● Matthijs de Ligt (Centre-back)
De Ligt’s achievement against Real Madrid was remarkable in its own right. Not many 19-year-olds have captained their side to a win of such magnitude. He might probably be the only one with such passion combined with talent. The centre-back is a remarkable figure who should become one of the standout players of his period. He has it all: the strength of a player in his mid-20s, influencing skills beyond his years and technical qualities that make the game look simple. At the start of the decade, De Ligt was an outstanding tennis player and won his local club championship. He transcended at hockey too but his all-around gifts soon crystallized on the football pitch. Barcelona and Manchester City have been linked with the young Dutchman, but he coolly replied “Ajax” when asked to choose between the two. Although, the young centre-back may complete a move to Camp Nou now to replace Pique. With Samuel Umtiti and De Ligt at the back, Barcelona would bounce back to winning ways in European Competitions.
● Frenkie de Jong (Midfielder)
One can only be in awe while watching De Jong, proudly wearing Ajax’s colors, create the skill of the kind that even left Luka Modric for dead on that Tuesday night when Ajax defeated Real Madrid. For the neutral, De Jong was an absolute delight to watch. He will try and do the same in El Clásico next season, this time in Barcelona’s kit having accepted a €75m move in January. De Jong’s domination of the Ballon d’Or winner felt characteristic, like a changing of the guard. He is just 21 but his vision and awareness have induced the most educated of observers into associations with the Ajax and Barcelona legend Johan Cruyff. “When I am on the pitch I play on intuition, but I think a lot about the game as well,” he says. It shows. De Jong already functions on a different level to most players, seniors or juniors, around him. A player who has a mixture of top quality with the ball at his feet, as well as impressive defensive skills when he is trying to recover the ball would be another valuable asset to the Barcelona side.
● Noussair Mazraoui (Right-back)
It was Mazraoui who, tightening every robustness to keep the ball in play on the Bernabéu’s right touchline, caused the VAR delay that became the crux of Tuesday night’s shock. The move itself, dispensing lung-busting determination and then the presence of mind to distribute coolly, was characteristic of a 21-year-old who has come from virtually nowhere to be one of the most exciting right-backs around.
Mazraoui has been with Ajax since he was eight and at one point appeared likely to leave the club, was a midfielder by trade but had brightened since making his breakthrough in February 2018. “He could become a very interesting wing defender,” the manager, Erik ten Hag, said later that season. That has not stopped the Dutch-born player making headlines further forward, scoring big goals against Bayern Munich and Benfica.
● Dusan Tadic (Forward)
“This is probably the best game of football I’ve ever played,” Tadic said after a performance for the eternities at the Bernabéu. Southampton fans may have been following from behind the sofa by the time he cracked Ajax’s third goal past the new addition, Thibaut Courtois. He had already fastened up Ziyech’s opener and then, by a sharp turn that sent Casemiro twirling into an adjacent postcode, placed on the second goal for David Neres.
Nobody has ever questioned the 30-year-old Serb’s aptitude; there were some outstanding flashes at Southampton but never really a maintained spell that looked like impelling him into the top bracket. His move to Ajax largely escaped the radar but he has been extraordinary in the Netherlands, whose lifestyle he admits to fancy. He has been directly involved in more Champions League goals(9) than anyone this season and, given the chance to play with rare freedom, looks close to the point of maximum expression. Tadic can change the outcome of a game in a matter of minutes and he has the team to back him. Tadic has already scored an impressive 34 goals in all competitions.
● Hakim Ziyech (Forward)
Ziyech’s extravagant gift was appreciated in hushed expressions as he developed. He has a magical left foot and laser vision. Those characteristics have rarely fluctuated since he arrived in 2016 but he has stepped up another level this season, averaging better than a goal every two matches, and believes his on-pitch relationship with Dusan Tadic is the key. “I’ve never felt such a connection with any other player,” Ziyech says. The pair’s movement is dizzying but countless European clubs would take Ziyech on his own. The chemistry Ziyech and Tadic shared was very underrated and it was shown by their performances in Europe against Real Madrid, Juventus and Tottenham as well. Ziyech was named the Dutch league’s best player for the last two seasons, turns 26 this month and finally has a shot at genuine stardom. He has been linked to Arsenal as well as Manchester United for the next season.