When looking for the lowdown on the new look Ajax side that side top of the Eredivisie there was only one person we could go to. Mohamed Moalim is a Dutch football aficionado and a huge Ajax fan. Here are his five players to watch.
#1 Kenneth Vermeer (goalkeeper)
The departure of Maarten Stekelenburg to AS Roma was the only significant loss in the summer from the Ajax side that won the championship in Holland last season.
His successor has been his understudy for the past few seasons – also replaced him when he was out injured towards the end of last season – and though they’re of different stature and ability Vermeer like his predecessor is a product of the Ajax school of keeping.
In other words very skilled in the art of the ‘sweeper-keeper’: a good shot-stopper who distributes the ball well in re-launching attacks and always in control of his penalty area. One thing that will be preying on his mind is a lack of a clean sheet this season; in fact the last time Ajax and himself kept one was in early April 2011. With promising talent in the shape of Jasper Cillessen signed the pressure will be on to keep hold of the number one jersey.
#2 Jan Vertonghen (defender)
The Belgian was newly appointed club captain at the start of this season and the Amsterdammer’s third in the space of twelve months. The commanding defender in truth has been a leader without the armband for much of last season.
He’s come on leaps and bounds over the past two years to become a mainstay in the Ajax backline, confident with bringing the ball out of defence to start attacks and foray forward, he’s become reminiscent of his manager Frank de Boer during his playing days.
Dominant in the air his striking ability of a dead ball is one to behold the same could be said of his centre-half pairing and compatriot Toby Alderweireld. Still 24 he’s one of the more experienced members of the team and much will fall on his shoulders to not only make sure his defence is organised but initiate De Boer’s preferred style of build-up from the back which is his mantra of playing circulation football.
#3 Christian Eriksen (midfielder)
In what has been a rapid ascent over the past eighteen months the Danish playmaker he’s found himself as one of the more important components in the Ajax attack. Under the tenure of the previous management Eriksen was sparingly used though things changed when De Boer took over immediately playing him as a trequartista a vital position in his new look Ajax.
However this season it seems he’s slightly moved into a more floating trequartista with Siem de Jong filling in the position he utilised in De Boer’s first six months. In his newfound role Eriksen key strengths has been taking the ball further up the pitch – and alongside a controlling playmaker in Theo Janssen – cut through the opposition with adept passing.
An excellent footballing brain – intuition, foresight and great vision in abundance – and swift-footed with balance has seen him gradually mature into a capable playmaker and drawn comparisons with a young Andres Iniesta. Still only 19 and with his best years ahead of him he’s become a valuable member of his team with his creativity and eye for goal.
#4 Miralem Sulejmani (winger)
From the periphery to one of the first names on the teamsheet it’s been a rollercoaster of a year for the Serbian winger. Entering his fourth season with the Amsterdam club this is the first he’s felt part of the first team picture and with his status as the fulcrum of the side he’s become indispensable.
One of the reasons has been De Boer’s mantra and outlook of how his side will play akin to his mentors Johan Cruyff and Louis van Gaal his Ajax side will play with true winger/widemen capable of joining in with the attacks or creating goalscoring opportunities like his former teammates Marc Overmars and Finidi George.
Sulejmani has been both. His goals – either long ranger howitzers, subtle chips or coolly finished – were one of the reasons Ajax found themselves back in the title race with a few games to go last season as well as his ability to glide past fullbacks and play a dangerous ball into the penalty area to be converted. Starting on the right flank he’d often swap positions with his teammate on the opposite side whether it’s Lorenzo Ebecilio or Derk Boerrigter.
#5 Kolbeinn Sigþórsson (striker)
If Ajax are going to achieve their ambitions this season then they need their number nine firing on all cylinders and they signed one of the brightest young strikers around this summer. The Icelandic, who in his first season in Dutch football with AZ last season, rattled the back of the net 19 times. That was enough for De Boer to make him one of his first signings.
The pressures of moving to a club like Ajax, with its history, shouldn’t be underestimated there will be reminders of past names to don the number including Klaas-Jan Huntelaar, Zlatan Ibrahimović, Patrick Kluivert and Marco van Basten.
Already he’s taken to his new club with stride with four goals in four games.With the calibre of service from midfield and the flanks plus his natural game – a danger inside the box, aerially supreme and a clinical finisher that will pounce on any uncertainties shown to be a deadly poacher – he should have a productive season in the Dutch capital.