Eredivisie table-toppers Ajax travelled to Madrid to face Getafe in the round of 16s of the UEFA Europa League 2019/20 on Thursday. Erik ten Hag’s side fell short of Champions League knockout qualification after a fairy tale run last season. Getafe, on the other hand, qualified for the Europa League and are currently boasting a third place in Spanish top-flight behind Barcelona and Real Madrid. It was more of an Erik ten Hag vs José Bordalás at the Coliseum Alfonso Pérez, which marked the first leg between the sides. The fixture ended 2-0 to Getafe, making the Dutch side’s goals of clinching the gold rather blur.
In this tactical analysis of the fixture that saw much more than just football, we’ll look at how a side comfortable without the ball overcame a possession-based side’s tactics in a convincing manner.
Jose Bordalás made two changes to his side that faced Barcelona in the league fixture. Right-back Damian Suárez returned to the line-up, and we saw Allan Nyom in midfield yet again. Oghenekaro Etebo was left on the bench to make way for Suárez. The forward line saw Brazilian Deyverson making his European debut, replacing Jorge Molina from the side that travelled to the Camp Nou. Bordalás continued his conventional 4-4-2, with Soria as the shot-stopper in goal.
Ajax manager Erik ten Hag preferred to deploy the 4-2-3-1 yet again. Goalkeeper Bruno Varela replaced André Onana in front of the goal to make his second appearance for the Ajax side. Daley Blind made his way into the line-up replacing Lisandro Martinez as the centre-back. Lisandro Martinez got himself promoted into the midfield as young Carel Eiting was dropped to the bench following the Waalwijk fixture.
Getafe’s high press and Ajax’s efforts
The Ajax side looks to recover their European pedigree after their dream spell last season but they have not looked convincing enough executing their game plan. Getafe, on the other hand, have been doing wonders with their low blocks and comfort without the ball.
Throughout the course of the game, Getafe let Ajax enjoy possession in their own half, pressing whenever the Dutch team tried to advance up the pitch. Ten Hag’s side have been known to recognise their strengths playing to the wide of the pitch and they attempted to break from the wider side. However, Allan Nyom and Marc Cucurella’s presence at either end made it extremely hard for the Ajax full-backs to link up with their wingers.
Getafe’s pressing structure, as seen in the image above, was high and compact. The main advantage that Getafe got out of this was being able to force opposition errors and being up close to each other post-recovery, to circulate the ball.
Getafe had the wide players, Damian Suárez and Mathias Olivera, operating in more inverted roles that prevented them from looking like a conventional 4-4-2 side. The inversion gave frequent covers to the centre-backs, which meant Ajax were forced to play out wide rather than penetrate from the middle. Getafe were successful in keeping out Hakim Ziyech, who frequently makes central moves for Ajax and helps to get the ball to poacher Lassina Traore.
Another takeaway from Bordalás’ side was the manner in which they defended in numbers. The central defenders, supported by the wide defenders, were able to deal with the Ajax ball outside of the box itself. The Ajax side, who loves to play with the ball, was frequently dispossessed and caught on possession. Getafe’s plans to press high and emphasis on dealing with numbers made it hard for Lisandro Martinez and Donny van de Beek to linkup in the play to circulate the ball towards the wider side of the pitch.
In the above instance, as we can point out, Getafe opt to limit spaces and strangle Ajax to their own half, limiting the wider options in the process.
As a result of a well-disciplined and a well-executed defensive scheme from Bordalás’ side, the Dutch were constrained in their own half, failing to make meaningful attacking situations to result in a shot. As a consequence, Ajax were forced to lose out and commit errors. The effectiveness of a solid low block can be traced back to the number of shots that Ajax took – two and none of which were on target.
Getafe’s attacks and Ajax’s failure to contain
From the very first minute of the match, Getafe made it clear that they will be looking to press higher to force errors and capitalise on them. All the Getafe attacks were based on the same – making the most of opposition errors and trying to create a situation out of it.
Although Ajax were able to maintain possession in their own half, Getafe’s buildup to their attacks was largely based on their full-backs and wide midfielders. Allan Nyom and Marc Cucurella were heavily involved when on the ball, trying to get it into deep wide spaces to cross. Allan Nyom’s physical presence was a plus for the Getafe side with the Cameroonian recovering balls and occasionally tackling to move the attack forward. The forwards, Deyverson and Jamie Mata, looked to stay up high to press high, as well as receive crosses whenever Getafe had the ball.
The above move, which started with Nyom recovering the ball, ended up in Cucurella providing the option for Suárez to feed it to the striker. The move saw a conclusion in which Suárez made an effective cross to Deyverson.
The two central midfielders, Mauro Arambarri and Nemanja Maksimović always looked to play without the ball, often creating spaces and pressing when required.
Ajax, on the other hand, were caught up whenever Getafe planted the ball inside the box. The duo of Daley Blind and Edison Alvarez struggled to meet Jamie Mata’s ability to control the ball out from wide crosses. Similarly, in attempts to nullify the Spanish side’s press, Ajax were seen getting out of their possessional discipline frequently. In the same manner, Tagliafico and Sergino Dest, who are known for their attacking prowess rather than defensive contribution, looked to have less impact on the game.
After the addition of Angel in the second half, Getafe were able to tire out Ajax, which ultimately was seen in Kenedy taking Getafe home with a long ranger. Although the first goal came out of a set-piece, the methods were similar – plant the ball inside the box and finish.
From the display of defensive superiority to attacking advancements, Getafe managed to take 11 shots and five corners on the process. They managed to hold on to their aerial prowess, as they won 26 aerial duels, all inside Ajax’s territory. Considering that Getafe are comfortable without the ball, they managed to pull of 20 dribbles although they were dispossessed on 34 occasions.
From Babel imitating Nyom after a foul to Bordalás’ aggressive nature at the touchline, this visit to Madrid was a hectic one for Ten Hag and company. Getafe have shown they can be frustratingly good off the ball, strangling opponents even without it. Although the ball was in play for less than half of the total minutes played, the encounter staples what Getafe are capable of doing and what Bordalás has to offer. Ajax, on the other hand, will be preparing to welcome the Getafe side at Johan Cruyff arena soon.
As this analysis points out, Getafe, plying with their strengths, outclassed the Ajax side that was looking to reconstruct after falling out to Chelsea and Valencia in the Champions League group stage. A lot to do for Ten Hag and company but another exciting fixture for the fans awaits!