This season, Man Utd is back in the Champions League, and their manager has the credentials.
Later this month, Erik ten Hag will lead Manchester United into the Champions League for the first time, and he and the Reds supporters would do anything for a repetition of his first appearance in the competition with Ajax.
With an inspiring run to the semi-finals in 2019, the Dutch giants shocked most of Europe. They were only kept out of the final by a Lucas Moura hat-trick and a last-second goal in the last four.
Ten Hag had infused the Ajax ethos with an energetic side. They captivated and amused, humiliating Real Madrid at the Bernabeu and eliminating Juventus and Cristiano Ronaldo from the competition.
This happened after Ajax, which had persevered through three rounds of qualifying, had drawn twice with Bayern Munich, who United will encounter this year. They competed in 18 games that season, losing just two—both to goals scored late.
Andre Onana and Donny van de Beek, two current United players, were essential members of a superb side that possessed both steel and skill. Ajax scored a lot of goals and their play was based on an aggressive press and playing high up the field.
They overcame a moderately difficult group, finishing ahead of Benfica to claim second place and a meeting with Real in the round of 16. Ajax destroyed Madrid in their own backyard after Madrid lost the home leg 2-1 in a match where Sergio Ramos purposefully picked up a late booking to ensure he missed the second leg and served his suspension before the quarterfinals.
An Ajax team known for its magnificent, generational European teams was regarded as entering a new era after an outstanding performance. The game was referred to as a “fall of the Gods” by the Italian newspaper La Gazzetta dello Sport because the three previous final champions were eliminated.
In the aftermath, Madrid defender Dani Carvajal said, “I’ve never felt as sick as this, I don’t know how to explain it.
In his post-game press conference, a composed Ten Hag declared, “We can appreciate this victory, but we want to achieve more. We are currently looking for it.
“It supports our Dutch philosophy, especially with regard to Ajax. It’s a wonderful triumph. But we desire more.
They also got it. Juventus lost in the round of eight despite having acquired Cristiano Ronaldo to pursue European glory. Ronaldo scored in each leg, but in a foreshadowing of his second Old Trafford appearance, his individual brilliance was unable to mask the team weaknesses his entrance brought about. As was the case last year, Ronaldo was replaced by Ten Hag.
Ajax had advanced to the semifinals of the Champions League, where Tottenham was waiting. It was a significant opportunity for both teams, and the Dutch club’s 1-0 victory in London made them the favorites going into the return match.
In that performance, Ajax demonstrated a defensive toughness that Ten Hag’s United team hasn’t quite been able to replicate. The Dutchman has shown he can compete in the competition even though that magical 2019 run was tragically ended by a last-gasp Lucas Moura goal that saw Spurs overcome a 3-0 aggregate deficit to advance on away goals. The Reds will need a stronger foundation to compete on the continent this season.
It was unfortunate for Ten Hag, whose team’s subsequent two Champions League seasons ended with a group-stage exit. They had a flawless record the previous season and dominated everyone before being defeated in the round of 16 by Benfica.
When United returns to the top of the European football league, they will be expecting to at least replicate that accomplishment. Ten Hag has demonstrated his capacity to compete with the best, and his ability to rebuild a team, which is what he is expected to accomplish at Old Trafford, was highlighted last season.
His Ajax artistry will be sought after by the Reds as their Champions League prospects develop.