Lasse Schone celebrates his winner
FC Utrecht were left to rue their poor finishing on Sunday as they lost by a single goal to Ajax, who were far from convincing in their quest to catch runaway leaders Feyenoord.
Utrecht had several good chances to take the lead in the Gelgenwaard stadium, though a fantastic strike by Lasse Schone saw Ajax take the three points.
Utrecht lined up in a 4-4-2 with a diamond formation that sought to pose a threat to the Ajax defence going forwards whilst limiting the space for Ajax number 9 Kasper Dolberg to operate in, and it worked with Utrecht Captain Willem Janssen outstanding in the heart of the defence.
In a game that struggled to come to life in the first half, Utrecht ended it strongly although they lacked the cutting edge needed.
As chance after chance went begging, Utrecht were left to count the cost of their wastefulness as Lasse Schone hit a half volley from outside the penalty area that flew into the top corner to seal the victory.
Diamond shines for Utrecht
Manager Erik Ten Haag has stuck with the recent tradition at Utrecht of playing with two strikers, a deviation from the 4-1-4-1 formation he deployed whilst in charge of Bayern Munich’s second team.
However, to compete in the midfield area against sides that play 4-3-3 he has chosen a diamond formation which sees all four midfielders very narrow and compact.
When Utrecht advanced, it was with short incisive passing as the diamond formation meant the midfield unit was always close together, and despite their lack of possession, the threat the diamond posed going forward saw Utrecht have by far the better chances.
If a Utrecht forward dropped deep, the tip or outside of the diamond would penetrate behind, thus Utrecht always posed a threat to the Ajax back line and only poor finishing let Utrecht down.
Bosz will be Boos (Angry in Dutch)
Ajax lined up in a 4-3-3 with Lasse Schone as a single pivot and Davy Klassen and Hakim Ziyech as the attacking midfielders ahead.
Up front, Kasper Dolberg was the central striker with Anwar El Ghazi and Amin Younes playing as inverted wingers, which suited the Utrecht formation as they had plenty of players infield when they cut inside.
It was arguably his strongest line-up, nonetheless, Head Coach Peter Bosz would have been very disappointed with his team’s display.
Needing a victory to keep up with Feyenoord, you would have expected his side to be at their best, however the ball was turned over far too much, the decision-making from his players was poor and they could have been at least 2-0 down at half time.
Dolberg found it hard to get into the game and with Willem Janssen marking him very tightly, his hold up play was mixed with possession often lost.
When an opportunity did present itself, the Dane seemed out of sorts and wasn’t his usual composed self, possibly affected by the aggressive marking by Utrecht.
As Ajax like to build up through him, he is often used as a wall to play off, I feel though, he needs to be facing the opponents goal more often.
Dolberg here is finally facing forward
The set piece delivery from Ajax rarely threatened the Utrecht defence who had enough height to deal with most crosses in the box, and the inverted wingers often took too long to shoot when cutting inside allowing the Utrecht compact midfield time to recover back.
With Younes attacking inside from the wide left position, I would have expected Ajax to get their full backs to attack, similar to how Feyenoord play with Jens Toonstra and Rick Karsdorp, but the Ajax full backs were far too conservative.
Possibly due to Utrecht playing with two strikers, Ajax were caught between attacking with real intent and playing it safe to keep enough players back defensively.
Their attacking play suffered because of this.
When Utrecht advanced it was often centrally with close passages of play, so switching play quickly to attack wide would have seen Ajax create much more.
Bad Build up
One feature of Peter Bosz’s teams is how they like to build up from the back, the selection of winger Daley Sinkgraven as full back is one feature to enable a better build up.
However, against the diamond Utrecht formation, Ajax were guilty of poor ball handling and were fortunate not to concede from losing possession around their own penalty area.
Lasse Schone is immediately pressed on receiving
Up next for Utrecht is a home tie against SC Cambuur in the quarter final of the KNVB Cup,kick off 18.30 whilst Ajax host ADO Den Haag on Sunday, kick off 14.30.
Utrecht:(4-1-2-1-2) David Jensen; Mark van der Maarel, Ramon Leeuwin (Giovanni Troupee 64min),Willem Janssen, Robin van der Meer;Wout Brama, Sofyan Amrabat, Yassin Ayoub, Nacer Barazite ( Menno Koch 86min); Richairo Zivkovic (Kristoffer Peterson 76min), Sebastian Haller.
Ajax: (4-3-3) Andre Onana; Joel Veltman, Davinson Sanchez (Matthijs d Ligt 74min),Nick Viergever,Daley Sinkgraven;Lasse Schone, Davy Klassen, Hakim Ziyech( Donny van de Beek 90min); Anwar El Ghazi( Justin Kluivert 73min ), Kasper Dolberg, Amin Younes.
83.Lasse Schone 0-1