Man Utd and Erik ten Hag: 5 things noticed from watching his Ajax side in action

Ajax took a major step towards the Eredivisie title under next Manchester United manager Erik ten Hag with a comfortable win over PEC Zwolle

Erik ten Hag is closing in on league title glory to end his time at Ajax before taking over Manchester United
Erik ten Hag is closing in on league title glory to end his time at Ajax before taking over Manchester United

Manchester United’s season is rapidly fading into obscurity – meaning there is already a keen eye on the future.

With Erik ten Hag already confirmed as the next manager at Old Trafford, there is plenty of interest in his Ajax side as he fights to depart as an Eredivisie title winner. Despite battling an injury crisis, Ten Hag took a major step towards making that dream farewell a reality with a 3-0 win over PEC Zwolle at the Jurgen Cruyff ArenA.

Dusan Tadic opened the scoring with a spectacular volley before ex-Everton ace Davy Klaasen tapped in a rebound after Jurrien Timber had hit the post. Klaasen then wrapped up the win with a curling long-range effort. It was a job well done for Ajax with several key players missing through injury and PSV still piling on the pressure in the title race.

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Here’s a look at five things we noticed from being in attendance to watch Ten Hag’s Ajax in the flesh – and what Manchester United can come to expect.

Flexibility and fluidity

The most noticeable aspect of watching Ten Hag’s Ajax in the flesh was flexibility and fluidity.

It is something which can perhaps only be fully appreciated watching a game in person with a full picture of the pitch rather than with a more focused view on TV, but none of Ajax’s players really stuck rigidly to a position.

Centre-backs Daley Blind and Jurrien Timber would be happy to cross one another in possession, or play a progressive pass and follow it with a forward run.

On one occasion with ten minutes left in the first half, Blind found himself bursting inside the box and almost setting up Dusan Tadic for a second goal.

In the second half, it was role reversal as Timber raced into the box and saw his effort strike the post before falling to Davy Klaasen to score the rebound.

Jurrien Timber was assured in possession and part of a flexible central defensive duo with Daley Blind


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In midfield, Ryan Gravenberch pulled the strings alongside Mohammed Kudus and Kenneth Taylor, but all three were happy to interchange, rarely failing to notice a need to fill-in and vacate a space somebody might have left.

Sebastian Haller may be used as a target man, but out of possession it was Davy Klaasen generally central with Haller and Dusan Tadic switching sides. Haller’s work running both channels was vital to the way Ajax attacked.

It was clear that Ten Hag has ingrained a fluidity and flexibility into his Ajax players – positions are far from rigid, and the onus is instead on patterns of play.

Shades of Pep Guardiola

It is well-known that Pep Guardiola had an influence on Ten Hag, who worked as Bayern Munich II manager when the Spaniard was in charge of the senior team.

And some of that influence could be seen watching Ajax, particularly when it came to the way Ten Hag’s full-backs attacked.

Like Guardiola does with Manchester City, Ten Hag and Ajax created some of their best openings with full-backs Nico Tagliafico and Youri Regeer making positive runs into the half-spaces just inside the opposing penalty area.

Sebastian Haller was a key aspect of Ajax targeting the channels and looking to create openings


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Whilst neither got forward with remarkable regularity, when they did choose to advance, they generally made an impact by getting inside their opposing full-backs rather than hugging the touchline.

Those areas were also attacked by Blind and Timber, the latter providing the moment which led to Klaasen scoring Ajax’s second goal.

Use of young players

Ajax are known for their youth academy and, with several key players out injured, Ten Hag has had to call on the next generation.

Youri Regeer was making his debut at right-back and looked calm and assured, albeit without being posed any major defensive tests.

19-year-old Kenneth Taylor also looked assured and comfortable alongside the well-established Gravenberch in the middle of the park.

Youri Reeger slotted in seamlessly for an assured debut at right-back


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Taylor provided the assist for Dusan Tadic’s spectacular opener with a quick and accurate ball over the top after Ajax won possession in the middle of the park.

The fact Ten Hag’s next crop of youngsters seemed so in-tune and confident with his system that they were able to slot in seamlessly bodes well for his ability to clearly convey his ideas on the training ground.

It is a positive sign for Manchester United, a club renowned for their own youth academy and with several youngsters looking to really break into the first-team fold.

Tadic the talisman

Dusan Tadic has emerged as a star for Ajax under Erik ten Hag.

He has thrived with the flexibility of his attacking system, which has unlocked his undoubted talent, and he was the man to break the deadlock with a stunning, dipping strike from distance after being set free over the top.

So much of Ajax’s best moments came through Tadic, particularly feeding off the disruptive play of Sebastian Haller.

Dusan Tadic scored Ajax’s opener and has established himself as their attacking talisman under Ten Hag


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Manchester United have no shortage of individual quality, and Tadic is a prime example of how Ten Hag and his system can unlock that for the right players.

Of course, they are different players, but you can’t help but look at someone like Bruno Fernandes and wonder if he can become what Tadic has for Ten Hag.

Both thrive of goal involvements, being in the right places at the right time and being clinical in and around the box.

After a disappointing season, Fernandes seems the sort of player who could thrive under Ten Hag given what Tadic has achieved.

Finding solutions

As previously mentioned, Ajax were without several stars against Zwolle and have been operating without several stars for a number of weeks.

Despite that, and with PSV Eindhoven breathing down their neck in the title race, they have now won eight consecutive Eredivisie games.

Their latest result leaves them seven points clear with just three games remaining, although PSV are yet to play their game against Willem on Sunday.

Ten Hag has been able to find solutions to the problems faced by Ajax in recent weeks


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In a tricky situation and amid the ongoing uncertainty and disruption of his imminent departure, Ten Hag has managed to find solutions, whether young players stepping in to perform or more established names stepping up.

It now looks increasingly likely Ten Hag will depart Ajax as a league title winner once again and head to Manchester United on a high. His ability to avoid any hiccups given what he has had to contend with on and off the pitch in recent weeks is an encouraging sign heading into a club facing plenty of problems of their own.

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