Ziyech creates Europa League history: Ajax’s six standout stars from 4-1 thrashing of Lyon

Ziyech creates Europa League history: Ajax’s six standout stars from 4-1 thrashing of Lyon

In a brilliant and bafflingly breathless night of football, Ajax destroyed Lyon 4-1 in the first leg of their Europa League semi-final.

Forget thrill-a-minute, this was thrill-a-second. Simultaneously a wide-open contest yet packed to the brim with attacking quality to die for. An utter pleasure to watch, especially because of Ajax’s young talents. Here we highlight six of the best performing youngsters for the Dutch side.

Kasper Dolberg

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But no, seriously, this boy is something special. Still a teenager (he doesn’t turn 20 until October) the Danish forward is emerging in a serious way this season. Against Lyon he bagged his 20th goal of the season in just his 43rd game and it was such a delicious finish a to boot!

More than just the goal was his overall play. He looked and moved with the kind of assurance and confidence one doesn’t expect from such a young forward. In one instance he pressed Nicolas Nkoulou off the ball then sprinted towards goal and rocketed a 20 yard shot that Anthony Lopes just about saved. In another he produced a gorgeous flick in the build-up to Ajax’s fourth goal. In another he backheeled it to put Amin Younes clean through on goal. He was simply sensational.

But also:

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Amin Younes

Dribbling is one of the most undervalued skills in world-football. So often players who can dribble get harshly judged if they don’t have “end product” or passes or shots. Obviously those things are essential, but dribbling in and of itself is valuable.

Amin Younes knows this. The German international absolutely obliterated Lyon with the ball at his feet. Whenever he got on it, the French side looked absolutely terrified. They had no answer for his rapid movement and baffling bodyswerves.

He completed a terrific 7/10 take-ons. His end product was lacking (he created just 1 chance during the game) but he let fly with 5 shots, one of which crept by Lopes in the Lyon goal thanks to a deflection and gave Lyon a 3-0 lead. How’s that for end product?

Bertrand Traoré

On loan from Chelsea, Bertrand Traoré always seems like he has something to prove despite quite often proving it. Tonight he was the predator Ajax needed him to be, first connecting with a wonderful free-kick to head Ajax into an early lead.

Then when Lyon had pulled it back to 3-1 and Ajax were in danger of shipping a second away goal? He made a sublime late run into the box to whack home a low cross and restore Ajax’s three-goal cushion. After that he just came to life, blowing by Lyon players like they weren’t even there.

Kenny Tete

Ajax’s defence were all under the age of 22, and with the exception of some cavalier positioning you wouldn’t have really known it. Typically you load up your defence with your most experienced players, having youth around them. But for Ajax the back-line was their youngest unit.

While 17 year-old Matthijs de Ligt deserves special praise for his ability to handle Lyon’s tricky forwards at such a young age, Kenny Tete was probably the stand-out. The 21 year-old right-back dominated his flank, winning 4/8 tackles, making 3 interceptions, 7 clearances and effecting two blocks.

Andre Onana

Onana passed on the chance to join the Cameroon squad for the 2017 Africa Cup of Nations. A decision that, at the time, looked foolhardy. But Onana’s reasoning that he wanted to focus on his career development with Ajax may well pay off.

Onana was enormous against Lyon. He made 7 saves, most of them great but one of them, with 68 minutes played, was particularly huge. Lyon had just pulled it back to 3-1 when a delightful through-ball played Nabil Fekir clean through on goal.

A second for the French side would have completely changed the tie but Onana came charging out of his goal and stopped the shot dead in his tracks, preserving his side’s advantage. Two minutes later Traoré restored Ajax’s three goal cushion.

Onana vs. Lyon: 7 saves, 1 punch

After that Onana was on another plane of existence. He read every single shot, cross, pass. He could see things two steps before the Lyon attackers could. No matter what they tried, even bringing on star striker Alexandre Lacazette, Lyon could not find a way by the colossal Cameroonian.

Hakim Ziyech

Ziyech has been likened to Iniesta by some, and on this display you can see why. He was a superhuman creative force against Lyon. Alright he only won 2/10 take-ons and 2/10 tackles, but he was all-action and efficiency will come with age.

Moreover, he created five chances – more than any other player on the pitch – and notched an incredible three assists. Setting up three of Ajax’s first four goals. First a wonderful cross nodded in by Traoré, then a lovely weighted pass through for Younes, and then finally a bullet of a low cross that Traoré slammed home to settle the contest.

Having basically orchestrating Ajax’s victory, as well as made Europa League history as being the first player to assist three goals in a semi-final or final, you would forgive him for getting a bit self-indulgent. And you’d have to as well, given that he wasted four good counterattacks by taking ill-advised attempts at goal (all four of his shots came after the 66th minute).