This time last year, Dušan Tadić was celebrating a home win against Bournemouth in the Premier League. The game ended in a 2-1 victory for the Southampton, their first home win in six months. Despite the win, the Saints still found themselves in the relegation zone. By the end of the 2017/18 season, Southampton were safe, but only by a mere three points. In June 2018, Tadić announced that he would be going back to the Eredivisie, this time joining Dutch giants Ajax. Fast forward a year, and Tadić finds himself training for an upcoming Champions League semi-final against Tottenham Hotspur.
Dusan Tadic: Relegation to Champions league
Underwhelming Time at Southampton
Tadić’s transfer announcement did not set the football world alight. His time at Southampton was seen as somewhat of a disappointment, primarily due to his inconsistencies, which were a result of a couple of reasons. The first was the constant change of position. His time at Southampton saw Tadić play in four different positions: left wing, right wing, attacking midfielder and second striker. While it is crucial that players become flexible and versatile in multiple positions, Tadić playing various positions would not allow him to improve in specific skillsets.
The second reason would be the constant change of managers during the time Tadić was a player at Southampton. He played under four different managers who are known to have four very different styles of play. Ronald Koeman, who initially signed Tadić, was a tactically flexible manager for Southampton. He often changed his formations based on the opposition. Southampton, who were favourites to drop that year after Mauricio Pochettino left the club, miraculously finished seventh. The next season was Tadić’s best as a Southampton player. He had a return of eight goals and thirteen assists. Koeman gave Tadić the freedom from either wing to create, stretch defences wide, and win multiple fouls using his trickery which earned his team several dangerous set pieces.
After Koeman left Southampton, Tadić began to underperform because of the constant change in manager and football style. His next three managers at Southampton were Claude Puel, Mauricio Pellegrino and Mark Hughes. While all three managers set their teams up differently, they all focus on defensive tactics to get results. This did not suit Tadić at all, and it was evident in his performances as well as his demeanour off the pitch.
Tadić’s Improvement Under Erik ten Hag
The most obvious reason as to why Tadić is improving under Erik ten Hag is the same reason he excelled under Ronald Koeman. He is given the freedom to create and does not have to worry as much about defensive duties. Due of this, he has recorded an astonishing 21 assists this season in all competitions. This is a personal record. While he still often rotates along the front line, ten Hag often plays Tadić in his preferred left wing position in league games.
However, in the Champions League, ten Hag has mostly used Tadić as a striker. This is a tactical move to allow Tadić to isolate and bully the centre-backs, which enables players like Donny van de Beek and Hakim Ziyech to get forward. They, along with the fullbacks Noussair Mazraoui and Nicolás Tagliafico, outnumber the opposition’s defence and flood the final third.
Ajax as a team have also greatly improved because of Tadić’s leadership. Before, they were a promising team but, with so many young players, it was filled with inexperience and naivety, something that ten Hag has publically discussed. Now, when Ajax are down in a Champions League match against the reigning champions or are struggling in one of the tightest league races in Eredivisie history, players like Tadić can motivate and lead.
What to Expect From Ajax in the Semi-Finals
Ajax love to press; it has been their primary tactic in the Champions League this season. Winning every second ball, outrunning the opponent, intercepting passes, are all reasons as to why they have been successful in their campaign. This has primarily worked because they are younger and seem much fitter than the teams they have played. An ageing Bayern Munich and Real Madrid side as well as Juventus, a team slow in transition. Spurs are similar to Ajax in the fact that they have a young and fit squad. However, they have multiple key players who will be missing out due to injuries and suspensions.
Ajax do not seem to care who they are playing. They blitz teams and try and force the ball into the back of the net, in whatever way possible. They are a team that embodies the saying ‘it isn’t over til it’s over,’ and Tadić will be a large part of that philosophy come tonight.