We should be familiar with the sight of continental opposition giving an English team a lesson in the art of passing a football. After all, we spent a large chunk of June watching this said phenomenon.
As Tuesday evening’s game unravelled the difference in class became increasingly apparent, as Ajax treated a good sized Carrow Road crowd to their 21st century version of total football.
Of course, with this being only City’s fourth pre-season game, compared to their Dutch counterpart’s seventh outing, nothing too significant should be read into either the result or indeed the performance. Equally there’s no denying the quality and ease with which the Eredivisie champions knocked the ball around for large swathes of the game.
Such was the comfort with which they retained possession – even allowing for the relatively modest pre-season tempo – there were most likely occasions when the fourth official must have been tempted to throw on another ball for City to play with.
It is important to note that this is in no way intended as a criticism of Norwich. In addition to the earlier start to their pre-season there are several factors that contributed to Ajax’s disproportionate share of possession, not least the fact that they are a quality side.
A club that considers Champions League football as a staple part of their annual diet and who are the ‘Manchester United’ of Dutch football were always going to provide a stern test.
For City to emerge from it with a 1-1 draw, and no injuries, is without doubt a good result all-round and I feel sure Chris Hughton will have learned more from this particular 90 minutes than the previous three put together.
For the back four and John Ruddy to survive a bit of a run-around with only one goal conceded is also to their credit and bodes well for a season ahead, with a lower digit in the ‘goals against’ column an absolute must.
However there is no denying the fact that we were given a footballing lesson in the same way that Bayern Munich outplayed Chelsea in the Champions League final – prior to losing out on penalties – and England were outplayed by just about everybody in Euro 2012.
On each occasion the good old British virtues of guts and bravery meant that, despite having had a huge chunk of possession, the continental opposition were unable to win – at least not without the aid of a penalty shoot-out.
I’m not suggesting for a moment that City’s Tuesday night friendly had anything like the gravitas of events in Munich or Kiev (a bit ridiculous of me really to even compare them) but hopefully you get my gist.
There’s no escaping – for a reason that still remains unclear to me – that English teams simply struggle to keep the ball, particularly when faced with foreign opposition. Whether it is in the heat of battle in a Champions League final, a Euro 2012 quarter-final or a gentle pre-season workout, the issue remains the same.
Much is written and spoken after the bi-annual failure of the England team, but nothing changes. David Sheepshanks will have us believe that the newly baptised National Football Centre will cure all of these ills, and he fully expects the first generation that graduates from Burton to give the Spanish and co a good run for their money.
I am not convinced… particularly as, in my 40-something years, I can distinctly recall hearing it all before.
But why do things never change?
Some blame the quality of coaching at grass roots level; others blame the high octane tempo of the average Premier League game; and others still blame poor old Charles Hughes (the FA’s director of coaching in the 1980’s who advocated the long ball game).
I’ll never make a bona fide football coach because I have no idea what the answer is – although that didn’t stop the said Mr Hughes – but I do know which style of football I prefer to watch. As much as it pains me to say it, Swansea were a joy to watch last season (as were City most of the time) and Stoke were most definitely not.
The difference between the two styles were chalk and cheese with the latter not even attempting to retain possession, instead relying on thumping and throwing the ball forward at every given opportunity. In a rugby-style if you like.
Football, as we all know, is far from an exact science and for a club like ours to be successful we need to continue to mix a passing style with the option of a more direct one when plan A is failing.
To have no plan B can lead to difficulties over the course of a long Premier League season – as the Welshmen found – but to have a built-in passing philosophy should be the least that supporters can expect.
Luckily for us it appears that Hughton does indeed prefer a passing style – even it was not evident on Tuesday night. Let’s just hope that Ajax’s display serves as a short sharp reminder to the class of 2012 of the quality that’s required.
If Friday night’s fourth official at Stadium MK feels the need to chuck on another ball for the Dons to play with I’ll be a happy man.
It was a friendly. We drew 1-1 with a team that is soon to play a champs league game so their fitness is bound to be better. You used Chelsea as an example…but they had very few Brits and they won the game so your point is void. This is just jumping on the band wagon of ‘total football’. Swansea were a not a joy to watch when they had no other option and couldn’t deal with any team that found them out…prefer to watch that when you just know when you’ve been found out from the 1st min and there was no way back? The only lesson here is we are where we were expected to be…not as fit as we need to be on day one. None of this we need to learn how to pass tripe.
At half time I couldn’t make up my mind whether Ajax were patient and in control or just lacked penetration against the City 6 or 7 or 8 man defence. But in the second half they looked very, very sharp and took over completely.
However, I thought CH’s line-up and game plan was way off, unless the 6 man, and more, defence was deliberate. We had nothing to offer going forward. This was a chance to use our skilled and intelligent players and see how they matched up to the Ajax quality.
Playing both EB and AP wide didn’t work well last season either. Howson’s energy and creativity were wasted in front of the back four. The opportunity cried out for him to be alongside Hoolahan and Surman, and the back four should have been tested without even BJ’s protection. And then we might have held some possession and passed our way forward rather than the too regular hoof upfield.
Bringing Wes on for JV to become part one man midfield, part support to GH was bizarre and irrelevant.
If we shipped some goals as a result, we might also have replied with some too. But at least we’d have tried and tested both defence and attack and in the process entertained the subdued crowd.
I hope the massed defence isn’t a portent of things to come, when we have all these midfield riches – surely not? No can’t be, can it?
Ajax only had 2 first team players on the pitch + 9 youth players. So you could consider this a youth team, it kinda baffled me that they had it “so easy” this game.
