Erik ten Hag’s Ajax success story: Four title-winning qualities new boss will bring to Man Utd

Ten Hag secured his third consecutive Eredivisie title as Ajax manager on Wednesday night and United fans are now hoping he can successfully recreate some of that side’s best qualities at Old Trafford next season

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Man Utd’s worst Premier League season ever

Erik ten Hag led his Ajax side to the Dutch Eredivisie title in a fitting farewell on Wednesday night before departing this summer to become the new manager of Manchester United.

His side secured the championship with a comfortable 5-0 win over Heerenveen, leaving them four points clear of nearest rivals PSV Eindhoven going into Sunday’s final round.

It was Ten Hag’s third consecutive Eredivisie title and his sixth trophy in three full seasons as Ajax head coach.

His success during this period, and this season in particular, has been based on his side having excelled in a number of key performance departments. But what were those key pillars and in which areas could United significantly improve next season?

ball dominance

Ajax teams have been known throughout modern history for their fluid ‘total soccer’ tactical systems and the same was very common under Ten Hag.

Dictating play with short, sharp passes and pinning opponents in their own half has been a key Ajax trait under the Dutchman, as evidenced by their 65 per cent ball possession average this season. Unsurprisingly, it ranks as the highest with an average of 57.8 and in second place, slightly above Feyenoord.

United have rarely been comfortable dominating the ball and crushing teams, but it is hoped the arrival of Ten Hag and a few upgrades in key positions on the pitch will be enough to change that.

Deadly in attack

Ajax have been deadly in attack all season


(Getty Images)

What impresses this dominance even more is that Ten Hag’s side usually convert it into quality scoring chances.

They have the highest combined xG, most touches in the box and most shots attempted in the entire Eredivisie this season. So it’s no surprise that they have scored more league goals than any other side and could break the 100 mark if they score four or more goals in the final matchday of this weekend.


Many were expecting to see a new high-octane brand of football at United when interim manager Ralf Rangnick stepped in late last year. However, the same never really came to fruition.

Will Erik ten Hag win a trophy in his first season at Old Trafford? Share your thoughts in the comments below.

Expect a different outcome once Ten Hag arrives at the club. Aggressive pressing has been a key cornerstone of his Ajax side, which is a point captured by looking at this season’s Passes Per Defensive Action (PPDA) average.

PPDA is a metric that measures how many opposing passes are allowed by a team before a defensive action is taken to attempt to regain the ball. The fewer passes, the more aggressive they are.

Notably, Ajax have a PPDA average of 6.69 this season, which is unsurprisingly the lowest in the entire Eredivisie. For comparison in the Premier League, Liverpool beat that metric but with a higher average of 8.49.

Defensively robust

The upside of this intense off-ball pressure is that teams ultimately struggled to create chances against Ten Hag’s side. They’ve fired the fewest shots, accumulated the lowest xG against each other, and conceded just 17 league goals all season with one game to go.

United’s defense has been one of the areas that has come under the most scrutiny during this overwhelming season and there are only five Premier League sides who have conceded more than their 56 total goals this season. It’s one of the most pressing issues Ten Hag needs to address upon his arrival.

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