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In Focus: Ajax must embrace change to compete at top level again
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Mitchell Fretton
Dusan Tadic has not been able to captain Ajax to the Eredivisie title this season
Dusan Tadic has not been able to captain Ajax to the Eredivisie title this season

Ajax lost their Eredivisie crown to Feyenoord on Sunday as Arne Slot's men became the first Dutch side since 2018 to topple the Amsterdam giants.

The perennial powerhouses have been far from their best this term, with John Heitinga unable to resurrect a title challenge following a poor start under sacked former boss Alfred Schreuder.

Ahead of their penultimate game of the campaign against Utrecht on Sunday, we examine what it will take to restore the four-time European champions to their former glories.

Touchline troubles

When Erik ten Hag left the Johan Cruyff Arena last summer, Schreuder was named as the Dutchman's successor, and the 50-year-old began his spell brightly with six-straight league victories.

But six consecutive draws either side of the World Cup break cost the ex-Club Brugge boss his job with Heitinga left to pick up the pieces.

While the former centre-back got off to a good start — picking up seven league wins on the bounce  — things soon started to derail as the side crashed out of the Europa League, suffered a home defeat to runaway leaders Feyenoord and lost the KNVB Cup final to PSV Eindhoven.

John Heitinga failed to improve Ajax's fortunes after his appointment last January
John Heitinga failed to improve Ajax's fortunes after his appointment last January

Fall from grace

During Ten Hag's tenure, Ajax won three league titles. two Dutch Cups and the Manchester United coach successfully guided the club to the Champions League knockout stages twice.

Winning silverware was standard procedure but their limp title defence this term suggests that a re-boot is needed.

Heitinga's future in the dugout is unclear, only contracted until the end of the season and a failure to lift trophies this term is unlikely to convince club chiefs to hand him a long-term deal.

On the current situation, the ex-Everton defender said: "Let's be clear, this is not the season Ajax wants it to be. I have been asked to help this club. When I started we were fifth and then we won seven league games in a row.

"We are really going to do everything we can to finish this season as high as possible."

Ajax will finish the season without silverware
Ajax will finish the season without silverware

Slip in standards

Although Feyenoord, PSV and AZ Alkmaar are the only Eredivisie teams to have beaten Ajax this season, nine draws — including dropped points against the likes of Go Ahead Eagles, FC Volendam and FC Emmen — ultimately ended their title hopes.

A less than impressive home record was also a contributing factor, winning nine of 16 outings on their own patch, compared to 14 of 17 last term.

At the back, 34 goals conceded is their highest tally in over a decade, while their 82 strikes to date is 20 fewer than their 2020-21 campaign.

Ajax have struggled for consistency this season
Ajax have struggled for consistency this season

Toppling the giants

Some of Ajax's decline can be put down to the fact that not only did Ten Hag leave the club last summer but star players such as Antony and Lautaro Martinez also departed.

When analysing the campaign, captain Dusan Tadic preferred not to dwell on his former team-mates but on the target the current squad carry on their back.

He said: "People love Ajax or hate us. There is a lot of frustration because of the size of the club and because we win a lot of trophies.

"It is comparable to Bayern Munich in Germany. People wait for you to lose so they can make fun of you.

"Only our team was much stronger in previous years, so we could carry that burden more easily."

Five points adrift of second-placed PSV, Champions League qualification is all-but out of Ajax's reach as they prepared for their final two games of the season.

A summer of huge change is required to help the club return to Europe's top table.


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