Ajax cause problems for Bayern in Champions League

The players of Ajax celebrate at full-time following the UEFA Women's Champions League group stage match vs FC Bayern München
The players of Ajax celebrate at full-time following the UEFA Women's Champions League group stage match vs FC Bayern München (Photo by Adam Pretty/Getty Images)

Bayern Munich were handed a 1-0 defeat following a tense match against Ajax on Wednesday. The win sees the Dutch side to maintain their spot at the top of Group C in the UWCL, which is nothing short of a surprise.

Let’s breakdown how the match went and take a closer look at the statistics.

Starting XI: Ajax vs Bayern München

Ajax lined up in a 4-3-3 formation with a clear distinction between attack and defence in their approach to this game. Bayern München was looking to get something out of this match by setting up in a 4-2-3-1 formation with an emphasis to controlling that midfield.

From the first whistle, Ajax were physical. Their bold stance in pressing forward, and remaining fearless in one-on-one battles, posed an instant threat to Alexander Straus’ side by never allowing them to become comfortable in possession.

Their press was constant, however they lacked the numbers necessary upfront to make anything of an early chance.

How it started

The fast-paced opening of the game did see Suzanne Bakker’s side compete intensely with their German opponents. Bayern appeared threatening and composed on the ball at first, but they seemed to be missing an element of the press that the home side had unlocked.

Out of possession, Ajax were quick to challenge. To begin with, Bayern looked composed in possession. This spark was quickly dulled by Ajax’s relentless nature.

Midfielder Lily Yohannes was a stand-out for Ajax. She demonstrated an excellent ability to push forward, despite being under pressure from three defenders at one point. There was just not enough support from her teammates in the area to further the young star’s efforts.

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Ajax had a confidence about them, while Bayern started to seem frustrated after the first 15 minutes. The Dutch side were sitting deep, as can be seen from their pass network in the above visual. This showed their intent regarding not only the creation goal-scoring opportunities for themselves, but also preventing Bayern from doing the same. Their defence became slightly chaotic, but Bayern made up for this with a swift counter-attack.

Almost securing an opening goal, Ajax saw a long-range shot denied. Bayern’s back line had briefly faltered in their positioning. Their attempt to ensure other forwards could not sneak into the box, left enough space for an attempt at distance.

Two different brands of football

The difference in the style of play between these two teams was stark. Ajax were powerful and took risks, showcasing their natural demeanour, whereas Bayern stuck with their usual technical stance. This allowed Ajax to effectively limit Bayern through aggression. This may have been a risky game plan, but it worked.

Despite giving away several fouls, heavy challenges and important interceptions were what prevented key players like Georgia Stanway from making dangerous runs into their final third.

While Ajax could control the game in the most part, in terms of expected goals — Bayern München still posed a threat. They had 1,46 xG, while Ajax had 0,72 xG – meaning Bayern München were more likely to score.

How did Ajax do it?

Ajax had a clear vision of how they were going to win this match: keep the ball. They were in no rush to get it to their forwards and knew that the most important thing was to dominate possession. They utilised some very effective backwards-passing as Bayern fought to keep the ball in their attacking half, as Ajax continued to control the game.

In their defensive area, Ajax remained relaxed. Bayern were getting more anxious half an hour into the game, and this did not do them any favours. Their decision-making in front of goal seemed rushed, and made the job of Ajax’s goalkeeper and defenders relatively easy. This point is proven by the above graph showing each side’s Expected Goals. Bayern’s number here may have been higher, but they failed to manifest this for the reasons outlined in this article.

The way Ajax approached this game meant that Bayern’s pace and technique were not enough. Ajax stopped them from playing how they wanted to, and this frustrated them. Not willing to allow their opposition any hint of opportunity, Ajax played defensively from box to box, with a real sense of urgency and commitment to challenges.

Ajax with the 1-0

The danger from Bayern mainly manifested on the right, with some great crosses into the box from there. Ajax managed to defend well but would need to do so from higher up in order to prevent such chances from being created. Their chosen method was effective, but it left them reliant on their ability to evade press by passing around the back, a tactic which was, on this occasion, worthwhile due to Bayern’s difficulties in winning possession. It did however mean the German side were able to create several chances, as can be seen in a later visual. It was fortunate for Ajax that their pressure had interfered with Bayern’s rhythm and disrupted their ability to score goals.

Ajax had not yet presented a clinical enough finish to achieve their aims. Good goalkeeping from Bayern’s Grohs was helped by Ajax again not having enough players up front. The 43rd minute finally saw a brilliant strike from Leuchter reach the back of the net. The striker was given too much time and space by the defenders, and through her clever movements, was able to put well-executed, unstoppable shot past Grohs. Bayern’s defenders were understandably positioning themselves quite high up in order to try and counteract Ajax’s deep-sitting approach, but this meant a breakthrough was inevitable for Bakker’s purposeful side.

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After the break

Bayern were determined to maintain their strong identity, playing through the width of the pitch and making the most of the calibre of technical players in their squad, but Ajax continued to apply immense pressure. The game looked exciting going into the second half, but Ajax had clearly been the better side. Grohs soon made another significant save. Going two goals behind was not an option for Bayern, who did well to prevent another from crossing the line.

Bayern’s dynamics were not flowing as well as many might expect. They have been going through a difficult period, not playing their best, and Ajax were a real test in light of that. The Dutch side are in good form, and their German rivals found it difficult to combat such a pressing team.

Having already met last week in the Champions League, it looked as though Ajax had learned from the previous endeavour how to work against a side with so many great players, meanwhile, Bayern had been knocked by it.

Late action

Bakker’s side were not complacent with their one-goal lead, continuing to focus on keeping the ball and denying Bayern any chance of an equaliser. Well into the second half, the German team saw two openings and went for goal, but both were prevented. Their attempts were not challenging enough for Eredivisie title-holders, who were playing with a strong purpose. In front of goal, Bayern lacked those crucial, high-quality final touches.

When they were able to spend more time in possession, Bayern could play well. The issue for them was that Ajax were rapidly dispossessing them almost every time. Somewhere Straus’ side did dual well with Ajax was in the midfield, preventing a strong counter in the late stages of the game.

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With a clear and effective tactics in place, Ajax remained solid in their defensive make-up. Some long balls over the top from the back did also show that they were still eager to add another to the score sheet. They left Bayern little room for mistakes or hesitation, and were inevitably dominant this time around. Even when Bayern managed to create opportunities, Ajax were quick to minimise their impact. This frustrated Bayern and resulted in a lack of composure, and thus no goals, and no clean sheet.

The final minutes

Ajax simply made it too difficult to produce a goal for Bayern, not only through tight defending but through high-intensity play across the entire pitch. Their plan to disrupt the playing style of the Frauen-Bundesliga champions was successful.

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