So when we left the game in December Oswald Hatfelt had Ajax just two points off of PSV in the top spot and a lot of goal difference. Adam Maher from PSV and would arrive on the 1st of January to provide immediate reinforcements and more to follow was the aim. First up though Davy Klassen, who established himself as a key player in the first half the season, is off to Chelsea for €17m. It’s a big blow for an important player but it’s a price that I can’t turn down with Adam Maher coming in and suiting the attacking midfield role a little better. Daley Sinkgraven hasn’t had a fair crack at the whip for much of the season with injuries keeping him out but Sunderland come in with a bid and he wants to leave so €6.25m seems like a fair price.
We have one friendly against Ludogrets organised for January, which may be a slight mistake given how unfit all of the players are looking. It ends 1-1 with Abdelhak Nouri getting an 82nd minute equaliser. Before the winter break I missed out on signing Andrija Zivkovic as he chose Juventus over me. I was also knocked back in an attempt for Zivkovic on loan as he elects to join Villareal instead. The next day striker and winger Moussa Marega joins the club in a deal worth €3.5m as second option behind Milik and also deep backup on the right wing. Vaclav Cerny will take over the first team spot from El Ghazi. Sam Hendrik also goes out on loan to get some important game time with Marega in to cover for him.
The final signing comes in the middle of the month. Eric Bailly has been transfer listed at Villareal with his desire for Champions League football but no bids have gone in for him. While I’m not in desperate need of a central defender neither Kenny Otigba nor Nick Viergever have truly commanded their place. So in Bailly comes, a player of his quality is surely not going to spend long at the club but for €11.25m. Nicolai Boilesen makes way in the squad and leaves for Mainz and Kenny Tete moves to Braga for €1.5m. The window is rounded out with defender Mitchell Dijks and Sherel Floranus head out on loan to the Juliper League.
On the pitch we kick the season back off with a run of games. First up back to back 1-0 wins over ADO Den Haag and Vitesse are a great way to start off catching up PSV with out new solidified tactics. Milik picked up an injury early in the mini-off season so Marega starts up front and struggles. The next two games feature further tweaks and the goals flow slightly better, a 3-2 victory over Heracles and 4-0 win over Roda JC see new boy Adam Maher running the game with Man of the Match performances in both games.
The first game of February is a tough Dutch Cup fixture against Twente. Libor Kozak gives Twente the lead but Adam Maher responds immediately to level it. Just two minutes into extra time that man Maher pops up again with the winning goal and the team go defensive to close out the quarter final. Four goals and two wins follow for Ajax with all goals scored by Arka Milik. A big rivalry win over Feyenoord is particularly satisfying. As is Milik getting on the scoresheet for the first time since his return from injury. Up next is a massive two legged game, as we take on Panathinaikos in the Europa League knockout round.
So a tight first leg sees us take the lead but immediately concede seconds later. Then we go a goal down before the end of the first half. Now I have to admit that I’ve made a huge mistake here. Two of my three January signings have already played in European competition this season so both Adam Maher and Eric Bailly are unavailable so it falls to the third signing to make the crucial impact as Marega scored from the bench to tie up the game in Greece. In the return leg we conceded immediately – once again to Sebastián Leto – and dominated the game from that point. Veltman grabbed a surprise goal from a corner, one of the few in the season. It was enough to make it through on away goals, something that was more than deserved based on the team’s showing.
In the league things continue to go well, but PSV’s form is perfect. Three wins and a draw follow with 3 clean sheets in there. But another draw against NEC sees the Eindhoven club extend the gap to three points. Just around the corner is the perfect chance to close the distance though as we play PSV next in the league. First up though is the Europa League Knockout Second Round with a tough game against Liverpool. We travel to Anfield first.
So things don’t go quite as easily as I’d like. The first game is tough and we’re constantly under Liverpool pressure. The early goal gives them the opportunity to cede possession to us while still creating chances. Milik gets us back into the game only for Danny Ings to capitalise on one of his many chances to put them back ahead. I’m struggling even worse with Bailly’s absence here as Nick Viergever is also injured and my centreback ranks are looking a little thin. Ings puts another goal away but Viktor Fischer pounces on a chance to make it a respectable 3-2 loss. With only a goal in it there’s still a chance despite Liverpool’s domination. Back at the Amsterdam ArenA we fare much better but are unable to capitalise on the domination of the team. Adam Lallana scores later on and Viktor Fischer immediately pulls it back to 1-1. All that’s needed is a goal to go through on away goals but it doesn’t happen. Bazoer gets himself sent off in injury time trying to win the ball back high up the pitch. I can’t be mad at any of my team. It was a valiant effort and better than I thought we’d manage against quality opposition.
