Van de Beek would fit Real Madrid’s new policy better than Pogba

It has been one of the transfer sagas of the summer, but the closer the deadline looms the less likely it appears that Paul Pogba will become a Real Madrid player. Zinedine Zidane has spoken warmly about the Frenchman, the player himself has made clear his desire to join, but Manchester United have refused to budge.

Indeed, the Old Trafford outfit’s valuation of Pogba – around £150 million according to reports – has priced Real Madrid out of a move in a summer window in which they have already splurged £300 million on new players. This has led them to reportedly look at other midfield options.

Donny Van de Beek is one of those options. He was one of the breakthrough stars of Ajax’s run to the semi finals of the Champions League last season, turning in a particularly impressive performance against Real Madrid in the round of 16. Maybe it was then that Zidane first thought about the prospect of the Dutchman in his team.

With Pogba out of reach, at least for this summer, Real Madrid are treating Van de Beek as their secondary target. However, the 22-year-old would arguably fit their new transfer strategy better than Pogba. If the Spanish giants are building for the future then Van de Beek represents this better than the Frenchman.

Of course, the signing of Eden Hazard from Chelsea is something of an outlier here. The Belgian is 28 and in his peak years. Looking past Hazard, though, Real Madrid have prioritised the targeting of young players who have yet to reach their peak. Eder Militao, Ferland Mendy, Luka Jovic, Rodrygo… the strategy has been clear.

Van de Beek would fit into this.. At 22 years old, he is already considered one of the best central midfielders in the game. Real Madrid could build around him for years to come, especially with Toni Kroos and Luka Modric seemingly fading as forces at the Santiago Bernabeu.

Pogba is a different sort of player to Van de Beek. Jose Mourinho wanted him to be an anchoring midfielder when Pogba has always found his best form further up the pitch. Would Zidane liberate him in this way or make the same mistakes Mourinho did during his time at Manchester United?

It feels like Real Madrid have one last big signing in them this summer. Some will see their failure to land Pogba as an embarrassment, such is their status as the ‘Galacticos,’ but Van de Beek might actually turn out to be a better option, but in the short and the long term.

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Summer Shopping: Serie A’s Top Five Targets

With the year winding down to a close, most Serie A sides already have one eye on the summer transfer window. While this past season may not have gone to plan for most of Serie A’s elite, a majority of them are just a couple of additions away from being serious competitors. Here’s one player for each of the league’s top five. For brevity, Atalanta and Lazio among others have been excluded.

1) Juventus: Tanguy NDombele (Lyon)

After yet another European failure, it’s time Juventus address their midfield issues once and for all. Lyon’s Tanguy NDombele is among world football’s hottest prospects in the middle of the park, and has demonstrated he’s ready to play for a bigger club. Just this season, NDombele went head-to-head with both Barcelona and Manchester City’s deep midfield ranks, and did not look one bit out of place.

Just recently, Lyon president Jean-Michel Aulas came out and said he’d willingly sell NDombele to Juventus ahead of other suitors, provided “his friend” Andrea Agnelli pays up. The Frenchman would slot in seamlessly alongside Ramsey and Pjanic, however, it remains to be seen if NDombele is a concrete target for Juventus.

2) Napoli: Donny van de Beek (Ajax) 

The Ajax midfielder may not get as much credit as his fellow compatriots Frenkie de Jong, and Matthijs de Ligt, but he’s proven to be just as important for them between the lines. van de Beek burst onto the scene this season, and emerged as a essential aspect to Erik ten Hag’s tactical schemes, roaming between the opposition’s lines at will, and getting himself into dangerous scoring positions. Outside of his crucial goals against Juventus and Tottenham, van de Beek is good with the ball at his feet like most Ajax graduates, and would slot in wonderfully into Napoli’s midfield.

Since Hamsik’s departure, the partenopei have lacked a driving force in the midfield, and van de Beek could prove to be exactly what’s needed. Alongside Fabian Ruiz, expect the Dutchman to wreck havoc. Napoli could also use a fullback, but that goes without saying.

