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Ajax Is Too Loaded To Take Lightly

Antony of Ajax celebrates with David Neres after scoring their side's third goal during the UEFA Champions League group C match between AFC Ajax and Borussia Dortmund at Amsterdam Arena on October 19, 2021 in Amsterdam, Netherlands.
Dean Mouhtaropoulos/Getty Images

Any blog about Ajax will, undoubtedly, meander back towards the Champions League semi-finalist side from 2018-19. So, let’s start with that. As it currently stands, the current Ajax side—the one that just demolished Borussia Dortmund 4-0 and which now tops Group C with four wins and only one goal conceded—is just as good as the most recent glory side, and it might be even better before this season ends. Ajax is loaded with a plethora of attacking options, all of whom could star on their own teams, and so far no one has figured out quite how to stop them.

What was scariest about Tuesday’s game, at least for anyone without a vested interest in the various successes of the Netherlands’ winningest club, is that the onslaught of goals started not with any shiny new pieces, but rather with two old guns. The first came early on, from the usually accurate left foot of Dušan Tadić. It was the slightly lacking accuracy on this particular kick that led to the tally, as his cross found the unlucky head of Marco Reus, bouncing off of the blond spikes and into his own net.

The second, though, was all accuracy, as a little scramble at the edge of the box found Daley Blind, who blasted it directly into the bottom left corner:

With a 2-0 lead, and with Dortmund not doing much of anything, a looseness seemed to settle at the Johan Cruyff Arena, and it became time for the younger lads to take hold of a beaten-down opponent and drive them into the ground. 21-year-old Brazilian prospect Antony hasn’t had the craziest season of all time so far, playing only seven games across league and European play, but every time he gets the ball, he seems to make it count. That’s what happened on Tuesday. After a rather anonymous first half, Antony received the ball in the box with a handful of Dortmund players, in theory, between him and the goal. One cutback to his left foot and a perfectly curled shot that left Dortmund goalie Gregor Kobel frozen in place later, and the rout was well and truly on:

That’s not to say that anything after Antony’s goal was irrelevant, though, even as the fourth goal on the day surely was for the result. Sébastien Haller is probably the biggest part of why Ajax’s attack looks so fearsome this season, after all. After flopping out of the Premier League with West Ham after only a season and a half, Haller has taken the move to the Netherlands and squeezed it for all it’s worth (€22.5 million, for those keeping score at home). In the Eredivisie, he’s second with six goals in nine games, but that’s nothing compared to what he has done in the Champions League. His header on Tuesday made it six goals in just three games for the Ivorian striker, following a four-goal outburst in the opener against Sporting and another against Beşiktaş in the last round.

With so much firepower—I haven’t even mentioned David Neres, pictured above celebrating with Antony, or Noussair Mazraoui, who somehow has four league goals from right back—Ajax could afford to let someone like Dortmund’s freak of nature Erling Haaland score a goal or two, but the visitors didn’t even get that chance. Any time Haaland or Reus had the ball, they were closed down on rapidly, and Dortmund didn’t have much of the ball to begin with, tallying only 44 percent of possession. When they did get a shot off, goalie Remko Pasveer was there to easily collect it. The center back duo of Lisandro Martínez and Jurrien Timber—a whopping 43 years of age combined—was rock solid, though their job became easier once Dortmund started pressing after Blind’s goal.

In all, this was as dominating a performance as one will see in the Champions League, made doubly impressive by coming against the second-best team in Germany. Ajax’s group isn’t the toughest in the world even with Dortmund’s presence, so it should be able to waltz into the second round. The last time this club made it to the knockout rounds, well, it was one furious Tottenham comeback away from making the final.

That team’s narrative was all about its underdog status, as it knocked the reigning champion Real Madrid out in the Round of 16 before doing the same to Juventus in the quarterfinals. If this Ajax team keeps rolling like it has been to start the campaign, though, the only underdog it will be impossible to anoint them as any kind of underdog. Ajax is that good, and it’s not going to be a shock to see it make another deep run in the Champions League.