Liverpool last faced Ajax in two Champions League group ties in 2020, with a number of changes for the Amsterdam club since then. So what is different?
When the balls were drawn for Group A in this season’s Champions League, there was a familiar feeling for Liverpool fans.
Ajax were drawn from Pot 1, Napoli from Pot 3 and Rangers from Pot 4. It meant two reunions with sides Jurgen Klopp has faced before in his tenure and one clash with a club from north of the border.
In Ajax’s case, it brings the third and fourth meetings between the clubs from Liverpool and Amsterdam in just three years.
But things are much different for Ajax since their back-to-back 1-0 defeats to the Reds in the group stage of the same competition back in 2020.
So what has changed for the Eredivisie outfit between then and now?
Who has stayed, left and joined?
It is a situation those within Ajax are long familiar with as, despite their prowess in the Netherlands and Europe, they remain outside of the continent’s top five leagues.
The standout talents in Amsterdam will more often than not be headhunted by clubs in England, Germany, Italy, France and Spain, which has certainly been the case over the past two years.
Of the 18 players to feature over the two clashes between Ajax and Liverpool in 2020, only six remain with the club.
They are Dusan Tadic, Daley Blind, Davy Klaassen, Edson Alvarez, Mohammed Kudus and Perr Schuurs.
Six more to have started in either tie have moved on, with Andre Onana (Inter Milan), Noussair Mazraoui (Bayern Munich), Nicolas Tagliafico (Lyon), Ryan Gravenberch (Bayern), Antony (Man United) and David Neres (Benfica) all leaving the Netherlands.
Lisandro Martinez (Man United), Quincy Promes (Spartak Moscow), Lassina Traore (Shakhtar Donetsk), Jurgen Ekkelenkamp (Royal Antwerp), Zakaria Labyad (free agent) and Klaas-Jan Huntelaar (retired) all came off the bench but have since departed.
Ajax have recruited excellently as ever to replace them, with goalkeeper Remko Pasveer, centre-back Calvin Bassey, midfielder Steven Berghuis and winger Steven Bergwijn among those likely to take up key roles in the two Group A ties.
Brian Brobbey, Jay Gorter, Jorge Sanchez, Florian Grillitsch and loanee Lucas Ocampos could also feature, while new arrivals Francisco Conceicao, Ahmetcan Kaplan and Owen Wijndal fill backup roles.
Academy graduates Devyne Rensch, Jurrien Timber and Kenneth Taylor have all stepped up as first-choice starters since 2020.
Likely Ajax XI vs. Liverpool (4-3-3): Pasveer; Rensch, Timber, Bassey, Blind; Alvarez, Berghuis, Taylor; Tadic, Bergwijn, Kudus
Who is in charge now Erik ten Hag is gone?
When Liverpool took on Ajax two years ago, in the dugout was an established manager with a burgeoning reputation in Ten Hag.
The Dutchman had already been in Amsterdam for three years, having joined in 2017 after spells with Go Ahead Eagles, Bayern Munich II and FC Utrecht, and led them to the Eredivisie title in 2018/19.
“I want to see a brave Ajax against Liverpool,” Ten Hag said before the first leg at home.
“A team that plays with self-confidence and can implement the principles that we have agreed upon in the field, that’s why I think Liverpool are the best team in the world.”
But after two more years in charge at Ajax, Ten Hag made the decision to leave this summer to take over at Man United, eventually bringing both Martinez and Antony with him.
Assistant manager Mitchell van der Gaag and analyst Kevin Keij also swapped Ajax for United over the summer.
— AFC Ajax (@AFCAjax) September 10, 2022
Taking over from Ten Hag, then, is Alfred Schreuder, a 49-year-old Dutchman who is largely untested as a manager, with his only other spells in charge being brief ones at FC Twente, Hoffenheim and Club Brugge.
Triumph with Club Brugge in the Belgian top flight saw him earmarked as successor, though, returning to the club he previously worked at as assistant manager to Ten Hag from early 2018 to mid-2019.
Schreuder largely employs a 4-3-3 system at Ajax, with the main tactical tweaks coming in midfield, where either two defensive midfielders or a single No. 6 are deployed depending on the opposition.
His playing career took in spells with RKC Waalwijk, NAC Breda, Feyenoord, Twente and Vitesse.
Has all this change impacted Ajax’s form?
Not at all.
Ajax clinched the Eredivisie title with a two-point lead over PSV Eindhoven in Ten Hag’s final season in charge, scoring 98 goals and conceding only 19 for a goal difference of +79.
So far this season, Schreuder has overseen an unbeaten start, with six wins from six in the Eredivisie and a 4-0 victory over Rangers in their opening game of the Champions League.
Bergwijn, who returned to his boyhood club from Tottenham in a £26.4 million deal in July, is their top scorer with eight goals in eight games, while Kudus has netted five.
Questions may be asked over their ability to replace 34-goal striker Sebastien Haller, but their other primary source of goals remains in Tadic, who already has five assists this campaign.
Heading into Tuesday’s trip to Anfield, Ajax have won all seven games, keeping five consecutive clean sheets, with 25 goals scored and three conceded.