Welcome to Part One of this summer’s Preseason Battle Previews. This iteration will focus on Ajax outside back Sergiño Dest’s battle to push into their first team next season.
Dest a Dutch-American dual national who has become well known by American fans that follow the youth scene. He played for the US at the 2017 U-17 World Cup and recently took part in the 2019 U-20’s run to the Quarterfinals at the U-20 World Cup. Dest has been with Ajax for many years (he joined the academy in 2012). Slowly but surely he has worked his way up through the ranks before moving into the second team last season. He appeared 17 times and contributed with a goal and two assists from his Right Back position.
This summer presents an important opportunity in his young career. He’s been awarded a chance to impress the first team coaches and potentially win a spot with the Ajax first team. Last season was a magical year for the club. They went all the way to the UEFA Champions League Semifinals and were set to advance until Tottenham scored three goals in the second half (including the winning one late in stoppage time). On top of their deep run in European competition, they completed a domestic double by winning the Eredivisie as well as the KNVB Cup. However, their immediate future is less certain. Many of their immensely talented youngsters are coveted by richer clubs and some are already set to move on. This transition period could pose a big opportunity for Dest to step up and seize a spot.
Dest brings a lot to like as an outside back. He has the versatility to play on the left as well as his preferry Right Back spot. He has quick feet and is comfortable passing with either foot. He’s deadly on the dribble and willing to take anyone 1v1. His crossing is excellent. His ability to combine play is another strength. Defensively, he’s a willing tackler and holds up well when matched up on the wing. He can be slow to recognize danger, but his instincts are to attack and create chances on offense. In order to show he’s worthy of getting first team chances this year, he will need to improve his defensive awareness and consistency.
It will be a major challenge to force his way into such a talented team. Joël Veltman suffered an ACL tear last year which caused him to miss the majority of the season. Towards the end of the year however, he had recovered and was starting once again at Right Back. He was outstanding for them while they dismantled defending UEFA champion Real Madrid. He is entering the final year of his contract, so it’s possible they could look to move him this summer. While he was out injured last year, Noussair Mazraoui was the unquestioned starter. The Morocco International played about 3,800 minutes in all competitions while contributing four goals and five assists. Recently he renewed his contract and is signed through 2022, so he isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. Currently he’s away from the club and competing in the African Cup of Nations.
Rasmus Kristensen also stands in Dest’s way. The 21-year-old Dane appeared 19 times in all competitions as Mazraoui’s rotation piece last season. Kristensen is also signed through 2022, so Dest will have to prove he provides more if he hopes to join the rotation. On the left side, there could be even more of an opportunity. The current starter is definitely Nicolás Tagliafico. The Argentine played over 4,000 minutes in all competitions and is still under contract until 2022. However, there is interest from many clubs, including Arsenal, and he admitted in April that this summer may be a good time to move on.
Behind him was Daley Sinkgraven, but he has already been purchased by Bayer Leverkusen and will leave the club this summer. So at a minimum, there could be some rotation opportunities there even if that isn’t necessarily where Dest is at his personal best.
Dest has already seen some playing time in early preseason friendlies and has looked very good in those opportunities. So what fo you think of Dest’s chances next season? Hit the comment section to discuss what you expect to see this coming season.