Ajax can secure their European winter break on Wednesday evening. If they beat Dinamo Zagreb, Ajax will definitely relegate the Croatian team to last place in the pool. A longer stay in the UEFA Champions League could also then be in the cards. Days before the home game against the Croatian league leader, Frank de Boer and Siem de Jong looked ahead.
Would Ajax play Dinamo Zagreb with three defensemen? The question was more or less the common denominator during the press conference. After two successful matches using the 3-4-3 system against Roda JC, it may be possible that De Boer chooses the same formula against Dinamo Zagreb. But the coach didn’t want to reveal much about that, days before the game. “Maybe”, he said. “But in Zagreb, we played with four defenders, and that went very well.”
A battle plan with three of four defenders (and conversely, a changing number of midfielders) is variable, as far as De Boer is concerned. “Thanks to the two Roda matches, the players are used to the 3-4-3 system. If we start with four defenders against Dinamo Zagreb, we can transition to another system during the match. That’s simple because you only need to shift one defender to midfield.”
This new system resulted in two resounding wins against Roda JC. After a period riddles with disappointing performances, the two wins came at just the right times. “We want to keep moving up” said De Boer about this. “That’s why it’s great that we played two good matches against Roda. That makes the starting team stronger, although the lower limit needs to be raised further.”
De Boer will have Miralem Sulejmani at his disposal. The brand new father wasn’t available last week due to a groin injury. His return to the match selection will have consequences for Araz Özbiliz, who will therefore not be among the eighteen selected players for the CL match. In addition to Sulejmani, Siem de Jong is also part of the group. During the away match against Dinamo Zagreb, the centre forward missed a handful of opportunities. With a bit more luck in front of the goal, he could have put a better shine on the 0-2 win. Although the end result is more important than the goal balance, as De Jong knows.
On the eve of their twelfth Champions League performance, De Jong expressed the hope that Ajax could play after the winter break at the highest European level. With a win against Dinamo Zagreb, a longer stay in the UEFA Europa League may be guaranteed, but De Jong wants more. “It’s better for everyone’s development to come back in Champions League. Especially since we have so many young players.”
In fact, Ajax should have made it through the Champions League winter break, De Jong feels. “In the away match against Auxerre, we left a lot on the table. Hopefully we learned from that, so that it will work for us this time. Lyon away can potentially be as critical at match as last year’s match against Auxerre.” De Boer: “If we manage to make it through the winter break in a pool with Real Madrid and Olympique Lyon, we can be very proud. But we first need to beat Dinamo Zagreb.”
Ajax-Dinamo Zagreb begins Wednesday evening at 8.45p.m.