We use an Eulerian Vlasov code to study the efficient ion acceleration in dense targets by the ponderomotive force of a high-intensity circularly polarized laser beam, normally incident on a dense plasma. The code solves the one-dimensional relativistic Vlasov–Maxwell equations for both electrons and ions. We follow in details the mechanism of formation and evolution of a double-layer structure, where electrons are pushed steadily in the forward direction by the ponderomotive force of the laser beam, trapping an ion population, while an induced space charge electric field pulls ions behind them, forming a double-layer structure supported by the strong ponderomotive pressure of the intense laser beam. We consider the case of a high-density deuterium plasma with n/ncr = 100, where ncr is the critical density. Three cases are studied, by varying the width of the dense target and the intensity of the laser beam (with the normalized vector potential or quiver momentum a0 = 50 and a0 = 100), to follow the physical processes involved in the ion acceleration and the final formation of a neutral plasma jet ejected from the back of the target. We follow the transition from a situation where the laser pulse radiation pressure is acting on the double layer in the target, to a situation where below a given thickness a fraction of the laser energy is transmitted through the target. The absence of noise in the Eulerian Vlasov code allows us to follow accurately the evolution of the phase-space structures of the distribution functions.