Ajax's journey to the 35th league title in club history

Tadic
Tadic

A “gap year.” That is how director of football affairs Marc Overmars described this football season during the COVID-19 pandemic, shortly before the start of the season. Expectations were tempered at a time that was financially difficult for a club like Ajax. And yet, it’s now time for celebration in Amsterdam: the club has secured its 35th league title.

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After a uniquely long preparation period in which Ajax performed well against a number of quality opponents, Dutch football finally resumed in mid-September. On the road against Sparta Rotterdam, Ajax overcame an early red card for Nico Tagliafico to claim all three points. The match winning goal was scored by Antony, as the young Brazilian got off to a flying start in Amsterdam alongside his new friend and colleague David Neres.

That goal was the start of an excellent run of form that followed. Antony and fellow summer acquisition Mohammed Kudus showed their quality and were important in the first part of the season. While Antony missed out on the first UEFA Champions League game of the season was unfortunate, a problem that was compounded by Kudus going off injured only a few minutes into the match.

With Kudus sidelined for a significant amount of time, Erik ten Hag had to puzzle together his side in midfield. Newly re-acquired Davy Klaassen was essential as a controlling midfielder. On a visit to VVV Venlo, he was the driving force behind a historic 0-13 victory, Ajax's biggest ever win in the Eredivisie.

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The Amsterdam side continued their strong form up to December. They racked up one win after another. But the end of 2020 and the very beginning of 2021 turned out to be full of unpleasant surprises. It started when Ajax fell to FC Twente at home, were eliminated from the Champions League and dropped more points right before the winter break against Willem II.

Ajax did excellent business in the winter window, bringing in Sébastien Haller from West Ham United. Due to an administrative error, however, he was not registered for the UEFA Europa League. To make matters worse, Andre Onana was suspended for more than a year for a doping violation.

The teams below Ajax in the table could smell blood in the water with the league leaders facing so many challenges. ‘Super January’ looked to be a month in which AZ or PSV could even overtake them. That was absolutely not the case, though, as on the pitch things continued flawlessly. Ajax came flying out of the gates at the restart and went on a considerable run.

At home against PSV, they fought back from two-goal deficit to draw level. They were 0-3 victors on the road against AZ and in between, a much needed win against Feyenoord at the ArenA. In the Europa League, strong victories were secured against Lille and, a little later, Young Boys.

Ten Hag was forced to used the winter break to implement a number of changes in his team. Maarten Stekelenburg proved to be a worthy replacement for Onana and the young Jurriën Timber played an excellent role at right center back.

Devyne Rensch broke through at right back, while Edson Álvarez and Lisandro Martínez brought a much needed grit to the team. Klaassen moved to the number ten position and earned the nickname "Mister 1-0" after a series of crucial goals. At striker, newcomer Haller provided the necessary goals and assists expected of a star signing.

Building on their excellent unbeaten run, Ajax took a giant step toward their 35th national title in Eindhoven. With a draw, the gap to PSV could be held at six points (with a game in hand). Thanks to a last-minute penalty from Dusan Tadic, that was exactly what happened. The Serbian captain had a great season and was (again) as Ajax’s Most Valuable Player.

After the tumultuous draw in Eindhoven, the gap to the pack below only grew. Ajax kept on winning and at home against AZ, the title was virtually sealed. In front of 7500 supporters, Ten Hag (who extended his contract this week) and his team, easily handled AZ 2-0. As was so often the case, the goals came from Klaassen.

Ajax cruised towards it's 35th Eredivisie-title, which was secured at home against FC Emmen. And so Ajax 'gap year' became quite a fruitful one. 

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