3) Inter: Timothy Castagne (Atalanta)

Inter are one of the most well-rounded outfits in Serie A outside of Napoli and Juventus, and don’t require much tweaking this summer. With Mauro Icardi and Lautaro Martinez up top, and the trio of de Vrij, Skriniar and Godin at the back, Inter are simply lacking a manager to put it all together. Should Antonio Conte arrive as it’s being reported, he will undoubtedly field a back three, with his traditional wing-backs in a 3-5-2 setup.

With both the back-line and strike partnership more or less sorted as well as the midfield, Inter could use another wingback as they are unlikely to redeem Vrsaljko or Cedric. Here’s where Atalanta’s Timothy Castagne comes in. The Dutchman has been a key element to Gasperini’s side over the years as a wing-back, and is a traditional Conte player. Castagne’s play is eerily reminiscent of a prime Stephan Lichtsteiner, however, blessed with more end-product. As a result, I expect him to become a priority for Marotta, whether or not Conte arrives.

4) Roma: Juan Musso (Udinese)

This past summer Roma tried replacing Alisson with Swedish international Robin Olsen, and Serie A journeyman Antonio Mirante. Neither have proven to be a long-term solution to the departed Brazilian, leaving the giallorossi without a reliable number one going into next season. Luckily, there are a number of up and coming shot-stoppers in Serie A that Roma could turn to.

While Alessio Cragno and Alfred Gomis are interesting options, Roma should look no further than Udinese’s Juan Musso. The Argentine has gone from strength to strength this season, and has made the number one spot his own in Friuli with a string of impressive performances. In the past, Roma have shown a propensity to take a risk on goalkeepers on the cusp, and should do the same with Musso. They won’t regret it.

5) Milan: Hakim Ziyech (Ajax) 

Where to begin with Milan? The rossoneri could use a creative midfielder, a left winger and arguably another centre back. Ajax’s Ziyech checks off two of these boxes and should be made a priority in Milanello. With just a 25 million euro release clause, Ziyech is both cost-effective, and has the potential to become a world class player in the near future.

As he’s typically deployed as a ball dominating, out-and-out winger, his signing would take off some of the creative burden from the likes of Suso, Paqueta, and would even allow Calhanoglu to feature centrally more regularly. Not to mention, Ziyech has tormented elite opposition this season, be it in the Champions League or in the Eredivisie. Milan shouldn’t say no to his teammate David Neres either if Ziyech isn’t feasible.

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Ajax take a step back to go forward and are on the verge of Champions League final

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Ajax beat Tottenham in London in the first leg of the Champions League semi-final to claim a vital away goal and a fantastic win.

To be fair it isn’t often that we have witnessed both teams get this far in the competition. Indeed for Tottenham it is the first since the rebranding of the competitions name in 1992/93 and their first since 1962.

For Ajax the last time the team were this good was in 1996 when they reached their second Champions League final in a row only to lose on penalties against Juventus. But rewind a year before when Ajax won the competition and beat the great Milan side of the 90s in the process.

That Ajax side were remembered for the youths that came through the side and stunned European football. Players such as Patrick Kluivert, Marc Overmars, Clarence Seedorf, Edgar Davids and Jari Litmanen just to name a few. All went on to play for the biggest sides in Europe- but that night will always remain the most special for the players.

The 1995 win was also the first for the club since 1973 when they won 3 European Cups in a row between 1971-73, headed by the great Johan Cruyff. There has always been quality and a sense of total football with Ajax since the 70s but since the early 2000s the club have suffered.

Youngsters were not coming through as frequently and when, on rare occasions, they did they would be sold and moved on when they were clearly too young. A new generation did threaten a couple of years ago when Ajax reached the Europa League final against Manchester United, but the Dutch side were simply not ready for Jose Mourinho’s side at that point.

