Day two of the NextGen Series was the longest of the tournament and showcased just how some of the top youth teams from around the world dealt with the added pressure of fighting for semi-final places going into the final day.
Day two of the NextGen series saw Tottenham Hotspur lose their first fixture to Ajax Capetown a team who have proved to be high energy and exceptionally determined, attacking with speed and vigour. Spurs came back later in the day and put on a convincing display against Right to Dream who fought valiantly but didn’t quite have the quality to convert in the final third. Marcus Edwards was the most exciting player on the pitch in this fixture from the Player Development Projects view point, regularly taking players on, making excellent decisions and showing ability to beat players in tight spaces. Spurs have played with a style that seems to reflect a philosophy of possession based football with some extremely bright combination play and movement to receive.
Ajax have been strong in terms of the tournament so far, winning all three of their matches, but perhaps haven’t played with the style and movement of FC Barcelona. The Catalan side characteristically dominated possession but struggled to convert in challenging conditions. To be fair they have been very unlucky, conceding to Ajax in the last minute of what was the game of the tournament. Both teams showed technical ability, composure and a competitive edge, however the general consensus from the fans, especially talking to Piet Keizer was that Barcelona are the truer representation of total football.
When Ajax had controlled possession their tactically astute #4, Leon Bergsma pushed into the #6 role providing the foundation for their attack and screening in front of the other centre back. This meant Ajax defended with a back four and attacked with a back three often leaving Deyovaision Zeefuik 1 v 1 at the back.
Barcelona’s defenders also rotated into midfield positions but this happened with more fluidity. Under pressure Barca’s #4 (Jaun Manuel Garcia Rey) would also step into the 6-postion to provide a forward option leaving support provided by Barca’s GK. Our favourite moments came when Daniel Morer Cabrera Barca’s right back was involved in the play. Playing out he would seamlessly rotated into midfield (the 8-postion leaving) allowing Barca’s #8 to drop in and face forward. Cabrera would often-breaking lines with a dribble and link his excellent forward passes with aggressive forward runs in support.
ASA United went into their final fixture with FC Barcelona needing a draw or win to knock the Catalan club out of the top for and go through themselves. The fixture was fast paced with ASA defending stoutly and FC Barcelona creating some very exciting chances but failing to convert, perhaps a sign of young players who just need a bit more time to develop the clinical skill set required. The movement, rotation and shapes that FC Barcelona played were were a joy to watch, and striker Seung-Woo Lee finally got his rewards for three strong performances with a fantastic individual goal late in the game.
As we head into day three there will no doubt be more exciting football on display and we look forward to the tournament semi finals this afternoon where we can observe which teams stay true to their playing style and philosophy in the context of tournament pressure. Which team will prove to be the most authentic is yet to be determined.