Let the battle for the right-wing position begin

Bertrand Traoré is Ajax’ undisputed first choice right winger as a result of Anwar El Ghazi’s departure. The Burkinabe forward’s hard running and goal hungry style has added another dimension to the Amsterdammers’ counter attack, although the Chelsea loanee can frustrate with failed dribbles and poor finishing. Traoré has managed 5 goals and 3 assists this season, but with David Neres still away with the Brazil u20 national team as well as 17-year-old Justin Kluivert and 19-year-old Vaclav Cerny still needing to develop, one would wonder where the adequate competition for the Burkinabe forward will come from.

Traoré had two goals and two assists in his last four games, before injury ruled him out of Ajax’ December fixtures and joining up with Burkina Faso for the African Cup of Nations in January. His first six months in Amsterdam began with him playing the central striker role before being moved out to the right flank in favor of Kasper Dolberg, whilst keeping his status as certified starter following El Ghazi’s demotion to Jong Ajax for a month.

The 21-year-old’s mazy dribbling style allows him to drive into the box and out of the tightest of spaces, while his bursts of pace on counter attacks always give Ajax an outlet. His ability to drop deeper to give Joel Veltman a passing option and motor the ball forward is integral to the build-up play of the Amsterdam side.

His finishing can be either clean and calm or rushed and erratic as in the match against ADO, he was played through one-on-one by Davy Klaassen to have a weak shot saved – before blasting another opportunity over after being played in by Dolberg – to then be played in by Amin Younes as the youngster adjusted his body and swept the ball home perfectly. His ability to be a goal-threat from the wide areas is what sets him apart from his peers as he ensures that the goalscoring burden in the front three does not solely fall on the shoulders of Dolberg. The two players have enjoyed making runs off each other on counters and playing well-schemed little one-two’s around the box. Dolberg seems to enjoy playing with Traoré on the right more than anyone else.

Against Celta Vigo at home in the Europa League, Traoré drove from the touchline to flick to Dolberg, who beat his man and opened the scoring. Traoré then took on a Dolberg pass to drive into the box on the counter and supply Ziyech with a brilliant cross for the Moroccan to finish with a simple tap-in at the far post. Against NEC, he blasted a shot over from a few yards out after a perfect cross from Daley Sinkgraven, to then take on a pass, gain an inch of space from his marker to curl an opportunity past the goalkeeper and into the back of the net. His potential as a lethal finisher has been proved time and time again, only to be muddled up with instances of poor execution in front of goal.

His ability in the deeper positions was mentioned earlier, but he has been more willing to help Veltman defensively than anyone else who has played on the right. The duo normally encounter problems when Ajax lose the ball in the higher positions and the opposition break, but Veltman will never be left isolated when Ajax are in a low block. Traoré also has the energy to cover the ground when the Amsterdammers do regain possession. Bosz molded the Burkina Faso man into a striker at Vitesse and has now molded him into a traditional winger at Ajax. Younes and him are able to stretch the opposition to great effect, it being no coincidence that Traoré was involved in Ajax’ best performances of the season.

Patrick Kluivert would have been in charge of the Ajax u19 side – including his son Justin – this season if he didn’t decide to take a Director of Football role at Paris Saint-Germain. However, his son has risen rapidly from the u19s to Jong Ajax to the first team. One may have been concerned with the younger Kluivert’s physique when joining up with the first team, but watching him glide past defenders against PEC Zwolle and ADO Den Haag assured doubters of his physical attributes for first team football. Slight in size but possessing the agility of a jungle cat, his willingness to take on defenders has been refreshing as has been his willingness to cut in and shoot or cut in and create an opportunity.

“But Traoré is about a week from the Africa Cup and Cerny is almost fully fit,” said Bosz a few weeks ago. “In addition, we have got Justin Kluivert there. I enjoyed him again. He played very open-minded and a couple of times very dangerous.”

At 17, Kluivert has certainly proved his immense talent but his tendency to drive hopeful balls across the box instead of accurate and well-driven balls to teammates is frustrating. He also struggled in the Eredivisie game against Roda JC and went missing for large parts of the game. The return of Traoré should allow him to continue gaining experience with Jong Ajax while playing in the first team here and there. Ajax should abstain from giving him too much, too soon.

Cerny is a player who seemed on the upward trajectory under Frank de Boer, but has been unlucky this season with injuries. The player, whose countryman Pavel Nedved earmarked for a move to Juventus as a youngster, was bright against Groningen and has been a standout player for Jong Ajax.

The youngster was voted Czech talent of the year in 2015, a prestigious award with former recipients including Milan Baros, Tomas Rosicky and Petr Cech. Against Groningen, he finished with 2 shots, 2 dribbles and 2 tackles while he was dispossessed 3 times in 60 minutes. Against Panathinaikos, he finished with 2 shots, 2 dribbles and 3 tackles while being dispossessed 5 times. He also had a fairly quiet game against NEC but has managed to score 9 goals for Jong Ajax this season, including a hat-trick against FC Den Bosch and a brace against De Graafschap. Cerny will continue to play a bit-part role and will face a battle to keep his place in the first team once Neres joins up with the squad.

In Ajax’ last match away to Roda JC, Bosz brought on Abdelhak Nouri to replace Kluivert as a more inverted right winger or wide playmaker. The youngster nearly had two chances to score as he was a passing option out wide and his imagination led to a few openings. Ajax’ midfield is still congested and will continue to be so with Van de Beek, Carel Eiting and Frenkie De Jong all rapidly developing, so using Nouri as an option out wide could mean more playing time for the young wonderkid. Some coaches like Arsene Wenger have also posited the theory of playing central players out wide to improve their thought process in one-on-one situations and help them understand the role of wingers better as this could be fundamental to Nouri’s development.

Traoré, Cerny, Kluivert, Nouri and Neres seem to be the most realistic options on the right wing. Traoré should remain first choice right winger after his return from AFCON, as his ability to score and his well-rounded set of attributes make him the best candidate for the role. El Ghazi was his closest competitor and with the young Dutchman leaving last month, there will be a battle to be Traoré’s backup this season and for the starting role next season when Traoré returns to Chelsea. One can only hope that the players continue their development on the pitch but remain humble off the pitch, as arrogance has deprived Ajax of some talented wingers in recent years. Many wingers have been groomed at De Toekomst as one can only hope that this batch stand the test of time.

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