This season has been unbelievable for them. They look on course to win the Dutch league and have been phenomenal in the Champions League. Not only did they end Real Madrid’s 3 year hold on the competition they destroyed them in their own back yard winning 4-1.

Next up was Juventus and not just any old Juventus, but the club that had bought Ronaldo from Madrid in order to win their first Champions League since 1996. But Ajax stayed professional throughout and won 3-2 over 2 legs, impressively beating Juventus in Italy.

In some ways this match up with Tottenham was fascinating. Ajax had rarely faced a stronger Tottenham side but Tottenham had never faced such a skilful and peaceful Ajax team. The way Ajax started the game in Tottenham’s new stadium was incredible- one was reminded of Pep Guardiola’s Barcelona from 2011.

It is a joy to behold to see how strong Ajax have become- the 2nd leg is still up for grabs of course but it does look like Ajax have one foot in the final. The likes of Matthijs De Ligt, Donny van de Beek,- who scored against Tottenham, Frenkie de Jong and Hakim Ziyech have been a revelation and a shot in the arm for European football.

Can Ajax recall teams of the past and make it to the final and possibly even win it- it’s not such a pipedream like it was at the beginning of the year. It feels like a reality and it is clear that Ajax mean business.

Ajax secure their place in the KNVB Beker semi final

Donny van de Beek

Just four days after throwing away a two goal lead to draw with Heerenveen, Ajax faced them again in the KNVB Beker quarter final last night. By surrendering the win they had also lost their opportunity to go top of the Eredivisie table, so will have been eager to put things right in the cup.

That was evident, as it took Ajax just over two minutes to get themselves ahead. Rasmus Nissen Kristensen was played down the line by Hakim Ziyech. When the Dane got to the ball he made a low pass into the box, which Donny van de Beek dummied for Noussair Mazraoui who finished the move with a first time side footed finish past Warner Hahn.

It only took them until the 16th minute to double their lead. Ziyech sent a corner to the back post, Matthijs de Ligt rose above his marker but couldn’t get a clean contact on the ball to send it towards goal. Instead it dropped down to van de Beek who was on hand to volley it into the net.

There was a moment of concern for Ajax though, as Mazraoui –who’d been playing in a central midfield role rather than at right back- was brought off injured in the 30th minute. The Moroccan had been hurt after making a shot in the 24th minute, he tried to play on but eventually had to be replaced by Lasse Schöne.

Ajax remained dominant after the change and added a third goal in the 38th minute. Daley Blind played a superb pass for Dušan Tadić to chase down the line. Once the Serbian got there he dinked it past the goalkeeper and into the six-yard box, where van de Beek beat the defender and pounced to get the ball into the goal.

Despite going into half time three goals up, Ajax will have been wary of giving Heerenveen any hope of getting back into the game after the events on Sunday. They remained comfortable for the majority of the match, dominating possession and controlling every aspect of the play.

That is until the 84th minute, when Kristensen received the ball from Schöne inside his own box and played a blind pass intended for André Onana. Rather than going back to the Ajax goalkeeper, it went straight to the feet of Pelle van Amersfoort who took one touch to turn, used another to get it out of his feet, opened his body and curled the ball out of Onana’s reach to make it 3-1.

Suddenly things didn’t seem so easy for the Amsterdammers as madness ensued. In the 88th minute debutant Lisandro Magallán conceded a penalty when he brought Sam Lammers down inside the box. The striker on loan from PSV had been the main thorn in Ajax’s side on the weekend, as it was his two goals which helped Heerenveen secure the draw, so there was a feeling he was going to upset the balance of the game again. However, his penalty was saved well by Onana, who sprung to his left to keep the ball out with his midriff.

That save was enough to quash any late comeback hopes from Heerenveen, with the final score settling at 3-1. Ajax will now face either Feyenoord, AZ Alkmaar or Willem ll in the semi final as they look to win the KNVB Beker for the first time since 2010.