This website has been utilizing xG (Expected Goals) to address how well a team has played, and that trend continues here. In 18/19, Ajax proved to the world that their's was not an underdog story depending on luck; Ajax was straight up beating teams. The two-legged xG in Ajax's knockout stage games for the 18/19 season are below:
Ajax vs. Real Madrid
xG: Ajax (4.8) vs. Real Madrid (3.3)
Actual Score: Ajax (5) vs. Real Madrid (2)
Ajax vs. Juventus
xG: Ajax (3.3) vs. Juventus (1.4)
Actual Score: Ajax (3) vs. Juventus (2)
Ajax vs. Tottenham
xG: Ajax (2.7) vs. Tottenham (3.6)
Actual Score: Ajax (3) vs. Tottenham (3)
As you can see, Ajax deserved to make the Semifinal but also deserved their narrow defeat to Tottenham. Ajax was a good team in 18/19, so how will they make it further this time around? The truth is that so far, Ajax appears to be an even better team. With Ten Hag still in charge, Ajax has only appeared to get better each season. Replacing the talent they lost to massive clubs in 2019 was not easy, but Ajax, like always, found a way to do it.
With December only a few days away, Ajax has lost ONCE this season. They are 5-0 in Champions League group play and are 10-3-1 in league play. Even in Ajax's one loss of the season, they were very good but unlucky. Ajax's loss came at the hands of Utrecht. Ajax lost the match 0-1 but won on xG 2.18-0.67. Meaning based on the chances created, the score was most likely to be around 2-1 in favor of Ajax.
Ajax have conceded 5 goals in 19 games and have done that still without first-choice goalkeeper Andre Onana who will return soon from his one-year suspension.
Ajax did not achieve this level of dominance in 2018/19. Although to be fair to them, Bayern Munich was in that Champions League group. This year's Champions League dominance should still not be underestimated. Borussia Dortmund is second in the Bundesliga despite coming across as underachievers thus far, and beating them twice in the fashion they did should be applauded. Sporting Lisbon is also a great side; they added Pablo Sarabia from PSG, who was also a key contributor to a successful Spain team this past summer. Not dropping a point through these five games puts them in a position where the sixth game means absolutely nothing.
Let's compare the two teams with each other (top is 2019, bottom is 2021):
*Onana was unable to be added visually to both pictures
I would genuinely argue that the team on the right is better. Berghuis and Tadic are in the form of their life. Haller is killing it this year and will win the Champions League golden boot. Ziyech may have gotten his big move to Chelsea, but Antony is due a big move, too. Gravenberch may not be De Jong, but he is slowly gaining the clout to be on that level. Alvarez is the perfect 6 to let all the attacking talent do what they do best. Finally, Blind is a great leader for the young defenders next to him. Both of these teams also have David Neres off their bench. The team on the left may be more nostalgic, but the upside on the right is higher, as performances so far have shown.
With PSG, Bayern, Man City, and Liverpool looking like the massive threats for the Champions League, do not count out this Ajax side.
On form, this very moment, Ajax deserve their place as a top 5 side in Europe. There is no reason to believe Ajax cannot beat any team they come up against.
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