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Goal.com Christmas Shopping: Who Should Ajax Buy?

Expectations for Ajax going into the 2010-11 season were pretty high after only just missing out on the Eredivisie title in 2009-10. The club finished second in the table last year, only one point behind champions Twente. The club wasn't too active on the transfer market, but then head coach Martin Jol got the striker he wanted in Mounir el Hamdaoui. Additionally, free agents such as Andre Ooijer, Teemu Tainio and Mido joined the Godenzonen last summer. The most important thing for Ajax was holding on to star players Maarten Stekelenburg, Gregory van der Wiel and Luis Suarez though and the Amsterdam side were the sky high favourite for the Eredivisie title.

However, after a good start to the season, where Ajax managed to qualify for the group stage of the Champions League, the Amsterdam side have been in far from impressive form in the past two months. They sit only fourth in the Eredivisie table at the moment and were eliminated from the Champions League by Real Madrid and Milan. This prompted Jol to throw the towel as head coach and Ajax opted to appoint Frank de Boer as caretaker boss.

The Godenzonen have yet to make a final decision on who will replace Jol on a permanent basis, but it appears to be very much likely that De Boer will get the chance to prove his worth. The former Netherlands international is perfectly aware of the club culture and knows how things are going at Ajax. De Boer has a reputation of giving promising youngsters the chance to prove their worth whenever possible, but the new Ajax gaffer will certainly be looking to add one or two new signings to his squad this winter.

Goalkeepers

No need for work in this area. Ajax have one of the best goalkeepers around in the world between the sticks with Maarten Stekelenburg and they don't need to sign a new shot stopper as long as they manage to hold on to the Netherlands international. Stekelenburg has been linked with clubs such as Manchester United and Arsenal in the past couple of months, but he isn't expected to leave Ajax this winter.

Additionally, with Kenneth Vermeer, they have a superb back-up goalie available. The former Holland under-21 star is currently sidelined due to a knee injury, but is expected to return to full match fitness in the upcoming months. Third choice glovesman Jeroen Verhoeven impressed when he was called upon against Excelsior and the Amsterdam side won't be worried about the shot stopper position.

Defence

Halfway the 2010-11 campaign, Ajax have conceded only 17 goals and have the best division in the Eredivisie. Players such as Gregory van der Wiel, Jan Vertonghen and Toby Alderweireld are all still young and are among the best defenders around in the Eredivisie. Additionally, the likes of Andre Ooijer, Oleguer and Daley Blind provide plenty of options in case any of the aforementioned defenders is unavailable.

Nevertheless, the Amsterdam side's back-line hasn't looked too impressive throughout the season. Especially at left back, the Godenzonen have looked pretty vulnerable so far. Jol opted to give Vurnon Anita the chance to prove his worth in Ajax's problem area, but the youngster never really managed to impress. De Boer doesn't seem to be too impressed with Anita and seemingly prefers Urby Emanuelson. However, Emanuelson is not a natural defender either and Ajax could really use fresh blood at left back.

Edson Braafheid | on his way out of Bayern Munich
 
Ajax haven't been linked with too many defenders so far, but they were close to signing Edson Braafheid only 18 months ago. The former Twente star then opted to join Bayern Munich, but has failed to make an impact at the Bavarians and could be available for as little as €1 million in January. Other players who could be interesting for Ajax are Austria Wien's Aleksander Dragovic and Toulouse defender Cheikh M'Bengue.

Thimothee Atouba and Bruno Silva appear to be surplus to requirements at Ajax and will be allowed to leave the club if an offer comes in.

Midfield

Ajax's midfield appeared to be not good enough in the Champions League, but their midfield is still one of the strongest in the Eredivisie. Demy de Zeeuw has been struggling a bit this term following his intensive World Cup exploits, but is slowly nearing top form again. Eyong Enoh has looked sloppy in possession in the opening months of the season, but is one of the best ball-winners around in Holland. With back-ups such as Roly Bonevacia and Rasmus Lindgren, Ajax are not in need of any reinforcements for the two holding midfield positions.

For the playmaker position, Ajax have even more (and better) options. Siem de Jong has been the Amsterdam side's starting number 10 for the majority of the season, but De Boer is known to be a keen admirer of Christian Eriksen and the young Denmark international is expected to break into the starting XI after the winter break. Even Uruguay youngster Nicolas Lodeiro could get the chance to prove his worth.

The fact that Ajax don't really need any reinforcements in midfield doesn't mean that they haven't been linked with any players though. Twente star Theo Janssen and AZ midfielder Stijn Schaars are both available, but it seems unlikely that the Amsterdam side are willing to spend money on either of the two.

The presence of the aforementioned players means that Ajax will probably try to offload some fringe players. Teemu Tainio hasn't been able to impress since his arrival, while Evander Sno seems no longer needed, too. Young playmaker Lodeiro could still have a future at Ajax, but the Amsterdam giants are expected to cash in on the midfielder if a good offer comes in.

Attack

With 37 goals in 18 games, Ajax have the second best attack from the Eredivisie. Only PSV have scored more goals than the Godenzonen and there's little doubt about the individual qualities of players such as Luis Suarez, Mounir El Hamdaoui and Miralem Sulejmani. Nevertheless, despite the obvious class of the aforementioned players, the Ajax attack hasn't completely been able to live up to the expectations.

The club has been linked with high profile names such as Arsenal striker Nicklas Bendtner and Lorient's French international Kevin Gameiro, but it appears to be very much unlikely that Ajax will sign a new centre forward. Dario Cvitanich returns from his loan spell at Pachuca and will probably deputise for El Hamdaoui.

Nabil Dirar | an option to strengthen the Ajax attack

Nevertheless, De Boer doesn't have too many options at the winger positions. Promising youngsters such as Florian Jozefzoon, Aras Ozbiliz and Jody Lukoki all seem to have a bright future ahead of them, but it might be a bit too soon for them to make the step up. A good option to provide cover for the winger position could be Club Brugge youngster Ivan Perisic. The Croatian attacker has already shown what he's capable of and could be available for about €2 million. Another option could be Nabil Dirar, also of Club Brugge.

The Amsterdam side would act wise to part company with Egyptian striker Mido again, but it remains to be seen whether there's any interest for the attacker. Cashing in on Emanuelson could be quite interesting, too. The winger refuses to sign a contract extension and wil leave the club on a free in the summer if Ajax don't sell him.  

IN (2): Edson Braafheid (Bayern Munich), Ivan Perisic (Club Brugge)

OUT (7): Bruno Silva, Thimothee Atouba, Urby Emanuelson, Evander Sno, Teemu Tainio, Nicolas Lodeiro, Mido

Preferred line-up (4-3-3):

Stekelenburg

Van der Wiel – Alderweireld – Vertonghen – Braafheid

De Zeeuw – Enoh

Eriksen

Suarez – El Hamdaoui – Sulejmani

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