Davinson Sánchez: Ajax’ Colombian Conquerer

Davinson Sánchez has been a magnificent find for Ajax as the Amsterdammers signed the Copa Libertadores winning defender ahead of most clubs in Europe. It is ironic that the perfect defender for Peter Bosz’ system was found in Colombia rather than at De Toekomst, as the 20-year-old has gone from strength to strength. Atletico Nacional received 5 million euros in compensation for the defender which is an absolute steal in the modern day market, as the youngster has immense ability at such a tender age.

A man-mountain of a defender in the ilk of Napoli’s Kalidou Koulibaly, who is strong facing his own goal as well as bringing the ball out. Sánchez already gained notoriety at Ajax for his incredible last man challenges. While teams have begun to sit back and allow Ajax to dominate the ball, Sánchez’ ball playing ability has come to the fore. However, he will need to iron out some slight positional errors he makes from game to game. A physical specimen who is diligent in the air and in both boxes with 3 goals this season as he seems to be a well-rounded modern-day defender.

Against ADO – in the first half of the season – he chased down Sheraldo Becker to make a perfectly timed last man challenge on the former Ajax youth player, as he did the same against Groningen and to Ajax loanee and one of the quickest players in the Eredivisie, Richairo Zivkovic against Utrecht. He always handles such high-pressure situations with impeccable calm and diligence which is a facet of his game that he nurtured in Colombia. Playing with the defensively sound Joel Veltman at right back has also allowed him to use his instincts more as a centre-back. He charges out of the back to win early loose balls into opposition forwards which are integral when Ajax are pressuring the opposition higher up the pitch.

He also charges out of the back in an attacking sense with lung-busting drives into the opposition half of the pitch which allows him to create opportunities when the midfield is tightly marked. He gives Ajax another dimension to their attack as pressuring Ajax high with Dolberg coming short and Hakim Ziyech, Amin Younes and Bertrand Traore running in behind him is suicidal. Teams can only afford to pressure Lasse Schone or Sánchez as both are adept at moving the ball forward quickly and when teams pressure Schone, Sanchez has more space to drive the ball forward and play passes into the forward line. In the Europa League home match against Celta Vigo who have a man-orientated midfield marking scheme, he made effective bursts deep into the Celta half.

In the home match to ADO, he pushed forward to play the ball into Dolberg who played in Ziyech to get in behind and score. In Colombia, Sánchez won 4 Leagues, 2 Cups and 1 Copa Libertadores by the age of 19 despite his ability and maturity being doubted earlier in his career as ever since Reinaldo Rueda gave him the opportunity at Atletico Nacional, he has been on a sharp upward trajectory. Current Mexico boss, Juan Carlos Osorio was important to Sanchez in his formative years as he spotted him in the Colombian youth teams as a defensive midfielder before deciding his skillset was more fitting of a centre-back.

His ability to be comfortable in possession while in the midfield line is apt for a former defensive midfielder as when he pushes higher he can execute effective line-breaking passes. A player who was molded in Marcelo Bielsa’s style of play is now thriving in Cruyff’s style at Ajax. He played a magnificent ball to Nemanja Gudelj against Celta in the away match in the Europa League as the Serbian midfielder played the ball to Younes who scored the second Ajax goal in a 2-2 draw. In Ajax’ most recent Eredivisie game against Sparta, he was so effective when he drove the ball into the midfield line next to Schone to play the ball forward.

Ajax has 9 clean sheets in their last 15 games as they are currently on a run of four straight Eredivisie clean sheets. Ajax has only conceded two goals or more four times this season with Sanchez in the side as he is a rock at the back. The player’s relationship with goalkeeper Andre Onana who is also fluent in Spanish has been important to Ajax’ spine. The young goalkeeper is becoming more adept at charging off his line and playing with the ball at his feet as the two rarely get into each other’s way in defensive situations. His relationship with Nick Viergever has been an unlikely bedrock that Ajax rely on.

Viergever is disciplined and Ajax’ second most experienced defender behind Heiko Westermann as he has proved adept at covering for Sanchez when he bursts forward to make his well-timed lunges to win back possession. The two centre-back’s ability on the ball allows defensive midfielder Schone to remain a few yards higher so Ajax can maintain a well-spaced shape to play the ball out of the back. At times when Sanchez bursts forward, fullbacks Daley Sinkgraven and Veltman will hold their runs to form a makeshift back three till Sanchez returns to his position. Sanchez’ ability to be so comfortable in defending on the halfway line is what has made him an instant hit with Bosz during his Ajax career.

“We have a click. Not that we eat together, we talk a lot with each other. Davinson has an eye for the building and wants to try. You can see that he can give a good pass to midfielders and strikers. He really surprised me, ” said Viergever to Ajax Life earlier this season.

“I think he is strong in combination with Nick because they complement each other well. Nick is the one who speaks and coaches. There Sánchez has trouble with, because he does not speak the language. Davinson is very fast, but you are not mistaken in the rate of Nick,” said Bosz in quotes obtained from Ajaxshowtime in January.

Sánchez makes two tackles and two interceptions per game with 5 clearances while he wins 2 aerial duels per game according to WhoScored. The 20-year-old has won 27 tackles at a success rate of 55% while he has made 47 interceptions, 103 clearances and four blocks per Squawka. He leads Ajax in completed passes with 1273 at a success rate 90% while he manages 68 passes at a success rate of 88% per game with 5 accurate long balls. Bosz earmarked his ability on the ball for improvement when Sanchez first joined and the Colombian has improved that facet of his game immensely as the season has gone on.

Sánchez has only been at Ajax for just over half a season and has proved to be the best defensive recruit in recent memory. Any manager or team with hopes of playing with a higher defensive line in a more dominant style of play will be looking at Sanchez as he has been molded as a Bielsa or Cruyffist style defender since his formative years. In modern day football, the positions of defensive midfield and centre-back have been interchangeable and Sanchez is another example of the advantages of switching players in between the positions. Ajax is truly blessed to have him in their ranks as one can only hope that the defensive colossus can only move from strength to strength.

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  1. Davinson Sanchez is not only a great defender but also very talented with such amazing passes that help create chances for the Ajax to attack. Since this is only half the season I’m really he continues to stay because overall this is just the beginning of both his defense and skills with the the ball…

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