Paul Pusch says
Maybe it was Ajax’ 7th game of the pre-season, but is wasn’t the A-selection that was playing. It was Ajax B, with a lot of youngsters and two or three players just returning from the EC. The average age must have been around 18 or 19. Ajax coach Frank de Boer wanted to try out these players. The other players, the real Ajax, will start coming sunday against PSV.
As an Ajax fan but also an premierleague fan I also watched the game.
Ajax was indeed playing their 7th match but they played this match against Norwich with almost a complete second line-up that had an average age of maybe 20 or 21 years.
So I think for Ajax it was a good result not only because of the young players but also because they had a long hard trainingweek.
Ajax always plays the football people want to see.
Football with a lot off possesion of the ball.
Always playing forward and putting pressure on the ball when not in possesion.
The reason why they played Norwich I think is because they defend at a higher level than the Dutch teams.
They play with more power,with more balls.
So we need to learn from this and grow as players and as a team because we will meet teams strong as Norwich and individual better in the Championsleague.
Thanks for a nice game and I hope both sides learned of it.
Note that 90% of the players where players of “Jong Ajax”. The “B” squad. The first eleven didnt played the match.
I’m an Ajaxfan.We were in control of the match, but failed to penetrate the defence of Norwich City. Maybe it’s due to a lack of experience in our team and the physical qualities pl teams have. We didn’t play with our a-side. Only two players are regular first team players. Eriksen and Van der Wiel in the first half and de Jong and Anita. There were a lot of players who normally play for young Ajax or for the team which last year played in the nextgen series. So there are a lot of talented players but they’re not there yet.
I hope Norwich will do very good in the premier league next year. You have great supporters! All the best!
To put things in perspective: This was not the Ajax team that will play in the Champions League. Only van der Wiel, Eriksen and Schöne are from the A-list (while De Jong and Anita enterered in the 2nd half), the rest was from ‘Young Ajax’ or fresh from the U20 of the academy. For the central defenders it was their second or third time ever to play in the squad, while the top talents from the academy (Dijks & Fischer) weren’t even playing.
Just to let you know…
Don’t forget Ajax played with their B-side. I think only 2 or 3 regulars started, the rest were ALL youth players.
Kjeld van der Burg says
Not to say anything bad about the team of Norwich City. But I think this is an essential addition to this column.
Ajax played with only two players from their normal starting 11. Only Gregory vd Wiel Captain (45 minutes) and Christian Eriksen (45 Minutes) normally start an eredivisie match.
In the second half Vurnon Anita (22.5 minutes) and Captain Siem de Jong (22.5 minutes) came on the pitch. The strenght of the Ajax squad is very high this year and the players from the U19 squad are adapting very fast.
For the ones following the Dutch Eredivisie please notice Viktor Fischer (18, Left Winger) and Mitchel Dijks (19, Left Wing Back).
Again nothing against Norwich City. To pull out a large crowd for a friendly that is just awesome!
Ajax played with mainly a youth team and missed 6 or 7 players. But the youth of Ajax is very good and when they can keep the team together for more than 3 years, we hope for a new golden period…
the flying dutchman says
we cant forget that ajax only played 3 of the main squad.. the rest were 18 year olds from the talents team.. not the base players
Not to be mean or annything but, this was a glorified AJAX youth(the average age of the AJAX player on the pitch was 21,1 years old) team that played the game against City, only Eriksen and v. d. Wiel are first team regulars (both playing their 45 min’s of preseason football).
And AJAX are allready quallified for the champions league group fase so their next official game is still a couple of weaks away.
I don’t think a single player of the team that started against city will play in their next official game.
Do you realize that Ajax was playing the whole match with a second choice line-up. Realizing that Ajax was playing with al lot of youth players and Norwich barely touched the ball, states that there still is work to do for NW City..
Joost Bijl says
Ajax played with their second team, mostly youth players and it was some players first match (van der Wiel, Eriksen). So you should be a little worried that they controlled the match like that.
Hey there, I found this blog via a Dutch Ajax supporters website. First of all, I want to apologise for any spelling/grammar errors. I have to say this: I thought this match was quite…boring really. No real action going on what so ever.
That was not the point of this comment, however. I wanted to say that even though ‘you guys’, talking about the norwich fans in general, might have thought Ajax played a good game, I did not, at all.
Ajax played primarily with youth players with most of the players aged 18-24. This was just a test run to see how well they’d play in a real match. Even our goalkeeper, Cillesen (complicated name, not sure whether I spelled it right) wasn’t our usual one. I -however- do not want to claim that norwich played with their best 11, because I simply do not know that.
A point you make is that Ajax already played more pre season games. This might be true, however most of those were against either amateurs or semi-pro’s.
Hope this gets through.
Greetings from a 15 y/o Ajax supporter.
Dirk Lammers says
Nice story, don’t forget Ajax was playing with alot of players from the youthsquad
Also, please bear in mind that Ajax played this game with at most 3 starting line up players: Van der Wiel, Eriksen, De Jong/Anita. The others are all reserves or youth players.
A good column, Gary.
People…don’t forget AJAX played with their second team, a youth-team. Only 1 player of AJAX 1 played with the youngsters; Eriksen. Van der Wiel is a benchplayer now. So 10(!!) reserves played.
CL has nothing to do with it. AJAX is seeded, They will not play play-offs.
No Jimbob, we didnt drew with a team that is soon playing CL. U saw young Ajax playing, most of the players are not in Ajax 1.