Performance Analysis: Ajax 3-1 Manchester City — Christian Eriksen delivers in ‘false 9’ role; Tobias Sana not at his best on the right

Christian Eriksen played in a position that was different to what he’s used to but shone, while Tobias Sana struggled to impress in a position he’s familiar with.

It was an impressive victory for Frank De Boer’s men, their first in this season’s Champions League group stages. After 3 games, Ajax now have 3 points, 3 behind Real Madrid and 4 behind Borussia Dortmund. Qualifying for the knock-out stage is still an upward task at this point, but the Eredivisie champions will enjoy the experience nevertheless.

As for Roberto Mancini and Manchester City, this result leaves them languishing at the bottom of the group with a single point to their name and facing elimination at this stage for the second season running.

If Ajax have it hard to qualify even after winning this game, then certainly City are in a more troublesome situation, if not more embarrassing, when you consider how much money has been spent assembling this team. Mancini surely has questions to answer, especially given his peculiar tactical decision which may well have cost his side the game. City must now win their remaining 3 games if they are to stand a chance of advancing to the next stage. Given the strength of the teams they have to face, that is by no means an easy task. Suffice it to say, City’s Champions League campaign may well be over already.

Flix & Trix was keen to see how Christian Eriksen and Tobias Sana would perform for this young Ajax team against such strong opposition. Here are the reports.


Christian Eriksen

Frank De Boer threw a bit of a curve ball when he named his Ajax lineup. Ryan Babel was expected to start in the center of an attacking trident, but instead played on the left wing, where he spent the majority of his lacklustre Liverpool days.

The big surprise, really, was seeing who took up the central role in De Boer’s 4-1-4-1 setup. It was Christian Eriksen, who usually takes up a much deeper position in this team. He was given the role of a ‘false 9’ and although it’s not a role he plays frequently, you could hardly tell on this day.

Typical of the role, he dropped deep into midfield and involved himself in the keeping of possession. Ajax dominated that department on this day, boasting 63% of the ball at half time and 52% at full time. They had less of the ball in the second half as City came into the game a bit more then.

(Ajax attacking goal to right) — Christian Eriksen dropped deep into midfield to help retain possession as well as link up with the likes of Tobias Sana and Ryan Babel, who often made runs ahead of him. He also drifted to the flanks, particularly the left, to compensate for when Babel drifted into a central position onto his stronger foot.


With Eriksen dropping so deep and Ajax’s possession mostly staying in the center of the pitch, they struggled to pose a genuine goal-scoring threat. Ajax had a total of 15 shots on this day, but all but 6 of them were from long range. Eriksen had 3 shots himself, all of which were from outside the box.

His first shot came in the 9th minute. Lasse Schone gave him a pass which he controlled and struck sweetly on the half-volley, only to see it whistle just wide of the post.

His second shot came 12 minutes later. Eriksen was involved in some eye-catching one-touch football just inside of the attacking half before making a forward run. Tobias Sana eventually found him with a short pass just outside the box. Eriksen’s first touch to get away from Gareth Barry was superb before he rifled a decent long range effort which went just wide of the post yet again.

His final effort proved telling. After taking a pass from Sana in the 68th minute, he cut onto his left foot before trying a long range effort which ultimately deflected off of Gael Clichy and went past Joe Hart. That goal clinched the game for Ajax.

But Eriksen’s shooting wasn’t the only threat he provided on this day. His set-piece deliveries were decent. In fact, his corner kick in the 57th minute set up Nicklas Moisander for his goal which put Ajax 2-1 up.

His passing, though neat (completed 83%) as he helped Ajax maintain possession, wasn’t as penetrative as he would have liked, however. He made just 1 key pass and that was the corner kick that led to Moisander’s goal. This isn’t his fault, however, as even though Sana and Babel made runs ahead of him, long balls were aimed directly at them from deep in a bid to catch out City’s defence and when Eriksen was in possession himself, there was no forward movement in support, which ultimately forced him to take the shot on himself.

Overall, it wasn’t the most outstanding of performances from Eriksen, but it was certainly one of the most clinical. He had a hard time finding space further up the pitch in the first half, but this changed once City went with a back 3 and chased the game. The Citizens never looked comfortable in that setup and Ajax took advantage.

Frank De Boer has good reason to try Christian Eriksen out in that ‘false 9’ role again, though. His movement, neatness in possession, and shooting ability posed problems for City’s defence and, in the end, he got the job done, helping Ajax record a huge win.


Tobias Sana

Unlike Christian Eriksen, Tobias Sana was deployed in a familiar position out wide. It wasn’t one of his better days, though, as Gael Clichy did a good job containing him.

Sana is a very tricky customer but, on this day, he didn’t complete a single dribble. Instead, he was often dispossessed when trying to take on City’s defenders. He wasn’t allowed time or space on the right flank to have his way.

(Ajax attacking goal to right) — Tobias Sana spent much of his time on the right flank where he collected the ball before trying to make an impact. He also cut inside often to latch on to long balls played from deep. However, he was well-watched by Gael Clichy and company.


He did manage to create 3 goal-scoring opportunities, but these were simple lay-off’s rather than defence-splitting passes. Two of these were for Christian Eriksen (in the 21st minute and then in the 68th minute), the latter of which turned out to be an assist. The other chance was set up for Ryan Babel in the 73rd minute. Sana’s simple pass found the Dutchman who then cut inside from the left flank and fired a shot at goal, which was saved by Hart.

Sana had a couple shots at goal himself. The first was a horribly miscued effort that ultimately went out for a throw-in in the 55th minute. He had cut inside onto his weaker left foot after collecting the ball out on the right flank. Making things worse, taking the shot was the wrong decision as he had team-mates in better positions.

The second shot was on target in the 70th minute, though, but Hart made an excellent save to deny him. Sana had played a nice one-two with Schone to create the chance.

In regards to his movement, he dropped deep when Ajax weren’t in possession, but he didn’t help out defensively. Instead, he waited to collect a pass when Ajax regained possession so he could lead the counter-attack. As was mentioned, he also ran ahead of Christian Eriksen into a central position when the Dane dropped deep.

Faults with his decision-making were laid bare on this day, though. One example was seen in the 13th minute when he was leading a counter-attack. He had the opportunity to play in Christian Eriksen who would’ve been through on goal, but he delayed and ended up passing it short to Lasse Schone, who in turn played a poor pass to Ryan Babel which was easily cut out by Vincent Kompany. His miscued shot in the 55th minute is another.

Overall, it was a lacklustre performance from the Sweden international despite the fact that he made an assist. He was ultimately sacrificed in the 74th minute for Eyong Enoh as De Boer tried to solidify his team.



In the end, Christian Eriksen grabbed the headlines for his 2 crucial contributions in an Ajax victory that proved historic — it was their first win over an English club at home since 1980.

Tobias Sana may not have had the best of outings, but he certainly has the talent to bounce back. That talent has been on display on many occasions so far this season.



**Stats courtesy of Whoscored

**Heat maps courtesy of ESPN FC

Posted under: Champions League, Player Analysis

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