Juventus hosts Ajax at 3 p.m. Eastern on Wednesday with a trip to the 2019 UEFA Champions League semifinals on the line. The first leg ended in a 1-1 draw thanks to a vintage first-half goal from Cristiano Ronaldo and a tremendous individual effort, and finish, by Ajax’s David Neres. Below are three things to watch in Turin as Cristiano Ronaldo and Co. set out to end the young Dutch club’s dazzling run.
- Will Frenkie de Jong be available and/or effective? The bad news for Ajax coming into this game is that their star midfielder may not be able to start due to a hamstring injury he suffered on Saturday. There have been conflicting reports about the severity of the issue, but it seems unlikely to sideline him for the entire match. As one of the two or three most important players on the field, though, de Jong being anything less than 100% fit is a massive hurdle for his team. The future Barcelona star was arguably the best player on the pitch in both legs against Real Madrid and excelled against Juve last week as well. The Italians will be catching a massive break if he is limited.
- Can Ronaldo be contained? Few teams on the continent are better defensively than Diego Simeone’s Atlético Madrid, which arrived in Turin up 2-0 going into the round of 16 second leg. Los Rojiblancos are as familiar with Ronaldo as anyone, and all they had to do was keep CR7 somewhat in check and … here Juventus is in the next round, on the verge of a trip to the semifinals. It’s much easier said than done, and his opponents sound like a broken record when talking about the importance of denying him opportunities, but that’s the only way to contain Ronaldo. Ajax controlled the first game and largely limited the Portuguese star’s impact, but doing so for 90 more minutes is a tall order, especially in front of a raucous crowd.
- How much of an impact will the absence of Giorgio Chiellini have? The Italians are expected to be without the veteran defender again Tuesday. Ajax enjoyed no shortage of opportunities in the first leg, piling up 19 shots, including six on goal, as Juventus struggled to defend against Ajax’s collective creativity and fearlessness. The Dutch club found the back of the net just once, though, as the clinical touch they displayed against RM eluded them. The Italians are as seasoned as any team left in the UCL field, so the absence of Chiellini should not be too detrimental. That being said, having your captain unavailable for the biggest game of the year is far from ideal, no matter how battle-tested you are.
Oddsmakers at FanDuel Sportsbook NJ view Juventus as a reasonable home favorite at -150. Ajax is getting some respect at +440 (the draw is +280). FiveThirtyEight view this almost as a coin-flip, with Juventus favored 58-42% to advance. At +440, there is definitely some value worth exploring with Ajax.