So onto the next big game just three days later. A 1-0 win with a 16th minute goal from Amin Younes is enough to level the points at the top of the table but PSV keep the number one spot through goal difference. The next game is a 4-1 win over PEC Zwolle and PSV’s form collapses as they concede late against AZ to draw 1-1. In the next round of fixtures we can only muster a draw against SC Cambuur who are 14th in table whilst PSV beat Willem II 3-0 to level it all up again. Wins for Ajax follow in the next two gameweeks, we beat our Dutch Cup final opponents FC Utrecht just a week before the big match kicks off followed by a scrappy 1-0 win over Heerenveen who cause me much trouble with their pace. Meanwhile PSV slip up to SC Cambuur and can only draw.
We won the league game a week ago by two goals to nil just a week earlier but it was by no means an easy victory. Former Ajax rightback Ruben Ligeon caused hell down the flanks and to beat gain control of the match meant that a number of tweaks were put into effect, so we start the KNVB Final with those tweaks in place. Playing an attacking variant of the 3-4-3 formation, with no specific instructions on attack. Giving the forward players full license to create. It gets off to a good start. If you’ve followed my twitter account you may have seen that I’ve had a number of winger injuries. Viktor Fischer, Abdelhak Nouri and Vaclav Cerny are all missing the final through injury. But it’s Cerny’s replacement Bentancur who opens to scoring with an easy tap in after Milik’s shot is parried. Utrecht hit me with a quickfire double before half time to really scare me. A stern teamtalk is in order and duly delivered.
Then it’s the Milik show. First Gudelj makes a beautiful pass out wide to Younes. His lofted through ball is picked up by Christian Kum, a heavy touch from the defender and Milik pounces to slot past the goal keeper. Four minutes later and Yassin Ayoub gets himself sent off, the freekick is worked wide to Bentancur who crosses for Milik to volley home. Another four minutes pass and Milik rounds the game off with his 40th goal of the season. Substitute Moussa Marega works the ball wide and drills in a cross, Milik beats his man at the near post to snap it home across goal. Ajax are the KNVB Cup winners! The first silverware of Oswald Hatfelt’s reign is delivered thanks to Arkaduisz Milik.
With the KNVB Cup in the bag Ajax have the opportunity to seal the league with a win against FC Twente or De Graafschap. They waste no chances in doing so against Twente in a 4-0 destruction that sends Twente manager into fits of rage. Milik scores a delightful double and Younes and Abel Nouri wrap up to bring the title back to Amsterdam at the first attempt. The final game of the season against De Graafschap ends in 0-0 draw as a number of reserves get a run out as a thank you for their contributions over the season. Victory sure is sweet, onto European success next.
The Championship is confirmed and it’s time for the end of season round up. First on the list we have the players happy to stay as we’ve qualified for Champions League football. Bazoer, Cerny, Veltman, Van de Beek and Riedewald all declare their happiness to stay with the club following this achievement, as does youth goalkeeper Jeffrey De Lange who had the tenacity to demand it following winter bids from every Champions League club – ever. The board are happy with the victory, but it was a their minimum expectation anyway. It’s a tough to impress these people sometimes. Van der Vaart on the other hand is over the moon, I might get him in as a motivational speaker for the team.
When it comes to the awards Adam Maher nearly completes a clean sweep, winning fans player of the year, young player of the year and signing of the season. Arkaduisz Milik wins top goalscorer with 42 goals but finishes runner up to Luuk de Jong in the league scoring 26 to de Jong’s 27 and also getting the most assists in the team with 18. Ajax’s 4-0 title clinching win over FC Twente wins the game of the season, while the early 4-1 loss to PSV remains the low point. A testament to how good the final run of the season was. The highlights of the match against FC Twente can be found here. Nemanja Gudelj’s goal of the season was a cracker from a freekick against SK Rapid Wien. Vaclav Cerny wins the league’s young player of the year award, incredibly Oswald Hatfelt comes third in the manager of the year despite winning 70% of his games. NEC’s Ernst Faber walks away with the award with less than half of that. Arkaduisz Milik comes second in the player of the season, coming behind PSV right back Santiago Arias’ for some reason.
There’s a lot of work to do for the summer, two of my best scouts are retiring and I’ve no doubt that the player happiness from winning the league will dissipate as soon as the bids start flying in again. I’m setting myself a tough target for the next season. Not only do we need to retain both league and cup but I want to see improvement in the European game, to that end I’m targeting getting out of the group stages of the Champions League, if that fails then I’m gunning for the Europa League semi-finals.
Elsewhere around Europe. Arsenal win an incredible domestic treble, Real Madrid win La Liga, Juventus win Serie A and Bayern win the Bundesliga and German Cup. Bayern also win the Champions League 2-1 against Manchester City, while Dortmund take the Europa League 1-0 against Valencia. A toast all round for Germany.